Welcome to The Squeaky Pen

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Merry Christmas to a Remarkable Town

Two really important things happened for The Sherburne Inn in the past couple of weeks. On December 4th we (finally) got the signed contract from New York State for the 2013 grant. What this means in a nutshell is that we can (finally) begin work on the building. It was a long 358 days from the time of the announcement that we got a $500,000 grant to the actual signing of the contract, but the day (finally) came. The grant process is an arduous one, with lots of waiting and paperwork and late nights and government red tape and so on. In the end though, it's worthwhile, and we are tremendously grateful to New York State. Last year the state said they believed in the project, and said so with a promise of major funding. On December 4th they made good on that promise.
To clarify, that we got the contract signed doesn't mean hammers will be heard pounding at the Inn anytime soon. There are other steps to take, bid packages to get approved, planning sessions to be held, and many decisions to be made. Still, things are moving forward. Finally.
The second big thing to happen was that on December 11th New York State granted us yet another half million dollar economic development grant for the project. For those who are counting, that's a million dollars SSIRP is getting from the State of New York to restore and reopen The Sherburne Inn, a million dollars awarded in 12 months to the day. We don't know how long it'll take for the contract on the new grant to be signed, but that's okay. The first half million will get us started on the exterior of the building, and by the time the second contract is signed we'll be just about ready to move to restoration inside. More funds need to be raised, of course, and we'll be launching a corporate fundraising campaign in the spring. SSIRP anticipates that corporate money will start to flow now that we have New York State as our primary project funder.  
Like I said, it's been a long year during which patience has begun to fray, for those of us on the SSIRP board and most certainly for people in our community who have been wondering what's going on as they pass by the building and see no progress. We knew from the beginning this would be a step-by-step process, and while we've been waiting for the state to untangle its red tape we've been laying the foundation to transition this historic building from a dark shell to a thriving hub. Rest assured that every board member of SSIRP -- along with the wonderful volunteers who have come forward to lend a hand -- are dedicated to bringing back The Sherburne Inn. There have been so many volunteers that it's impossible to name them all, but you know who you are, and SSIRP is and will be eternally indebted. This project in late 2012 began with a handful of voices. Today those voices are a choir, and they are everywhere. 
This Christmas, I speak for the entire SSIRP board of directors in extending thanks to everyone in Sherburne, in surrounding communities, and those from far away who have supported us (with particular thanks to the Howard K. Finch Memorial Foundation and The INN-SIDERS). The individual donations, large and small, have brought us to where we are today, celebrating the state grants that will launch this project forward. Without the checks that have arrived by mail over the past two years we would not have been able to continue. Thank you for supporting our fundraising events, for pressing twenty dollar bills into board members' hands, for buying (and selling) INN-SIDERS' books, for touring the Inn to see for yourself the building we love, and for sending letters and emails of encouragement. This is a special town, one I'm glad and proud to call home.
To everyone who has been so generous of time, money, and spirit -- Merry Christmas! It is because of you that we are on our way!!
Oh yes, and mark your calendars for summer 2017 -- no promises yet, but we're shooting for a grand opening on the Inn's 100th birthday!


Friday, December 5, 2014

Small Town Angel

In my last post I was griping about the UPS person (among other things) and how he or she completely ignored my note about putting packages on the side porch.
The Universe is such a mysterious and wonderful place.
It's Christmastime and I've been busy ordering gifts. Every other day or so a present seems to arrive. Sometimes I see the UPS truck slow down in front of my house, sometimes I don't. On Thursday I did, so like a kid in footies and snowman-covered pajamas, I dashed through the rooms to see what new item was being delivered. I opened the door as the UPS man was coming up the steps and he introduced himself as the son of someone I know. "Hey!" I said, we exchanged pleasantries, and then Harry came tearing down the hall in typical Harry fashion, barking his head off. I joked about my furry doorbell, we waved goodbye, I took my package, and that was that; or so I thought.
Today another package arrived and this time I didn't see the truck. I checked the porch this afternoon and did indeed find a box, some delivery from Amazon. On top of the box was a dog bone. For Harry.
There are times I regret leaving New York City to journey into another life upstate, to a little town where everybody seems to know your business and where I have to travel 40 miles to find a sushi restaurant. Today was not one of those days.
Santa came early this year, not in a sleigh but driving a big brown truck, reminding me (as the Grinch discovered) that Christmas doesn't come from a store. It comes from the heart.
Thanks Mr. UPS angel. You made my week (not to mention Harry's).


