Virtual Baseball

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As Major League baseball debated whether to play some kind of regular season this year, the Commissioner got in touch with me, asking my opinion.  I hesitated.  Though I had played Little League and high-school ball as a kid, and loved the sport, I hadn’t followed it very closely in recent years.

Unknown-3Good, he said.  What we want is the views of people who know the game but have an open mind.  We’d like your thoughts on players’ social-distancing. 

I hesitantly agreed and, with a one-week deadline, gave the issue my undivided attention.

I considered how the positions of players on the field might be configured for acceptable distancing, but saw no way — fielders converging under a fly-ball; first-basemen holding runners close to the bag; second-basemen tagging stealing runners; the catcher dangerously sandwiched between the batter and the home-plate umpire.

In my view, these issues, in themselves, warranted a no-go recommendation.  I submitted my report, got a nice thank-you, and heard nothing until the announcement of the season proved that my view had not prevailed.

In the interim, I had a completely unrelated, direct experience of virtual reality — a cabaret that a small group of us recorded at home, sent off to a technician to assemble, and broadcast for college classmates and friends.  A sort-of minor-league imitation of the majors, it met with reasonable approval, which made me think:  This could work for baseball!

I haven’t had time to work out all the details, but here’s a brief sketch that, with refinements, might do the trick:

The players would be video-recorded in real-game situations.  For example, in an otherwise empty stadium, a pitcher pitches to a batter until there is a result — a hit, aimages-2 walk, or a strikeout.  A camera determines balls and strikes (after all, they do it now to second-guess the ump).  There’s no catcher (someone eventually tosses the accumulated balls back to the pitcher).

Say the batter hits a hard line drive toward right field.  Another camera records it, determines if the first- or second-baseman could have caught it, and records where it lands.  Let’s say it would have gone to the right-fielder.  In a separate cut, the camera records a ball (fired by an out-of-view pitching machine) that bounces at the precise spot and, with a right-fielder now in position, he fields it and throws it to the second-baseman, again recorded on-camera.  And the guy who hit the ball really runs to a first base that has no first-baseman.

Basically, you’re piecing together, not a play-acted scenario, but a linked sequence of real situations where the pitcher really pitches, the batter really hits, the right-fielder really throws, and the second-baseman really catches the throw.  

I’m not underestimating the complexity of figuring out, at each step, what the next camera shot should be, but it should proceed naturally.  For example, if the second-baseman should drop the right fielder’s throw, or if it was a wild throw, the next sequence would proceed from that real circumstance.  Maybe the following shot would be of the shortstop, backing up the second-baseman and making sure the runner stays on first.  With time and experience, the wrinkles could be smoothed out.

Then, of course, there’s the question of atmosphere, but there’s plenty that’s already in the can that could be added:  crowds at any of a thousand games; maybe archive pieces Unknown-2with Kate Smith singing the National Anthem, a fan sleeping, a kid snagging a foul-ball with his brand-new fielder’s mitt, outfielders trying to corral a wayward pigeon, ushers wrestling with a drunken fan, a streaker.

Once all the video is done, the shots would go the techies to assemble in an accurate sequence so that, for example — guy hits a triple and stays on third base until he scores, or gets picked off, or the inning ends with him still there.

Yes, it will be complicated, but, if a group of senior-citizens, aided by a younger singing/acting/tech whiz, can pull-off Mention My Name in Sheboygan, then putting together a virtual Major League baseball game shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

Now, the idea just needs the Commissioner’s go-ahead.  I called him this morning.  I’m still on hold.  I know he’s busy, but I’m convinced that, once we talk, he’ll see that, even at this late date, mine is a better, safer option.

The Joy of English

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Mom and Dad were word people.  They loved the weird inventions that the idiosyncrasies of English invited (one of their favorite books along these lines was “Anguish Languish”).  They also loved the snarls and traps this strange tongue set for the unwary.  After all, what fun was a language as strict as a knuckle-rapping nun?

