The flights of the infrequent passenger

United_planeDuring the second week of July, I flew from Albany, NY to San Diego, CA and back. I had not been on a plane since May 2009, when my daughter and I took round-trip flights to Charlotte, NC, via LaGuardia, NYC to attend my niece Alex’s high school graduation. This time, I went to help out my sister Leslie after her bicycle accident on June 4. This will be a transportation report; I’ll write about the medical situation soon.

Because my understanding the flying landscape is nil, I got to the ALB airport a couple hours early. I paid for a checked bag (why was it $35 out, but $25 back?) because I don’t know how to pack for five or six days with carry-on bags.

I was surprised to discover that I was designated for TSA PreCheck line for the flights in both direction, which is “a U.S. government program that allows travelers deemed low-risk… to pass through an expedited security screening at certain U.S. airports. Qualifying travelers don’t have to remove their belts, shoes or lightweight jackets.”

How that this happen? I didn’t sign up for it, and I’m hardly a frequent flyer. They must have determined I’m no longer a likely terrorist.

It turned out that the plane to Newark was about 75 minutes late. I had some cushion, but I was starting to think I was going to have to run through the next airport. Some guy flying from Newark to Minneapolis was apoplectic, giving the United representative grief continually.

In both legs of the flight out, and my return trip from San Diego, I had a window seat in rows 25 to 35. My shin was right up against the seat in front of me. And the toilet was tinier than I recalled.

Children flying in the middle of the night are cranky, based on one boy deplaning in Chicago wanting his mommy though she was right there, and one girl at O’Hare who couldn’t get her tablet (which was the size of her head) to work, so her mother took it away and the girl wailed so loudly she could be heard four gates away, no exaggeration.

Odd thing about the flight from Chicago to Albany. I was in row 10, on the left aisle, two rows behind first class, and my knees didn’t reach the seat in front of me. Joy, seriously! On the opposite side, some tall guy, definitely over six and a half feet tall, stuck in the middle seat, had an app that told him that there was an aisle seat in row 35 of that plane that was available.

But the flight attendant said he’d have be even less legroom. Do the legroom is less the further back you’re seated?

Then the guy on the right aisle got bumped up to first class, allowing the tall guy to move to the aisle seat. Did the flight attendant facilitate that? Je ne sais pas, but the lucky passenger in first class seemed pleasantly surprised, and tall guy was relieved.

The worst thing about flying east is that it took me three or four days to catch up on my sleep. It’s almost never a problem flying west three time zones, but it’s almost always an issue on the return flight.

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Blog posts with legs: And then I wrote

I was in an email discussion with someone – OK, it was Alan David Doane – about his piece The Entomological Song, which started off “​All I really ever wanted to be was a writer.” He wrote: “For a week, this essay existed only as three sentences in a draft in my Gmail.”

I commented: “ALL my blog posts are gmail emails.” In my case, this is to say, like Joe E. Ross in Car 54, where Are You?, I might get a blog idea while doing something else. I immediately email myself and mark as USE IT.

I do the same with articles I get or I see on Facebook; email them to myself; a lot of those end up in those fortnightly Rambling pieces, because I don’t have time to write about everything that crosses my mind.

One evening recently, I get an email from Chris in New Jersey: “I have nothing to add to your 2015 post and discussion about the word origins of Gallo’s (‘urp’) Apothic wines, but I greatly enjoyed the commentary.”

I was pleased but bemused. I wrote back: “Glad you enjoyed it! That is one of a half dozen posts over the past dozen years that generates comment well past the date I posted.” To which Chris inquired, “Do you see a theme among your long-lived posts?”

“Spaulding Krullers, the late Raoul Vezina, my late grandfather and the radio station he worked at, my old k-9 school. Apothic is actually the outlier.” And it’s true.

If you Google Spaulding Krullers, my post shows up near the top. The first time I wrote about Raoul Vezina, who died in 1983, and this blog didn’t even start until 2005, I became the sad reporter of his passing to at least three people.

McKinley Green, a janitor at WNBF-TV and radio is well remembered, still, as are the stations. Daniel Dickinson was razed in the 1970s, but is recalled fondly.

Speaking of recall, or the lack thereof, Arthur noted: “I am, as Roger Green calls himself, a magpie blogger, that is, I write about what interests me at that moment.” I had forgotten the term, which I stole from Dustbury.

This is what gets written when the LOW temperature for the evening is 76F. It’s sort of like drunk tweeting, only in a longer form. And without the alcohol, but WITH sleep deprivation.

