Friday, October 23, 2020

Insight: Wisdom from the past

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Even though my father died more than 29 years ago in 1991, some of the things he shared with me about life continue to be meaningful no matter how old I get.

An ordinary man blessed with an exceptionally wry sense of humor, my father grew up during the Great Depression and served in the infantry in World War II. In peacetime, he was the first in his family to earn a college degree and somewhere along the way he accumulated a wealth of practical knowledge that was often dispensed to myself and my younger brother.

Dad was a champion of the underdog and never rooted for the favorite in any sporting event. He once told me that “anyone can root for the champion, but real character comes from pulling for teams and individuals who overcome obstacles and beat the odds.” It’s something I’ve never forgotten hearing him say.

For years he cheered on his beloved Chicago Cubs believing that someday they would no longer be loveable losers and finally win the World Series to reign as the champion of Major League Baseball. Some 25 years after his death, the Cubs did indeed win the championship in 2016, and 12 years before that, another one of the “underdogs” he religiously followed and cherished, the Boston Red Sox, also won the World Series following 86 years of frustration.

When I reached junior high school, my father told me a story about why it was important to study every night. “Nothing is ever going to be handed to you and you have to start working on your grades now if you ever expect to be successful in college.”

While many of my peers were out playing basketball after school, participating in Boy Scouts, or taking swimming lessons, Dad insisted I put in at least two hours of study every day when I got home from school. It eventually paid off as I excelled on my college entrance exams and years later received a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of New Mexico. On Graduation Day, he told me “I always knew you could do it” and I flashed back to his words to me when I was entering junior high.     

Growing up in poverty, my Dad could be exceptionally frugal at times. He repeatedly told me that “nothing beats the satisfaction of saving money but sometimes you have to make it happen.”

Many times, our family thought he took this principle way too far, like driving to six or seven different grocery stores in one day just to find the best price offered on chicken. But I also watched him demonstrate how to make things happen in person and it was a beauty to behold.

I was interested in buying a used Buick from a car lot and it was listed in the newspaper at $2,500. My father insisted that I call the car lot and tell them my name and ask again what price they wanted for the car. We then proceeded to drive to the car lot and looked the Buick over carefully.

Before moving inside to the desk of the sales manager, Dad pulled me aside and told me to let him do all the talking. He asked what was the lowest possible price that they would take for the Buick. The sales manager said he could probably knock off $100 because he liked us and would not take anything less than $2,400 for the car. My father then asked if the price would be less if we paid with cash and the sales manager said it would not and $2,400 was as low as he could go.

We thanked him for showing us the car and left. The next morning my father has me withdraw $1,700 in $100 bills from my bank and we drove back to the car lot. The sales manager seemed surprised to see us back.

My father told him, “cash is king and this is our final offer,” and proceeded to fan 17 $100 bills out on his desk in front of him.

I recall the sales manager’s hand suddenly swooping down to retrieve the cash and I drove home in my new-to-me car that day. By being cagy and sensing the sales manager’s willingness to wheel and deal, my father saved me $800 on that car.

His life lessons are worth remembering. <


Friday, October 16, 2020

Insight: A glimpse at predictions, prognostications and projections

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor   

Back in 1975, I purchased a book that still holds a prominent place on the bookshelf in my office to this very day. It is titled “The People’s Almanac” by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace and is a fascinating collection of trivia, obscure facts and information and untold true stories from history.

In 29 chapters and 1,475 pages, the authors compiled one of the best sources of esoteric knowledge in my lifetime and it spawned two sequels, “The People’s Almanac 2,” “The People’s Almanac 3,” and best-selling chapters from “The People’s Almanac” were turned into books of their own called “The Book of Lists,” “The Books of Lists 2” and “The Book of Lists 3.”

That’s a lot of reading which I highly recommend but focusing on one particular chapter in “The People’s Almanac” has always fascinated me the most. In it, the authors gathered input for the future from popular psychics of the day, psychics of the past and modern scientists, who made bold predictions in 1975 about the world of tomorrow.

Here’s a sampling of predictions they offered in the book and how well these projections have held up over the years:

** From Professor John McHale of the World Resources Inventory at Southern Illinois University – By the year 2010 home computers and flat-screen digital televisions will be developed and sold commercially. McHale was right.

