Archive for the ‘World’ Category


My entry into the workforce was delivering newspapers – Newsday, a Long Island publication that came out 7 days a week. There were about 50 houses on my route and neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night left their residents with empty, newspaperless hands. The town was Commack, a suburban-residential area; each house resting on about an acre of a well-manicured lawn and tended gardens. We were close enough to one another to hear our neighbors partying, or arguing, and far enough to not see each other through our windows.

The papers were hauled in a canvas bag hanging from the high handlebars of my banana seat stingray bike. This was the early/mid seventies – I was about 14 when I started, and kept at it until I was nearly old enough to drive. I usually hated the job – most of all Sundays, when I was up before first light, sitting on my cold garage floor, slipping tall stacks of colored ads – “inserts” into every paper. The Sunday papers were so thick, it sometimes took two trips to complete my route. The weight of the bag made the bicycle hard to steer, but it was something you learned how to do. You made wider turns and steered from your shoulders.  There were no days off, except maybe bank/mail holidays. If you were sick, real sick, you found a substitute. Or one of your parents would drive you along the route.

So why do this? Pshhh… easy answer. Money. I soon earned enough to procure a glowing flame-orange Huffy 10 speed bike. I loved that machine and put a lot of miles on it. I also bought a magnificent 6-man tent that my friends and I would use to camp out in my yard, and in later years would lug up into the Catskill Mountains. It took two to carry it. Also, girls were entering the picture and if you wanted to go somewhere with one, you needed money.

It’s probably not much of a job option anymore. I don’t think there are a lot of paperboys pedaling around these days. Around here (Killingworth, CT), at least, newspapers are delivered by adults in cars. It’s a shame. Kids learned a lot of valuable life lessons from this often-first paid job. They learned responsibility. Completing the job rested solely upon them. There were no excuses. You did the job or got fired, just like in real life. They learned money management. You kept a ledger of customers, tracking their payments, subscription details, and vacations. If you wanted things, you had to save up for them. Not spending money on a whim, especially if you are a teenager, is a skill and a lesson in self control. Newsday would pay us a small stipend per customer, but the real money was in the tips (especially around Christmas!), leading to the next lesson; people skills. Not only did we have to go door to door to collect our money in person, if we wanted to make more money, we needed to solicit more customers. This, too, required knocking on doors, asking strangers if they’d like to “get the paper”. I eventually added enough new customers to earn the coveted title of “Master Carrier”. The honor came with a sweatshirt bearing that title. Seriously, though, I wore it proudly.

So much of what we are today come from things we did long ago. Some of those things are things we have to overcome. But some are things that we can look back upon in appreciation of the role they played in building our foundation. I’m proud to have once been a paperboy. Not only for the life lessons, but also for the right to say to the young’uns, “When I was your age, I was pedaling a little stingray bike through the heat and slush, delivering cumbrous sacks of papers for a bit of change.”

Some memories:

