Welcome to The Squeaky Pen

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

Monday, September 24, 2012

An Honest Day's Work

I was on an airplane over the weekend and just as we were landing, found somebody's forgotten Kindle Fire in the seat pocket in front of me. There wasn't much time for me to decide what to do: give the thing to the flight attendant and hope it gets returned to the rightful owner, or hang onto the reader and figure out who it belonged to and return it myself. At the last minute I took the latter course. At least if I took Jay's Kindle (the guy's name was Jay) I could maybe identify the owner and send it along.

I did indeed figure it out. The guy's email came up when I hit the ON button. I emailed him, he gave me his address, and I told him I'd Fed-x his Kindle out (which I did). What struck me was his response, which was this: "Thank you for being a good human." He also offered to pay for the shipping (I declined) and he also offered a "reward."

We live in such sad times. First, that I questioned the honesty of the flight crew, and second that doing the right thing -- returning an expensive piece of technology that didn't belong to me -- makes me a good human. Again, the Kindle didn't belong to me. Of course I'm not going to keep it. I'd like to think I'm among the many who would return someone else's property, but maybe not. Maybe somebody else would have said "Happy day! I've got a new Kindle Fire that I didn't have to pay for!!"

This isn't the first time the question of honesty has come up in my little world. A few years back I was driving with a couple of 20-somethings in the car. We stopped at Burger King and the drive-through girl gave me a dollar too much change. I counted, then returned the dollar to her. As we drove away the 20s both looked at me in amazement. "Wow, Kathy, you're honest!" they said. I looked at them and scowled. The dollar, I said, didn't belong to me. What the hell is wrong with you two??

Sometimes I think the question of honesty these days has to do with the worth of the luck. That is, if it's a dollar, it doesn't really matter if you give it back. After all, what's a buck? So keep it, or give it back. Whatever. And if it's a Kindle Fire worth a hundred dollars, well maybe you should return it because of the price tag, or maybe you should keep it, tough darts on the guy who lost it because he should have been more careful, and now yippie skippie, I have a new Kindle! What if it was five hundred dollars, or a million? In my head, it doesn't matter if the item or the money was worth ten cents. The fact is, this was a dime (or a C-note or a fortune) that came to me without effort. I didn't earn it. And in the end, the windfall, however small or large, just isn't mine to keep.

There's a movie called The Family Man starring Nicholas Cage and Don Cheadle. Nick is having some sort of other-worldly experience about learning the meaning of life and Don is a helpful angel. Don is working as a 7-11 cashier and intentionally gives a teenager the wrong change (to her benefit) to see how she'll react. She happily takes the money and slips out of the store. Don shakes his head sadly and says something like this to Nick: "She sold her soul for nine dollars."

I guess the spirit of Don's line of script is what bothers me...that people are willing to sell their souls for so little, or for that matter, that they're willing to sell their souls at all. Being honest isn't about getting rewards or getting accolades for being a good human. Being honest should be something we do naturally. It never even occurred to me to keep Jay's Kindle. My only concern was wondering how he would ever get it back if I handed his property over to the flight attendant, who for all I know would have done the same as I: looked up his email and sent it along. I want to believe people are basically honest. But are they?

In one of our correspondences Jay said thank you thank you, and that he would pay my honesty forward. I hope he does. I hope my $20 investment in shipping this man's Kindle Fire along triggers a string of good honest stuff. I want to believe my tiny act of doing the right thing makes others do the same. I want to believe that, in the end, we're all good humans.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Things That Are Bugging Me