Here are two letters they especially loved, rendered exactly as written (including the abrupt drop-off-a-cliff ending of the second):

images1. Typed, undated, but probably from the ‘40s or ‘50s; sent to Mom’s mother (aka, my maternal grandmother):

Dear Mrs. Weir,

Well I am home.  I came out yesterday at 3 P.M. and went to bed as I have to stay in bed for a while.  As I have a sweel cold along with this.  So I wont be out wandering around for a couple of weeks.  I have set up twice about 1 1/2 hrs. each time.

You  don’t need to call Dr. Hart any more to find out about me.  As he will not be seeing me.  No one would of seen me now if I would of listened to Kubelick’s and waited a couple of weeks fro Dr. Miller.  As I would of been planted by now.  If they would of knew on tuesday nite when I went in how bad this case was going to be they would of cut me open then.  Dr. Hart said they got me in time if I’d waiting a day or so.  It would of been to late then.

Then on top of it all I have a swell cold to doctor and boy its awful coughing.  Then also my heart went from 72 to 52 and they had a time with that.  Had two nurses, a sister and doctor with me.  They fussed over a half hour to get me to come out.  I guess the hospital bunch and my cousin was on needles and pins for fear I would say So Long.

They cut me longer than they do any other ones.  The appendix had grown on the back of lower bowel and the end was blown up like a balloon and was pusey.  So I had had something.  My last week of work was to much for me and my nerves we all shot.

So I wont be back to work in July at all and I don’t think before Sept. 1st As I can’t go up and downstairs.  No lifting pushing or shoveing and I have to get these nerves settled before I get a breakdown.  Have you heard from Kubelicks.  No I haven’t.

I’m writing this in bed and its awful hard for me.  Is their any mail for me.  Hows everyone.  How are the Roses.  Are they opening up.  I had beautiful flower and lots of them and all kinds of fruit cards and candy.  So Long   Nell.

2. Handwritten, from a French gentleman who stayed with Mom and Dad in the summerimages-1 of 1978:

Dear John and Ellen,

After one stay in New York or to find one hot big my travel of return accomplished into of good to condition!

After some days of fatigue to due out change various of spindle time me here I am at home for redige my letter for you.

My stay among yourself at enchantress, east with pleasure whom my to make for you discovery of Etat of New York aux gardens le green pleasant at admirer in particular your pleasant town of Casanovia whom you to tame at to love.

Thank you to provide welcome warm which at allowed of my to believe at my in your nice mansion.

My nostalgia of for days to pass in your company serez glad to see you (Happy) to have again enjoy of you to see again.

My no to forget to stop evening after dinner before Television to look one Base Ball match to taste delicious … Ice cream!

But to hope good before return to come you to have enjoy to receive my friends of Casanovia in my countries at Paris.

Dear John and Ellen in you to express good health in particular Ellen suffering at day my departure regret you to leave believe all my friendsh at soon.

Jean

I am sorry to write no good.  To excuse my

And there it ends.  Mom and Dad, and the whole family, were so taken with this letter that we began calling their modest home, which was NOT a mansion, Enchantress East.

On A Pedestal

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Somewhere along the way, most of us have probably been told by a teacher or parent that there is no such thing as a Statue of Limitations:  It’s StaCHEWT, not StaCHEW!

OK, OK, we’ve learned it, we’ve learned it.  However, it appears that, now, there is at least a Limitation of Statues (that’s StaCHEWS, not StaCHEWTS)!

UnknownWhat else would account for Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson losing their heads; Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson eating dirt; and George Washington and Christopher Columbus biting the dust?

With time, the metal or stone remains of all those statues will have been carried off, the surrounding grass re-seeded, the graffiti rubbed or sand-blasted off the only remaining vestige — the pedestal.

But what shall become of the pedestal itself?  

Without a statue to surmount it, what use does a pedestal have?  What purpose does it serve?  Should it, too, be removed as punishment for having borne upon its back the malefactors who, finally, have been thrown onto the junk-heap of history?

That might be cruel and unusual punishment.  Consider:  the pedestal had no choice but to bear its burden.  It sat as mute when its master was revered as when reviled.

Unlike us, it did not repudiate hastily a view once held, however firmly.   It didn’t have to.  It didn’t have a view (except perhaps over an expanse of green).

If we seek forgiveness, should we not offer it the same?

