Friday, April 16, 2021

Insight: Pandemic online shopping lessons

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Like most everyone else in my community at the onset of the pandemic last year, I’d venture out to the store and try to purchase hard-to-find items for our family.

And like everyone else, many times I came home without finding toilet paper, fresh vegetables, paper towels, milk or crackers. Store shelves were decimated by the end of that first week and I can recall looking down the meat counter at my local grocery and seeing rows and rows of empty coolers.

That experience reminded me of what it must have been like to shop during the Great Depression or in Europe after World War II ended. I had to do something to keep the household running and stocked with necessities, so I turned to the great equalizer, the internet.

There I found so many bargains and opportunities to order scarce items and many delivered within days for an additional fee. Soon the mail trucks and the UPS and FedEx delivery vans were making regular stops in front of our home and it was hard to keep the recycling bin free of cardboard boxes emptied of their precious cargo.

Now more than a year later, we find it amazing to review some of the items I was able to have shipped to us.

Within the first couple months, as trips to the grocery store became somewhat perilous, I purchased these items online and was able to remember this list thanks to the handy “Buy It again” feature on amazon.com:

Four multi-pack boxes of Quaker Instant Oatmeal; an eight-pack of Mr. Pibb Extra soda pop; a dozen 32-ounce containers of 2 percent lactose-free milk; a three-pack of Cameo Crème sandwich cookies; a four-pack of 20-ounce Betty Crocker chocolate brownie mix; several large bags of Match Light charcoal; a 64-ounce jar of Skippy Super Chunk peanut butter; and a 72-count package of Hormel bacon.

Then there was a 10-pack variety of canned Campbell soups; two 64- ounce bottles of Pure Leaf Iced Tea with lemon; a two-pack of 14.3-ounce Oreo cookies; a four-pack of family-sized boxes of Special K cereal; a four-pack of 46-ounce V-8 juice; and 12-ounce 12-packs of RC Cola, Seven-Up, Big Red soda and Mr. Pibb Extra.

For good measure, I also ordered a 15-pack of 12-ounce Dr, Pepper; an eight-pack of 15.4-ounce Campbell’s Homestyle microwaveable chicken noodle soup; a four-pack of Ritz crackers (family size); a four-pack of 20-ounce StarKist tuna; and a six-pack of Maxwell House International instant coffee.

All of those followed two different orders placed online with Omaha Steaks. Those came in specially packed styrofoam coolers placed inside larger cardboard boxes. Those shipping containers were a nightmare to dispose of properly.

The meat was expensive and portion sizes were small, but it did tide us over until such a time that the beef and chicken shortages had subsided, and grocery coolers were full again of those items.

I did order several times from an online restaurant supplier in Pennsylvania. To augment their business during the pandemic, they offered some of their meats to anyone looking, although you did have to buy in bulk.

These are the same people who sell steaks and chops to local restaurants and their meat was shipped frozen and arrived within days after placing my order. I first ordered a box of 12-ounce T-bone steaks and they were so good, later in the summer I ordered another, even though meat was plentiful again in area stores by then.

The T-bone steaks came in a box of 14 for a cost of $140.00 and shipping was free. It was an amazing deal. They grilled up nicely and turned out to be a pleasant distraction from the pandemic as last summer wore on. I’d certainly order from that company again.

Now more than a year later, some items I purchased remain on the shelf and probably a waste of money. Seems nobody in our family liked the packaged milk. This past weekend I noticed that the expiration date on those was November 2020. Out of the 12-pack I obtained, we have 10 left, and it will fall upon me to get rid of them. The canned Campbell’s Minestrone soup was not exactly a popular pick either and neither was the Hormel bacon, which I ended up eating all by myself.

Through it all, I was able to prove to myself that it is possible to order groceries online during a pandemic and our family survived despite the shortages, availability of odd and unfamiliar brands and resorting to ordering some items in bulk. Happy Shopping! <     

Andy Young: Farewell to a prince of a man

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Prince Philip’s passing last week dealt yet another blow to a British royal family that has been beset by misfortune in 2021.  It came just 32 days after a widely viewed televised chat Oprah Winfrey conducted with Prince Harry and his wife, American actress Meghan Markle, that revealed, among other things, that certain House of Windsor members not only lack compassion, but in addition hold some less-than-enlightened views on race.

Of course, “Misfortune” can be a relative term. While dealing with the fallout from the much-discussed unflattering Winfrey interview has undoubtedly been trying for Queen Elizabeth and her minions, there are, one imagines, plenty of people out there who’d welcome the opportunity to deal with the challenge of putting a positive spin on an international public relations snafu were they allowed to do so from inside their own personal castle, which was fully staffed with aides and servants whose salaries were being paid for by someone else. 

The Duke of Edinburgh’s death further thins the ranks of humanity’s surviving dukes. It’s important to remember and appreciate the notable lives of not only Prince Philip, but Patty Duke, Duke Ellington, Duke Snider, and Duke Kahanamoku, particularly given that the most famous still-extant member of the Klan (pun intended), David, has been sullying the reputation of other dukes for decades through his espousal of racism, anti-Semitism, and half-baked conspiracy theories.

There’s no evidence that the late Prince Philip, who had been married to Queen Elizabeth for more than 73 years, was one of those who had showed a lack of compassion for their grandson’s biracial spouse. What’s undisputable, though, is that the man lived a remarkable life.

It’s unsurprising that the fellow who married a princess back in 1947 was born to privilege himself, but who knew the seemingly British through-and-through Duke of Edinburgh was born far from England on a Mediterranean island in the Ionian Sea? Or that his own royal background wasn’t British, but rather Danish and Greek. And learning that he was smuggled off the island of his birth in an orange crate when he was just 18 months old was news to me.

Philip served with distinction in the British Navy for the length of the second world war, even as two of his brothers-in-law fought for the Germans. He was a licensed pilot, an accomplished polo player, and a talented artist. One of the founders of the World Wildlife Fund in 1961, he was a conservationist long before environmental activism became politically fashionable. He also had a talent for self-deprecation; according to an article in America, The Jesuit Review, he once described himself as (among other things), “A discredited Balkan prince of no particular merit or distinction.” 

