A Silly Sunday

August 31, 2008

A typical Sunday morning during my childhood found my parents telling my brother and I that we had to go to Sunday School. If we were too tired or too sick to go to church, we would be too tired or too sick to go out and play later in the day. So off we went.

While we were at Sunday School, my parents enjoyed the peace and quiet as they read the Sunday newspaper. I never did ascertain why they didn’t go to church yet felt so strongly that we should go. Perhaps they sensed the sinning little devils we really were.

In any case, when we returned home we enjoyed one of our favorite childhood pastimes – reading the Sunday funny pages. Fortunately, in those days there were two sections; we didn’t need to fight to see who got to read them first.

I’m not going to show you the Sunday comics section today, but I will share a couple of cartoons with you. We’ll start with Woody Woodpecker.

And now, a word from a sponsor. They’re not paying me a dime for this, but it should bring back a few more memories for many folks.

And finally, we’ll finish up with my all-time favorite cartoon character. I consider myself fortunate to have found this particular cartoon. This is the birth of Baby Huey!

That’s all folks!


A Boomers Saturday Morning

August 30, 2008

I can remember, as a young father, getting out of bed on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons with my oldest son. But the more I think about it, when I was a boy, we didn’t have cartoons to watch. We had adventure serials.

I’ve dug through youtube.com and found a few of my old favorites. I couldn’t find anything on “Fury, the story of a horse, and the boy who loves him.” I was also stumped trying to find a television episode of Hopalong Cassidy. But I think you might enjoy what I did manage to scare up.

We’ll begin with Captain Midnight!

Watching episodes like this reminds me that we viewers were given titles by each of the programs we watched. We were Video Rangers, members of the Secret Squadron, Howdy Doody’s peanut Gallery, and suckers for decoder rings and badges.

Let’s move on to Roy Rogers.

Now that brings back memories of Gabby Hayes, Wild Bill Hickock, Jingles, and a myriad of others like the Cisco Kid and Pancho. We can also add Zorro to that mix. Tom Mix was a name I heard a lot when I was young, but I believe he was retired by the time I came along.

Another Saturday morning favorite was Sky King. I often wonder if his niece, Penny, was added to get the interest of certain teenaged viewers. As an eight year old, she was a girl with cooties that got in the way of the story.

Finally, let me present one more American hero who was constantly fighting to protect our freedom. Let’s hear it for Commando Cody!

Let me close this post by saying my bride’s surgery went very well. She won’t be kicking me for a few days, but after that she should be back to normal.


Captain Video and the Video Ranger

August 28, 2008

I’m adding this post a few hours early. I wanted to post it on Friday, August 29th, but that’s the day my bride is having surgery on her knee. Since we need to be at the hospital at some ridiculous hour, I won’t be able to take the time to do this in the morning. So, here it is… a bit early.

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Yesterday I gave a salute to youtube.com because of the wealth of topics covered in their library of videos. The only problem I find is my inability to stop digging in their files. As one old memory reminds me of another, I type in the search term and am pleasantly surprised to find something else.

I don’t know what reminded me of Captain Video, but I had to see if there might be at least one old episode. Lo and behold, I found a three part program. I’m not sure if all three parts had been telecast in one evening. My guess is that each part represented a different night of fun-packed adventure for this little boy and all his friends.

What I found most interesting is that there were no commercials built into the videos. However, there were two Ranger Messages that were actually public service type announcements. One was about George Ross – Betsy’s uncle – who signed the Declaration of Independence; all Video Rangers were encouraged to be alert and do whatever was needed to protect our freedoms. The other message encouraged us all to avoid discrimination – to accept everyone without bias toward race or religion. I found that message especially interesting for a show produced in 1949.

Then came the part I’d totally forgotten. The announcer began talking about the secret agents Captain Video had stationed throughout the universe… and the scene switched from the meeting room on another planet to a group of cowboys getting ready to take the ‘Whistler’ captive. Their plans were to lynch him, but he and his partner managed to foil those plans. Of course, just when we thought the good guys were about to head home with no further trouble, there were indications that other evil villains were sneaking around preparing to do bad things to the ‘Whistler.’

Meanwhile, Captain Video had solved one problem and thought he was moving on to another peaceful mission. Little did he know… But wait! Isn’t that what the Perils of Pauline and other serials were based on? I believe they called them cliffhangers for a reason.

Once again I’ll warn you that these videos are long, but if you have the time, sit back and enjoy.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

I hope these videos brought back some pleasant memories of your own youth. In the meantime, I’ll be with my bride as she undergoes surgery on her knee. I had a similar procedure a while back. I referred to it as “Arthur Godfrey surgery on my Nabisco.”


