Archive for August 2008

Fur farming

August 28, 2008

College summers I worked as a landscaper in Pittsford, NY. That seasonal employment attracted students as well as an occasional mature adult who was transient or “between jobs.” On one crew we had a man who was the recently deposed art director of an advertising agency. Another crew had a man with a PhD in Biology.

One of these adults was Fred. Fred owned a mink ranch, a huge operation in a county east of Pittsford. His mink ranch was in financial trouble. He was trying to arrange re-financing to remain in business. Meanwhile he was mowing and raking lawns. The first day I worked with Fred, he asked if we could go to lunch an hour early. He had to call Lloyds of London, in England, by eleven, since they were four hours ahead of us. I ate at the counter in the diner while Fred worked the pay phone with stacks of quarters set up as if he were a bank teller.

Back in the truck I asked, “How do you kill a mink? Do you gas them?”

“No,” said Fred. “It’d be impractical to gas them one-at-a-time, and if you did two or more together, they’re so vicious they’d rip each other to shreds.”

“So, then…?” I sensed he’d rather be talking about something else.

He took a deep breath. “I open the cage, reach in real fast, grab ’em and snap their necks.”

“That’s practical? How many can you kill like that?” I asked.

“I’ve done 2,000 in a day,” he answered.

“What happens if you miss?”

He pulled up his sleeve, exposing his forearm. The maze of tooth scars was surreal, as if he were made up for a “B” horror movie.

What’s in a name?

August 27, 2008

Janice was kind of wild. So was I. We worked together at Kodak when we were in our twenties. She accompanied us “guys” when we went to lunch together at the little restaurant next door and played pool. A couple Friday nights, she and I went out on the town. Just the two of us. We weren’t romantically involved, we just enjoyed each other’s company.

One Friday night we went into a bar that turned out to be a lesbian bar. We ordered a couple beers, stuck our quarters in the pool table and played a game of pool. We were then challenged to a doubles match by two women. I don’t remember who won that game, but I do remember that one of the women on the other team took offense at our being there as a couple; seemingly at our very existence. Words were exchanged between Janice and one of them; the woman broke a cue stick over the table. We were ordered out for being troublemakers. Once safely down the street, we laughed at how seemingly jealous of us, and utterly out of control that one woman had become.

Over the years I’ve tried to find Janice’s name in the phone book and on-line. I’ve asked former co-workers if they knew what became of her. I wanted to call her and ask her to meet me at that bar. She’d get a kick out of that. I finally found her, just recently. In the obituaries: Janice S—–, with her maiden name in parentheses.

Why, in these modern times, do women give up their names and take their husband’s? And virtually disappear in the process? For what purpose is this? Is the husband more important than the wife?

The Hawaiians are coming! The Hawaiians are coming!

August 25, 2008

This weekend I caught segments of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. I’m not really a fan; I just stumbled upon the broadcast and was immediately captivated by the action. Three pitches in twenty seconds. Four-foot-something kids knocking the ball out of the park. Struck-out batters walking respectfully from the plate. Defensive plays like you’d see made by pros: catching wild grounders and lobbing the ball into first base in time to catch the runner; sprinting across the outfield and catching the ball without missing a beat. And no booing of umpire calls.

The players must have received a directive about the display of attitude on the field. Although one Hawaiian batter, in a come-back inning, did a victory dance that will likely be televised for months to come. One member of the opposing Louisiana team sobbbed openly.

The kids weren’t the only ones wearing their hearts on their sleeves. The announcer said that on Saturday, Hawaiian team fans watched the semi-final game on large screens in a club back in Oahu; many had to leave the club because they could not take the pressure, six thousand miles away.

On Sunday Hawaii played Mexico for the World Championship. I saw the grim looks on the faces of the Mexican players and parents as Hawaii steadily scored runs and struck out Mexican batters. The Mexican pitcher even stepped off the mound and made the sign of the cross, but the handwriting was on the wall. This was bigger than pro sports. Bigger than multi-million dollar contracts. This was the most respectful two hours of sports I’ve ever witnessed.

Kiss live! Kiss unplugged. Kiss dead.

