Welcome to The Squeaky Pen

...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Strange November ... and Snoooowww

It's been a strange November.

Last week was "one of those weeks" for me. Went to the store and bought a can of paint, dropped it in my driveway and splattered Bright White all over myself and my leaves, which (admittedly) I have not raked. Later I was spooning Chinese noodles onto a plate and the plate inexplicably snapped in my hand, showering noodles all over the kitchen and, ultimately, broken plate pieces all over the floor. The next day I was looking at emails on my phone while walking (bad idea). I slammed into the wall instead of walking through the door. Light bulbs, recently replaced, have been burning out. My wood pile fell over -- just fell over. One day it was nicely stacked and the next day wood was all over the driveway, not far from the paint spill. I left a note for the UPS man on the front door, asking politely that he walk around the porch and leave newly-ordered and arrived Christmas gifts at the kitchen door. Twice he (or she) has left them on the front porch, directly under the note. Can UPS people not read?? Speaking of notes, I've put a note to myself on the back door that says "DOG IS IN" and, on the other side, "DOG IS OUT" because I keep forgetting where Harry is. Of course now I keep forgetting to turn the note over to indicate his location. Usually he barks if he wants to come back inside, but not always, and I don't want to find my dog as a frozen fishstick on the back steps because I can't keep his whereabouts straight.

I suppose it's possible I'm losing my mind, but I think it's the snow, or rather, the threat of snow. Big-eyed, I've been studying the news and Facebook, all of which feature photos of 10-foot-plus snowbanks in Buffalo. I went to school at Brockport, not far from Buffalo, and remember one year after the holidays returning to find 15-foot banks of snow lining the roads. So far here at home the snow has been minimal, but my gut is telling me it's coming this way, and coming soon. No, we don't have the same lake-effect troubles as Buffalo and Syracuse, but we always seem to get the residuals.

In truth, I like snow and this visually pristine -- if freezing -- time of year. But not when it buries the car and mounts up against the doors. I don't like shoveling snow anymore than I like raking leaves. It's fun and peaceful to watch flakes drift outside the family room windows, cozied up beside the fire. It's most certainly not fun to dig out the car every day to go to the post office and witness story-high banks of snow in the street.

Then again, it's the weather ... what are you going to do? I can handle wacky weather patterns because, as New York City people like to say about pretty much everything, it is what it is. And I'm a Central New Yorker. We get snow here, and anybody who constantly complains about it is living in the wrong place. What's harder to handle is my brain on potential snow overload, not to mention the non-brain events (light bulbs, wood piles, UPS man) interfering with my daily life.

As one friend of mine often says, Big Sigh. As another says, Whatever. Winter isn't coming, it's here, just a touch early. Time to hunker down, stop carping, crank up the furnace, and be thankful that I work from home (and that I don't live in Buffalo).

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Deer Judge Judy: A Tail About Me and Harry

Me and Harry went for a walk the other day. On the walk we seen lots of things. We seen real pretty leaves falling and we seen other dogs and we seen some other people. Then me and Harry came home.

Does anybody out there think this paragraph (not to mention the headline) makes me sound kinda ... stupid??

One of my favorite shows is Judge Judy. I love the way JJ deals with the idiots who are suing each other for things like kids writing in crayon on rental apartment walls and loans that the defendants inevitably insist were gifts. Most fascinating to me, however, is the lack of language skills that permeates the show. It's gotten to the point where I tune in just to hear abominable English, the way rubberneckers slow down to see the gory details of a car accident. For quite some time now I've been wondering how JJ can stand it, and in fact have also been wondering if she even notices anymore.

Well apparently she does. The other night a couple of highschoolers were suing each other over a rumble. Girl "A" hit Girl "B" across the face with a bottle in response to Girl "B" threatening a friend of Girl "A." When Judge Judy asked Girl "B" to explain the circumstances, "B" began with "Me and Amber were at the gas station and I seen Girl "A" coming at me with a bottle and ..." at which point she was interrupted by Judy, who evidently couldn't take it anymore.

