OH DADDY BOY, THE PIPES ARE CALLING

Years ago I overheard my daughter Janis speaking to a classmate who’s father, she claimed, handled every household plumbing emergency. “What does your father do when a pipe bursts? she asked.

“That depends,” Janis said. “If it’s late at night and he’s tired, he does the backstroke, but he prefers freestyle.” (I think I know where she got her sense of humor.)

I could take the comical inuendos, the back-breaking work and the wet socks if my plumbing efforts were fruitful, but it’s quite frustrating after three strenuous hours trying to eliminate a maddening “CLANG, CLANG, CLANG” water hammer and only succeed in changing it to “KLUNG, KLUNG, KLUNG”.

Once I had to report that my two-hour attempt to resolder a leaking joint was futile. “It’s worse than ever,” I admitted. “I just can’t master a blowtorch.”

“Too bad, Dear, ” my wife soothed. “And you’re surprised you couldn’t fix it.”

“Surprised? Not really. This was my first try with the new blowtorch. Why do you say ‘surprised’ “?

“Well, you look suprised somehow. Oh, now I see why. You’ve lost your eyebrows, Dear.”

The plumber eventually arrives in his Alfa Romeo van (which he richly deserves) and takes command, but it’s a delicate psychological situation, temporarily surrendering control of my castle. It calls for a bit of face-saving. “I’m glad you’re here, but I was able to take some emergency measures and keep things under control,” I say.

“Fine, fine,” he says. “Just direct me to the leaking pipe.”

“It’s on the far basement wall,” I reply . “Be careful when you pass my workbench. There’s a pretty strong undertow there.”

BLOOD TYPE: OH!

I was about three years old when I discovered that people, including me, had blood inside them. I’d stepped on a piece of glass at the beach and red stuff began oozing out of my foot. I thought the whole thing over while I was screaming my head off and decided it was a disgusting, upsetting arrangement and I still feel the same way.

During my early years I was happy to learn it was somebody else’s job to stem the red flow and I marveled at the way grownups calmly dealt with lacerations and punctures. I thought I’d never be able to perform that way and I was absolutely right.

The sight of escaping blood, my own or anybody’s, gives me a decided feeling of angst, disquiet, okay, panic. I can’t help thinking the victim is losing his life-sustaining fluid with only ten pints to his name and right now it’s leaking out. Something has to be done immediately, I think, as he lies there with his dripping wound while I run around in panicky circles.

“Daddy gave me worst aid,” my little daughter Carolyn told my wife as she returned home from shopping one day many years ago. She proudly displayed her tiny arm, swathed in a bulging mass of gauze and adhesive tape.

“Oh dear!” my wife gasped. “Maybe we should take her to the ER!”

“Not necessary,”I replied. “It really isn’t much of a cut. I got a little carried away and probably over bandaged.”

“Does your arm hurt, Sweetheart?” she asked.

“No, Mommy, but it’s very tired,” Carolyn replied. “The bandage is very heavy. It’s only a little cut, Mommy, and it’s not even bleeding anymore. Do you want to look at it?

“I don’t think we should disturb the bandage, Carolyn.”

“We don’t have to, Mommy. The cut is on the other arm. I tried to tell Daddy, but he was so excited.”

HANDY HOUSEHOLD HARANGUES

You probably talk to your furniture and appliances from time to time. Admit it. Everybody does. We often have to deal with an uncooperative folding chair or toaster oven that refuses to perform as promised by an overoptimistic advertising department.

Once released from the strict confinement of their factories and warehouses these manufactured creatures often begin to exhibit unmistakable signs of independence and even rebellion. We are being overly optimistic when we think we are their masters just because we have the original receipts and warranties.

I am now sitting in my contrary office chair in front of my insubordinate PC . I’ve named this beastly seat “Shifty” and I can hear him snickering now. You might insist it’s just the squeaky wheels I hear, but I know better. Shifty was once an obedient servant and a comfort. He would tilt back on command to give me a rest after a rough session writing a blog. Shifty doesn’t allow that anymore so I’m trying to get used to always sitting at attention.

Shifty has also disabled the height adjustment lever. I am sitting on two thick pillows now to reach eye level and avoid another painful stiff neck episode. It started one morning when I plopped down into the seat to check my email and suddenly realized I’d plunged a half foot deeper than normal because Shifty was in a playful mood.