** From Swedish psychic Olof Jonsson – By the year 2000 there will no longer be gasoline-powered automobiles. Jonsson was wrong.

** From Baptist minister David Bubar of Tennessee – By the year 2020 American and Russian scientists will invent a device through which people can become invisible. Bubar was wrong.

** From Desmond King-Hele of London’s Institute of Mathematics – By the year 2000 humans will have colonized Mars. King-Hele was wrong.

** From American psychic and author Jeanne Dixon – By the year 1982 the United States will establish and begin using a new monetary system. Dixon was wrong.

** From John Reeves of Columbia University – By the year 1980, the peninsula of Baja California will break free of land, making it an island. Reeves was wrong.

** From D.G. Brennan of the Hudson Institute – By the year 2018, aircraft capable of orbital speeds will be possible. Brennan was right.

** From American author Arthur C. Clarke – By the year 2020 “video-phones will make possible business lunches with the two halves of the table 10,000 miles apart.” Clarke also predicted home-shopping by computers by 2020. In both instances, he was right.

** From Stanford University biology professor and author Paul Ehrlich – By the year 2000, a shift of the jet stream caused by air pollution and a persistent drought will turn the midwestern United States into a desert. Ehrlich was wrong.

** From Lloyd Stover of the University of Miami’s Institute of Marine Science – By the year 2020, the ocean will be known as a vast potential resource to feed the world’s populations. Stover was right.

** From Rutgers University political science professor Emmet John Hughes – By the year 2024, “economic necessity will override patriotism and cause the nations of Western Europe to band together, if not under a single government, then certainly in a close politico-economic alliance.” Hughes correctly predicted the European Union.

** From Charles DeCarlo of IBM -- By the year 2020, hand-held personal computers of great speed will allow people to conduct banking, listen to music, and work from home. DeCarlo was right.

** From Daniel Bell, sociology professor at Harvard University – “The society of the year 2000 will be more fragile, with greater hostility and polarization.” Bell was right.

** From Alan Vaughn of Akron University – “In 1981, the United States will go to war with China.” Vaughn was wrong.

** From Orville Freeman, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture – By the year 2020, “space satellites 200 miles or more above the surface of the earth will analyze weather, differences in soil, crops and forests, and spot crop damage.” Freeman was right.

** From Dr. Olaf Helmer of Connecticut’s Institute for the Future – By the year 2000 a permanent colony will exist on the moon. Helmer was wrong.

** From Theodore Gordon of the Futures Group – By the year 1990, advances in science will extend the average human lifespan to more than 100 years. Gordon was wrong.

As for me, I’m with Nobel physics laureate Nils Bohr when thinking about venturing a guess about what lies ahead for us, especially living through this year.

“It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” Bohr once said.

So true. <

Andy Young: Karma pays a dividend

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

I have logged over 2,000 miles on my bicycle since taking it out of the basement back in late April. That fact alone might lead some people to assume I am an experienced, proficient cyclist.

But most competent bikers travel with mini toolkits that allow them to make roadside repairs to any routine problems they encounter along the way. I do not carry any such implements; for me they’d be mere ballast. My mechanical skills are, to be blunt, nonexistent. Giving me a wrench and expecting me to fix a bike is the equivalent of handing a rhinoceros a fishing rod and asking him to tune a piano with it.

Which explains how, late last Friday afternoon, I was wondering exactly how to proceed when I found myself and my bike, which had a rear tire that was flatter than a pancake, stranded on the side of a rural road more than a dozen miles from where I live.

The good news was that I had my cell phone, an item I often forget to stick in my backpack before I go pedaling off seeking adventure. Taking it out, I called my friend Brian, who I know for a fact would drop everything to help someone in need at a moment’s notice. He also has a truck that even a bicycle as large as mine can easily fit into, and he resides no more than five or six miles from where I was stranded. He picked up on the second ring, we exchanged pleasantries, and I explained my situation to him. And as I expected, he said, “I’d love to help!”