"You SAW her," JJ snarled.

Girl "B" blinked, cocking her head like a curious (and stupid) sparrow.

JJ then added, gazing squarely into the camera: "I just want America to know that I'm aware of this shattering of the English language."

The "shattering of the English language." Exactly. And sadly, the Judge Judy show is far from being the only pond containing such poisonous water. The inability of Americans -- particularly young ones -- to utter an intelligent sentence is everywhere. "Me and So-and-So" seems to have become the new normal. I hear it on TV, in movies, on the street, and in the store where I buy my coffee. Is ANYBODY teaching proper English anymore?? Do students write "Me and Somebody" in term papers, and does that get corrected or do teachers just let it slide, intoning the importance of the message and not the details and insisting they don't want to harm the delicate egos of those in their charge?

Parents and teachers and throngs of others have been engaged in relentless carping about the Common Core Curriculum. "It's not right, it's too hard, it's too complicated, it's too politicized." Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. The big question, though, is does CC -- or any curriculum -- teach basic English? Is anybody out there telling their students and children that me and Harry didn't go for a walk, that instead Harry and I went for a walk? Here's another favorite: "Bob was so nice to Harry and I." No, Bob wasn't. Bob was so nice to Harry and ME. This was one of the first lessons I learned in grade school ... take out "to Harry and" from the sentence and what you've got, at least in the first example, is Bob was so nice to I. Is that next great wave of our language's evolution? "Gee, Bob fixed my flat tire, he sure was nice to I." Folks are famous for discussing the evolution of the language, how "urban" terms end up in the dictionary, how "lol" and "omg" are now part of the vernacular. I've got no problem with this. What I DO have a problem with is my fellow Americans sounding like they just arrived in their spaceship after a long, drug-induced trip from Remulak.

I don't expect 20- (and 30-) somethings to walk around quoting Shakespeare, but for the love of God, can't they at least speak as though English isn't their second language? It's no wonder people around the world think Americans are morons. Educators are so worked up about being sure school kids are up to snuff in math and science that they seem to have missed the language skills boat. I can only imagine the horror: a grown American scientist, one who went to school in the current decade, finds a cure for cancer and twenty years from now announces publicly, "Me and my team are real happy about it, LOL!. We seen them cancer cells under the microscope and OMG .. zapped 'em!"

Most shattering about the Judge Judy example is that the girls testifying about their rumble were still in high school, allegedly under the guidance of educators, of ENGLISH teachers.

When some slacker takes money from someone else and says he didn't pay it back because (shrug) "It's not my fault, I didn't have the money," JJ is often heard to say, "Well you ARE going to pay it back, you're not getting away with this, not in MY America."

Dear Judge Judy: Ethics, morals, political and individual responsibility, courage of convictions, courage in general, and even something as seemingly insignificant as a simple declarative sentence are becoming ghosts in our culture. People who once said "I did it, it's my fault, I'll accept the consequences" are on the dinosaur track, being replaced by shruggers who steal and scheme and can't even speak intelligently while they're doing it. Dear Judge Judy: unless parents and teachers start walking a different road, unless they stop complaining about political agendas and start teaching the difference between right and wrong (which includes the garbage coming out of their mouths), unless they start teaching kids consequences for their actions and stop giving them everything their little hearts desire, your America, and mine, is on the downhill slide. 

Buckle up.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rock and Roll Never Forgets

I've always been a big Bob Seger fan. I guess I tuned into him sometime in the 1970s, after in 1973 he formed Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. The '70s, "my time" (that's when I graduated from high school and college, and then set off into the world), was rife with disco music. Okay, yes I know, some people really liked disco. I wasn't one of them. I still clung to the rock-n-roll music of the late 1960s and, for me, Seger was a refreshing lone, poignant voice in the new age of spinning mirrored ceiling balls and twirling dancers and white suits with floppy collars. I saw Bob in concert in 1980, in Memphis, and remember it being a dazzling night marred only by a guy throwing up in the seat in front of me. Mr. Seger, at that time, was 35 and in fine form.