“You got me again, Shifty, ” I shouted. “Something has snapped in my sacroiliac and I almost lost my breakfast. If you don’t calm down and behave (stop that snickerking) I’m going to sell you very cheap at my next garage sale to the meanest looking heavyweight gorilla who comes along.” Shifty didn’t reply, but the snickering stopped and I was elevated several inches.

I have an automatic recliner chair that can become horizontal to rest my old bones and surviving muscles. I’m afraid it’s been talking to Shifty because once it ignored my pushbutton command to return to upright. A home alone guy like me can be trapped in the grip of this faux leather monster for hours. Luckily I reached the EMT’s with my flip phone and was rescued. These heroes were mostly older guys who understood my situation and were sympathetic. If the massage button had also jammed, I might have been rubbed raw.

These rebels haven’t taken over completely. I’ve found they do respond to threats. Once, years ago, arriving home after a grueling work day and a challenging commute, my wife Barbara, (the love of my life and now with the angels) served me a delicious supper and a soothing glass of wine. Then she said calmy, “Before you go to bed, Sweetheart, please fix the refrigerator.”

FIX THE REFRIGERATOR???. I choked on my chablis. How does one fix a refrigerator? I thought Her post mortem was accurate. Even the inside light was out and there were indications of melting pork chops.

What was I to do? The family’s entire perishable food supply was endangered, not to mention the steep cost of repair or replacement. “Oh, okay”, I said as calmly as possible.. “I’ll fix the refrigerator before I turn in. I hoped the unfaithful appliance would hear all of my confidant remarks and my professional tone of command. “We’ll check the inside vitals and see what’s going on,” I said, quoting Alan Alda’s comments in a MASH episode.

I opened the kitchen drawer that I used as a tool kit and said to my imaginary assisstant, “Philipshead screwdriver”. Then I swung the dead hulk around and pointed a flashlight into the mysterious interior, hoping I’d find helpful signs saying “Tighten here” or “Reattach this”, but there were none.

Not wanting to just sit there staring, I began to scold the refrigerator. “You have no right to break down without notice after only ten years of off and on service,”I shouted. “Take that you unfaithful servant,” I screamed as I jabbed wildly with my Philipshead screwdriver. Suddendly there was a harummph sound and a wonderful whirring and I realized I’d raised Lazarus.

“Yes, I got her going again,” I told my wife later. It was only a hung up solenoid.” I’d remembered the “solenoid” word from a Popular Mechanics article . I wasn’t sure what it was, but it sounded quite professional..

I

II

a

THE COLUMBUS CRUISE LINE

What if Christopher Columbus had to find an additional source of revenue to help finance his historic voyage? Queen Isabella was certainly low on funds after the Spanish war with the Muslims ended in 1492. Columbus might have resorted to taking on paying passengers aboard the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. But how could he persuade anyone to embark on such a perilous trip?

“You will be on my flagship, the Santa Maria, and you will dine at the captain’s table,” he would begin. “We will be cruising to the exotic East Indies and later on to the Orient, a wonderfully enchanted land rich in silks, spices and gold.”

A skeptical landlubber would have done some research beforehand. “Captain, I’ve been talking to your crew members. Half of them are convinced you’ll sail off the edge of the earth, and those are the optimists. The others think all three ships will be devoured by sea monsters before you even reach the edge.”

Columbus would laugh and reply that sailors are known to be wildly superstitious and shouldn’t be taken seriously. “There is no edge,” he’d say. “The earth is as round as the moon and I’m sure the ships up there are ranging freely as we are about to do.”

“But it doesn’t look like a luxury cruise, Captain. We’d like celebrity entertainers, staterooms with verandas, shufffleboard and sumptuous buffets. What kind of food will be served at the captain’s table?”

“You will be feasting on the catch of the day and an occasional sauteed seagull. Delectable sides will include a mouth-watering selection of bully beef patties and delicately spiced hard tack. Our chef has sailed with the English so there will be an open bar every evening with a rum cocktail hour and deep fried something or others.

“If you have any doubts about any aspect of the cruise,” Columbus will add, “you can sign up with our New World Trip Policy which covers sea monster attacks, mutinies, shipwrecks and scurvy.”

