INKY DEW

There is a certain impotence when dealing with cats. The expressions on their faces never change. You cannot tell by looking at them how they are feeling, what their emotions are at the moment, or whether they are ready to pounce. Cats are wondrously inconsistent. They can be following a piece of wool one second and then become intensely uninterested in another.

There are those who have made a career of studying cats and claim to understand them. The fact that they have been domesticated later than dogs and are not close to their canine counterparts makes me wonder about their expertise. If you have had a cat anytime in your life, you know you cannot predict their behavior. Further, each cat has its own personality.

Inky Dew, named after a distant cousin’s used toner cartridge company was all of those things and more. He was foisted upon us by a neighbor girl 14.5 years ago. She had found him at Rehobeth Beach in Delaware and chased the kitty till she found it. Her parents would not let her keep it. She came down the street to Carol and Arnold and cried for us to keep him. We did.

He was an outside cat for his first 10 years. He would leave in the morning and come back sometime during the day and be out till we went to bed. Before retiring, we would call him an no matter where he was, he would come running to the house and slip in.

He was not a cuddly cat at all and was solitary most of the time. When he needed love, he would jump up on my desk and sit and stare at me and bnk my head with his. E really never craved attention, just a warm home, friendly people and a nice soft place to sleep. He had his own bed in our new condo and used it ferociously to snore up a storm.

He was rarely, if ever sick. He ate modestly and was not at all fat. That’s pretty good for a now indoor cat. ON December 6th, I took him in because he had a cold. The vet said that he was in good shape for a 14 year old cat, but he was wrong. Over the past two days, he seemed very lethargic and began to plunk down in unusual places. He began to drink larges volumes of water. He seemed to have more episodes of vomiting.

This morning, Carol and I decided to take him to the vet again. He was down 3 pounds from his December 6th weight. Something was wrong. The xrays showed a massive tumor around his erratic heart. His liver was distended. He was not long for the world and we ended it today.

We have a few pictures of Inky and many many pleasant memories. I am not sure that our other two cats will be affected. Carol and I will be. He was a stable influence in our lives. We have already shed tears because of this loss. His departure means that an era is over for us. That may mean something to these two humans.

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FOR TRIVIA FREAKS ONLY

This blog post is only for those with the kind of mind that absorbs trivial pieces of information and can’t get it out of their heads no matter how hard they try. It is in many subjects and there will be no answers at the end.

1.What was the name of Odysseus wife?
2.What member of the 1906 Chicago Cub infield is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame?
3.How old is the universe?
4.Who disclosed that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a fake, in his memoirs?
5.Who was Phineas T. Bluster’s good twin brother?
6.Who was the last American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature?
7.What was the name of the man who broke the 4 minute mile barrier?
8.What name was Jesse James using when he was killed by Robert Ford?
9.How big is a hectare ( in meters)?
10.Who is Erik Von Daniken?
11.What American President took his brother’s name because of the Civil War?
12.What state has the most varied kinds of trees?
13.What is the Atomic Symbol for lead?
14.Who created the term Rock and Roll?
15.What is/was the name of the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish?
16.What is Lady GaGa’s real name?
17.What was St. Paul’s original name?
18.What was the name of the first movie to win an Academy Award (for best picture)?
19.What was the name of the man who shot Archduke Francis Ferdinand?
20.Who was the first person to officially hypothesize that the earth was not the center of the universe?
21.What was Sherlock Holmes” older brother’s name?
22.Who wrote, “No Exit?”
23.Name one political party in history besides the Dems and the Republicans.
24.What are the most southerly, northerly, easterly and westerly states?
25.What was Adolph Hitler’s real second name?
26.What was Lenin’s real last name?
27.Who sponsored the Shadow on the radio?
28.What did Barack Obama’s college friends call him?
29.When did “don’t ask don’t tell” come into being?
30.Who was the first African American to play in the American League?
31.What Secretary General of the U.N. was killed in a crash over the Congo?
32.What is ambergris?
33.Why are you answering these questions?

THE DAY THE GRINDING STOPPED

Yesterday the doors to Standard Grinding Company in Reading, Pennsylvania closed to the public. There will be no more last minute trips with an armful of dull knives, or even duller lawnmower blades. The shop will be silent and the last employee will be in full retirement. Yes, the owner, Al, will still be around once in a while to take care of some of the remaining clients that he as serviced throughout the years, but the business is really closed. Al has been planning this for a while and has sold off the bulk of his business to others.

