My Bench

Near my front door, separated by a brick wall that supports a small roof protecting those entering the house from the weather, is a bench, one of my better buys (Lowe’s), of painted cast aluminum that never rusts and is always comfortable, even without its all-weather nylon pad. It is tucked in between the brick wall and an azalea bush now in bloom. It faces the street and sidewalk at the end of my L-shaped driveway. Mostly it sits empty, like an empty throne.

In the wee hours of warm summer nights, say about 3–4 am, I am often awake, having gotten enough sleep by then. In those times, I often sit out on the bench, in the dark, in my underwear, look at the stars, and contemplate what I have learned in living most of my life—and thinking how I would like to spend the time I have left exactly where I am.

A man alone with his thoughts.

The neighbors’ houses, all up and down the block, are dark, everyone gone to bed, the timers having long since turned off the post lights, the sun-charged LED path lights having used up their charge. No cars pass in either direction, not even a police car on patrol, and only an occasional vehicle on Concord Pike, one street over. The daytime joggers and dog walkers are asleep in their beds. No one is dropping their children off at the daycare center across the street. Even if someone walked by, they would not likely notice me sitting in the shadows. I would be tempted to shout out, “Boo!” just to see their surprise at seeing an old guy in his underwear that late at night. I can also look a little crazy, often without even trying.

I sit in the warm summer air and imagine someone else someday sitting in the same spot, looking at the same stars, maybe even having the same thoughts—an unknown kindred spirit.

As the first light of dawn appears, I go back inside. I am not an exhibitionist.

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Beach Advertising

For many years, I have been  checking out Florida’s Boca Raton (mouth of the rat) website that shows the beach where I have spent many happy hours. But in the last few years, I was puzzled when, during the summer months, they put down a long T-shaped blue tarp from one of the entrance ramps to the beach almost to the water’s edge. Why?

Now, I have read in our local newspaper that Delaware’s Dewey Beach will begin doing the same, and they gave a reason. Apparently, the tarp makes walking on the sand much easier for the elderly and infirm, who would otherwise struggle to use the beach. It also supports wheelchairs and wheeled carts of all kinds. (The one at Boca Raton is rarely used.)

Except the tarp at Dewey Beach will not be blue; it will be light tan and have advertising printed on it. The ads are sold in 5′ x 2′ panels. (Groan! Is there no end to advertising? Even on the beach, now? I have almost given up on TV because of all the ads. Don’t go there, Ocean City.)

Dewey’s town officials justify the move because no one has complained about the advertising on the lifeguard stands, and neighboring Rehoboth Beach has been using advertising mats for years without complaints.

I suggest anyone opposed to this proliferation of ads go to the South Jersey beaches instead.

(In the past 30 years. it rained 27 out of 30 times on this day.) Wow! Not many beach days on this date.

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Rainy Days In May

I regularly check  Microsoft’s weather forecast on my Windows 10 computer (it is an app, so if you don’t have Windows 10, you can’t see it by going to their website). One of the unusual things it tells me is the number of times it has rained on that date. At this time of year, it is surprisingly high. For example, today is rainy, and the weather forecast says, “In the last 30 years, it rained 24 out of 30 times on this day.” So, I shouldn’t be surprised. Rain on this date in May is far more usual than not.

Tomorrow, they say it rained 23 of the past 30 years.  I think I’ll stay in bed.

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That Yellow Traffic Light

I often see drivers my age—and only my age—pull into a highway intersection for a left turn, and wait in the intersection for the yellow light to make their turn. This is the way we were taught, but times have changed.

Mr. Brown, from our LAHIAN, looking surprisingly young.

Mr. Brown, our calm and unflappable Driver’s Ed teacher, told us the yellow light was to “clear the intersection.” The corollary of this, in our minds, was to be sure to get well into that intersection, so we would have the undeniable right-of-way when the light did change to yellow. (“Hey, I’m clearing here!”)

Highways now have left-turn lanes, and the procedure is to stop at the painted line in the lane before the intersection, and wait for the green arrow to proceed. Younger drivers all do this, but older drivers who have lost the ability to change what they once learned, still follow the old method: they sit in the middle of the intersection and turn on the yellow light.

Here in Delaware, we have a law that confuses us all. Up beside the traffic light is often a sign, “No turn on red arrow,” meaning a right turn on red. Does this include a solid red light? Even locals will confuse this. (The answer is No, but we do not beep while out-of-state drivers wonder what to do. We have the same dilemma.)

When the “right turn on red” rule was instituted everywhere, it was made quite clear that no driver had make a right turn on red if they did not feel safe in doing so, for whatever reason—or no reason at all.  People have forgotten this part and will often honk at any driver who doesn’t turn fast enough.

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Hawaiian Lava and Property Rights

This was on the TV news: A 60-something man living near Hawaii’s erupting Kilauea volcano, poignantly said goodbye to his home shortly before it burst into flames. He explained no one on the island could get insurance against lava flow, so he lost everything, and it would be hard at his age to start over.

