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Three score and ten or more

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Doggone Scrooge.
Well I did it, I accepted the role, helped with publicity (see picture below) and things are coming out exactly like I predicted a month ago. I can't remember the cotton pickin' lines. I will run lines with the wife in the afternoon, go in for evening reheasal, and not remember half the lines and those I do remember I say at the wrong time. The play opens Friday, not next Friday, not a week from Friday, but this Friday four days from today. I am beginning to look for places to put cheat sheets around the stage. (One guy I used to work with occasionally when I was acting for a living, had lines fastened everywhere, and God help anyone who left a prop out of place.) I really am frustrated, because I think I have a pretty good characterization, but------
Oh well, by next week it will be all over. (That is the blessing of community theatre.)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Posted by PicasaSTEEPLECHASE
I have long been a passionate reader of Dick Francis mysteries. One of the things that habit has developed is a desire to watch a real steeplechase. We travel to Great Britain every once in awhile when we can find cheap tickets and trade for a time-share, but we have never been in a place, at a time, when there was a steeplechase. A few years ago, my daughter the environmental field biologist moved up to Columbia, South Carolina to environmentally field biologize Fort Jackson. (The home of much of the army’s basic training). Imagine our delight when she called home one day to tell us that Camden S.C., just north of Columbia is home to a steeplechase (twice a year). In the fall they have the Columbia Cup, which is a major race, with horses from all round the world, so we made arrangements to go. Steeplechases are not cheap (Oh if you compared Steeplechase tickets to the Super Bowl, they would be considered cheap), so we parked in the parking lot and got general admission tickets. We had a blast. You can wander out into the infield and there they have Jack Russell terrier races to tune you up for the horse race. The little rascals do steeplechase, high jumping, and a variety of other things that go on all day, and some folks go to the Columbia cup and spend the whole day at the Jack Russell terrier races, never watching the horses at all. Across the course near the grandstands (grandstand seats are 100 bucks a pop. I know that is cheap for many of you, but this old rounded bottom end is never likely to hit a grandstand seat. Our “standing room, general admission tickets are twenty five bucks each, and I thought that was enough) are restaurants, jewelry stores, souvenir stores, and all kinds of neat stuff. Last year they had a chef’s challenge, in which regional chef’s cooked a wide variety of foods and for a fee, you could go in, sample, and vote on your chef. (YUMMY)

Anyway the fall Columbia Cup race has become one of our splurges to go mix with the horsey set (and doggy) set and have a wonderful time. (They have a spring race, but I didn’t get the urge to go after I heard a few regulars talking about how the spring race was in heavy competition with the Georgia-Florida football game in Jacksonville which is billed as the worlds largest outdoor cocktail party, and that students and kegs were knee-deep in the infield)

This year, both Janet and I have reached the “I can’t walk worth a damn” stage, so we decided to get a parking place in the infield (expensive, but you can set up a canopy and a table and have dinner and nap on lounge chairs between races). I didn’t understand all the implications till, after we parked, the guy next to us asked if we were taking over “Hooters”. I must have looked really astonished so he explained that our parking space had been used for the last several years by a regional manager of “Hooters”.. It appears that getting a space establishes one with a permanent priority, and, until we skip the races some year, we have the rights to our space as long as we want it, so you can get to know your neighbors (of course you must reserve, and pay for it in advance). We had a great time, eating leftover turkey and Finnish Pulla bread along with Cougar Gold cheddar (made by the Washington State University Dairy program, and one of the best cheddars in the world) and other Thanksgiving leftovers. We watched the races, and the dog races, and had a ball. One of the funniest things was to watch the home-made bookies at work. Many people came out with extended families and a lot of teen age and pre-teen kids. Almost every family had an eleven or twelve year old kid who would cut up the program showing each horse and rider, then sell off the “tickets” to the members of the family. They would then put in a dollar or two (we saw one group that was dealing in fives), the “bookmaker” would hold the money, and pay off the winners, (and, I assume, pocket the rest) Some of them were casual, but some were entertaining to watch, and it was funny to be standing at the rail with a pre-teen holding her ticket and screaming for her horse. On one occasion, a horse (I assume pulled a muscle or something) was pulled up by its jockey and walked in. The boy holding the horse’s ticket stood there by the finish line till the horse walked over it, then stood up and yelled “It’s okay, you tried your best”, threw his ticket on the ground and stalked back to his family.

There were some down points. When you pass seventy, even if you are parked on the infield, sometimes that bathrooms are just too far away for a cripple to go. Two of my kids went to watch the races at the rail near the backstretch, and saw what no one likes to see. One of the horses fell getting over a backstretch jump, broke his/her leg and had to be put down right on the race course, and taken away in a horse ambulance. From our vantage point we saw a couple of riders ambulanced off. It is interesting to watch the horses that have lost riders. If they are in the pack where the outriders can’t get to them, they often just run along, do the jumps, and race as if there were jockeys riding them.

The falderal at the beginning of each race is fun to watch. First there is a major trumpet fanfare, then jockeys ride the horses out on the track to “look at” the jumps. When the actual start occurs, they don’t get in “gates” like flat riders do. The starter is a flagman who gets out and walks the horse in a sort of parade, sometimes around in circles until they all get in the right position, then he “drops the flag” and away they go. The pictures above (if I do them right and they truly appear) include a Jack Russell terrier high jump, most of the family relaxing between races and after lunch, the best I could do with a horse jumping, a picture of the tents and cars around the infield (looks like a major tail-gate party at a foot ball game) etc. Now I go back to being one of the hoi-polloi again. I would like to have written an inspiring Thanksgiving message or even a political diatribe but this was all my current mellow mood would allow.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

I just couldn't resist sending the public relations picture for my role as Scrooge in the local Community theatre production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. ego strokes, ego strokes ego all the way.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005



When I started writing this stuff, I stated that one reason was to try to reveal some things about what it is like to be over seventy.  It is time to do some more of that, and,  at the same time try to avoid whining.  I hate whining.