Boomer Parents’ Purchases

August 28, 2008

Who was that blind man? Perhaps I should add that question to my ‘Contests’ section. If I’m not mistaken, it was Buster Keaton. I wonder if he was involved in the show being sponsored by Studebaker.

Today’s post is about the products being sold to our parents while we were busy playing in the back yard. The American economy was in full swing following the end of the war and I recently learned of a military action that was taken to help spur that economy.

My oldest brothers (the twins) were Navy Sea Bees (Construction Battalion) during the latter stages of the war. One of them was then assigned to an aircraft carrier. Their mission was to load the ship with tons of heavy earth moving equipment, trucks, and other vehicles, take them out to sea, and push them off the ship. Millions of dollars worth of mostly brand new equipment was dropped into Davey Jones’ Locker. Why? To allow American factories to continue building these items for sale back home.

This next commercial is for a cold cream I never heard of; then again, I wasn’t very big into cold cream when I was a mere lad.

Was fear of radiation that strong? I know school children were taking part in drills across the country. Some called them ‘duck and cover’ drills. As I recall, in Pittsburgh we called them ‘retention’ drills. Maybe the ad agency simply thought they’d take advantage of our nation’s new knowledge of radiation. (You might want to check out my brother’s report on the ‘A’ Bomb test at Bikini. You can find it under ‘Genealogy”; or search for ‘Something Different’.)

And then there were the car commercials. More Americans than ever were finally able to afford a family car. And there were many companies that were more than glad to make the sale.

This was your father’s Oldsmobile. But it wasn’t your father’s Packard, Hudson, Henry J, Kaiser, De Soto, Plymouth, or Nash. All of those companies were fighting with Chevrolet, Ford, Buick, Chrysler, Cadillac, Lincoln-Mercury, and others for Daddy’s business. Obviously, many of those other companies lost the battle. Some, such as Oldsmobile, advertised that they were going away. Others, like Plymouth, simply vanished.

Another item that become a hot commodity during my childhood was the television. Most baby boomers vaguely remember listening to Fibber McGee and Molly, the Great Gildersleeve, Jack Benny, and many other popular shows. Then came the boob tube. Initially, there were very few stations (Pittsburgh started with one) and very few programs. Most of a day’s broadcasting was devoted to the test pattern.

And yet… early on, television manufacturers were expanding the capability of their products. This ad for Westinghouse, presented by Betty Furness introduces the ‘new’ UHF converter.

UHF was an interesting phenomenon, but I’m not sure it ever truly caught on. When we left Pittsburgh in 1977, there might have been two or three stations broadcasting on the UHF channels. In Atlanta today, there are only seven or eight. In the meantime, there are many VHF channels available. However, considering that most folks now have cable of satellite, it all seems unimportant now.

And now a word from our sponsor.

In 1984, I had concluded that Reddy Kilowatt had passed away. Then I drove through Vernal, Utah and saw him standing tall on a sign outside the Power Company’s offices. I don’t know if he’s finally gone for good, but I’m sure he’ll live forever in the minds of many of us who always enjoyed his television appearances.

So, thus far our parents have bought a new car, cold cream to wipe away the radiation, and a television – with or without the UHF device. (I wonder if that is anything like the device the government is forcing us to buy so we can watch digital TV.) Obviously, to feed a growing family, our parents had to run out and buy something to replace the ice box.

Some of us are old enough to remember the true ice boxes… those wooden contraptions that had a place to hold a block of ice above the food storage area and a tray underneath to catch the run-off from the thawing ice. If someone forgot to dump the drain pan, the floor around the ice box became a sopping wet mess.

The first refrigerator I can recall was mostly refrigerator. The freezer compartment was barely large enough to hold two ice trays and a half gallon of ice cream. Of course, we seldom had ice cream, so the space above the ice cube trays was usually reserved for the frozen strawberries we’d put on the ice cream – if and when my parents could afford to buy it.

There was very little in the way of frozen food back then. People had no where to store it once they got it home. It was up to the refrigerator manufacturers to solve the problem. Solve it they did!

I should point out that for many years, we continued to use the term ‘ice box’ out of habit. For a while, we called them Frigidaires even if they were made by Kelvinator, Hot Point, or Westinghouse. Frigidaire became a generic term, like Kleenex.

As a small child I can remember my mother doing the laundry using a wringer washer. I was constantly warned to keep my hands away so I wouldn’t have all the water squeezed out of my arms. Then one day a truck arrived with Mom’s first front-loading Bendix washing machine. The excitement was unbearable!

My older brother hooked up the water hoses and the electricity. Mom put in the dirty clothes and the proper amount of Oxydol, closed the door, and switched it on. Things began quietly enough as it filled with water and began to agitate. We noticed that the machine was rocking a bit, but no one took alarm.

