Standing on the Corner

In the summer of 1955 I was between my Junior and Senior years at North High in Wichita, Kansas. I had given up my paper route a few months earlier, in part because I got tired of getting up at 5:30 am in every kind of weather and throwing papers every morning and afternoon — except Sunday, which was morning only — and in part because I perceived it to be a kid’s job. To be honest, that job allowed me to establish credit at the local Schwinn bicycle shop, where I purchased my first 3-speed bike, and the office furniture store next door to the bike shop, where I bought a used 30” by 60”, two pedestal, six drawer, steel office desk, with a linoleum top that had only a few small gouges on its surface. But I digress.

Early in the summer of 1955 I got a job by answering a help-wanted ad that was printed in the newspaper I had once delivered to over a hundred customers twice a day, every day (except Sunday, which was morning only), for almost a year. The ad was placed by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the city-run organization that operated the public bus transportation system. In 1955, bus passengers paid their fares with coins. If they didn’t have the correct change, the friendly driver would be happy to give them change for a dollar (or a five or a ten or a twenty). They dispensed coins from a silver metal device with multiple tubes and levers, and bills from a wad they kept in their shirt pocket.

It sounded like a simple job when the supervisor described it to me. All I had to do was stand on the corner of East Douglas Avenue and Market Street, where every bus in the city passed by once on each circuit of its route. When a bus stops, and after passengers disembark or climb aboard, I step into the bus hefting a leather bag filled with rolls of nickels, dimes, and quarters. The driver hands me a fist full of paper currency and tells me how many rolls of coins he wants in exchange.

By the way, a single roll of quarters weighs a half a pound. In order to have enough coins to meet the demand of a typical weekday 4-hour afternoon shift, the bag would have to contain around $400, and would weigh about 50 pounds. Since the bus company office was two blocks from my corner, I would put the bag of coins on a two-wheeled dolly and push it down the sidewalk to the corner.

The supervisor warned that if the value of the bills I returned to the office did not match the value of the coins I took out, I would be held responsible for making up the difference. No one ever mentioned the possibility that there could be a positive balance that I could pocket for myself. It was common knowledge that some of those friendly drivers would try to pass off a stack of 48 singles as $50, so I learned to count quickly and accurately before each exchange, no matter how urgently the driver was trying to speed up the process because he’s “running a bit late.”

For the most part, it was a simple job. There would be times when five or six busses would hit the corner in rapid succession, but there were also times when there were no busses to be seen for four or five minutes at a time. When you are a 16-year-old boy hanging out on one of the busiest corners in town in the middle of summer, you can be reasonably certain to be entertained by the number of young women dressed for the heat passing by. Actually, Count Basie wrote a song about just that, and it hit #3 on the charts the very next summer.

If weather was a bad part of maintaining a paper route, it was also a bad part of selling change to bus drivers. Kansas’ summers are hot and humid, and there was precious little shade on my corner. The worst weather hit one afternoon when it was over 85° in the shade. Looking west, I could see the sky fill with yellow-purple clouds that signaled the rapid onset of seriously severe weather. Within 20 minutes, the temperature had dropped 40˚, the wind was gusting around 20 miles per hour, and black dust, probably all the way from Western Kansas, filled the air. The corner offered no shelter, and busses kept coming. My clothes turned black, my nose and mouth were full of mud, and I could barely see. After about ten minutes the wind slowed down and it started to rain…big drops. Fortunately, it did not hail (I have seen hailstones the size of baseballs in Kansas). And ten minutes after that the sun was shining and it was a pleasantly unhumid 75˚.

The summer of 1955 was a different time. Bus drivers gave change to riders who needed it. A popular song would soon proclaim the glory of “Standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by.” A 16-year-old kid could stand on a downtown street corner day after day with a bag full of money and never worry about getting mugged.

Summer ended, I finished high school and worked (at different jobs) for a year before going to college. When I got home for Spring Break, I had thought I would bring my trusty 3-speed Schwinn back to school when I returned — the bike I had paid for (on credit) with my paper route money. But I learned that shortly after I moved out my mother gave my bike to the son of one of her church friends. And the desk was gone, too.

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What’s In a Name? — Part 3

The first time my wife was married, she kept her “maiden” name. It confused her father: he was concerned that his daughter would never be “Mrs. So and So.” When she and I got married nearly 40 years ago, she again kept her “maiden” name. Upon learning that Katie remained “Moran”, my mother commented, “that is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.”

A recent Huffington Post article explained that it wasn’t too long ago that women were required to take their husband’s last name:

“Women were forbade to keep their last names a short handful of decades ago, under the premise that the wedded couple were viewed as “one person” by the law. That one person was the husband, whose identity superseded the wife’s. He was the sole person who could vote, hold property, go to law, etc. In fact, it was only in 1972 that every United State legally allowed a woman to use her maiden name as she pleased.”