It is important to realize that seventy plus is very different for some than it is for others. I know people my age who have been in nursing homes for several years.  On the other hand, I sing in a choir with a guy who is only a year younger than me and he runs in at least one or two half-marathons a year.  His wife, only a little younger, has completed 18 marathons, most of those after she became sixty.  

Some folks my age are really hurting financially.  So far, for my wife and myself that has not been a problem, though, if one or the other of us passes, problems could loom.  There has been a lot of bad mouthing of southern education, but Georgia has made a good faith effort to pay teachers, at all levels, a living wage.  Not a sumptuous wage, but a living wage, and the Georgia Teachers Retirement is both good, and stable. I’m glad I came here to complete my career.

  I read a column about Georgia Education today, and some of the stuff was irritating.  I don’t think there is a thing wrong with Georgia Education that wouldn’t be solved if everyday Georgians could begin to take education  and that of their children seriously, and if at least half of the administrators in Georgia schools (at all levels) were either fired or returned to the classroom.  (Administrators have to justify their existence.  The most common way is to create situations where teachers have to stop teaching and generate paper work that administrators can keep on file to justify their existence).  There is a part of me that would advocate that EVERY administrator should be required to actually teach at least half time. (Then they would be too busy to create paperwork.)

In my case, and in that of my wife health is an ongoing problem.  It affects us both in lifestyle and in economics.  She is arthritic, both with rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis.  She has had joints in her thumbs replaced, a knee replaced, and, after the holidays plans to have some finger joints fused.  One of her biggest irritations is that, though she loves to read, she has a lot of trouble HOLDING  a book.   I worry about her a lot.  I, on the other hand, have high blood pressure, have had a quadruple cardiac bypass, osteo-arthritis in my shoulders and knees, and have had a peripheral motor neuropathy since the early nineties.  (no body knows what caused it, it is a general complication of diabetes, but I don’t have diabetes)  I used to have a lot of trouble explaining a neuropathy, but the national diabetes association has a commercial now, with some guy putting on his socks which turn to hornets as he pulls his socks up.  That, basically is me, if you add numb fingers and the same kind of pain in my arms that would be shared by someone with carpal tunnel syndrome (actually it IS a form of carpal tunnel).  We sound like a mess.  Actually we are more inconvenienced that anything else.  I have quit shopping at stores that don’t have baskets that I can walk behind (Those damn kids are always trying to take my basket away so that I can’t use it to walk to the car---Growl.)  All in all, it is enough to justify disabled tags on our cars, but not enough to keep us from using them.  I used to whine and complain a lot, but I know so many who have so many other problems that I have learned to be grateful for what I have.  It also causes economic stress.  My co-payments for prescriptions (with a good insurance plan) run about 125.00 to 150.00 a month.  It would be more fun to buy ice-cream, but at least, I have the money to pay them.

Minor humor moment:  Back in the nineties before I retired but after I had lost the fluent use of my legs, I pulled up to a handicapped space in a Savannah Mall, and started into the mall, when a newschick (I’m sorry, I am not a total chauvinist, but it is the only term that fits) rammed a microphone into my face (her cameraman was close behind her) and asked me “What is your physical problem that you have to use a handicapped space?  You don’t seem to be using crutches.”   I looked at her for a moment, then asked “How long has it been since you had breast augmentation surgery?”  There was a pause, she turned a little red and said, with emphasis, “What business is it of yours whether I have had it or not?”  My reply was “You seemed to feel that you had the right to ask me personal questions, so I assumed that I had the same right.”  Steam came out of her ears for a second, then she waved her arm to the photographer and stomped off to assault her next victim.

I find myself caught between envy of those who have fewer physical problems and gratitude that ours aren’t as bad as those of other people.  The biggest worry I have is the rapid degeneration of my short term memory (without that problem, I probably wouldn’t have retired when I did).  I live in fear of becoming senile or getting Alzheimer’s and creating a problem for my dear wife (who has yet to forget anything in her life, of which I am aware).  Another problem which is shared by many, is that we are both deaf as posts so we shout at each other a lot, and constantly assume that the other is aware of something that is going on that “we told them about”, all the time.  Sigh, it does create problems.  We spent a lot of money on hearing aids a few years ago, and that was not much of an improvement (though it helped me some in teaching classes.).  
My deafness is a result of noise pollution while I worked as a boilermaker for the Union Pacific railroad in my twenties.  Everyone who did what I did lost all the high frequencies rather young.  I worry about these guys driving around in cars with sound that actually vibrates the car, and wish I could warn them, but when you are young and dumb no one can control your life, not even you.

