Friday, September 25, 2020

Insight: My forbidden and banished radio playlist

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

If you weren’t aware of this, I’m hooked on listening to music on my car radio. When I bought this Hyundai in 2014, it came with a free trial of Sirius XM satellite radio and I enjoyed the commercial-free radio channels so much, I subscribed and then added satellite radio for my wife’s car too.

What I like the most about the satellite radio channels is that some of them have specific formats, like all-1960s music, all-1970s music and all-1980s music. I also listen to news channels, the MLB channel and something called “The Bridge” which is a collection of mellow classic rock tunes ranging from Jackson Browne to Hall and Oates and James Taylor.

No matter if I'm driving to work or on my way to the grocery store, my car radio is on and tuned in, although sometimes I have an aversion to the current song being played. That automatically leads to a knee-jerk reaction of changing the station, which also tends to drive my wife Nancy crazy.

Should you take a ride with me in my car and one of the following songs comes on any of the aforementioned stations, please know I’ll immediately reach for the radio tuner pre-set push buttons faster than you can say “Gangham Style.” Drum roll, please:

** “Muskrat Love” by the Captain and Tennille. Although the soft rock classic from 1976 delighted their fans, I still prefer blowing up muskrats “Susie and Sam” with a stick of Bill Murray’s dynamite intended for the gopher from the film “Caddyshack.”

** “Shannon” by Henry Gross. This caterwauling about a dead Irish Setter dog makes my stomach turn just thinking about it. How it rose to eventually become Number 6 on the Billboard popular music chart in 1976 escapes me.

** “Run Joey Run” by David Geddes. When I lived in Florida, I knew a bartender who once told me playing this song at closing time made people get up and leave quicker than anything else. What were music fans thinking by making this a hit in 1975? In my opinion, it’s utter schlock and close to being the worst song ever recorded.

** “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. Despite selling more than 8 million copies since its release in 1997, this bubble-gum dance tune by a Danish band was prohibited in many Middle Eastern countries and the subject of a lawsuit by Mattel, makers of the Barbie doll. As soon as the first two notes sound when it’s played on one of my stations, I reject it with breakneck speed.    

** “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter. For me, it best sums up my thoughts about this 2005 hit to know it was used as the elimination video montage song for contestants kicked off from Season Five of American Idol. I detest this tune so much that I’ll just turn the radio off completely when it airs, rather than change the station.

** “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred. Since it came out in 1991, I have thought that they’re not and will go out of my way to prevent a single note of their song to reach my brain. As far as I know, Right Said Fred is still out there taking turns on the catwalk somewhere.

** “More More More” by the Andrea True Connection. Many of you are too young to recall the days of disco in the late 1970s, but I sure do and for me, this 1976 “song” is overhyped and nonsensical. Disco fell out of favor by the early 1980s and rightfully so if you ask me. This is the epitome of disco excess and forever banished from the soundtrack of my existence.

** “Feelings” by Morris Albert. Until Justin Bieber came along, I thought Morris Albert’s overplayed 1974 hit was the worst concoction of rubbish I had ever heard. Thankfully, it isn’t played much on satellite radio if at all. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

** A number of also-rans for my prohibited list include 1968’s “Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat and Tears; 1972’s “Playground in my Mind” by Clint Holmes; 1964’s “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie Small; 1992’s “Informer” by Snow; 1972’s “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast” by Wayne Newton;  and 1985’s “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco.

Consider yourself forewarned if you’re ever in my car and you reach over to turn up the volume for 1970’s “Color My World” by Chicago. It is absolutely verboten and if you value me as a friend, you’ll think twice before doing that in my vehicle. <

Andy Young: Reaching a goal (after 60 months’ time)

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

I had been looking forward to September for quite some time.

Five years’ time, in fact.

Back in 2015 I signed a document promising to pay, on the 15th of each of the following 60 months, a significant sum to the financing arm of a rather large carmaker. But at the end of that lengthy fiscal tunnel lay the prospect of feeling the elation that would come with making my last remittance, assuming that me and the car were both still extant in September of 2020.


Naturally, I indulged in a bit of daydreaming about what I’d do once I was debt-free. With the car paid off I could begin saving for that private island in the Pacific (or, if I were more budgetarily limited, the Caribbean) I’d always desired.