-That the heart, liver, and gizzard inside a store-bought chicken didn't originally come with that particular bird
-Elizabeth Hasselbeck
-Saying thank you when I buy something at the store. Shouldn't they be thanking me?
-My declining eyesight
-The pain in my knees
-The cats' yowling for no apparent reason
-Fox and Friends
-That I have to clip my toenails
-The decline of the incandescent bulb
-The news that Blackberry is going down (I have a Blackberry, my third: so far they've all sucked)
-The ever-annoying aspects of menopause
-That every photo I've taken in the last five years hasn't been printed
-That I rarely go to the movies
-Endless cleaning of the house
-People who mow the lawn at 7 a.m.
-Unseasoned wood
-Static cling
-Changing batteries in clocks
-Drug addicts, and that these are the people who will take over some day
-Bad English
-Postings on Facebook about kittens, puppies, God, and grandchildren
-Cheap candles
-Slow computers
-That limbs from the big tree behind my house keep falling into the driveway
-And people who complain, of which...apparently...I'm one

Monday, September 17, 2012

Royally Nekked

There's been all sorts of hullabaloo this week about European magazines releasing photos of a topless Kate Middleton, newest member of the royal family. Kate and her husband, Prince William, were apparently on vacation at a private residence in France and were zoomed in on by paparazzi with a long lens. "News" outlets are chattering (I put "news" in quotes because, seriously, is this really news??), Buckingham Palace is angry that the photos were released, and the French are shrugging whatever and pointing fingers at countries that think being naked is a bad thing while talk show hosts are tsk-tsking about a lack of privacy in today's world and making comparisons between Kate and the unfortunate Diana, who came to a bad end while pursued by photographers in a Paris tunnel.  

To those who are chirping about a lack of privacy, have you been under a rock for the past ten years? People can now take pictures -- and videos -- on a gadget they carry around in their pockets. Facebook lets us know when others are going to the store, to the doctor, to the bathroom. Kids are in perpetual communication via texting. Somebody's dog barks and they put it on Youtube. There are sixty dozen "entertainment" programs on TV that let us know every move every celebrity makes, complete with quotes, photos, film, and comments from anybody with fingers and a keyboard. The entire world has become a small town beauty salon where everybody knows what everybody else is doing every minute of the day. Gossip is our god.

So to Kate and the chagrined Brits...come on, folks: take a reality check. If you're a public figure (which you most certainly are, Princess), topless sunbathing in private or not is a risk. That you're shocked by a photographer with Star Trek-worthy equipment is naive and ridiculous. You signed on for this life when you got married, and as long as there are media outlets paying for celebrity images, you're a target. And here's a tip: there's nothing easier than preventing your naked self from being in the public eye...keep your royal clothes on.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


On Wednesday I was driving down a country road behind a stream of cars led by a school bus. It was a knockout day: blue sky, fading green September fields. The bus stopped and so did we all, waiting for the kids to climb out to waiting mothers.

To my left, on the grass about ten feet from the open door of the bus, was a big black lab. He was hunkered down and watchful as the children in new fall clothes came down the steps. It was a still life: two dozen cars stopped in both directions on the highway, a big orange bus, tykes with backpacks, brilliant sunshine, and this gleaming dog, waiting for somebody he loved to come home.

Then like moments do, this one broke apart. Moms scurried with their kids across the road, red bus lights were turned off, and cars started to crawl forward. The child, maybe some 12-year-old behind whom the dog trailed all summer up hills and down creeks, never showed. The bus doors closed and the dog stood up, seemingly undisappointed, and wandered off toward a nearby house. Maybe the kid stayed after school, or maybe there was no kid at all. Maybe it's the dog's habit: checking out the school bus at 3:30, musing in his doggy way: What's this about? before going back to his master for a treat.

In the category of Life Is A River, a cable guy came by today to resolve some issues with my DVR. As he was leaving, he apologized for being on the telephone earlier. "It was the ex-wife," he said. "My dog died this morning. A black lab. Hit by a car. He's in my back yard; I need to go home and dig a hole for him."

My insides seized up. I told the cable man how sorry I was. Then I picked up my Harry and hugged him tight, hoping the school bus dog was okay, chasing butterflies or snoozing somewhere in the sun.

They steal the heart, these dogs, and love us so true; four-legged things with noses wet and eyes brown and ever-wagging tails.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stay The *bleep* Out of My Purse!