But, if so, what exactly should we do with it and its numerous kin, now barren andimages-1 bereft?

Our first impulse might be to have it, now, bear the statue of one who is honored, especially her or him whose suffering or death has prompted us to change our views and right our wrongs.

But these sites are imbued now with anger and violence.  Other sites can be created, free of painful associations, that honor new heroes.

An empty pedestal might then offer a new beginning, liberated to represent others who have earned our respect in different ways (subject to appropriate background checks).

We might start by honoring the medical professionals and first responders who have put their lives on the line for victims of Covid-19.  Doing so would acknowledge the devotion and courage of a corps that represents almost every conceivable national origin, ethnicity, race, creed, sex, gender-identity, or political persuasion, and offers its services without concern for any of these categories.

We might, then, also consider our teachers and school counselors and coaches; our ministers and priests and lay-persons; our scouting leaders; perhaps even our police.

Then there are the actors and entertainers who made us laugh or cry; journalists who enlightened us; workers who make our cars and trains.

Of course, we would have to tread very carefully so as not to inadvertently honor someone demonstrably unworthy.  It might be wisest not to represent a particular, identifiable person, lest he or she should later prove to have committed an act now considered immoral or unacceptable, or to have held a view now regarded as repugnant.

Even in the generalized representation we may choose, we should make sure that the Unknown-1nurse is wearing a mask; the teacher is not looking stern; the hands of the scout leader or priest are fully visible and not otherwise engaged; the police officer is not holding a weapon (advisable would be a pose showing him smilingly helping a youngster across the street; and he should not look identifiably Irish, which is an unacceptable stereotype).

Finally, on the question of materials with which to fashion our new heroines and heroes.  We should not, of course, use the melted-down remnant of now-discredited statues.  If these are to be refashioned, let them be as sewer grates or prison bars. 

Best would be to use plastic, which is durable but also light-weight and thus relatively easy to pull down when the need arises, with minimal threat of bodily harm.  Plastic is also easily reshaped into new forms that embody new, more acceptable, ideals.  A teacher could, for example, become a computer, or a police officer, a robot.

Whatever happens, the pedestal will remain mute, sensibly avoiding comment about the values it now bears.

New Dimensions in Policing

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The police have not had a good run lately.  In the aftermath of high-profile killings of African-American men, they face anger, not only for those deeds, but also for their sometimes violent over-reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests that have followed.

Anger is easy.  Sympathy, at least for the moment, is not.  The only way out is moderation and an honest look at rational reforms.

It is with this weighty sense of obligation that I offer the following thoughts about small changes that might lower the temperature of direct, on-the-street, confrontation and allow space for constructive dialogue:

tear-gas-tTear-gas, and the sometimes-deadly canister in which it is delivered, needs to go.  Whatever its effectiveness in initially dispersing a crowd, tear-gas creates havoc worse than the turmoil it is intended to halt.  Perhaps more significant, it has become a symbol of police brutality.

A substitute is needed, not to stop protests, but to minimize the chance the protests will cause personal harm or physical damage and, incidentally, undermine the very cause they are advocating.

Effective immediately, tear gas should be replaced by perfume.  Let me explain:

Perfume is harmless and, in fact, has widespread societal approval.  It carries an implicit message of welcome, not repulsion.    

If protesters are sprayed with perfume, most women, though they may find it unusual,Unknown possibly distracting (hmm, that’s rather nice, I must find out what it is), at least will not be enraged by it, even if it happens to be a brand they do not favor.

Men’s reaction may be even more favorable for its implicit message.

Men are far more likely than women to engage in violence.  But the intriguing allure perfume conveys might weaken their resolve, or at least make them pause and think.

For some, it may convey thoughts of girl-friend or spouse waiting lovingly at home.  Or, conversely, it might evoke the image of a more sinister reaction from one who  wonders suspiciously why he smells like the cosmetics department at Saks.  For those with the hard-earned experience of a Chanel-induced black eye or night on the couch, common sense might suggest caution.

There are, of course, questions of cost.  Even low-end perfume is not cheap.  But neither is tear-gas.  And perfume’s scent is unusually strong.  Mixing it with water would save money and could still mark rioters with an unmistakable, possibly even more mysterious, odor.  Costs should decline as the effectiveness of this measure is clear, when the mere possibility of being perfumed offers potential rioters the opportunity for a second thought.

