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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fringeville Edition #17, July 30 2011

Day one of the St. Maria Goretti Festival is in the books.

I get to say "in the books" because I’m the “finance chair”.

It’s a dubious title.

I don't do whatever the heck it is a "chair" does. I merely stay out of the way of folks who have been counting the money for decades. I just use a little technology to make the whole shebang a wee bit easier to do.

How long have I been doing this?

I saw the former chair at the festival last night and we mused over that question. Neither one of is sure. Our best guess is fourteen to sixteen years. That’s a lot of cash counted and probably untold tens or hundreds of thousands of coins rolled (thank you, Lord, for making “Nickel Pitch” go away).

The company I’ve kept over that time has been extraordinary. This is the best bunch of people I’ve ever subjected myself to. It’s hard work, and we sometimes spend an hour trying to figure out why we’re off forty-nine cents, but in the end on Sunday nights each year another Festival “in the books.”

It does get a little harder every to walk up to the rectory each summer, though. There is apparently an anomaly with the Earth’s gravitational field in Laflin, causing me to feel six times heavier walking up the hill to the rectory.

Bad gravity. Bad, bad, bad!

…and speaking of heavier, here was the waistline damage from Day One: A massive cheese steak with everything. A piece of pizza. Half a piece of fried dough. Two sodas and a bottle of Landshark.

But at least I started the day with a salad.

We'll see if all the walking negates the potential weight gain. Let's not talk about the cholesterol.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fringeville Edition #16, July 28 2011

Whale-watching update

My starting weight last Wednesday was 209.4

After a week without a single chicken wing, plus walking a mile at lunchtime each day, I'm down exactly two pounds.

The challenge this week will be just holding steady. It's time for the annual St. Maria Goretti Parish Festival. I generally eat my own weight each day on the Festival grounds.  If I maintain my modest weight loss, that will be a moral victory. But if you feel the ground shake, my willpower just collapsed and I'm lumbering toward the brownie-with-ice cream stand. Just keep hands, feet and small children clear of my mouth...


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fringeville Edition #15, July 27 2011

Vacation, 2006

I’m skipping politics today. You can only watch a train wreck in progress for so long before you need to turn away a moment and look at something else.
About the farthest thing from politics are memories of my last vacation in July of 2006. For better or worse, that vacation saved my job, because just before I left I found out that I’d been unceremoniously dumped from the bonus plan. 

The week off let me cool down enough to keep from doing something rash. That was a good thing, because I was closer than most folks realize to just packing it in. The vacation bought me five more years of employment. Bumpy years, to be sure, but valuable in their own way.

I packed my wife and daughter and my daughter’s friend Caitlyn into a rented SUV and set off to the Outer Banks. (My son passed on going. I forget why. In retrospect, I wish he’d gone. I passed on a lot of my parent’s vacations at his age, and I regret that now. They were missed opportunities for memories to carry with me the rest of my life).

We stayed at a large house called “Bullwinkle” that we shared with my brothers, sisters and their families and friends. We did all the usual things folks do on beach vacations: Eat too much, burn on the beach, check out the local gift shops, and visit the local attractions.

One great memory was a trip out for Bar-B-Que with my brother Bill. We went to a place on Roanoke Island called “Pigman’s Bar-B-Que.” They made a vinegar-and-mustard based sauce for their pork bar-b-que sandwiches, a new thing for me at the time, and I loved it. The woman behind the counter was tough-as-nails with a half-smoked cigarette and a long, scary piece of ash dangling from its tip.

We named her Wanda Lee Higginbopper, a mighty woman who could arm wrestle you with one hand while doling out your pork sandwich with the other. My kind of lady.

The place wasn’t perfectly hygienic, to put it mildly. And we suspected they monkeyed with the health code rating hanging on the wall: an '8' looked suspiciously like a surgically altered ‘6’. But the joint had character. Bad character, true, but I fell in love with it. Whether it’s still there or not, I’m not sure. I think the business changed hands and possible expanded. I know you can get a traditional red Pigman’s sauce at the store these days.

But can I get the vinegar-mustard sauce, complete with authentic traces of cigarette ash, at my local Weiss market? Probably not. And a damned shame, too.

The Land of Wanda Lee

Meanwhile, back at Bullwinkle, my wife found her own bit of paradise doing what she loves: hunting for shells.

She passed on the BBQ

Five years in the rear-view, and it feels like two eye-blinks ago. Suddenly I’m hungry for a Pigman…


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fringeville Edition #14, July 20 2011

America Abdicates

Atlantis Lands, Manifest Destiny Ends

Plato, writing of the mythical nation of Atlantis, said the island was swallowed by the ocean " a single day and night of misfortune."