Well, I didn’t cover some of the things I wanted to, but this is too long already.  Someday I’ll really shock you and show you a picture of the pills I take every day.
Sometimes I don’t even believe it myself.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I mentioned a high degree of panic over the fact that I had accepted my first live speaking role in a play (without a puppet above or in front of me) in fifteen years. I am still a little panicked because my short term memory is still not worth a damn. ( When I was acting on a consistent basis, I hardly ever had to study lines. If we did it three or four times in rehearsal I pretty well had it -- Well, there were some Sheridan, some Shakespeare and some some absurdist plays where the lines seemed unrelated that took more serious study) . Any way this is a pretty cheesy script where I have to play both Dickens (thirty some years my junior), and Scrooge ( almost as old as me), but I am getting a fairly firm grip on the two characterizations. (They, sort of, blended for a while) and I have decided that, if I ever can remember the damned words, I probably will not embarrass either myself or the director. Who knows, if it gets a review, I may post it. (Ego strokes, Ego strokes, Ego all the way- I won't finish the parody poem I wrote for Jingle bells. You can probably guess the ending when I tell you that Mr. Punch's wife Jucy sang the song, accompanied by a swinging broom that was NOT aimed at the floor.)

Bah Humbug to you all!!!!

This is a sort of a P.S. I went off to Newberry S.C. last week to watch the Salzburg Marionettes who are touring the U.S. They are doing Mozart's The Magic Flute, and you may not be impressed if you don't like Opera, but the marionette work is just exquisite. If they come to your community, go see them. I am going to try to put a link in to one of my favorite blogs. It may or may not work, and the blog may provide some language difficulties, though, in its way it is a really political blog.http://www.livejournal.com/community/_puppets_/

Sunday, November 20, 2005



I mentioned to Patrick that I should tell him about the airplane siphon episode that I mentioned in my last post, and so I will. This is more difficult than some of the stories that I write about my youth because I don’t think I was all that much of a youth when I did it. (Memory says I was driving an old 41 Chevy when this happened, and I didn’t get access to a 41 Chevy until I killed my father’s 41 Plymouth that he had bought new and treasured for eleven years on the way home from my first college football game.) (Another story for the future).

Anyway, like a lot of kids in the forties and fifties, I had had considerable experience with a siphon hose, most of it legal and above board. (siphoning from one car to another, siphoning for the lawn mower or gas lantern, etc.), and while I was caddying at the golf course there was considerable siphoning for the three or four gas powered golf carts on the course. I hated siphoning. It included putting a siphon hose in the tank, the using the lips and lungs provided by God for much better purposes to suck gas up into the hose until it was far enough up the tube that you could lower the tube into a gas can fast enough for gas to run downhill into the can. In my case, with almost no physical coordination this usually meant a mouth full of gas that I would spit out and curse at, the taste of which I would spend the rest of the day trying to get out of my mouth.

I kept thinking that there had to be a better way. (There, is. At most Wal-Mart’s and auto supplies , garden stores, and even pet stores that have aquarium supplies, they now have siphon hoses with a little ball or bellows on the end that you can squeeze a few times and create enough suction to siphon almost anything out of almost anywhere into anything that is closer to the ground that the supply.) That was then and this is now. Then, they didn’t have such things and only the physics minded could supply something to fill the purpose. I decided to try. One of my false starts included filling a tube with water and rigging a gizmo to unplug the part in the supply can while holding the other end in the can which was intended to contain new gas. The result was usually water in the supply can and sometimes in the new can, so I gave up on that one. Another false start tried doing the same thing with a gas filled tube, and we won’t discuss the fire that resulted or where it was, but it was not a good idea. I had a half dozen other false starts, but somewhere in my senior year in high school I discovered that I could get a wine cork (they are not tapered and are the same size on both ends), fasten a string through it, tie a nail to the end of the string, and then, finding a piece of tubing the same diameter as the cork (harder than it sounds), then by dropping the nail in the tube, it carried the string out the other end, and placing the cork (with a little Vaseline rubbed on it) into the tube, I could insert the cork end into a tank of gas, pull the cork through the tube, creating suction and pulling the gasoline out through the tube and SIPHONING stuff. I was so impressed by my results that I immediately showed my research to a number of my friends in the Boy’s Council (the men’s honor society at the high school). We celebrated my success by replicating it so that every one who was present now had a magic siphon tube.
We then celebrated with a two week binge of gas stealing, from each other, from our folks, from parked school busses near the school after dark, and from what ever other sources were convenient. After the binge, I tossed my magic siphon tube in the trunk (behind the spare tire, it was my parent’s car, and I had no urge to explain the vagaries of its use.). I think everyone else tired of it too. We were, after all, the Boy’s Council and had to be good examples.

My tube sat there dormant for quite some time. It was during my freshman year in college when I, and one of my new college friends (whose name I will not reveal, but for this tome I’ll call him “Pinky”. There is a secret reasoning behind the new name). One Thursday, after class, early in the fall (I was working a forty hour week 4:30-12:30 P.M. at the railroad while going to school, and Wednesday and Thursday were my days off.) we decided to go swimming. We took “my” car, drove from Pocatello (Idaho) out past American Falls, about thirty miles, to a commercial swim pool called Indian Springs. We discovered that this was their last weekday opening for the year, so we hung out at the pool, ogled all three of the girls who were there, raced each other (we had both had brief careers in competitive swimming) and generally had a good time until they closed the place about 10:00 P.M. and kicked us out.

