Friday, December 30, 2022

Insight: Peering into the crystal ball

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

As previously mentioned, way back in the 1990s I never missed a New Year’s Eve episode of ABC’s Nightline television program because that always featured their annual predictions show.

Nightline’s Ted Koppel would host the same celebrity panel every year of prognosticators that featured Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and former presidential speechwriter William Safire; economist Arthur Laffer, the so-called “architect of the 1980s supply side economics” movement; and former Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford, the dean of American sports commentary. For 60 minutes each New Year’s Eve, Koppel would steer the panel through a discussion of their ideas about the future and then each panelist would make three bold predictions for the new year after a short review of the accuracy of the panel’s previous year’s predictions.

It was riveting television for me because I’ve always appreciated the wit and insight of Koppel as a moderator. He was able to move with ease from topics ranging from politics to religion to business to sports, all while keeping panelist egos in check and the discussion focused on what would be in the news in the year ahead.

When Koppel retired from ABC in 2005, the annual New Year’s Eve prediction show ended. William Safire died of pancreatic cancer in 2009 and Frank Deford passed away at age 78 in 2017.

Despite the Nightline prediction program’s demise some 17 years ago, I find myself missing the panel’s humor, intuitiveness, and boldness in predicting future events. Last year, I started my own New Year’s tradition by making a few annual predictions of my own.

Let’s review three of my predictions published in this column last year for 2022 and then I’ll offer five new ones for 2023:

** I predicted last year that former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady would retire at the end of the 2021 season and instead would run for Massachusetts governor and win in a landslide election. Fact: I was partially right. Brady did retire, but then unretired soon thereafter and returned to professional football. He did not enter politics.

** I predicted last year that the price of gasoline for American motorists would stabilize at about $3 per gallon by the end of 2022. Fact: I was wrong. The current price of gasoline in Maine averages $3.44 for a gallon.

** I predicted that the Major League Baseball lockout would end in mid-March 2022, and I predicted the New York Mets reaching the 2022 World Series but ultimately losing in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays. Fact: I was partially right. The MLB Lockout did end on March 10, but the Mets and the Blue Jays both failed to reach the World Series, although each team did make the postseason playoffs. Houston defeated Philadelphia in six games to win the championship.

Here are my five new predictions for 2023 and when we revisit this end-of-year column in The Windham Eagle a year from now, let’s see how accurate my conjectures prove to be.

** Quarterback Tom Brady will be released following the end of this year’s NFL playoffs by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he will be signed again for one final season by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Brady will provide a spark that will help push the Patriots and Coach Bill Belichick back into the playoffs next year.

** The film “The Pale Blue Eye” starring Christian Bale will win the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2022. Cate Blanchett will win the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in “Tar” while Austin Butler will receive the Best Actor Award for his tour-de-force role in “Elvis.” The Best Director Oscar will be awarded to Sam Mendes for “Empire of Light” in an upset over Steven Spielberg for “The Fabelmans.”

** In women’s fashion, anything crocheted will be a hot commodity, including oversized tops and midi-length dresses. The hottest fashion trend for 2023 for men will be the return of denim to massive appeal and V-neck collars for sweaters and pullover shirts. Pink will be the trendiest color for women’s apparel while cereal and cartoon-themed Croc footwear will explode in popularity among children.

** America will accelerate scientific efforts to harness fusion, which may turn out to be a plentiful and carbon-free energy source without the associated dangers of nuclear fission power developed after World War II. On Dec. 5, scientists in California were able to use a laser to successfully ignite fusion fuel, but commercial use for nuclear fusion is still a long way away. Yet fusion does hold enormous promise for the future and could eventually power automobiles, eliminate carbon emissions for the environment and send humans into space at a mere fraction of the cost of any current energy resource. It would eliminate America’s fossil fuel energy dependence and significantly bring down the cost of everything for consumers from groceries to airline travel to the expense required to heat homes.

I’m certainly not in the league of Nostradamus or the Nightline panel, but as Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Wishing a Happy New Year in 2023 to one and all. <

Andy Young: Adios, au revoir and sayonara to 2022

By Andy Young

What’s to be grateful for? My goodness; everything! Life. Health. Freedom of expression. Three great kids. A roof over our heads. Electricity. Potable water at the mere turn of a wrist. Reliable transportation. Festive occasions shared with family and friends, and the time to fully enjoy them. People who appreciate me for what I am, and who don’t fret over what I’m not. A job I love. Supportive, kind colleagues. Great neighbors. Friends who constantly provide me with encouragement and affirmation, and complete strangers who do so as well, albeit without always knowing it. All the cool things and places I’ve been, and all the ones I’ll visit in the future. Old friends I’ve re-connected with. New ones I haven’t met yet. The tangible presence of people, both near and far, who impact my life every day, and sweet memories of the folks who, while they’re gone in body, remain ever-present in spirit.

But sober (or sometimes less than sober) reflection can conjure less happy recollections as well: professional setbacks, blown opportunities, broken romances, and yet another year of not winning the Powerball jackpot are just some of the disappointments many people, if they’re honest with themselves, have dealt with during 2022. Even more worrisome: the very real possibility that some of those heartaches will reoccur in the year about to begin, and yet again in the ones to follow.

I try hard to appreciate my many blessings, rather than obsess over misfortune or imperfection. But even glass-half-full types can fall victim, however briefly, to feeling blue at year’s end.

For example, I’m facing the certainty that I’ve just seen my last year containing three identical digits. I partied like it was 1999 in 1999, and the same went for the following year. Perhaps it was the more-than-two-decade drought of years containing three of the same number following 2000 which made 2022 so special. But alas, I won’t live to see another such calendar year. And sadly, those reading this probably won’t either, since the next one isn’t until 2111.

But at least we’ve all made it to 2023. Those who didn’t include world leaders Queen Elizabeth II, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Shinzo Abe; entertainers Sidney Poitier, Olivia Newton-John, Vin Scully, and Meat Loaf; sports standouts Gaylord Perry, Bruce Sutter, Maury Wills, Charley Taylor, Ray Guy, Len Dawson, Franco Harris, Bill Russell, Bob Lanier, Paul Silas, Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy, and Clark Gillies; and alas, far too many print editions of numerous American newspapers and magazines.

And pity Betty White, whose 100th birthday would have been January 17, 2022. Anticipating the big event, People Magazine put her on its cover. That special issue of the magazine was already on newsstands when the beloved actress died on New Year’s Eve, 2021. Adding insult to injury, her passing’s timing kept her out of every “year in review” column that came out a year ago at this time.

Nothing in the future is assured, but I know one thing for certain. If, on the eve of my 100th birthday, People Magazine is still extant and I’m asked to be on its cover, I will politely but firmly decline.

And then there’s my annual end-of-year musical confusion. I totally get why “Jingle Bells” is synonymous with Christmas, and I understand the reasons “Stars and Stripes Forever” is appropriate for July 4th. But will someone please tell me who Old Lang was, and what was so special about his sign? <

Friday, December 16, 2022

Insight: The nosiest dog in the world

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but somehow my wife Nancy and I have become the owners of the nosiest dog in the world and it’s not because she has a large schnoz either.

We acquired this inquisitive creature six years ago in September from a rescue agency that brought dogs from the southeastern U.S. to New England and despite months of training and attendance at doggy obedience school, Fancy continues to demonstrate an insatiable curiosity for anyone who nears our residence.

Her owners have nicknamed Fancy as the
'nosiest dog in the world' because of her
altering them to anyone nearing, entering or
driving by their home.
It can be something as simple as a heating oil truck driving down our street, or a FedEx or UPS driver stopping to deliver a package to a neighbor, but once she hears them, Fancy springs to attention to let everyone know she’s aware of their presence nearby.

She can be sound asleep and curled up on the sofa when the tiny sound of our mailbox lid being lifted by our mailman puts her on high alert and at the front window barking and letting the world know she’s keenly aware of this temporary intrusion into her domain.