The Revenge of the Space Pandas, by David Mamet

I heard one of my young nieces would be starring in a David Mamet play, and that it was clean! You mean, the guy who wrote Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo, and Sexual Perversity in Chicago, all of which I’ve seen in some form, had written a divinely silly, family-friendly, retro-sci-fi romp called “The Revenge of the Space Pandas or Binky Rudich and the Two-Speed Clock”?

Yup, back in 1978. The Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill, about 45 minutes south of Albany, is presenting eight performances of the play: “Binky Rudich, his friend Viv, and his almost human sheep Bob tinker with a two-speed clock…” They end up in “Crestview, Fourth World in the Goolagong System, ruled by George Topax and guarded by the Great Space Pandas.”

The theater is small with about 100 seats. My family drove down on Sunday, though I was severely jet-lagged. The last folks seated were a couple with four kids, in my row. I got up so they could sit down and the woman did, but the guy went into the previous row and lifted the kids over the chairs and then climbed over himself.

I liked the play and its various actors quite a lot. The story was silly and absurd and quite possibly newly relevant. There was a point during a transitional scene where we heard a truly intentionally awful version of the initial fanfare from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. Some boy in the audience asked, “Why is this funny?”, which generated its own laughter.

Here’s Steve Barnes’ review in the Albany Times Union. He rightly praises Wil Anderson as Binky, who “has the right cool-geek persona.” Also, “David Smilow is amusingly mercurial as the feckless ruler of the space-panda planet, whose punishment of choice is dropping an enormous pumpkin onto the heads of the doomed… Special kudos to Natalie Parker for her deadpan turn as the ukulele-strumming court jester. (Parker also wrote the jester’s songs.)”

Oh, that couple with the kids? She was Mary Stuart Masterson, star of Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) and Benny & Joon (1993) and a bunch of other stuff. She looked familiar, but I didn’t place her at the time. Her husband Jeremy Davidson is also an actor. They stayed afterward to praise the cast.

B is for blowing up beautiful balloons

For the last decade or so, for the Pride parade in June, the pastors’ van has strewn with helium balloons and other garlands. The junior and senior high kids, along with some adults, arrange the decorations before getting into parade position with some other local Presbyterians.

Someone who watched the festivities noted that the faith community was particularly very well represented this year. I marched, and the Daughter was one of the folks holding the denominational banner.

The route goes from Washington Park; down State Street, past a massive contingent from our church waving us on; across Lark Street, where you can really see the panorama of participants and supporters; bypassing the one guy with a sign and bullhorn telling us we’re all going to hell; up Madison Avenue; then back into Washington Park.

Oddly, the pastors do not drive around regularly with balloons on their vehicle. So once we’ve parked, it becomes incumbent on us to undecorate.

I see one of our number popping the balloons, as she was instructed. I do get why:
All released balloons, including those falsely marketed as “biodegradable latex,” return to Earth as ugly litter. Moreover, once they get loose, they can pose a threat to many animals.

Still, do you know what else balloons facilitate? Making people happy. Two competing schools of thought. I took groups of two or three balloons and offered them to passersby, most of whose faces lit up when I handed them the small bouquets.

I was operating on the slightly irrational theory that people who are savvy about LGBTQ+ rights would be likewise “woke” about environmental issues.

The Daughter took a dozen or so home herself, on a CDTA bus, no less, and the balloons died on the living room floor of natural causes, not stuck inside some bird or tangled in a power line.

For ABC Wednesday

July rambling #1: Even darkness must pass

Sister Leslie is out of the hospital, as of ndependence Day. Still healing at home. More probably on July 23.

Flirting with Fascism

The Coming Collapse and Why It is Extraordinary

We Were Warned: What the Movie Villains Should Have Taught Us

As our democracy is dismantled right before their eyes, Americans remain silent

“America First!” means China wins

During CBS interview, government agents chillingly showed up to intimidate former ICE spokesman

On July 4th Eve, Jeff Sessions Quietly Rescinds a Bunch of Protections for Minorities

If Pixar Made A DACA Movie

The retirement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy is as bad as it seems and Anthony Kennedy, You Are a Total Disgrace to America

Larry Kudlow is Never Ever Right

If You Think Basic Income is ‘Free Money’ or Socialism, Think Again

Turks Have Voted Away Their Democracy

Trust Issues, examining the state of trust in 2018

Fatal accidents, off-the-books workers, a union once run by a mobster. The rogue world of one of New York’s major trash haulers

That Property Down In Coeymans: The City of Albany is still trying to get rid of the proposed site of Jerry’s Dump

Tim Berners-Lee has seen his creation debased by everything from fake news to mass surveillance. But he’s got a plan to fix it

Radical Democrats Are Pretty Reasonable

Israeli airline says it will no longer accommodate Orthodox Jewish men who refuse to sit next to women

There’s some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for

An Interview with Deborah Mends, UK College Diploma Graduate and Owner of Your Visual Mind – I first met my friend in the summer of 1977 in NYC

Atomic Roundtable: Harlan Ellison 1934-2018

Gene Editing: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

How’s the Water?