It’s a shame that Prince Philip, who by all accounts had for some time been dealing with the sorts of ailments that inevitably afflict those who’ve celebrated 99 birthdays, couldn’t have lasted another couple of months. It’s likely that some overworked members of the staff at Buckingham Palace who had been charged with preparing for the Duke’s centennial celebration on June 10 had to reluctantly deposit what was likely months of their hard work into the royal shredder sometime last week.

Even if he didn’t quite make it to his 100th birthday, Prince Philip’s longevity was remarkable. Only a tiny percentage of humanity is allotted 36,463 days (or, if you prefer, 5,209 weeks) of life, and the Duke most assuredly made the most of his.

The final irony of the departure of the royal consort was its exquisite timing. The 99-year-old Duke quietly expired on the 99th day of 2021. <

Friday, April 9, 2021

Bill Diamond: Local heroes protect Maine’s children from abuse

By Senator Bill Diamond

It’s not something most people want to think about, and it’s easy to understand why. But the fact is, children in Maine – just like children everywhere else – are sexually exploited for the financial profit of adults every day. This includes the production, buying, selling and swapping of child sexual abuse materials online. Luckily, in Maine, we have a team of dedicated professionals who do all they can to put these perpetrators away: the Computer Crimes Unit of the Maine State Police, also known as the CCU. Unfortunately, the CCU is understaffed and struggling to keep up with a growing caseload. That’s why I’m sponsoring a bill this year to add more positions to the CCU to help combat some of the most heinous crimes we see in our society.

The CCU is a multi-jurisdictional police entity that assists other law enforcement agencies and prosecutors with putting these perpetrators away. In many instances, cases come to the CCU as the result of referrals from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Investigators and computer forensic analysts in the CCU then work side-by-side to identify the producers, sellers, buyers and users of these materials and build cases against them. As technology evolves and becomes more sophisticated, so do the perpetrators who rely on technology to commit their crimes. In the past four years, the number of case referrals and tips the CCU receives has nearly tripled.

This has left the CCU with a far bigger workload than current staffing levels can accommodate. While investigators can typically conduct about 20 thorough investigations a year, each of the CCU’s four investigators currently has up to 100 cases. Because there aren’t enough forensic analysts and investigators to review and examine the evidence they collect, it remains sitting on a shelf in a closet 20 feet from a vacant CCU desk. The result is that perpetrators remain free and are able to abuse more children.

The bill I’ve introduced will add one or more positions to the CCU to help combat this backlog. The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is currently working on the bill to determine how many positions to recommend, and whether those positions should be for investigators or forensic analysts. Whatever the committee decides, the result will be a recommendation to the Legislature that we fund at least one additional CCU position. This is necessary to protect our kids, and I hope my colleagues in the House and Senate will see the value in funding this priority.

As you can imagine, working on these cases and viewing these images takes a significant toll on CCU workers. I began working with the CCU in 2004, when I served as senate chair of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. I’ve had the honor of visiting the CCU in the years since, and I can tell you that those visits have been some of the most impressionable moments of my entire life. I always encourage my colleagues in the Legislature to tour the CCU and learn more about their work. CCU workers are local heroes, and their work is often unrecognized and underappreciated. This includes the computer analysts in the CCU, who are civilians. Another bill of mine would include these workers in the state’s 1998 Special Retirement Plan, which currently includes fire marshals, forest rangers and many others who serve our state. This would allow these CCU workers to retire at age 55 with 10 years of creditable service.

Protecting Maine’s children from abuse of all forms has been a priority for me for the past two decades. That’s why I’ve also introduced a bill that would take the Office of Family and Child Services out from under the Department of Health and Human Services and make it its own department. This would dedicate more resources toward issues of child welfare, early childhood programs and behavioral health services for children. Our state has seen too many tragedies over the past few decades. It’s well past time we make a real investment in supporting and protecting our most vulnerable children, and I believe this is a critical step in the right direction. You’ll hear more from me about this in the coming months.

I hope I’ve been able to provide you with some information you didn’t have before about the CCU and the reality of child abuse in our state. We have an opportunity to improve our efforts to protect our children in Maine by giving the CCU some of the obvious tools they need to prevent predators from continuing to abuse children. If you want to discuss this issue, or if you have any other questions or concerns we can work on together, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at 287-1515 or diamondhollyd@aol.com. <

Insight: Two kinds of people

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Growing up, my father used to tell me that while serving in the Army during World War II he found there were two types of people in the world, those who are rational and think things out and others who are confused and choose to disregard opportunities to learn and improve.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate my father’s sentiments about people and I’ve strived to be a member of the “rational” group. I’m no great philosopher and make mistakes like everybody else, but I do make an effort to try to use what I’ve learned in life to simply continue to live.

This past weekend, I was reminded of the difference between rational and confused. While on a Zoom session with family members living out of state, we discussed getting vaccinated for coronavirus.

My wife Nancy and I have now had both of our shots of the Pfizer vaccine and will soon reach the two-week point for maximum effectiveness. The family members we were visiting with on Zoom reside in the deep southern part of the United States and are considerably younger than us. As a result, I did not think prior to this Zoom session that they would have had an opportunity to receive the vaccine.  

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that their state opened up vaccinations more than a month ago to all age groups and that they were fully immunized. One of these relatives mentioned that his 20-year-old daughter also had been vaccinated and so were his parents, although they were extremely reluctant to do so, but eventually gave in and received the shots.

But there was one holdout. Seems this relative’s sister refused to be immunized against coronavirus, saying we’re all going to die some day and she wasn’t going to let some health official dictate to her whether she should get the vaccine or not.

That statement made me think of my father’s statement about two types of people in the world and how fortunate I am to be surrounded by rational people.

Both my wife and I experienced little to no side effects from the vaccine. While my arm was sore for a little while, it always is whenever I get a flu shot by injection. I wasn’t overly tired or lethargic and both my wife and I each went to work the very next day.

Now we have some measure of protection against the virus and are hopeful that we will have plenty of antibodies to ward it off should we meet someone who does have it.

But what about those people who choose not to be immunized?