Because this was a totally new experience for the entire family, we all stood in the cellar and continued to watch this marvel of science. Mom and Dad, my three older brothers, and I were mesmerized. It was amazing to see the soap bubbles form and then begin to dissipate as the water went from clear to dirty gray.

Our hypnotic trance was broken when the machine went into its first spin cycle. That’s when the machine began to bounce all over the place. One of my brothers finally pulled the plug and stopped the monster. The basic problem was our cellar floor. It slanted every which way. For all I know, we may have originally had a dirt floor and someone poured concrete over it. Whoever did the job was not very good at it. My brothers built a platform for the machine. I vaguely remember that they set bolts into the concrete to make sure the machine didn’t walk away. Within a week or so, the old wringer washer went to the junk yard and Mom’s Mondays were made a little easier.

Of course, it would be years before she got a clothes dryer. So, she still had to hang the clothes on the line so they’d be dry by the next day… so she could sprinkle water on them to get them damp enough to iron.

One thing that made Pittsburgh unique at the time was the smoke that was usually in the air. I can recall times when Dad would be driving with his headlights on in the middle of the day. There was no way Mom would hang the laundry outside on such days… unless she wanted to practice using her new washing machine. On most Mondays, the laundry was hung in the cellar.

This next video is an ad from Westinghouse’s Studio One presentation of “The Laugh Maker”. It was directed by Paul Nickell and starred Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, and Rita Morley. If I saw the original broadcast, I don’t remember it, but with a cast that included Gleason and Carney, it was probably a riot.

Finally, I want to send a salute to Youtube.com. I’m amazed at what I find on that web site. It seems that everything I can think of from the good old days is out there somewhere.

Thanks for stopping by. Let me get back to work to discover what I’ll add tomorrow.


Baby Boomer Boo-boos

August 27, 2008

If I’m not mistaken, there are quite a few people out there who seem to enjoy making fun of Baby Boomers.

Of course, we have to recognize that we could be looking at a “Pogo” situation. “We have met the enemy and he is us!” I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that videos like the one we just watched were created by some of our own slightly-over-the-hill friends.

Then again, some younger folks are recognizing us in a different, and to my way of thinking, better, way. The next video was set to a song recorded by a thirty-one year-old former American idol competitor named Bucky Covington.

Personally, I think Bucky’s song shows a much better understanding of the world into which we were born. Which brings me to one of my pet peeves. I’ve received a number of emails loaded with questions designed to suggest that I’m older than dirt. I think they’re basically good for a laugh, but think they should work to improve their accuracy.

For example, I can still go to a candy store and buy wax lips and bottles filled with a sugary liquid. If I didn’t remember them, I’d have to blame it on my short term memory… which is already on shaky ground. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a room only to wonder what I’d intended to do there.

The same can be said about the remote control juke boxes at tables in restaurants. They’re still there. They haven’t completely gone away.

Before I forget, the Ink Spots did not have a hit song called “You Always Hurt The One You Love”. That honor goes to the Mills Brothers.

I like to read about things that have long ago been forgotten. For instance, not only were most stores closed on Sundays, quite a few also closed on Wednesday afternoons so the shopkeepers could go to the wholesalers and do their own shopping. Many of those shopkeepers had no idea why anyone would want to use a shopping cart… or even a small basket. If the store required you to walk around and take things from the shelves yourself, you simply took your items and set them on the counter and went back for more.

When my older brothers came home from the Navy and World War II, I was often sent to the dairy store to buy cigarettes for them. No one ever questioned an eight-year-old kid dropping twenty-cents into the cigarette machine. And when I got home, my brothers would pull out the two or three pennies that were wrapped along side the cigarette pack and give them to me as payment for running their errand.

In the late 1940’s there were still a few cars that had starter pedals. Cranks were pretty much obsolete, and starter buttons were being replaced by ignition switches built into the key lock. Of course, with most General Motors cars once you unlocked the ignition you could remove the key and not need it any more. A simple turn of the switch started the car.

Many cars and trucks in the late forties and early fifties had the next best thing to air conditioning. Some had windshields that could be cranked open at the bottom and many had a vent just in front of the windshield that could be opened to allow fresh air to flow into the passenger compartment. Of course, this sometimes led to the intrusion of bees and other insects.

The early fifties saw Cadillac introduce a device that automatically lowered the high beams when the headlights of an on-coming vehicle were sensed by the electric eye. This was about the time electric turn signals were offered as an optional accessory. Those of us who learned to drive back then had to know all the hand signals in order to pass our driver’s test.