I was watching a golf tournament over the weekend and one of the players -- Dustin Johnson -- hit his ball into a lady spectator's pocketbook, which was followed by lots of chuckling from the commentators. The spirit of their conversation was this: "Doesn't Dustin know? You never go into a lady's purse."

There's this odd understanding people have about poking around in a woman's pocketbook. Women, myself included, are often heard to say "Hand me my purse" when somebody asks for a nail file or dollar bill. Rarely do I hear one of the sisterhood say "The file (or whatever) is there in my purse, just dig around until you find it." Purses, for some reason, are off limits to everybody except the owner.

Several years ago I scaled down my handbag situation. I used to lug around a gigantic leather tote, a throwback I think to the days when I worked in Manhattan. I had no car, and everything I might need in an 8-hour day needed to be at hand, or in this case, on shoulder. No longer working in that environment, it seemed appropriate that I reduce the dimensions of the carry-all. My purse now is a small thing, about the size of a narrow football. Very sensible. Very manageable.

Dustin's errant golf shot reminded me it was time to clean out said purse. Here's what I found:

-Savings account book (sensible)
-Checking account book (also sensible)
-Wallet (good)
-Comb (ok)
-Brush (well, maybe overkill as there's a comb in there)
-Another brush (uh-oh)
-Crumpled deposit slips from August...and June...and January
-A gel-style luggage tag
-A very used tissue
-A tube of mascara
-An eyeliner pencil
-Four pens, two non-working
-An old-fashioned pill box with six crumbled and aging aspirin
-A tiny vinyl bag containing a handy fold-up satchel that I've never used because I'm afraid if I unfold the handy satchel I'll never get it back into the tiny vinyl bag
-Silver sparkly contact lens holder for contact lens case
-Two business cards, one for the local bank and another for The Trophy Guy
-An elastic ankle brace
-A container of L'Oreal New Bare-Naturale Gentle Mineral Powder 
-One gold hoop earring
-A tube of lipstick
-A ten dollar bill
-Four dollars and fifty six cents in change
-A roll of quarters
-A stack of my own business cards bearing the address and phone number of an office I left two years ago
-My cell phone charger
-My cell phone bill
-A mysterious wire that maybe goes to a computer
-Three empty matchbooks
-A tealight candle
-A reminder card from the dentist that I had an appointment in July
-The dog's license tag
-And three golf balls, none of which was deposited there by a professional golfer

There's a good reason women don't let people into their purses. The word would get out that we're all nuts.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pro-Choice v. Pro-Life: A Very Slippery Slope

Abortion is such a hot-button issue that for the past year and a half of writing this blog, I've avoided it. But in this election climate, after hearing political figures talk about "legitimate rape," after realizing that women fought and won this battle nearly 40 years ago, and after watching the Republicans in Tampa and the Democrats in Charlotte, I think it's time.

When I was a young teenager, my mother sat me down and told me a story about a woman she knew. The woman, who I'll call Stella, had a daughter who'd become pregnant. In those days, abortion was illegal. Stella's daughter, desperate, made the only choice she thought she had. She chose to have what was commonly called a "back-woods abortion," performed by someone who maybe was a doctor, who maybe wasn't. I don't remember if my mother told me that part of the story, don't remember if my mother even knew. In the end it didn't matter. Stella's daughter died. The point of my mom telling me the story was this: she asked me not to have sex too soon, but said if I did, and if I got pregnant, to come to her and my father, that they would help me. She begged me not to get a back-woods abortion. She didn't beg because she wanted to save a grandchild not yet conceived; she begged because she wanted to save my life. Because in those days, opting for an abortion was a matter of life and death.

That sit-down with my mother never left me. I did in fact have sex sooner or later (specifically, in 1974 while in college), and was very careful about it. I made an appointment with Planned Parenthood, had my first gynecologic check-up, discussed sexual intercourse with my doctor, opted for birth control pills as my method of contraception, and waited four weeks (as instructed by the package insert) before my first encounter.

