Sunday, June 28, 2009

Jamestown Colorado Fourth of July

Since it is almost the Fourth of July, I'm going to republish an excerpt from my great unpublished novel, "It must be the altitude". Yesterday I found an actual movie of the anvil ritual on the web which I will share. It's a smaller event than I remember. Either the explosion has been toned down or my recollection was far huger than the actual event. Such is life.

Jamestown Fourth of July always did its fireworks in a big way. I was inside the family house eating spare ribs when I heard a loud crack in the air that made me think the whole town had been attacked by terrorists. A giant boom, an earth shaking sonic boom. Louder than anything I had ever heard at that point in my short sweet life. A great, astounding tremulation that sent every rodent in town up into the high country.
Yes, it was the great, stupendous, annual BIG BOOM of Jamestown. An annual ritual, with origins dating back to the last century, when miners had lots of dynamite on hand, together with bellies full of whiskey and patriotic fever. For this great thundering event, the locals would assemble one hundred pounds of dynamite and place them over a two hundred pound lead anvil. On top of that was more dynamite, and another lead anvil, about the size of a Bronco. This would all be assembled behind second base in the baseball field. Someone would light the fuse and KABOOOOOOM the top anvil would hurl two hundred feet up into the air. The bottom anvil just went vertically about one hundred feet, towards the stands. Now that was the Fourth of July. "Oh, they're doing that again, Aunt Melray remarked." I was impressed.
The other thing I remember about the Fourth of July in Jamestown was the raucous party and bar-b-ques. One year I was invited to shoot rifles into the air to celebrate America's independence. There's nothing like the wild West.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Last day of school

I was driving to work the other day and as always, passed lots of students on their way to school or waiting for the bus. There was something weird about it all and suddenly it dawned on me. Everybody was smiling. There was a look of joy on the kids faces. Even the crossing guards were happy. It occurred to me. It must be the last day of school.
I had forgotten until that moment the unbridled joy of that day. There is no happier day than the last day of school. Perhaps it is the expectation of summer. Blue skies, freedom, swimming, playing baseball. The promise of summer is always greater than summer turns out to be. Still it is a wonderful feeling to be on the last day of classes. Even the teachers had grins on their faces.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How to save money on health care

There is a good article in the New Yorker on why health care is so expensive. It's not the insurance, it's the way doctors order too many tests and procedures. It's like working on the reference desk at a public library. The student has to do a paper on a rather vague topic and needs thousands of books and articles from the library. The librarian finds lots of stuff to give the patron. Book titles, reference books to be copies, websites, articles from Ebscohost. The librarian knows that if he gives the patron enough stuff he can get rid of the person and move onto the next patron in the line.

The doctor is running late and has ten minutes to deal with a patient with a series of unrelated ailments. The easy way of getting rid of the person is to order lots of tests. A battery of blood tests, barium tests, ekg's, etc. will keep the patient busy and maybe the tests will show something the doctor can use. The patient is happy because he can manipulate the tests into a day off from work and the insurance company will pay for the procedures. The doctor is happy because he can move onto the next patient in the waiting room.

It's faster for the doctor and librarians in our scenario to give the client stuff to do than do a detailed examination of the body or the school assignment. The solution to the health care cunundrum? Limit tests to ten a year, with one allowable operation.

A one payer system would be fairer to all. People could switch jobs and not be tied down because of health insurance. Everybody would have health insurance, but, like in Europe, medicine would be rationed. And Medicare should end at age 85. Sorry Grandma. Crisis with health insurance? Solved.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Air conditioning

At least here in New Jersey, air conditioning use is down. It's been cold and damp if not rainy every day. The elevator pundits at work are voicing a lot of "I'm so sick of this damn weather" and "I haven't felt dry in a week". Of course if it was 95 degrees people would complain about that too. People who would probably use less AC this year anyway are turning off the machines altogether so at least everybody is saving money. For now.

We've become soft. I remember when we lived by the fan in the summer. We had a huge window fan in the hallway when I was growing up. I used to sing through the fan to hear my weirdly modulated voice. Then my parents got a unit for their bedroom. Feeling guilty and perhaps tired of my singing, two years later they replaced the fan with an air conditioner. When they put in central air conditioning at my father's job, the old man came home with another air conditioner, which we put in the dining room. I often wondered if he paid for it.

Those units took 220 volts so some electrical alteration must have been done. My brother, the aspiring electrician, must have been involved in that project.
For now, I'm just using the ceiling fan. The halcyon days before the serious dog days kick in.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Throwing birthday parties for yourself

Every job I have ever worked at has had the same weird tradition. That is, of forcing the employee who has a birthday to make a cake to share with the staff (or buy one if they have more money than time or are male) and put it in the break room, along with bagels and cream cheese. I think this is to spare the unpopular people from the embarrassment of having no one to give them a cake on their birthday. If someone doesn't bring in a cake it shows they are lazy, but at least not un-loved.

If you listen carefully on such occasions (it's always fun to gather with bored but hungry co-workers around the cake) you might hear the birthday person reveal their age. That is the best part. The rest of the day people say "I never believed she was that old" (or young). The world of work is so much fun you can see why people hate to leave it, even if it means spending less time on their yachts.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Why I travel

This is actually a good time to travel. Airfares are low and most people are staying home, watching hulu on the Internet. People often ask why I travel and the real reason is not philosophical or to see life in a new way. You can do that at the Shop-Rite. The reason I travel is to have things to talk about at parties.

When you have children you automatically have things to talk about in social situations.

"So how is Mary doing at soccer?

"Well that damn coach changed the rules on her."

"So what college is Johnnie looking at?"

"Well he's leaning towards Bucknell but we're using Villanova as a safety school."

We all know that the reason people have children is so they have things to talk about at parties.

People who don't have progeny often try to talk about their golf game but that bores non golfers. You can talk about your job if you are a production assistant in a hit series but most jobs are dull to have and duller to talk about.

Travel, on the other hand, is a reliable way to fill in conversational lags at parties. You can talk about travel bargains in Mexico, rude hotel clerks in Turkey, dirty bathrooms in France, late trains in Italy. Travel provides many opportunities for witty and interesting anecdotes. That's why I travel. The only thing that is a conversation killer is cruises. Nobody cares what they served at the buffet on your last cruise.