Another possibility: a trip around the world, with extended stays in four or five exotic ports of call. I also toyed with the idea of sojourning out to southern California and arranging for a screen test, speculating that by the time my automotive debt was paid off Hollywood would desperately be searching for a new leading man to take the roles previously cast with people like Johnny Depp, George Clooney, or Leonardo DiCaprio, all of whom were likely to be aging has-beens by the autumn of 2020.

It did occur to me that were I to procure that sort of work I might be subjected to the chore of participating in passionate on-screen love scenes with the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, Scarlett Johansson or others of that ilk, but I chose to view that aspect of the scenario as a challenge rather than a potential drawback. After all, isn’t constant growth what life is all about?

And after having spent the better part of the past two decades trying to convince students in my high school English classes to stop resisting change and try leaving their comfort zone every once in a while, it seemed only fair I take a crack at following my own advice for once.

Well, miracle of miracles, what I had been eagerly anticipating for the past five years has indeed finally come to pass. I now own 100 percent of the car I’ve been driving for as long as any of my children (and most of the people I encounter on a daily basis) can remember.

But a lot of other things have happened since 2015 as well. There’s been a world-wide pandemic, which has created some new expenses that previously hadn’t existed.

Also, perhaps as a result of some overzealousness on my part when it came to fantasy-planning, I neglected to account for the 25-plus years of monthly payments I still have left on my mortgage. In addition, I learned recently that my furnace is going to need replacing.

And even worse, it seems I unaccountably failed to realize that the monthly assessments from my water, electricity, internet, and cell phone service providers, along with periodic visits from the oil truck, would continue even after I had ceased making car payments. For some reason I had lumped them all together in my head.

Nevertheless, being out from under a monthly bill I’d been paying for the past five years is almost indescribably liberating. Unfortunately, though, after re-calculating my current fiscal status, it appears the private island is out, as is the round-the-world cruise. But I think I’ve got enough left to take the ferry to Peaks Island for an afternoon.

I wonder what the chances are of Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, or Scarlett Johansson being out there on the day I set sail? <

Friday, September 18, 2020

Insight: Same planet, another world

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Fifty years ago, my father drove our family on a cross country trip from New York state to New Mexico and I can recall seeing a sign at a service station in Oklahoma showing the price of a gallon of gas at 36 cents.

Things have sure changed a lot since then and it got me to thinking about how much prices have risen in the past five decades.

Before I left home in September 1971 to attend college, my father took me to a physician who saw patients on the first floor of his home in Pittsford, New York. The college I was attending, New Mexico Highlands University, required a number of immunizations prior to my arrival on campus and my father took me to see the doctor to get four shots updated before my flight the next morning.

The doctor accepted cash for his services and before we left, I saw my father reach into his wallet and pay him a $10 bill for the four shots I received and for his services. I think it would be safe to estimate that including the physician’s visit and vaccine costs, those same services would run more than $350 out-of-pocket with the insurance company being billed for the remainder today.     

Struggling to pay for tuition and textbooks as a college student in the fall of 1973, I took out a $1,000 student loan and another $1,000 the following year. Saddled with $2,000 in student loan debt, I thought the odds of ever paying it off and being free and clear of that debt was a significant obligation.

But by chipping away at it by paying $50 a month, I had it all paid off by the early 1980s. I couldn’t imagine being a student today and the sheer amount of student loan debt they now have to repay.  

I purchased my first new automobile in the spring of 1974. It was a Mercury Capri and the sticker price was $2,300. With my $400 trade-in, a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle with 130,000 miles and giving the dealer $200 cash, I financed it for three years with a monthly payment of $48. Believe it or not, I thought that payment was extravagant when I was making $2.75 an hour at the time.

In 1976, I remember going to the theater and having to pay $2 for admission to see the first “Rocky” film. Add in a popcorn ($1) and a Coke ($1) and you could enjoy a movie for less than $5. The ticket alone today would be more than double that.

That same year, a new McDonalds opened in Albuquerque and I remember eating lunch there on a break from work. It set me back 75 cents for a Big Mac, 45 cents for fries and 30 cents for a small Dr. Pepper for a grand total of $1.50. Today, packaged as a Big Mac Meal, the exact same food costs $6.71 before tax.