The year before, in 1973, the Roe v. Wade decision came down from the Supreme Court, making abortion legal with certain stipulations, those having to do with "viability" of the fetus. If I had gotten pregnant in those early days, there would have been no back-woods abortion for me. I could have gotten a legal abortion because the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extends to a woman's decision to have an abortion, again, balanced by the mother's health and the ability of the fetus to live on its own, albeit with artificial aid. My decision to be careful about getting pregnant had nothing to do with the law, however. I didn't get pregnant because my mother's words were there in my head. Still, that legal abortion was in the background, that I had a choice if my boyfriend and I made a mistake, was a positive. If I'd slipped up and gotten pregnant while a freshman in college, would I have had an abortion? I can't answer that question definitively, not now when the last ship of my fertile eggs has long since sailed. But in truth, if I'd been pregnant at 18? Probably. My choice. If I'd gotten pregnant at 35, and was healthy, and was set to have a healthy baby? Absolutely not. Again: my choice.

Getting older changes the way the mind works. I've become more conservative, I'm tough on welfare benefits and am frustrated when that system is abused, all the while understanding there are legitimate cases when the poor need help. I'm angry at the entitled young, who feel they're somehow too good to work at menial jobs, or who quit fine jobs because "they aren't having fun." I expect young people to do what I did: work hard even when it isn't fun, pay taxes, contribute to society, and carve out a future, like I did. That future of mine, as it turned out, didn't include children. Not an "oh how sad" situation, but another choice I made. When the big clock started to tick in my late thirties I realized I didn't have the maternal drive that many women do. Now, as a fifty-something sorta conservative non-mother, my opinion about abortion remains the same. It should be legal, with certain balancing stipulations. Because in America, women should have a choice.

I have never had an abortion and do not believe in it. I mean seriously, does anybody actually believe in abortion? What I do believe in my heart -- and know for a fact in many cases, as I have friends who have had abortions -- is that no woman takes lightly the decision to terminate a pregnancy. It's an agonizing option, for the 17-year-old bound for college, for the 30-year-old who can't afford a family, for the 42-year-old whose health is threatened by childbirth. These women are not "pro-abortion." They are women who have a legal right to make a decision about their own body and their own life. Is the mother's life and how she decides to live it not just as important as the collection of cells growing in the womb? 

As a person who is pro-choice, I object to the concept of the so-called pro-life movement, which implies those of us who are pro-choice are somehow also pro-abortion or, worse, pro-death. Pro-lifers wave signs around bearing frightful photos of mangled babies. Politicians shriek that's those of us who are pro-choice are baby killers. Doctors who perform abortions have been shot dead...by those who proclaim to be pro-life and on whom the irony of such actions is lost. Smoking is a killer, but it's legal. Alcohol is a killer, but it's legal. Legal prescription drugs are killing people every day. To smoke or drink or take pills is also our choice, by law. And no one is waving signs about that. Some will say that's because smoking or drinking or pills are not a direct "murder" of the unborn. But that's just the point, isn't it? A fetus, and certainly one in the earliest stages, is unborn. And as a fertility doctor said to me years ago, life doesn't start at conception: it started millennia ago.

It has been only a few decades since medical science enabled us to "see" the fetus, and as technology progresses we can see even more clearly its early development -- the tiny head, a wee heartbeat. Interesting, yes. However, this collection of cells, no matter how microscopically fascinating, is just that: a collection of cells. I personally don't know any pro-choice person who subscribes to late-term abortions, when babies are viable on their own. In fact, I don't know any pro-choice person who subscribes to abortions at all. What we subscribe to -- and believe is our right -- is to have the choice to make the decision about a collection of cells that cannot live on its own, and about our own lives, which are important, too. Maybe more important, some might say.

Abortion is a complicated issue involving mothers and fathers and family and religion and politics and regret and frustration on all fronts. I'm happy I never had to make such a hard decision and feel sadness for those who have. Still, I cannot be convinced that it should not be a woman's choice, just as it is her choice to cut off a finger if she sees fit. Is having an abortion or cutting off a finger a good choice? Who can say? That's what choices are all about; they set us on a road that is all our own. And it is a slippery slope when politicians or churches or the rabid few begin to dictate what road we should travel.