Curiously, even if a woman chooses not to adopt her husband’s name upon marriage, she almost certainly carries her father’s name…at least in our culture. As we were considering starting our family, Katie and I felt that there should be a way to free women of this remnant of androcentric tradition. Our solution was that we would give my last name to any male offspring, and Katie’s last name to any female offspring.

Our first born was a boy, so Daniel became a Blatt. Katie worried that we would not pass the Moran name to the next generation, as Doug and Steve, the children from my first marriage, were also boys. What are the odds that the next would be a girl? But, almost three years later, we welcomed Elizabeth Rose Moran to our family.

Our odd naming convention has not caused any problems, although a few elementary school teachers were caught by surprise to see that Liza Moran’s parents were the same people as Danny Blatt’s parents. They probably assumed that we were a blended family until we explained it all. I think the different names actually insulated Liza from any teachers’ expectations from having had Danny in their classes a couple of years earlier.

While most people we have discussed this with have generally thought it was an interesting approach, to my knowledge, nobody we know has used the same naming principle for their own children. Katie and I were taken by surprise a few evenings ago when a character on a TV drama described the same naming convention to explain why he and his daughter had different last names. So, apparently, we aren’t as odd as we originally thought.

Will this ever become a trend? So far, Danny’s wife is still a Klekner, and Liza is still a Moran. It remains to be seen how they will choose to name their own daughters. However it turns out, it is reassuring to know that what’s in a name is more open to choice now than it was for previous generations.

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Some ideas about how to live with AR-15 type rifles:

I don’t want to debate the Second Amendment.
I don’t want to argue about what the “AR” in the name means – just accept it as a reference to semi-automatic firing rifles, regardless of name or number.
I don’t want to rehash arguments about mandatory registration, training, and licensing – although arguments can be made in their favor.
I don’t want to take away anyone’s guns.

What I want to do is find a path that permits responsible people to own and use their rifles appropriately.

Let’s accept the notion that AR-15 type rifles are used for sport. I think we can dispense with the idea that they are useful for hunting, so what kind of sport can they be used for, and under what circumstances would those sporting activities be safe?

The term “sports” normally conveys a sense of competition. So why not focus on building a set of sporting activities involving competitive elements using AR-15 type rifles. I’m not a gun enthusiast (though I was a gun owner in my youth and learned to shoot safely and accurately) so I can’t provide specific examples. But most sporting competitions involve contests of speed, accuracy, concentration, and teamwork, among other elements.

Sports activities often involve special venues in order to facilitate the competition and foster safe practices during the sport. For AR-15 type rifles, special ranges would seem to be in order (along the lines of Hogan’s Alley?), along with an agreed upon set of procedures and rules and a system for review of players’ actions during the sport (referees or umpires). Perhaps local groups could form teams that would compete at State, Regional, and National contests.

Finally, there must be concern about how and where the sports equipment is stored when not used for practice or competition. Most people recognize that these are dangerous devices in the hands of untrained, undisciplined, or malignant individuals. Under ideal conditions firearms of this sort would be secured in such manner to permit free access by their owners. Secure storage options could be available at the sporting venues, with procedures in place to prevent access by unqualified individuals.

These ideas are not impossible to achieve, but it would take a lot of effort by a lot of dedicated sportsmen (and women) to accomplish. It is a shame that there is not a national organization dedicated to supporting firearms sports. (There used to be, but it abandoned its foundational principles decades ago.) Perhaps it is time for sportsmen across America to work with one another to make progress on this thorny issue.

Respectfully Submitted,
Jesse Blatt
February 18, 2018

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Shame on Senate Democrats

Someone has to say this, so it might as well be me: Senate Democrats should be ashamed of themselves! They are acting like sanctimonious hysterical harridans, not the mature minders of political decorum that the Founding Fathers envisioned for the Senate.

The Senate is supposed to be the center for careful consideration of issues, followed by informed debate, followed by restrained action. “Zero tolerance” is the refuge of an unmindful mob. Strictly enforced, this rule would empty both chambers of Congress, the White House, and the entire Judicial branch.

Government is the method by which imperfect people attempt to improve and maintain the living conditions of an imperfect citizenry. Clearly, if one’s imperfections adversely affect one’s ability to govern, corrective action is required. Some offenses are indeed sufficiently egregious to require expulsion from government, and the Constitution provides methods for that. According to the Congressional Research Service (report # RL30016):

“While there are no specific grounds for an expulsion expressed in the Constitution, expulsion actions in both the House and the Senate have generally concerned cases of perceived disloyalty to the United States, or the conviction of a criminal statutory offense which involved abuse of one’s official position.”