When I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1977, I was thrilled with what they were paying me for my work. The basic salary for my rank as an E-1 Airman Basic at that time was $360 a month and included meals in the dining hall on base, a room in the barracks and medical care. My paychecks in the civilian workforce then were about $176 every two weeks after taxes, or about $362, but I also had to pay for food and rent out of that, so this was a major financial step up for me.

Two years later in 1979, I had completed my first assignment in the Air Force in Germany and was transferred to a new duty station in Washington, D.C. at The Pentagon. In setting up our new apartment in Arlington, Virginia, we decided to purchase a new sofa as our cat who was not declawed had shredded the arm rests of an old one we had been using.

After shopping around at a number of department stores, we bought a new plaid couch and love seat combination for $179. At that time, I thought that was highway robbery for two pieces of living room furniture, but have you priced those same items today 41 years later? You’ll easily shell out 10 times that amount for a new couch and love seat in 2020.

While life on Earth has changed greatly since 1970, one thing remains constant. I have learned that whatever you are paying for something today will ultimately cost a whole lot more tomorrow. <

Andy Young: There's hope for the future

By Andy Young 

Columnist

Every September on the first day of classes where I teach, I give a short writing assignment to my Grade 12 English classes. Most kids want to make a good first impression on their new teacher, and as a result do a pretty good job. The (relatively few) slackers? They represent job security.

This year’s task was to write, in essay form, some thoughtful words of guidance regarding how to succeed in high school to my 14-year-old son, who is starting 9th grade. I figure he’s more likely to heed good advice from folks younger than his father, who he thinks graduated when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Judging from some of their responses (below), I think I’d say my designated panel of experts did a great job. Here’s some of their wisdom:

Stay organized, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Make sure to keep your computer charged; it’s a hassle if it dies when you’re in class.

Treat your peers with kindness and stay away from needless drama.

Don’t show up late.

Listen to your teachers. They aren’t lying.

Never let one person ruin your day.

Think about the way you want to be treated and give others that same kind of respect and attitude.

Start thinking about what you want to do after high school NOW!

What happens off campus when you’re in high school is where the fun really lies! Go out on the town late at night and take a drive with your friends in your car!

Try to enjoy school while it lasts, because once you have to work full-time and raise a family, it won’t be easy.

What you’ll get out of high school will be exactly what you put into it.

High school is absolute chaos, but in the best way.

Don’t let the bad days stop you from becoming your best you.

High school is like playing a board game. Once you figure it out, you’ll cruise through to the end, and you’ll have a blast with your friends.

Get ready for boring online class and getting called a freshman for every dumb thing you do.

Don’t take science. Learning about mitochondria doesn’t help you in life.

English class is useless. If you can use words properly and have correct grammer you’ll be fine.

Procrastinating puts you where you don’t want to be.

You’ll make new friends in high school, but you’ll also lose some old ones.

High school can be one of the most enjoyable or one of the most miserable experiences you’ll ever have. It’s up to you to choose which of those two things it’ll be.

Remember to eat. Your brain and body need fuel to sit in class all day, believe it or not!

Some people think being popular is important, but to tell you the truth, it’s overrated.

Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.

Don’t slack on school work. Challenge yourself with tough classes, but keep things manageable.

Take extra classes during your first three years; your senior year will be less stressful that way.

Don’t lie. When someone finds out you did, you’ll lose their trust for a long time.

Don’t give in to peer pressure. Be who you are, and don’t let people walk all over you.

High school is your time to shine. Make as much of it as you can!

Some people knock youthful Americans, but I won’t. Their generation’s knucklehead percentage is no higher than that of the general population. I can see them accomplishing a lot.

Hey, they’ve already written 72 percent of a column for me! <

Friday, September 11, 2020

Insight: An accumulation of rarities

 By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Being in the news business, just when I think that I have heard everything, something else comes along.

For more than four decades, I’ve tried to steer away from the more unusual aspects of community news reporting, but inevitably somebody will want me to write a story about their Aunt Martha collecting and laminating moths to turn them into jewelry. You name it, and I’ve certainly written about it or at least worked with someone who has.