Fast forward 25 or so years, and I found myself again at a Seger concert, this time in Madison Square Garden. I'd been invited by a friend and, quite honestly, I was nervous about it. I find it hand-wringing to watch aging rock stars perform (Mick Jagger, bless his heart, has a real cryptkeeper thing going, and I won't even talk about Keith Richards). Once, a young relative said to me when referring to Jerry Garcia, "I want to see these old guys in concert before they die." Unlike her I do not, for many reasons but most importantly because I really don't want to be the old broad with a purse in an audience full of drugged-out boozed-up possibly puking kids.

Nonetheless, off I went to the Garden.

At first I did in fact hand-wring. I sat quietly, purse on lap, waiting for the concert to start. I didn't look around much, mainly focused on the stage. Soon Seger appeared. I guess he was in his late 50s/early 60s then and actually looked pretty good for a guy "that old." Then he started to sing. While he couldn't really hit those head-voice high notes he's known for, he was great. More than great, he was fantastic. What a performer! Main Street, Turn The Page, Katmandu. About 30 minutes in, I finally looked around and realized the audience wasn't made up of kids, it was made up of people my age, those in their late 40s who remembered what I did, how Seger carried us through the '70s and dreadful disco; Seger, who was the voice we heard on the radio, the guy with the long hair and beard who wrote and sang about lost love and Betty Lou. That night in the Garden, he took us back to a time when we played albums on stereos and had to go looking for friends instead of tracking them on a GPS. Within 45 minutes I'd pulled my hair back into a ponytail, stripped off my jacket, and was sitting on the back of my seat, screaming and clapping and feeling 19 again, as were all the thousands of people around me. The music transported us. Suddenly we had no mortgages to pay, no lawns to mow, no creaking knees, no heartache. He made me -- and everyone in that massive concert arena -- feel young and wild and free. It was ... a moment. One that will stay with me until I'm in the ground.

Today I saw online that Bob is back on tour. He's 69. I probably won't catch this concert run -- although he's appearing in Albany, so who knows -- but I have to say in the vernacular of the 1970s, good for him, man. There is something truly remarkable about baby boomers, and baby boomer rockers, that they just don't step away from center stage. An exceptional era of humans. I sometimes wonder: are we baby boomers the first generation to understand getting old has nothing whatsoever to do with chronological years?
So you go, Bob. Rock and Roll, indeed, never forgets.
Bob Seger, Katmandu


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Farmers' Market in Sherburne's Gaines Park September 27

Shut off your computers, press “record” on your DVR players, and come out on Saturday, September 27th to learn about Sherburne’s historical treasures. The weatherman is promising a beautiful day! For more information about the tour and ticket availability, please call 607-674-2486.
From noon to 5 p.m. this Saturday, historic sites of Sherburne will be open to visitors in an historic walking tour of homes and other properties built from 1830-1920. There will also be a noon to 5 p.m. farmers’ market in Sanford Lee-Gaines Park, featuring:

·         Quarry Brook Farms (meat and produce)
·         GreenSleeves Produce (vegetables, gourds, and pumpkins)
·         FoJo Beans Coffee Roasters (coffee and beans)
·         Buell Produce (mums, pumpkins, apples, and gourds)
·         Megan Knapp (macramé, slate paintings, crochet, and soaps)
·         Lost Bikers BBQ (bbq sandwiches)
·         The Pizza Genie (wood-fired pizza)

The historic tour is not a “formal” guided tour; ticket-holders will be invited to consult a map contained in the tour/ticket booklet and visit as many of the thirteen properties as they like. Questions about architecture and history will be answered by property docents, who will be present at each home and site. “They can visit one property, or two, or five, or all thirteen,” Chairperson Peg Jeffrey said. “It’s totally up to the ticket-holder to visit and enjoy whichever sites they wish.”

