Words I Didn’t Know I Knew: A Female Fox

We have seen a red fox running around our neighborhood recently, so I have been learning more about them from the Internet.

Trivia: What is the name of a female fox? A: a vixen.

(There is no standard name for a male. Nobody seems to care.  Besides, you have to roll one over on its back to tell the difference, and that is not easy to do.)

You vixen, you! (I sound like Bruno Tonioli of Dancing With the Stars, but I am still practicing.)


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Pat Johnson’s Obituary

Our former classmate, Pat Johnson, died May 20 in Sacramento, CA.  She transferred to Lansdowne in her senior year and did more in that one year than I did in my entire high school career.  Despite the short time she was at Lansdowne, she was well known and well liked.  Here is her obituary:

Thanks to Judy Young for sending it along.  —RWalck@Verizon.net

Here is her photo in the 1954 LAHIAN, our senior yearbook (it was tight against the center binding, and some of the print is missing in my copy). She was at our 50th Reunion in Ocean City and looked terrific.

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The Trouble With Volunteering — But Not At Longwood Gardens

The trouble with volunteering is that organizations are paying you nothing, so they often value your time as worth nothing—and treat you accordingly.

When my wife first retired, she volunteered for data entry work in her church’s office, one day a week. But when she arrived, she would often be told, “Oh, I forgot this was the day you come in. But since you are here, you can put these files in order (or some other low-priority task) .” If she was being paid, she would have a definite assignment, and no one would forget.

That is not true at Longwood Gardens where, in some circles, they are known as much for their outstanding volunteer program as they are for flowers.

Longwood Gardens values the volunteers’ time and rewards us with perks. We are treated as employees.  (If a sign says, “Employees Only,” that includes us.)  We can park in the employees parking lot.  We can jump the line waiting to get into the cafeteria (although I never do, in gratitude to the paying visitors). The paid employees constantly thank us for coming in, and the visitors are obviously grateful for the help we give them. They shake our hand as they leave; they often take our photo. One woman told me, “I show your picture to all my friends in Beijing!” Where else can a retiree get such grateful attention?  Longwood Gardens is a great place to volunteer, a sure boost to anyone’s ego. The attitude of everyone—guests, staff, and fellow volunteers—is cheerful, positive, and uplifting.

The volunteer schedule is kept on the Longwood Gardens website, where we can sign up for any open shift (usually 3.5 hours) whenever it suits us.  We are not tied to a particular time each week.  If we have conflicting plans of our own, we do not have to find a replacement.  We just don’t sign up. If an illness, or some other last-minute problem comes up, a simple email to another volunteer who has the authority to change the schedule is all it takes, no questions asked.  If we have trouble walking to our post, a security vehicle will transport us.

A friend had been volunteering at another du Pont estate in our area. He was one of the docents who led groups of visitors through the museum. Those docents were kept in a back room and assigned in order as groups of visitors arrived. One snowy day last winter, no visitors were arriving, nor were any likely to, but the person in charge insisted the volunteers all stay, including my friend, just in case conditions changed. If they were being paid even minimum hourly wage, several would have been sent home hours ago.

My friend now volunteers at Longwood.


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The High Cost of Healthcare, No matter How You Figure It

The basic problem of any healthcare program is that everyone wants the best doctors, the latest procedures, and the widest range of tests, but no one wants to pay for it, least of all the injured party.  They feel they were living a good, honest life, working hard, raising a family and helping their neighbors, when out of the blue, through no fault of their own, they were injured or diagnosed with a terrible illness.  Their life has been turned upside-down with endless doctor’s visits, simple pleasures have been taken away, they are subject to all sorts of discomforts and inconveniences, and now you expect them to pay, besides?  It was not their fault.  Someone else should at least be responsible for the bill.

Everyone else, of course, sees it differently: Whoopee tie yie yo, git along little dogies.  It’s your misfortune and none of my own. I’ve got my own problems.

But the cost remains.  No matter how you slice and dice it, it is still there, and somebody has to pay. Doctors and their staff do not work for free. The only real question is who will pay.