The freedom to choose is an underlying foundation of American society and deciding not to receive the vaccine is your right, but in my opinion is a moral failure and evidence of disregard for your fellow man.

Weighing a mistrust of modern science or fearing a negative reaction to the vaccine is understandable, but when put up against the public good and the undeniable personal health benefits in this instance, it pales in comparison.

For vaccination skeptics, I ask you to consider how much has been lost in the last year because of the virus and how we all yearn to return to a more normalized way of life.

It’s really a matter of mathematics when you get right down to it. As the pool of potential virus hosts and transmitters shrinks as more and more of the population is immunized, simple math reveals that the virus will go to where it can survive and thrive among those who have not been vaccinated.

The greatest benefit we will all derive when a majority of Americans are fully vaccinated is the immunity against this awful virus that has claimed so many lives and disrupted our daily lives, our economy and our ability to connect with those we love.

The choice between saving lives and preserving the individual freedom of refusing to be vaccinated is moot.

I truly long to go to a major league baseball game once more, to feel safe dining indoors at a restaurant, to shake hands with someone I’ve just met for the first time and to drive to Connecticut to spend time with family and our grandchild.

I fear that those who reject simplistic public health measures such as wearing a mask or going to receive the vaccine all to make a point about individual liberty will end up on the wrong side of history and continue to prolong this pandemic even further. <

Andy Young: Basketball and why the UConn women continue to dominate

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle


As a youth I was an avid National Basketball Association fan. Thanks to devouring The Sporting News every week, I knew there were actually NBA teams besides the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers, and whoever Wilt Chamberlain was playing for at the time. Oscar Robertson, Rick Barry, Zelmo Beaty and their teams (the Cincinnati Royals, San Francisco Warriors, and St. Louis Hawks, respectively) may be distant memories now, but to a hoops-obsessed 10-year-old they were gods, albeit unusually tall ones.

But humanity has evolved over the millennia, and so too have individual persons, even those males whose adolescence endures for approximately three decades. I’ve moved past men’s basketball, having finally realized just how silly being preoccupied with a bunch of large men playing a kid’s game is. Besides, these days there’s something far more important for discerning hoop fans to follow.

My awareness of women’s basketball began on a Saturday afternoon during my freshman year of college, when a friend asked if I’d come to a game at the school’s field house with him. His girlfriend (and future wife) was on the team, and he said they could use some fans. That was clearly true, since it appeared there were more people on the court than there were in the stands. And that couldn’t be blamed on ticket prices, since admission was free.

Anyway, the Massachusetts Minutewomen beat our school’s squad that day, 84-70, but I felt good about having lent moral support to the home side, particularly since I was probably the only one in attendance who wasn’t directly related to one of the players.

Sixteen years later I was back on campus visiting when, by utter coincidence, I ran into a friend from my hometown who happened to be a student manager for the school’s women’s basketball team. There was a game that night, and she said she’d leave me a ticket. A sweet gesture, I thought, though hardly necessary, given the intimate gathering of friends and relatives I expected to encounter there.

Thank goodness I was on the pass list; there wasn’t an empty seat in the brand-new arena! The only downer for the enthusiastic sellout throng: the Miami Hurricanes beat the home team, 75-59.

University of Connecticut alumni like me are justifiably proud of our school’s women’s basketball team, which has compiled the sort of record that would make the Celtics of the 1960’s, the Montreal Canadiens of the late 1950s, or the New York Yankees of any era green with envy.

All that success can be attributed to a variety of factors, like standout players (including 13 multiple-year All-America selections) and a remarkable coaching staff, but there are also a few seldom-acknowledged components.

Like, for example, me.

Shortly after seeing that Miami game, I had a sobering epiphany. I realized my mere presence was jinxing my alma mater. After all, how many people have gone to more than one UConn women’s basketball game in person and never seen them win? That’s why I made the heartbreaking decision to stay away in perpetuity from personally attending any of the team’s games. Has that selfless decision had any effect? You be the judge; since the start of the 1993-94 season the 11-time national champions have won 957 games while losing just 66, for an outrageous winning percentage of .935.

But don’t think for even a second my devotion to the women’s game has lessened my encyclopedic knowledge of the NBA. The Celtics and Paul Pierce still rule, of course, but I think the Cleveland Cavaliers may have themselves a rising star in this James LeBron guy. <

Friday, April 2, 2021

Insight: Brown gravy nearly halts a military career

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

It’s been almost 44 years since I took one of the most harrowing plane trips of my life, yet looking back on it now, it’s ended up being a source of humor that I carry with me to this very day.

In the fall of 1977, I was an Airman Basic (E-1) in the U.S. Air Force and boarded an airplane at Charleston, South Carolina with many other military members and their families bound for Frankfurt, Germany. I was headed to my first permanent military assignment and it was an eight-hour overnight flight to Europe with a stop to refuel in Gander, Newfoundland.

At that time, regulations mandated that all military personnel on the flight wear Class A dress uniforms and I was dressed in my official dress blue Air Force uniform with a tie and was assigned a middle-row seat, sandwiched between two U.S. Army colonels wearing their dress green uniforms.

Not long into the flight, each of the Army colonels pulled out books and began to read, while I thumbed through a magazine that I had purchased at the Charleston airport. The plane landed in Gander and we had about a 40-minute layover before taking off again for Frankfurt.

As the flight wore on, both Army colonels on either side of me removed their dress uniform jackets and fell asleep. As the flight progressed, as a 23-year-old, I was too excited about traveling to Europe to sleep.

About an hour after departing Gander, the flight attendant came around and offered dinner to the passengers. I accepted but both Army colonels were sleeping and did not awaken during the meal.

The dinner was roast beef covered in brown gravy with a dinner roll, mashed potatoes, and carrots and served on one of those old white plastic TV dinner trays with plastic utensils. The plastic trays were lukewarm at best and the food was a bit cold, but I was hungry and eagerly started eating.

Somehow a pocket of brown gravy was concealed underneath a stack of the roast beef and when I cut into it with my plastic knife, a small spurt of brown gravy flew off my tray and up onto the collar of the Army colonel seated to my left. It left an ugly stain on his light green collar and now I was faced with a major dilemma. Do I wake him up and apologize for the terrible thing that I have just done or do I let him sleep and pray that he didn’t realize what happened.