When students arrive for weekly tutoring sessions with my wife, Fancy’s penchant to alert us to their vehicle pulling up in front of our home is on full display. She whines loudly and proceeds to dash from the front window to one in the dining room as she keeps a close eye on the students as they make their way up our driveway to the back door for entry.

Once inside, this 40-pound sentry gives the students the once-over to make sure they are friendly and have good intent.

Fancy takes her guard dog duty seriously. Part-lab and part-unknown, her hearing is first-rate. She is aware of car doors slamming three houses away, people talking while walking up the sidewalk, and in high-protection mode when she spots a neighbor walking a dog and passing by our house.

Her senses also know when I am home from just the sound of my car door closing and door lock activation from my remote device in the driveway.

As I approach the back door, I can see her leaping to look out the window on the door. Once she confirms that it’s me, she goes bonkers wanting to let me know that she’s overjoyed that I have returned home. Fancy hops and bounces as I step through the door and wants to lick me incessantly. Sometimes she brings me a rubber bone she’s been chewing.

This dog is also aware of the sound made by the sliding door of a van carrying grandchildren from Connecticut to visit us. They only visit several times a year, but inevitably she knows that particular sound of the sliding door and runs to the front window to confirm it’s them. Once she realizes she’s correct, she becomes frantic to alert us to our visitors’ arrival and to greet them as they enter the house.

It's a much different greeting than the one received by the guy pumping heating oil at the receptacle by the dining room window. That one is much more inquisitive and more defensive, with more pawing at the window and some associated growling.

Same thing for the trash collectors. She feels compelled to keep a close eye on that once a week from the front window and make sure the trash truck moves on to the next house on our street.

We have pity for the unsuspecting door to door salesmen or signature collectors for petitions. They have no idea when they ring the doorbell that a pint-sized ferocious guard dog is eying them keenly when the front door is opened to find out what they want. But they do hear the loud barking before the door is opened.

Friends and family are aware of Fancy’s tendency to guard and protect and usually go out of their way to say hello, calm her down and allay her fears. One neighbor and friend from across the road gives her a big hug and speaks to her in a baby voice to make her feel more at ease when she visits.

And Nancy told me that when she went across the road to visit that same neighbor last week, they both could see Fancy in the front window watching and waiting for Nancy to come back home.

The sensitivity to doorbells is not limited to the one for our front and back doors. It also applies to any doorbells she may hear coming from television programs. Once she hears a sound like that, she’ll leap into action and run around in circles to try to discern where that sound came from.

Being nosy is a trait that Fancy applies not only to guarding our home but also to finding lost objects that have fallen under the refrigerator or the stove. Her sense of smell can detect a rubber ball that has disappeared under the living room couch, or a dropped dog treat in an unlikely place.

Having the nosiest dog in the world can be a curse and a blessing. But it’s amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives. <

Andy Young: Hibernate, then trade

By Andy Young

Ten hours after leaving for my place of employment in the wee hours of the morning, I returned home, utterly exhausted. Collapsing into a chair beside a west-facing window, I decided to treat myself to a chapter or two of reading before tending to my evening chores. Determined to make the most of the day’s remaining natural light, I opened my book…and promptly fell fast asleep.

Sometime later I woke up in complete and total darkness. Groggily groping my way to the nearest light switch, I cursed myself for not only having slept through dinner, but likely upsetting my sleeping schedule as well.

It was 4:50 p.m.

Seasonal Depression Disorder (SAD) starts affecting people like me every year in mid-December, when the part of the day we most look forward to after rolling out of bed in the morning is rolling back into it that night.

Societies that have existed for centuries at extreme upper latitudes have had generations to adjust to an annual spell of extended darkness; it’s in their collective DNA. But for those of us living where inland bodies of water don’t stay frozen from September through early May, driving to work in the dark and coming home in the dark for what seems like months is the draggiest of drags, particularly when the trip home generally concludes no later than 4 p.m.

While I’ve never been a huge fan of technology, I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Whoever invented headlights that turn themselves off automatically after the car is shut off should be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, even if their creator resides somewhere outside the good old U S of A. Prior to that bit of inspiration countless drivers (well, at least this one) were annually treated, on some beautiful weekend day in April, to coming back to a motor vehicle with a dead battery. That was thanks to having started their car earlier that morning, reflexively turning on the headlights, driving to their destination, arriving there in broad daylight, and then forgetting to turn said headlights off.

Speaking of technology, I wish today’s innovators would take a break from inventing rocket ships for uber-wealthy space tourists, pint-sized vacuum cleaners, or talking computers that will play their user’s favorite Barry Manilow song (“Siri: Copacabana!”) and come up with something more useful.

Hey movers and shakers: how about conjuring something that will allow an individual to sleep from the day after Thanksgiving through April 16, and while doing so, banking what would be their normal hours of consciousness for use at a later date? Or even better, make it possible to bundle up the hours they’ve accumulated during their hibernation and trade them to some skiing/snowboarding fanatic who’d agree to sleep through their summers, bank those hours of unconsciousness, and then swap? I’d gladly give up December through March in exchange for some winter-lover’s May, June, July, and August. I’d even throw in all of April and early May if they’d give me September and the first half of October.

Were such a deal available, I’d make it in a heartbeat. Sure, I’d be giving up New Year’s Eve and Day, Christmas, and St. Paddy’s Day. But imagine living a year that included two Memorial Days, two July 4s, and two Labor Days. And by generously ceding the second half of October, I’d get to enjoy leaf-peeping season, but leave the drudgery of leaf-raking season to someone else.

Going winterless and having two summers every year is something I hope to dream about when I go to bed tonight.

At 5:30 p.m. <

Friday, December 9, 2022

Andy Young: A picture that merits only one word

By Andy Young

Like other Americans who still value the freedom to not only think for themselves, but to express their thoughts and opinions publicly without fear of governmental reprisal, I have very strong feelings about a wide variety of issues.

This photo of garbage and litter along State Road
175 near Windsor Locks, Connecticut was taken
while Andy Young  was out for a walk recently.
For example, I oppose the death penalty. I think it’s barbaric, plus it strikes me as incredibly hypocritical for a government to punish someone who committed murder by committing state-sponsored murder itself. Or, as I was taught a long time ago, two wrongs don’t make a right.

But I also understand why other intelligent, completely rational people can hold a different view of capital punishment than I do. People raised on “an eye for an eye” have every reason to believe that, at least in some cases, capital punishment is exactly what is called for.

I believe smoking cigarettes is a very bad idea. But I understand why others consciously choose to light up regularly. After all, tobacco products are designed to addict their users, and once hooked, smokers have powerful motivation to continue their habit.

A woman desiring the right to independently choose how she deals with an unwanted pregnancy is completely reasonable, but so are the inherent beliefs of those who see all abortions as murder. Those who encounter racism on an everyday basis are understandably concerned with it, just as some of those who’ve never experienced it genuinely don’t see it as a problem.

There are plenty of other issues I have strong feelings about, including climate change, immigration, the Second Amendment, animal rights, marijuana legalization, the Electoral College, iniquities in the justice system, social media’s influence, the Pledge of Allegiance, academic and societal elitism, critical race theory, charter schools, outsourcing of jobs, vegetarianism, and how greed is destroying professional athletics nearly as quickly as misplaced priorities are ruining youth sports.

But I also fully understand not only the rights of others to hold beliefs that are anathema to mine and the many completely legitimate rationales there are for those people to feel the way they do.

There is, however, one issue I feel exceptionally strongly about which confronts every American every day, and about which I cannot understand anyone holding any beliefs other than my own. That subject is littering.

I generally begin my day with a brisk walk since early morning exertion is a great way to get both my mind and my body jump-started.

However, I wasn’t very far into a recent stroll before I was moved to capture the unsightly image accompanying this essay.

I was walking along State Route 75 in Windsor Locks, Connecticut at the time. But this discouraging photo could have been taken in any state in the union.

Seeing garbage casually strewn along our nation’s roadways has always made my blood boil, but as years pass my anger over this scourge has turned to despair, because unlike constructing sensible governmental policies that grandstanding elected officials of all political persuasions can all agree on, the solution to littering is easy.