It’s interesting to note that there were very few foreign cars on the road back then. One of our favorite pastimes (to stave off boredom) was to sit on the steps in front of a house facing the main road and count cars. Whoever was fastest on the draw would get dibs on either Fords or Chevys. Anyone else in the game was doomed from the beginning. To make it fair, we’d often let someone pick the Chrysler Corporation; then they’d get credit for every Dodge, Plymouth, Chrysler, and De Soto. Other contestants might’ve been allowed to pick a combination of Pontiacs and Buicks. We never would’ve guessed that our grandchildren might play the game by calling dibs on Toyotas and Hondas. In those days, anything labeled “Made in Japan” was considered to be junk.

I’m going to bring this to a close because I’ve found two other videos some people might thoroughly enjoy watching. They are parts 1 and 2 of a Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club television show. I vaguely remember marching around the breakfast table waving my spoon as we listened to his radio show of the same name.

These videos are great from the standpoint that they illustrate much of what our daily life was like back then. You’ll see cornball humor and studio musicians making some wonderful sounds. You’ll also see an audience that is dressed as if everyone is headed for Sunday services or a wedding. If you were alive at the time, you’ll definitely be taken on a fantastic trip down Memory Lane.

Make sure you have plenty of time to devote to these videos. They’re each about fifteen minutes long.

And part Two: (Think of this one as if it were an old TV or radio. It takes about thirty seconds to “warm up”.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going looking for something interesting for tomorrow.


Baby Boomers Unite!!!

August 26, 2008

I’ve been writing this blog for about three months now and have constantly asked myself one question. In reality, in regards to this blog, it’s the most important question.

Who would want to read what I have to say?

I’ve read numerous blogs across the Internet. Many are repositories for political statements… usually one-sided. These include blogs in many countries. I’m sure there is at least one out there, but I’ve yet to find any one that publicizes the views of all opposing camps… without adding any editorial comments that demonstrate the true leanings of the editorial staff. That might offend the Fox News Network, but while they claim to be ‘Fair and Balanced’ there is a definite slant to the right. However, one must admit that the other major cable news channel as well as the major networks make no claim to being fair and balanced, and their leanings are much more noticeable to the left.

I’ve also encountered many blogs dealing with fantasy – comic books, cartoons, games similar to the old Dungeons and Dragons, and movies and books along the lines of Harry Potter. These seem almost as popular as the blogs whose purpose seems to be to keep us abreast of the latest developments in video games.

One of my favorite blogs is the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear written by Ivan Shreve over in Athens, Georgia. I really enjoy it because of the many posts Ivan adds about television programs and movies I enjoyed during my younger years. Another site that is dedicated to Baby Boomers is called Aging Hipsters. It’s also worth a look from people with our eyes of experience. (How’s that for saying old and tired in a politically correct manner?)

Another interesting blog I recently located is For Kids 59.99 and Over . While this site is basically advertising a book, it’s actually one of two sites authored by Carol Stanley. The other is Spectacular Life After Sixty and contains some good information for those of us falling under the ‘senior citizen’ umbrella. Perhaps Carol’s advice can keep us from falling and breaking a hip.

I’ve found a couple of other sites that include interesting items about life in the forties, fifties, and sixties, but they are seldom, if ever, updated.

My blog does not talk about comic books or fantasy games – video or other – and I’ve made it a firm policy to avoid political issues. I believe the political rivalries in the United States have gone from bad to worse over the last twenty years and sometimes wonder if our elected representatives remember how to compromise. They sure haven’t lost the knack for wasting taxpayer dollars!

Occasionally I’ll discuss an old movie or television show, and often discuss the music from the good old days – even stuff that is too old to be played on the Oldies but Goodies radio stations. I often travel down Memory Lane and do some reminiscing.

And that’s when it finally dawned on me. The people most likely to enjoy reading my thoughts are the Baby Boomers!

Note that I began this post with a KA-BOOM!! From all that I’ve read, the post World War II Baby Boom began in 1946. Since I was born in 1944, I consider myself part of the “KA” generation. But, realistically, we all grew up with pretty much the same memories.

So, from now on, I’m going to encourage Baby Boomers to come visit my blog. As always, I’m going to encourage my readers to feel free to make comments and add memories of their own.

However, I have to be honest. If you are much younger or much older than I, you’re still more than welcome to come by, set a spell, and read what I have to say about life in general. Then, if the spirit moves you, take a minute or two to leave a comment.

After that, stop by on a regular basis. My motto of “Something New Every Day” has held up so far. Your comments will provide food for thought so I can continue to keep that promise.


That Might Explain Things III

August 25, 2008
I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconut

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconut

Believe it or not, that is not a partially deflated football. It is a coconut Jim Voerg brought me from Jamaica. He knows how much of a Steelers fan I am. He also knows how much I appreciate off-the-wall items.