The minutes slowly wound into hours as I agonized about what to do. I envisioned that this was the end of my military career before it even got started and that the colonel would complain upon landing in Frankfurt. I envisioned being court martialed and sent back to the USA on the next available flight.

I wrestled with my conscience over and over and played through many different scenarios, all of them turning out bad for me and my budding military career. I thought of how proud my family was of my service and how let down they would be as it all came crashing down all because of a hidden pocket of brown roast beef gravy.

After what seemed like an eternity, the pilot’s voice came over the airplane loudspeaker and announced we were descending to land at Frankfurt, Germany. Once the plane’s wheels touched down, as soon as passengers were allowed to exit, I was up and out of my seat, grabbed my duffle bag from the overhead compartment and was headed for the door.

I made it through customs and was waiting in the airport lobby for my unit to pick me up when I saw a NATO staff car adorned with four-star general flags pull up outside. NATO’s Commander, General Alexander Haig, got out of the staff car and made his way into the airport lobby.

Turns out General Haig was there to pick up his chief military aide, the U.S. Army colonel sitting left of me on the flight, who had by then made it through customs and was walking toward the general.

The colonel stopped, saluted Haig and then I watched as Haig crooked his neck and stared directly at the brown gravy spot on his collar. I heard shouting and a commotion as I turned and slowly walked away to get a cup of coffee. I felt relieved and decades later, it remains a memorable situation that could have turned out much worse. <

Andy Young: Spring is here, and what a relief!

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

I’m not the first person to compare the annual start of spring to being reborn. It’s impossible not to get reenergized when flowers begin blooming, brooks resume babbling, and buds on the trees begin transforming into leaves. Emerging from winter’s seemingly endless cold and darkness provides the sort of relief that’s arguably even more vital to the human spirit than the onset of the ensuing season is.

Now is also that unique time in northern New England when observant types notice things that aren’t readily visible during the rest of the year. Sights obscured by vegetation in summer, camouflaged by fallen leaves during autumn, and buried under a blanket of snow throughout the lengthy winter are clearly discernible for those willing to take the time to look.

Unfortunately, not everything that’s revealed between winter’s end and spring’s onset is pleasant. Receding snow and ice in certain sections of Portland reveal just how many people ignored the city’s regulations regarding the removal of pet waste during the winter, and the amount of rubbish one sees along many country roadsides indicates that plenty of rural types are no more observant of anti-littering laws than certain city dwellers are about cleaning up after their dogs.

I’ve never been able to fathom why some people think it’s okay to randomly toss their trash where it doesn’t belong. But that’s hardly the only thing I don’t understand. The already lengthy list of items I haven’t yet grasped (or seen any reason for) seems to lengthen with each passing day.

I don’t understand quantum physics, the rules of field hockey, or why anyone should care about keeping up with the Kardashians.

I don’t have any idea when time began, why any particular thing exists, or if the egg preceded the chicken (or vice versa).

I don’t know what color a mirror is, what blind people see in their dreams, or who taught the first teacher.

And don’t ask me how asexual organisms reproduce, if it’s the “S” or the “C” that’s silent in the word “scent,” or why anyone would, even for a second, think injecting people with bleach would be a great way to eradicate the coronavirus.

But some seemingly mysterious things can, with sufficient time and effort, be explained.

One of them involves a familiar expression which has been a part of English-speaking America’s lexicon for generations, one that originated long before any states, United or otherwise, existed on the North American continent. This particular declarative phrase owes its creation to the Shinnecock Indians of Manhattan Island, who performed an annual spring-welcoming ritual that involved each member of the tribe over the age of 12 chanting, in their native tongue, a lengthy mantra ending with the words, “Waw-taw-reel-eefe,” a Shinnecock expression which literally meant, “We greet you with warm hearts and open arms, vernal equinox.”

Then in the late 16th century some visiting English missionaries observed the ceremony and assumed it referred to the “re-leafing” of the trees. Shortly thereafter, “What a releaf” became one of the earliest recorded bits of North American-created English jargon in linguistic history. (The spelling of the idiom’s third word was changed by the Dutch shortly after they snatched ownership of Manhattan Island from the Shinnecocks and some neighboring tribes for $24 worth of trinkets and some smallpox-tainted blankets.)

Another thing I don’t understand – how anyone could believe that cockamamie, fake news story about the Shinnecocks and the origin of “what a relief!” I just made it up. April fool!

You have to admit, though: it makes more sense than exterminating the coronavirus with a shot of bleach does. <

Friday, March 26, 2021

Insight: Overplayed or overappreciated? 1970s pop music revisited

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

As I’ve mentioned previously, my car radio receives plenty of use as I drive to and from work and the “70s on 7” station on Sirius XM provides the backdrop for plenty of nostalgia for me as someone who survived that decade in American history.

And as a frequent listener to that channel, I’d be remiss not to mention there are plenty of overplayed songs on their playlist. Many of these songs were overplayed when they were first released, and others irritated me from the moment I first heard them more than 40 years ago on AM radio.

Without further fanfare, here’s my list of the most overplayed (and highly irritating) songs of the 1970s and some brief explanation of what I dislike the most about them:

** “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan. A depressing saga from 1972 about a man whose girlfriend stood him up at their wedding. And then his mother died, leaving him all alone in the world. Vapid and pure and simple schlock in my opinion.

** “Sometimes When We Touch” by Dan Hill. In a time when disco music ruled the charts in 1978, comes this caterwauling assault on your eardrums in a bogus ballad about a ridiculously sensitive commitment-phobic man. It attempts to tug at your emotional heartstrings but instead leaves one wondering how anyone could be so wrapped up in themselves.

** “Feelings” by Morris Albert. Since 1974 I have wanted to reach out and tell Brazilian crooner Morris Albert what I truly think of this hideous ode to elevator music, but being a Christian, I can’t bring myself to do it. Anyone who professes to love soft rock should be ashamed to say they like this song.   

** “It Never Rains in Southern California” by Albert Hammond. A cornerstone to the “Easy Listening” genre, this 1972 tune about a broke, starving, and unemployed actor contemplating returning home always make me want to vomit, from the first few notes.   