As a final aside: I find that most of those who disagree with me about being pro-choice are men. I wonder what would happen if scientists were to discover that sperm contains a little heartbeat and tiny feet. I wonder...would these same men pass a law that masturbation...that biblical no-no of spilling one's seed upon the earth... should also be illegal?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hydrofracking: A Texan Perspective

Following is an article written by the mayor of Dish, Texas, about hydrofracking. Mayor Sciscoe visited Ithaca, New York in 2011. KMY

Run! Run! Run!
By Mayor William Sciscoe, of Dish, Texas

Run for your life! Run for the lives, health, safety and well-being of your family members and loved ones! Run for the value of your estate! There are billions of dollars under your feet and people are coming to get it. They do not care who or what they have to run over or through to get it. It is an under-ground gold rush, with you and your property in the way.

They have the legal right to take control of your property and do with it what they will. Their rights trump the rights of all others. They can and will take any portion of your property they want and turn it into a heavy industrial zone, toxic waste site and visual eyesore, which will spew toxins, carcinogens and noise.

In September of 2011, I visited Ithaca, New York. My airplane-type club buddies and I meet in beautiful locales several times a year, and Ithaca was the current choice. Two thoughts kept running through my mind in the several days I spent there. One, I was glad I got to see this area up close before it gets destroyed. Two, these people do not have any idea how much their world is about to change.

I, too once lived in a serene, ideal, and beautiful place. In the mid 1980s I moved my young and growing family out to some acreage thirty miles northwest of Dallas/Ft. Worth, on the beautiful rolling green hills of North Texas, with the clean air, peace and quiet of country life. We built a home. We shared the land with my aging parents, and my wife’s aging parents. We raised five great young Americans, and some cows and horses. Our children developed into two Eagle Scouts/U.S. Marines (one is at the U.S. Naval Academy and the other, an Afghanistan war vet, is now serving on the USS Iwo Jima); a veterinarian-technician; a popular radio host/sports commentator; and a Lear Jet mechanic/avionics technician. Life was good for us there.

Then the heavy trucks started to roll in. And then more heavy trucks. And bulldozers and rock trucks roll in. And drilling platforms arrive, with support trucks and service trucks. A diesel-powered drilling rig, grinding into the earth around the clock for 7 to 30 days, with banging and clanging drill pipes. Then the twenty trucks haul it to the next well site a very short distance away. Following this, trenching machines bigger than houses, scarring the earth from each well head to the compressor stations. They are making way for the high pressure gas pipelines. And sand trucks roll in and out. And water trucks are every-where. And pipe trucks. And work-over rigs. And then the frac trucks come in. And more trucks, hauling in storage tanks, pipes and valves. This is a procession that happens at every well head. And the well heads will be much closer than you can imagine. But please be advised that it does not end with the completion of the well head. It is an ongoing process. The heavy waste water trucks will be on your roads 24/7/365 from now on. Where are they hauling all of that radioactive, toxic waste water to, you should be asking yourself?

Of course, when the production of a gas well diminishes, it will need to be fracked again. So, some of this process will be repeated several times.

I do not want to give the impression that I am against the oil & gas industry, exactly the opposite. I come from an oil & gas family. My father has been honored and recognized as an oil field pioneer. My father owned several oil field service companies, manufacturing companies, an oil field tool rental business, and was a wildcatter of the Permian Basin and the states of the lower Mississippi River Valley. His father and brothers were also oil field pioneers. Among several other interests, I am an oil & gas operator and investor. So, a portion of my income comes from this industry.

This industry does provide jobs. And it will provide some cash flow to the local economy. Many people will manage to skim a little gravy off the industry’s war zone. And you will be living in a war zone. You just do not know it, yet. Rent a small aircraft and have someone fly you over your beautiful hills, valleys, pastures, rivers, orchards and forest. Take pictures and videos. Then do this again every three months. Overall you are going to pay a very, very heavy price, environmentally. Many people will pay that price with their lives. You will see.

