My Ten-Second Audition

So…remember the comic strip Peanuts? It was very popular in the 1960’s and 70s, with characters such as Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy. It featured only kids, but kids who acted and spoke like adults. Oddly enough, it worked.

Every so often, Lucy would offer to hold a football upright so that Charlie Brown could run up and kick it. But just before his foot touched the ball, Lucy pulled it away. Charlie Brown would fly up in the air, yell AAUGH, and then hit the ground with a WHAM or WUMP, or sometimes a WHOMP.

Welcome to the dating world!

Her name was Jo, and she sought me out. On the Match app, she sent me a like and a nice note. Jo was attractive and professional looking, and worked in the same small city as me. It seemed too good to be real, but after several days of conversation, we seemed to click and had even set up a first meeting.

We decided on a local tavern, close to both our workplaces, for an early dinner.

I parked my car far down the main street and walked to the tavern. I could see her in the distance, waiting by the front door. Well, that was refreshing; I wouldn’t have to wait.

Wearing my best smile, I walked up to Jo. She looked very nice in her spring coat. She asked me how my day was, and I tried to give a complete answer. As I talked, she didn’t seen to listen but kept moving around, as if to take me in from all angles. I began to guide her to the door, and then she suddenly stopped.

“Oh! I have to tell you something. My uncle has to have emergency surgery tonight, and my mother needs to know. She’s in a nursing home across town, and I’m going there now to tell her.”

This was a shock, and to me, unusual. I said, “Oh, that’s too bad. So…we’ll reschedule?”

She didn’t answer, instead making some small talk before heading to her car. I walked with her a few steps until Jo stopped and looked at me. “Don’t you want to go in and have a beer?”

Anyone who knows me knows this is the last thing I would want. I’m not a tavern, bar or saloon guy. I was ready for dinner, but a beer, alone?

Not knowing quite what to do, I walked off in the other direction. No idea why. Then I came back and walked to my own car.

I didn’t hear from her that night, or the next morning.

Around 1:37 that afternoon, I finally realized what had happened. She lied.

WHAM. WUMP. WHOMP.

It’s not easy to describe what happened next. My body collapsed in on itself and a toxic brew seemed to replace my bloodstream. I felt sick to my stomach and every other part of me. I asked my boss if I could leave early. My workday was over.

That night, I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe her uncle really was in trouble. I sent Jo a quick message asking if everything was okay. Her reply was short and bland.

“He’s better, but he has a long road ahead.”

No other details were forthcoming.

That confirmed it. She had lied. This attractive professional woman, a director of some type, had made up a casual lie to get away from me, and as fast as possible.

I didn’t get it; maybe I never will. Of course she never wrote to me again. I expected to see her around town but in three and a half years, it hasn’t happened.

There’s no moral here, just a rude personal lesson that people are not always what they seem. And there’s no doubt I failed the audition, all ten seconds of it. I guess I can sum up the whole experience in one word, courtesy of Charlie Brown:

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What’s the Deal with Pop-Tarts?

Recently, on a news webpage, I saw a funny reference to Pop-Tarts. I smiled because it was so random and had very little to do with anything. Also, I heard a while back that Jerry Seinfeld is working on a Pop-Tarts origin story for Netflix, based on one of his comedy bits. I may have to rejoin Netflix for this very reason.

I haven’t thought about these “toaster pastries” for a long while. But naturally I have my own origin story. It goes like this:

It’s nineteen sixty nine and my great uncle and aunt are staying in a summer cabin very close to my own house. So I visit on a daily basis. One morning, someone says, “Donnie, want to try a Pop-Tart?”

Did I want to try one? Hell yes. I’d seen them on TV and was curious. Just what was it, anyway?

This Pop-Tart was cooked in an old fashioned toaster, the kind where you open a door to check the doneness every so often. My tart came out piping hot, and I was intrigued when I saw other people spreading butter to their own tarts. So I used butter too. After letting it cool a bit, I dove in.

What flavor was it? In those days, choices were few. It was most likely blueberry or strawberry, both without frosting. Whichever kind it was, it tasted great. Not exactly a fresh pastry, but warm, flaky and sweet. I finished it, wiped the butter off my hands, and left. “See you tomorrow.”

I tried many other varieties over the years, but the kind I settled on, and craved every so often, was Brown Sugar and Cinnamon. As an ex-Coast Guard baker and an occasional one today, that combination really hits the spot. But I try not to eat them too often.

As I was food shopping the other day, I recalled the funny web story when I approached the Pop-Tarts section. It was huge. There were so many! For old time’s sake, I bypassed all other varieties and landed on a box of Strawberry, Unfrosted.