Agent Zigzag

Geographical oddities

What to Do When an ATM Won’t Give You Any Money

The Counterfeit Queen of Soul

Lin-Manuel Miranda and William Daniels Talk Hamilton, 1776, Mr. Feeny, and More (2016)

Five Muppeteers explain how they operate their characters on Sesame Street

Shat!

Now I Know: When the Jazz Didn’t Stop Playing and How To Fool the World Starting with Two All-Beef Patties and The Macroeconomic Madness Behind Extra Cheesy Pizza

Yes! The Wedding of Winnie & Thomas

MUSIC

I Don’t Know – Paul McCartney
Come On To Me – Paul McCartney

We Are the World video, re-created by a bunch of talented folks from Broadway

Rasta Children – Playing for Change

First Burn (Hamilton)

Smells Like Karen Carpenter – Moneyshot Cosmonauts

Beautiful Life – Rick Astley.

Coverville 1223: Cover Stories for George Michael, Men At Work, and Cyndi Lauper

K-Chuck Radio: Gorillaz in our midst and It’s All About That Bass

Friends don’t let friends clap on the 1 and 3 (Harry Connick Jr)

Cash is queen in our household

One morning in June, the Daughter needed $50 to go on a field trip to New York City. The earlier she turned it in, the more likely she could go. Oh, and it had to be in cash.

I almost never have such bills on me. Nor did my wife, but she DID have some envelopes with cash for her hairdresser, and for the groceries, that she could borrow from.

She generally pays for the groceries with cash because writing a check is too expensive, and it surely is. I pay with my credit card – where IS my checkbook? – because I like getting my rewards dollars and hate carrying a lot of cash.

When we first started going out, she had several envelopes filled with bills of various denominations, for every expenditure in her life at the time. I found this most unusual.

She also never uses an ATM card, which I still don’t quite get. If I had needed to get money for the Daughter that morning, I would have just walked over to my bank branch, a block and a half away, and just taken out three $20s.

I should note that her cash economy isn’t as rare as most of us would think. According to Pymnts, “an estimated 24 percent of U.S. citizens make all their purchases using cash.” Moreover, “in the U.S., cash usage grew by 4.7 percent per year between 2000 and 2015.”

When she does pay with a credit card, she often goes to the store to pay off the balance, usually in cash. I used to do that at Sears when I shopped there in the 1980s and 1990s, but I forgot that it was still an option.

As Dustbury pointed out, when the electronic systems go kablooey, operating with cash is a great way to go.

This is why we have three checking accounts, hers, mine, and ours, which I almost never use. It insures domestic tranquility.

Did I mention it’s her natal day? Maybe I’ll give her a couple $20s, a $10, and… some miscellaneous other bills.

Music throwback: A Satisfied Mind

When I was listening to Willie Nelson recently, in honor of his 85th birthday, I came across his version of A Satisfied Mind, from his 2010 album Country Music. I knew I owned a much earlier iteration, but I could not remember by whom.

Scanning the Wikipedia list of covers, I wondered if the version of the Joe “Red” Hayes/Jack Rhodes song had been performed by Porter Wagoner or
Cowboy Copas. I didn’t REALLY think it was Wagoner, but I recalled Copas appeared on this album 50 Stars! 50 Hits! “on two great country albums,” the TV ad blared. Copas and the compilation were both on Starday Records.

I owned this 1966 album – well, technically OWN, but it’s difficult to get to – because my grandfather, McKinley Green, brought a copy home a copy. He was given it by the TV/radio station he worked for, WNBF in Binghamton, NY, after the promotional ad period ended.

As it turns out, it was Pete Drake and his talking steel guitar – you MUST check out the video of Forever – who performed A Satisfied Mind. Bring a guy who read liner notes of LPs, I recall that Drake contributed to early solo albums by former Beatles, All Things Must Pass (George) and Beaucoups Of Blues (Ringo).

Listen to A Satisfied Mind:
Porter Wagoner (live, 1967 – his 1955 recording hit #1 country)
Red Foley and Betty Foley (#3 country in 1955)
Jean Shepard (#4 country in 1955)

Pete Drake (1965)
Joan Baez (1965)
Bobby Hebb (#39 pop and #40 R&B in 1966, from the Sunny album)
Glen Campbell (live c 1971, in 4/4!, originally recorded in 1966)

Jeff Buckley (from the 1998 album Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk)
Johnny Cash (2004, released posthumously)
Blind Boys Of Alabama with Ben Harper (live at the Apollo Theater, Harlem, New York recorded October 12, 2004)
Willie Nelson (2010)
Robert Plant & The Band Of Joy (Live 2011)

Lyrics:
How many times have you heard someone say
“If I had his money, I could do things my way?”
Little they know that it’s so hard to find
One rich man in ten with a satisfied mind.

