SPACE… THE FINAL FRONTIER

“Space – – – – the Final Frontier.
These are the voyages of the starship, Enterprise.
Its five-year mission: to explore strange, new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

It’s the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one. Somehow, this year reminds me of the introduction to Star Trek. I have no idea what I am going to do this next year and with whom I’m going to do it. Yes, there is the old crew, including my wife, and my remaining friends. However, I have this feeling that this is going to be an extraordinarily different year than those in the past.

My primary professional goal is to get the legislature to look at a different way of funding schools. My secondary priority is to stop any expansion of an already corrupt charter school system. I believe that I have started on a project that could lead me away from many of things, or right to the center of them both. I am involved in the creation of a rural caucus in the lower house of the legislature.

It has been a long ways in coming. There used to be one, headed up by two friends of mine. It fell into the hands of the do-nothings, who felt more of an allegiance to the leadership of their party, rather than to their own constituents.

This is also a gubernatorial year. There are already 8 Democratic candidates, with the possibility of more to come. I have to jump on one of the bandwagons soon, or fall behind with no influence whatsoever. This is a tough time for our Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS). Money is at a premium in many of our rural districts and shelling out money for membership becomes a problem. We will certainly survive, but we will scratch for every dollar.

Our personal lives will see us reduce the number of excursions we make. We have a week in Puerto Rico and a couple of weeks in Puerto Vallarta. Much more than that, I am not sure. Somehow, I have a feeling that we will get into our Navy Blue Van Staff Car and take off unannounced for parts unknown in the U.S.

Our eldest grandchild will be going on to college  (not sure where yet) and that will be a strange new world for us. We have always had access to all of our grandchildren. Now it will be different. Our time together will grow shorter as they all get older.

I have this feeling that our lives will be full of surprises. I am kind of looking forward to it. I am even looking forward to the third season of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes.

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IRINA DOES NEW YORK

No sooner had we returned to our home in Harrisburg, than we set out with Irina to New York City. We were very fortunate to have our son-in-laws’ parents allow us to stay in their condominium in Fort Lee. It is a wonderful place on the 16th floor with a great view of the city. Irina was entranced with the sight of the city spread out before her. She also was tickled that there was a piano in the house. She is an excellent pianist. It is a delight to hear her play.

Since we had 4:00 o’clock tickets to Radio City Music Hall, we had to take a bus into town. The trip is usually about 1 hour, but the Lincoln Tunnel was really jammed. So, we got into N.Y.C. at about 2:30 and wandered around Times Square, which Irina adored. She was so anxious to look in all of the little Tchotchke stores with great buys on almost everything. She bought enough trinkets to fill her back pack.

We stopped at a deli and Irina was surprised to find out that all of the guys behind the counter spoke Spanish. She had not contemplated that N.Y.C. is filled with people from other places. I actually think that the guys behind us gave us a deal because of her. We finished eating and began walking to Radio City. The streets were beyond jammed. If you didn’t watch yourself, you could have gotten swept away with the crowds.

We made in to R.C. in plenty of time, enough time for Irina to take a million pictures of the place, including the ladies room. It was quite a treat for her. The Rockettes were marvelous and she appreciated every part of the presentation. Irina really wanted to go to Chinatown. So, with our intimate knowledge of the subway system ( really), we made it to Canal Street.

This was the most entrancing part of the trip for Irina. She had heard about Chinatown, but had never seen such goings on. She stopped at every little store and bought another passel of trinkets. She comparison shopped and started up a conversation with an elderly Chinese woman. The woman kept on saying “Cheap, cheap, cheap!!!” Irina was having a ball.

Irina is kind of a vegetarian. She will eat chicken and sea food, but not meat. She was entranced by all of the Chinese eateries and focused her attention on a vegetarian place. The menu was extensive. I had never seen such dishes before. I have been eating Chinese food since I am four. We tried out some dishes and soup and things were pretty good. Irina was a whiz with chopsticks. We all sampled each other’s dishes.

Our waitress was rather surly and knew little English. Irina started calling her sweetie just to break the harsh tones. It actually worked and the woman smiled just a bit towards the end of the meal. When I took out my credit card, she yelled, “Cash, cash, cash.” Somehow she knew that word.

We returned to our digs in Fort Lee, tired, but happy. The next day was a frolicking trip to Macy’s and the Empire State Building. Irina was not too happy with Macy’s. She said that the prices at the outlets were so much better. She was, however, impressed with the Empire State Building. She wanted to walk up the entire building. Guess what, she did not. She must have taken 30 or 40 pictures (with herself in every one). She had a ball.