I am not suggesting that perfume is a universal panacea.  In smaller cities, with limited budgets, perfume might be prohibitively expensive and, given the lower likelihood of riots, a wasteful expenditure.  There is a solution, however, quite similar in its reliance on olfactory sensitivity, though differing in quality — manure!

Many small cities have immediately-adjacent rural areas where manure is usually widely available and remarkably cheap, in some cases free.  Where there is manure, Unknown-1there are sure to be manure spreaders.  Hitched to a slow-moving tractor (one never wants to drive a vehicle at high speed into a chaotic situation), a manure-spreader can persuade even the most rabid protester that it is just not worth the effort.

There are other riot-control measures that deserve our scrutiny, but this is enough for now.  Do keep an eye out for upcoming articles on The Alternative to Tasers (alcohol, dispensed free and in immoderation, can be a safer, equally potent, immobilizer) and Batons Can Be Your Friend (they were once used only by majorettes; imagine theimages-1 diversionary effect of a covey of them bursting out of a time-warp, twirling … not wielding … their batons in front of a big brass band marching proudly down the street; enough to disarm even the most battle-hardened).

Sit-Down Comedy

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Are you having trouble sleeping?  Is your appetite failing?  Are you unusually irritable?

If so, stop for a moment.  First, put that extra cookie down!  While you’re up, put a lock on the fridge door!  Then, give that endless loop of puppies scampering through sunlit meadows a rest!

That should free up some time and attention for three classic comedy routines that, appropriately, squeeze a laugh out of frustration, futility, and fury.

They’re not a vaccine or a cure, but could be an Ibuprofen for the mind:

images1. Bob and Ray’s Slow Talkers of America.  (Bob and Ray were a comedy duo on the radio for decades.  My father loved them, and my sister and I learned to love them, listening in the car when, each week, Dad drove us home from piano lessons.  Many years later, Dad’s memorial service started with a recording of Slow Talkers … honest!)

(Google “Bob and Ray Slow Talkers.”  A You Tube video of the routine is ok, but probably better is the audio recording that shows up as the yellow record-jacket above.)

2. Monty Python’s Flying Circus’s Dead Parrot sketch.  (When we were living in London, Monty Python was just starting on British TV, but we didn’t have a set.  Back in theUnknown States, we watched them, and caught them live, in New York, in 1976.  John Cleese tantalized the audience by carrying a bird cage on-stage, then off, before the troupe finally did the sketch.)     

(Google “Monty Python Dead Parrot.”  Make sure it’s 5 minutes, 27 seconds; one view cuts it off in the middle.)

3. Gerard Hoffnung’s The Bricklayer Story:  (Hoffnung was a British humorist, artist, and images-1musician.  The Bricklayer Story was part of his address to the Oxford Union in 1958.)  

(Google: “Gerard Hoffnung Bricklayer Story You Tube.”  You might also try Gerard Hoffnung French Widows & Advice for Tourists, an equally hilarious part of his talk.)

In case you want to work it into your own stand-up routine, here’s the Bricklayer in print:

A striking lesson in keeping the upper lip stiff is given in a recent number of the weekly bulletin of ‘The Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors’ that prints the following letter from a bricklayer in Golders Green to the firm for whom he works:

“Respected sir,

When I got to the top of the building, I found that the hurricane had knocked some bricks off the top. So I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple of barrels full of bricks.

When I had fixed the building, there was a lot of bricks left over.

I hoisted the barrel back up again and secured the line at the bottom and then went up and filled the barrel with extra bricks.

Then I went to the bottom and cast off the line.

Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was heavier than I was and before I knew what was happening, the barrel started down, jerking me off the ground.

I decided to hang on, and halfway up, I met the barrel coming down and received a severe blow on the shoulder.

I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers jammed in the pulley.

When the barrel hit the ground, it burst its bottom, allowing all the bricks to spill out.

I was now heavier than the barrel and so started down again at high speed.

Halfway down, I met the barrel coming up and received severe injury to my shins.