  • Bad weather was NEVER an excuse to stay home. Didn’t mind the snow. Didn’t mind the heat. Did not like the rain. HATED sleet. Slush was the absolute worst!
  • I had a mad crush on a customer’s daughter who was in one of my classes. She once answered the door in her little white nightgown. I literally froze in place. I don’t know for how long, but I remember just standing there, wordless. Adolescent memories like that never fade… (Her name was Robin)
  • And then there are the houses with huge, exploding dogs that you swore were seconds away from tearing through that thin screen that stood between you and getting your throat ripped out.
  • Once a month I had an extra long day, often out till dark, to collect the money. You knock on each door and shout, “Collect”. It was amazing how many adults were caught by surprise (it was always the same day of the month) and didn’t have the money. This would prompt a second, and sometimes third, trip. It was often the same people. I didn’t particularly like those people.
  • But I did like most of them. Most were actually kind of nice to me.
  • From the front stoop, different people’s houses smelled like different food cooking.
  • I wasn’t “John”. I was “paperboy”. If I knocked on the door and they asked who it was, I was “paperboy”. Very few knew my name.
  • A guy from Newsday would sometimes drive your route to check that you put the inserts in. He’d actually pull the newspaper out of the mailbox and rifle through it. This wasn’t too often (that I knew of), and on a couple occasions I’d still risk dumping the pile of inserts down the storm drain. There. I admit it. But paperboys hated inserts.
  • I never met my boss – never once saw him in person. I’d get home and a stack of papers would be waiting for me in front of the garage. On occasion, I’d talk to him on the phone if I was short a paper, but that was rare.
  • Loved Mondays and Tuesdays, when the paper was thin.
  • If there were 2 stacks in front of the door, my heart would sink. That meant inserts. Did I mention paperboys hated inserts?
  • Some people didn’t tip. Sometimes their paper would get a little wetter in the rain than their neighbors’. There. I admit that, too.
  • They all had your phone number. If you were running late, they’d want to know where you were (looking back, can’t blame ’em). If you missed a house for some reason, Mom would pass on the message when you got home and you’d have to head back out. Hopefully you still had an extra paper.
  • I was home sick and my substitute (my friend John), missed a whole lot of houses. Got lots of angry phone calls. Had to take the cost of one paper off of the bill for each one of them (more record-keeping). People really wanted their newspaper and there was little forgiveness for failing to deliver them! Again, looking back, can’t blame ’em.
  • I was supposed to hang out with a girl I liked after school, but I had to do my route first. She came with me and helped put the papers in the boxes! That’s what would be known as a good day at work.
  • Toward the end of my delivery career, one of my customers (who shall remain nameless), asked if I would mow his lawns on weekends. I later learned he was connected with a certain NY mob boss. He would offer me gifts that – and he really used these words – “fell off a truck”. (My mother made me return them – she had “a funny feeling”). I liked him – he always very good to me.
  • There was a Chinese woman who struggled to speak English. I had to concentrate very hard to understand her. When you concentrate very hard trying to understand someone, you feel like you get to know them a little better. Maybe it’s the increased eye contact, or the fact you are listening with extra intensity. I remember being happy for her each time she cleared another word hurdle. (“Wednesday” was a tough one for her)
  • I occasionally have a recurring dream in which I’m riding my bike along the end of my route, and can’t find my way out. Always the same area.  Beyond the end of my route lie the homes of people I did not know. It was no-man’s land, both in reality at the time, and in the dream. Wonder what that means…

Would love to hear some stories from some of you ex-paperboys!





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NASA announced yesterday (6/19/17) that their Kepler space telescope has found 219 new candidates for life-supporting planets in the universe. They keep finding more and more. Man, if this doesn’t give wings, no, rocket boosters, to my imagination! That said, chances that life evolved on any of these planets to a sentient point in sync with our own are infinitesimal, considering all the fits and starts it took us to get to where we are. Mass extinctions, severe climate fluctuations, natural selection, the age of our planet and solar system, things that like to eat us – from the inside and out, and so many other random factors (many would argue non-random) brought us to this exact moment.

antenna - My Favorite Martian

Uncle Martin

It took our planet 4.5 billion years to nurture a form of life that can wonder aloud about alien life and actively seek it out. And that only occurred within the very-most recent blip of time in earth’s history. There may be life on some of these planets but it’s unlikely they’ll look like Mork or Uncle Martin (there’s a reference for oldies). That life could be a billion years ahead of – or behind – our own. With regard to the former, it could be of an ilk that doesn’t reach out. Maybe it can’t. Maybe it doesn’t wanna. When you remove the carbon-based requirement for life (Hey, why not silicon?), who knows what can be out there? I’m not saying that would be the case, but I’m also not saying it can be ruled out. Many physicists are surely open to the possibility.

Now, NASA isn’t claiming that any of these planets support life of any kind. What they are saying is they are somewhat “earthish” in their size and distance from the sun. It’s something called the “Goldilocks Zone”. Because we know that our planet, of the size it is, and of its distance to the sun, does for a fact support life, a good starting point in searching for extraterrestrial life is to find planets similar to the one we know was successful in that regard. It all worked out here; why not elsewhere?