Later that day I tried some. No toaster for me anymore; I like them room temp. And no butter. So I merely split open the packaging, picked one up and took a bite. It was good. I sailed back to 1969 with ease and enjoyed my snack thoroughly. As mentioned before, it was flaky and sweet, and I could really taste the strawberries.

Someday I might make my own strawberry pastry, or try to replicate the Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie featured in the movie Waitress. But I know me, and that would involve work. I’m a fan of the tried and true. And you can’t get any truer, or easier, than the humble Pop-Tart.

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Where There Never Was a Hat

As a kid, I wasn’t a hat person. Kids had two reasons to wear hats in the 60s: Little League and Cub Scouts. Oh, and sometimes in winter. I fell into the Cub Scout area but I seemed to take the navy blue lid off as soon as possible. Not a great look for me.

On the coldest winter days, I might grab a long wool stocking cap on my way out the door. But these long hats were a tempting sight for other kids who like to grab them and play Keep Away on the school yard. For this reason I wore no hat whatever in junior high or high school.

By my late teens or early 20s I realized my brains were actually cooking as I did yard work under a blazing sun. Headaches were the result. I started to borrow my father’s hats (he had a ton of them) when I did landscaping chores at his house.

Felt odd at first, but I got used to it. And no more headaches.

Somehow, somewhere, I finally acquired a hat of my one, the baseball variety. Yard work or even a walk in the sun became much more pleasant. I soon had a total of three hats, which I wore alternately.

That’s how it went for the next 30 years. A series of ball caps, mainly sports related (one with the New England Patriots logo, another with the Red Sox) did their jobs. Good for my eyes, good for my brain. Just good.

Until…

The mole on my left temple that seemed to get larger and redder with time. My doctor didn’t like the look of it, so it had to come off. A few days after the scraping I got the call that startled me.

“Basal Cell Carcinoma” he reported.

My doctor went on to explain that this was fairly common and highly treatable. I could prevent further trouble, though, by wearing a hat.

“I do and I have,” I replied. “Thirty years.”

That’s when we talked about a different type of hat. I needed, he insisted, a floppy one.

That was two months ago, and I still have not purchased the floppy hat. I don’t want to look like a Doofus Dad from a 60’s sitcom, or Toby from that episode of The Office.

Floppy hats are ridiculous.

What else could I wear? Well, the coolest hat I ever saw was worn by a fellow airplane passenger. One side turned up, like an Australian soldier. Like the hunter in Jurassic Park. “Clever girl.”

But alas. That would only give me protection on one side.

So maybe a cowboy type hat, or something Indiana Jones might wear. I need to go to a real live hat place and try them on by the dozen. I know what I’m going to hear after trying each wide brimmed hat, however. A familiar voice from the past – my own.

“Not a great look for me.”

Did you know he could sing? I didn’t.
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Favorite Quotes from The Bridge on the River Kwai

One of my all time favorite movie quotes is as follows: “There’s always the unexpected.” It’s plain, unassuming, and even in the context of today’s movies, unforgettable. It’s also great advice, the answer to many questions. Should I wear a sweater today? Should I pack a bathing suit for this four-day business trip? Should I recruit eleven other guys with varying skills to help me rob three casinos in one night?

The answer is Absolutely. There’s always the unexpected.

There are many more like this in The Bridge on the River Kwai. If you haven’t seen it, do so without delay. And now, the quotes.

We’re going to be a busy pair of gravediggers.

We are an island in the jungle.

Be Happy in Your Work.

He’s been in isolation too long, poor chap.

Believe me, he’s really going to do it.

Are they both mad? Or am I going mad? Or is it the sun?

I suppose if I were you…I’d have to kill myself.

Have you a nervous affliction? If not, stop making those faces.

But it will be a proper bridge.

You couldn’t be more wrong.

Colonel Green has given me the Kwai bridge. I’m taking a team in and blow it up.

Yes, there’s always the unexpected.


In a job like yours, even when it’s finished…there’s always one more thing to do.

I know how you feel, but there’s always the unexpected.

It’s wet, mildewed, corroded, rotten…like everything else in this rotten jungle!

Good hunting. Have fun.

There’s always the unexpected, isn’t there?

The only important thing is how to live like a human being!

I must admit I’ve had some thoughts along those lines…from time to time.

If I were the only girl in the world. And you were the only boy.

The King.

You?

You!

What have I done?

Madness!