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.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kids These Days ...

Yesterday I was struck with hope for the generation of kids coming out of college. Yes, I've reached that age when I sit around grousing about "kids these days," how so many have a misplaced sense of entitlement, how they don't work as hard as I did when I was their age, how I had to ski to school on barrel slats while they're transported in comfy cars (well, I don't really say that last one, but my father used to). Most importantly, I sit around and wring my hands that these lazy bums will someday be running the country.

Then yesterday arrived and hope was renewed. Thirteen summer interns from GE-Unison in Norwich arrived at The Sherburne Inn and went to work. I'm talking went to work. After a quick orientation about the building and what we wanted them to accomplish -- and after thoughtful, genuinely curious questions from them -- these college kids rolled up their sleeves and got busy. There was no complaining even though the work was difficult and dirty. They hauled debris and heaved it into dumpsters. They hauled scrap wood and heaved that onto a trailer. They hauled ghastly heavy metal refuse and heaved that onto another trailer. They moved and stacked dozens of historic windows. They swept up broken glass and cleaned up garbage. One girl (bless her heart) donned gloves and shoveled out drenched and smelly vines and who knows what else from the downstairs bar door well. There was nary a complaint. In fact, at one point, the interns were singing as they toiled. Vince Yacono, maybe the hardest working man in Sherburne, commented that it seemed there were twice as many of them there, so quick and efficient were their efforts. SSIRP fed them lunch (donated by Nina's Italian Grill), and then got them moving again. At the end of the day, nine thousand pounds of debris (almost 5 tons) was removed from the building, the basement was cleaned out maybe for the first time in a decade, and they thanked us when they left.

I shook my head at the wonder of it.

Indeed, the students get community service hours for helping us yesterday. Yet there was a sense from each of them that the motivation was more than that. They appreciated what SSIRP is doing, not only our goal of reopening The Inn, but preserving the century-old building. They were so polite and ambitious. And so bright. Everything about them was bright, and by that I mean good brains and good vibes. These are kids who are going places.

I'm an optimistic person by nature, but in recent years my "hope springs eternal" button has been in the off position when it comes to kids these days. Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project owes GE-Unison and its fantastic interns a big thanks for what was accomplished at The Inn on Monday. On a personal note, though, I owe the students an even bigger thanks. They've renewed my hope that there are 20-somethings out there who get it, who have faith in change, and who really want to make a difference in the world. All I can say to these kids is Bravo! And best of luck on your journey. Not one of you may set foot in this community again, but know what you did yesterday will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

At the End of a Long Goodbye

I lost someone recently. Someone close, with whom I spent not hours or weeks or months, but years. Fifty-some. Important childhood times, equally important adult times. We didn't always agree, and in fact there were months (and years) when we didn't speak at all. We would fight about silly things, things that seem really silly now that she's gone. She was not technically a friend, she was much more than that. She was a relative, a first cousin actually, who was like a sister to me. Even, dare I say it? a soul mate. There was a connection that neither of us could ever really understand. There were times as kids when I thought she threw the moon and flung the stars. I so admired her, wanted to be like her. She was funny and fun, smart and a smart-ass. Ultimately, she was troubled, something I knew and feared. I feared it because she was so complicated.

I am not particularly complicated. Yes, I'm a smart-ass. Sarcastic. Bitchy. But not complicated. I wake up every day and am happy about it. Happy to hear the birds, to see my dog's smiling face, glad to climb out of bed and see what the day will bring. She was not. She lived a tortured life, suffered from depression even as a young girl, and was profoundly depressed in recent years for reasons I won't go into here. Quite simply, life was not a happy place for her. Even in old times she did not wake up happy. In these last years, I imagine (because I don't know for sure) she woke up crying.