“Not you, not me. Charge that man behind the tree.”

The Veterans Affairs system is the largest single-party insurer in the country.  How’s that working out?  As Canada and the UK have found, even astronomical government subsidies are not enough.  Mandate lower costs, and the services are simply not provided.  The best doctors move on to greener pastures, equipment is not purchased, new hospitals are not built.  Sure, you can make an appointment.  The earliest opening is in two months, but we hope you’ll be dead by then.  You will hope so, too.

We have several requirements of any medical system:

  • An unfortunate individual with high medical costs should not have to pay them all on their own.
  • I, who am healthy, should not be forced to pay the tab for someone else’s medical expenses.
  • Anyone who truly needs medical treatment, should not have to do without just because of the cost.
  • Everyone should get the best medical treatment: the best doctors and staff, the best technology, even technology that would be unlikely to uncover an rare complication (MRIs, x-rays, ultrasound, blood tests, etc.)

We cannot have all of them.  Some are mutually exclusive.  Which ones should we drop?

When a classmate’s wife was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he searched and found one of the top doctors to do the surgery, but it didn’t matter.  She died anyway. Any new surgical intern could have done as well.

Hanging over it all is the problem of those with preexisting conditions.  At some point, those people could have gotten insurance, but chose not to, to save the expense.  Now that disaster struck, they want me (and you) to pay.  They demonstrate in the streets, carrying signs saying something like, “Health Insurance For All,” but I see “Send the bill to Roger.”

Demanding insurance after disaster hits is not insurance.  It may be something good and desirable, but that is not insurance.  The reward will go to the politician who can convince enough voters that it is.


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The Sock Hop

Back in 2005, I had just started this blog, and I wrote a posting about the sock hops in our school  gym.  I received a lot of positive feedback about it, and that encouraged me to continue.  It went viral, or as viral as anything could in those early days of the Internet.  It still affects me as I read it.  It is still one of my best.  It describes a time so vivid, so substantial, it seems impossible that sock hops, those sock hops, long ago faded into the past.  Here it is:

Goodnight, Sweetheart
Posted on November 22, 2005

Goodnight, Sweetheart,
‘Till we meet tomorrow . . .

I’m an old softie, and that song brings back more high school memories than any other.

Yes, kids, we actually had sock hops.  Those were the days before polyurethane varnish and no one was allowed to wear street shoes on the fragile gym floor.  So, to have a dance, everyone had to take off their shoes.  We left ours on the bleachers as we entered by the boy’s locker room.

A sock hop was a school social event, usually every Saturday night, always casual.  You didn’t take anyone, you just went.  There was no big decorating effort, we dressed in our usual school clothes, and the cost was trivial, maybe $1 in today’s money.  They stamped everyone’s hand as we went in so we could come and go.

Phil Herr, one of McClure’s boys, was the DJ in a tiny audio booth on the far side. Barely enough room for Phil, the record player and a tiny light, and forget about standing up.  The records were pretty much whatever was on “Your Hit Parade” that week.  Harbor Lights was popular then and still turns me to mush.

The gym was dark, and all the girls looked terrific.  Anything could happen, even if  all you usually did was stand around mapping out your strategy.  In the hallway across from Phil Herr’s cave, near the girl’s locker room, was the brightly lit soda sales area.  You could reconnoiter with your buddies there, and a soda bottle was a necessary prop as you stood in the darkness.

Asking a girl to dance took an incredible amount of courage and planning.  You wanted to dance with the best possible girl without getting rejected.  Like a moth and a flame, it was a fine line and the sting of rejection was deadly.  “Best” was not just looks, but a social ranking, a complex combination of many things, looks, personality, style, intelligence, and more.

We knew we also had a social ranking that had to match the girl’s.  I know, I know, it was only a dance, but we were searching for our place in life and a lot of self-esteem was involved.  It was a ritual of social posturing worthy of a peacock.  Guess wrong and you would get an answer like, “I’m a little tired.  I think I want to sit this one out.”  BOOM!  Shot down in flames with no parachute.  Right out in the open for everyone to see.  Nothing to do but slink back to a dark corner with your tail between your legs.