If everyone picked up their own trash (or better yet, refrained from discarding it haphazardly), there’d be no problem. The ratio of one person to one responsible disposer of refuse couldn’t be simpler.

Some see “A picture is worth a thousand words” as nothing more than an old cliche, but the adage’s meaning is perfectly clear: ideas are often better conveyed through an image than they are through any number of carefully chosen verbal descriptions.

Maybe most pictures are worth a thousand words, but the photo accompanying this column requires just one.

That single word is, “Why?” <

Insight: Recalling a newspaper carrier’s Christmas

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

My parents didn’t believe in giving their children an allowance and it was never easy to scrape together enough money to go Christmas shopping for gifts for my family each year.

Once I turned 12 though, that problem was resolved, although trying to find suitable presents for three people for $15 was a significant challenge. It amounted to spending no more than $5 per person and even in the 1960s, that wasn’t a large budget for gift-giving.

The reason that I suddenly had money at all was the result of being able to work after school let out delivering the afternoon newspaper in my neighborhood. I would make my collection route on Saturdays and if I raised enough to pay for the newspapers I delivered that week, tips I received were considered as my profit.

After a few months of chasing down residents to pay for their newspaper deliveries, I found that the best time to make collections was at suppertime on Saturdays. People tended to be home at that time and seemed willing to answer the door then.

With more than 100 newspaper subscribers on my neighborhood route, making collections was time-consuming and work best suited for an accountant. There would be weeks where nobody was home during my collection time, or they didn’t have change for a $100 bill, or if they were home and the lights were on inside, they simply didn’t answer the door.

It always seemed that I was constantly behind on my collections and making a profit was next to impossible. To make sure my newspaper bill was paid, I’d have to ask my father for a short-term loan to make up the difference I lacked, and he’d inevitably ask me why I couldn’t collect what was owed to me by the subscribers.

One Christmas, however, things changed dramatically. It was December 1967 and a subscriber on my newspaper route invited me inside his home when I was making a collection. He told me that he was a reporter for a local television station and asked me what I like the most about delivering newspapers.

When I mentioned to him that I read the newspaper every day and wanted to become a journalist someday after attending college, he was overjoyed. He asked me about delivering newspapers and I mentioned how difficult it was to keep track of subscriber’s accounts and then having to collect the money for their bills every week.

He then reached into his wallet and gave me a $50 bill which he said was a tip for outstanding service throughout the year and he mentioned that when I got ready to choose a college for journalism, he could advise my father and I about what things to watch for or avoid in the application process for journalism schools.

That Saturday my collections went smoothly, and the $50 tip helped me net a profit that week of $25, which was more than enough to make a trip to the store for Christmas shopping that coming week. It also helped me repay my father for a newspaper bill shortage of $5 that I had borrowed from him for the previous week.

The next weekend my father dropped me off at a shopping complex and the first store I shopped at was a candy shop. I found a wrapped box of assorted chocolates for $3.95 for my mother and then at a nearby home improvement store, I purchased a large flashlight for my father for $3.99. For a donation of 25 cents, outside the store I was able to have the flashlight box gift-wrapped by some Girl Scouts.

At the toy store, I found a Matchbox car carrying case for my younger brother for $4 and took it back to the Girl Scouts to wrap it for another 25 cents. I returned home and counted my change and to my pleasant surprise, all my Christmas purchases amounted to $12.44, leaving me a total of $7.56 left over.

I decided to save that money for the next time I was short on my newspaper collections so that I wouldn’t have to ask my father for a loan that week.

My family was grateful for their Christmas gifts and enjoyed spending time together over the holidays.

The following fall I moved on to attend high school and gave up my paper route to attend sports practices after school. By then the route had grown to more than 250 subscribers and I could no longer fit all the papers for delivery into the carrying racks I had installed on the back of my bicycle.

The subscriber who gave me the huge tip was Tom Schell, who went on to become the anchor for a while on the evening news for the ABC affiliate station in my hometown. In the 1970s he became better known nationally as a reporter and correspondent for ABC’s popular “20-20” Friday-evening program hosted by Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters.

I was able to eventually earn my degree in journalism and have had a long career working for newspapers. But it all began in my neighborhood as a teenager delivering papers on my bicycle. <

Friday, December 2, 2022

Insight: Reliving the past through old home movies

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

To revive and restore my holiday spirit, I recently watched a DVD that I had a friend make for me from a collection of home movies that my family had taken when I was a child.

From 1957 to 1962, the Pierce Family had a four-door
1957 Ford Fairlane that held a surprise for its owner 
when he traded it in for a 1962 Chevy Impala.
My father had purchased a Kodak Brownie 8mm camera and would film special family occasions such as birthday parties, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas mornings unwrapping presents or summer vacation trips. We also had a Kodak 8mm movie projector and screen, so once he had the films developed, our family would gather huddled in a darkened room and view them.

Sometime after my father’s death in 1991, my mother handed me a box of these old 8mm films that she had found on a shelf in his closet. She thought that the longer that they were not used, the possibility existed that the film could deteriorate, therefore losing the precious memories contained there forever.

I was able to have a camera store transfer the 8mm films onto video tape and eventually my friend Derek Suomi converted the tape into a DVD. About 2012, I made copies for my family members which I gave them as stocking stuffers that year.

Looking at some of these home movies now, after all these years have passed, is a feeling that’s hard to describe. It’s somewhat comforting to glimpse my past, but nostalgic to see people, places and activities long gone and forgotten courtesy of the hustle and bustle of daily life in the 21st century.

I vividly remember my father’s green 1962 Chevrolet Impala, but one of the films on the DVD had him standing by his two-tone 1957 Ford Fairlane sedan, complete with a V-8 engine. I had completely forgotten all about that car.

My father once told me that my mother wanted the two-door version of the Ford Fairlane, but he insisted on buying a four-door version after my younger brother Doug was born that same year. As a family we would go to the Burger Park drive-through in Henrietta, New York on Friday nights in the Ford Fairlane for 12-cent cheeseburgers and when my parents weren’t looking, my brother and I would sometimes stuff our unwanted burgers under the back seat of the car.

Of course, with my father being a thrifty sort of person, when he traded that car in at the dealer for the Chevy Impala five years later, he removed the back seat to look for any change that may have fallen under there and discovered the remnants and wrappers of more than 100 half-eaten moldy cheeseburgers.

Watching our old home movies, I was fascinated to see that everyone attending Thanksgiving dinner at our home in 1959 wore dress-up clothes for dinner, including me. There was footage of my father carving the turkey wearing dress slacks, a white dress shirt and a necktie.

When the camera panned the living room early on Christmas morning in 1960, the film showed the image of more than 100 Christmas cards lining the fireplace mantle. And I noticed that our Christmas tree was covered with tinsel which my mother called “icicles.”

I know some people still send Christmas cards through the mail, but that practice seems to decline more with each passing holiday season. I also haven’t spotted tinsel for sale in stores for many years.

One item I did notice on our family’s fireplace mantle in that 1960 film was a set of four hand-painted antique angels holding red candles and each angel having a large red letter on them spelling N-O-E-L.

One Christmas Eve in the 1990s, my mother told me the story of how she had inherited the set from her late father in his will when he died in 1956.

She said that the ceramic angels were given to her father by his grandfather, James McIntosh. Before his death in 1924, he had told the family that he had purchased them at a shop in Scotland before emigrating to Canada at the age of 16 in 1856. He carefully protected them on the journey and then again when he moved to Rochester, New York for work in the mills there in the 1860s.

My mother gave the angel set to me along with a large box of old family Christmas decorations when my wife Nancy and I bought a home in Florida in 2007 and we still have them.

The saddest part of watching the DVD was seeing members of my family, close friends and beloved family pets that are no longer with us. My Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Bernie, Aunt Bernice and Uncle Ray, our friends Bill and Ida Topham, Marge and Bob Bartlett and Marge’s mother, Sue Coleman, have been dead for years, but their kindness to me will always be remembered. The same can be said for our family’s beloved dachshund dogs, Fritz and Weenie, who were present at many holiday celebrations through the years but have long since passed.