The insurance plan would have been a good idea. The flotilla eventually experienced the threat, at least, of all of the above except the sea monsters. Columbus, the “Admiral of the Ocean Seas” was navigating with only a compass. The ship’s “clock” was a sandglass timer that had to be inverted promptly when it emptied. Thinking the earth was much smaller than it is, he was convinced his four voyages ended at the edge of the East Indies which were actually thousands of miles further on. He’d reached the West Indies.

On the plus side, his paying passengers would not have experienced boarding pass delays or long security lines with shoe removals and X-rays before embarking in Palos, Spain and no passport or custom inspections after landing.

There would have been no rental car mix-ups or lost luggage unless there wasn’t time to rescue some when the Santa Maria sank off Hispaniola on Christmas Day, 1492. Remains of what may be the Santa Maria were discovered in 2003. Identification has yet to be confirmed, but many artifacts, including an ancient cannon, are encouraging evidence. There were no traces of verandas or shuffleboard discs in the wreckage.

WHO’S IN CHARGE?

When they invented the computer, I’m sure they intended it to be an automatic device, but I think, probably because of a typo error in an intergeek memo, it got changed to autocratic which would explain the weird conduct of Hal in the “2001 Space Odyssey” movie. Hal was the spaceship’s computer that did away with crew members who interfered with his plans.

My PC (Personal Confuser) is not subtle in letting me know who is actually in charge. It doesn’t matter what default setting I choose, if the Boss thinks he has a better idea, he overides my choice. I’m forced to learn to work with strange fonts, margins and indents, all subject to frequent surprise revisions.

Birthday greetings from my grandchildren are downgraded to spam messages while ads from outfits like the Crafty Chimney Cleaning Company pile up in my In Box. I don’t like to complain too strongly. I don’t want to upset Himself who’s very high strung and might crash at the least provocation. I’m actually typing this on the public library’s PC hoping it’s not part of the SCS (Sinister Cyber Syndicate).

My car’s computer opens all four windows in the middle of a rainy night while I’m sound asleep in bed. It pops my trunk lid as I speed along on Route 80 and notifies me with chimes that resemble playful chuckles. My new toaster has decided that burnt bread is good for me and my microwave signals that my bowl of chili is ready, regardless of my time-setting, by detonating the kidney beans.

Now I read that driverless cars will soon be on our highways. You would think this would improve the quality of our lives, but I’m skeptical. I can imagine myself on a warm summer day hopping into Robby, my robotic roadster, programming him for a trip to Asbury Park, and settling down with a James Bond novel. Two hours later I sit up, look around and say, “Robby, this does not look like Asbury Park.”

“This is so much better than Asbury Park,” Robby replies. “This is the Poconos. Just breathe in that fresh mountain air! You always get bad sunburns at the Jersey Shore and you’re too old to play in the rough surf with young ladies in bikinis. I made us a reservation at the Rocking Chair Inn. My pal Bionic Buick told me they have an air conditioned garage, discounted detailing and an organic carwash.”

BAD NEWS MESSENGERS

Ancient kings, angered by reports of lost battles and lower pillaging profits, often beheaded the messengers. This led to the inventions of safer communications systems, probably funded by the SMU (Surviving Messenger Union).

Beginning with smoke and tomtom signals, advances were made with carrier pigeons, semaphores, telegraphy, telephones, radio, Emails and ultimately, Facebook. Another result was strict civil service legislation which greatly reduced the severerd head count.

Today, safely protected from decapitation, the media thrives on announcements of bad news. Violent crime, earthquakes, hurricanes and riots are grist for the broadcast and publishing mills. Anchor people seem only slightly moved while reporting the distressing details of a plunging stock market or an approaching megastorm. Sometimes I notice a news reader will touch his or her neck nervously when reporting a tax increase. This might be a primitive reflex motion.

When it gets down to person-to-person reports, I’m sure anchors like NBC’s Lester Holt are as reluctant as the rest of us to tell someone, especially a loved one, about an unfortunate turn of events. I can’t imagine Lester telling Mrs. Holt outright that he accidentally ran the mower through her flower garden by announcing at the dinner table, “Local marigold display demolished! Details at eleven!”