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Let’s Talk About the Village Green

Several years ago I became aware of a Kinks album from 1968: Village Green Preservation Society. One track in particular, Village Green, grabbed me. Baroque sounding, harpsichord, woodwinds, strings. Written by Ray Davies, it’s a picture of an earlier, simpler time.

Out in the country
Far from all the soot and noise of the city
There’s a village green
Oh, it’s been a long time
Since I last set eyes on the church with the steeple
Down by the village green

I too had a village green growing up, in my hometown of Lexington, Mass. Officially it’s called the Battle Green, or Lexington Common. But we just called it The Green. A pizza slice-shaped parcel of land close to downtown, churches, a recreation center. I must have walked over and through it a hundred times.

Then I moved away.

So it’s 2016, many decades later. I’m seeing a woman named Ivone from Watertown, Mass. She goes to church every Sunday with a group of her friends, and I’m invited. Where’s the church? Lexington.

After church services, most Sundays we use Lexington as our playground. We try lots of restaurants, walk on the rail trail, check out the Belfry, visit the old railway station, even my old house, for Pete’s sake. I never thought I’d see this town again, but now I’m seeing a lot of it.

And right in the center, the village green. It’s peaceful there. A few tall trees, some monuments, groups of tourists, the Minuteman Statue (not looking a day over 100). We walk and walk around The Green, the downtown, art galleries, anything open to the public.

It’s pleasant to revisit my old town; I feel a sense of coming full circle.

On our last visit to Lexington we eat at Mario’s Italian Restaurant. A well worn but welcoming spot on the town’s main street, just minutes away from the The Green. It’s chilly outside so we don’t walk much. But we enjoy our afternoon.

Ivone and I did not return there. She got sick soon after and died in June 2018.

Someday, when we “meet up yonder” as they say, perhaps we’ll sip tea and laugh about the good times we had. And talk about the village green.

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Covid Breaks on Through

I had never taken a test with lines before. But as the test pad began to change, I looked more closely. The C or Control line was dark, which meant the test was working. But the T or Test line was very faint. What did that mean?

I waited the full fifteen minutes and checked again. The T line was much darker this time, almost as dark as the C line. There it was. I had Covid.

I wasn’t completely surprised; this was Friday night and I’d been sick since Thursday. Sore throat, congestion, a typical cold/flu feeling. Maybe a worse than average cold. But after getting the first, second and booster shots, it seemed a little strange. Covid had broken through, somehow.

So now what? I thought. I decided to sleep on it and text my boss the next day. Also call my doctor’s office. Aside from that, I had no idea how the next week was going to go.

Work was easy. My boss was understanding when I said I’d be out for a while.

The doctor’s office was not what I expected. The office was closed on Saturday and I got the answering service, who told me the doctor on call would phone me. When she did, I was filled with warm relief. She listened sympathetically to my symptoms, the test results, how I was feeling. She said there was a medicine that might help, and she’d send in the prescription. Everything about her manner made me feel better.

“I’m so grateful that someone actually cares,” I said to her.

“It’s our pleasure.” she replied.

Yes, some people were actually born to work in the health care field.

Bless Her.

So now I had other things to think about, besides getting better. My daughter was getting married in five days, and I had duties to perform, such as walk her down the aisle, give a toasting speech, and dance a dance. What I eventually decided was not to wear a mask for those things, but keep one on most other times. And gently refuse to hug anyone or shake their hand.

That’s just about how it went. Only one or two people at the wedding treated me like Typhoid Marvin and I learned to quickly shake it off.

The week of the wedding and the following week (a planned vacation) went well. I felt a little better every day. I took two more tests, both positive, and rested as much as I could. I stopped taking the kindly doctor’s medicine since it gave off a harsh metallic taste that lasted for hours. I couldn’t bear it, so most of the stuff lies unused on my kitchen counter.

Now it’s Sunday night and I’m due back at work tomorrow. I feel good, or at least normal. Add one more Covid case to the books, another statistic for June 2022. Happy days are here again?

Will we get back to this?

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Six Things I Love About Heartland

When I last wrote about this Canadian television series a few years ago, it was really about the first season. But hold onto your hats. They recently completed season 15, which sets some kind of record in Canada and may be sneaking up on the likes of Gunsmoke, which lasted 20.

Bottom line, Heartland has been around a long time, and for good reasons. Here, in a few broad strokes, is what I (still) love about it.

The Scenery: Alberta, Canada. I’ve been there, and it really is that beautiful. From the snow-capped Rockies, to the Foothills, to the lush farm and grassland and rushing rivers, it looks like paradise to me. I shall return.

