Thursday, January 29, 2009

Love Mock, Attack Real

(Islamorada, FL) A lady scuba diver from a Midwestern state narrowly escaped injury through the quick action of fellow divers, who frightened away a 400 lb. sea turtle which was apparently attacking her from behind. It was surmised that the marine reptile, not known for the acuity of its eyesight, mistook the woman's twin tanks and backpack for the shell of another turtle, and its advances were of an amorous nature.
The woman was reportedly wearing twin tanks, and a type of buoyancy compensator which was popular at the time (a SeaPro ATPack) which contained lead shot in lieu of a weight belt, (pictured above, also available in darker colors). The turtle recognized it as another shell, and proceeded to climb atop it in an aggressive manner. Some eyewitnesses maintained that the reptile gave the woman's black dive hood a playful nip. Earlier reports that it had punched a hole in her wet suit were discounted.

The Law's Delay, the Insolence of Office....Cutting the Gordian Knot

AT&T Inc. announced (a week ago) Thursday that it will cut 12,000 jobs – or about 4 percent of its global workforce – citing the slack economy along with corporate reorganization and declining demand for traditional landline telephone service.
At the same time they've also apparently started a more "flexible rate" policy. If you tell them that you can't afford to continue their services, they might give you a slight break in their rates.
Rare and fortunate is he or she, however, who has not at one time or another been ensnared in the Catch 22 of timeless bureaucracy. A man in upstate New York had to regain his commercial drivers license ab initio, with all the attendant costs, despite the fact that the problem originated not with him, but with a mistake made by the Department of Motor Vehicles. At least it was outrageous enough to make the news.
AT&T is certainly still coming out with an attractive array of products, if their ads are any indication, and their remaining employees are excellent at touting and selling new services. But you have to wonder if maybe they should have kept one or two people capable of cutting the Gordian knot. I now have an inch-thick folder of correspondence and notes to prove my point.
In the middle of last October we left an apartment we had rented temporarily in North Carolina, and called AT&T to have the phone and Internet services turned off. At the same time they talked us into ordering a pay-as-you-go cell phone, to get us through the time we would be without a regular phone. So far no problem.
When we got the next bill, we were being billed for a month's services in advance. We called, and they said ignore that bill, because you'll be getting a final bill in a few days. That same scenario has been repeated for four months now. We've spent close to four hours (no exaggeration) on the phone with them, and written four or five letters. Each time they say first that we didn't have the service terminated, but then they check it and say, OK, it was shut off, and you'll get a final bill in a few days. But all we get is an ever-growing bill (it's up to $400 and change now) and an occasional letter saying the bill is going to a collection agency.
Oh well, hope springs eternal, and maybe the fifth time's the charm. Hope so, anyway, and hope you are luckier....

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wisdom of the Ages

A number of years ago a friend sent me this card from an underage drinking establishment of our youth, a piece of memorabilia which has recently resurfaced. I don't recall seeing much dancing or dining in the place, contrary to what the card says, and can't imagine them catering a party, much less a banquet. It was located in Arbor Hill, even then a predominantly black section of the city. A long, dark "ladies' entrance," smelling vaguely of sweat and ancient vomit led to a darkened interior that looked very much like the inside of a log cabin. A political wink of the eye, so to speak, seemed to keep the authorities at bay, and the lads could get a six-ounce draft beer for ten cents without the inconvenience of showing a draft card. Needless to say, the place was a magnet for the more adventurous youth from uptown and the suburbs. OK, we loved it.
It's only with the resurfacing of the card that I noticed the doggerel on the reverse side, something we young swells would have dismissed as the Runyonesque ramblings of the retired World War I vets and other reprobates who were fixtures at the bar at the front of the establishment. Ironically I have now lived long enough to see it, despite the inventions of viagra, cialis, and other concoctions, as a timeless truism. Unless, of course, we could go back and have a couple more of Mike's clam cocktails....

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More Bob Anderson: Let Us Now Praise Famous Authors

“The works of William Gaddis are taught in the freshman English classes of all the great universities across our land,” Bob Anderson often said. He was proud of the fact that he was not only an acquaintance of the man now often acknowledged as being one of the greatest of American postwar novelists, but that he had actually entertained the celebrated author in his own home.