Despite these possibilities, I have difficulty believing UFOs are what some say they are. Yes, they’re “unidentified”, and they “fly”. And they’re “objects” (sometimes). But the idea that they traveled tens of thousands of years from another planet to visit us on this little mote in the universe is a bit anthropocentric (unless they’re really here to see the whales), and hard for me to imagine. Not impossible, but improbable. I do feel compelled to leave that door open a bit. To a civilization millions of years ahead of us it could simply be a coffee run. We do have good coffee on this planet – one of the perks (ugh) of the long, circuitous path of life on earth. Maybe they can fold time and space, a theory of space travel suggested by many in the field of astrophysics. The laws of physics dictate that ONLY light can travel at 186,282 miles per second (speed of light). Even if a traveler could approach that speed, at say 185,000 mps, that’s still a hell of a long trip. Bear in mind, too, that mass increases as it grows closer to light speed, adding what would seem an insurmountable challenge to the problem. Based on our current understanding of such things, folding space-time would be one of the few theoretical options left to make possible a trip from even the closest of these discovered planets. Hey, but maybe they know something different. And not to brag, but we humans do seem to figure things out over time, making possible what once seemed impossible. Maybe the whales know something (sorry, watched too much Star Trek*). But right now we humans are at the “impossible” stage.

Heady stuff…

Still, life of any kind existing anywhere off earth – even within the icy, high-oxygen seas of  Jupiter’s Europa, is dream fuel. And Europa we can do – we’ve already been there. How they/we will detect that life is beyond me. But one step at a time. Step one: As it’s done here on earth, find the right habitat. It seems we’re making some progress there.

So why do I care about humans finding something I will likely never see? As a naturalist, I spend a lot of time seeking out living things here on earth; fauna and flora I’ve never seen or heard before. There’s something about discovering another living thing that took a different life path to get to where it is now. We share a planet, an atmosphere, the victories (for now) over all of earth’s fits and starts mentioned above, and the chemical building blocks of life – DNA. I’m grounded by both their differences from the human I am and the many things we share. Every new thing I find gives an answer, but better yet, asks two more questions! It’s the questions that keep us moving forward. Expanding that search into the cosmos seems a natural extension. We don’t share a planet, but a universe. We share the same stuff that makes up all matter in existance. Will that bring us answers? No doubt. Will it bring even more questions? How can it not! I don’t care if it’s a single celled organism or endoparasitic xenomorphs. Just as I take tremendous armchair satisfaction in knowing there are places on earth teeming with life that I will never see, knowing life can exist elsewhere else in the universe is enough for me. (I do hope they’re not endoparasitic xenomorphs)


One of those xenomorphy thingys

Again, I think the chances of hearing from representatives of some cosmic community are slim – at least in my lifetime, and likely that of my children’s children.

But a haystack can surely hide a needle. And if one looks long enough…

*A good read! “The Physics of Star Trek” Lawrence M. Krauss

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Subtitle: John Himmelman’s further descent into curmudgeonry.

I’ve seen my last movie in a movie theater. Unfortunately, it was Ironman 2, a big letdown after the first Ironman. Oh well. The movie itself had nothing to do with this decision. I still love watching movies, but for now on it will be in the comfort of my home.

So, you know what did it? Having to pay $9 to sit through a long string of TV commercials prior to the movie. These are commercials you cannot mute. You can’t get up and go to the fridge or switch to another channel. You’re held hostage as commercial after commercial blares out of the theater’s Dolby speakers. This practice began years ago with “The Jimmy Fund”. This caused a bit of controversy, but it was difficult to complain about helping sick kids without coming off as a misanthrope. Then they started sneaking in other commercials – usually one or two – irritating, but survivable. Having gotten away with that, they began adding more and more. Betsy and I walked out of Destinta Theater in Middletown, CT as the 5th commercial came on. We got our $18 refunded. At the Marquee Cinemas in Westbrook, we were assaulted by 8 commercials! And this was well after the movie was scheduled to begin. I’m not talking about coming attractions, mind you. I actually enjoy those. We’re talking about TV ads on the big screen.

A couple of people have suggested showing up later in order to bypass said assault. But then you run the risk of getting lousy seats.

And it’s just WRONG!

We pay a hefty price to see this entertainment! Add to this what we overpay at the snack bar. We should not be subjected to ads once the movie is slated to begin!

I know that some of you are rolling your eyes. You really don’t mind commercials. Well I hate them. In fact, my first blog entry was on how TV ads manage to annoy the bejeezus out of me.

When our son Jeff moved out, we turned his room into the entertainment room. It has a big screen TV, DVD player and surround sound. There’s a wide range of affordable refreshments downstairs and adult beverages. And a comfy lazyboy chair. When we want to watch a movie, we dim the lights and settle in. Amazingly, no one screams at us from the screen, trying to sell us stuff we don’t want.

I know I’m not alone in abandoning the theater experience. It’s probably part of the reason the theater owners are sullying what they offer by subjecting their paying customers to ad barrages. If I’m not there to see them, they can’t bother me.