August 23, 2008

Kiss in action:

The three axemen leave the stage; the drummer comes forward and sings the ballad, Beth:

The three axemen wait it out backstage while the drummer sings Beth:

Bald eagle crashes wedding

August 22, 2008

Last week my nephew and his fiancee, Chris, got married. They had an outdoor wedding with a Hawaiian theme. The ceremony was held in a gazebo, at the north end of Hemlock Lake, one of the smaller Finger Lakes here in Upstate New York. It was a quite a sight seeing 150 people in wild Hawaiian shirts – many with leis – walking along the shore. Several fishermen, sitting quietly and unsuspectingly on the shore with their lines in the water, had this “What the H—?” look on their faces when we all arrived

There’s a bald eagle’s nest at the other end of the lake – about eight miles south. However, during the entire wedding ceremony, the eagle opted to soar directly above the gazebo; albeit high up, you could still see his white head and tail with the naked eye.

Someone said, “Your wedding is blessed; there’s a bald eagle hovering above.”

Some ones else said, “Yeh, ‘blessed,’ like in ‘e pluribus unum;’ you’re gonna be rich!”

Sunshine and an eagle. It could have been rain and mosquitoes. It’s nice when you have an outdoor affair and nature cooperates.

Cell phone culture: how convenient!

August 20, 2008

Cell phones are convenient. You can call almost anyone, from almost anywhere. Cell phones are also one of the biggest hose-the-consumer rackets out there, just behind the credit card dictatorship government under which we live. With cell phones you can pay for extra charges almost anytime, anywhere.

You start by buying a new phone for $200. Remember when a desk phone was $20 or $30? Within eighteen months you need a replacement phone, since the “old” one doesn’t charge properly. Since you’re a good customer, they’ll let you upgrade for $70 more. In all my extended family, no one ever had to buy a new replacement home phone. They lasted literally forever.

Cell phone companies charge a $5.00 late fee. Doesn’t sound like a lot? Wait a minute; if your monthly phone bill is $45, then $5.00 represents an 11% late fee.

My old phone bill was less than $20 a month, or about $200 a year. Now its $600 and I’m locked into a contract.

Cell phone companies are charging their customers from every possible angle. Just who is setting the status quo here, anyway? I thought deregulation was supposed to be good for the consumer. I won’t be surprised if one day – soon – I discover I am now being charged by my cell phone company for processing my bill payment.

Cell phone culture: the umbilical cord

August 18, 2008

Sitting near me in the diner was a man in a work uniform. His cell rang. He answered it, listened for a moment, then said, “You need to order the whole valve assembly. The guy at Debby Supply will know; just tell him ‘the whole assembly.’ I’ll pick it up there in about forty-five minutes…good-bye.”

That may be the single cell phone conversation I’ve heard, since the advent of that electronic umbilical cord, that sounded necessary. A friend told me she was recently walking from her car in the parking lot, into the college where her husband works. Ahead of her walking was a young man talking on his cell phone. She heard him say, “I’m walking from my car into the school right now.”

Okay, okay, I’m not a fan of the cell phone. I should get off the playing field. But wait, these yakkers with no sense of personal boundaries are on MY playing field. I’m waiting for the guy in front of me talking on his cell phone to realize the light turned green. I’m waiting for the woman in front of me at the checkout trying to find her money in her purse using just one hand while holding her umbilical cord with the other, carrying on a conversation of dire importance: “Well, you know, I mean, I don’t know…” A frustrated look appears on her face as if we – here in line and the cashier – are the problem, not the phone call.

In the same diner a man called in an entire weekly sales report on his cell. Like most men on their cells, he talked loudly. I wanted to say, “Let’s make a deal; I won’t bring my lunch to your office, and you won’t bring your office to my lunch.” That was when cell phones first came out. It’s been more than a decade now and the deal still holds.

Stay on your side of the hump! riding in the car then and now

August 15, 2008

Modern car safety laws may have made our lives safer, but in some instances have reduced our quality of life. When families drove around in the ’50s and ’60s we kids could climb over the seats and beat the crap out of each other. We could trespass on our brother’s side of the back seat and beat the crap out of him: “Mom, Dad! Bobby won’t stay on his side of the hump!” The ‘hump’ housed the drive shaft which passed under the car to power the rear wheels.

With the trend toward one airbag per passenger, this virtually eliminates front bench seats. You can’t sit next to your honey and throw your arm around her neck and take your eyes off the road. Or go to the drive-in theater, which they don’t have anymore. If you’re eight, you can’t sit between your mom and dad in front. When I was five I could stand up in the front seat between my mom and dad, with my head jammed into the ceiling; I was just the right height to be the world’s best co-pilot.

Child seats; same issue. How many couples have you seen driving with one at the wheel and the other in the back seat to accommodate the child safety seat up front? When you consider traveling in a car can often be the most quality face time a couple will have during their busy day, that arrangement is no good. It would be nice to have the mother and father both in front and one of them holding the child in their arms. But Big Brother says “No.”

Washington State: logging mania

August 13, 2008

I’m not a tree hugger. I was once in the firewood business, personally involved in converting thousands of trees to woodstove heat, fireplace atmosphere, and ultimately, smoke up the chimney. Those were good times. It was good work. Perhaps because I cut down so many trees, I’m more aware of them than people who drive past them every day but never cut them up. In the years since my firewooding days, during which I have heated partially with wood, I’ve learned how to salvage free wood without cutting down another tree.

Washington is synonymous with trees. In Seattle, crossing an expanse of water on a high bridge, I viewed the waterfront below me; half-a-square mile of flat area lined with railroad tracks. It is the biggest trainyard I’ve ever seen. Across the board, the waiting train cars were loaded with lumber. Every form – from raw to finished: massive beams seemingly as big as Roman columns, six-by-six landscaping beams, to two-by-fours, plywood, and particle board. A lot of wood comes through Seattle.

It comes from northwestern Washington. Which I also visited. I passed bare, eroding hillsides where the trees had clearly been stripped away, leaving nothing to hold the soil. Likely stolen, since the harvesters started right at the roadside and worked their way back from the road a quarter-mile. There was no pattern to it. While marveling at this  unchecked madness I passed a pick-up truck with spotted owls painted on the fender like notches on a gun. Another pick-up sported a bumper sticker: “Are you an environmentalist or do you work for a living?”

Until I visited The Evergreen State, the idea that any natural resource in our country was trully threatened never sank in. Environmentalists have been yelling forever that the sky is falling, but it’s still as blue and sunny as it ever was. Then I visited Wshington and saw where loggers ran through like thieves in a closed store grabbing armloads of free stuff. Washington seems to be a textbook case of “Resource Mismanagement.”

Washington State: Geoduck farming on the Puget Sound

August 11, 2008


Every state seems to have its idiosyncrasies. Arizona, its dry heat; Nevada, its exploding population; Massachusetts, its colonial history; Minnesota, its lakes. The state of Washington, which I’ve visited, has several. Among them are extreme wealth, lumbering mania, and – one I never heard of until I visited – clam-like animals called geoducks (pronounced “gooey” ducks).

They are grown on the beaches of the Puget Sound. Geoduck farmers take four-inch diameter plastic pipe, cut it into foot-long sections, and drive thousands of these into the sand at the medium-high tide mark. They then place a baby geoduck inside each of these mini-corrals. Incoming tides carry tiny floating sea organisms that the geoducks eat. After a year or two the geoducks grow to saleable size. China is a major market for these bizzare-looking animals. They consider them a dining delicacy and pay up to $35 a pound retail for them. That’s the good news.

The other news is that a lot of people don’t appreciate seeing acre upon acre of shoreline “planted” with white PVC pipes sticking up out of the sand. It is estimated that there are over 100 million geoducks being raised on the beaches of the Puget Sound. Each has a pipe. The Sound is one of the few places where these things will grow. The tide is right; the water temperature is right; sufficient numbers of organisms are in the water for the geoducks to eat.

The money trail will surely dictate whether these geoduck farms will remain. In fact, $35 a pound suggests they’ll expand.