I went out to the car, got in, started the motor and looked down to see that I was very close to empty. We decided we would drive down to American Falls and get gas, but on counting our mutual pennies found that we didn’t have enough money. Now, about half way between American Falls and Pocatello is a former Army Air Base, that had, post-war, been deeded to Pocatello as a commercial airport named “Phillips Field. We decided that we would try to get that far, and see if there was anyone from whom we could borrow money, get gas, call home, or whatever. As we got to the field, we spotted, over in a dark corner, behind a six foot chain link fence a group of civilian aircraft. Having an idea, I asked Pinky if he had ever seen my magic siphon hose. He allowed that he had not, so I drove up to the fence near the airplanes and thought that I might demonstrate it. We climbed over the fence, walked up to an old plane, located the gas tank, which was not locked, and I showed him how the tube worked. He was most impressed. We only took a gallon or so out of that tank, thinking that we didn’t want to be to blame for someone crashing his plane for lack of gas. Pinky went over and put the gas into the car as I searched for another plane with an unlocked gas cap. The one I found was on an airplane called an ERCOUPE. This was a little teeny airplane, that was only designed to carry a couple of little teeny people. I noted Pinky carrying the gas can and siphon rig, starting to climb over the fence, when I turned to open the tank. That was when I heard my car start and start driving away with the lights off. I quickly spied the reason, as a couple of police cars, lights and sirens on, were coming up the road to the airport.. I opened the door to the plane and crammed all two hundred plus pounds of me behind that little seat. You would have to see one of those planes to appreciate what a task that was. Peering over the corner of the window I noted the police pick up my gas can, and my magic siphon so I scroonched down as far as I could, and tried not to breathe. The cops climbed up on almost every plane, including the Ercoupe, which by then seemed like an ER coop, shined flashlights into the plane, even tried the doors, which for some mystical reason now seemed to be locked, and wandered around for about twenty minutes before getting back into their cars and going away. Not trusting them at all, I remained behind the seat of that plane for a couple of hours. Finally, I began to uncoil, staggered out of the plane, observed that the police has taken my siphon and my can with them, climbed over the chain link fence and began walking home. I didn’t dare go out on the highway so I climbed through the sagebrush and the lava rocks for about ten miles before finally going out onto the highway where I hitched a ride home. I’m afraid that my friendship for Pinky had cooled considerably by the time I got home and found my folks car still missing. I considered calling the police to report my car stolen, but decided that is was probably not a good idea. It was about four in the morning, so I decided to go in and go to bed (not worrying about what my dad would say when he noticed no car in the morning) when Pinky drove up, and sheepishly gave me the keys. I even gave him a ride home, but things were cool with me for awhile until I thought it over and decided that he had made the right (perhaps the only) choice to keep us both out of jail. As I noted on a previous post, I am assuming that the statute of limitations has long since passed. I will also say that I repented and never even made me a new magic siphon.

Friday, November 18, 2005

RERUN Some old thoughts brought back

RE-RUN Some old thoughts brought up again.
I don’t know if this is often done, or even if it is legitimate to do, but I am going to repost the first thoughts that I presented back in August when I started the blog.  I am doing this because my main reason for stating a computer journal was to meditate in writing about something about which I really wanted some outside opinions, and at that time, nobody was reading this stuff but me.  I was even having trouble getting my children (two of whom are bloggers) to seriously react to (or even read) my stuff.  You can skip the first five paragraphs without missing much but generic introduction, but I would appreciate a reaction to the last part of this, (if you find something worth reacting to) but I was at the time, and still am really conflicted about the last four or five paragraphs.


I have decided to start a blog for a couple of reasons, (actually for more than a couple).  First;  there are some things I’d like to think about out loud that don’t fit into the rest of my writing (primarily plays, puppet plays, short stories and professional stuff).

Second: I’ve turned seventy one, and curmudgeonly thoughts keep floating through my head (that might still be reason number one).  A curmudgeon needs a place to curmudgeon.  

Third:  I have written some short stories and essays that I haven’t been able to peddle, and I’d like them to go out there where someone besides my family can read them.  (The family is getting tired of them.)  When I post them, they are all copyrighted, and though I have no objection to people snatching parts (or all) of them for other venues, I would appreciate it if you would save the copyright symbols and post them too.  I taught for too long to be sanguine about academic thievery or plagiarism.

Fourth:  I have strong opinions about almost everything.  Before I retired from teaching I could usually find a way to foist my opinions upon my students under some academic guise or another.  I have lost that venue and have decided that this one will have to do, even if no body really reads it.

My  email signature is quoted in my personal identification.  Most of what I post will relate to one or more of the personal persona that I cherish.  I will try to label them with the appropriate persona.  (Most of the first ones will probably relate to “fool.)

My first meditation relates to a certain conflict that only recently arose in my mind.  A couple of years ago, my high school class had its fiftieth reunion.  My personal attendance was hindered by an inconvenient quadruple cardiac bypass, but I purchased the “book” which presented pictures and histories of my classmates, and reading this material brought a lot of old thoughts to my attention.  A number of my friends weren’t there, and memories of “high school hi jinks” began to return.  It came to my mind that quite a few people I knew in high school (Pocatello High School, Pocatello, Idaho, class of 1952, or three or so)never graduated.  Some of them went to prison, some into dead end lives, drug overdoses and a variety of unpleasant circumstances.  Many of these were as smart as me, as committed to their studies, etc. etc.  

Now some of these people were just unmotivated, or were sociopaths or whatever, but I could think of several who just did most of the same things I did, and the primary thing that differentiated between their fates and mine (Mine: High School Graduate, College Graduate with a couple of Graduate Degrees including PhD,  church missionary,  married to a woman with more education and talent than “me and them” put together,  six great children, etc., etc.) was that they got caught doing some of the stupid things high school students do, and I didn’t.  They got labeled “juvenile delinquents”, reform school alumni,  general pains in the butt, and I never did.  