He’s right about that, but he should have thought of it sooner. Why did he think the land was so cheap (for Hawaii)? Why would insurance companies exclude these policies? Didn’t he wonder where everyone else was?

Another man said he “hit his [asthma] pump three times that morning” because of the acid fumes.  Good Heavens! Why did he chose to live on a volcanic island if he has asthma?  People have to learn to make better choices. Or the government has to assure them they will not bail them out of their poor choices.  Poor choices will have consequences.

I was reminded of those in our area who own shore property. Once they buy their property, they do all they can to limit access to nearby public beaches, essentially creating their own private beach.  (This was very noticeable in New England, not so much in New Jersey.)

But when the winter storms hit, they are all over the TV news demanding the Federal government (meaning you and me) pick up the major part of the repair cost so they can continue living their privileged lifestyle—and keep riff-raff like you and me away.

(Just drop money on my doorstep and go home.)

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Flag Etiquette Mistakes

Flag etiquette requires you to take down an American flag (I don’t know about other nations) only when it can not be seen. This means if you have a spotlight on it at night, you can leave it up permanently.

Weather has nothing to do with it. You can leave a flag flying in the worst weather, just as long as you can see it.

Flag etiquette is formalized as law in the U.S. Flag Code, although it is not enforced.  The Supreme Court has already declared its rules prohibiting burning a flag in protest as restricting freedom of speech and therefore unconstitutional.

I once worked with a guy active in the National Guard whose pet peeve was local jurisdictions, particularly fire houses, who lowered their flag to half-mast anytime they wanted to, such as when a long-time member retired. He claimed only the President could declare American flags flown at half-mast, and then everyone had to comply. He was a major and said this with authority, so I never checked it’s authenticity. I just saluted and replied, “Yes, Sir.”

“I can’t hear you, Civilian.”

“YES, SIR!” (he was very intimidating).

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The Enron Emails (And a Very Good Joke)

“Mark As Read,” by Nathan Heller. The New Yorker, 7/24/2017.  (Yes, I know it’s almost a year old.  My draft got misplaced.)

Back in 2001, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seized the email folders of 150 high-ranking Enron employees as part of their investigation of the corporation. But then, as a surprise to almost everyone, they released these emails to the public, reasoning, “The Commission may release the information if the public’s right to disclosure outweighs the individual right to privacy.” The archive comprised hundreds of thousands of messages, the largest trove of email ever assembled.  Because of its huge size, it became useful as a  resource for studies of the English language.

A researcher at MIT purchased the bundle (I assume a downloaded copy; they don’t say) and began analyzing it (by computer) for the way people write and use emails. Others have since taken up the cause, even after Enron has faded from most people’s memories.

The original researcher removed all of the redundancies, automated messages, advertisements, delivery failure notices, and other detritus, still leaving a few hundred thousand emails, manageable by today’s computers. The collection is public.

The bottom line of the email studies is that people are very individualistic in the way they file their emails that cannot be duplicated or interpreted automatically. And, only a few people send out most of the emails (which we all knew).

The bundle has been statistically analyzed all sorts of ways.  In 2014, a researcher discovered a fixation on “ball” metaphors, as in “get the ball rolling,” “having a ball,” “on the ball,” “dropping the ball,” and “playing hard ball.”

Emails, at least at Enron, did not usually begin with “Dear So-and-so.” They often began with simply “Hi,” or “Hey.” In those politically incorrect days, many began with simply, “Guys—.”

Researchers had difficulty categorizing words having multiple meanings, such as “pretty,” as in “pretty good,” “pretty kettle of fish,” or, “a pretty flower.”

Jokes are common. One example, The New Yorker author relates, begins “Moses, Jesus, and an old man are playing golf,” and leaves it at that. Hey, what’s the rest?

I found the joke online, and here it is:

Moses, Jesus and an old man are playing golf. Moses steps up to the tee and hits the ball. It goes sailing over the fairway and lands in a water trap. Moses parts the water and chips the ball onto the green.

Jesus steps up to the tee and hits his ball. It goes sailing over the fairway and lands in the same water trap. Jesus walks on the water and chips the ball onto the green.

The old man steps up to the tee and hits his ball. It goes sailing over the fairway and heads for the water trap. But, just before it falls into the water, a fish jumps up and grabs the ball. As the fish is falling back down, an eagle swoops down and grabs the fish. The eagle flies over the green where a lightning bolt startles the eagle, who drops the fish. As the fish hits the ground, the ball pops out of its mouth and rolls into the hole.

Jesus turns to the old man and says, “Dad, if you don’t stop fooling around, we won’t bring you next time.”

(Repeated jokes often reveal more about the repeater than the joke itself.  Mine are no different, but I never worked for Enron.)

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