Monthly Archives: June 2011

Down to the River

We started out today with a cruise on the Rhine River during which we saw about twenty castles and ruins of castles, numerous cargo boats, and vineyards running up nearly 45 degree slopes. Lunch was schnitzel so I feel like I have had traditional German food.
Then we went to theFaith Baptist Church in Kaiserslautern where we had a three-hour plus rehearsal  including instruments.  I thought we were for the most part well-prepared. 
The church served a meal of chicken and rice with lemon sauce and watermelon (which I don’t like BTW) but it was nice of them to feed all 140 of us.
The concert went well with a webcast so that we heard from people in the States about it. It should be available soon at the church’s website.
I was thinking that we went down to the river all day long.  We went down to the literal Rhine river with its history, commerce and natural beauty.  We went to the church which is part of the long-flowing river of Christianity and we drew on the deep river of American song. Not a bad day’s work, that.
Tomorrow we go to Heidelberg to sing at the Cathedral and do a little shopping. I hope I can post this today since the internet here is, to put it charitably, sporadic.

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The (Mostly) Friendly Skies

Well, here we are in Kaiserslautern, Germany, after about a thirty-hour day, or so it seemed.
We got to the airport the recommended three hours early, and I have to tell you that United Airlines has to do a better job with international checkins.  First of all, it’s not clear which line you get in.  We started to get in one in the front of the terminal but asked and were told we needed to go around to the rear.  There was a line about 1000 feet long but it seemed to be moving quickly so we joined it, meeting up with people from the Chorale as we looped back and forth.  When it became our turn, we had to use the automatic checkin which entailed scanning our passports. The agent snapped at Becky for not knowing where to scan the document.  We also noticed several other United agents fussing at people.  I know it’s a busy time for them when all the international flights seem to go out at once, but don’t you think they would know that by now and put on a few more agents…or at least some good-humored ones? Makes sense to me.

Anyhow, her document was accepted and the screen asked her if anyone were travelling with her.  That would be me so I scanned my passport and the machine printed out a boarding pass.B  ecky didn’t did get one, so we had to find a (non fire-breathing) agent.  We did so and she fixed us both up with a boarding pass and we were on our way. Becky set off the detector at security with her hip replacement so she was patted down.  Turns out she was supposed to tell them before she went through the detector and they would have put her through the infamous scanner.  This was a big secret, but she walked through the detector and then they had to pat her down.  I stood there and stared at the procedure, but she took it with good humor.

We got to the gate where there were a number of our people there. Waiting for a flight is a whole lot more fun if you’re doing it with people you know. One couple came up to the gate as boarding was beginning.  They had spent an hour and 45 minutes trying to check in.  The same thing happened to the man as happened to Becky except he couldn’t get the attention of an agent. Finally they asked for other passengers on Flight 916 and then they got their passes.  Come on, United, you gotta do better.

The flight was fairly uncomfortable, since we were crammed into steerage.  The seats made my hips and knees hurt so I couldn’t sleep.They did keep feeding us which helped.  The flight landed and we made our way through customs and retrieved our luggage.

We met up with the leaders at the Meeting Point (that’s what it’s called) in the Frankfurt Airport, loaded on a bus and were off to…Worms?  This was a surprise side trip, probably to occupy us until we could check into the hotel.  We found Worms to be interesting and historic with some beautiful very old churches. We also found we couldn’t figure out the menus in the restaurants but finally we found one that had a picture menu we could point to.  Then it was back to the bus and on to our hotel in Kaiserslautern.

There we took naps, freshened up (it was very hot here today with little air conditioning), had a big (if slow) traditional German dinner together of thousands of carbohydrates on the plate. We then had a short orientation meeting about what to expect (answer:anything) and rehearsed the music for an hour or so. Then it was time to relax and prepare for tomorrow, which will being a cruise on the Rhine, a loooong rehearsal, and our first concert in town. Stay tuned to see if we melt from the heat.

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Leaving, On a Jet Plane

This afternoon we leave with 30 or so other members of the Manassas Chorale to join about 80 other choral singers in Germany and France for a week of touring and concerts.  We will do concerts in Kaiserslautern and Heidelberg and then travel to the American Cemetery in Lorraine where we will sing,  and on to Paris for a little sightseeing and then to the American Cemetery in Normandy for a concert on July 4.  We return on July 5.

I was thinking about the last time I was in France, about 45 years ago.  I was part of a semester abroad program which consisted of six weeks’ language training in Tours, France, and the rest of the time in Paris.  The thirty or so of us in the program were on our own to find our housing and meals.  All we had to do was to attend a seminar each week hosted by a professor on sabbatical and write a paper (in French). I later became good friends with the professor who had limited vision so that he had to have everything read to him.  I was one of his readers when we returned to the U.S. He was also a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist who could see a conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in Little Red Riding Hood. After a while we made fun of him.  When he asked what a story was about, someone would say, “The conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat” and we would all chortle. That was a sign of our immaturity.  He was an brilliant and kind man.  When I read to him he would ask me what I thought a passage meant.  One time I said, “It’s about the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.” He looked down and said, “Cut the bullsh*t and tell me what you think.”  After that I did. I learned a great deal from him–our reading sessions were more like tutorials.