I haven’t watched this particular DVD for a number of years but each time I do, it’s a trip down Memory Lane for me and a great opportunity to reflect about how blessed I have been in my life.

It’s true that nothing is ever really lost to us in life if we can remember it. <

Andy Young: Getting the last laugh (Almost)

By Andy Young

My high school guidance counselor was responsible for convincing me to try attending college. He accomplished this by laying out every available (at the time) alternative to furthering my education, listing choices that included cutting grass, washing dishes and pumping gas.

Andy Young shows off a copy of his latest
book, Work(s) in Progress which has 
demonstrated his expertise at writing
and his business acumen.
I’ve never regretted my decision to continue my studies, and not just because the subsequent rise of self-service gas stations would have wiped out the most alluring of my other three career options shortly after my 21st birthday.

But transitioning from high school slacker to university attending slacker wasn’t easy.

The first issue: finding an affordable school which admitted students with lackluster grades and a paucity of (okay; zero) extra-curricular activities. Fortunately. I was accepted at a large state university where the total cost of room and board for a semester was expressible in a mere three digits, but then came the next quandary: selecting a major. I wasn’t quite sure what a “major” was, but when I learned that business majors weren’t required to take any science courses, learn a foreign language, or write lengthy thesis papers, I eagerly signed up.

Unfortunately, the business school’s academic requirements turned out to be slightly more rigorous than I had expected. That was why, after four years of attending my classes semi-regularly and passing nearly all of them, I received a letter from the dean dismissing me from the program for having failed, after eight semesters, to have completed the lower division (freshman and sophomore year) requirements.

True, I had been given plenty of prior warning but to be fair, every time I took a required pre-business course, like statistics, calculus, or computer science, I ended up flunking it. That’s why I began opting for classes like Peer Counseling, Mythology, and History of Connecticut, which allowed me to remain a fulltime student while simultaneously staying off academic probation.

I wasn’t broken-hearted about my business school excommunication, but it seemed a shame to have squandered four years of higher education without graduating.

That’s why, after consulting with several knowledgeable peers familiar with finding eminently passable (“gut”) courses, I transferred to the School of Liberal Arts and, two years later, emerged with a bachelor’s degree in English.

Several people questioned that diploma’s value, but I silenced them by immediately putting it to work coaching high school basketball, substitute teaching, and cleaning rain gutters for people too frail to do it themselves.

Decades later it’s only an innate sense of decency that keeps me from thumbing my nose at those responsible for my premature banishment from business school.

I’m actively using my English degree to encourage and teach young people to effectively communicate, both verbally and in writing.

Not only that, I’m now a published author whose most recent collection of essays, Work(s) in Progress, is now available at several Southern Maine bookstores. Take that, University of Connecticut School of Business!

However, there is a tiny bit of irony in my remarkable success story. The consignment agreement I signed with the bookstores gives them a percentage of the price of each copy of Work(s) in Progress they sell, which is fair enough. However, after doing some math I discovered that my cut of each sale is less than the per-book cost of printing!

The bottom line: thanks to my lack of business acumen, every time someone purchases a copy of Work(s) in Progress from the bookstore, my “profit” is negative 90 cents.

Getting the last laugh on a person or entity one believes has wronged them must yield quite a satisfying feeling. Getting the second-to-last laugh, however, seems a little less rewarding. <

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Insight: A Thanksgiving I’ll never forget

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I had packed up my remaining gear in my truck and said my goodbyes to my classmates at the Department of Defense Information School near Indianapolis. First thing on the Monday morning before Thanksgiving in November 1981, I was hitting the road, making a two-day drive to my home in New Mexico.

Ed Pierce sits in his new Datsun pickup truck before leaving 
for the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin
Harrison, Indiana in September 1981. This is the same
truck he drove from Indiana to New Mexico in
November 1981. COURTESY PHOTO  
After several years of being stationed at The Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and 12 weeks of specialized editor training at the school in Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence, Indiana, I was ready for a break and some down time with family and friends before proceeding on to my next U.S. Air Force duty station in Arizona the day after Christmas.

This was supposed to be a leisurely 18-hour drive that would take me from Indiana, passing through Missouri, on into Oklahoma, then across the Texas Panhandle before eventually crossing into New Mexico and arriving at my home just south of Albuquerque.

In setting up the trip the week before, I had decided to not wear myself out driving, but to take it slow and stop for the night Tuesday at a hotel in Tulsa after my first nine hours of driving. My wife had flown home before Labor Day and was waiting there for me and working with her mother in planning Thanksgiving dinner.

That first part of my trip was rather uneventful as I made my way home in a new 1981 Datsun pickup truck I had just purchased in early September 1981. Part of the reason I had bought a new vehicle was specifically to take me across the country safely and then to drive it to my next assignment at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona.

It wasn’t widely known at the time, but within six months, Datsun announced it was changing its name to Nissan, so my pickup was one of the final “Datsun” trucks ever manufactured.

Like I had originally planned, I stopped for the night in Tulsa, had dinner, checked into my hotel, watched the premiere episode of “Simon and Simon” on television, went to sleep, and then got up at 6 a.m. Wednesday for the final day’s drive to my home.

The miles and highway rolled by and soon I spotted the “Welcome to Texas” sign meaning I was just one state away from my destination. Noticing I was running low on fuel, I pulled into a gas station and filled up, confident I was within range based upon the mileage I was getting in the new truck that I wouldn’t have to get gas again before arriving home.

Outside Amarillo, something strange started happening while I was driving. The pickup would sputter and act like it was going to stall when I put my foot on the gas pedal. I pulled over to the side of the road, turned the engine off and restarted and everything would be OK for about 40 miles or so. I couldn’t get up to more than 40 mph when it would start doing it again.

Time was at a standstill for me as darkness fell and I worried the vehicle was going to break down stranding me out in middle of nowhere. Slowly I made it to the New Mexico state line and drove for another 40 miles when I spotted a service station near Tucumcari, New Mexico.

I pulled in and asked if anyone could look at my truck to find out what was wrong. The attendant said the mechanic had gone home for Thanksgiving but would be back Friday. He suggested I park the truck in their locked compound and because it was under warranty, I could have it towed to the dealer in Albuquerque on Friday.

He also said that a Greyhound bus would be along any minute, bound for Albuquerque, about 175 miles away. I parked the truck, purchased a bus ticket, grabbed my bag, and asked the attendant for one last favor. He agreed to call my family and let them know what had happened. This was before everyone had a cell phone and I didn’t have change for the pay phone outside the service station.

About 12;30 a.m. Thursday morning, the bus arrived in Albuquerque and my wife was waiting for me at the bus station. I was exhausted and worried about leaving my new truck so far away. But I was glad it was Thanksgiving and at least I had made it home safely.

That Friday around noon, the dealer in Albuquerque called and said that the truck had been towed there. Several hours later, the service department at the dealer called and said we could come get the pickup.

When we got there, I found out what the problem was. Apparently, I had picked up some gasoline that contained dirt in Texas, and the $13 tiny plastic fuel filter distributing gas flow to the engine had become clogged, resulting in the stalling and sputtering. The fuel filter and the labor to replace it was under warranty, but I had to pay the towing bill, which ended up costing me $225.

To this day, I’ve never forgotten this Thanksgiving “adventure” that ended up having a happy ending. <

Andy Young: A Good Start

By Andy Young

What am I grateful for this Thanksgiving?

Well, for openers, getting 600 published words a week to use as I please.

Dudley Do-right and Nell
Also, for quality time with my children, a roof over my head, and tap water that’s safe to drink.

And for…

Friends and family who appreciate me for who I am, and don’t resent me for what I’m not.

Nice neighbors, scenic overlooks, and getting unexpected packages in the mail.

Pond hockey, beets done right, and oatmeal raisin cookies.