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand.  I was not out mugging drunks, holding up gas stations, raping and pillaging the neighborhoods, or any of those types of things.  But I did cut class to play snooker at the local pool hall (not often, I was a lousy snooker player) or to do pranks to make life miserable for a couple of people whom I thought of as snobs.  It was not a frequent occurrence, but I found my self short on gas money a few times and found myself siphoning gas from the local school busses and, on one occasion from the airplanes at the local air field.  Two of my friends and I, (one of them who later led a miserable life)  once stole two or three cases of beer from a beer delivery truck and distributed our ill gotten gains to a number of our schoolmates who thought at the time that we were really cool. These were offenses which, if I had been caught, would have deservedly created a really difficult life for me (and for my parents, my dad was, at that time, in a Mormon bishopric).

  But I didn’t get caught and lived my life as an upstanding citizen, with all the rewards involved.  To tell the truth, most of the time I tried really hard to be an upstanding citizen.  I studied hard (most of the time) was involved with a lot of extracurricular activities, went to church, and, near the end of my high school career committed my life to  my Lord and to my faith.   I feel strongly that the atonement of Jesus Christ provides at least the opportunity for forgiveness for my sins.

That doesn’t change the hole in my heart I feel about the fact that, in some ways the main difference between some folks, some of whom I really loved, and others of whom I should have loved, who really had a hard life and who ended up career criminals or worse, is that they got caught and I didn’t.  I have a real void in my soul wishing that, even at this late date, there were something I could do to make up for this.  I wonder if anyone else shares this feeling, or if in some way it is unique to old Mormon Theatre Professors.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Night before last, I was working on my “journal” (a sort of autobiography I am writing for my grandchildren) and just got a major case of writers block. Being at the computer anyway, I checked into some of my favorite blogs, then, on a whim, I started clicking on the “next blog” box on one of the pages. I immediately found an interesting blog by a soldier in Iraq who is coming home in February or March. His writing wasn’t great, but he was very thoughtful in probing his own feelings about the war, about the actions that he had recently taken, about his hopes for his wife and children when he returns, and I found myself really caught up. I clicked on about six more blogs and, of the six, five were interesting and emotional. Two or three were so well written that I would have felt justified in paying for the privilege of reading.

One, I particularly liked used a phrase in her profile that said (I am paraphrasing, I don’t remember the exact wording) “single female, staring 30 defiantly in the face without blinking” . This was a young lady who wrote with amazing polish about a wide variety of topics. She had several “sub-blogs”, one of which dealt with her last job as a reporter for a newspaper somewhere (I’m really definite about this, right?) I read most of her posts, even in archive, enjoyed her reaction to the comments of others, and even scanned her “sub-blogs” and spent a really pleasant half hour.

The next blog was a fascinating photo essay on the vegetation and wild life in the Mojave desert. It included so very much information that I didn’t know though I have been to the Mojave a couple of times (briefly) and driven through it a lot. (when I was young and lived in the west.)

There were several others of interest, but one (also a twenty nine year old female) caught my eye with a listing of things that were important to her. One of the things listed was her intense hope (or fear, of the possibility that he would, I don’t remember the exact wording) that her biological father would never find her. Even without reading the rest of the blog, I found myself musing on the various situations that could have created this need or fear of the father’s awareness. I was also struck by her confidence that her biological father was not computer oriented, because the blog contained pictures and names of her friends, jobs, etc. If I wanted to avoid being found, I certainly wouldn’t provide clues on blogspot. The whole blog was a very interesting insight into a lovely and complex human being.

I sorted through several others of interesting and well written and closed the computer well satisfied with time well spent. It was only after closing window that I realized that I hadn’t flagged or saved the URL of any of these, but, I decided that “there were lots more fish in the sea.:

Last night, after rehearsal, I went back to “next blog”, and found a totally different situation. I scanned or skipped through, or attempted to read almost a hundred blogs. They included teeny-boppers whining about romantic betrayal by their friends, multiple blogs written in, what I can only describe as pidgin English interspersed with chat jargon, one blog in which the writer described himself as “the meanest toughest son of a bitch that lived” and who devoted the top three posts to whining (and trying to justify himself) that his wife wouldn’t sleep with him or forgive him because she discovered that he was having an affair with someone else (who really didn’t mean anything to him, was just for fun and games, I wonder if his friend ever read the blog to see how she was appreciated). In short, there was NOTHING except blither in all those hundred that I looked at. The experience was like being forced to grade essays for the worst high school freshman class that ever lived.

I really wrote this, puzzling at how different the two experiences were. Was I just in a better mood the first day? Do they have some mystic sorting process in blogspot that groups the trash together and puts those written by literate interesting people together, and keeps the groups separate. I may go click on “next blog” now, except that I haven’t read anything by Patrick or Eddie or Mahndisa or Polanco or Saurkraut or any of my other favorites for a couple of days and I don’t want to get so far behind that I never catch up.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

TIME SHARES. Just what everybody wanted to read about.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that my wife and I stayed in a time-share condo in Williamsburg, Virginia.  For some reason I have an urge to talk about time share real estate.  For those of you who haven’t been spammed by someone, either on line or by phone to attend a time share presentation, prepare for new information. For those of you who have, perhaps this will be useful.  For those of you who have listened to Bruce Williams (economic talk show host) or other “manage your money” folks rail against time share, this may provide both some supporting and opposing information.  My information comes only through participation in time share stuff.

First: we have to define what is meant by a time share.  Somebody buys or builds a group of apartments near a beach or other scenic or entertainment attraction, and resells all of the units one week at a time. (When the time share business first started, time share companies bought motels, added some amenities and sold the individual motel units.) If you buy a time share, at the simplest level, you will own (in some set-ups, lease, on a long term period, say, twenty years) one unit for one week, (say the first week in July), in a traditional condominium set up.  You can go use that week every year for the rest of your life, (if you wish) but, as with any condominium you have yearly maintenance to pay (and that can be expensive.).  You will often be told that this is an inexpensive way to vacation, and that is a crock of bull.  I’d insert here a comment that there may be many honest upright time share salesmen, but the old joke about lawyers is applicable to most time share salesmen and the development companies that they represent.  “How can you tell when a lawyer is lying?  When his lips are moving”..  To protect yourself, substitute the word “time share company representative” for lawyer..  I will get into the expense thing a little again a little later but you first must know how things become expensive.