One of the ploys was to pretend you were only there to plan for something better to do. The movie “Marty”  became a classic by catching that spirit.

“What do you want to do?”

“I donno, what do you want to do?”

“Let’s go over to Jerry’s.  Maybe his sister is home.”

No wonder kids today don’t marry until their late 30’s.  It takes them that long to figure out what we knew in the first minute of slow dancing.  You could be talking quietly about the last Civics test but her body language would be shouting that you were the answer to her dreams, would never be more than just a friend, or were downright repulsive.  There were a hundred shades of subtlety in between, and what you heard was unmistakable and the absolute truth.  Body language could not be hidden or faked.  If it was not what you wanted to hear, suck it up, that’s the way it is.

Sometimes, you would be surprised.  An ordinary dance with an ordinary girl would suddenly become a revelation as she melted into your arms and rested her cheek on your shoulder, her hair smelling sweetly of shampoo and tickling your neck.  Throw in a revolving mirror ball that sweeps polka dots of colored lights across everyone’s face and, it may sound corny, but, as Doris Day would sing, “It’s Magic!”

Of all the sock hops, the only girl I definitely remember dancing with was Linda Johnston.  We both knew, everyone knew, she was out of my league.  It was probably only once, and that’s probably why I remember it.  I got signals.  Nothing came of it, but, on that night, I got signals.  By Monday, at school, she had second thoughts, just as I expected.

The important dance was the last one, the “Goodnight, Sweetheart” dance.  You would take home whoever you were with.  Everyone understood that.  Walk home, mostly.  If you were lucky, she would say her friend’s dad was driving a group of them home.  That was easy for her to back out of.  It was hopeless if her dad was driving them home.  She would politely say he would be glad to drop you off, too, but, of course, getting home wasn’t the point.

But, occasionally, everything would click.  You got signals from a girl you had only known as the squeamish one in Biology class, and you got to walk her home and stand out in front of her house in the dark and talk and talk and not even feel the cold.

So, Ladies,

Goodnight, Sweetheart,
Gooood . . . Niiight.

Thanks for the memories.

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W. C. Fields Quote And the Peirce-du Pont House

     Women are like elephants;  I like to look at them, but I wouldn’t want to own one. —W. C. Fields

I often use this quote as a volunteer at the Peirce–du Pont House at Longwood Gardens.  It always produces a knowing laugh from the men and protests from the women.  Either way, it gets their attention.

I then add the segue, “I feel the same way about old houses. I like to look at them, but wouldn’t want to own one.”  I  explain that is why I enjoy volunteering at the House. I get to examine every hidden closet and stairway as if it were my own, but without any of the responsibility.  Something always needs repair in such an old house, but no one expects me to fix it or maintain it.

I come in near the Christmas season, and find the decorations are up, arranged by  talented people far better than I could have done.  No one nags me to haul them all down from the attic, or to put up the tree.  I just enjoy everything and proudly point out the features to the visitors. What could be more perfect? (Well, there used to be a cat I could pet, the most tolerant cat in the world, but he went on to cat heaven.  That was perfect.)

I do not even have to water the plants, trim them back, or change them when they fade.  There is an unsung army of people who take care of these things.  I am only the face the visitors see.

I have lost any desire for ownership. None of this has to be mine. What would I gain by ownership? We are only the temporary caretakers, preserving it for future generations of others to enjoy.  My reward is when visitors step into the House and literally gasp at its simple beauty.  When they express their appreciation of the House to me, I  accept it personally for all of the others, and  thank them, as Pierre would do if he were here.


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On the Streets of New York

So, there I am in New York City, and I notice a flock of cameramen following this model.   I am a curious guy, so, naturally, I turn around and look. Gawk, you may call it.

The next day, I see myself in the background of one of their photographs, photo bombing their shot, and now it’s going viral on the Internet.

(Of course, I am joking.  I never wear a suit, I wear bow ties, if any, I don’t have that much hair, and I haven’t worn glasses since high school.  And I believe this is in Paris, not New York City.  But I would gawk at any woman dressed like that.)


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