Waking up every morning, being able to walk unaided, and living in a place that’s currently free of toxic fumes, malaria outbreaks and terrorists.

Walking through the woods during a snowstorm, watching heavy rain from underneath a porch roof and finding enough room along the curb to successfully parallel park.

Yard sales. Farmers markets. Used book stores (as opposed to used bookstores).

Composting. Summer breezes. Fresh cherry tomatoes.

Electricity. Cloth shopping bags. Prosthetic hips.

Vegetable lo mein. Bike rides. Reconnecting with childhood pals.

My children’s teachers. Books on tape. Quiet lawn mowers.

Bugs Bunny. Dudley Do-right. George of the Jungle.

Elmer Fudd. Yosemite Sam. Boris Badenov.

Sunrises. Smiles from strangers. Applesauce bran muffins with raisins and walnuts.

Shooting the moon on the last hand to win a game of Hearts.

Fortune cookies. Walking to the library. Sunsets.

Old friends. Young friends. Friends I haven’t met yet.

A job I love. Students with unlimited potential. Supportive administrators.

Many great colleagues who are younger than I am. Several terrific colleagues who are my age. Both colleagues who are older than I am.

Generic cereals. Orange juice. Bananas that aren’t green anymore, but don’t have any spots on them yet.

YouTube. Wikipedia. Phones that identify unwanted solicitations as “Spam Risk.”

Butte, Montana. Fairbanks, Alaska. Easton, Connecticut.

People who say “thank you.” People who open doors for others. People who pick up trash that wasn’t theirs.

Human bank tellers, human grocery store cashiers, and human phone answerers.

Sharing a border with New Hampshire, Quebec, and New Brunswick, but not with Florida.

Morningstar Farms vegetarian meatballs. Red peppers. Crisp Cortland apples.

St. Johns, Newfoundland. Schnecksville, Pennsylvania. Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

My children’s teachers. Comfy Sneakers. Maine’s paucity of rattlesnakes, scorpions, and fire ants.

Preservative-free cider. Real mashed potatoes. Apple pie.

A life totally free of tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, and social media.

Being less than a day’s drive from New York, Boston, and Montreal.

One of our two U.S. Senators, although in the spirit of nonpartisanship I won’t mention which one he is.

Remembering what it was like to score a goal, block a layup, and catch a touchdown pass.

Dreaming about my parents and my grandparents.

Dreaming about hitting a home run.

Dreaming about finding a Canadian quarter while walking a North Carolina beach with Oprah Winfrey, an old baseball teammate, a girl I liked in high school, and two kids who lived next door to my cousins when we were kids.

Heat pumps. Windmills. Solar panels.

The quilt my grandmother made for me. The pillows my mom made for me. My grandfather’s key ring screwdriver.

Dave Chappelle. Steve Martin. Chris Rock.

Dolly Parton. John Denver. Tina Turner.

Books written by David Halberstam. Commentaries written by Leonard Pitts. Anything written by Carl Hiaasen.

Dried apricots. Almonds. Blueberries.

Smoke-free public spaces. Pre-1973 baseball cards. Ravenous, mosquito-consuming bats.

Cribbage. Gratitude journals. Being the first to figure out it was Miss Scarlett with the candlestick in the conservatory.

But what I’m most grateful for is discovering yet again that when it comes to taking stock of my many blessings, 600 words still aren’t even close to being enough. <

Friday, November 18, 2022

Insight: A Thanksgiving memory to treasure and remember

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

In August 2021, I was asked by an elderly friend, Dave Twomey, if I could find out more about his uncle’s involvement in World War II. He had heard snippets of that life as a child, but after decades lost to the ages, his uncle’s story had been mostly relegated to the annals of history.

Dave Twomey's uncle George Edmond Tourigny served in
the U.S. Merchant Marines aboard the Deer Lodge ship in
1942. The vessel was damaged twice by bombs while making
runs delivering supplies and weapons to Murmansk, Russia.
Twomey had lived upstairs from his uncle, former U.S. Merchant Marine George Edmond Tourigny, in Massachusetts in the early days of World War II. His uncle had long since passed away, and Twomey had tried unsuccessfully over the years to learn more about him to share with his family. When he found out I was a journalist, he asked me if I could help him shed light on a forgotten chapter of history as his way of thanking his uncle for his service to America.

As a child, all Dave really knew about his uncle was that he was part of what he thought was something called the "Mermaid's Run."   

I wasn’t sure what I could do, but I liked Dave and knowing his health struggles were mounting, I agreed to see what I could uncover and maybe write a story about his uncle. When I had free time, I researched every available resource at my disposal, including U.S. Merchant Marine records and the Library of Congress, and kept Dave informed about facts I had discovered or where I would look next.

Slowly, I was able to piece together a remarkable tale of courage and not one I was very familiar with.

Tourigny was 24 and working as a lineman for the Gardner Electric Light Company in Massachusetts when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, leading to America’s entry into World War II. He visited the U.S. Navy Recruiting Station in Gardner to enlist, but the office was swamped with applicants, and he was advised that the U.S. Merchant Marines were in dire need of immediate volunteers.

He knew he could be sent to sea, which is what he wanted, so Tourigny then enlisted in the Merchant Marines and was sent to basic training at Sheepshead Bay, New York. After rudimentary training, he was assigned to a commercial vessel called Deer Lodge bound for Iceland. The ship was to be part of a convoy of commercial and hastily manufactured “Liberty” vessels transporting tons of vital military supplies for the Allies’ war effort in Europe.

Even though Merchant Marine jobs were classified as “non-military” in nature, it turned out to be the most dangerous and perilous service for Americans during World War II. Merchant Marine convoys and ships were often unarmed commercial vessels sailing without military escort and highly vulnerable to German U-boat and aircraft attacks. One in 26 U.S. Merchant Marine seamen died in these attacks, making it the highest fatality rate of any wartime duty for Americans.

Arriving in Iceland in May 1942, Tourigny’s Deer Lodge cargo ship became part of a convoy known as “The Murmansk Run” bound for the Port of Murmansk in Russia. Two days out of Iceland on May 18, 1942, an enemy aircraft’s bombs severely damaged the vessel and the Deer Lodge limped back to port in Iceland for repairs.

After being determined seaworthy, the Deer Lodge set out again for Murmansk as part of an 11-ship convoy. It made it through to Murmansk, but on the return voyage on May 27, 1942, another enemy aircraft strafed the Deer Lodge ship and dropped a bomb that exploded and burned seven of the vessel’s 17 crewmen before the ship somehow made it back to Iceland.

In July 1942, Tourigny was reassigned to another freighter, the Olapana, as a deck hand. While sailing to Murmansk carrying fuel and tanks, the Olapana was shelled and then torpedoed, and sank. Tourigny spent 61 hours among other crew survivors in a freezing lifeboat before rescue, and five of his fellow crew members died.

His next duty in the Merchant Marines came aboard a freighter called the John HB Latrobe that made six successful runs back and forth to Murmansk before being shelled and damaged in November 1942. Once again Tourigny survived the attack, but two of his shipmates were killed.

While home on leave for Christmas, Tourigny received notice that he had been drafted and was to report in January 1943 to Newport, Rhode Island for U.S. Navy boot camp. He entered Officer Candidate School, eventually rising to the rank of U.S. Navy Lieutenant.

After the war, Tourigny rarely spoke about his military service to anyone and years later, nobody in the family knew of his ordeals and heroism. I completed the article the day before Thanksgiving, and it was published in newspapers in Maine and Massachusetts in early December.

Dave was thrilled that I had discovered his uncle’s story and wanted to pay me for my efforts, but I told him that I did it for him simply out of friendship.

This spring I was notified that Dave Twomey had passed away, but before his death, he had called me to say he was grateful for my research about his uncle.

I never know where a story will lead and this one confirmed for me the true meaning of Thanksgiving and how lucky we are for those who sacrifice to defend our freedom.<

Andy Young: What was your name again?

By Andy Young

When I began teaching high school English, I really wanted to make a positive impact. But I had a problem: I didn’t know jack.