In the past two weeks I've relived those old old times, the really good stuff. On her family's farm, goofing around as kids do. She was so interesting and so delightful. We climbed trees and skated on frozen ponds. We wrote a little soap opera once and taped it on an old reel-to-reel. We played with trolls and created fantastic shoe box mansions. We scaled country hills and floated shards of wood in rivers and climbed trees where we sat as little girls will (or used to) and talked and talked and talked. There were paper dolls, and kittens, and calling cows. We played table football with matchboxes. Our families spent holidays together, though we were a bit like the Peanuts kids. Adults were quite tall out-of-touch beings with faraway voices. In our world, under card tables covered with blankets to make tents, we whispered and giggled and made plans for a future that would never be.

Our paths diverged as young adults, but happily (I think it was happy for us both) the paths came back together eventually. In most recent years we spent time around a card table instead of under one. It was always so good to see her because I wondered how long we would have. She was sad, as I mentioned, and I knew the clock was ticking. She knew it too. We all did.

On June 2 the end came. I had not spoken with her since last July, another hiatus in our long and inexplicable relationship. The last time I hugged her goodbye I sensed it might be the for-real last time, but 20/20 hindsight and all that, so who knows. She left through my kitchen door and I never spoke to or saw her again, although we did email once or twice after. I'm not completely sure why our contact ended. I hear she needed some distance from me. And that's okay.

When the call came that she was gone, I was shocked but not surprised. I didn't cry. I've been waiting for that call for 30 years and I guess the tears had long ago been cried for this news. I've certainly cried since the call, but not for her. She's finally where she wants to be. I've cried for myself, that I'll never see her lively brown eyes again, that I'll never hear her voice or smell her hair in a hug. As kids I got her hand-me-downs, and there was one green satin dress in particular that I loved so much, because it smelled like my cousin Judy.

I'm trying very hard to understand that she was not happy on this earth, and what that must have been like for her. She wanted to go on to the next place, whatever that is, and now she's there. I hope she knew how much I loved her. I hope she still knows. I hope she's found whatever she was looking for, and that now, finally, she's at peace. I'm strangely happy for her, an odd thing to say because we're supposed to be unhappy when someone dies. But she was so unhappy here. Her life was in darkness. Maybe now she's found some light.

And life goes on. So while I'm still upright and breathing, I've decided to tuck her away in a little quiet spot of my heart, where the beautiful spirit I remember so well can live on forever.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Twisted Mind of Cat

I did a count the other day. In my house there are the following:
6 sofas
3 loveseats
8 upholstered chairs
5 beds
2 chaise lounges
3 rocking chairs
and a dozen or more regular old straight-backed table chairs
Not to mention three plushy store-bought pet beds and a bunch of comfortable rugs. Yet my cat, Lucy, chooses to sit and sleep in a broken box. A box, she in fact, broke herself by pawing and gnawing on the corners until one of the flaps came apart. I picked the box up one day, sick of my cat looking like a homeless thing living on the street, and tossed it on a chair with the intention of disposing of it later. In less than a half hour Lucy had wrangled the box to the floor again and was sleeping in it.
I once had a cat named Taylor who had about 37 toys, fuzzy mice and jingling balls and who knows what all. Yet his favorite plaything was a three-inch-long scrap of cloth that fell on the floor one day.

I read someplace that Americans spend more than 45 billion dollars a year on their pets. I don't know the breakdown, but I have to guess a good chunk of that money goes toward toys and beds. What are we thinking? I love my pets, I do, but sometimes I believe we've all gone a little nuts. They aren't humans even though we treat them like they are. They're animals, who before smirking up at us and slathering our faces with tongue kisses have eaten flies, chewed on deceased rodents, and licked their own butts. I'll never forget the day Harry the dog was dangerously quiet. I found him sitting in the cat box (not the cardboard one, but the one where the cats do their "business"). He looked like a tiny sailor heading out to sea in a disgusting boat, the "business" of the his feline sisters smeared all over his lips.

As for the Lucy-sitting-and-sleeping-in-a-cardboard-box dilemma, I've given up. It now resides in a corner of my home office, usually with the cat in it, a permanent part of my décor. Lucy seems to like it and who am I to argue? The plushy pet beds go unused, and I guess I should be happy cat hair that in other circumstances would be all over my furniture is now relegated to a non-plushy, non-soft, brown container that came in the mail with a book in it.