“But,” he continued, “I’m already halfway to Houlton.” Which, as I recalled too late, is where he and his family go every year for an extended weekend in early October. (Note: in order to keep from upsetting anyone, I have purposely avoided using “Columbus Day weekend” or “Indigenous Peoples Day weekend” here. Choose whichever phrase you prefer.)

At that point I should have been thinking about my next move, but I didn’t have time to do so, because as I was telling Brian to enjoy his weekend up north, a car that was approaching slowed. Lowering his window, the driver asked me if I was okay. I told him that I was, but that my bike most certainly wasn’t. He pulled over, got out, said, “I can take you wherever you need to go.”

When someone with a disabled bike is stranded in the middle of nowhere with darkness no more than an hour away, the only thing he or she desires more than a random humanitarian to appear out of nowhere is having one arrive with a vehicle that’s equipped with a bike rack. Sure enough, my rescuer’s car had one.

Twenty-ish minutes later we were in my driveway, and along the way I learned a bit about an ordinary, extraordinary fellow who I hadn’t known before. I figured he wouldn’t take any money for gas if I offered it to him, and of course he didn’t. That’s why, when he wasn’t looking, I a dumped a HUGE load of good Karma into the back seat of his car, one that I expect will last him and his family well into 2021.

At the risk of sounding a little too giddy over my unlikely rescue, I believe the man who extricated me from my predicament last week was more than just a Good Samaritan. I think he was my guardian angel.

Why?

Well, because - and I swear I’m not making this up - his name was Gabriel.<

 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Bill Diamond: Imported prescriptions can save Mainers real money

By Senator Bill Diamond

We all know that health care in this country is expensive. Chances are, you or someone you love has struggled to pay a doctor’s bill or put off going to the doctor because you had other bills you needed to pay first. For many people, the high cost of prescriptions is a big part of what makes staying healthy so expensive. We all try to budget for our health and wellness, but that can become difficult when the cost of our medicine strains our pocketbooks. About half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug, and almost 30 percent of those Americans say they’ve not taken their medicine as prescribed because of money. None of us want to choose between putting food on the table and taking needed medicine.

Over the past two years, my colleagues in the Legislature and I have prioritized passing laws that will make a real difference for Mainers and their pocketbooks when it comes to health care. This includes a law that improves transparency about how drugs are priced; a law that creates a Prescription Drug Affordability Board; a law that makes sure Mainers, not corporate middlemen, benefit from savings on rebates for prescription drugs; and a law that caps the out-of-pocket cost of insulin at $35 for a 30-day supply for those on certain insurance plans. All of these bills were passed with strong bipartisan support, and many of them with unanimous or nearly unanimous support in the House and the Senate.

One other law we passed in 2019 will allow the importation of drugs from Canada with approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Under this law, only drugs deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are allowed, and those imported prescription drugs must result in savings for Mainers. Many medications are sold abroad for much less than they are sold for in the United States. A 2018 study by DHHS shows that drug manufacturers charged U.S. wholesalers and distributors 1.8 times as much for certain top drugs as they charged other countries. America spends about $1,200 on prescription drugs per person each year, which is much more than any other country spends. If importing prescription drugs can save people money, then we have a responsibility to make sure there is a safe and legal process to do so.

Earlier this year, Maine submitted its plan for drug importation to the federal government for approval. A small handful of other states, including New Hampshire, Vermont and Florida, have taken the initiative to do the same. Last week, DHHS and the FDA announced that they’ve finalized rules for states and drug wholesalers to use in importing drugs from Canada at the direction of the President. This news from the federal government is a step toward making safe prescription importation a reality, but there is still more work to be done to make sure Mainers see real savings from prescription importation.

By lowering the cost of prescriptions, we can help folks stay healthy without breaking the bank. As your state senator, I will keep doing my best to make sure that working people can afford to stay well by looking for opportunities to innovate our health care system.

If there’s anything I can help you or your family with, or if you have any questions or concerns about affording your prescriptions, please send me a message at diamondhollyd@aol.com or call my office at 287-1515. <

Andy Young: On Good Neighbors

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

The people who live across the street from me are going to be moving. They’ve found new and intriguing employment, which they can take advantage of since their two fine (and now fully-grown) sons are both fully capable of striking out on their own. So two of the best neighbors I’ve ever had are moving to a state south and/or west of here. Which, now that I think of it, means they’re moving to one of the other 49 states.