** “Convoy” by C.W. McCall. Even over-the-road truckers cringe when they hear this 1976 country crossover hit that spawned a movie and unleashed a barrage of Citizens Band radio lingo and CB handles upon the civilized world. The “Rubber Duck” says “watch out for bears good buddy.”  

** “I’ve Never Been To Me” by Charlene. Why this 1977 release remains on the playlist anywhere escapes me. It wasn’t a Top-40 hit then and its sappy lyrics about the singer’s banal regret for leading a jet-setting lifestyle and pining away for a simpler life and self-fulfillment doesn’t deserve frequent airplay 44 years later.    

** “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks. A dying fellow bids farewell to his friends, his pastor, and his wife in this 1974 release that ultimately reveals he’s aware of his wife’s affair and forgives her and everyone else who’s wronged him in life. What is it about depression and anxiety that singers like to turn into hit songs?     

** “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone. Anyone alive in the 1970s remembers the sheer number of how many times this was played on the radio. It spent 10 weeks as the “Number One” song in 1977 and won all kinds of awards, but DJs wore out the turntable playing this romantic love ballad over and over so often I immediately began changing the radio station whenever it aired. Still do decades later.

** “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” by Leo Sayer. It was a bad idea in 1975 to wail about how a girl brought “rainbows and happiness” into a bushy haired singer’s life and 46 years later, as Sayer’s high-pitched and nasal voice blabbers on, it still resembles fingernails being incessantly scratched across a blackboard to me. Yuk.

** “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots. This might be the ultimate folly that brought the Age of Disco to an untimely end. Memphis DJ Rick Dees created a satirical novelty song so awful, many radio stations, including the one he was working at, refused to play it. That edict should have been enforced nationwide in 1977, yet somehow all these years later, “70s on 7” continues to torture me by playing it at least once every three hours or so. In my opinion, it’s absolutely terrible and radio abuse in its highest form.

These “gems” make me ponder how I ever made it out of the 1970s with my sanity intact and I thank God for the sheer existence of the “On” and “Off” buttons on my radio today. <

Andy Young: A shot in the arm

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Until recently I had never voluntarily submitted to taking a flu shot. When it comes to health, I’m “old school.” Why fix what’s not broken? Or in this case, why inject a foreign substance into a perfectly functional body? But the major reason for my avoidance of inoculations is an exceptionally strong aversion to being poked with sharp objects.

I like needles the same way Superman likes Kryptonite, dogs like fleas, or 1970s-era Red Sox fans liked George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson.

I dislike getting shots more than John Madden hates flying, more than mice loathe cats, and even more than pediatricians detest a wriggling, thrashing, hysterically shrieking child they’re attempting to supply with a tetanus shot after said cherub had, earlier the same day, stepped on a rusty nail.

Which reminds me, I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to the late Dr. Forris B. Chick, my sainted mother, and Dr. Chick’s nurse (who very likely is also no longer with us) for going berserk one day in 1966 (or thereabouts), when it took the three of them to subdue me long enough to stick me with an antidote to death by lockjaw. I truly regret my unseemly conduct, particularly since even after the debacle that saw me trash the good doctor’s examination room, not to mention embarrass, frustrate, and most likely enrage all of the above-specified adults, I was still given a lollipop afterward.

Since then, life experience has taught me that my needlephobia (which according to Dictionary.com isn’t a word, even though it ought to be) doesn’t make me even remotely unique. Reluctance to getting jabbed is normal; people who actually enjoy getting hypodermic needles stuck in their veins are the ones we ought to worry about.

A brief Peace Corps stint in Central America earned me a whole battery of needle-supplied inoculations, including several which were painfully delivered in areas other than the arm. But by the time I reached my early 30s, I knew for certain that a 6-foot-2-inch man trembling, flinching, and weeping like a baby prior to getting a shot was both inappropriate and undignified, or at least not as appropriate and dignified as it had been when I was doing it in my late 20s.

I still don’t like getting shots, but since most reputable epidemiologists agree that a good part of the solution to the current international pandemic is herd immunity, I’ve long since decided to take one (or in this case two, since I couldn’t get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine) for the team.

I got my first dosage last week. The whole process took less than 45 minutes, and when it was over I found myself feeling somewhere between uplifted and exhilarated. At the facility where the shots were being given, every one of the dozen or so volunteers I encountered while going through the process radiated a palpable cheerfulness.  I honestly didn’t even feel the needle go in when I got my injection. When I got home and my son asked me about the process, I truthfully told him that every single person I had encountered there was smiling. It was only later I realized that each of those helpful, buoyant, and upbeat folks whose smiles I had “seen” had been wearing a mask at the time!

The tiny bruise that appeared on my arm the following morning was gone by the afternoon. Bottom line: getting my first Covid injection was as non-traumatic as a shot in the arm can be. I do have one tiny complaint, though.

No one gave me a lollipop. <

Friday, March 19, 2021

Insight: Play on words shows subtle differences

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

As someone who works with words for a living, I’ve learned that everyone can use specific terms to interpret different meanings and forms of understanding.

Take the word “hope” for example. To me, hope is a belief that a dire situation or an awful time or experience will improve significantly. Yet being hopeful is different from being “optimistic.”

An optimist can dream of a better life and strive to make it happen, while a hopeful individual focuses on a specific aspect of life, such as hoping to someday fall in love and get married or hoping to get a better job.

Optimists can be the most pessimistic of people and yet also detail for you exactly what they hope to accomplish in life.

In some respects, hope can serve as a prelude to the future or function as a self-expectation about ourselves. While being hopeful about a situation, we express a desire to make something happen and it can lead to self-motivation to make it happen.

Being optimistic though requires little motivation, just a sense that something good lies ahead and it’s probably going to happen.

Other words that writers sometimes tend to confuse, and misuse, is “effective” and “efficient.”

When something is considered effective, it typically means it has accomplished a goal and achieved a desired result. An effective solution solves a problem, an effective vaccine thwarts a virus from spreading, and an effective diet helps weight-conscious individuals shed pounds successfully.