Unless the Senate offers a resolution of expulsion, and two-thirds of the voting Senators support it, let the people of Minnesota determine Senator Franken’s political future. Matters of this magnitude should not be determined by a handful of zealots brandishing a few uninvestigated allegations of relatively minor offenses.

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Smokey and the Water Pipe

Sometime during the winter of 1969, the Twin Oaks water pump stopped working. The pump was old, and was submerged more than 40 feet in the ground, attached to lengths of 4” white PVC pipe that brought the water to the surface. The well was located in a small fenced area adjacent to the barn, and which a friend of the community was using to corral his horse, Smokey.

By the time we were able to obtain a pump, it was late evening, and the temperature was falling rapidly. We assembled a crew to lift the pump out of the ground, careful not to bend the pipe too much, which was brittle because it was PVC and it was cold. Inevitably, the pipe fractured in several places, requiring the broken ends to be sawed off and rejoined with couplings and glue. Fortunately, the community had the required fittings and I gathered what I needed into a brown paper bag and set out to repair the broken pipe.

Did I mention that it was cold? By the time I had gotten everything together and started to make the repairs, the rest of the crew had disappeared, except for Smokey. Smokey was lonely, and, as I discovered, pretty smart, and had a sense of humor.

As I began my first repair, Smokey wandered over and watched. I was a little worried that he might step on the pipe lying on the ground and create new breaks that would need to be repaired. That was not his intent. Instead, he followed me to the next break site, and when I dropped the paper bag containing the couplings, he grabbed the bag in his teeth and trotted to a distant corner of the corral, turned around, looked me in the eye, and dropped the bag. When I approached, he picked up the bag and trotted to another corner. After several iterations of this game I finally got smart enough to go get some help.

With someone to hold the horse, and others to assist with the repairs, we had the pump back in the ground and filling our pipes with water within an hour.

I still remember how cold it was that night. And I still smile at the memory of Smokey and me playing keep away with a paper bag full of PVC couplings.

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Ministers, Mediums, and Mystics, Oh My!

I don’t believe in ghosts, spirits, wraiths, or goblins. I also don’t believe in angels, demons, devils, or gods. And since I don’t believe that those things exist, I certainly don’t believe that there are people in this world who can communicate with those non-existent beings. However, there seem to be many people who accord reality to these ethereal creatures and put their trust in those who claim to be their interlocutors.

Harry Houdini searched earnestly for a true medium, one who could communicate with the souls of the departed. All he found were fakes and frauds, charlatans who preyed on those hopeful of staying in contact with deceased loved ones. If Houdini was not able to discover an actual medium, I am willing to accept his findings.

Until recently, I have assumed that all mediums and mystics are frauds. Now I’m not quite so sure. Not long ago I had a Facebook dialog, quite by accident, with a woman who advertises herself as a psychic.

The psychic had posted the following notice on her Facebook page:

It’s a go!! May 13th I will be offering a FREE one day workshop!! It will be a 2 hour online event. It is an Intro to my Psychic Development class series
RSVP in a DM
I need a min of 4 or 5 people to run this so feel free to share

The post showed up on my feed because my daughter-in-law, Joy, had “liked” it. Being somewhat ignorant of how Facebook works, I added a sarcastic comment, thinking I was responding directly to Joy:

And by the end of that 2 hour free workshop she will predict, because of her psychic powers, exactly who among the attendees she will be able to fleece for some real money.

That’s when I discovered that my comment was actually on the psychic’s page. She responded:

that’s rude. although it illustrates a problem facing Highly Sensitive People-a lot of hostility thrown at them. If this happens to you, don’t accept the psychic whack. For whatever reason people choose to disrespect you, it is about THEIR fear and attempt to invalidate you i.e. oppress you

To which I replied:

You won’t change my mind and I won’t change yours. But there is hope for others, no hostility or disrespect intended.

She answered:

Do I even know you?

My concluding comment was:

No, you do not. I stumbled onto your site via what I thought was an off-the-cuff response to one of my daughter-in-law’s “likes” of one of your posts. I also do not know you, so I don’t know if you seriously believe that you have psychic sensitivities or if you are a cynical charlatan preying on gullible people. Since I am a cynical realist, I am disinclined to favor the former possibility.

While I am not particularly proud of my role in that interchange, I started thinking about people I have known who are “highly sensitive” (without capital letters): people who are more aware of their surroundings than most of their peers; people who perceive extremely subtle clues and cues in the actions of others. With appropriate training, these people can become skilled engineers, detectives, therapists, artists, or writers. Without special training, someone with those gifts might come to believe that they are seers, psychic, or seek some other supernatural explanation for their abilities.