If there were a place you could shop for people you’d want to live near, these two would be highly sought after, regardless of price. In order to protect their anonymity, I’ll call my soon-to-be-ex-neighbors “Andy” and “Emily.” (Plus it’ll be easy for me to remember, since those are their actual names.)

Andy and Emily were the first to welcome me to the neighborhood when I moved in a little over five years ago. And in ways both overt and covert they’ve never stopped making my family and me feel welcome. I chat with one or both of them every so often, like when I go to the mailbox, when we’re out doing yardwork, when we’re all clearing our driveways after a snowstorm, or for no particular reason at all.

When the pandemic started Emily made sure I knew that if I ever needed flour, she had a surplus of it. The pool table in our basement would probably still be in the box it arrived in, unassembled, had Andy not come over the day it arrived and asked, “Hey, need any help with that?”

People who have great neighbors shouldn’t take such good fortune for granted. No one appreciates that particular gift more than those unfortunates who have had bad neighbors. Some years ago some good friends (who I’ll call Arlene and Tom, because those are their actual names) had to sell the lovely house they had renovated because of the people next door, low-grade sociopaths who got frequent visits from disreputable individuals arriving in muffler-less vehicles at hours when most of employed humanity sleeps, or at least tries to. But what ultimately convinced them it was time to pack up was the habit the offspring of the neighbors from Hell had of driving, often while impaired, 25 to 30 mph over the posted speed limit on the straightaway section of their street. Since they valued the safety of their own (much younger) children, Tom and Arlene reluctantly decided it was time to pull up stakes.

I never knew any of the nearby residents when my roommates (who I’ll call Tom, DeLion, and Jeff, because those are their actual names) and I resided in a Raleigh, North Carolina apartment complex, but that was because our jobs involved frequent travel and unusual hours. When I lived In Fairbanks, Alaska I’d regularly see a couple of people I presumed were neighbors, but that was while I was stepping over their prone, unconscious forms in order to get into our building, which was located in one of the sketchier sections of town.

I’d like to get a nice gift for Andy and Emily before they depart, but like most people who are relocating to someplace hundreds of miles away, they’re looking to divest themselves of possessions, rather than acquire more of them.

I think the appropriate way to honor my departing neighbors is to welcome the people who move into the house across the street to the neighborhood the same way I was welcomed by Andy and Emily.

And I’ll refer to them by their actual names, once I find out what they are. <


Insight: Ghosts of Halloween Past

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

The familiar old pattern just might be shaken up a bit this Halloween for our family.

With my wife being an elementary school teacher and not having much time to shop for Halloween candy, that task usually falls to me and it’s a responsibility I do not take lightly.

For me, I can recall how exciting it was to decide on a costume to wear to go out trick or treating every Halloween in the 1960s and then dumping out my collection on the kitchen table when it was over to see what goodies I had amassed.

Among the assortment of saltwater taffy; Razzles; Fruit Stripe Gum; Atomic Fireballs; Dum Dums; Bazooka Bubble Gum; Dots gumdrops; Bottle Caps; Oh Henrys; Junior  Mints; Sugar Daddys; Milky Ways; Baby Ruths; and Hot Lips, there were always a few apples and occasionally some pennies to go to the corner store and buy a pack of new baseball cards.

This was before the days when “snack size,” or “bite size” or “mini” bags of candy was sold and I could end up with a haul of full-sized candy bars that would last well into the month of November.

Bearing that in mind, at some point in the 1990s, when I had worked my way up to a consistent income, I made the decision to purchase full-sized candy bars for trick or treaters who visit our home every Halloween. My wife thinks I’m crazy for insisting on doing this and chides me for the money that I spend doing this.

But I want the kids who stop by our home to know what it was like back in the 1960s before Halloween candy was merely an afterthought and neighbors wanted to buy the cheapest candy possible available and be done with it.

Every year I buy around 100 full-sized candy bars and typically end up with about 65 bars left over. I probably buy more Halloween candy than I should, but I believe it’s always better to have more on hand rather than to run out early and have to disappoint the trick or treaters.