If something is considered efficient, it usually involves the conservation of resources to achieve a desired result. Efficient workers get the job done without overtime, a machine is efficient because it uses less energy while performing essentially the same function as another, and a new efficient method can save time when compared to another traditional way of doing the same thing.

Somethings can turn out to efficient but not effective and vice versa. A new roofing material can be highly efficient for savings when used to cover homes, but not effective because it deteriorates much quicker than other materials.

The same principle applies to using word choices of “benefit” and “advantage” because there is a difference between them.

Both words can be used as both nouns and verbs and each can mean a good thing, yet indeed there is a subtle difference.

Advantage is used to favorably compare one feature or another, while a benefit is a clear idea of something being better than another. For example, studying the driver’s handbook can work to your advantage when you take the driver’s license examination. Extra hints contained in the driver’s handbook can be of benefit to anyone wanting to take the driver’s license examination.

And when you get right down to it, there is a distinction between selecting the word “decision” and the word “choice” which are frequently misused by writers.

Opting to reach a decision implies some sort of analysis or process has gone into achieving a final determination. Making a choice means selecting one method, person, place or thing over another to achieve a final result.

When a business hires a new employee, it means a choice has been made. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it was a carefully thought-out decision.

The whole concept of writing can be filled with minefields for those who stop and ponder the endless realm of word choice possibilities. Many times, similar sounding words can also mean the same thing, but also can differ slightly, heightening word-choice confusion for writers.

Take the words “attain” and “obtain.” They each indicate possession of something has been realized, yet they are indeed different and hold different meanings.

Attain means an objective or goal has been reached. Obtain means something has been physically acquired.

Through hard work and hours of study, a student attained a master’s degree, compared to I was finally able to obtain a copy of the new Miley Cyrus album on Amazon.com.

Writers also sometimes struggle to differentiate between “reluctant” and “reticent.”

To be reluctant is to hesitate or be unwilling to do something. To be reticent is to be reluctant to speak up or show emotion.

For example, he was reticent to express his opinions about renovating the attic, compared to because of my fear of rotten floorboards, I am reluctant to proceed with the renovation of my attic.

Every great writer has boundless opportunities when it comes to word choices. I hope I have been effective in displaying the advantages and helping you decide and obtain a greater reluctance when it comes to choosing the right words. <

Andy Young: I’m fine with my age, nut test massaging sticks

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

I am not overly sensitive about my age, or at least no more so than anyone else who just turned the sum of Willie Mays’s uniform number, the number of children fathered by President John Tyler, and the square root of 625.

And I’m not vain about my body, either. The truth is I’ve got far less reason to complain in that regard than most folks who have just attained the age of four dozen plus a score minus the number of eggs currently in my refrigerator.

Most of my body parts (eyes, ears, arms, legs, knees, etc.) are still functioning, and I’ve got a working brain, plus a keen sense of smell I’m grateful for, except when I’m downwind from a paper mill, or a sewage treatment plant. And with the exception of one titanium hip, all those still-operational items are original equipment.

But I do have one nagging appearance-related complaint.

My fingers are too fat.

There. I said it.

I probably shouldn’t whine about the composition of my hands. My Uncle Eddie told the story of one of his friends who miscalculated the length of time between when he lit the fuse of some fireworks that he was holding in his right hand one July 4th, and how soon they would go off. The aftermath left the man bereft of three fingers, and with a new, lifelong nickname: “Lefty.”

Some years later I had a colleague who had six fingers on each of his hands. He also supposedly had six toes on each foot, but I never had the nerve to ask him to remove his shoes so I could count.

But that acknowledged, certain newfangled technological developments have, on far too many occasions, left me painfully insecure about my own embarrassing physical deformity.

Ordinarily I hate playing the blame game. But when it comes to the cause of my unfairly diminished sense of self-worth, I emphatically point one of my ten sausage-like digits directly at a specific culprit: the fiendish inventor of instant messaging.

For the life of me I can’t figure out how anyone with fingers wider than toothpicks can tap out a mistake-free text message of more than three lines in under ten minutes. But even worse, what sadistic creton laid out the standard keyboard? Why in Heaven’s name is the “I” located between the “U” and the “O”? Having the “M” (that’s also directly beneath the “K”) next to the “N” (neighbor to the “B”) is no bargain, either, and the proximity of the “A,” “S,”, “D,” and “E” to one another can lead to some horrific misspellings, a problem that’s only exacerbated by an execrable component of most cell phones called “autocorrect.”

Who hasn’t sent off a text message to a friend that, thanks to this damnable feature, describes being chilled to the none while out hinting noose in fig that was thick as pea soup? I recently had a promising relationship come to an end when a woman whose companionship I desired received a text message from me telling her that when it came to people that I enjoyed spending time with, she was at the very top of my lust.

But we need to embrace technology, which is why I’ll compose the next line of this essay on my phone, rather than on the usual computer keyboard.

Fist is seize ear then I taught.

Hmmmm. Not bad for someone who just turned the product of all Canada’s provinces and Frank Sinatra’s wives, plus the number of first cousins I’ve got, and the amount of times Jean Beliveau’s name appears on the Stanley Cup. <

Friday, March 12, 2021

Insight: A mechanical mind I have not

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

You’d be far better off asking someone else for advice about a mechanical situation or requesting that I fix or repair something that is broken. I’ve known of my lack of mechanical aptitude and skills since I was a young child, and it didn’t magically appear in me as I got older.

It shouldn’t have turned out this way. When it came to fixing and repairing things, my father was a genius at it. He graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering and at one time held 11 patents for devices and products he had invented or been a part of the industrial team that created them.

He carried around a toolbox in his car to render mechanical assistance to those who had broken down along the roadside and no matter the size or the scope of the project, he could assemble, take apart, discover the issue and induce an appliance, automobile or machine to work again. I marveled at his ability to determine how to do that and willingness to take on mechanical puzzles that few could figure out.

But as for me, not so much. Try as I might, I could not match or even come close to being in the same mechanical league as my father.

Some prominent examples immediately come to mind.