With no siblings or children waiting to take over, the final day of operation will take place with no parties or celebrations. In fact, it is a symptom of our modern society that these small businesses close up with increasing frequency each day. Al’s family has been in the grinding ( sharpening) occupation for three generations. The town of Pinzolo in the northern part of Italy, in the Dolemites, is the family home and the origin of the grinding business. If you go there, as our family did, you will see a sculpture of a grinding man and his cart in the middle of town. It is a time honored occupation, which appears to have little place in our modern society.

Al’s grandfather came to this country in 1905 and continued his grinding occupation on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He would push his cart ( the origin of the word pushcart) and yell out that he was available to sharpen knives. At the end of the day, he would park his cart at the bottom of the trestle of the Williamsburg Bridge and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to his home near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. When he returned in the morning, the cart was there untouched and he went on his rounds.

Al’s dad, Angelo, continued the business and wound up in Reading, Pennsylvania and began to accumulate bigger clients in larger businesses. He serviced large machines with precision- needed edges. He purchased machines to do these jobs and Al continued to improve the services as he took over.

Al would have loved to have this business continue. It was not only an occupation for him, it was a life that was made whole by his and his father’s and grandfather’s creation. His wife, Mary, took care of all of the business aspects of the company and Al was left to do the work, along with his employees, and to deal with customers.

And Al did deal with his customers. His method of accumulating business was through the force of his personality, his attention to their needs and his forthrightness and honesty. Sometimes, Al and I clash over various social issues, but he is always out front and still questions his own values, as well as mine.

When Al and Mary’s daughter married our son, we were pulled into their family’s sphere of activity. Al asked our son Marc, if he had any interest in going into the business. It was a sad day for Al when Marc said that he was heading off in another direction. Al had even tried to get some students from the voc-tech school to come in and continue the tradition. None of it worked.

When the doors closed yesterday and Mary filled out the last of the forms for their last employees unemployment insurance, Al stayed a while to look things over. He was going to stay a while longer and contemplate the historyof the place. He did not do that. He washed his hands said good bye and went home to enjoy his family, his wife, his daughter, son-in-law, friends and most of all , his two beautiful grandchildren. Have a Spaten on me, Al.

A SECOND CHANCE COUNTRY

For those of you who do not follow sports, Michael Vick is a professional football player who was accused and found guilty of running a dog fighting emporium at his home ( not sure what state) and spent 18 months in jail for the crime. He was released last year and wound up playing third string quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.

By chance, this year, he has assumed the starting quarterback role with the team and is doing very well. Although there is much antagonism towards him by some of the populace and fans, he is generally being accepted. His acceptance has grown to a point where he is now the top vote getter of all the professional football players for the all star team ( pro bowl for aficionados). It is a startling comeback for someone who was down at the bottom for the last 3 or 4 years.

It has brought to mind, the essence of our country as a haven for second chances. We must be the most forgiving land in the entire world. I have heard people say that we have a short memory and that is we don’t remember people’s transgressions. In Vick’s case, it is certainly not true. Nor was it with Richard Nixon when he uttered these famous words to the press, “ You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore,”after he lost the California gubernatorial election in 1962. A scant six years later he was elected President of the United States.

There are so many examples of a forgiving public. Some would say that we have no standards of behavior anymore, but I am not so sure. In many ways we are entirely unique. In other countries in the Western and Eastern World, there is only one chance. The tests that are our equivalent of entrance exams or SATs are given once and cannot be taken again. In England, the nurse’s licensing exam is once and done. A good friend of ours in England had his daughter score below passing on the test and had to go into another field.

In our country, you can take the SATs countless times and the LSATS ( 3 times in a two year period) and the GREs( not more than once a month) and the MCATs and so on. We are given to allowing people to continue to try as much as they would like and not cut them off after the first time. Is there a reason for this philosophy? Is it somehow in our country’s makeup?