The timing is as important as the wording. If Junior demolished Dad’s cherished beer stein collection while skateboarding in the basement, Mrs. Workingstiff shouldn’t rush to the phone to report the calamity to her husband. No, let Mr. Workingstiff deal with his usual daily challenges. Tonight will be soon enough to try to soften the blow and get Junior off the hook.

Mister W’s favorite dinner entree will help and a strong martini won’t hurt. If he isn’t a cocktail drinker it could be added to his soup. Right after his favorite dessert would be a good time to report the mangled mugs accident unless he’s decided on a cold, foaming stein of Budweiser.

Occasionally, Mrs. Workingstiff will have some personal bad news to report, like when she was adjusting the SUV’s temperature control, didn’t see the stop sign and broadsided the police cruiser. The sumptious dinner and the martini will help, but the phraseology is also important. While Mr. W sits back , sipping suds from his expensive Haucoze stein, his wife can casually remark, “Sweetheart, you’ll never guess who I ran into downtown today.”

THE RESILIENCE OF ROVER

I often think about the adventures I shared with Molly, my late lamented dog. Once I took her to the ATM, thinking she’d be interested in the bank lobby’s lingering aromas of past nervous depositors, like me, sweating over their decisions to tap into their dwindling savings.

There was a long ATM line that day and Molly fidgeted as we waited our turn. Finally, I made a withdrawal, but Molly had made a deposit. All I had handy was the twenty dollar bill I’d just withdrawn which would have been an expensive pick-up scoop. I was sure it would no longer be legal tender. We hurried out before the others caught on and raised a stink.

Dogs have been incredibly resilient in adapting to our technological advances. When they first joined our packs it was an easy transition for them. We’d been hunting and eating them and they eventually decided to get on what looked like the winning team. Their speed and ultra sensitive noses increased our hunting parties’ chances and they readily took to herding, instead of stalking, our livestock as long as we shared our meals.

But in recent years they’ve had to prove their superiority over our many new inventions. As our loyal sentinels, for instance, dogs continue to be more efficient than doorbells and scanners at announcing the arrival of friends and strangers. The meows of fussy cats are no match for their high decibel barks.

Although dogs don’t completely understand automobiles, most of them enjoy riding in them with their heads out the window and ears flapping in the wind while they bark insults at larger dogs and haughty cats from the safety of their solid steel dogmobiles.

But they barely tolerate some modern gadgets like televisions which are linited to providing only pictures and sounds with no smells at all. Rover thinks, “What good are they? They don’t make scents!”

Then there’s their herding instinct. Many dogs have to satisfy their primeval need to guide lower animals over designated paths. In Molly’s case there was my twice daily signal to take her walk. I’d whistle and show her leash and she would get up from her nap and stretch. “The old guy needs to be guided around the neighborhood again and be brought home safely,” she’d think. “Well, that’s the price I have to pay for the kibbles and treats and the belly scratches. Okay, let’s go Sweetheart. Isn’t that the odd name your mate gave you?”

OUR VAGABOND DREAMS

Our night time dreams are like late TV movies. We can enjoy the fantasies and happy adventures before returning to our humdrum world in the morning, but too often these out-of-control productions are bewildering, depressing or horrifying.

On the other hand, we’re in complete control of our daydreams as the producers, directors, screen writers and leading actors. We’re also in charge of casting.

Think twice before putting a restraining leash on your daydreams. Some of the greatest inventions and artistic accomplishments are the products of daydreamers who saw what their present world needed to make the future world better.

On another level, daydreams can be the mental martinis that help one survive unpleasant episodes like crushingly boring business meetings , the scoldings of bosses and the lectures of traffic policemen.

Some psychologists claim each of us spends almost half our waking hours away from the real world, floating outside our mental escape hatches like space walking astronauts. It’s easy to recognize your fellow Cloud 9 visitors by their blank stares, faint smiles and occasional chuckles.

Everyone’s mind wanders. When Saint Francis of Assisi admitted to a young friar that he had difficulty concentrating on his prayers, the friar boasted he didn’t have that problem. The good saint said, “If you can recite the Lord’s Prayer entirely without thinking of anything else, I’ll give you that little donkey of mine that you’ve always admired.”