With that much candy left over, it’s inevitable that I end up eating what remains, so in my book, it’s a win-win situation. Not so for my wife, who will always try to give the leftover candy away to neighborhood children instead of letting me overindulge my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup habit each year.

Overbuying Halloween candy has become a tradition in our household every year as is hiding the stash of full-size Hershey chocolate bars, full-size Skittles, full-size Kit Kats and full-size Butterfingers until Oct. 31 rolls around. Typically, a handful of the full-size bars always seem to be missing ahead of when we fill the candy basket for our Halloween visitors.

And speaking of visitors, a trend I’ve noticed lately in my neighborhood is parents pushing young infants and children under the age of 2 coming up to our door trick or treating. The full-size candy bars are probably not being consumed by these very small kids and my suspicion is Mom and Dad are eating the candy when they get home. But in my book, it’s all good. It’s Halloween and who can be unhappy, other than dentists, about a holiday in which candy is freely distributed across America?

There’s nothing better than to open the door and see excited little ones who have spent hours preparing their costumes while their moms and dads truly look on in awe when they find they can reach into a large bowl and come away with a full-sized candy bar. It makes me happy to hear them proclaim to their parents that they want to come back to our house again next year because we give away the best Halloween candy.     

And that brings me to this year with the uncertainty about health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Do I buy my usual complement of full-size bars again and if so, how many children will be trick or treating this year?  

My thoughts are that I’m probably going to scale back my purchase of full-sized candy by at least half of what I normally purchase.

In years past, we’ve had about 35 kids stop by our home and I just don’t see that many visitors this year. It saddens me that a virus has disrupted our lives to the point that even timeless traditions such as Halloween are affected. Hoping we can soon return to normalcy and the doorbell rings many times on the evening of Oct. 31, 2021. <

Friday, October 2, 2020

Andy Young: Exploring the back of the freezer

I had just purchased a generous supply of frozen perishables when a brief but violent storm precipitated a 16-hour power outage in my neighborhood midway through the summer just past. Fortunately there was no spoilage, but that near-miss motivated me to start working on consuming what I have on hand before resuming random impulse-buying in the frozen food section at the grocery store. Besides, I’ve resided in my present home for almost five years, and thus was already thinking of giving the freezer its first-ever defrosting.

My de-clutterization plan involved eating existing inventory from the back of the freezer first, so the initial meal I had was Veggie-Made Zucchini Lentil Pasta, a product which had “shopped while I was hungry” written all over it.  The attractive microwaveable bag it came in said, “NEW!” It also had, in much smaller print, an expiration date which said, “Best if used by Feb. 09, 2019.” 

Maybe it would have been better had I eaten it 18 or more months earlier, as was recommended, but my final verdict on zucchini lentil pasta is that it tastes a whole lot like… pasta.

As the back of the freezer slowly became visible again, I began applying the same culling policy to the aging food in my pantry. The first target: some Fiber One Bran Cereal that may have come with the house. The box’s front declared, “NO high fructose corn syrup, NO colors from artificial sources, NO artificial flavors.” It also should have said “NO discernable flavor.” On the box’s top flap, under “Better if used by,” it said, 16 Sept 2017.

The back of my kitchen cabinet contained a treasure trove of expired items. There was a Chicken Sriracha-flavored gluten-free “protein bar” that looked suspiciously like shrink-wrapped roadkill; it’s “Best if used by” date was 24 August 2019. Next to it was something I assume came in the same Christmas Party Yankee Swap gift some years ago: a Vermont Smoke and Cure Gourmet Sausage, an item which looked like something one would obtain at one of those windowless “adult toy stores,” rather than at Hannaford or Shaw’s.  It probably had no expiration date because none of its ingredients are found in nature, and thus can’t spoil.  

The nutrition facts printed on the wrapper of an 0.5 oz. package of Swedish Fish (exp. Date 8 February 2017) I found near the back of the cupboard claim that 0.5 ounces of Swedish Fish contain 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of protein, 20 MG of sodium, and 22 grams of sugar. That’ll likely still be true if I open them next week, or in 20 years as a treat for my still-unborn grandchildren. But they’ll likely be just as valueless nourishment-wise on whatever date they’re released from their tiny bag as they are today.