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I received my BS degree in August, 1966, but anyone who knew me was well aware that I was full of BS with or without a piece of paper to prove it. Unlike many of my fellow graduates, I had no job lined up. It was a situation very similar to my high school graduation. Planning ahead had not yet struck me as something important that I should do.

By this time, I was engaged to be married in October. My plan was to try to get a job teaching Social Studies at a high school near Pittsburgh. If I failed in that endeavor, I’d fall back on part of my old high school plan – join the military and get my commitment out of the way. (For the sake of any ‘youngsters’ reading this, when the draft was an integral part of military recruitment, every young man was expected to serve for a minimum of two years.)

Furthermore, since I was engaged to marry a Roman Catholic girl, my hopes of becoming a Presbyterian Minster were also put on hold.

I managed to get a couple of interviews and quickly learned that a Social Studies teacher was expected to become part of the coaching staff for the football team. Having never played anything beyond totally unorganized neighborhood or intra-fraternity games, I was absolutely unqualified.

Just prior to visiting the military recruiters, I heard about a job opening at Western State School and Hospital in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. I soon learned that the state had taken an old reform school named Morganza (a place to which my parents often threatened to send me) and converted it into a mental hospital for retarded and emotionally disturbed children.

I submitted an application and was soon called in for an interview. The Principal, Ms. Mary Germann, gave me a guided tour of the facility and explained the types of children they were dealing with. Then she hit me with the loaded question: “Well, what do you think?”

I took a deep breath and gave her my honest opinion. “I don’t know if I can handle this.”

“Great!” she said, “When can you start?”

Within a week, I was a full-fledged member of the faculty. My co-workers were George “Irish” O’Neill, Bill Davis, Nick Guaracio, and Mary Jane McReady. We worked with the emotionally disturbed children.

I had the first grade. My children ranged in age from eight to fifteen. In a normal school, first graders are mostly five year olds.

Withholding the last names of the children… my students were Cathy, Kathleen, Jackie, Sammy, Rickie, and Bobby.

Before I discuss the children in detail, I must explain that Bill Davis had to drive right by my home to get to work. Naturally, we agreed to car-pool and take turns driving the final twenty-five or thirty miles to work. I should also explain that Bill Davis, who grew up in Monongahela, Pennsylvania was quite a bit darker complected than I. In fact, to go along with a popular TV program of the time, one of the secretaries simply referred to us as “I Spy”. What was less funny was the children who called me Mr. Davis and him Mr. Leeds. At one time I said to Bill, “I can’t understand this.., the difference between us is like night and day!”

Obviously, Bill and I become close friends. In fact, I was the only white guy invited to his bachelor party. I learned a lot that evening talking to his friends. Discrimination is not always apparent.

My students were more than a piece of work. After I worked with them a couple of weeks, I pulled each of their files and studied their case histories. In every instance, there was some reason for their parents to say, “They must be brain damaged” and refused to punish them. From that point on, there was no effort to discipline them, The exception was Jackie. His father was a coal miner; when Jackie misbehaved his father would tie his hands and hang him over a pipe in the basement. Then he would beat him with a belt.

As a result, the only way that Jackie knew to get attention was to misbehave. You wouldn’t believe how hard I tried to ignore his antics before I had to cry “uncle” and have him returned to the ward. The others were almost as bad. The first day of my job, Cathy said some things I wouldn’t fathom could come from the mouth of an eight year old. We spent the rest of that day trying to get her to say, “Oh Green Beans!” when she was upset. It didn’t work.

Sammy was so intelligent and loved certain subjects so much that I’d often have to put him out in the hall so other children could have a chance at answering questions. One time Sammy told me he was going to commit suicide. The psychiatrists we worked with had instructed us to always call the children’s bluff. So I asked him how he planned to do it. He said he wanted to jump out one of the windows (we were on the fifth floor), but since the heavy steel screens were always locked, he couldn’t do it.

I positioned myself where I was sure I could catch him, and unlocked the screen in our classroom. I then moved a chair closer to the window to make it easier for Sam to make his move. I then invited him to make his leap.

My heart was pounding and every muscle in my body was tensed. I had to stop him at all costs. Sammy looked up at me and said, “I think I’ll wait until next week.” THANK YOU LORD!

On another occasion, I was taking my class for a walk around the grounds. Ricky, a boy who reminded me greatly of Lil’ Abner, told me he was going to run away. Once again I recalled how I was supposed to call the child’s bluff and told Ricky I was going to miss him. I also asked that he send us a post card from time to time to let us know he was OK. “I will,” he said as he wondered off.