In fact, I didn’t know the name of any of my students the first day I walked to the front of a classroom.

Twenty years later I’ve picked up some valuable skills. But one thing still troubles me: the possibility that, after a few September class meetings, I'll be unable to identify the name of a particular young person assigned to me.

At my school, full-time teachers can expect to have anywhere between 80 and 100 aspiring scholars on their caseload, each one the protagonist of their own unique life. That’s why it’s essential I remember each and every student by name.

Were I unable to correctly address a child by name, it wouldn’t be the one who’s prettiest, most athletic, funniest, smartest, tallest, shortest, most musical, or outstanding in any other way. It’d be someone who’s involuntarily flown beneath the radar since they were old enough to begin forming their self-image.

These folks want nothing more than to matter, just like everyone else does. But youthful self-images can be awfully delicate, and in their own minds nothing confirms insignificance more emphatically than being the one class member whose name their supposedly caring teacher can’t recall.

It’s funny; when someone can’t remember my name, I don’t feel slighted. I just supply them with it and move on. But I’ve had several decades to develop adult coping skills that few teenagers possess.

That’s why during my first few years of teaching I was plagued by the very real fear that a vulnerable young person’s already delicate self-esteem would be crushed if it were obvious, I couldn’t remember their name.

Everyone recognizes athletic kids, attractive kids, outgoing kids, red haired kids, short kids, tall kids, kids with unusual first names, kids with multiple piercings, and kids who share the teacher’s own first name. I’ve never had any trouble remembering young people named Andy, Andie or Andrew.

Eventually I was concerned enough with this issue that I devised what I considered a foolproof way to learn each student’s name quickly and efficiently by offering to buy lunch for anyone I couldn’t verbally identify after the first two weeks of school.

But taking advantage of my generosity involved some risk on their part as well, because the deal was that if they asked me if I knew their name and it turned out I did, then they had to buy me lunch! I also warned them that while my memory wasn’t perfect, my lifelong frugality was an extremely powerful motivator.

Over the years I’ve become pretty good at quickly retaining the names of students in classes I teach.

How good? Just ask Addison, Adela, Amelia, Annie, Aidan, Aiden, Ayden, Becky, Ben, Blake, Bryce, Casey, Cassie, Cameron, Chelsea, Cody, Connor, Cayden, Dakota, Damon, Dani, Dylan, Ellie, Emma, three different Emilys, Fabricio, Frank, Gabe, Garrett, Geno, Grace, Henry, Jacob, Jake, James, Jameson, Jeremy, Jet, Joey, Justice, Kadin, Kaidin, Kaitlyn, Kooper, Lauren, Lauryn, Lidya, Lily, Livia, Lizzy, Matt, Max, Maya, Miles, Mitch, Nate, Nicco, Parker, Peyton, Preston, Quinn, Richie, Riley, Ruby, Ryan, Sam, Sarah, Seamus, Sean, Shawn, Shannon, Spencer, Sophie, Sophia, Stacey, Ty, Will, Weston, Xander, Zoe, male Alex, female Alex, both Bradys, and the quartet of Jacks who have me for a teacher this year.

I may not know much about rebuilding transmissions, the nutritional value of pomegranates, or Bolivian history, but at least for now I can state with absolute certainty that I do indeed know Jack.

All four of them. <

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Andy Young: You better smile when you say 'numismatist'

By Andy Young

I don’t care for having my personal space invaded, which explains why I was temporarily alarmed by an incident that occurred at a flea market I visited recently.

I was minding my own business, looking at some old coins when a stranger approached me and, without warning, asked if I was a numismatist.

The hair on the back of my neck immediately began rising, as did my body temperature. Instantly recognizing these involuntary physiological responses, I knew instinctively that I had to make an instant choice: engage in physical combat, or beat a hasty retreat.

Unfortunately, like many people of my vintage, the warranty on the second part of my “fight or flight” response ran out some time ago. Racing away from the all-too-eager-to-engage-with-me stranger was out of the question, since my replacement hip and I are currently incapable of outrunning anything faster than a traffic cone.

As for fighting, I’ve always preferred erring on the side of pacifism. Besides, the elderly woman who’d accosted me was under five feet tall and appeared to weigh less than 100 pounds. The image of me coiling into a martial artist’s stance and shouting, “You want a piece of me, lady?” in a public place was not an attractive one.

Plus, she could have been a black belt, or been carrying industrial strength pepper spray. These days you can’t be too careful.

Fortunately I calmed down once I recognized from her kindly tone that her words were intended to be a genuine inquiry rather than a hostile accusation. It wasn’t long into our conversation that I learned that I actually am what she had suggested, sort of. A numismatist collects coins, paper currency, or medals.

When I was a boy a friend of mine showed me his penny collection, and shortly thereafter I too began gathering them. I had some late-19th century Indian Head cents, plus several 1943 pennies that were made of steel, since copper was needed for the war effort. I never saw a 1909-S VDB, though. That was the Holy Grail of pennies. It was worth something like $200 back then, which seemed like a fortune to someone whose weekly allowance was 25 cents. I’d love to know what such a coin would be worth today.

Later I started collecting nickels, dimes, and quarters. In retrospect it’s too bad I wasn't a bit less casual about numismatics, because the U. S, Mint didn’t start using whatever alloy(s) dimes and quarters consist of today until 1965. The old silver ones were still in common circulation for at least a decade after that.

My coin collection included several Liberty Standing quarters, numerous Mercury dimes, and one Barber dime, a ten-cent piece that was only minted between 1892 and 1916. I wonder how much all those coins are worth now?

It turns out I’m more of a numismatist than I thought. Not long ago I received an odd-looking five-dollar bill as change, and a closer look revealed it was printed in 1950. That explained the unusually small picture of Abraham Lincoln on its front. I also have a 1950 $10 bill and a 1934 $20 bill. I’d sure like to know how much those two significantly-older-than-I-am pieces of paper are worth today.

A qualified numismatist could provide an estimate of what all that old money is worth, even though I already know each piece would bring at least as much as its original face value. But in reality old coins are worth exactly as much as old baseball cards, old lawn mowers, and old books are.

Whatever somebody’s willing to pay for them. <

Insight: Soldiers to the end

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

On Veteran’s Day, it’s hard for me not to look back with admiration on all of those who have worn the uniform of the United States of America.

The late Air Force Master Sergeant Lionel LeBlanc of 
Manchester, New Hampshire thanks Ed Pierce for his military
service while visiting the New Hampshire Veterans Home in
2014. LeBlanc was a tireless advocate for veterans and veterans'
issues throughout New England. COURTESY PHOTO  
As a veteran myself, I am so fortunate to have met and known some of the bravest and most heroic individuals who placed country first above their own personal interests.

Here’s a roll call of genuine American heroes I’ve had the privilege of either interviewing or whom I have met during my career.

Sergeant First Class Sammy L. Davis is known as the real-life Forrest Gump for his courage under fire in Vietnam. On Nov. 18, 1967, Davis and his unit at Firebase Cudgel in Vietnam were subjected to machine-gun fire and a heavy mortar attack by an estimated three companies of Viet Cong which flooded the area from the south and then west of the American positions. Catching sight of an enemy position, Davis stepped up and manned a machine gun to give his fellow soldiers cover fire so they could fire off their own artillery in response. While doing this Davis was wounded, but he ignored warnings to take cover, moving to his unit's burning howitzer and firing several shells at the enemy himself. Davis disregarded his own inability to swim from back injuries and crossed a river during the battle on an air mattress to help rescue three wounded American soldiers. He then found another howitzer and continued fighting off his attackers for more than two hours until they fled. For his efforts Davis was presented the Medal of Honor in 1968 by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson.