First, there is the developer.  He/she/ it first buys the property and hires another company (usually this is a subsidiary, but there must be two layers here so that one can blame the other if anything goes wrong) to build.  The developer then sells the units (sometimes a little cheaper if the building hasn’t been built yet, but cheaper is a relative term.) to folks like us.  This can result in a lot of subsidiary benefits to the owner or prospective customer.  The developers often provide free hamburger picnics once or twice a year for all the owners and prospects.  The developer gives away prizes to those who will listen to a sales pitch (some I have received were as cheap as four pieces of  dime store luggage, or a three inch portable TV, guaranteed to pick up any station if you are standing next to the transmitter tower,  others have been wonderful.  One of my favorites in the Orlando area is tickets for the family to Medieval  Times,  a combination restaurant show, where, during dinner you can watch “knights” charge up and down the field jousting, or fighting with swords for the favor or a fair maiden.  Others can range from free tickets to Disney World to (the most common offer in spam on telephone contacting) free or discount  three day-two night reservations in a resort area, often including a couple of free meals in good restaurants, and tickets to local attractions.  Free hotel stays are rare now, and folks like me are probably responsible.  I have traveled from Georgia to California or Washington State a couple of times stopping at time share presentations along the way (and of course not buying).  It provided a wonderful inexpensive trip by car.  Nowadays if you get a time share presentation offer it usually offers three day-two night accommodations for $100 or $150.  

At any rate, when the buildings are completely sold, residents are often in for a shock because a lot of the nice amenities that were “free” (read, paid for by the developer) suddenly cost five or ten bucks, but they are worth it, it is just a shock when it occurs after you have been going to a place for ten years.

There are three other money making entities which can affect your happiness in a time share.  First there is a management company (usually another associate of the development company, often having the same name, but when you are dealing with them, never the twain have met).  These are the people who hire the desk clerks and the janitors, collect your money when the maintenance fee is due, and generally keep the place running.  Management companies are usually national chains (like Hilton) and  make their income from a percentage of all the money paid in.  They sometime overlap with developers, and can change.  One place I own (yes, I have bought some, not just victimized them for cheap trips) in Panama City Beach in Florida started out with a company called RDI (Resorts Development International) for both development and management, transferred to another company called Blue-Green, and finally though the meetings of the condominium board, fired Blue Green and manages itself through the Condo Board.  It’s a lot cheaper than most and is still a nice  place.  Second:  You will have more or less automatic access to an exchange company.   This can be one of the really good parts of time-share ownership, but, like everything else, it aint cheap. (It used to be, but things change).  You join an exchange company associated with your condo.  The most prominent are RCI (not the RDI mentioned above), and Intervals International (commonly called II.).  RCI was a lot easier to deal with and more effective in many ways before they were purchased by CENDANT, a major tourist company that also owns Avis, about four of five hotel chains and, I thing Orbitz, the online travel agency.  Membership in either of these companies costs 75-100 bucks a year (depending, if you buy a time share the developer will pay (at least) your first year membership.
With these companies you can deposit your “week” and exchange it for a week at some other resort.  There is an exchange fee.  RCI charges $125 bucks for an exchange in the U.S.  I am not sure of the international fee, but when the in country fee was 85.00 the international fee was 125.00.

The various management owner and developer companies have also established a system in which, instead of buying a fixed week, you can buy a flexible week (a major pain in the butt as far as I am concerned, but some people like it)  This means that early in each year you have to contact your resorts and request a particular week you would like to travel.  A second system is where you are given a certain number of “points” or “options” for your unit and you can shuffle through the catalogue or website and take any unit, anywhere if you have enough points.  The main advantage is that the exchange fee is less, though the maintenance fee can sometime be a killer.  The more points you have, the higher the maintenance fee.

How expensive can it be???  Think.  Most time share units at this time sell for a sum between 8000.00 (rare but there) and 25000.00.  Most are beautiful, well kept and comfortable but you pay a yearly maintenance fee that is in most cases over 500.00.  In addition, you have exchange fees and membership in exchange companies.  If you finance your unit through the company they well lend you money for about 13% which is way over the market value (though less than some credit cards.)   If you are paying 250.00 a month payments on your time share, a 500.00 maintenance feel and an exchange membership of 85.00 as well as an exchange fee of 125.00, including all 12  payments, your out of pocket expense for your week of vacation will exceed 3750.00.  Now, just between you and me, in most places you can rent a hell of a hotel room for 3700 a week.
(There are exceptions, but, depending on your tastes, you can find a clean, national brand hotel room in  Orlando, Gatlinburg, Branson or most other resort areas, most seasons of the year, including high season, for under 100.00 a night –I usually find them around 40.00 a night.)  Even in New York City, or Los Angeles, if you use Hotels.com (I do)
You can usually find a place around 100.00 a day.   If you don’t mind me saying so, that is quite a price differential.

Why would anyone buy a time-share?  Are there any advantages?