When I was about 6 years old, my father asked me if I wanted to go with him to Woolworth’s on a Saturday morning. It was a short drive from where we lived, and I enjoyed the music that he listened to on his car radio. We climbed into his 1962 Chevrolet Impala and as we headed to the store, Ray Charles was belting out “Hit the Road Jack” on the radio. Both my father and I knew all the words and sang along during the drive there.

My father chose a convenient parking space right in front of Woolworth’s and asked if I wanted to accompany him into the store. I declined and told him I would wait for him in the car outside.

Over the course of the next few minutes, I had a lot of fun pressing the car radio buttons, pretending I was driving and turning the turn signals on and off. Then I spotted the pedals on the floorboard and crawled down there to explore.

Somehow when I grabbed the gas pedal, it separated from its connection and as much as I tried to reconnect it, nothing I did seemed to work. I figured it was the end of his automobile (and me) because without the gas pedal, he couldn’t make it run and we’d be stuck there in front of Woolworth’s waiting for the tow truck to arrive.

I propped the gas pedal up on its stand as best I could and prayed that he wouldn’t be that angry at the loss of his vehicle and disappointed in me.

He got in the car, started it up and then noticed the gas pedal. He asked what happened and I told him. He bent down and with a simple motion reattached the pedal to the floorboard, politely telling me if I wanted to join him on further trips, I shouldn’t touch anything in his car.

Then there was the year in the 1970s I was chosen to assemble stepstools and bicycles on Christmas Eve for my employer at the time, American Furniture. My job usually involved finding boxes in the warehouse and bringing them to the floor for the sales staff, but the store owner wanted to impress his customers and selected me to personally assemble items they had purchased as gifts right in front of the sales counter.

The next two hours convinced me my future was not in assembling bicycles as I fumbled my way along trying to attach horns, mirrors, baskets, and streamers to bike handlebars. The assembly directions were of little help and customers began to complain they were in a hurry and could finish the job at home.

Fortunately, the store owner eventually realized my mechanical ineptitude and returned me to the warehouse and assigned another employee to take on that assembly task.

Years later, I find the ability to read and discern product assembly instructions an admirable trait and through self-realization, I know it’s something I will never possess.

It’s been said that one man’s magic in this world is really just another’s mechanical invention. I’m happy for those blessed with mechanical ability but also feel fortunate that my skills lie in other areas. <

Andy Young: The longest (and smallest) big month

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Ever since the Ides of March in the year 44 BC, when Julius Caesar was struck down by a bunch of Judases, or Brutuses, or Benedict Arnolds, or whatever backstabbers were referred to back then, it’s been plain, at least in the northern Hemisphere, that March is the most-ill-starred, least appreciated month of the Gregorian calendar.

March simply can’t win. Skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobiling enthusiasts resent it because its arrival signals their favorite season is coming to a close. Winter-haters despise it, because to them it’s just a continuation of a cold, dark, wet, depressing season that seemingly won’t ever end. Even those looking forward to spring know that March is when mosquitoes, blackflies, and ticks begin planning to make the next eight months a living Hell for the portion of humanity that enjoys spending time outdoors.   

I’ve never been a March fan. But to be fair, the month itself can hardly be faulted for the deaths of Isaac Newton, Ludwig Von Beethoven and Harriet Tubman having occurred during its 31 days. Or that monsters like Josef Mengele, Adolf Eichmann, and Osama bin Laden were all March-born.

But maybe all that infamy isn’t coincidental. The Boston Massacre took place on March 5, 1770. An earthquake on March 27, 1964 killed 131 Alaskans. The most notorious war atrocity of the Vietnam conflict, the My Lai Massacre, occurred on March 16, 1968. (Sudden thought: isn’t “war atrocity” a redundancy? But I digress.) And the disastrous 1979 partial meltdown of nuclear reactor number 2 on Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania? You guessed it: March 28.

March promoters point out that the month contains one of the year’s most festive occasions, St. Patrick’s Day. But that view is selfishly Eurocentric. Sure, St. Paddy allegedly chased all the snakes off the Emerald Isle, and at this writing they’ve never returned. But once ejected, those slithering, fork-tongued reptiles had to go somewhere, and logic suggests it was to another country or countries whose names begin with the letter “I.”  You can bet that in India and Indonesia, where the annual death toll from venomous snakebites can number in the tens of thousands, Saint Patrick is viewed no more favorably today than Typhoid Mary was by New Yorkers in the 20th century’s first decade.

When the 21st century dawned, it was easy to dismiss March’s few advocates as shrill, crackpot apologists whose claims their month was always getting the short straw were as tiresome as they were paranoid. But the Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave them a legitimate reason to complain. That piece of legislation pushed the start of Daylight Savings Time in the United States back four weeks from the first weekend in April, when DST had previously begun each year. Officially “springing forward” on March’s second weekend robbed the year’s third month of a vital sixty minutes. So while its 31-day brethren January, May, July, August, October, and December proudly remain 744 hours long, March now lasts for a mere 743, perennially relegating it to the lowly “second division” of months, along with 721-hour November; 30-day April, June, and September; and mini-February.

It’s tough trying to embrace a month that’s constantly providing reminders of its total lack of embraceability. I was going to attempt to list March’s assets this weekend, but I’m afraid 23 hours isn’t enough time to think of any.

My mother always claimed that if I looked hard enough, there’d always be something good to say about anyone or anything.

 

Okay. March is my second-favorite month of the year.

 

So which one is my number one?

 

The other 11 are all tied. <

Friday, March 5, 2021

Insight: A spotlight on the past, a guidepost for the future

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

In our family, since I was very young, I’ve always been the curious one who asked about the people in old photographs and for my parents to tell me more about them.

The rumor was we were somehow connected to John McIntosh, the 18th century Scottish-Canadian farmer who discovered the McIntosh Red apple growing wild on his property near Matilda Township in Ontario. My mother’s grandmother was born with the last name of McIntosh, so about 10 years ago I started to explore through genealogy if there was a genuine family connection to John McIntosh and my own ancestral roots.

I began my search by hiring a genealogist from California who was not very good. I found out more about our family’s origins through online research than he was able to learn during the span of a month’s time. I let him go and proceeded to hire another genealogist, this time one who lived in England and was adept at tracking immigrants to North America coming from Scotland, Ireland and Great Britain.