Amy: This character, as played by Amber Marshall, is the keystone of the series. She has a spare, Western way about her, saying more with her eyes than with words. Wise but sometime irrational, sweet but occasionally petty. She has strengths and she has flaws. A real human being.

The Family: Multiple generations under one roof, and they all get along, sort of. There is friction, there is drama, there is comedy. Big problems get ironed out, smaller ones become less important. Did Tim make a blunt and thoughtless remark at dinner? Well, that’s Tim.

Maggie’s Feed Store and Diner: A warm and inviting oasis on Hudson’s Main Street. This is as close to civilization as we usually see in this universe, but it’s like home. Everyone you know is there. Yes, I’ll have the Saskatoon Berry Pie and a Double Double coffee, please.

Animals: It’s Heartland, a ranch for troubled horses, so you’ll see a lot of them. Both tame and wild. But you might also see cattle, Remi the German Shepard, a kitten or cat, and a virtual Wild Kingdom of critters. My favorite? Tuffy, the cougar cub who somehow got left behind. He caught up to his mom eventually.

The Dude Ranch: Holy Getaway, Batman. This was Lou’s idea, to build cabins in a hidden corner of the ranch, for corporate retreats and such. But it’s really a place for Heartland’s many visitors, ranging from world-famous Mindy Fanshaw, to the gritty Eli Stark: “I can’t sleep here. It’s too clean.” The pond, the dock, the fire pit. The tipi. Perfection. Trail rides optional.

There are also a few things about Heartland that drive me crazy, but that could be another post. The things I love greatly outweigh those other things. I’m going to keep watching, regardless, into Season 16, 25 or 32. As Jack might say, “So what’s your plan?”

Ashley. Gone (?) but not forgotten.
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Woodworking: If Only in My Dreams

Working with wood does not come naturally to me, never did. My early experiences were short and abrupt, without the right tools and guidance. I tried, though.

In the house I grew up in, a work bench occupied a small corner of the basement. Some scrap wood was left there by a previous owner, and I was able to find some nails, hammer and a large hand saw. My intent was to build a birdhouse, using the detailed instructions from my Cub Scout manual.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I couldn’t turn those large boards into the small pieces required to make the house. Asking my dad for help was not an option; I could only imagine what he’d say. “You wanna do woodworking? Do it yourself!”

Doing it myself was something I did a lot of as a kid.

Junior high rolled around, and with it Wood Shop. But here I was in the company of kids who seemingly had skilled dads and fully equipped workshops in their basements. Or maybe they were born with good instincts. My memory of this period is as follows:

  1. Asking lots of questions.
  2. Sanding, sanding, and sanding some more.
  3. Working away slowly and methodically, ending up with an okay item and a passing grade.

I would finish a project, such as bookends with hinges, in about five weeks. The other kids took roughly two to four weeks and were off to the next thing.

Now, taking a great leap forward, there are people on YouTube to show you the ropes. I recently discovered two woodworkers, each very different, that have re-ignited my early interest. I know full well that I will never do what they do, even on a small scale, but it’s fun and satisfying to watch.

The first is Cam from Portland, Oregon. He left a good job as a helicopter pilot to become a full time woodworker and YouTuber around three years ago. His tables and desks, made from a variety of unusual wood types and epoxy, are something to behold.

If I had a spare $10,000 to buy the kind of tables he makes, I’d get one.

Cam’s a chatty guy who does a constant voiceover to his 15-25 minute videos. He talks at high speed, tossing in lots of dry, barely-there humor, pointing out each mistake and tiny flaw in his work, which he immediately fixes. It’s very entertaining, and oddly relaxing.

On the other side of the country, on the coast of Maine, David quietly turns wood on his basement lathe. There he works on smaller pieces such as bowls, vases, and what-is-its? that come from his imagination and will end up, I think, in some high-end gift shop.

David says not a word throughout his videos, instead masking his silence with machine noise and calm, New Age music, with a occasional onscreen caption to indicate what material or tool he’s using. What you see is a mesmerizing display of wood being reduced to its final shape, then sanded and oiled/waxed/stained to a state of perfection.

The end of the video is always a glamour shot of the finished item, rotating slowly on a turntable. Then, a long shot of the empty lathe as he turns out the lights, another day’s work complete. “Thanks for watching” says the end title, and we fade out to a scene of Wild Maine.

After one of these, I feel thoroughly zoned out, as if I’d just attended a Pink Floyd show. This is how I do woodworking now; remotely, vicariously, and it’s enough for me.

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Time and a Song

All my life I’ve been at war with time. Specifically, Daylight Savings Time. Most people seem to love it, but not me. “Spring Forward,” as they cheerily say each February or March.