He was soon out of sight and I was soon worried sick. I got the other children back into the building and reported that Ricky had wandered off. The search began immediately, but it took the security crew three days to find Ricky and bring him back. They were the worst three days of my life.

To be continued…


Sunday, August 24,2008

August 24, 2008

Three days into my sixty-fifth year on Earth and I find myself wondering if I’ll live long enough to see some things that, as a child, I assumed would be everyday occurrences.

For instance, I used to think that every election day I would proudly walk into the voting booth and cast my ballot for my favorite candidate. That has yet to happen. Instead, I cast my vote against the person I deem to be the worst of the choices. In other words, I’m voting for the lesser of two evils. One would think that with a population as large as ours, at least one political party could endorse a person who was something other than an egotistical maniac who wouldn’t be able to run a corner grocery store.

I used to believe that anybody could grow up to be President. Now, I believe anyone who wants the job must be willing to sell his or her soul to the people who hold the purse strings. Further, I believe anybody who had the ability to really do a good job as leader of the free world is too intelligent to take the job. He or she can make a lot more money in the private sector and have a lot fewer headaches to show for it.

Next, I always believed that the people who served as church leaders were good people who went out of their way to act kindly to everyone they met.

When I studied history in high school and learned about the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ against Jews, I came to realize that many evil men use God and the church as facades to corrupt and influence the actions of their followers.

Unfortunately, such manipulation continues to this day. When radical leaders of any religion use their position to instill hatred against others, it tears my old belief system to shreds. How can someone who claims to be acting on behalf of God perform such despicable acts?

Sadly, such acts often occur on a smaller scale in local churches. Church leaders who have personality conflicts with other members of the church sometimes do very distasteful things to see that their adversary is pushed out.

I’ve been avoiding terms such as Christian and unchristian because such activity is not confined to any one religion. In fact, similar acts are seen on a daily basis in most offices. People who frown on such activity call it “Politics”. That’s an interesting comparison. Dirty politics would be more descriptive.

One of the first things I was taught as a child was to live by the Golden Rule. I don’t think “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is from the Bible or any other religious text, but it certainly is a great motto.

Of course, it didn’t take many years for me to learn that some people take a different approach. Even then, I wanted to believe that the people who lie, cheat, and steal were a very small minority of the population. Once again, growing older is teaching me the opposite. I hate to think that the evil people in this world may outnumber the honest folks, but the things I see and hear every day cause me to wonder.

Maybe I can blame a lot of my thoughts on the news media. If we’re lucky, the local news teams might devote a minute or two to a heart warming story. The remainder of the newscasts are telling us about the murders, rapes, and robberies.

For my own sanity, I’m going to assume that people have come to reflect the nightly news; they’re not going to waste our time telling us about the good things that have happened. They’re just going to report the lurid details of the latest conflicts they’ve encountered.

With that in mind, I’m going to assume that the news we don’t hear – the good news – is so widespread that no one sees the need to tell us about it. Therefore, as I believed in my childhood innocence, it truly is a wonderful world. I know Louis Armstrong agreed with that assessment. If it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me!


That Might Explain Things II

August 23, 2008

By the time I applied to college (July after my senior year) and was accepted (August of that same year), I had no time to get a summer job and save money for school. Initially, I figured I’d relax through the summer months and enlist in the military after all my close friends went off to college.

That last sentence tells quite a bit about my high school years. I somehow came to believe that getting good grades was not cool. I did just enough to get by. I spent as little time as possible on homework. I was perfectly content with my ‘C’ average. After all, who needs good grades to get into the Army and become a truck driver?

I wasn’t even aware that my best friends were making good grades and getting ready to graduate with honors! What a shock to the system. The four guys I was closest to in school had been accepted to college before we even graduated, and I was oblivious that they had even applied.

Tony Civello earned a degree in Pharmacology from the University of Pittsburgh; Ed Johnston earned a degree in Engineering from the same school. Herb D’Alo graduated from Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) with a degree in Industrial Design, and Gary Smith graduated from California State College with a degree in Chemistry.

And I was going to join the army and become a truck driver. I was definitely missing the boat!

When I received my acceptance letter for Edinboro State Teachers College, my older brother, Lew, told me he’d pay for my first year. His offer covered my tuition, room and board, and books. Anything beyond that was up to me. My parents were living on Social Security, so I couldn’t count on them for any help.

My first week of school was also my first week at work in the cafeteria. For seventy-five cents an hour, I washed dishes, mopped floors, bused tables, and did anything else they asked me to do. I must have impressed somebody because I was soon offered an additional job in the Student Union. There I fried hamburgers, made milkshakes, and did whatever was required of a guy working a counter at a snack shop. When we closed at the end of the evening, I cleaned the tables, and swept the floors.