When I hit the ground I landed on the bricks, getting several painful cuts from the sharp edges!

At this point I must have lost my presence of mind because I let go the line.

The barrel then came down, giving me another heavy blow on the head and putting me in  hospital!

I respectfully request sick leave.”

Uncivil Liberties

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I joined the protests over all the stay-at-home, business-closure, safe-distance, wear-a-mask rules the Covid pandemic has dumped on us.  Powerful stuff, but just the beginning!  We need to use the energy of this movement to confront other violations of our rights like:

Unknown-1Traffic Regulations:  Speed limits.  Why do we need them?  I’m a good driver.  I should be free to drive according to the situation.  For example, with so few cars on the road the last few weeks, I regularly get up to 60, sometimes 70, on city streets (even faster at night).  If I come up behind somebody poking along at 30 or 40, I pass him if the road’s clear.  All totally safe!

Same with stop-lights.  If there aren’t any other cars, or if they’re not up to the crossing yet, why stop at the red light?  It wastes gas, which means extra pollution (see, I can be an environmentalist when I feel like it).  Sure, if there’s a pedestrian or a car about to cross, I slow down, but there’ve been so few, I could drive with my eyes closed.

All I’m saying is, we’ve got a right to adjust to circumstances.  And, if there’s no such thing as speeding or running a light, we don’t need so many cops.  With fewer cops to pay, taxes could go down and, since governments will also be spending less on traffic lights, they don’t really need the money that drivers’ licenses bring in, so get rid of licenses too.  

Gun Control:  Basically the same situation as traffic.  The more you limit guns, the more you depend on the police to protect you.  If there were no limitations on guns, and everybody had one or, more to the point, if everybody assumed that everybody else had one, you wouldn’t need the police so much to keep the peace.  So, the police force gets even smaller, taxes go down more, and that’s more money that stays in our pockets.

Security Checks:  Think of the money that gets spent on security measures  — stadiums, schools, airports and all.  If we assume that anybody might have a gun, and we’re living in a kind of armistice, we don’t need all those security checks.  Together, we are the security checks.  Without that expense, costs go down, and so football tickets are cheaper, schooling is cheaper, and, with no more TSA, travel is easier, government costs go down, and so taxes can go down even more.

Schools:  Why should schooling be compulsory?  There are lots of kids who don’t want to be there, and actually cause more trouble than there’d be without them.  I’m not against learning.  I tried some once.  But the truth is that the kids who want to learn suffer from the trouble caused by the kids who don’t.

Sure, there are plenty of parents who say they couldn’t hold down a job if their kids weren’t in school.  But that’s just admitting that what they want is baby-sitters, not teachers.  So, with less need for teachers, taxes go down and maybe the laid-off teachers can get jobs (not at taxpayer expense!) as baby-sitters for the kids who aren’t in school.

Zoning Codes:  I should have a right to do what I want with my property.  Right now, my house takes up only about a third of my land.  If I want to build out to the edge, what right does anybody else have to object?  What do they think?  That I’m going to make it into a whorehouse or a rock’n roll bar?  Though, what if I did?  I have a right!

Noise Ordinances:  I  own a motorcycle.  I like to work on it, which means starting it up in my back yard.  So my neighbors complain.  I have a right to own my bike, and so I have a right to use it, and so I have a right, even an obligation, to keep it in safe running order.  Yes, it makes noise when I fix it and when I ride it, but so did the Model T back in the old days and no one told Henry Ford to put a muffler on it or they’d shut down his factory!

Shouting “FIRE” in a Crowded Theater:  Of course, there’s no chance to do that now,Unknown-2 with all of them closed.  But, when they re-open, I think I’ll give it a try.  Yeah, it’ll probably empty the place, but that’s the idea. Then, I won’t have to worry about someone sitting too close to me and maybe infecting me and killing me.

I’ll take my chances with the cops and the feds and the judges.  If I can’t live free, “Sweet Land of Liberty” might as well just be words in some song!

Did I Ever Tell You The One About …?

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Viruses dominate our lives.  We shudder at the fiendish damage COVID-19, SARS, MERS, EBOLA and others cause.