The next day we traveled back home and Carol helped Irina spend the rest of her clothes money at Boscov’s Mall. She had wanted to purchase an android phone without a phone plan. That was not to be. Some of the rest of the day was devoted to Irina talking to her boyfriend over Skype. I guess that they missed each other.

The next day was Christmas. We spent the day at our son and daughter-in-law’s house with her parents, the children and us. Irina fit right in. She spoke with everyone and was happy throughout. Our daughter was there without the rest of her family (who were in Florida with their other grandparents). At the end of the day, our daughter took Irina back home (she lives near Dulles Airport) and dropped Irina off at the airport the following day. My daughter reported that Irina was a delight to be with.

That was our Irina adventure. We hope that in the not too distant future, either she or Alexei will visit with us again. We will be seeing them both in Puerta Vallarta in March. I wish Hugo could see how well he raised his children. He was a special guy.

THE THREE GIRLS

For the second time in three years, we hosted the child of a friend of ours from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Unfortunately, Hugo has passed away and his son, Alexei and daughter Irina are now left with their mother and stepfather in P.V. Alexei is now a young man of 24 and works in the computer field in Guadalajara.

 Irina is his almost 22 year old sister. I would describe her as a cutie pie.  She is impish, smart, smiley, and very with it. I guess the world is a lot smaller with all the computer things- the net, Instagram, Facebook, text messages and a host of other things. Irina knows them all and can communicate in all of  them. She is aware of the same kinds of things that 22 year olds in our country know.

Carol and I decided that we would do the same thing with Irina, as we did with Alexei. We called a couple of our female (with Alexei it was male) scholarship winners, who live fairly close to us and who were approximately the same age as Irina. To say that they got along would be a less than accurate description.

They were three peas in a pod. There was very little that Irina did not understand. If he did not know a word, she would turn to Rachel, who has had a number of years of Spanish and Rachel would tell her. The two girls, Carol and I picked up Irina at Dulles Airport. We had to wait three hours while Irina went through customs. She said it was an arduous task.

We spent that first night at the Hampton Inn. We actually ordered pizza for our room. We were going to go to a restaurant, but most close at 10 and we were way past that. Now that I am on a gluten free diet, I had to order one pizza for myself. It’s great that chains now have the gluten free stuff. It looks like pizza and really taste the same as the cardboard box that it comes in.

The next day was going to be a trip to the Air and Space Museum near the Dulles Airport. Would you believe that we did not make it there? As soon as Irina saw a Washington advertisement for outlet stores near Leesburg, the space museum was out.

We spent most of the day at the outlet stores. I have never seen a span of stores in either a closed mall or an outlet mall. The stores ran on forever. However, I should have understood that Old Navy, Aeropostale, and suchlike were going to be our first and probably are only stops along the way. Old Navy does not exist where Irina lives. There may be one in Mexico City, but we don’t know that. Irina could not be happier. The girls helped her to pick out the kind of clothes that she wanted. I have never seen a happier threesome.

The time at the stores was also fun for Carol and me. Although I am not into buying women’s clothes, I was trained as a boy to hang around while grandma, mom and my older sister spent time looking at all the sales at Macy’s Ohrbach’s and S Klein on the square. Seriously, it was really good training.

The shopping went on for many hours. The kids were pretty tired when they were finished. We headed back to the city to get the girls into their hotel and then moved on to our friend Neil’s home. Neil was Carol’s roommate Sara’s husband. Sara had recently passed away and Neil is happy to have company. We were very pleased to see him.

We then went to a rather upscale Japanese restaurant. Neil is a Japan scholar and you must rely on him to get you to the best. This was not a hibachi chain or anything like that. It was a really comprehensive Japanese cuisine and we tasted things that we never had before. All was good and we were happy to have been there. Afterwards we drove the girls back to their hotel and Carol and I went back to Neil’s, first having picked up some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for the girls.

The next morning we were off to Union Station and the Hop on Hop off bus. We traveled the complete circuit of Washington D.C. We then went into the Reagan office building and had lunch at a wonderful food court. The building is very close to the White House, which Irina wanted to see. Although we could not get a reservation, she loved seeing it. Her other choices were the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian.