Ticket-holders are also invited to stop by The Sherburne Inn, which is on the tour and where refreshments will be provided by culinary students from BOCES.

“Of course we hope everyone on the tour will come to the Inn to ask about our progress and enjoy some complimentary snacks,” Jeffrey said.

Advance tickets may be purchased at The Big M supermarket and The Sherburne News office in Sherburne, Burt Marshall’s office and Maxwell’s Chocolate Shop in Hamilton, and at the Chamber of Commerce Office in Norwich. Tickets will also be on sale September 27th at The Sherburne Inn (advance tickets $20, day-of tickets $25). The INNsiders’ book Memories of The Inn, Volume 1, will be available at the Inn for purchase ($15) on September 27th.
By the way, No Problem Liquor Store on West State Street will host a wine tasting from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Sherburne will be bustling on Saturday, so come out and enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Celebrating The Past

On Saturday, September 27, from noon to 5 p.m., historic properties of Sherburne will open to visitors in the first historic walking tour sponsored by Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project (SSIRP), a splendid “Welcome to autumn!” in this small village.

“For this tour, we’ve identified homes and other properties built between 1830 and 1920,” Peg Jeffrey, tour chairperson, said. “Property owners have been very generous in opening their doors to share with others the beauty of these historic buildings.”

Cost for the tour is $20 for advance tickets, and $25 for tickets sold on September 27. Tickets will be on sale on September 27 at The Sherburne Inn (2 West State Street), where guests will be offered complimentary refreshments and where questions will be welcome about the future of The Inn. SSIRP invites all tour attendees to stop by the Inn to tour the building. Advance tickets may be purchased online at thesherburneinn.org (click House Tour), and at the following outlets: The Big M and The Sherburne News office in Sherburne; and Maxwell’s Chocolate Shop and Burt Marshall’s office in Hamilton. Attendees may call 607-674-2486 for ticket information.

Jeffrey, who is a member of the SSIRP board of directors, is home-grown in Sherburne and, with her husband Jim, is proprietor of the Pillow and Pantry Bed & Breakfast located on Sherburne’s South Main Street. “Sherburne is a small place,” she said, “but has some outstanding homes and other properties built in this timeframe. We’re excited about the tour, and about having the opportunity to showcase our beautiful village and its historic architecture.”

Thirteen properties are on the tour: five private homes; The Sherburne Public Library; two churches, one of which with two affiliate properties; Sanford Lee-Gaines Park, which on September 27 will also feature a farmers’ market and food vendors; the Mule Barn, which once housed mules that worked the Chenango Canal; and of course, The Sherburne Inn.

“There are so many beautiful properties in Sherburne that it was difficult to choose,” Jeffrey said. “However, we plan to make the tour an annual event, and will soon begin scheduling of properties for 2015.”

Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project was formed in 2013 in an effort to preserve the century-old Sherburne Inn, which has stood vacant since 2002 and which was threatened with demolition in 2012. SSIRP, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, intends to restore and renovate the Inn, which held its grand opening on June 19, 1917. Plans include a farm-to-table restaurant, two bars, guest rooms, conference and meeting facilities, and other amenities, including retail space. SSIRP was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Howard K. Finch Memorial Foundation in July 2013, a $500,000 economic development grant from New York State in December 2013, and has raised more than $200,000 in community donations toward purchase and restoration since 2012. Total cost for the project is estimated to be $3 million. Other grants are in process, and SSIRP encourages corporate sponsors to contribute to the Inn’s restoration as a way to enhance local sustainability. SSIRP has retained preservation architects Crawford & Stearns of Syracuse to oversee construction and to preserve the historic qualities of the building during renovation.