Today, with the landing of the aptly named shuttle Atlantis, America's leadership in space has vanished just as quickly and perhaps just as permanently.

We are a different America now. We once believed in manifest destiny, a notion that our nation could remake the world. America was exceptional. We were the last great hope.

In the modern era, space exploration was at the very least an unconcious continuation of manifest mestiny. Space, that "final frontier," was surely the realm of America.

Now, if we need to put people in space, we will hitch rides with the Russians or others who still recognize the importance of holding the high ground in space.

High ground we've abdicated.

Others will argue that we'll be back. We will resume our leadership role. Perhaps. But just as the kingdom of Atlantis, real or mythical, vanished into the abyss, America, the world's last great hope, may follow suit.

Can a nation with leaders who find playing politics more important than avoiding an imminent financial calamity possibly lead and guide the world again? Or has our day come and gone?

Stay tuned. We may have that answer sooner than we expect.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fringeville Edition #13, July 19 2011

It struck me Monday, as I prepared to eat my twelve millionth lunch at my desk, that I’d been liberated.

I eat at my desk most days. It’s an absolutely unhealthy thing to do. It’s made worst by the fact that I’m sitting in front of a computer for double-digit hours most days.


Well, because if I don’t the work won’t get done, and I’ll have to work even longer on Sunday, or I’ll fall further behind on something, or one of the million plates I’m juggling will hit the floor …blah, blah, yada, yada.

But on Monday, as I got ready to load a pile of calories into my inert, blobbish form, I realized that in four months my job vaporizes. Whether I ate at my desk or not, the job would be gone. My job has a terminal illness, but I suddenly realized there’s no reason it has to kill me in the process. Instead of concentrating on the death of a job, I decided to concentrate on salvaging my health.

I put my lunch away and drove to the West Pittston Cemetery. It’s a great place to walk and clear the head. I also figured that if I keeled over it would be convenient…they’d only have to roll my blobbish corpse to the nearest grave and drop me in. (Hey, I’m all for efficiency.)

Liberated. I like the sound of that.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fringeville Edition #12, July 13 2011

My Party just blinked.

With August 2 looming, the plan is to kick the can down the road.


Senator McConnell wants to give the keys to the debt ceiling to the President. If this flies, it will likely result in no real serious efforts to address the deficit. It will also transfer enormous power to the President. It sets a horrible precedent. The last thing we need is yet more power transferred to the Executive Branch of the federal government, regardless of who is occupying it.

McConnell's scheme is a wholesale surrender by the GOP.

Sure, my party can beat the President up during the upcoming election for raising the debt ceiling and not addressing the deficit in a serious manner. They can point to the train wreck and say: "Look who was wearing the engineer's cap!"

And all the while, they were shovelling coal into the engine of a runaway train.

Yes, they blinked.

But on the upside, they may have postponed that "Tuchman moment" I worried about previously. But that book is still open...


Monday, July 11, 2011

Fringeville Edition #11, July 11 2011

Smart Bombs. Drones. Night vision goggles. The weapons and tools of the 21st century.

And, of course, Holly sticks.

We’re fighting low-tech weapons (roadside bombs) with low tech weapons of our own. The Holly stick is a long bamboo pole with a scythe on the end. You poke the ground ahead of you looking for trip-wires or recently-dug earth.

 Leon Panetta wields a Holly stick in Afghanistan
Photo by Kevin Baron/Stars and Stripes

The holly stick:  $3 each in Afghanistan. Or, order them direct from the Pentagon at $753.99 each, plus tax.

(Just kidding …I don’t think the Pentagon can charge tax).


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fringeville Edition #10, July 10 2011

We are having what I like to call a “Tuchman moment.”

The late historian Barbara Tuchman published a wonderful book in 1985 called The March of Folly.

Most people find history a dull read, but this is a powerful and immensely readable book.

In short, Tuchman focuses on folly: The actions of government against their own best interests, even when other paths are available, paths easily seen while the folly itself is in play.

You can make the argument that there are an abundance of “Tuchman Moments” out there right now, but the one I’m speaking about is the impending debt crisis. It will be catastrophic for the U.S. to go into default, even for a brief period. The clear alternative is an increase in revenue combined with a significant reduction in government spending. To do otherwise; to raise taxes without spending cuts or to slash spending without raising revenues; is folly, pure and simple.

Which is exactly where we’re headed, barring a breakthrough in the next few weeks.

All the parties involved …the White House, the Democrats and the Republicans …are perhaps hopelessly locked into ideologies from which they refuse to compromise. It is the culmination of years of increasingly bitter partisanship that is placing the nation in peril for the sake of saving face.