Oil & gas production is a dirty, filthy, nasty business. Anyone who tries to paint it otherwise is a liar. Your serene, picturesque countryside, small town lives, scenic drives through Norman Rockwell-type views, and the peace and quiet of your existence, are all going to be decimated. There will be ugly well sites every eighth of a mile or less [In New York they will supposedly be every mile or so.] There will be heavy trucks choking and pulverizing every road from the smallest private driveways to the major highways.

There will be drilling rigs, work-over rigs, compressor stations with multiple 2,250 horsepower diesel engines at full power. For your reference, the average freight train locomotive engines are about 1,250 horsepower. There are twelve of these compressor engines located less than one-quarter mile from my home. I look out my front door and the first thing I see is a gas well site. And right behind that is the compressor station complex. I look out my back door and look at another gas well site. There will be pipeline metering stations, with high pressure pop-off valves releasing one hundred million cubic feet of raw natural gas into your atmosphere. This sounds like a Saturn V rocket, launching outside your door. There will be people who tell you, “Oh, there is nothing to worry about. That gas is lighter than air. It goes straight up to heaven.” But we have proved this theory wrong in the town of Dish, Texas. If anything, these gas fumes, with their toxins and carcinogens, hug the ground and hang in depressions, until moved out by the wind.

What really tipped us off in 2009 was the death of old growth trees near the compressor stations. We checked other compressor sites and found more dead trees. We paid for an independent air study that came back with toxins and carcinogens at four hundred times the EPA short term and long term exposure levels. We now have a 24/7/365 air quality monitor station in our town near the compressor station. But every well head site is venting these gases, toxins and carcinogens.

I recently had a new resident email me at 6:30 AM, complaining about their windows rattling in their new home. They live one-half mile from the compressor station. I responded, explaining the source of their problem. They sent another email a few minutes later saying that they walked the dog in their back yard and their swimming pool water was vibrating. I thought, “Really?” I walked out in my back yard and sure enough, my swimming pool water was vibrating also. The earth was vibrating through my shoes!

You will smell gas all of the time. You will never again enjoy sitting outside your home. The noise and odor will aggravate you, more than you can imagine. You will not feel safe breathing. Have you read those placards on gasoline pumps that say, breathing these fumes can cause cancer? Six people that I have known, that lived within one-half mile of my home and these well sites and compressor stations, have died of cancer. This is not a densely populated area. All of the homes are single family. And the smallest lot size allowed is one acre.

We have several homes in our town where citizens have had a 36-inch diameter high pressure gas line buried within twenty feet of their front door. These high pressure gas lines are buried all over our town. One property owner next to my property has five pipelines across his once beautiful horse ranch, each with a one hundred foot wide easement. He can never develop that property, never do anything than grow grass on it. He owned his property, but they had their will with it. They have the control of his property, while he cannot hope to sell it. But he still gets to pay the property taxes on it.

They have the right of eminent domain. They can, for a fair price, which they set, run over and through your property with pipeline easements, right-of-way easements, and erect any industrial complex they wish. They are not going to steal your property from you. They do not want it. They do not want to own a toxic waste site or have to pay the property taxes on it. That’s your responsibility.

We have property rights in this country–until someone with more money and power wants what we think we own.

The sale of real estate is governed by the rules of full disclosure. If a perspective purchaser views your property, you must disclose any and all known defects about your property or the area surrounding your property. Failure to do so opens you up to some very serious liability. So, if a gas well goes in down the road, spewing toxins and carcinogens, failing to report this to perspective purchasers can prove very costly to your estate. You will soon find that you are a prisoner in your own home. There are billions of dollars under your feet and there are people coming to get it. And they do not care who or what they have to run over or through to get it.

This article is reprinted from THE FLOWBACK. The Costly Consequently of Hydrofracking. 

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