I am almost persuaded that it is possible that some people who identify themselves as “psychic” or “sensitive” are among those individuals who are at the top end of the continuum of normal perceptual abilities. While they mistakenly ascribe their faculties to paranormal causes, they seem to take their talents seriously and use then in ways they believe will help other people. I guess that is a possibility.

I will allow that some, but not all, may be serious and truly believe they are mediums, or psychics, or whatever. But the rest still fall into the cynical fraud and charlatan categories, preying on gullible people for their own enrichment.

As I was thinking about this issue, it occurred to me that the Christian ministry is on a track parallel with psychics and mediums: there are some who take their religious beliefs very seriously and arrange their lives to comport with their beliefs. Then there are those who appear to be motivated more by obtaining money, power, or personal adoration than by spiritual convictions. I have known quite a few of the earnest type – my father was one, as are my ministerial cousins.

I have no trouble distinguishing the well-intentioned ministers from the self-enriching charlatans: the religious quacks have their own television shows (or networks), stage huge “revival” rallies, or establish mega-churches. Although it makes me uncomfortable, it occurs to me that I should perhaps afford the same courtesy to the “good” mediums and mystics as I have to their earnest counterparts in the ministry. Or does all this mean that I should begin to regard the ministry with the same disdain that I feel toward mediums?

Oh, my!

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I Scream, You Scream…

I am an unabashed fan of Haagen Daz ice cream, not because of its fancy name, but because it is by far the best tasting ice cream available in the supermarket. The reason it tastes better than any of its competitors is the absence of certain “natural” ingredients that all other so-called “quality” ice creams contain.

The ingredients of which I speak are the additives that allow the product to maintain its shape even though it may partially melt after it leaves the manufacturer and before it is placed in the supermarket freezer. In short, these ingredients are added to cover up for sloppy handling of the product. The result, though, is an oily or greasy coating on the tongue to which most people have become accustomed as part of their regular ice cream experience.

Real ice cream, I learned many years ago when I began cooking my own custard and hand-cranking home-made French vanilla ice cream, has a short list of ingredients: milk, cream, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. That’s all. The list of ingredients on a Haagen Daz carton does not vary much from that simple recipe. But be prepared to see many other items on cartons of other ice creams.

Here is my list of “things to look out for” in so-called “quality” ice cream, along with a little information about each one (the sources for this information can be found in the hyperlinks):

Corn Syrup

 

Corn syrup is a food syrup which is made from the starch of corn (called maize in some countries) and contains varying amounts of maltose and higher oligosaccharides, depending on the grade. Corn syrup, also known as glucose syrup to confectioners, is used in foods to soften texture, add volume, prevent crystallization of sugar, and enhance flavor.”

 

Guar Gum

 

Guar gum is a fiber from the seed of the guar plant.

Guar gum is used as a laxative. It is also used for treating diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), obesity, and diabetes; for reducing cholesterol; and for preventing “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis).

In foods and beverages, guar gum is used as a thickening, stabilizing, suspending, and binding agent.”

“In hydrofracking, guar gum is used to thicken water, which allows it to move grains of sand underground more effectively than water alone would.”

 

Xanthan Gum

 

Xanthan gum is a substance used in making some foods and medications. It has different effects in these products: It can add thickness, keep textures from changing, and hold ingredients in place.

Xanthan gum is produced by fermenting a carbohydrate (a substance that contains sugar) with Xanthomonas campestris bacteria, then processing it.”

 

Carrageenan

 

Carrageenan is a common food additive that is extracted from a red seaweed, Chondrus crispus, which is popularly known as Irish moss. Carrageenan, which has no nutritional value, has been used as a thickener and emulsifier to improve the texture of ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy milk, and other processed foods.”

 

Soy Lecithin

 

Soy lecithin is a fatty substance that is extracted from soy beans. It is a common food additive that helps oil and water mix, and also works as a lubricant, an anti-foaming agent and a wetting agent.

The primary purpose of soy lecithin is as an emulsifier in food products. Salad dressings, spreads, chocolate and other fatty processed foods contain soy lecithin to keep the oil from separating from the other ingredients. Non-stick sprays contain soy lecithin as a lubricant, and bakers use soy lecithin on their dough to prevent stickiness.”

 

If you need a graphic illustration of how these additives affect the ice cream, put equal amounts of Haagen Daz and another brand of ice cream into separate bowls and let them melt at room temperature. You will see that the Haagen Daz melts into an actual liquid, resembling eggnog. The others will be gooey, lumpy messes that are neither liquid nor solid. Is that what you want from your favorite dessert?

Other ice cream brands may be more popular, less expensive, or offer cleverly named flavors, but they can’t beat the taste or mouth feel of good old Haagen Daz. I hope the Nestle company can maintain the purity of this superior product. Otherwise, I’ll have to go back to hand cranking my home-made French vanilla ice cream.

 

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