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Forget spending trends, gross national product data, personal income and outlay analysis. Ignore new construction numbers and manufacturer shipment, inventory and orders reports. I’ve come up with a better economic indicator. The longer we go without reading or hearing the following qualifier, the better our economic condition:

“In these economic times,…”

Nary a day goes by without crossing paths with those four words. Nary, I say! Turn on the news, pick up the paper, click on an article and I defy you to make it through the day without being reminded that the economic times to blame for — whatever — are “these”. Sometimes the adjectives “trying”, “difficult”, or “troubling” are unnecessarily plugged in before “economic”, as if we need to be reminded that said economic times are not “booming”. Aren’t we now at the point where we know that certain limitations in our actions are no longer affected by the economy of, say, 1644, or that of the distant future?

Do you know what I think it is? I think saying something like, “In these economic times we need to tighten our belts and, um, batten the hatches…” makes us sound like we’re financially savvy. We’re fiscal smarty pantses. We’re reading the signs and deciding accordingly.

I know, I know. It’s also a grim reality.

Please don’t mistake this little observation for a lack of empathy for those who’ve had the wind knocked out of them by the downturn in the US economy. Believe me, I’m one of them! This is merely about the words used — ad naseum. It’s one of those instances where I unwittingly pick up on an over-repeated word or phrase and cannot stop noticing it when it crops up. It’s like listening to a speaker who has “Umisitis”. As soon as you realize they fill every silence with “um”, you can’t help but notice every single agonizing instance of it. Or when someone can’t relate a story without saying, “So he’s like…. and then she’s like…. but then he’s like….” You start anticipating every “like” to the point where you just want to pierce your eardrums with a lobster pick.

I propose we take advantage of this verbal tic and use it as an economic indicator. It could be shown as a graph depicting the number of instances “In these economic times…” is used in the daily media/conversation cycle. This would give us a good overall view of the Nation’s recovery. We can watch and rejoice as that phrase dwindles, or, dare I say, takes on a whole new meaning, such as, “In these economic times I’d be a damn fool to NOT buy a new hover boat!”

Naturally, this would require an unprecedented monitoring of American communication, a thankless job to say the least. But you know what? These economic ti…, I mean, the times in which we live beckon such sacrifices.

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It’s great that the former president was able to contribute to the release of the two women held prisoner in North Korea.

But now for the most dangerous part of their ordeal – the ride back with Bubba!

I hope he doesn’t expect his usual payment.

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Global Cooling

global-coolingI was bundling up to head out into the cold when a friend, Ed Riccuiti, a writer and former science editor, said “Remember how in the 70’s everyone was talking about the ice age we were heading into?” Wow! Now that he mentioned it, I did! At the time, I was in high school in Long Island, New York. Part of the reason the global cooling scenario stuck in my head was because it had inspired me to look into the last ice age. You know, to get a sense of what we were in for. It was then I learned that my home was sitting on a terminal moraine scraped about 20,000 years ago from the surface of what was to become my current home state of Connecticut. While I knew I would never be around to see this ice age, I wondered how my descendants would fare.

As the years passed, I heard less and less about the impending “big freeze”, to the point where I forgot all about it until that recent reminder. It turns out that while there was slight downward temperature shift from the nineteen-forties to the mid-seventies, only about ten percent of the climatologists saw it progressing to another ice age. Most of the talk was generated by the media (National Geographic and Time Magazine among them). It did make a good story. The shift to the current talk of global warming moved in like a racing glacier (which is still pretty slow). It’s sure picked up some speed in recent years, though.

Given the choice between global warming and global cooling, I’d opt for the latter. Why?

    You can pile more layers on, but there’s a limit to how much you can peel off.
    The Long Island Sound ice bridge would make it easier to visit my relatives in New York.
    Woolly Hippos! Can you imagine it?

Would the Ice Capades just be called the Capades?

Anyway… as far as global warming goes, it’s hard to deny that, yes, we’re warming up. I have an open mind to the possibility of it being helped along by humans. Some say it’s hubris to think people can actually change the climate of the earth. I’m not so sure.

But, man! I can’t help but temper my opinion on this with the realization that in a mere thirty years I’ve heard the trumpeting of both extremes!

Heading out now – have to take another stab at chipping away the ice in my driveway.

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