But there is one virus to which we give little thought, though it, too, can spread exponentially and cause serious health problems, including labored breathing, temporary blockage of the throat and nasal passages, tearing-up of the eyes, reddening of the face, and, in the most extreme cases, stomach and chest pain.

Virus experts know it as THE JOKE.

As a public service, we here at CJC (The Center for Joke Control) periodically publish examples to which our more vulnerable citizens may be susceptible.  We recognize that doing so runs the risk of exposing them to the very consequences we hope to prevent.  But advising citizens of the potential danger of jokes, and providing them with proven non-lethal samples, is vital in helping build their immunity and, thus, maintaining the health of our populace.

Here is our most recent advisory bulletin:

WARNING: YOU ARE ABOUT TO ENTER AN ACTIVE JOKE ZONE.  PLEASE BE SURE YOU ARE SEATED FIRMLY IN A STURDY CHAIR TO PREVENT YOUR FALLING ON THE FLOOR, AND THAT YOU ARE EQUIPPED WITH A HANDKERCHIEF OR TISSUE TO MINIMIZE DAMAGE TO THE EYES OR BLOCKAGE OF THE THROAT.  DO NOT, DURING THE READING OF THESE SAMPLES, INGEST ANY LIQUID:

1. Guy goes to the doctor.  “What’s wrong?” the doctor asks.  “It hurts when I press my right finger on my left shoulder, like this.”  “Anything else?” the doctor asks.  “It hurts when I press my finger on my stomach, like this.”  “Anything else?”  Same with my neck.”  “Well, it’s obvious.”  “Yes?”  “You have a broken finger.”

2. A wizened rag-and-bone man pushes his cart up a city street, calling out,  “Old bottles, newspapers …”  From a third-floor window, a woman calls to him to come up.  He does.  She lets him into the apartment and asks if he’d like a cup of coffee.  “Oh, okeh … tenks verah  much!”  One thing leads to another and they get into bed.  When it’s over, she compliments  him: “You’re very good at that.”  “Oh, tenks verah much,” and he leaves.  Back on the street, he picks up his cart and shuffles on:  “Old bottles, newspapers, fucking …”

3. Old man goes to the doctor.  “What’s wrong?” the doctor asks.  “I can’t pee.”  “How old are you?”  “87.”  “You’ve peed enough.”

4. Guy has a parrot with an incredibly foul mouth.  He tries everything to get the parrot to  stop.  Nothing works.  He even threatens to put it in the freezer and, when the threat fails, he does it.  After about fifteen minutes in there, the parrot screams to get out.  The guy opens the freezer and the parrot vows he’ll never swear again.  So the guy lets him out. “One question,” the parrot says“Yeah?”  “The chicken in there.”  “Yeah?”  “What the hell did he do?”

5. A grandma is sitting at the seashore, by the water’s edge. Her grandson is playing in the sand beside her.  Suddenly, an enormous wave comes and sweeps the child out to sea.  The grandma falls to her knees, looks to the sky and cries out:  “God, oh God, please, oh please, send him back, my beloved, my only grandson!”  A moment of quiet … suddenly an enormous wave sweeps in again and deposits the boy on the sand beside her.  She grabs the boy, hugs and kisses him, and looks him over.  She pauses … looks again to the sky …  “He had a hat!”

(The CJC thanks our staff member’s wonderful brother-in-law and sister, his beloved late cousin, his former Ambassador to Singapore, and one other source he can’t recall, for their generosity and joke-telling talent)

The Ones That Got Away

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(Note:  In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is difficult to think about anything else.  But it helps to escape, occasionally, into the comfort of quieter, less perilous times.  Reverie now, reality later.)       

In life, there are truths, lies, and fish stories.  Fish stories may end in truth — finally landed that sumbitch — but they usually get there by way of invention, if not outright prevarication.