Both jobs carried the same hourly rate, but the Student Union did more than provide me with additional hours. I credit that job for the fifty pounds I added to my frame during my freshman year.

The health department decreed that any pre-made sandwiches be thrown away at the end of the day. I usually managed to take two or three submarine sandwiches back to the dormitory with me. The ladies in charge of the snack counter also allowed me to make myself a nice thick milkshake to drink with my late night ‘snack’.

Before I place all the blame for my weight on the Student Union, I should also mention another health department rule; once milk was poured in a glass, it had to be consumed or dumped. Quite often I would drink five or six glasses of milk after the last student left the cafeteria.

I was one hundred fifty-five pounds when I graduated from high school. I now tip the scales at more than two hundred seventy. Blame it on the health department!

The summer after my freshman year I went to work for R.L. Polk, publishers of city directories. Barney Cannon was our supervisor and, because of my size – I was now a smidgen over six feet tall and two hundred and five pounds of fairly solid bulk – he assigned me to the rougher neighborhoods. Because of the pay scale, I gladly accepted the assignments. We were paid a base rate of a dollar fifteen per hour (minimum wage at the time) and a bonus for any information we gathered above the assigned quotas.

The quotas varied by the population density of the neighborhoods. The areas I covered had higher densities and quotas, but a lot less walking. I could go through a city block of rooming houses and get the information on a hundred people in less than an hour and a half. My quota was five hundred for an eight hour day. Thus, I’d return to the office with six hundred names and collect a nickel for every one beyond my quota.

I think some of the older employees started complaining that I was ‘ruining the curve’ because one day I was assigned to a neighborhood that had a quota of about two hundred; that meant a lot of walking between houses. Strangely enough, it was my own neighborhood. That helped because I knew the answers to all of the questions for a great many of my neighbors. More importantly, I had to visit several small businesses to get the information concerning their employees.

When I went into the office of Adams Van Lines, I found myself answering more questions than I was asking. They wanted to know how much I weighed, how much weight I could lift, and when I could start working.

They offered me two dollars per hour, but admitted they wouldn’t be able to use me every day. When I returned to the office that day, I explained the situation to Barney. He agreed to let me work both jobs. To make it easier, he told me I didn’t have to call if I’d be moving furniture on a given day. If I didn’t show up for work, he’d figure I was working the other job.

There were many days my body ached to be going door-to-door for R.L. Polk. The moving company often called me at six in the morning with instructions to be at the garage by seven. I was able to walk to work, so that wasn’t usually a problem. However, the sixteen hour days were real killers! And sometimes our entire work day involved carrying refrigerators and stoves into brand new apartments. It seemed that we no sooner finished unloading one trailer truck when the next one pulled in.

One thing that helped me financially is that Adams paid me as a ‘contractor’. Although I don’t think they ever paid me as much as I earned, they never reported anything to the IRS. So I only had to report the income I earned at Edinboro and R.L. Polk. Hopefully the statue of limitations will protect me on the confession I just made. Am I safe after more than forty years?

I had two other jobs during my college career. One was supposed to be two days worth of work at a carpet company in Dormont, Pennsylvania. At the end of the first day, my boss complimented me on my work ethic and said I’d done such a great job that I was no longer needed for the second day. I was hoping he’d give me a little extra money, but all I got was a firm handshake and pat on the back.

The other job was with an electrical fittings manufacturer in Edinboro. I was working night shift while attending summer school to complete the requirements for my degree. The first night wasn’t bad, but the second night I was assigned to a machine that cut a grove through the center of bolts (so that a wire could be strung between the nut and the bolt. When I completed my eight hour shift, I had metal shavings in every part of my body and was bleeding by the time I got undressed and ready for bed.

When I returned for the third day of work the foreman told me I’d done such a good job with the bolt cutter that he was putting me back on that same machine. I asked for protective clothing and glasses. He laughed. I left.

OSHA had not yet been invented. Fortunate for me, common sense had been instilled by my parents. I went to the local bank and borrowed the money I needed to finish out my college education.

In Part III, I’ll discuss the jobs I held prior to joining IBM. Eventually, my offspring and descendants might begin to understand why I am who I am.


That Might Explain Things

August 22, 2008
The Captain's Warning

The Captain's Warning

In case you’re unable to read the above inscription, it says the same thing in three different languages. “Will members of the crew kindly refrain from urinating from the poop deck.” I think the sign is hilarious… but that’s just me.

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I grew up in an era that didn’t require teens to have a lot of money. The closest thing we had to designer clothes were Levi’s blue jeans. My family couldn’t afford the higher cost of Levi’s, so I wore Blue Bell or some other bargain basement jeans. Of course, wearing jeans to school was against the rules for everyone except Fonzie.