Here's an assortment of unusual tales from 45 years in journalism:

** When I was a reporter in New Mexico in the 1980s, I was assigned to write an article about a man who collected Wrigley chewing gum wrappers and then turned them into wallpaper. His living room walls were adorned with Juicy Fruit and his dining room was plastered with a Doublemint motif.

** In the early 2000s in Florida, I wrote a story about a beachside community that discovered a still lawful town ordinance from the 1880s that made it illegal to sing in a public place in town while dressed in a swimsuit. A motion to overturn the ordinance failed by a 4-3 vote and it remains on the books to this day.    

** I once worked in New Hampshire with an editor who insisted upon always being with her chihuahua when the dog went outside. She said she was afraid that a hawk or an eagle would suddenly swoop down and grab the dog with its talons and carry it away. If that was going to ever happen, it would have to be a really strong bird because her chihuahua weighed more than 50 pounds.  

** While eating lunch at an A&W Drive-In near Rio Communities in New Mexico in the late 1980s, I noticed a herd of seven spotted donkeys in a field behind the restaurant. I met the owner who insisted that herd’s official last name was “of Diamonds.” In the subsequent article I wrote about the herd, I referred to each donkey in the story as Ruby of Diamonds, Jack of Diamonds, Pearl of Diamonds, Merv of Diamonds, Diamond of Diamonds, Ace of Diamonds and Thelma of Diamonds.

** Working in Florida in 2006, I covered an appearance at the Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival by an individual billed as the world’s worst Elvis Presley impersonator. True to the moniker, the would-be Elvis stumbled over the lyrics to “Burning Love” and resorted to frequent grunts and gyrating hips to cover up his unfamiliarity with the song. After blubbering his way through three tunes, he left the stage and believe it not, then passed a cowboy hat seeking tips for his “performance.”

** As a sportswriter working for a newspaper in Belen, New Mexico, in the late 1980s, I was assigned to report on “worm racing” at a local bar. The bar owner had recycled his son’s old plastic toy race track and then encouraged bar patrons to cheer on earthworms who wriggled down racing lanes from one side of the track to the other. To distinguish the earthworms, the bar owner’s girlfriend put a small speck of different colored nail polish on the worms as “racing silks.” Believe it or not, “worm racing” drew more visitors to the bar than live music played on Friday nights by a country and western band.

** While reporting about a county fair in Florida in the 1990s, I had to watch and then write about a “Back Art contest,” in which several stylists competed using hair clippers and then created artwork from two of the hairiest backs of men I’ve ever seen.

** In Laconia, New Hampshire in 2015, I wrote an article about a teenager who tried to break the Guinness World Record for stuffing the most seedless grapes ever into his mouth. When he got to 75, I thought he had a shot at establishing a new record, but unfortunately, the 16-year-old had to cough and his shot at immortality was halted at a grand total of 76. By the way, in the course of doing this story I learned that the actual world record was 88 seedless grapes in his mouth at one time that was set by a man from India and he’s since gone on to break his own record with a total of 94.

From my vantage point as a journalist, if all the oddities and unusual situations were to vanish from our lives, we’d all just be bored silly. <               

  


Andy Young: Going out to eat, via Memory Lane

By Andy Young 

Columnist

Last Wednesday I had a sit-down meal inside a restaurant for the first time since before the start of mandated social distancing. I’ve never been a big spender, nor someone who dines out habitually (even prior to COVID-19), so it’s likely this was my first time actually eating out in more than a year.

My companions, who insisted on paying for everything, took me to a high-end eatery. We were waited on by an attractive, professional, and friendly server, and the food was terrific. We even ordered dessert, which, due to the fact I’m usually stuffed after consuming the main course (and to my inherent frugality), I do about as frequently as Kanye West releases a country album.

But the best part of the evening wasn't the food or the service. It was the company.

According to Mapquest.com, Bob and Lori currently live 513 miles from me. But no amount of distance can hinder our longstanding friendship, which dates back further than any of us cares to admit.

 

Bob and I have known each other a long time. A remarkable aspect of our relationship: he was once twice as old as I was. Okay, that was on the second day of his life, which was the first day of mine. But aren’t statistics fun?


