Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earning my pay at the local radio station

     I answered to the name, “Hey You,” collected my paycheck and thanked the station manager for the opportunity. I was a tiny cog in the voice of community broadcasting.
     My job while in high school was at the local radio station, WRIV, 1390 AM on the dial. It is one of the oldest stations on Long Island serving the public with music and information for over 60 years.
     Our neighbor was the station manager, and he hired me for after school and summers. The station was a small, start-up operation, not at all like its AM-FM mega business today. 
      “Hey You” didn’t sit right with me, and looking back, I was a decade ahead of the feminist movement.
      My official title “Girl Friday” meant that I did mundane tasks such as putting stacks of vinyl records back on the shelves after the DJ had spun the weekly top 10 on the chart. The DJ would haphazardly deposit them on the studio floor and continue on with the usual broadcast chatter – weather, traffic and beach forecast.

     Certain announcers were sloppier than others in their broadcast booth habits, and I figured out which ones required more of my time. The weekend guys were the worst of the lot, and often they were the ones that lacked common courtesy.
     “Hey You, pick up my half-eaten sandwich and go fetch me an Alka-Seltzer.”

     Talk about broken records. It happened. When a DJ’s hand reached into the wall stacks, he expected the records to be in the proper slots. I made a mistake or two in alphabetizing, and had to observe a DJ going bananas, threatening the incompetence of everyone in the station— including the business manager —while searching for his music.
     Once the latest Johnny Mathias record “Heavenly” was nowhere to be found, and after a violent rant in the main office, the station manager calmly told the DJ that he had forgotten to return it from home. I sat cowering at the secretary’s desk frightened at such furor coming out in grown people. My innocence was being shaken firmly by the roots, and since then, I’ve never tolerated volatility and rudeness in the workplace.
     On-line male personalities no females yet ­ were like prima donnas compared to the technicians and office staff, and I bowed down to their every whim, or get a screaming tirade right in my face.

     There was one particular Saturday morning on-air guy that frequently felt the effects from his late night partying. I had to listen to his incessant talk about his latest love mishaps while tiptoeing in wide circles around him. It was way more than a seventeen year old needed to know. Professionally however, with a blink of the eye he was able to watch the clock for the second hand’s cue and his “golden broadcast tones” would resonate over the airwaves.
     I was growing up by leaps and bounds in an adult world and my sheltered childhood was eroding quickly. My dad warned me not to let anyone lay a hand on me, or say anything off-color, and I wisely stayed alert.
     Going downstairs to the tavern on the first floor for cups of coffee for the on-air personalities was a problematic situation. First, I was entering a bar under age and secondly, dad’s store window intersected the building. He didn’t miss a trick from his teenage daughter. I had to explain to him after my first coffee run what I was doing racing into a bar at eleven o’clock in the morning.
     Besides, I didn’t care to be in the local watering hole with a few   barstool regulars making cute comments while I nervously jumped back and forth on two feet waiting for the bartender to pour the coffee. I would have walked happily down the street to the brightly lit cafe, except the coffee at the bar was free for station staff and that is where I was instructed to go.
     I did a lot of answering the phone, and I developed quite the repertoire of phrases that could put off complainers and those wanting to talk to the on-air host right then, or else.

     When guests were coming for an on-air interview, it was my job to entertain them, and occasionally, I would go home to find out from my parents which adult celebrity, artist or writer from their generation sat across from me. Summertime on Eastern Long Island brought out the rich and famous.
     Carl Yastrzemski, local East End hero from Bridgehampton and future Boston Red Sox star, visited while still at Notre Dame. I should have trusted my instincts and gotten his autograph.
     I gathered news pertaining to the area from the AP wire, and as best as I was able, rewrote copy and handed it to the on-air newsreader for the top-of-the-hour. If the bell sounded, I knew to tear the sheet out of the machine and run directly to the booth. I liked the adrenalin rush, and I self-taught how to write quickly. As for accuracy, I was in the early learning stages and should say no more.
     One sleepy Saturday afternoon there was a serious boating accident and train wreck at approximately the same time, and the reporter on duty worked along with me pulling the news all together by a mere few seconds before airtime.
     It is at that small radio station that I started studying for my third-class broadcast license, and I went on to college to be an on-air personality at WGSU, SUNY Geneseo.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Snooze...and you won't loose

At the Corning Museum of Glass
Taking a nap - a power snooze to be precise - is a terrific way to wake up my inner thoughts. With a quick yawn and a wipe of my sleepy eyes, out come words effortlessly as if a floodgate has sprung open suddenly. Hurrah for a stored wellspring of pithy wisdom and witty tidbits.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A mother-kind-of-thing