1.  The facilities are usually among the best in the area.  Clean comfortable rooms, lots of space, usually hot tubs, Jacuzzis in room (not always, but frequently), good concierge service

2.After you finally get the damn thing paid for, your out of pocket expenses drop dramatically (I  have one I bought for under 2000 dollars.  It is now pretty cheap to use or to trade)

3.The travel services (for which you are automatically a member when you join)of the exchange services are pretty good.  You can rent a car cheaper through RCI than anywhere else in the country.

4. You actually can save money (if you plan).  I took my wife, two adult unmarried children, my married son and his wife and four grandchildren to Scotland for two weeks.
We exchanged for several time share units at a time, in two different regions in Scotland, and had a wonderful time for MUCH less money than we would have spent on hotels, with much greater comfort and convenience.  Of course my units (I actually own four) were paid for and I have had a fair amount of experience at managing my trips.

5. The single greatest advantage in timesharing is that it forces you to take real vacations.
It is so easy (especially when you get three score and ten or more years old)  to let yourself vegetate at home or to limit your travels to a week (usually in a crummy bed) or two to visits with relatives, kids or grandkids. (I am not putting down relatives).  But, if you have five or six hundred (or much more, as we showed above) bucks invested, and pre-paid, you (unless you are really foolish) are going to get out and get your money’s
worth, so you are going to see new things (or even familiar things that you love- my Panama City Beach unit) and really vacation.   That is good for you..

The thing is, you could buy a good car, install a home pool, buy several plane tickets and a lot of hotel reservations, repair the roof, or put one of your kids or grandkids through a year of college for what you will spend for a time-share.  You personally have got to decide what it is worth to you.

  1. You can buy a time share at close to half price or less on line, from real estate agents in every resort town who specialize in getting rid of time shares for people who have begun to hate the maintenance fees.  The biggest time share re-seller is Century 21, and to be honest, without any clear information, I would have reservations because they are owned by CENDANT, the company that owns RCI, and I have come to be terminally irritated by CENDANT.  If you deal with a “discount” time share seller, invest in the extra couple of hundred dollars to hire a local lawyer to check out the contract and terms for you.  Don’t ever trust the other guys lawyer.  Remember the lawyer joke above.

  2. You can get some really good stuff out of the developers by taking advantage of their freebies and discounts, but beware that even the most honest time share salesmen are terrific salesmen or they wouldn’t be on the floor a week, and you will require real chutzpa and willpower to avoid being sold a unit..

  3. You can take advantage of time share from other sources.  Sky auction.com often sells weeks (just the one week, not permanent) all over the world, sometimes for less than you would pay for a one year maintenance fee.  My brother (who also owns one “points” unit) went to Portugal, Spain, and , I think France one summer and bought all of his living space (rooms etc.) from individuals on Sky auction.  You do have to check hotel prices in the area and do your homework, but it (and two or three other sources, including Ebay) can save you real money.

4.  You are going to be told that you can buy these things and resell them for more than you paid.  Other real estate appreciates in value.  Time shares NEVER do, and anyone who tells you they do is trying to sell you a bill of goods.  You will also be told that you can rent out your time share.  You probably can, if you own a fixed, good week, but you aren’t like to make any money.  If you rent it through your “company” their commission will be forty percent or more.  (I rented one once, when I couldn’t go, and even though it was beach side on Memorial Day weekend, I didn’t make enough to pay the maintenance fees).  If you rent it yourself you will place newspaper adds or put it on Ebay or Skyauction, and I have already tried to make the point that most such sales go pretty cheap (much better for the buyer than seller) and RCI will often come after you for a 49.00 “gift certificate” for disposing of  your own property.

Well, there you are.  Now you know more than you ever wanted to know about time shares, but whether you own one now, or have never heard of time share, you will be exposed (no matter where you live, they have time share property in every western European country, in Turkey, in may North African countries, all through both North, South and Central America, Hong Kong, Thailand, and, I suspect,  most of the other Pacific Rim countries.  What was the old TV commercial?  THEY’RE EVERYWHERE, THEY’RE EVERYWHERE.
You have to be an old coot to even imagine that a lot of people want to know these things.

Friday, November 11, 2005

a reaction to Sauer's core pet peeves.

I have been away for awhile, vacationing and searching out genealogy and excellent (and some not so excellent) food up in Williamsburg, Virginia. We decided to make the trip at this time 1. because my wife has a lot of distant ancestors from that part of the country, and 2. because we own a timeshare and our deposit, from before my last adventures in surgery, was about to expire if I didn’t use it, and I can’t stand not getting my money’s worth. We didn’t need a two bedroom, two bath condo, but we made do.
As far as food is concerned in that area, Christina Campbell’s tavern on the fringes of Colonia Williamsburg is a little pricey, but wonderful. The food is great (both sea food and steaks) the atmosphere is wonderful and they have a sort of unofficial floorshow that is a delight. If , only a few miles away on Richmond Road, you happen upon a really fancy seafood place called SeaFare, aim for the nearby chain restaurants (Red Lobster, The Olive Garden, or even Wendy’s). It too is a little pricey and they served the worst seafood platter I have ever tasted (or at least stirred with my fork) along with baked potatoes that were hours, if not days old. There oughta be a law.

Before posting anything, I decided to skim the blogosphere, and one of my first sites was
Saurkraut Speaks Frankly which I read often, and I found that, because she is having surgery soon, she presented a list of her “core” posts and invited the guests to read through the core. I quickly determined that I was an unworthy customer. She listed pet peeves, and I qualified for almost all of them.