In lieu of blogging, mowing the lawn

One of the things I hate about spring is the way that the lawn goes from “It might as well be winter” to tropical rainforest practically overnight. As I’ve no doubt noted, I would not care if it were never cut, but I know my wife would object.

My father-in-law gave us an electrical lawnmower a couple years ago. I resisted it the first season for ecological reasons. I had a reel mower, which is a REAL mower, but I have succumbed, mostly because the grass had suddenly gotten is too long for the reel mower.

The electric mower, moreover, has adjustable heights from one to five. Centimeters above the ground, I guess? The first weekend, I set it at 5, for it would have surely clogged the machine at a lower setting. (Did I ever mention that I wrecked a new gas mower in its second use? And returned it for a full refund.)

The second time, I set it at 4 and was only about 10% done when the Daughter decided that SHE wanted to operate the mower. Far be it for me to reject the assistance. I dealt with branches that had fallen over the winter that needed tending. Unfortunately, the mower batteries died with maybe 5% of the job.

She made it clear that she’s only mowing the lawn because she WANTS to do so. If I were to make it a regular chore, she’d fight it. Now, she didn’t do it EXACTLY as I would have done, but I’m not complaining.

Not incidentally, she is quite strong. I flipped over the picnic table that we had built a few years back, to mow the part of the lawn that had been underneath. But I was having trouble making it upright when I was done because the table was too close to the fence and I couldn’t get leverage. But the teenager didn’t need help to flip it back.

I’d rather be blogging. As someone probably didn’t say, mowing the lawn is to spoil an otherwise enjoyable walk.

“IRS did an audit”: 240-970-7264

Twice on the same day this month, I got messages on the answering machine from 240-970-7264. The details were ominous, but the technology was laughable.

A mechanical voice describes a “criminal investigation from I.R.S… There is a fraud which you are hiding from federal government.” Note the lack of the article “the”, suggesting the person recording is NOT a native American English speaker.

I Googled the number and came across Report the Call attached to that number. One person before me, and at least one subsequently, experienced similar annoyance.

One of them noted, “The robot stated that the IRS had ‘fraud’ investigation underway and I should phone the number immediately.” That’s correct in my case as well. Area code 240 is in Maryland, in suburban DC, BTW.

It seems incredible that anyone would fall for such an obvious hoax, but the IRS indicates that this type of fraud is ongoing, some of it far more threatening than these robocalls.

“Note that the IRS does not:
“Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
“Demand that you pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe. You should also be advised of your rights as a taxpayer.
“Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law-enforcement to have you arrested for not paying. The IRS also cannot revoke your driver’s license, business licenses, or immigration status. Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into buying into their schemes.”

I know some people have been known to call back the number to waste their time, but I’m not returning a call to 240-970-7264 and wasting mine. Now, if YOU want to call, knock yourselves out!

A little kindness contextualized

Did you ever have a simple act of kindness give you a lesson?

I’m on a Capital District Transportation Authority local transit bus one evening, going part of the way home up the hill before riding my bike the rest of the way. I had used my Navigator card, which is actually half fare because I’m… older.

A young woman got on the bus, but her Navigator card had insufficient funds. (The voice on the machine sounds REALLY loud to me, possibly, I posit, for maximum embarrassment.)

I had, until that day, another, full-price, card which I kept in case my wife and/or daughter are riding on the bus with me. Unfortunately the Daughter misplaced her school ID during the last week of school, which she also used to pay the CDTA fare; talk about your short-timer’s syndrome.

Ruffling through my wallet, I found a THIRD card. Where did THAT come from? Maybe I got it for free at the 2017 Tulip Festival, when they were first promoting the service. I offered the card to the young woman, with a caveat that I didn’t know if it worked at all.

It did. Hey, I’ve been there, when I’m a little short on cash. A couple blocks later, she came up to me and offered me about 45 cents, as she noted, “This is what I found in my purse.”

Once upon a time, I might have waved off her offer. This time I took it, not because I needed the change, but because I wanted to honor her feelings. She wanted to do that small thing, and it would have been ungracious to reject it.

I think we do that a lot, keep people from maintaining their sense of dignity when they’re on the receiving end of a little kindness, a modicum of charity, under the thought, “They need it more than I.” But when they want to pay it back, or pay it forward, it’s important to let them.

Trust me on this; I’ve been there.