Friday, May 16, 2014


Twenty-two years ago today it was raining. I recall being on Route 17 in upstate New York, heading north in late morning. I was a passenger and my high school friend Jackie was in the driver's seat. I was crying. We both were.

Several hours earlier I'd gotten the phone call, one of many we all ultimately get and all of which we dread. The phone jangled horribly at 5 a.m. A ringing telephone at that hour is always horrible even when everybody's okay. In my case on that rainy day 22 years ago, everybody wasn't okay. My mother had died suddenly in the night. Stroke, or heart attack (or both); we never knew for sure. All we did know was that she'd been at her camp with friends and family, had come rushing out of her camper, banged on her brother's camper door, and died minutes later in her sister-in-law's arms. My mom, Iva, was 69 years old. This loving, friendly, caring woman who had tucked me into bed and brushed tangles out of my hair and bought my first pair of kindergarten shoes, who included a 20-dollar bill with each letter every month I was in college and with whom, as a grown-up, I sat at a kitchen table drinking coffee and eating donuts and laughing and learning about what's important in life, had simply vanished from the world in a matter of minutes. While I was asleep in my bed in New York City, my mama had slipped away.

My father, John, had died in 1980. By the time Iva left us to join him he'd already been gone 12 years. So there I was in 1992, riding along in the rain, without parents at the tender age of 36.

After getting the call, I don't remember much. My mind seemed altered, as though a protective sheath had been tossed over it. I pulled out a suitcase and packed a bra. Then another bra. "Well," I remember thinking. "I'll certainly be noticed at the funeral, the woman wearing two bras and nothing else." I finally managed to get some suits packed, and pondered this: "Good thing I went shopping recently, who knew I was buying a suit for my mother's funeral!" The thought was funny and tragic and wholly inappropriate. But then, what's appropriate when your mother has just died? The sheath got thicker, and for the next year my brain took a vacation.

Oh sure, I remember some things about the next 12 months, and certainly about the next week. I remember how many people flocked into the funeral home to say goodbye to Iva, I remember dearest of friends showing up unexpectedly, many in tears. I remember going back to Queens and changing my driving route so I would never have to think about crossing over the same bridges I did the day my mom died. I remember my lackluster work ethic in the months that followed, shrugging when called on it and saying, "Oh who cares." Then in April of the following year, while on a six-seat plane over of all unlikely places the Maasai Mara in Kenya, the brain sheath chose that moment to remove itself. My poor friend Liz, with whom I was on vacation, took the brunt of being with me when my mind returned. We still talk about it (although now we can laugh). Suffice to say hysteria doesn't begin to explain the situation of a grown woman cracking into ten pieces on a tiny plane where below there are hungry lions waiting.

It's hard to believe that more than two decades have passed since last I heard my mother's voice. Her hands always smelled vaguely of Clorox -- she was fond of bleaching things ... clothes, the sink, the tub, once even suggested I use Clorox to fix my hair when I accidentally died it black. I still see her fussing with flowers or hanging bird feeders. People loved her, especially family. I did not inherit that lucky trait, but I'm told by some that they see qualities of her in me. I could not be more proud of that. She was, truly, a dear person. Maybe one of the kindest souls ever to walk the planet.
It's raining where I am. In fact, we had a bit of a microburst here this morning. Huge trees have been uprooted on a roadway outside of town, property damaged. Another monumental thing happened on May 16, 2014: Barbara Walters, after a long and proud career that shattered the glass ceiling for women in broadcasting, has retired. It's been an interesting day for me, one of microbursts and retirement and rain and tears. Lots of tears. Not for the downed trees, nor for Ms. Walters. Today is the day I became an orphan 22 years ago.
I love you, Mama. I wish I could hear your voice one more time, wish we could have a donut at the kitchen table, wish I could tell you all my troubles and have you tuck me into bed and say it's all going to be all right. But I can't. That's how life goes, isn't it? I guess I should consider myself lucky that I had such a wonderful mother at all, for however brief a time. 
Wherever you are, Iva, I miss you so.  Every single day.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