For more information on the 2014 Sherburne Historic Walking Tour, call 607-674-2486. For information on Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project, or to purchase Historic House Tour tickets online, visit thesherburneinn.org.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The First Cut Is The Deepest

There's a first time for everything, as the old saying goes. Some first times are good. Some first times ... not so much.
I got home over the weekend from a wonderful vacation in Maine, relaxed and refreshed and ready to take on the challenges of autumn. Harry went with me, of course, and he too was glad to be home and back in his fenced-in yard. The first thing he did was race in circles and chase away rabbits and squirrels who had taken up residence in his absence. He didn't catch any (I'm happy to report) but he certainly gave them something to think about now that the Little Prince Of The Lawn has returned.
We weren't in town an hour before I heard him making strange noises out back. He's always a bit aggressive with the neighborhood fauna that drifts into his fence, but this was different. It wasn't exactly a sound of pain, nor was it a sound of triumph. More like angry freaking out. The back door was open and just as I was getting up to see what was happening he came roaring into the house soaking wet. I'd like to say it was raining. I'd like to say he fell into a puddle. I'd like to say just about anything other than the truth: Harry had encountered his first skunk.
My poor dog got sprayed smack in the face: in his eyes, up his nose, down his throat. He went purely crazy, rolling around on the carpet and charging through the rooms, spreading ghastly skunk oil everywhere he went. I finally trapped him in the library and rushed him to the tub, where I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. There was no time to look online to find out the right thing to do, there was only time to try to get him some relief. He shook himself a dozen times, spraying water and smell all over the place. My clothes were drenched. My house reeked of skunk. And after it was all said and done, in spite of all the scrubbing, so did Harry.
(By the way, the "right" thing to do, per later Internet research, is a combination of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dish soap. I used baking soda, white vinegar, and dog soap. Live and learn.)
That was Sunday. It's now Tuesday. After several more dog baths, lots of fans, lots of fragrant candles, lots of mopping, and lots of laundry, things are pretty much back to normal. I can still detect a faint scent in the house, although a friend stopped by today and assured me he didn't smell skunk in the air. He sniffed Harry and announced "I don't smell anything!" until he buried his face in Harry's neck. "Oh yeah, I smell that," he muttered, which is why Harry's been sleeping in his cage the last two nights instead of at my side in bed. I think we have a few more cage-nights to go until the smell is completely gone, and after a couple of more baths. I haven't tried the hydrogen peroxide method yet because both Harry and I have about had it with the bathing ritual. Maybe tomorrow, if the neck
smell persists ...
I'm hoping my Harry's first encounter with a skunk has taught him a big lesson, which is to chase squirrels with effervescence but to leave the big black and white critters alone. This was also my first encounter with a skunked pet. Not bad after 58 years. Let's hope it's my (and Harry's) last.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Robin Williams