U.S. Air Force General Lew Allen, Jr. was one of the smartest and kindest individuals I got to meet during my military service. I would pass by his office in The Pentagon while working there in public affairs on Saturday mornings and he’d always invite me to sit with him while he asked me questions about my career. Here I was just an E-4 Sergeant at the time, but I was humbled to be the guest of the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff. Allen told me that he’d never served in an overseas or a combat assignment but was well-liked and respected by his superiors leading to his ascent in rank to ultimately become a four-star general and the top-ranking Air Force officer at the time. He wanted to know how I felt about the rate of pay I received for my work, where I had been stationed before being transferred to The Pentagon and what I thought about the food in the dining hall. He seemed genuinely concerned about the lives of enlisted Air Force personnel as he was about the combat readiness of fighter and bomber pilots stationed around the world. Upon his retirement from military service, Allen went on to serve as the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and played a key role in the investigation about what led to the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986.

Air Force Master Sergeant Lionel LeBlanc of Manchester, New Hampshire joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 and served during World War II earning honors such as the Asiatic Pacific Theatre Medal, the American Theatre Campaign Ribbon, the Army of Occupation Medal, the Victory Medal, and Good Conduct Medal. He transitioned to the Air Force in 1947 and retired from active-duty military service with a 30-year career in 1973. But after his retirement, LeBlanc became a tireless advocate for veterans and was a fixture during events held at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, showing up in his military uniform. In 2010, LeBlanc was awarded the Maurice L. McQuillen Award from the Manchester Union Leader newspaper for his devotion to veterans’ issues. He was among the first veterans to receive an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. and he spent the remainder of his life raising money for veterans. He once told me that there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to help a veteran and he meant it.

Lastly, I offer my gratitude to young soldiers like my father, Army PFC Edmund Pierce of Fairport, New York, who was drafted on the day he graduated from high school in 1943. He served with distinction during combat operations in Libya, Morocco, and Italy. That included being shot in the back by a German sniper defending Anzio Beach in 1944. He rarely spoke about his time in military service with his family or his high school classmates Joe Fazio and Frank Casella, who were all drafted together and served in the Army’s 91st Division. After years of my sincere attempts to get him to talk about his wartime service, he told me, “I saw a good friend die standing just two feet from me when he was shot in the face at Anzio. What I saw was so awful that I have no desire to speak of it ever again.”

We all owe our continued liberty and freedom to the men and women who served defending our nation in wartime and in peace. Veterans Day is more than a day off from work, it’s a time to honor that sacrifice on our behalf. <

Friday, November 4, 2022

Insight: Reflecting on outdated home furnishing décor

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Trends come and go, but every so often I spot photographs of some of my least favorite home furnishings from bygone eras that make me glad the winds of change made some items fall out of popularity and disappear.

Some of those trendy items may still be found when visiting an estate sale and liquidation, an antique store or staying at grandma’s home over the holidays, but many of them are related to magazine pages from the 1960s and 1970s and out of interior decorating vogue in the 21st century.

Here's a rundown of common items found in American homes in the 1960s and 1970s that are no longer wildly popular:

Shag carpeting. Deep thick polyester pile in outrageous and outlandish shades of bright orange, lemon yellow, bright blue, plum purple, and fire engine red. Carpet threads so long that objects falling into the rug such as Legos, silverware or earrings needed to be physically raked out before inflicting foot or ankle injuries when stepped on.

Knotty pine kitchen cupboards. A staple of 1950s and 1960s kitchens, this was as authentic as it got for anyone who wished to turn their kitchen shade to orange or simply admired the look of fresh-cut lumber. Often paired with black and white checkerboard flooring or wooden paneling, this was once the ultimate status symbol for grocery checkout magazines post-World War II.

Bean Bag Chairs.
Anyone alive in the 1970s can tell you how prevalent that bean bag chairs were back then. They were a staple of rec room lounging, college dormitories, and basement apartments without windows. Conforming to every body shape and size, these Naugahyde and plastic seats were filled with polystyrene beans and were perfect décor to go with milkcrate end tables and cinder block wooden shelving.

Blacklights. No high school or college party of the 1960s and 1970s would be complete without a blacklight or at least replacing a standard living room lamp’s incandescent bulb with a blacklight blub. Blacklights were used to turn fluorescent colors luminous and to make white objects glow an eerie shade of purple. Nowadays blacklights are used by nightclubs and amusement parks to make items glow but when first sold in the 1970s, they were mostly a party gimmick.

Egg chairs. Once a European airport exclusive, this type of seating is best described as resembling an eggshell cracked in half. Once the epitome of space-age living and home technology, egg chairs offered cocoon-like comfort fitting into quirky home decorating schemes. They could be placed close to the stereo system for sitting and listening to music with headphones or perfect for the family room corner.

Lava lamps.
First sold in 1963, the lava lamp typically consists of a waxy mixture inside a colored glass receptacle filled with clear liquid. The base contains a light bulb which heats the waxy blob inside the receptacle which rises through the liquid to the top of the lamp and then sinks to the bottom again as it cools moving through the liquid resembling lava from a volcano. Owning a lava lamp was considered a rite of passage for anyone living a counterculture lifestyle.

Stepped houseplant holders. Many interior decorators in the 1970s emphasized bringing the outdoors and nature into indoor home furnishing designs as much as possible and that included weaving elaborate planters and plant stands into living rooms whenever possible. Part of this design trend was houseplant holders created to look like spiral staircases or tiered ladders.

Vinyl and aluminum dinette sets. Nearly every kitchen in new homes in the 1950s and 1960s contained a dinette set featuring a plastic or Formica top with aluminum or chrome trim. Dinette chairs were colorful matching shades of vinyl and chrome. Homes of that era were built smaller and typically without formal dining rooms, so family dining usually took place in the eat-in kitchen using brightly colored mass manufactured dinette sets that were compact and versatile.

TV trays and portable televisions. Older television sets of the 1950s were large and bulky and eventually morphed into huge console sets that were the centerpiece of family gathering areas. But as technology evolved in the 1960s, portable televisions on rolling stands meant you could wheel televisions into just about anywhere in a 1960s or 1970s home or even a classroom. I can vividly remember how thrilling it was to have a nun wheel a large portable television into my second-grade classroom at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Brighton, New York so students could watch the launch of Alan Shepard as the first American to travel into space in May 1961. Adorned with rabbit-ear antennas, in the days prior to cable programming, portable TV sets were all the rage. Television ruled all aspects of family life back then too and “TV dinners” could go straight from 45 minutes in the oven to being served on fold-up TV trays in front of the console set for a leisurely living-room dinner.

The sheer fact that I have lived through so many outdated home furnishing fads and interior decorating trends is a clear indication of advanced age and reading too many of my mother's Better Homes and Gardens magazines growing up. <

Andy Young: Laundry Room Drama

By Andy Young

Sometimes the simplest things can cheer me up, like birds chirping early on a spring morning, the delighted gurgling of a smiling infant, or a blazing orange sunset.

But occasionally such mood enhancers are more than pleasant. They’re necessary.

One such situation began last Wednesday. I left for work at 5 a.m. and returned home, exhausted, 13 hours later. Needing to maximize my remaining hours of consciousness efficiently, I hastily threw in a load of laundry before preparing to start dinner. Piling a heap of dirty clothes into the washer, I poured in some liquid detergent, started the wash cycle, and … heard an ominous sound: silence.

Trying not to overreact, I did some quick troubleshooting. First, I checked the fuse box, but no circuit breaker was off kilter. Then I pulled the machine’s plug out of the wall outlet it had been occupying and plugged it into the one directly above it. Nothing changed.

Now it was time to panic. My ancient washing machine was full of dirty clothes, but apparently kaput. I didn’t know if I had enough quarters to go to a laundromat. Or, for that matter, if laundromats still even take quarters. I desperately tried to think of where I could find someone who’d come fix my washer, which day I could take off from work so I’d be there when the repair people showed up, and, most troubling, where I could find the money to replace a non-functioning, presumably expensive vital appliance if said repair people told me it had officially kicked the bucket. My blood pressure was skyrocketing.

Resigning myself to the traumatic days that lay ahead, I started searching for someone who does house calls for sick appliances. The robotic voice that answered my first phone call informed me that the number I had dialed had been disconnected. Strike one. The answering service at the second place advised me that they were closed until the following Monday. Strike two. The earliest appointment available with the third place was the following Wednesday. Strike three.