"I'm Sorry ... I Have Color Guard Practice"

Last Thursday around 6 p.m. I was on the phone with someone, glanced at the clock, and said, "Oh sorry, I need to hang up. I have to go to color guard practice."
Now I'm fairly certain I haven't said those exact words in a very long time ... like, since I was 16. In fact, having said them Thursday I sort of felt like I was 16 again. Double-knotting the laces on my sneakers, grabbing my banner pole, and scooting out the door to get to Paddleford Park so I could line up with the other "girls" who are marching in Sherburne's Pageant of Bands on June 7.
When I got there Paddleford was teeming with people: squealing kids on the playground, folks milling around on the baseball field (small town life in full bloom on a beautiful spring evening), and a whole flock of females twirling rifles and flags who haven't been "girls" for more years than any of us care to count. I dropped into line with the other banners and we practiced our routine to the taped and tinny boom box sounds of Love Me Forever and Temptation. At first I was thinking, "I can't remember how to do this," even had a moment or two when I found myself out of step. Then, after about 15 minutes, it all came together. When we turned half-right and slammed our banners to the ground, it was in perfect unison. When we saluted the imaginary judges' stand, I could hear the crowds cheering in my head. I felt that chill, the zing up the arms of military discipline, the camaraderie of people who most of the year only bump into each other at the grocery store, but who every half decade come together to recreate, one more time, the thrill of that wonderful and beloved marching beast known as the Sherburne-Earlville Alumni Band and Color Guard. 
The guard -- rifles and banners both -- have practices planned for every Thursday at 6 p.m. from now until Pageant of Bands. Why? Because just like when we were teenagers, we want to look sharp. We want to be on point. We want (still) to be the best.
I've written about the alumni band many times. Ten years ago I wrote the following, which for me still captures the feeling of getting out and performing to the still incredible and well-known S-E street beat. I thought I'd share it again here, because I think it says it all.
Among Life's Blessings - Sherburne-Earlville Alumni Band
Originally published May 2004
Recently, I found myself counting my blessings.  I was on a plane on the way back to New York from a business trip in Madrid, where just a few weeks earlier terrorist attacks had turned that city upside down. Needless to say, it wasn't really on my top ten list of places to go, and I was glad to be coming home.
So I was counting my blessings because no terrorist had walked into my hotel with a bomb strapped to his chest and taken out the first six floors, and because another terrorist hadn't hijacked my airplane and drilled it into a high rise. The counting went on as the landing gear hit the runway, when I found myself saying "thanks for good health, good friends," and then, surprisingly, " . . . and thanks for getting me home safely so I can march one more time in the Pageant of Bands . . ." It's the truth. I actually thanked God for keeping me alive through this trip so I could get home to Sherburne and march.
Now this is pretty powerful stuff.  We're talking about returning to a pastime from 30 years ago.  Don't misunderstand, though . . . it isn't reliving band and color guard that I'm looking forward to, it's revisiting it, a subtle yet important difference. Some people turn away from the alumni band with the explanation "I have no interest in reliving high school." Believe me, neither do I. High school was fine, I'm glad I did it, and when I graduated I was extremely glad it was over. This isn't "Oh, wasn't the football game of '71 the best time of your life" kind of thinking. It's more about once having had something wonderful, like your first kiss, and wanting to experience it again; or maybe a better example is the feeling you get from certain scents . . . your grandfather's pipe tobacco, Lilies of the Valley in your back yard, your baby's first blanket . . . something that brings you back to a time when life was simple and your biggest worry was can I hit that note on the trumpet and not is somebody going to walk onto this airplane and blow it out of the sky.
I've written, with difficulty, about this feeling before, this alumni band "thing." It's a sensation that usually gels for me when I think about things people have said or done, both while we were marching as kids and since we've "revisited" it as adults. I remember the look on Sharon Monahan's face at the state fair in the early 1970s when the band and color guard took first place. From her vantage point she could see how straight the ranks were, and she was just beaming because she knew we were going to win. There were late night trips back from competitions when parents all over town stood on their front steps as the busses went by, cheering. There was Katie Hoefler, who said, after hearing us practice for the first alumni reunion, "We have our band back again!" and there is always the chill up the spine when hearing Jeff Funnell's street beat. There was Roy Balma and the Frank Millers and the Plonus girls and hours of time spent making us the best we could be. And there was and is Temptation, our signature song that every person who plays solo trumpet is wearied by and still the one that brings a lump to everybody's throat when they hear it.
But it was something I overheard Laura Keefe Fagan say that really struck me: at one of the early band reunions, she told someone she couldn't stay out late the Friday night before the pageant because she "had a performance the next day."  Laura, you hit it right on the head.  No matter what, we in the Sherburne-Earlville band and color guard always gave one hundred and ten percent. We always performed, whether as students, in an alumni setting, or otherwise, like we were competing. Mark Perrin remembers seeing an article in a high school marching band magazine in the mid-1970s that ranked the S-E band among the top ten in the country. In the country. Pretty impressive for such a small school, but then we were a willful bunch and weren't about to let anybody down -- the instructors, the parents, the audience, and least of all ourselves. The pride we felt, the sense of accomplishment, and (my apologies for saying this) the well-deserved arrogance at being that good, all of this combined to create an atmosphere, an aura, that's almost impossible to articulate. Those of us who keep coming back know what I'm talking about. It's like the first whiff of spring: you don't have to say anything, you just have to close your eyes and breathe it in.
No one really knows how many more times -- if any -- the alumni band and color guard will march.  We all have busy lives, and many of us are gone -- of those I named here, Sharon Monahan, Roy Balma, Jeff Funnell, and the "old" Frank Miller. Our ranks ever shrink and, let's face it, the alumni band's days are numbered. I don't know how many people have signed up to march this year, I hope many. But either way I'll be there, with my little banner, breathing it all in. I'll stand on Main Street when we face the judges' stand, listening to the band play Love Me Forever and Temptation one more time -- maybe for the last time -- and I'll think about Roy and Sharon and Jeff and Old Frank. I'll be there for them, and I'll think of them as I count my blessings . . . thanks for a good life, thanks for good health, thanks for keeping me from getting blown up by a terrorist, and thanks for giving me one more chance to come back to experience this band, and that indescribable sensation of home.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Love in the New Century