John McIntosh and his wife, Isabella Rutherford 
McIntosh emigrated from Scotland to Canada in
the 1830s. One of their six children, James
Rutherford McIntosh, Sr., moved to America in
1867 to find work as a mechanic. He was my
great-great-grandfather. COURTESY PHOTO 
She helped tremendously and was able to establish that yes, our family is related to John McIntosh, just not in a way I had envisioned. As it turns out, John McIntosh’s family originally hailed from Edinburgh, Scotland and he was born in the Mohawk Valley of New York in 1777. By the time he found the apple trees, he had moved to Canada and created his own farm at the age of 20.

Word apparently spread of his good fortune all the way back to Edinburgh and eventually his Scottish relatives decided Matilda Township sounded like a great place to live. One of John McIntosh’s cousins, also named John McIntosh, emigrated with his wife Isabella to Matilda Township (Now called South Dundas, Ontario) in the 1830s, joining other McIntosh family members who had moved there.

The original McIntosh apple trees continued to produce fruit until a devastating fire in 1894, but by then their discoverer, the original John McIntosh, had passed away in the fall of 1845.

His cousin, the other John McIntosh, was a carpenter by trade and had married Isabella Rutherford in 1835 before leaving Scotland for a new life. The couple had seven children, five of whom survived into adulthood.

One of their children, James Rutherford McIntosh, Sr., was born in Caistor, Ontario in 1840. He wasn’t interested in becoming a farmer like many other members of his family and showed an aptitude for fixing machinery. In 1867, he moved to America and settled in Rochester, New York where he landed a job as a mechanic at the Bausch and Lomb factory where eyeglasses and precision microscopes were manufactured.

James Rutherford McIntosh, Sr. married Ellen Agnes Duffy, who had moved to Rochester to find work in a factory after growing up near Plattsburgh, New York. The couple had six children, one of whom, Harriet Elizabeth McIntosh, was born in 1874.

Harriet McIntosh was married twice. Her first husband, Frederick John Baker, was a master carpenter by profession and the couple had three sons together. One of those sons, Bernard W. Baker, was born in 1897. He was blind from birth, but married Myrtle Kirby in 1918. Bernard and Myrtle Baker had three children, and they chose to name one of their daughters, who was born in 1923, after Bernard’s mother, Harriet.

Somehow over the year an extra “t” was added to her first name and she became known as “Harriett.” Harriett Elizabeth Baker was my mother and she passed along to me the family story about how we were somehow descended from the farmer who had discovered the McIntosh strand of apples.

Part of my quest to find my roots was because of my mother. She had been suffering from macular degeneration when I started looking into genealogy and I thought it would help to lift her spirits to find some answers to puzzling family heritage questions. I would call and update her through each ancestral discovery made and I was able to outline for her much of our family tree before her death at the age of 95 in 2018.

In each family there are some who seem destined to find their ancestors and try to breathe life into those who have gone before. In a way, I found that genealogy is much like journalism because it is really about telling a compelling story, just a little more personal. <

Andy Young: The literacy gifts that keep on giving

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Thanks to the collectible baseball cards featured on boxes of Alpha Bits, Sugar Crisp, and Post Toasties during my boyhood, I not only learned to use scissors safely at an early age, I picked up reading more quickly than I otherwise might have.

Half the players depicted on those 2 ½ X 3 ½-inch cardboard rectangles played for American League teams like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Kansas City Athletics. The others toiled for National League squads that included the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, and the defending league champion Cincinnati Reds. Of course, no one I knew ever completed the 200-card set but trying to do so was both fun and addictive, just as the cereal company’s marketing gurus had no doubt calculated it would be.

There were also cards available on the back panels of Grape Nuts, but neither I nor anyone I knew would have attempted to ingest those pint-sized shards of gravel unless they came inside a box with Willie Mays, Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, AND Ernie Banks on its back. But the Post Cereal decision makers were far too smart to let that happen. There were never two superstars on the outside of any one package; If you really wanted a Mickey Mantle card, you had to accept it would be accompanied not by images of future Hall of Fame players like Eddie Mathews, Frank Robinson, or Harmon Killebrew, but rather by spear-carriers such as Pancho Herrera, Gene Green, or Ken Hunt.

That fall Post came out with 200 collectable football cards on their cereal boxes, but they weren’t quite as popular. Maybe that’s because those football players had names like Jim Mutchscheller, Frank Varrichione, Sam Etcheverry, Andy Stynchula, Dick Syzmanski, Ed Khayat, John LoVetere and Ralph Guglielmi. Those monikers were awfully intimidating to fledgling readers like me. The baseball players answered to names like Joey Jay, Lenny Green, Bill White, Jim Lemon, Gus Bell, Jake Wood, Sam Jones, or Bob Friend. Who knows, had I been introduced to football cards first, I could have given up on reading as too difficult a skill to master, I might never have gotten out of first grade!

Much time has passed since I painstakingly snipped the baseball cards from the backs of those boxes, and inevitably most of the people depicted on them have moved on to whatever comes after their earthly existence has ended. At this writing, just 54 of the 200 individuals whose photos appeared on those cereal box cards are still alive. The oldest remaining pictured baseball player from that year’s set is former Detroit Tiger outfielder Charlie Maxwell, who’ll turn 94 next month. The youngest: Milwaukee Braves catcher Joe Torre, a comparative stripling who won’t even be 81 until this July 18.

But raw data can be deceiving. Just a year ago at this time there were 33 surviving National Leaguers from the set, which was three more than the American League could claim. But since then seven National Leaguers (Frank Bolling, Eddie Kasko, Lindy McDaniel, Hal Smith, Tony Taylor, Mike McCormick and Stan Williams) have died, while only two American Leaguers (Al Kaline and Whitey Ford) went to their reward during that same time period. So now the statistical shoe is on the other foot. That’s why, after exhaustive research, my data-driven conclusion is that the American Leaguers played a healthier brand of baseball in 1961 than their National League brethren did.

And after a bit of extrapolation, I’ve got another hypothesis as well, which is that I’ve got entirely too much time on my hands.
<