The two of us grew up less than a mile apart, went to the same little kid birthday parties, and attended the same schools from kindergarten through Grade 12. We were also involved in some of the same activities. Fate made us Little League teammates, which indirectly accounted for whatever modest success I had as a youth baseball player. When Bob was 12 years old he was approximately the same size I am today, although even back then he was physically stronger than I would ever become. A 6-foot-2-inch Little League pitcher with inconsistent control can be pretty intimidating, and Bob was no exception. However, fortunately for his teammates, we never had to face him in an actual game. Several of our contemporaries on other teams elected to forego baseball in order to pursue other activities after their Little League careers ended, and Bob’s blazing deliveries, which didn’t always go precisely where they were aimed, were very likely part of the reason.

Our paths began diverging in high school. I was just beginning a 20-year adolescence, but Bob was an anomaly: a teenage male who was kind, thoughtful, polite, intelligent and hard-working. He got married before I got out of college and became a dad before I got my first “real” job. But we still communicated occasionally, staying connected long after both of us had permanently left the town where we had grown up.

 

Bob hit the jackpot in the marriage lottery. He and Lori have raised three fine boys, all of whom emanate the same integrity, kindness, work ethic, and overall character they learned from growing up with parents who both embody all those traits. Lori thinks she’s as lucky to have Bob as he feels he is to have her. And the best part is, they’re both right.

 

Last week Lori had a job interview in Portland, which gave the three of us the opportunity to visit face-to-face after another multi-year hiatus. The evening turned out to be one of those rare occasions where the actual event lived up to (or in this particular case exceeded) my already sky-high level of anticipation.

 

I’ll be psyched if Lori gets that job, even if it means that our next dinner together will be on me. I can’t wait!

 

I hope they won’t want dessert, though. <

Supporting our first responders, today and every day

By Sen. Bill Diamond

We are grateful for our first responders all year round, but today marks a special occasion to celebrate and thank them. Today – Sept. 11, 2020 – marks the debut of First Responders Day in Maine after the Legislature passed a bill this February which was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills. Our first responders show bravery and selflessness every time they go in for a shift or show up for an emergency, and there is no greater example of this than the heroism our first responders showed on Sept. 11, 2001. First Responders Day commemorates and honors the significant contributions of those who put their lives in danger to keep the people of this state safe, including police officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, game wardens, forest rangers and marine patrol officers. By officially commemorating the sacrifice and service of first responders, we show them that we appreciate their hard work and sacrifice.

These days our society is facing a different kind of crisis from the one we faced on Sept. 11, 2001, and our first responders are once again carrying a heavy load for all of us. Even in the best of times, emergency medical services (EMS) personnel, firefighters and police officers struggle with increased rates lof mental health issues, in addition to the physical danger they put themselves in every time they respond to an emergency. But during this uncertain time, which is stressful for all of us, our shouldering even more than usual.    

In addition to their typical duties, first responders are confronted with the possibility that the call they are responding to could expose them to COVID-19, putting themselves and their families at risk. Some first responders elect to stay away from their families, to decrease the chances that they infect their loved ones. For many first responders, this pandemic has also increased their workload. Some Maine EMS services, for example, are opting to provide COVID-19 swabbing services, which is a service that falls outside their typical duties but is much needed. The risk for mental, emotional and physical fatigue for our first responders is great.

This pandemic has also expanded our understanding of the term “first responder” as health care workers fight the virus on the frontlines and experience the trauma that comes from long shifts, a lack of personal protective equipment, and in some cases witnessing suffering and death above and beyond what they usually face. To help, Maine Responds, the state’s emergency health volunteer system, launched the FrontLine WarmLine in April, a helpline for clinicians and first responders to get additional support in coping with the added stress brought on by these uncertain times.

Commemorating Sept. 11 as First Responders Day in Maine is an important signal of our appreciation for the service our first responders provide. I urge you to take time today to reflect on their service and to thank a first responder in your life. In different times, I can imagine how we would all be observing this day; I look forward to commemorating together next year. A big thank you to our fire and rescue teams and to the police who work so hard and sacrifice so much for us every day; your sacrifice does not go unnoticed.

I want to hear from you. You can send me an email at diamondhollyd@aol.com or call my office at 207-287-1515.<