Watching Elliot Sptizer on CNN, I am struck with the idea that we must have an infinite capacity to accept people’s foibles. How many men of the cloth have strayed from them avowed path and left the public stage in tatters and then have returned to their former roles without even a false step? We have seen them on television and in books decry their own behavior and then reappear with the blessing of the public?

Or, are all of these forgivenesses just allowed for celebrities. Would we accept all of the Bill Clinton’s extra marital affairs in the same way as Mr. Jones down the street. How would we react to the driver of a car who killed someone, if we knew him from the local supermarket. And why is it, that Bernie Madoff will never be forgiven for what he did? Is there something with the amount of money and the amount of people that he swindled?

There are all questions that I have pondered and have never quite gotten a handle on. Is it the rampant homogeneity of our country, our history, or religions, or what? Or is it everything about us?

BROOKLYN ROADS

It happens in the Fall of the year. The sky settles into a kind of pastiche of orange and grayish colors and hits my eyes with a soothing touch. I could be standing in front of my house or driving on a highway when I see this glorious painting supplied by nature. It is almost as if I now have control over time and am transported back to my home in Brooklyn in the early 1940’s.

I can hear and comprehend the clatter of the Sheffield Farms bottles as the milkman delivers his cream topped ambrosia to my parent’s apartment door on Williams Avenue. I was very small then and the pictures that come to my mind now are translated by the four year old that I was when I lived there. Our family unit was still intact then. My mother and father are somewhere in the background and my older sister seems to leave every morning to go to someplace that she calls school.

As the day progresses, in my mind, I find myself sitting on the floor of the white and yellowed kitchen pulling pots and pans from the cupboards, arraying them on the linoleum floor and banging on them for all that I am worth. My mother seems to tolerate this activity and just smiles as she goes through her daily duties.

The afternoon sun sprays the neighborhood, with its elevated trestles, with a kind of visual dusting of orange and grey shadings. On a cold Fall day, the visions are even starker as clarity intrudes. There are sounds of children playing in the street and I am one of them. At four, in that far away age, one could allow a child to be at one with the city streets and not be afraid. There was always the peeled eye looking through the shades of the many apartments that lined the streets. There was a sense that we were all taking care of each other’s children.

There is some relief to be found in these images. They are not the idle meanderings of an oldster, and a hearkening back to times long gone and mischaracterized. They are the pictures in the album of my mind. They extend beyond the straight line of time to fall imperceptibly on the emotions of this seventy two year old.

There must be a reason for this to be happening- this vision and memory of smells and small incidents. I can only conclude that at some point in your life, you need to be comforted that those good feelings and that they can be recreated as of a moment. A smile curls my lips as I write this and I am reminded of those times long ago along Brooklyn Roads.

IMPORTANT SH**T

Having been in education since 1961 ( minus one year for private enterprise and capitalism), I have seen almost every panacea on the hop on hop off bus that stands for educational innovation. In all of that time, save some really bad press from the pusillanimous purveyors of paranoia and perfidy ( hats off to Spiro Agnew), there has been no call for the destruction of the system. There is now.

Yup, the entire public education system in our country ( called government schools by the detractors) is now under serious siege because of its inability to solve society’s problems. There is no need to reduxify how American society has always gone to the public schools to fix things – hot lunches, phys.ed, special ed., civil rights and so many more. Hey, “Schools have the kids all day, they can teach them how to fill out income tax forms, insurance forms, eat properly, etc.” Now the privateers and their allies in the unknowing populace want to go back to .the Ichabod Crane model of schools of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Ah, had we only lived in those days, when only the wealthy got the tutoring and the great unwashed ( and they were) went to their field work or jobs at 6 in the morning and came back at 6 at night, or worse? Then, the children were nothing more than chattel to the wealthy and additional farmhands and babysitters and chore doers. Yes, let’s get back to those times by inventing a new sort of system when children sit at home in front of computer screens and learn by rote, or attend a school which is called public, but where the owners are either related to legislators, or are entrepreneurs who really don’t give a s**t about the kids, but are only interested in the bottom line.

I do know that big city schools are not doing well. I also know that these new schools seem to siphon off the better kids. They also do not deal with the problem children, the handicapped, or the English language learners or the mostly truant. The children in these new “charter” schools have a parent, guardian or other relative with the need to get their child to a better place. So . . . . what happens to the children that are left behind? Here is another great idea. We give them a voucher to go to a better school someplace. That will work in some places, but certainly not in rural America, where there a few to no choices.