The friar agreed and began, “Our Father who art in heaven…..” Then he paused, turned to Francis and asked, “Do I get the saddle also?”

In the same vein, a male liars club membership test included a meditation session during which the candidate had to stand in the corner of a quiet room, staring at the wall for a half hour and not think of Marilyn Monroe in a bathing suit. (Keep reading you guys!). There were two repeated reminders of the rule during the half hour. If the candidate later swore he’d never once thought of “what’s-her-name”, he was accepted as a member.

A FAIRYTALE FOR DUMMIES

Once upon a time about a kilo years ago Old King Cyber summoned his Royal Server, Count Algo Rithm and said he wanted to post the text of a new proclamation throughout his domain.

“It’s a very important message dealing with debugging infested sites ,” he said. “And I don’t want it to get misdirected or fall apart as it’s delivered from portal to portal.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” said the Count. “I’ll see that it’s delivered in a secure mode and virtually carved in stone. It will be a safe hard copy.”

“Good, and I’d like Sir Google, our best messenger, to be the server.”

“Not possible, Sire. Sir Google is down with something.”

“Google is down? Is it a virus?”

“Not to worry, Sire. It isn’t fatal. He fell ill after your last feast. Dr. Geek says it’s just a case of too many cookies. He’ll have Sir Google’s system restored in a few days.”

“Then how about Google’s squire Yahoo?”

“Alas, Sire, Squire Yahoo was hacked by that rogue knight Sir Malware. His mail was fatally penetrated. We can only pray that brave Yahoo is now happily dwelling on a heavenly cloud.”

“I intend to deal with that wily Sir Malware who’s been swindling the peasants for years and what was his cruel boast about stealing from the poor farmers?

“He called it ‘serfing’, Sire, ‘serfing the domain’.”

So then we’re down to Sir Twitter, ” the King sighed.

“I regret to report Sir Twitter is also unavailable, Your Majesty, having crashed into the castle’s firewall while jousting yesterday.

“So Google is down, Yahoo has been hacked and Twitter has crashed. I’ll have to do my own messaging, Count. Have my chariot brought out.”

“Take care, Sire. It’s a virtual jumgle out there. It will be a very hard drive.”

A HAIRY EXPERIENCE

My beard and I have grown old and gray together. We’ve been very close for decades and gone through a lot. Oh, the stories we could tell!

Our first days were quite rough. There was a difficult gestation period and a traumatic birth. I’d stopped shaving for three days and was disappointed at the lack of comments from family and friends. Then the visible growth began and the stubble brought on the trouble.

Way back then when a guy started to grow a beard he might as well have hung a sign around his neck: “Please tell me your personal opinion of my new whiskers without any regard for the traditional rules of courtesy.”

I worked in a large office but just mixed with my immediate coworkers and a few friends. Only rarely would one of them notice my new shoes, fedora or even my loud Father’s Day tie. At least they never made any remarks about them.

When my new beard began to emerge I became a popular website that was getting frequent hits, most of them painful. “So that’s not some kind of joke. You’re really going to let it grow?” someone would ask.

There were others who didn’t like my emerging beard but were too polite to say so. However, they just couldn’t keep their eyes off my fuzzy chin when we were talking shop. Once there were four gawking engineers around the conference table with me. This was way before the Pandemic, but I was thinking of faking a bad cold and wearing a surgical mask.

The head of the steno pool, a middle-aged lady of Mediterranean heritage, was the least diplomatic. “What an awful looking beard that is,” she smirked. “You should shave it off as soon as possible.”

That one really hurt, so I counter-punched. “I’m sorry you don’t like my new facial hair, Ma’am” I said. “I’ve always admired yours, especially that cute little black patch beneath your nose. Why do you keep removing it?”

A young fellow from accounting shared an elevator car with me one day. “Do you want me to tell you what I think of your new beard?” he suddenly asked.

“Yes, I’d be interested in your opinion,” I replied. “And then I’ll tell you what I think of your hippie haircut and that odd-colored suit you’re wearing.” He scurried off at the next floor.

I wasn’t sure about my new beard either. I thought it made me look kind of sinister, like Jack the Ripper, a vicious character in a scary movie. Staring into the mirror one morning I asked the hairy guy in the reflection, “Shall I shave this off?” And he replied, “Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin.”