We did them all. We were all pretty tired when the day ended. The next morning we hopped into our van and headed back home. Irina was anxious to see the snow. When we got home, she and the girls built a snowman. I believe that Irina must have taken 100’s of pictures of herself in front of almost every place we stopped (a selfie). They are now posted on her Facebook page. The two girls said their goodbyes and took off for home. They are both still students at McDaniel College in Westminster MD. We have known them both since they were13. We still have an attachment which we, hopefully, shared with Irina.

 

 

GIN AND TONIC

Russ and I got into his little Simca and headed north. We had intended to make it to Hanover in Northern Germany by the end of the day. That plan did not work. We wandered into a gambling casino in Bad Durkheim, which was the Great Britain controlled part of Germany in 1958. The casino looked like it had not been touched by the war at all. It had fluted columns and waiters dressed in tuxedos.

The man and women were also dressed in their finest. Russ and I were dressed in our crappy civilian clothes that we had bought off the rack at the PX  (Post Exchange). We were certainly out of place, but no one threw us out or made any disparaging remarks in either English or German (I do speak a bunch of German).

One of the waiters approached us. I thought that he might ask us to leave or go get a tuxedo. He asked us in British accented English what our drink order would be. Since my drinking up to that point had been beer, Steinhager, and cognac, I was not prepared to offer any kind of answer. Russ, of course, coming from California, asked for some esoteric drink (I think it was scotch on the rocks). Stupid me, I asked the waiter what the specialty of the house was (at this point in my life, I realize how dumb that is).

He looked at me in a most peculiar manner. It appeared that he took my question seriously. He was not offended, he was truly gracious. He told me that the bartender makes the best gin and tonics that he had ever tasted. I was surely impressed. He wondered if I wanted a specific gin. I told him that I would rely on the bartender to do his best. He smiled and walked away.

Meanwhile, Russ was wandering around looking at the tables to see what kind of games they were playing. I did see Baccarat and a roulette wheel and a number of card games that I did not recognize. Anyway, I did not have enough dough to play, so I just watched. I believe Russ put a couple of marks down on the roulette table. He did not win.

After a while, the waiter came back with our drinks. I saw Russ take his off the tray, so I did not have to guess which one was mine. It was in a clear 6 oz. glass with ice, clear liquid and a piece of lime balanced on the lip of the cup. The waiter said, “That will be one mark please,” to each of us. Now there were 4 marks to a dollar in those days, so it was a quarter. I gave the waiter a mark and then placed another one in his hand. Russ did the same thing. The waiter smiled, kind of bowed and then left us I did not see him for the rest of time that we were there.

So, there I was with an adult drink in my hand. The stirrer was made of glass and was colored at the end. I did manage to take it along with me and maybe even took it home, when I got out of the service. I was apprehensive about tasting the drink. My first reaction was surprise. Not only had I never had this drink, but I had never had the components separately. The gin was smooth as it could be going down my throat. The tonic water (quinine) was almost to perfect a companion to the gin.

I was addicted after the first swallow. I have been addicted ever since. The only changes that I have made as I got older, was to change my gin to Gordon’s, then to Beefeaters and now to Tanqueray 10. The last gin almost taste like juniper berries. I keep a bottle of it in my freezer. My brother told me to do it. I still talk to Russ and have visited with him in California. He still drinks scotch. As you can see, I still am in love with gin and tonics.

DON’T LOSE ANYONE

I can safely say that at my age, I have no intention of losing anyone. This is not a current phenomenon with me. I have had a purposeful feeling for most of my life, that losing someone is kind of a sin. If you were introduced to someone, you have the obligation of knowing that person for the rest of your life. I am the only person in my family who feels that way.

It is not uncommon to say, apropos of nothing, that I wonder where Rick and Gair are right now. Even though I may not even thought of them in ten years, I fully feel that it is my obligation to get in touch with them and find out how they and their families are doing. I do not discriminate in these thoughts. The person could be a former congressman or the custodian at the high school that I once worked in.

I have no idea why I do this kind of thing. Sometimes, the person that I call asks me that question, “Why are you calling me after all of these years?”  “Well, you see Jack, when we were at Fort Gordon together in 1957; you told me that you came from Fargo, N.D. Now I find you in whitepages.com and you are living in New York. How did you migrate?” Sometimes, I get the old heave ho, as people do not remember me or think that it is a come on for selling them a time share.

However, mostly I do get to talk to the person I am looking for. I found a couple of friends from my college days who spent all of the time on the phone complaining about esoteric illnesses that they have. I don’t think that I will call them again. On the other hand, I called Stan B., and we have resumed our friendship. Those are the chances that you take when you call.