So the voucher is given the parent to take their child to a better school in the city or the nearby suburbs. According to the provocateurs, the suburban schools will be happy to take the children, if they have room. IF THEY HAVE ROOM. Nice call Mr/Ms Idealist, will the suburban schools have to take the kids, of course not. They are happy with the whitebread kids ( not necessarily white in color), who get great grades, high SATs and get into good colleges.

O.K. let’s really do vouchers and allow all children in all of the 13,000 some odd school districts in the country get to go to wherever they want in their state- public-private, religiously affiliated or whatever. The federal government cannot mandate these things- education is not a federal function. It was left to the states along with divorce laws.

Now the enterprising are really in the saddle. They can now start any kind of school that they’d like, to get government dough to make a profit. How about the religious schools. They will certainly like these new vouchers. Some of the urban religious schools are lacking for funding and children. They will get a bunch of kids who want to get a “better” education. Can you imagine the first Muslim school that appears to get these vouchers. If you think the Mosque at Ground Zero is a hot potato, try vouchers to this kind of religious school.

What we are doing is skirting the edges of what we have done (or not done) to public schools in our cities. We have allowed the system, as well as buildings, to crumble. Yes, the costs of education have gone up, as has everything else. If you take all of the years since I started teaching in 1961 and apply the cost of living from that year to 2010, what would be more expensive, the salary of the CEO of Bear Stearns, or the cost per kid for a public education?

NUTTIN’ HONEY

There is an old Seinfeld routine in which the comedian asks the women in the audience whether they want to know a secret about men. The women all clap and ask Seinfeld to tell them. He asks them if they ever ask their spouse or significant other what they are thinking about and the men respond by saying, “ Nuttin’ honey” ( or some another euphemism)? “You know what they are really thinking? The answer is absolutely nothing.”

If that is something that has happened to you in your life, you are not alone. If you have not figured out that men and women are different, then you need a time out to go to your room. It’s not that women are from Venus and men are from Mars. It’s all about biological priorities and brain development. How is it that I know these things when I am not a scientist? The answer is plain, I was raised by three strong women, married a strong woman and have a very strong willed daughter.

I like to go shopping for clothes and shoes. I buy the same underwear year after year ( although I must admit that I had an affair with boxers in my thirties). I go the the Rockport Outlet store and buy two or three pair of walking shoes- style mr7108 and go happily back home and line up the boxes in my closet and my underwear in my armoire ( I learned that word from my wife- after all women’s speaking vocabulary is twice what men’s are- does that surprise you?).

I have just returned from a trip to the shoe store with my wife. Different than most men, I have had a plethora of visits to women’s shoe stores in my life. My wife first reconnoiters the entire store, then walks purposefully to the section that allegedly has her size- 6 1/2. She then scans all of the boxes with her shoe size and places her hand on a number of them. If life is good, she pulls out a number of boxes and looks at the shoes with her jeweler’s eye. Some are returned to the shelf and others are placed near the divan where she sits.

Of course, she has brought with her all of the tools of the trade. She has as pair of wool socks and pair of anklets made out of stocking material. She puts on one shoe and walks in a lopsided way down the aisle of the store and makes a grunting noise. She resumes her position on the divan and puts on the other shoe. She once again goes on her stroll. If all goes well, she places the new shoes in a box on the divan and meanders down other aisles with her size in them.

She is struck by the boots that are displayed there. Our daughter has told her that she has to “get with it” and all of the most up to date people are wearing boots. She looks them all over and narrows her gaze on a pair of long black boots. She goes through the same routine ( getting itchy yet?) and then asks me if I think these would go well with her sweater and skirt set. I heartily agree and she takes them off and puts them back in the box and lays them to the side.

Fortunately, the first pair of shoes suffice and we are out of the store in about one half an hour. I might have stayed in the car during this excursion listening to 1950’s rock and roll, but I felt that I owed some good will after forcing her to go see a movie that I liked. It was kind of a payback for the good will that she showed me.

What was I thinking about all during this time in the shoe store. Well, I was thinking absolutely nothing. I fondled a pair of sneakers and gazed at some really fancy walking shoes, but thinking about anything- no siree.