I remember love. There was that little thrill, an extra heartbeat, when the object of my affection entered the room. There was the boy with whom I spent a magical summer evening watching a meteor shower, the man who held my hand in a candlelit restaurant, the others who murmured with sweet affection over the decades of my life. At times there was twinkling jewelry wrapped in pretty paper; at other times, twinkling eyes. Ah, it was lovely, all those fellas who captured my heart.
But that was then. The world has moved on. Now the object of my love is ENVY. To be more exact, an HP Envy, an intel Pentium all-in-one with 20" diagonal touch screen, built-in Wi-Fi and video chat. I have a new computer.
I am not a techie by any means, not a woman who frequently upgrades her mechanical belongings. I drive a car until the tires fall off. I had a flip phone long after their coolness cooled. The BlackBerry I now use is battered and scratched and tends to reboot itself unsolicited. Just lately it refuses to send mail. When it came to my computer, my aversion to upgrading was never more true. The one on which I'd been working for years (and I do mean years) had been laboring in recent months. Well, truthfully, it had been laboring for much longer than that. I can't really say when I got it, but I'm thinking maybe Johnny Carson was still on The Tonight Show. I'd upgraded the screen, but the plastic box that contained in its humming rattling innards every important work and personal document I've ever laid hand to served me well for awhile, but in recent memory was, as I liked to put it to my computer friends, "acting up." Response was ghastly slow. Powering up took a solid fifteen minutes, causing me to leave it on most of the time so I wouldn't have to slog through the boot-up process every morning. Some programs refused to operate efficiently, and others refused to operate at all ... Facebook for one. Every time I tried to open Facebook on my desktop the computer froze, forcing me to shut down. Doing so was always harrowing as I never knew for sure if the computer would start up again.
This is the height of foolishness, I realize, in that every bit of work I do is on the computer. But I persisted. I was determined to make this car run even if ALL the tires came off!
On Monday of last week, my computer had finally had enough. In one last gasp of glowing tribute to many tortuous years of hard labor, my PC signed off for the last time. There was no flash of light, no automated goodbye (indeed, the speakers had blinked out long ago); it simply shut itself off with a tiny click and we were done. I had spent so many long hours tapping away on its keyboard and looking into the face of the beast that I myself -- my very brain -- became frozen, as my computer's brain had so many times before. All of those files! All of those photos! Poof! Gone! And not even with a puff of smoke.  
My first frantic act was to call the local computer guy, who said he could scan the hard drive and retrieve my files. The second was to jump into the car and speed to the store. In less than an hour I was considerably poorer but oh-so-much happier. Like being on that exhilarating first date, I sat staring at my new beloved. Plugged it in, touched the on button, and voila! I'm in another world, one where programs don't freeze and I have sound. Bliss! Skipping heartbeat!
Then, quite by surprise and on fleet feet, came the oft-tricky second date. I realized I was out of my league, that my new beau had brains far beyond my former one (and quite frankly what felt far beyond my ability to comprehend). I couldn't open a file folder, couldn't find the start menu, was baffled by the location of my browser. It was as though I'd just arrived from Planet of the Apes and was being told I was solely responsible for the operations of NORAD. Fiddling around with one of the icons, I was aghast when I suddenly saw myself, wild-eyed and pale, on the computer screen. I've since affixed a post-it note to cover the camera lens, the finding of which required waving of hands and other awkward gesticulations. Camera?? There's a camera?? The last view I need on any given morning is my pinprick eyes under uncombed hair staring back at me from a 20" screen. I will never figure this out, I thought. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted my old boyfriend back! He was trouble, yes ... he didn't work well, and he was cranky ... but I knew how to handle him!
Then, as in all relationships of love, the frustration of newness and all the unknowns began to fade. I could feel us settling in, my new computer and I. We started to figure things out and flow in the same direction, like synchronized swimmers. I'm understanding its beeps and dings and don't flinch every time a voice advises it's time to upgrade my printer drivers. The keyboard has become familiar. File folders are being set up in preparation for my documents' return. We're speeding along now and I find myself, at last, immersed in technology of the new century. My computer is no longer as comfortable (and worn out) as an old shoe. And that's okay, as is the fact that there's no twinkling candlelight nor meteors streaking the sky.