These three stories, however, really are true, if a bit off-beat, and occasionally manipulated for effect:

1. My father was a trout fisherman.  He didn’t boast about his fishing successes.  He was, by nature, modest, as were his fishing skills.

imagesIn his retirement years, he transitioned from catch-and-keep bait-fishing — when success (or failure) was measured by what he brought home (or didn’t) — to catch-and-release fly-fishing, when what he brought home were stories like this:

He was at his favorite spot, on Fish Creek, north of Utica, NY.  Fish Creek’s bed is rocky and slippery.  As he worked a fast-running stretch of water, above a deep, slow-moving pool, he slipped and dropped his pole in the stream.  The fast water swept the pole away and carried it quickly into the pool before he could recover.

He figured that was it, that his fly rod would lie forever at the bottom of the pool.  But, instead, it floated slowly on.  (A fly rod is very light, and most fly-fishing lines float, so the line wound on the reel may have helped.)  

He was able to recover his footing and make his way to the downstream end of the pool in time to grab the rod before it could enter another long, fast stretch.  As he got himself reorganized and began to reel the fishing line in, it resisted.  He assumed it had snagged itself on something just under the surface, probably a waterlogged branch or a mossy stone.

As he tried to free the line, it resisted even more actively, began moving back and forth, and, suddenly, rocketed up out of the water in the shape of a trout.  The fish had somehow hooked itself as the fly floated through the pool.  Dad reeled the fish in, unhooked it, put it back in the water, called it a day, and returned home with a story that became a family joke about just how much skill it takes to catch a fish.

2. When I was living in Colorado Springs in the early 1990’s, I took a fly-tying class and, during break, recounted Dad’s story to our instructor.  As it turned out, he had a similar one:

He was up on the South Platte River, west of Colorado Springs, in South Park, a flat plain in the midst of the Rockies.  Like a stream in a cow-pasture, the South Platte there has carved a meandering path through the fields.  Except in drought or flood, its water-level is close to bank-level.

He was fishing with a dry fly, floating it along the surface.   As the fly passed close to the bank, a trout exploded out of the water, completely missed the fly, and landed on the bank where, flapping desperately to try to get back into the water, it merely moved itself farther and farther from the stream.

Our fisherman quickly crossed the stream, hoisted himself up onto the bank, got hold of the madly flapping fish, got it back to the bank and slipped it gently back into the water.

(He didn’t mention whether this, too, became a family joke about fishing skill.)

3. When I was living in Israel, I regularly fished on the Dan River, in the country’s far north, near Mt. Hermon and the Golan Heights.  My quest was for rainbow trout, which are not native to Israel, but escapees from kibbutz fish-farms that utilize the area’s cold mountain water.

I seldom encountered other fishers, though I did once briefly share a stretch of stream with a snorkeling spear-gun fisherman.  (And the Dan River was too small for dynamite-fishing that was not uncommon in the Sea of Galilee, farther downstream.)

One time, fishing from the shallow edge of a quiet pool, I sensed someone watching from the bank, behind me.  I didn’t turn around, but could feel that he was edging slowly closer.  In the meantime, I caught and released a good-size rainbow.

Finally, he came up to the edge of the pool, and politely cleared his throat.  I turnedUnknown-2 around, waded back to the bank, and we greeted each other.  He seemed puzzled at what I was doing, and finally said, very politely, You know, the forel … the trout … is very good to eat …

I agreed, and searched for a way to explain my strange behavior.  Finally, I simply said, I fish just for enjoyment … for sport.  He nodded, with a still-puzzled look, wished me well, and walked on.  I fished a little longer, reeled in my line, walked to the kibbutz’s guava orchard where my car was parked, and drove home, fishless but contented, as always.

The Covid-eo Classroom

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Well, good morning students … how nice to see you again, even if it is through our laptops …  it seems eons since we were all together and … yes, David? … what are eons? … good question … let’s hold that for now … I’ll work it into our spelling lesson …

And thank you, David, for raising your hand and not fidgeting … we want to stay orderly so that we can see each other and give everyone a chance for questions and answers … remember, if you move, even just a little bit, we may not be able to see you …

Good … now, let me take attendance … I  know David’s here, and I see Peggy and  … ok, I images-1see eleven of you, but you should be twe … oh, there’s Debbie … where did you go? … you dropped your iPad on the floor? … it’s fine, I can see and hear you perfectly now …