Falling Back is more my style. Give me Eastern Standard Time, any day or season. It gives me an extra hour of sleep each fall. DST cruelly takes it away each spring. I hate that sleep deprived, barely-stay-awake mode that lasts a week or more. Even now, in April, I feel I haven’t caught up.

Time zones are a man-made thing that make sense, but DST is a weird footnote. Ben Franklin wanted to preserve candles (what?) so he proposed it way back when. But in America, nobody did anything about it until the 20th century. Just as well.

You don’t get any more sunlight with DST, in fact you seem to get less of it in December, January and February. In the mornings, anyway.

And Monday, and Tuesday…

Some of us remember the energy crisis of 1973-74, when we were told to change our clocks to save oil. What? How do you save oil by having kids and commuters blundering their way to work and school in the black, empty darkness?

In any case, the experiment was short lived. According to Wikipedia:

“In 1974, after the enactment of the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Act in the United States, there were complaints of children going to school in the dark and working people commuting and starting their work day in pitch darkness during the winter months.”

Didn’t I just say that? But now, due to short memories, the United States Senate wants to bring back year-round DST. Have you lost your mind, Senate?

I guess now it goes to the House of Representatives and the President for approval. It’s an election year, House, and I’ll be interested to see how you voted. Vote ‘no’ for this aberration, and I’ll vote ‘yes’ for you.

Better get to it – time waits for no one.

As it should be.

There are More Things in Heaven and Earth Dept:

When I was around nine or ten, I was sitting in the back seat of the family wagon. Between the road and car noise and some wind rushing in, a tune developed in my head. “This is pretty good,” I thought and ran the tune through my brain a dozen times, so as not to forget. Once I got home, I pretty much forgot about it.

Fifteen years later, there’s a new song on the radio, with the exact tune that ran through my head at age nine or ten. Or at least the middle part/chorus of the melody was identical. “Cool,” I thought. “Someone discovered my tune.”

I never did anything, or told anyone about it. In the last two days I’ve listened to the song several times and wondered about the odd coincidence, if that’s what this is. Spooky.

If you’re curious about what tune it is, here you go:

So that’s it for this month. See you in May!

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Day at the Museum

Visiting a museum is something I like to do, but not on my own. So when the new Meetup was announced, a group event at Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, I jumped on it pretty quick. I’d been there before, several times, and once with a large group.

Actually, a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

It was raining lightly on this mid-March day, with snow in the forecast, when I pulled into the museum’s large parking lot. I could see a few others arriving but didn’t really know any of them. I left my car and walked to a group of four who had parked nearby. “Good morning,” I said.

Three of them ignored me. The fourth grunted “Hi” or something like it. I didn’t linger.

A few more people had gathered near the museum’s doors, waiting for the ten o’clock opening. People were a bit nicer there, but not much. Then a new person, a woman with smiling eyes, walked up and started chatting with me. Well, I mused. A friendly stranger in New Hampshire. Who’d have thought it?

Musa McKim
American, 1908–1992
Wildlife in the White Mountains, 1941

It turned out her name was Deb and we talked a bit more, then the doors opened. Inside, I recognized another woman, Janet, I’d hiked with before and so we caught up a bit. Deb was still around, and told us she’d never been there before. Janet hadn’t either. Without much discussion, we decided to tour the museum together.

It was like this on my first group visit. You can’t expect 35 or so people to all stay together; the most you can do is bump into each other on occasion to compare notes. So that’s what I did. I stayed with Deb and Janet for a few minutes, then did my own thing, circling back now and then to see how they were doing.

I always enjoy the Currier. The building was divided roughly into American and European art, with a mix of painting, photographs, sculpture, tapestries, murals, and more. I saw a few of my favorites and some new pieces that grabbed my interest. The effect was soothing.

The Card Players

After an hour or so I noticed a small knot of people gathered around a painting, The Card Players by Jan Miense Molenaer. Kind of a center point to the whole experience. A docent was describing details on the painting; the boy stealing a duck, the woman holding a hand mirror. “Looking Together” is what the Currier called it.

It was fun to chat with Janet and Deb and see their reactions to this new place. They were very impressed, as was I. After two hours of exploring we had seen everything.

Near the end, I had lost track of Janet, but knew I’d see her on some future hike. Deb I wasn’t so sure about. She was an occasional hiker. Near the doors, I was about to say goodbye, but she invited me to get some coffee with her somewhere across town.

After one second of thought, I said yes.

James Aponovich
American, 1948
Self Portrait, 1987-1988
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