I guess it doesn't matter where we find love these days as long as we find it somewhere. I have found it in my new ENVY Pentium intel all-in-one computer. Life is good.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March Musings

The news is rife with trouble. Russia is acting up, and Malaysia Flight 370 remains unfound. Regarding the latter, I can't imagine what it must be like for those left behind to wonder about loved ones who seem to have vanished into thin air. Fifteen days with no news. Is the plane in the ocean? Did it crash into a jungle? Or is the engine purring on some remote tarmac, the passengers held hostage or dead, the hijackers planning some as yet unforeseen new terror? As for the former, it feels like we're heading back to the duck and cover days when kids were instructed to climb under desks at the first sign of a colossal flash of light.

Calendars tell us spring is here. Really? Because it's been snowing where I am. Snowing and cold. And windy. Howling wind as a matter of fact. Confused crocuses popped up last week near my driveway and are now frozen solid, their tiny buds encased in ice crystals. My cats and dog continue to huddle in warm inside corners, gazing at me pleadingly as if the bitter cold is somehow my fault. Every morning I peer out the window and wonder if today will be the one when the first balmy spring breeze arrives. That's the first thing I check. My second morning chore is to click on the television to find out if today's headlines will finally give some relief to families waiting on the ground for confirmed news of an airplane's location, good or bad. Then I switch channels to see if Russian troops have marched across another border. Or if Chris Christie has been frog-marched out of office. Or if Winter Storm Zeb is marching across the country. March has been a month of marching.

Attended a wonderful party last night hosted by my friend Jennifer. Jen's mom turned 85, and the party was in her and her twin sister's honor. The evening's highlight for me was when Jen, in her toast, looked lovingly at her mother and said, "Mom, it seems like only yesterday when you were going to send me to reform school." Like many mothers and daughters, Jen and Janet struggled through the turbulent teen years. Now they live under the same roof and are the best of friends. Who knew?