There were also several tiny green envelopes of what might be dried garlic peas. Unfortunately, other than, “Product of Taiwan,” all the printing on the packages is in Chinese, so I’m unsure of their age. Or of their nutritive value, if any. 

There were also some very old rice cakes, but I doubt they ever expire. Too-stale rice cakes are like too-wet water.

At this writing my “out with the old” efforts are continuing. I’ve eaten most of the aging inventory, and with no ill effects afterward. But if there’s anyone out there who’d like some shrink-wrapped chicken roadkill and/or an obscene-looking sausage, well, drop me a line and they’re yours. I’ll even throw in some garlic peas.

You can’t have the Swedish fish, though. The grandkids still have first dibs on those. <

Insight: Lessons learned from an afternoon of apple picking

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

With the weather warming into the low 70s last weekend, my wife Nancy and I decided that Saturday afternoon would be a great time to go pick some apples at a local orchard.

We decided to visit one particular orchard about 20 miles from our home based upon recommendations from friends and its large abundance of different varieties of apples grown there.

The last time we went to an orchard together was about five years ago when I worked in New Hampshire and things were a little different here at this orchard in Maine.

First, in our haste to start picking almost as soon as we got there, we neglected to notice the ribbon system used to identify the rows of the apple tree varieties posted at the entrance to the orchard. When you miss knowing what kinds of apples they are, you have to rely of your taste buds to determine if the row of apples that you’re in will be great for snacks or better when baked into an apple pie.

We wandered in and out of rows marked with pink, purple, yellow, green, candy-striped and blue ribbons without learning what specific kinds of apples they were. Turns out the orchard we visited grows more than 25 varieties of apples, but we spent most of our time in the rows of Macouns, Braeburns and Gala apples and never actually saw any McIntosh or Red Delicious apples.

Second, dress appropriately. We had on long-sleeved shirts and jeans, but with the sun beating down on us and lugging around a half-bushel bag filled with apples while wearing a preventative COVID-19 mask made for a very warm and tiring experience.

Third, know what you are sampling. As we were nearing the end of one of the rows of trees in the orchard, some were marked with a black ribbon. The fruit on the trees was small, dark and sort of resembled plums. My wife thought they might be crab apples, but I thought I could discern what there were by trying one. I picked one off the tree and when I bit into it, I found out that this particular kind of fruit was something that was rather bitter and not at all ripe.

Fourth, remember to take photos. The last time we went apple picking I thought it would be a fantastic location for photos, but for some reason I forgot to take any even though I planned on doing so before we left home originally.

Fifth, try not to shake the trees when picking the apples. Some perfectly good apples fell on the ground and I later saw a sign while leaving the orchard that the employees are not allowed to pick up the apples on the ground. Seems like such a waste that some of those apples couldn’t be turned into apple sauce or cider or cattle feed rather than lying there rotting away. 

Fifth, hit the orchard snack bar early. On the way into the orchard from parking our car, I noticed people standing in line for the snack bar or sitting at a nearby picnic table enjoying a bag of apple cider donuts. I thought that we could drop by as we were departing and buy some cider donuts for the ride home. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the snack bar, all they had left was popcorn and we were advised that a new batch of cider donuts would be ready in about a half-hour if we wanted to wait. Being hot, tired and hungry, we passed on waiting for them.

Sixth, bring lots of cash. The half-bushel plastic bag we filled was $32 at the checkout counter.

Lastly, know your surroundings. Within two miles of the orchard we spent the afternoon at, I spotted a small farm with a roadside store and knowing that my wife really wanted McIntosh apples, we stopped and went inside. They had bags of apples for sale grouped by type and we purchased a bag of McIntoshs for half of what it cost for the half-bushel bag at the larger orchard. And they also had small brown paper bags containing four “apple pie” donuts for $5 that we enjoyed driving home.

My best advice if you’re heading out to the orchard to pick apples is to have fun, appreciate the natural beauty and surroundings and make it a memorable time. Now I can’t wait for a slice of Nancy’s apple pie. <

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.<