On a sad note, when I reconnected with Laurel Montane, who helped me acclimate to public junior high school in 1950, we had dinner in Bethany Beach, Delaware a few years ago. I just found out that Laurel had passed away soon after our dinner in 2011. Once again, those are the chances that you take.

DON’T GO TO COLLEGE

Have you ever wondered about people who make a living telling people (students mostly) that it isn’t necessary to everyone to go to college. It is amazing that all of them that I have ever heard making this pronouncement have gone to college. When you ask them if their kids have gone to college, they invariably tell you yes. So what is the gambit here?

I heard it again this morning from a CEO of a successful company who would like to be able to hire some fine craftsmen to populate his manufacturing establishment. I am not sure how many times I have heard the same thing. I can’t seem to be able to find workers who can do the job and also pass the drug and alcohol testing.

In larger companies, these are words used to rationalize hiring workers from other countries or actually doing the manufacturing in foreign places. It’s a really good excuse for not hiring people from the community or the city that their company is located.

Funny, these cries for more accomplished workers and the standard, “You don’t have to go to college are usually addressed to students in poor rural and inner city places. I have yet to hear these Plantagenet’s of poppycock make their presentations in wealthy communities. Come on, should Lower Merion, Loudon County, Montgomery County, Cold Stream Harbor. Beverly Hills and the like hear these pleas, would they then begin to thin the herd and not send 97% of their students to four year colleges.

The colleges themselves know the “good schools,” Carol and I have spent a good portion of our lives telling admissions folks that there are just as many smart kids ( percentage wise) in poor rural areas as there are “smart” kids in suburban schools.

There is almost a rampant discrimination based on your zip code. I know that you have heard that before. Have you ever heard that advertisers actually send ads to differing zip codes?  Check that out sometime. The ads that we get in suburban Harrisburg are vastly different than those we got in Clarion, PA. It is that way with the Don’t Go to College crowd.

Since we ran scholarship programs for ten years in poor and rural places in New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, we have heard this cry in almost all of the schools we worked with. As a matter of course, some staff in the schools uttered these words.

I once told the H.R. person from a very large corporation that needed engineers by the boatload that they should go to the Penn State day for engineers and see how many that one school produces. If you need those students who are math oriented, visit Mansfield University sometime and see how many quality students they produce each year.

Yes, there are youngsters who should not go to college. I’ll be darned if I know how to identify them. My wife was told by her guidance counselor that she should never try to go to college, that she would not make it. Carol has a master’s degree and has run her own company for 28 years. Yup, keep on telling people not to go to college. It’s probably how you make your living.

 

IT’S DREARY, DARK, WITH FREEZING RAIN

I don’t believe that I have Sundowner’s disease. The scene outside our window looks like the background of some Edgar Allan Poe story or one of those slasher movies that I very rarely like to see. As the day wears on, I become even more aware of the outside circumstance as I watch two football teams from Pennsylvania play in driving snowstorms and sleet. I am not sure how these guys actually play.

How can they hold onto the ball, throw it and run down the field. I feel like a paraplegic just looking out my window in hopes that someone else will shovel my driveway. Yes, that does happen some time with my neighbor Dr. Andy. He sees me as kind of an old codger for whom he has to keep an eye out. All the while, I am embarrassed by his helping me, even as I let him do it. The only thing that I can do to repay him is to have Carol bake Andy and his wife some delectable morsel.

As the lights dim in the sky and the world is lit with a happy combination of incandescent, fluorescent and LED glows, I am happy to be inside where it is warm and toasty. Strange things come into my head. I actually wish that I could go into my bureau drawer and drag out a pair of pajamas, brush my teeth and other before bed chores and crawl under the covers. I am not really sleepy, but I am sure that as soon as my head hits the pillow, I will see sugar plum fairies dance in my brain.

I am not allowed to go to sleep so early in the day, even though my daughter-in-law’s dad takes an hour nap each day. He became used to that when he visited relatives in the old country when he was a kid. It has stayed with him ever since. I am not built that way. I love to stay in bed late and go to sleep late, trying not to miss anything important that is going on in the world.

I cap off the dreary day with the news. The most interesting thing to me is the school closings or delays. As a former school superintendent, I used to ride the roads at three in the morning to determine what I would do about closings and late starts. I admire those who do it. Most time 50% of the people dislike what you did. The kids, of course, love it when you call it off or delay it. I am happy that I am not in charge of that anymore. Did you hear that Jim Gilmanton (former colleague who used to call me at 4 in the morning to get my decision)?