Anyhow, near the end of August, 1966, I found myself on board an Air France Boeing 707, the Chateau de Chenonceau. It was my first airplane flight and it was a good one. I still have the menu for the meal here some place.  No doubt I’ll find it some day.

Going back to France makes me think of all the changes that have occurred in the past 45 years. I finished two degrees, bought three houses (not all at once), got married, taught school for 32 years, helped raise two children. Not a bad life, that.

I’ll be interested to see how much Europe has changed.  I know I’ve lost a lot of my French, but we’ll see. When I was in Paris there were about eight Metro lines.  Today there are about sixteen with four express lines running through the city. And you know? I can hardly wait to get back. I’ll try to update this every daya nd let you know how it is going. Au revoir for now.

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Summer Windows

The room where I write these posts is the reclaimed bedroom of our older daughter Amy who has been gone from the house since 1999.  We called it “Amy’s old bedroom” for years and have switched over to calling it “the computer room” since that’s where our main computer is located. It’s on the second floor of our three-level house, which has a walk-out basement so that computer room is about thirty feet in the air. In the summer, what is mostly visible from the two windows are oak trees, which fill the windows with green.

I spend a lot of time in this room, writing and scoring SAT essays eight times during the school year. I especially enjoy it during the summer. I bring up some tower fans from the basement to draw cool air from the main level. It’s a comfortable and airy place to write. Nacho the cat likes to lie in the open window facing the street especially when the sun streams in. Cats are no fools.

I think of a couple of poems when I’m in this room.  One is “The Writer” by contemporary poet Richard Wilbur who not incidentally was my freshman composition teacher if you can believe that. The poem is about his daughter writing with a typewriter in an upper room. It begins:

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story. 
It's a graceful and thoughtful poem. If you want to read the rest, and I would recommend you do so, it's available at

The other poem the computer room puts me in mind of is the well-known English major favorite “The Garden” by Andrew Marvell.  In the piece, the poet describes his garden and experiences a kind of seventeenth century out-of-body experience as he is overwhelmed by the beauty and power of the garden:

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness :
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find ;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas ;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

That’s just part of the poem: the rest is available at

So, for today, a little poetry and a wish that you have your own “green retreat” and spend some time there soon.

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This Wheel’s on Fire

Like most working class lads, I spent some time in my teens fooling with cars. I wasn’t very sophisticated about it, sticking with oil changes, shock replacements, radiator flushes and the like. I did replace a muffler and exhaust line once, and decided that would be the last time I did that. Some people I know did much more with cars–my brother and a friend completely rebuilt an engine.  I’m not sure that it ran afterwards, but they did it.

Then, of course, cars changed.  They became computerized and fuel-injected.  I think most of these changes (except for thinner sheet metal and the dreaded “doughnut” spare) were for the better, although the gentle art of manipulating a manual choke is long lost. (Ask your grandmomma.)  On the whole, cars are safer, more environmentally sound and more sophisticated than back in the day. I know, they don’t have the soul of your ’59 El Dorado, but they are better in so many ways. You just can’t work on them like you used to.

Changing tires is something that can still be done, especially by fathers shortly after Father’s Day, so when my daughter Amy told me she had picked up a screw in the tire of her Mazda I told her to bring it over, take one of the other cars we have, and I would put the doughnut on and we would get the stricken tire to the shop to have it plugged. Or so I thought.

I jacked the car up with the world’s worst emergency jack (the metal kept deforming as more weight piled on it), took off the lug nuts and tried to pull the tire off.  I say tried because, unlike any of the perhaps 100 tires I have changed, the tire didn’t budge.  It seemed frozen to the hub. In fact it was frozen to the hub. I pulled on it for a while and then I pushed on it.  I stuck my legs under the car and kicked the tire from the inside. I sprayed WD-40 on it and waited for that to work.  I pounded the assembly with a rubber mallet.Nothing seemed to help.

After an hour and a couple of skinned knuckles, I gave up.  I told Amy she would have to call AAA and have them use their expertise.

I was telling my dad about the stuck tire and he said, not entirely humorously, “Get a bigger hammer.” When the AAA tow truck showed up, the driver couldn’t get it off either. He said, “I need a bigger hammer.”  Then another two truck showed up and this driver got it off with a bigger hammer and a block of wood.

I later learned on a Mazda owners’ forum that the steel of the wheel often bonds to the some other kind of metal in the hub.  Either that or the wheel rusted to the hub. Since it’s oxidation, it a very slow fire, hence the title of today’s post.