Bob had worked for CBS in New York for many years (claiming, in fact, to be the one who "discovered" Andy Rooney: an apocryphical tale to be related later), eventually "burning out” sometime around the early Seventies. He and his wife Annie sold their New York digs and moved to Jericho, Vermont to settle Bob's jangled urban nerves. They say Jericho’s now a bedroom community for Burlington, but back then it was an out-of-the-way rural place. Bob and Annie busied themselves making Tiffany-style lamps out of stained glass and selling them by mail order, a business they continued until the day Bob figured out that the hourly return on their labors was substantially less than the existing minimum wage, and retired altogether.They’d also acquired a house in Key West near the current Key West Seaport, which was then still a working commercial area of shrimp docks and fishhouses. One of their neighbors was a local grande dame of some renown who for a period of time ran an ongoing salon of, well, original Key West characters, the real kind who gave the place its zany reputation, but who are now for the most part extinct, displaced by generations of poseurs and arrivistes, as predicted accurately by Ernest Hemingway 70 years before in his novel “To Have and Have Not.”

It’s told that eventually the doyenne tired of hosting her parade of characters and one day without explanation threw them all out, withdrawing the welcome mat forever, but not before Bob had made the acquaintance of a young lady from New York who was William Gaddis’s second wife, Judith.

Before Bob and Annie journeyed back to Vermont in the spring, they extended an invitation to the Gaddises, through Judith, to join them for a country weekend at their place in Jericho. The appointed summer weekend was established and the invitation accepted, and although hindsight might have dictated a “let’s not and say we did” scenario, a commitment having been made, the Gaddises were obligated, for better or worse, to make a trip up to Vermont.

One can only imagine the arrangements made in Jericho that week leading up to the day of arrival, the weeding and mowing, the trips to the ABC store for the proper wine and spirits, the preparations for a perfect and memorable feast, the proper positioning of various pieces of memorabilia throughout the old farmhouse for conversational purposes. “William Gaddis is coming! William Gaddis is coming!”

About three o’clock Bob started to get worried that he hadn’t heard from them. They were, of course, on their way, and he’d send specific directions on how to get to his house. On the other hand a lot could go wrong. But if for some unfathomable reason they weren’t coming, they would call.

Instead of worrying about it, Bob decided to raid the liquor locker for a “stiffener” to steady his nerves. It’s a long trip. They probably set out late. They’ll come rolling in soon.

Nowadays people drive with their ears glued to a cellphone. People have even been killed in accidents while diverting their attention from the road ahead to the text messages of their cellphones. But as recently as 30 years ago, especially in Vermont, making a telephone call, especially a long distance telephone call, was not as simple as punching in a few numbers on a hand-held device. You’d have to find a pay phone and go through an operator, and you’d better have a handy supply of quarters to feed that pay phone, providing it was working.

Bob checked the phone at the farm house. There was a dial tone. It was in good working order. He’d better hang it up though, because they should be calling any minute. He strode out onto the front porch, looking down the empty stretch of Route 15. There was hardly a car in sight on that warm Vermont afternoon. He went back in and poured himself another drink.

Around five o’clock the phone finally rang. They were at a general store about forty miles south on Route 7. They got lost on some back roads in upstate New York. With a little luck, they’d be there in an hour.

By the time they finally arrived, Bob, having taken counsel of his fears that they weren’t really coming, had already had a few too many. Of course the guests had a long day’s drive, and a little attitude adjustment was in order. There was an obligatory round of drinks before supper, and what kind of a host would not join his newly arrived guests in a libation? Bob had another one.

When Annie finally brought out her feast, Bob was already entering a phase of incoherency. Raising his hand to make a point, he slumped forward, passing out face down in his dinner plate. Judith said all she could remember, when he came up, was that he looked like a Santa Claus, because of all the mashed potatoes in his beard.

I heard this story from Judith. Bob never mentioned it. He did say now and then that he’d known and admired William Gaddis. Perhaps he’d forgotten that he’d been carried up to bed by one of the greatest of American postwar novelists and two women.