And that alternate path? True compromise. 1) Close the tax loopholes and flatten the tax code. Closing loopholes is not raising taxes. It is restoring revenue lost out the back door. 2) Significantly cut government spending. The number I see kicked around is $4 trillion in spending cuts. That’s a serious number that sends a serious message.

What will likely happen is a half-measure that kicks the can down the road.

Or, worse, a US default.

And for those who say that won’t happen, I offer Barbara Tuchman’s study in folly. Tuchman used the examples of the Trojan Horse, corrupt Popes in the Renaissance, the British loss of the American colonies and the US intervention in Vietnam as powerful proofs that folly occurs on a spectacular scale in the course of human history.

The question I have: Are we writing another chapter in the book of folly, or will we pull back from the precipice?


Friday, July 8, 2011

Fringeville Edition #9, July 08 2011

I had an odd episode yesterday.

I went to the Bureau of Elections to file my Political Committee registration (I finally formed one of my own).

You have to go through a metal detector when you first enter the building. There was a young man ahead of me. He was in his early twenties, and carrying a plastic bag which they had to X-Ray first. I waited patiently until he was done, then walked through the detector.

I caught up to him at the elevators. He seemed distracted; he didn’t notice when the elevator arrived.

“Elevator’s here,” I said, pointing.

He followed me on, and the door closed.

My head was still buzzing with plans for the upcoming election when he looked over at me and said: “I’m reporting for prison. I’m going away for six months to a year.”

“That’s a hell of a way to start your day,” I said stupidly.

He nodded and we got off the elevator. He turned right, I turned left.

After a few steps I turned around and called to him.

He didn’t look like a criminal in his jeans and white football jersey. He looked like anybody’s kid. He also looked lost, adrift. Scared to death. I wanted to say something.

All that came out was: “Good luck. I mean that.”

He nodded. What else was he supposed to do in response to my second supremely stupid utterance in less than a minute?

On my drive to work, all I could think of was what I should have said. Any of a dozen different things, all centered around taking the opportunity ahead to get his life on-track.

And then it struck me: Nothing I could have said would have sounded any less stupid than what I’d already said. He was scared to death. He reported to prison alone, no friends or family. I don’t know his story. I never will. But it struck me how at certain points in our lives we are utterly and completely alone with whatever trial or terror lays ahead of us. We go into the fire. Sometimes we come out. Sometimes we don’t.

Maybe I said the right thing after all.

Good luck, kid. Take it one step at a time…


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fringeville Edition #8, July 07 2011

I blame it on the Guinness. But it could have been the bratwurst.

On Independence Day I fired up the charcoal grill after work and cooked a boatload of food. The grilling was made especially joyous by a couple cans of frothy adult beverage (Yuengling Ale).

Then I got bold and had a can of Guinness draught (with the delightful little widget inside that creates a lovely, creamy head. I love those clever Irish).

We had a lovely evening, but strange dreams were brewed from the melding of Guinness-n-brats.  I can only remember one, and it was a doozey. My wife starred in a dream worthy of an episode of Criminal Minds. She was murdering random men who ticked her off. Apparently, they weren't listening to her when she talked to them. Whatever she said went in one ear, out the other. So she Ginsu’d them.

The story line in this dream troubled me. The chief complaint of all women is that their men don’t listen. Do they secretly ponder filleting us with after a failed conversation?

“Honey, look at these red shoes I just bought!”

(The sound of rustling sports pages, and an indecipherable mumble from the man of the house.)

“What do you think, honey?”

“I think the Dodgers suck this year.”

“I need the Chef’s knife from the kitchen.”

“Bring me a Guinness while you’re in there doing nothing.”

Twenty minutes later, the Coroner’s in the living room.

A conversation with my wife a couple days after the dream didn’t help.

“Honey, I dreamed you were a serial killer last night. You were killing men who didn’t listen to you. Slicing and dicing like Lizzie Borden on PCP.”

“Well, imagine that. It’s garbage night. Don’t forget.”

It’s at the curb. And I’ve hidden the block of knives, but the pumpkin carver is missing.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fringeville Edition #7, July 02 2011

So I get home from a double shift on Wednesday night, bushed to the core, and I see my darling wife taking the garbage out. God bless her, because all I could think on the drive home was: “Wednesday. Crap. I gotta put the #$%^$% garbage out!”

I saw her toss something on the ground.

“What’s that?” I asked as I walked across the driveway.

“It’s a dried up Christmas wreath.”

“They won’t take that.”

“They take lawn clippings.”

Well, lawn clipping don’t have bows, but I was too tired to make that point.

The garbage gets picked up on Thursdays. I snapped this Friday after work:

Ho, Ho, Ho! Nice try, honey...