One of the first was annoying friends who sell Party/Life. Now I not only haven’t sold party life, I don’t even know what it is, but I began selling stuff through parties almost as soon as I graduated from High School. My first product was called LIFETIME STAINLESS STEEL COOKWARE, a low heat waterless (or almost waterless) cookware that cost about three hundred bucks back in the day when that was a month’s salary for a union railroad worker. The parties were not sneaky. Customers had to invite friends and get rsvps because I had to buy food and prepare a meal using the cookware.. I am a good cook and folks ate well but they paid for it by 1. watching me cook, and 2. listening to my pitch. I think everyone had a good time, and I always sold enough to pay for the groceries with a little (and a couple of times, a lot) to spare. I have peddled a lot of other stuff, some in direct sales, some in stores, but if you have heard of A.L. Williams, Kaire Inc. (magic medicinal elixirs, especially pychnogynol), NSA water filters, Melaleuca (for which I am still a customer and, almost twenty years after I quit doing it, I am still receiving monthly commissions). I will reassure Saur that I have never been involved with a stealth presentation (you know, the ones who invite you to dinner and spring the sales pitch on you after the appetizers.) so maybe I can continue to read her blog----

But her next pet peeve was high school drama teachers who taught “the method”. I only did it at the high school level for a few years, but I did it at the college level for more than thirty years. If she reads Nancy King’s THE MAGIC IF (a book for teaching “the method” to children and Richard Boleslavki’s--- shoot I can’t remember the title, I have been retired for ten years, and at my age remembering Boleslavski’s name was a coup) she will dislike “the method” a little less. I promise, I have never placed an actor on the stage and asked him to “Be a treeee, be a tree”. I confess that some of the actors in a little improvisational group I directed once played the part of trees, but they were primarily trying to make snacks out of Hansel and Gretel.

Let’s see, one of the next pet peeves was proselyting missionaries. I did that for the Mormon church in Finland for three years. I would assure Polanco that I would not harass her for being a Buddhist. I might have come back a few times to ask questions about Buddhism if she allowed it (I didn’t know much about it at the time). I was a missionary in Finland where Lutheranism is the state church, and a lot of people were pretty casual about their religion. Polanco wouldn’t approve, but I prided myself a lot that, although I didn’t turn a whole lot of folks into Mormons, by challenging their ideas, I turned a whole lot of casual Lutherans into Lutherans who knew what their church stood for and made informed choices about their future participation. The fact remains though, that I was one of the despised proselyting missionaries. I may not have succeeded in affirming my worthiness to Saur’s inner circle, but at least I came home a better, more tolerant and more informed human being. I was also there right after the Second World War and got to see first hand the results of both Fascist German, and Communist Russian

I suspect that there are folks who have thought I was the customer from hell, but at least Saur never had to worry about whether I had tried on thong underwear and then returned it to stock (If you haven’t read her tome on customers from hell, you should, If I did it right –highly unlikely—there is a link above.) I do remember one of my hissy fits (it’s a southern term) that could be qualified as a customer from hell and even as a verbal abuser (another core dislike) I pulled into a local minute mart one day for gas. I filled the tank on my little 75 Honda which took about 13 gallons maximum. I clicked on the gas filler while I went about washing windows, checking oil etc.(another one of my youthful professional stints). When I got back the pump said that I had used 34 gallons. I cursed for second, assuming that the pump hadn’t shut itself off and I had spilled many gallons on the ground. Lo and behold the ground was dry, nothing had spilled.

In high dudgeon (I have often wonder what a dudgeon is – high or low) I marched into the store and began to verbally explain, first in low tones, later in high tones, occasionally using vocabulary that would have shocked that missionary in Finland, that I didn’t owe for thirty four gallons, the most I could have pumped was twelve or so (I had the service manual in hand) and the poor young fellow, who probably was not in one of my classes only by his good fortune, began to get smaller and smaller behind the counter. He did insist that if he didn’t collect the money he would be held responsible and I invited (what a polite term for an impolite offer) him to call his manager or the police or anyone else. (By this time cars were backed up for miles--- well, yards anyway) . I didn’t realize the full force of my abuse on this poor kid till a female customer, waiting to pay for a candy bar or something, broke into tears and threw a five dollar bill on the counter, stating that perhaps that would help pay the bill, but she (sobbing again) couldn’t remain in such a non-Christian environment.

I really didn’t fully realize how abusive I had been until that moment. I took out my business card, wrote a note to the owner of the minute mart (who lived at the end of my block) asking him to call me to straighten this out. (It actually straightened out fairly easily). But, I still quiver in shame about this mess. I remember some of my teen age experiences in sales and suspect that I would have crawled home and hid under the bed, shotgun in hand, if I had been so thoroughly, if not physically attacked.)

I may barely crawl back past the pet peeves into good graceshaving shared Saur's “thrill of the hunt”. No one who has worked in theatre for very long (well maybe on broadway or in major films) without succumbing, at least temporarily, to the lust for old, beautiful stuff from yard sales, auctions, even occasional garbage cans.. My house is a veritable museum of Victorian and Edwardian stuff, none of which was purchased retail. In it is my wife’s collection of Nativity scenes, pewter dragons, and James Christensen figures, along with my collection of puppets—a little of which was purchased retail, but not much. Saur, if you read this, this is my partial redemption. I am out of space, but I could tell some tales about naïve college students that would make your friend Bambi seem almost sophisticated (to the rest of you, seek out the blog and read it. The reading is delightful, and for the rest of you, probably won’t even create guilt feelings. Oh, I forgot to mention how much I despise Heavy Metal and why. Perhaps later.
I hope you feel much better after your surgery. I haven't generally felt a lot better, but I can walk without limping and am still alive after a quadrupal bypass, and perhaps that's all one can ask.