Like Russia and Flight 370 and spring and relationships and, indeed, everything else, I suppose we never know how things are going to turn out until they finally do. We can have our expectations and our fears and our plans, but in the end it seems life is just one big crazy puzzling crap shoot.

"Shut out the noise," a friend told me once.
"Get a helmet," said another.
"Let it roll baby roll," said The Doors. "The future's uncertain and the end is always near."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hazardous Waste Disposal From Oil and Gas Drilling Is Well-Regulated...And Other Fairy Tales

To those of you who believe hazardous waste disposal from the oil and gas industries is well-regulated, read on:

Radioactive ‘Oil Socks’ Found Illegally Stockpiled In Abandoned North Dakota Gas Station

Mar 12, 2014 by 

By Emily Atkin on March 12, 2014 at 12:05 pm

This photo taken on March 3, 2014, and provided by the North Dakota Health Department, shows bags full of radioactive oil filter socks, the nets that strain liquids during the oil production process, piled in an abandoned building in Noonan, North Dakota.
This photo taken on March 3, 2014, and provided by the North Dakota Health Department, shows bags full of radioactive oil filter socks, the nets that strain liquids during the oil production process, piled in an abandoned building in Noonan, North Dakota.
CREDIT: AP Photo/North Dakota Health Department
A heaping mound of black trash bags stuffed with radioactive nets that strain liquids during the oil production process — commonly known as “oil filter socks” — has been found in an abandoned North Dakota gas station, state officials confirmed Wednesday, in what may be the biggest instance of illegal oil socks dumping the state has ever seen.
Police last week discovered the illegally dumped oil socks piled throughout the old gas station building and attached mechanic garage in the small town of Noonan, state Waste Management Director Scott Radig told ThinkProgress. The bags were covered in a layer of dust, Radig said, meaning they had probably been sitting in the building for some time.
The 4,000-square-foot building is owned by a felony fugitive named Ken Ward, who Radig said likely did independent work for the state’s booming oil and gas industry.
“I suspect that [Ward] was doing contract work for some oil company and he told them he would — I’m sure for a price — take these and properly dispose of them,” Radig speculated. “He did it the cheap way, took the money and took off.”
The radiation found in oil socks is naturally occurring, Radig said, but winds up concentrating onto the socks during their filtration process. Like a small net, the socks are used when pumping oil field fluids to filter out anything companies don’t want to go through the pump, or down into an injection well.
North Dakotan soil has a limit of 5 picocuries — the standard measure for the intensity of radioactivity — of radium per gram of soil in order to be considered not radioactive. The oil socks, Radig said, are typically in the range of 10-60 picocuries of radium per gram. Though the bags haven’t been taken to a laboratory for examination yet, Radig said an initial reading showed that the oil socks were “above background, so they are slightly radioactive.”
Radig said the public would not be at risk of exposure unless they ventured over to the abandoned building and began opening the bags. Local police have secured the building with caution tape while they try to make arrangements with Ward’s family. If Ward’s mother — who Radig says has been paying taxes on the building — does not cooperate with cleanup, the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s oil and gas division will have to dip into a fund for cleaning up illegal dump sites. While some of the socks have serial numbers, Radig said it is not possible to track down who they once belonged to, meaning it will likely be either the property owner’s or the state’s responsibility to clean it up.
“The public really isn’t at risk, so from that aspect it’s not an emergency,” Radig said. “It is angering us in the Health Department here that people are doing illegal dumping, and I know people are very upset over it.”
People are upset because the incident is not the first time residents have been informed of illegal radioactive oil waste dumping in their immediate vicinity. In the last decade, North Dakota has quickly risen to the second-largest oil-producing state in the country, inevitably increasing the amount of radioactive waste that must be disposed. North Dakota’s Department of Health in 2013 commissioned a study to look at the rising tide of drilling waste containing naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM), and found that oil socks have beenincreasingly showing up in trash loads over the last two to three years, as drilling in the Bakken and Three Forks formations continues.
Radig said that the increasing problem has prompted the Department to develop waste regulations that would enhance the state’s capacity to track the generation, storage, transportation and disposal of radioactive material from the oil and gas industry. He anticipates having those proposed regulations drafted by June 2014.

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