So, Mazda owners, you might want to check your tires or have them checked. It would be better to be sure they’re able to be removed than to find out on a dark roadside that they’re not coming loose. I would also replace the emergency jack with one that doesn’t look like it was made in Santa’s Tin Toy Shop. In this case,  I thought I knew a little about cars, but as with most everything else, I still have a lot to learn.

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Vote Early and Often

I know there are people who are annoyed by spam in their email inboxes.  Heaven knows, there’s a lot of it, but it doesn’t bother me that much.  If I don’t recognize the sender, I delete it.  It’s easy and painless and doesn’t take that much time.

That said, I’m not sure why I get some emails that I do.  Somehow I ended up on a list for Major League Baseball, which is all right since I like baseball, but they do send a lot of messages.  I got one the other day urging me to vote in the All-Star balloting. I thought, why not, maybe I can vote for some Nationals.  I logged on to the voting site, picked out all the Nationals on the ballot, and voted for them.  Then a window popped up: “Thank you for voting!  You can vote up to 25 times for each email address!”

I hadn’t expected this.  I know there are some places in the country where people say about elections that they should vote “early and often,” but I never had such a chance. My mother told me that before and during World War II the area in Tennessee where she was from was controlled by a political machine which used political machine tactics including multiple votes and intimidation of voters to control offices.  When the vets came back from World War II they were having none of that and made sure no one voted more than they were supposed to and that no one was intimidated.  I’m sure they felt they had just fought a war to guarantee free and democratic elections and that’s how it was going to be. Another achievement of the Greatest Generation.

So, anyhow, I voted 25 times for the boys and then checked the leaders. Not a National to be seen, and the top runners had vote totals in the millions. I felt a little funny voting more than once, but not having any of my candidates in the top ten seemed like a kind of cosmic justice. We’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out.

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Everything Old Is New Again

Yep, it says here that someone has figured out a way to connect a manual typewriter to a computer, Ipad, smart phone, smart refrigerator (saw an ad for one with internet browsing capabilities–wonder if it tells you when the salad dressing needs to be thrown out) or what have you.  It’s called a “USB Typewriter” and you can read all about it at It’s a kit requiring the electronic skill of a rocket scientist as nearly as I can tell that allows the connection of the manual typewriter to a “USB device” which sounds like a form of birth control but isn’t. The guy who invented it says this about it:

“The USBTypewriterâ„¢ is a new and groundbreaking innovation in the field of obsolescence.  Lovers of the look, feel, and quality of old fashioned manual typewriters can now use them as keyboards for any USB-capable computer, such as a PC, Mac, or even iPad!  The modification is easy to install, it involves no messy wiring, and does not change the outward appearance of the typewriter (except for the usb adapter itself, which is mounted in the rear of the machine).  So the end result is a retro-style USB keyboard that not only looks great, but feels great to use.”

I like his feel for oxymoron,  and the demo video features the sweet sound of keys clattering and the return bell ringing. (Those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, ask your momma.) You can install the kit on your own typewriter, or you can buy one that’s ready to go for about $850.

I would like to say, Only in America.  I am in awe of Jack Zylkin, not only for his technological prowess but also for coupling a form of technology with the machine that replaced it. It would be like pulling a car with a horse or putting piston engines on a 747 (that idea wouldn’t fly, ar, ar) or retrofitting a microwave with a heating element. In the case of the USB Typewriter, there’s a certain aesthetic experience to be gained.  Looking at a horse’s rear end from your infinitely adjustable leather driver’s seat would never be an aesthetic experience unless you were smitten by horses.  And their rear ends.

I remember our first typewriter that my dad brought home when I was about ten.  It was a giant Underwood that I could barely lift, but I immediately set to work making a newsletter for the neighborhood. I used it to hunt and peck papers for school. When I went to college I bought a reconditioned Royal portable that I still have. It’s entirely made of metal which I think is amazing.  We later on bought an electric SC that Becky mostly used, and I used the IBM Selectric at church to do the church newsletter for a while.  I thought the Selectric was the ultimate writing machine.  Then computers came along.

I have to say that I would not like to go back to using a typewriter to write with. When computers came along I taught myself to type but I am still really bad at it.  I remember wrestling with correction fluid or using that horrid erasable typing paper and  running out of space for a footnote and having to retype the entire page. (By the way, the word processer killed the footnote and gave us the endnote. I don’t think anyone mourned for a second, not even the MLA. It also put an end to the typing pool but I’ll leave that one to the sociologists to comment on.) And computers can do so much more than the humble typewriter, USB or not. I’m sure, in fact, that one could be set up so that the keys click and a return bell rings with a hard return.

So, while I salute the inventor of the USB Typewriter, I don’t think I will be using one any time soon.There have been too many erasures and strikeovers to go back. While I have a hate/hate relationship with my computer printer, it’s still better than having to use Corrasable Bond.


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