I'm a big I Love Lucy fan. I remember one episode, called Pioneer Women, where Lucy and Ethel are trying to become members of the The Society Matron's League. Without going into too much detail, the gang (Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel) get into some situation where they all decide to live like people did in the early 1900s. Antique clothes, baking bread, churning butter, and so on. Snooty representatives from The Society Matron's League show up at the apartment in a surprise visit to "check out" the potential new members. Heated conversation ensues after the Matron's League ladies observe the strange goings-on at the Ricardo home and make a comment about "theater people." At the end of the day, Lucy tells them to take their League and shove it, the ladies leave, and the kooky quartet is happy continuing to live a zany though content theater people life.
Theater people. There was a time when that phrase was common, and was a not-so-flattering description of those in the stage and movie business. It implied wacky, off balance, eccentric, and yes, a bit nuts. Then somewhere along the way -- certainly after 1952 when Lucy's Pioneer Women aired on televisions across America -- theater people became multi-millionaire idols, idols many today admire and try to emulate. They aren't sniffed at and called theater people anymore. They're called STARS.
I have friends (oddly reminiscent of the Society Matrons) who turn up their noses at any news related to celebrities. I guess they (these friends) think of themselves as too intellectually superior to wallow in the pish-posh of celebrity information. Okay, whatever. So I'm a dumb-head celebrity gazer. Guilty and proud of it. I like to read, I like to write, I like to sit and ponder my toenail, I watch birds, I listen to music, I dabble around on the Internet, and yes, I like the Housewives. I've never quite understood why some people have to make others feel less because of interests that drift into pop culture. Theater people -- stars -- certainly fall into the pop culture category. Again ... w h a t e v e r. To each her own and let me be.
Robin Williams was one of those pop culture, theater people guys. The first time I saw him was on Mork and Mindy. I remember thinking he was a nut. A wildly talented nut, but a nut nonetheless. I didn't know him, of course. Like everyone else, I knew him from TV and the movies. His routines and moods seemed to swing so much. Swwwing. Sometimes he was quiet and sincere and deep (as in Good Will Hunting), and sometimes he was utterly over the top (as in his comedy skits, or on talk shows). I saw him once in person, a million years ago when I was climbing aboard a cable car in San Francisco. He was standing on the street, just a regular fellow in jeans and a T-shirt hailing a cab. That was my one and only personal connection to the man. There he was, hand raised on a hilly street where Tony Bennett left his heart, flagging down a taxi. Then the cable car moved on and that was that.
A million years later, on August 11 of this year, a friend sent me a text with this message: "Robin Williams. Suicide."
Shit, I said out loud when I read the text. I couldn't quite believe it, wanted it to be one of those web hoaxes. I was with a gang of friends celebrating summer. Robin Williams killed himself, I told them. They said it too. Shit. We shook our heads. What a crying shame.
It's true, I didn't know Mr. Williams. But I did so admire his work, his theater people work. He made me laugh out loud a thousand times. He made me think and sigh in Good Will Hunting, and he made me mop tears in Awakenings. He made me a nervous wreck sometimes, so erratic was his behavior. I often wondered if he was a manic/depressive (ie, bipolar) because there were times he was so serene and focused, and others when he was just flat over the wall. Like two people in one body, one up, one down. The single thing I never wondered, though, was if he was sad. He was a complete stranger to me, and let's face it, he was theater people. And you know, as the Society Matrons said, they're all a little crazy.
I guess I never actually considered that he was just a human being. Living in his house somewhere, probably California. Sad. Tortured. Suffering, as one columnist put it last week, with Thought Cancer.
So one night he had enough of this life and hanged himself. Shit. And from my southern sensibilities, bless his heart.
To those who poo-poo the celebrity thing, and who in fact make nasty remarks like "he was so rich" and "he was so famous" and "what a jerk he was to waste all that:" let's try not to forget that Robin was just a person, like all of us and like all the other stars out there who eat and drink and sleep and laugh and suffer love and try their best to carve a living with whatever talents they have. He was a famous man, certainly, but in the shower or tossing a ball to his dog in the park or running his car through the Jiffy Wash or hailing a cab, he was just guy who had a particular gift that was to make people laugh, which he did well. Forget about People and Radar Online and all the other celebrity buzz outlets that titillate with photos and soundbites and that make my friends snarl about pop culture. Like it or not, this is our culture, one in which we feel we know people whom we don't, and in which we grieve for people who maybe deserve a little grieving over, even though they're strangers to us. After all, what's wrong with grieving for a stranger? Doesn't that make us human?
Mr. Williams put his pants on one leg at a time, just like you and me; but unlike you and me (hopefully) he was a person on this earth who was wounded by a chemical imbalance that finally led him to put a belt around his neck and say goodbye cruel world. I don't think there's anything wrong with weeping for that poor soul, famous or rich or pop culture or not.
So adios Society Matrons. Some of us like and appreciate theater people, and mourn them when they're gone.
Robin Williams brought great joy to the world, if not -- in the end -- to himself. Bless his heart indeed.


About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum