Thursday, February 24, 2011


My wife doesn't care much for spiders, but I don't really mind them at all.

In fact, I believe
spiders are your friends. I believe this because if it weren't for spiders, you know, if they all suddenly disappeared, in about six weeks we would be up to our hips in insects. And I really do hate insects. Slimy, filthy, disease-carrying insects! I hate them.

And this is from the boy who grew up in Miami where there are more insects per square inch than most other tropical rain forests. Oh, maybe that's why!

Since I do not carry my wife's gene for irrational fear of arachnids, she calls on me to administer certain 'tasks'. Like last night when she noticed a tiny little mark on the ceiling over the bed that turned out to be a spider.

"Get him for me, would you?", she asked. "he's going to drop on top of me at night and bite me!" Sure, spider-person can take of that. She didn't explain how she knew the spider was of a masculine bent.

This is what the spider looked like, except it was rather smaller than a dime. Feeling very masculine, I went down to get a glass and I asked her to turn the alarm off for me.

"Why?", she wanted to know.

"Because I'm going to throw him outside. Spiders are your friends."

"Hmmph!" she hmmphed at me, "he'll just come back in. I would have flushed him down the toilet!"

"Of course you would have", I mumbled to myself, not having the nerve to say it out loud. "That's why I'M getting him down from the ceiling instead of you." Hah! Don't tell me I don't know that discretion is the better part of valor. This is not my first hayride.

I was getting the glass because I know enough about spiders to know their hairy little velcro legs don't work on glass because there's nothing for them to latch onto.

Magazine publishers very kindly provide a supply of those little thin stiff card inserts whose only use appears to be to scrape spiders into a glass once you've placed the glass over the little bugger. So... thanks for that.

So, I took him (or her) downstairs, opened the door to the deck and gave the glass a sharp fling to send him off into the night. It was a sharp fling, just short of the fling that would have sent the glass along with it's occupant into the darkness. As I shut the door, confident of my long-tested skill at such tasks (I said I grew up in Miami), I happened to glance down and I felt my
eyes bug out of my head (sorry, I didn't get a photo).

The sticky little freak was still in the glass! And I had given him my best fling. Many thoughts crowded into my fevered skull.

Had I lost my flinging skill? Was I seeing things? Had I imagined the fling, you know, projected it into my memory like we talked about a couple of posts ago?

Or, most likely, this was a mutant spider capable of walking on glass!

Holy crap! This would change everything. Spiders would be able to get to us anywhere. Could they talk now, too? Could they do long division? I can't even do long division anymore! We're doomed! Maybe I'd better get this guy to a scientist to see if he's developed suction cups on this legs.

But it was not to be, because my instincts had kicked in. Before my brain knew what I was doing, my body had opened the door and launched that sucker with enough sub-orbital force that Gus Grissom would have been proud. It's possible that he's still accelerating in the air somewhere over Schenectady
. So I'll never know what his secret was, I just know he's not doing his evil dance in this house any more.

Disclaimer!! - Don't mess with spiders. Some of them can kill you or provide you with a nasty necrotic, open suppurating wound that will take months to heal. Leave them alone, they'll eat the bugs for you without your help.

I was going to close this post with an image of some terrible spider bite but you can go look them up yourself, they're too gross even for me!

Instead, I'm going to leave you with this example of something not to do with a spider. Even if you are Spiderman!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Elementary, My Dear Watson

No, I'm not talking about the Watson IBM computer system that has been playing Jeopardy so well. But that was the trigger for this post.

'Watson' in that instance, was Thomas Watson who turned IBM into what it is today. He was a revolutionary businessman, salesman and policy-maker. Of course, he's dead now, has been for a long time.

He doesn't look like a lot of fun, but then, neither do I.

But when I heard the name 'Watson', my mind jumped to the sound bite in the title of this post that was made famous by Sherlock Holmes.

You, the gentle reader, are probably already aware that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock's creator, never wrote such a line. Sherlock did once say, "Elementary", and he was talking to Watson, but that's about it.

That line became famous in the movies, where the actor who played Sherlock did speak it out loud.

So when I heard the line, my mind (such as it is) jumped to my elementary school in North Miami, Florida. For those of you with good memories, you will recall I wrote about William Jennings Bryan Elementary School once before back in my post from February 1, 2009.

The current building was completed in 1928, which in Elementary School years is well before the dawn of man. My daughter, who attended Burnside Elementary in Norristown, Pennsylvania lost her school to the wrecking ball.

In the Norristown Area School District Board of School Directors Regular Meeting of October 25, 2004, after congratulating themselves in the minutes declared the Burnside School should be demolished since 'the building is no longer necessary for District operations'. It had been closed since June 30, 1999. So much for history. Tear it all down.

Bryan, on the other hand, is still a living, active school even after 82 years which included hurricanes, wars, floods and famine. I can still walk the halls, I know because I just did.

There's been a school on that site since 1914. So what if the first one burned down? They just rebuilt it better than ever. And the originally named Arch Creek School was renamed in honor of William Jennings Bryan who ran for President three times and was Secretary of State and a Congressman. He may be most famous for serving as council in the Scopes Trial, the 'Monkey Trial' of evolution fame.

Bryan had a winter home in Miami, so I guess he was a popular local figure. He was almost President three times, but no one knows who he is today. We should bear that in mind when considering our own lives.

Here's a photo of his winter home, it sort of looks like the school a little if you squint.

Originally, the school operated with eight grades and then you went on to 'high school' for the last four. By the time my brother and I went there, it was a true 'elementary' school, just the first six grades. I went there for the whole six.

My family lived down at the end of what was then a dead-end street and access to other kids was limited. And everyone can tell you that my brother was no fun, so I was very excited about going to school. I loved going to school, it was a world of books and writing and playing outside. The school was a sanctuary.

We could walk to school in about fifteen minutes if we followed the Florida East Coast (FEC) railroad tracks. I guess we were on the 'other' side of the tracks. Haaa! It's difficult to comprehend that we walked alone through what was essentially an open tract of wilderness. Five steps off the railroad tracks, and you were in raw Miami, untouched by human hands. Then, bang, you were on NW 125th. Street and the school was in sight.

Look how welcoming the front gate is! It looks like it's saying "Come in!" Or, alternatively, "I'm going to eat you!"

It was designed as a rectangle around a central courtyard with a fountain. And it's all still there.

You can see the hallways are all open air. This was Miami in the fifties, there was no 'air conditioning'. If you were hot, you sweat, deal with it. The classrooms had huge windows that had a hook on a lever at the top. When you wanted to open them (even little kids), you used a long wooden pole with a knob to fit into the hole, pull down and the whole huge window opened effortlessly. When the rain came (it's Miami, folks) we had to hurry to close them.

The hallways had red tile floors that were built to last, even under the crush of so many little feet. Yes, all still there.

The stairs were designed for little legs, so they had a lower riser and remarkably, they are still original equipment. How lucky am I that they built it so well? With the original steel cross-hatch protectors in place. These are the very ones I stepped on more than half a hundred years ago.

Of course, you can't forget that this is 2011, so some stranger can't just stumble into an elementary school and start wandering around. So, when I stopped in the last time I was in Miami, I went to the office and announced myself wondering if they were just going to take a shot at me.

But one of the office workers very kindly offered to escort me around, so she got me into the auditorium which was being renovated, but still had the "B" logo and curtain structure that I recalled. When I saw it, I remembered that I performed in several plays there. I had forgotten all about it, but whammo, it all came back!

Then she took me to the cafeteria which appeared smaller to me for some reason. Am I ... bigger?

As we were leaving, I asked her if she had ever been to the third floor. She looked at me funny and said, "No this is a two story building".

Knowing better, I took her to a door she didn't know was there and took her upstairs to the secret third floor. A million years ago, it was another small classroom, but now it's just a storage area. It was thick with dust and memories.

I can only imagine what she said to her co-workers when she went back to her desk. "Dude! You should see what I just saw!"

When I went back to my car, I noticed the trees that rimmed the school property. Back on Arbor Day in 1958, they came around and picked a half dozen kids from class, one from each grade, to help plant the trees and I was one of them. So, here's a photo of my legacy from April 25, 1958.

And I don't need Watson's ninety servers to remember it, either, just a couple of synapses. How about that!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Youthful Memories

So, what's the very first thing you remember? I know people who say they can remember things from when they were one year old. Really? I can barely recall what I had for breakfast. However, the first 'image' I have as a memory is of a planter.
Yes, I know. Some of you are certainly thinking, 'This explains a lot'. My family lived in an apartment on NE 82nd. Street near Biscayne Boulevard (US 1) in Miami until I was two or so. This is my Mom trying to hold me up in the courtyard behind the apartment due to the extreme weight of my diaper, and look, the planter!

Of, course, I wonder, as we all should with our 'memories': Do I actually have an authentic memory, or have I convinced myself it is for real? Do I 'remember' the planter or did I look at this photograph as a small child and insert the memory in my own tiny but hyperactive brain?

The photograph had been lost to me for nearly sixty years but when I saw it again I recognized the planter instantly, the shape, the grapes, the little palm tree. It must have made quite an impression on me, being my size and all. It may have stuck out brightly amidst all the grownup legs that many children are lost among.
I have had other instances in my life where I 'remembered' something very clearly only to have it unequivocally proven that it didn't happen that way! Was I protecting myself, perhaps attempting valiantly to make myself appear better? Yeah, like that will happen!

Well, that's what I first remember, along with fleeting images of scenery - like through a car window. I could see through the car windows because my mother was probably holding me in her arms. My parents never owned a car seat. They probably never heard of a car seat and I'm willing to lay down good money that neither of them ever used a seat belt in their lives.

Yet, my brother and I are still alive! How??

Speaking of cars, when I was a kid my father was an automobile mechanic. Actually, he was an automobile mechanic before I was born, before my parents were married and long after I was a grown man. It just sounds better to say, 'When I was kid...'.

The first
car I remember my father owning was a Terraplane. Yes, a Terraplane. What? Haven't heard of them? They were built by the Hudson Motor Company in the mid-thirties.

John Dillinger drove a Terraplane for a while, they had an excessively sized engine compared to body weight, so they were fast.

You know, it just occurs to me now, having written the name down, that this word is a play on 'airplane'. A terraplane would be an earth-plane or
ground-plane. See 'terra firma' (solid ground) or 'terra cotta' (pottery made from earth or clay).

Interestingly, my planter may have been terra cotta, how's that for 'everything's a circle'?
Back to my father's Terraplane, I have no idea whether the model and year he owned was the same as in the photo here, although the condition was probably about what you see. I can't show you any photograph, why would anyone want to take a PHOTOGRAPH??
Notice a couple of features on this puppy. First, the suicide doors that open backward from what is normal today. It was easy to get in and out of, but don't accelerate with the door open or you're in deep water!

This car had 'running boards', essentially a built-in step to help to get up into the seat. They were also very useful for cops to stand on and fire shots at John Dillinger who was trying to escape.
The model my father had definitely had no back seat and the front seat was just one long bench. And the front windshield was separated into two, much cheaper panes of flat (non-safety) glass.

Note also the radically simplified dashboard. No unnecessary knobs or flashing lights. You may notice the single knob to the left through the steering wheel - that's the choke. No fancy-schmancy automatic choke. You had to operate this locomotive. You turned the key, pulled out the choke and pushed down on a little knobby on the floor to start the car.

Notice also that there's only room in the front for two adults and a brother. The little kid had to ride up in the back window and I don't recall any seat belt up there for me either. Fortunately, we never had a head-on collision - that I can remember.
Unfortunately, I don't recall if my father's model had the last feature I wish to point out. If you look at the trunk, you'll notice that it opens backward as well, from the front to the back. And it wasn't a 'trunk' at all! It was another seat. An open-air, no-way-to-get-into, better-hope-for-dry-weather-in-Miami seat. They were popular for quite a while, they were called rumble-seats.

Guess why.

As circumstance would have it, I DO have a photograph of my mother in a rumble seat, long before she met my father. This was taken on the Fourth of July, 1942. That's my Mom on the left in the rumble seat and my Aunt Del in the passenger seat. Aunt Del isn't in the rumble seat because she's pregnant with my cousin Audrey who wouldn't be born for a couple of months yet. Please - no rumbling.
Remind me... How are we alive?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bleed for Me

I was never what you'd call a 'sickly' child. I didn't have asthma like my older and handsomer brother Dave.
Look at him, isn't he cute? But, no, I didn't have hemophilia or any sort of wasting disease like consumption which was really usually just tuberculosis.

Interestingly, my grandfather, Peter Kleylein, did die of tuberculosis, but as far as I know my brother never had consumption. Just asthma... and bad shirts.

So, although I wasn't sickly, I was thin. Of course, in those days, we never used such a politically correct word as 'thin'. In those days, I was 'skinny'. I
was a skinny kid and I couldn't put weight on if you held a gun to my head. I could knock back a pint of chocolate ice cream or a whole huge bag of Hershey's Kisses (mmm, Hershey's kisses) at one sitting.

So, for the first two thirds of my life, I could eat as much as I wished - of ANYTHING. When I was working the midnight to eight shift as a Controls Analyst at Eastern Airlines in Miami I brought five sandwiches (homemade bread sandwiches!) with me. I had one at the first break, three for lunch and the last at the last break. Didn't gain an ounce.

The first time I noticed a change was in my mid-forties. I attended a week-long management seminar for SMS and sure enough, they had food out all the time. Doughnuts and bagels and candy and coffee and huge lunches and dinners (oh, my). At the end of the week,
I noticed all my pants seemed to have shrunk around the waist.

OMG! It wasn't my pants!
It was me! Boy, talk about a sobering moment. Fortunately, having tight pants annoys me, so I got it under control.

I had put weight on while I was in the Navy, but I was working out all the time and it didn't laser-zoom to my waist like this did. Now, I had to think about what I was eating, what a pain.

But this post started out talking about being sickly and other than colds and the flu, some shattered bones in my hand (thanks US Navy) and skin cancer (thanks Miami), I had been keeping myself together.

My brother had many bouts with kidney stones (boy, talk about an affliction!), but no such sickly stuff for me. Until now. Now, my nose has decided to bleed. What the hell?

Apparently, it's very common, as least that's what the doctor told me. I ran to the doc like a frightened puppy because I was sure I was dying of maybe nose cancer. But she pooh-poohed me and smacked me upside of my head (it would have been funny if my nose had started to bleed).
"It's common", she said, "you're common." So, it just bleeds a little and then stops.


Except for this one time when I was having dinner with my wife and I blew my nose into my handkerchief (remember handkerchiefs?) Handkerchiefs were supposedly invented by Marie Antoinette who was so upset about leaving Austria that she cried all the way to France. She tore pieces of lace off her outfit to wipe away the bitter, bitter tears. What a pisser being sent off to be Queen of France! She was never without a piece of lace after that and started a trend.

So, I blew my nose (it's winter, after all) into Marie's lace underwear and this gusher of bright, arterial blood came out and wouldn't stop for anything. Naturally, just as I was holding my (by now) bright red hankie jammed up my right nostril (it's only my right one that bleeds) the waitress (wait-person) walks up, looks at me sharply and asks 'if everything was all right'.

Over the sopping hankie, I look up at her blandly as if nothing was wrong at all and said, "Oh, yeah, everything's fine!" I was thinking how macho all this blood must make me look.

As she walked away, she was probably thinking, "Hmph, that cokehead must have burned his whole nose out."