Out of sheer desperation I called the number listed for Sears, even though I knew they’d closed their last remaining Maine store two years ago.

Someone’s still using their name to repair appliances, though, because after getting the standard automated greeting (“For refrigerator repairs, press one; for dryer repairs, press two,” etc.) and pressing the appropriate button on my phone, I got through to an actual human being.

Reading from a script which expressed his thanks for my calling him and his sympathy for my current difficulties, he transferred me to another actual person, this one a female with an accent I couldn’t quite identify.

After greeting me with the very same expression of gratitude/sympathy her colleague had, she asked if I had checked the fuse box for any flipped circuit breakers. I confirmed that I had, and that I had also unplugged the machine and tried a different outlet, without success.

Then she proposed trying another appliance in the outlet to see if it worked. Lo and behold, the electric razor I plugged in didn’t turn on. Then she gently suggested I check the fuse box again.

Sure enough, circuit breaker number seven, which was unlabeled, was slightly out of alignment. I flipped it forward, flipped it back, and…voila! My washing machine was working again.

Like I said, sometimes the simplest things can cheer me up. Like birds chirping early on a spring morning, the delighted gurgling of a smiling infant, a blazing orange sunset, or a lightly accented voice telling me I don’t need a new washing machine. <

Friday, October 28, 2022

Insight: Peripheral yet instrumental

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Throughout the course of my life, there have been individuals who have been behind the scenes but nevertheless turned out to be key to my personal and professional development and whom I am today.

These are people that I wouldn’t say I was particularly close to, yet I learned something from them that I’ve been able to apply to the way I approach life and especially my work as a journalist.

Here are three individuals who played some role in making me the person I turned out to be.

While in eighth grade at Carlton Webster Junior High School in Henrietta, New York in the fall of 1966, I signed up to use my extra period as a school library aide. The school librarian was Mary Helen Sneck, a tiny grey-haired woman in her 60s who said she knew the Dewey Decimal System better than she knew the alphabet.

Miss Sneck could tell you the precise location of a book in the school library, who the book’s author was, and the Dewey Decimal code for the book just by telling her the title. I was one of about a dozen library aides that school year and she was so pleased with my volunteer work three days a week that I was invited back to serve in the same position for my ninth-grade year in school.

She was stern, but fun to work for, and if she liked something you were doing, you would get invited into her office behind the checkout desk where she kept a tin filled with Dentyne chewing gum or Mary Jane wrapped peanut butter and molasses candy.

Each year at the end of school she would close the library at lunchtime and have an indoor picnic featuring ham salad sandwiches she would make herself for the library volunteers, potato chips and some small cups of cherry ice cream.

Then one by one, she would call your name and hand you a certificate and thank you for your service to the library. The other day I found one of those certificates in a box in my basement and thought about Miss Sneck for probably the first time in half a century.

More than anything else, I learned organization from her. She taught me to keep all the Dewey Decimal cards for the books in numeric order, making it easier to place books on carts to take back for placement on the library shelves. I’m still using those organizational skills today, except now on a much larger scale trying to keep tabs on dozens of newspaper articles for each issue.

I never told Miss Sneck thanks for helping me, but I think she knew.

Serving in the Air Force, my immediate supervisor, Technical Sergeant Bill Crosland, helped me adjust to being the lowest ranking airman at our detachment site. He often steered me to make more prudent decisions about various issues, instead of jumping to conclusions and making snap judgements about people or situations.

His cautious approach to solving problems was the result of many years spent in military service and he was perhaps the most rational person I have ever known as an adult. He always thought things through before speaking and took his time doling out discipline to subordinates or dealing with officers leading our squadron.

Years later when I am faced with a difficult work problem, I find myself thinking about what Bill Crosland would have done if he were sitting in my chair.

Then there’s Coach Andy Sykela, the chair of the Physical Education Department when I attended Rush-Henrietta High School. During gym class my sophomore year, I mentioned to Coach Sykela that my goal was to obtain my athletic varsity letter from the school but didn’t feel I was good enough to play for any of the school’s sports teams.

He told me that I could earn points toward earning my letter by serving as a manager for school sports teams. Eventually I became a manager for the school’s varsity basketball team and kept the official scorebook for each game at the scorer’s table.

It was challenging work keeping track of all the fouls, baskets, and free throws, and turned out to be excellent preparation for my career as a sportswriter. (To this day, I still believe the best job I’ve ever had was covering high school basketball games for a newspaper I worked for in Florida.)

At the end of my junior year of high school, I proudly walked on stage to receive my high school varsity letter from guest speaker “Sleepy” Jim Crowley, one of the legendary “Four Horsemen of Notre Dame,” and none other than Coach Andy Sykela.

I never got to know each of these instrumental individuals I’ve mentioned very well, yet they each saw something in me that prompted them to help guide me when I was young.

Mary Helen Sneck, Bill Crosland and Andy Sykela may have been peripheral people in my life, but their influence over me continues to this day. I’m certainly grateful for what they did for me, but the highest appreciation I can offer to them now is not praise, but to live by their example. <


Andy Young: Is the World Series this week?

By Andy Young

I vividly remember the day I discovered, to my horror, that my father was mentally deficient.

With the maturity of a typical 7-year-old (even though I was in the sixth grade at the time), I had already begun suspecting that my Dad wasn’t quite right. Outwardly he seemed normal enough: he was a healthy American male with a fulltime job, a wife, and three children, but every so often he’d do or say something that indicated, at least to me, that he might not be all there.

Although he was far less passionate about athletic pursuits in general and baseball in particular than I was, my dad always made time to throw a baseball with me after dinner, even after he had completed a full day of work. Our father-son conversations during those sessions often consisted of me telling him all about the latest doings of some famous player like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, or Henry Aaron, though on other occasions he’d have to, while desperately trying to catch his son’s wild heaves, simultaneously feign interest in an elementary schooler’s harangue explaining why Choo Choo Coleman was a better catcher than Jesse Gonder or Hawk Taylor.

But occasionally my dad would not so subtly suggest that my baseball fixation was getting out of hand, particularly given the perpetual underachiever status I’d firmly established at school. Every so often he’d express his concern about my having a one-track mind, and in a tone of voice suggesting that wasn’t a good thing. Then one night, probably after darkness had fallen and I’d just uncorked yet another wild pitch off his shin, his utter feeblemindedness fully revealed itself. “What are you going to do,” he asked, “when you don’t care about baseball anymore?”

Had I understood anything about genetics at the time, I’d have been despondent. Knowing that 50 percent of my DNA had originated from this deeply flawed man would have sent me directly to the nearest French Foreign Legion recruiting office. How stupid could an allegedly grown man actually be? Me lose interest in baseball? Inconceivable! It would have been the equivalent of Bugs Bunny giving up carrots, Popeye swearing off spinach, or the pope converting to Scientology.

Which brings me to the World Series, which I’ve heard is going on this week. I don’t know this for sure since I haven’t watched a professional baseball game this season. In fact, prior to last year’s chance trip to watch the Red Sox battle the Kansas City Royals when a friend and I were passing through Missouri’s most populous city, it had been close to two decades since I’d witnessed a big-league baseball game in person, and at least that long since I watched one on television.

I still love recalling what baseball was like when I was growing up, but ultimately my foolish dad was right. Like many people I outgrew my youthful obsession, albeit about four decades after he undoubtedly would have preferred. My waning interest in what was once America’s true national pastime isn’t terribly mysterious; the current lords of Major League Baseball understandably don’t dedicate much of their marketing budget to reaching out to a demographic consisting of people born before JFK was president.

My father’s been gone for nearly a half-century now, and I’ve long since adjusted to his permanent absence. But every so often I find myself yearning for just one more father-son conversation. And were I somehow able to make that happen, I wouldn’t start off with something about Willie Mays.

I’d tell him how thankful I was for having inherited half of my DNA from him. <