Normally, we’d start with the Pledge of Allegiance, but we don’t have a flag, so … yes Philip? … you have a flag? … can we see it? … oh my, a New York Mets pennant … I’m not sure a pledge to the Mets is quite what we want … let’s wait a bit on that …

Are we ready? … oh, someone’s phone is ringing … it’s yours, Peggy? … could you silence it please … aah, your mother’s at work and she wants to be able to check on you? … I see … could you let me talk to her … yes, just hold your phone up to your iPad … hi, Mrs. Wilder, this is Miss Rose, and, since Peggy’s right here on my screen, perhaps, during class, she could turn it off? … oh, it’s because they’re delivering your new puppy from the pound and they’re to phone her before they arrive … I see … oh, no problem, we’ll manage …

OK class,  let’s get down to work now, first, our spelling words, so … yes, Mark? … the bathroom? … but, why did you wait until? … everybody’s home and there’s only one? … I understand … of course you can …

Now, spelling … I want you to write down each word as I read … yes, Mary? … no pencil? … can anyone help? … yes, Charles? … oh goodness, I’m getting a little flustered … did you hear that, Mary? … you can type on your laptop … just give it a try … if it doesn’t work, we’ll figure out something …

Anyway, let’s … James, do I see your hand up? … what? … no, you’ll have to wait until Mark gets back … yes, I know it’s two separate houses, but it’s difficult enough keeping track of all of you when you bounce in and out of the picture … yes, please do try to sit still, and then you can go once Mark returns …

Now, where was I? … oh yes,  let’s … what was that popping noise? … bubble gum? … Melissa, you’re the only one I can’t see … is it you? … I want you back on-screen now! … oh my, what a mess … no, no, don’t scrape it off and stick it under your chair … I know it’s your house and your chair, but it’s our classroom … just wrap it in a tissue and … there, that should do it …

Well now, if we’re all ready, our first spelling word is … oh my, do I hear a phone again? … yours, Peggy? … they’re at your front door? … of course you can …

OK, we’ll proceed without Peggy for a bit and I see Mark is back, so … yes, James, I see your hand and, yes, you can go … I’ll repeat any words you miss …

I think we’re ready, at last … our first spelling word is … what in the?! … ah, it’s the new puppy … we’ll have to take a break for that, and … what was that, Peggy, you want to show it to the class? … sure, go ahead … can everyone see? … oh, isn’t it cute … ok now, I think that’s enough, so, Peggy, please put it down and we’ll proceed with our spelling lesson … thank you, dear …

So, our word is … ah, James, I see you’re back … no, you haven’t missed anything except Peggy’s new puppy … no, not now, you can see it at the end of … oh, you have to leave early? … well, all right … Peggy, would you hold up the puppy so James can see …

Good … now, finally,  I think we’re ready for spelling … here we go … oh dear, now my phone is ringing … I’m so sorry, but I’ll have to take it, it’s from the principal …

… Well, that was interesting … the Board of Education has decided that we won’t be goingimages back to regular classes until the fall … settle down now, settle down … this doesn’t mean summer vacation has started … I said this doesn’t mean summer …

… Oh, dear, I can’t see a single one of them … I’ve lost them totally … and David still doesn’t know what eons are, let alone how it’s spelled …

The Masque of the Red Death

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Desperate to protect myself against the Coronavirus, I have tested, but found wanting, the standard defenses:  liquid sanitizers, medicinal wipes, compulsive hand-washing, a large No Soliciting sign on the front door, hiding in the dark under my bed.

I considered a mask, and did extensive research, but concluded that the regular design would not be effective.

In the course of my research, however, a simple Google request for masks did produce a remarkable trove from cultures, worldwide, that have used masks for protection from evil spirits and other malign forces.

I considered, but ultimately rejected, a number of possibilities:

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Too Benign

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Too Frivolous

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Too Welcoming

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Too Apprehensive

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Too Friendly

I considered a few that seemed appropriately threatening:

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Darkly Forbidding

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Unpredictably Ferocious

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Unambiguously Diabolical

But, in the end, the choice came down to two:

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Utterly Repulsive

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Thoroughly Repugnant

I have tried both, and they work magnificently.  Even those who might want to attack me keep their distance, and it’s much more than the recommended six feet!