Children today would have a hard time believing it, but boys wore slacks and nice shirts with collars and buttons. Girls wore dresses or skirts and blouses, or sweaters. Tennis sneakers were for gym class. At all other times we wore leather shoes.

Some teens had record collections, but most of us depended on the radio to play our favorite songs. Those newfangled transistor radios with the ear plug were still relatively new when I went off to high school. We didn’t have i pods, cell phones, blackberries, or any of the more modern electronic devices. It would be several years before our classmates invented them.

Very few of us had cars. I was one of the fortunate ones; my family paid the grand sum of $175.00 for that 1955 Buick back in the Spring of 1962. That was during my final semester in high school. Naturally I’d give all my friends rides… in exchange for any loose change they might have. I could buy gasoline for around twenty cents per gallon at the station my older brothers told me to avoid. They didn’t trust cheap gas. They splurged on the stuff that was around twenty-eight cents per gallon.

The one and only McDonald’s restaurant in our area was on the other side of the Ohio River. We’d drive across the McKees Rocks bridge and head down the Ohio River Boulevard to pig out on those fifteen cent cheeseburgers.

During the school year my parents gave me a dollar a day to cover my lunch and other expenses at school. I could eat a large lunch for thirty-eight cents. That meal was comprised of two plates of stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy, a slice of banana cream pie (with crust made from government surplus peanut butter), and a glass of iced tea. It wasn’t a nutritionist’s ideal repast, but it was tasty and filling.

With fifty cents, we could go to a Saturday matinée and enjoy a box of pop corn and a soda while we watched the movie. To get into the Friday night dance at the high school, we had to cough up another thirty-five cents.

I remember one boy who became a local icon. Every Saturday morning he’d walk past our house on his way to the local grocery store. He’d be loaded down with empty pop bottles. The 12 ounce bottles were worth two cents each. The larger bottles were good for a nickel. He’d collected enough bottles to get his fifty cents in deposits. Later, we’d catch up with him at the movies.

When the Crafton Community swimming pool first opened, they let anyone swim in the morning for free; the afternoons were for cash customers only. So, we’d walk to the pool in the morning and find something else to do in the afternoon.

Eventually I felt the need to get a job. My parents never pressured me to do it, but my friends who worked had more spending money than I. Besides, some of those work opportunities actually sounded glamorous to my teenaged brain.

My first employer was the Chartiers Country Club. I worked as a caddie for part of one summer. Carrying someone’s golf clubs for three hours usually netted me about three dollars. I might’ve been able to earn more had I learned to control my laughter. A duffer doesn’t tip very well when the caddie laughs at his feeble shots.

Next, I took a job as a vendor at Forbes Field for Pittsburgh Pirates’ baseball games. The going rate for new employees was seventeen percent commission. Vendors in the stands – in 1958 – sold almost everything but beer. It would be several more years before alcohol made it’s way into the sports arenas of Pittsburgh.

What a vendor had to sell at a particular game depended on his seniority. The guys who had been there longest took Coca-Cola; that was, by far, the biggest seller. From there, it worked it’s way down through other cold drinks, peanuts, pop corn, hot dogs, and souvenirs. The first two games I was lucky(?) and got to sell hot dogs.

Being a hot dog vendor meant carrying a twenty to thirty pound stainless steel contraption that held a charcoal burner under a pan of hot water that contained the wieners. Next to the water bucket was a similar shaped container that kept the buns warm. Finally, there were smaller containers of mustard, ketchup, onions, and relish. When a fan ordered a ‘red hot’, I would pull out a napkin, reach in and grab a bun, open the other container and fish out a wiener. Then, depending on the fan’s order, I’d slather on the appropriate toppings and hand the finished masterpiece to the person whose mouth was already watering. All that service and a delicious snack cost the patron a mere thirty-five cents.

If you’re quick with math, you realize I had to sell three hot dogs to earn a little over seventeen cents.

I worked a double-header on a cold and rainy Easter Sunday. Because of the weather, the guys with more seniority skipped the cold drinks and took hot dogs. I would up selling Lemon-blend. After eighteen innings, I collected the grand sum of thirty-four cents. Considering my round-trip streetcar fare of seventy cents, I lost my enthusiasm for that job.

After that, I’d do odd jobs for different people – cutting grass or shoveling snow, painting, and whatever. Since I didn’t really need much money, I was content being a lazy good-for-nothing teenager.

At that point of my life, my long range plans were simple. I would graduate from high school, join the Army (rather than waiting to be drafted), and then get a job as a long-haul trucker. Funny how things changed so dramatically over the next couple of years.

Stay tuned for Part II of “That Might Explain Things”.