Mothers and their adult children don’t get enough together time in person especially if they are at a distance. Inquisitiveness is in my nature, and I want to keep close while you are far away living in your grown-up world. That's why I have traveled to every single place that you have ever lived from your dorm rooms to apartments in various cities. I can "place" you in each one. 
I want to soak in your “everyday” such as where you lay your head to rest and what's outside your front door, so I can tuck it away for the next time we talk. I need pictures in my head, and knowing the sum of your days away from your childhood home.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Trio of stories from my travel journal

      Travelers return from a vacation with souvenirs and a suntan. Others come home with beautiful photographs and empty purses. I, on the other hand, am a collector of observable moments. 
     Writers worth their weight in gold are natural people watchers, and although I am not one that carries around a black moleskin notebook, I do record mentally what is happening when I am out in public, and hopefully, I blend into the background.
     Without throwing the salt shaker over my shoulder for good fortune, later snippets of this or that will show up in my work at the critical moment when most needed. Other times they stay stored in my head for years, and I am as surprised as the next person when my fingers start typing on the keyboard and a personality from a long ago chance encounter somewhere appears just as real as day.
    I have trained myself to visualize down to the smallest detail such as in this trio of flash non-fiction from a recent visit to Niagara Falls, Ontario.
     Each piece occurs in a different restaurant and with a rather varied cast of characters. I just happen to be sitting in the right place all three times, and I cast no judgment on what I observe.


     A family of six – four girls and their parents – select the grand breakfast buffet at the hotel with the view of the Horseshoe Falls. I wonder how that will work out, and if it is worth the price for normal finicky child eaters. I watch a different scene unfold, though, when white cloth napkins are spread over laps almost in unison. 
     The dad had been occupying a large table by the window and waiting with a cup of coffee for the family to arrive from upstairs, and as they do, each child gives him a big hug and a good morning greeting. He has that teddy bear feel to him and his squeezes are warm and natural like it’s an everyday occurrence.

     Right away the family fans out in all directions to check out their food options. One by one each child comes back to the table with her plate loaded with personal choices, and between give-and-take conversation planning out their touring day, they eat a hearty meal. The smells of fruit, pancakes and bacon abound along with a laughter level suitable for a public place. There is not a picky eater in attendance, and the boxed Fruit Loops are consumed equally as well as the hand-built omelet. I get the impression that this family is comfortable dining out.
     Once the middle-sized child slips out her iPhone and her dad immediately gives her a knowing look with an arch to his dark eyebrow. She slips it back into her jeans pocket, and resumes eating her waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries while pulling back her long brown hair into a ponytail. 
     When it looks like the family is all finished, the youngest daughter decides that she wants an extra serving of white toast. She swings her pink Ugg boots underneath the table, and politely asks the waiter. Everyone waits patiently while her order is filled. She carefully butters and spreads on the grape jelly thickly with spillage over the crusts onto her fingers. She takes bites as if she doesn't have a care in the world. The teenage sister rolls her eyes, and resumes chatting with her mom about a potential shopping excursion.
     There is no whining, sulking or barbs between sisters that could launch off into a tirade or two. It’s not a “les misérables” family vacation gone sour before it gets off the ground at first base. Mom is relaxing into her own space and dad is stepping up to the plate taking charge.
     Did I mention that there is a seventh member of the family present? The tiny grandmother is the most inconspicuous of the entire group, and whether or not she was already tired of it all and tuning it out, is not my concern.


      Niagara Falls is for lovers, and the elegantly dressed white-haired French couple in their seventies sit side by side in the round upholstered booth facing the colorful illuminated falls view while sipping white wine. By the second glass their bodies are closer together almost rubbing shoulders and his hand rests over hers. They leave in a glow after a third glass, and my guess as to the rest of the evening is as good as yours.

     A spindly size zero woman continues her lettuce leaf regimen and is in agony from her facial expression with every mouthful of caloric intake. She painfully picks away at her veggie plate as an afterthought not letting the meal get the best of her waisteline.
     I wonder if her shopping afternoon was more satisfying, and she cashed in on the value of the dollar; or could it have been the hours in the spa slathered in the latest skin hydrotherapeutic regime while drinking seaweed brew by the gallons that made it a super day.
     Her partner’s meal is sweet potato encrusted Atlantic salmon and he consumes every mouthful with no guilt whatsoever while expounding upon the layers of flavors to the disnterested skinny woman seated across from him.

     A winter getaway to Niagara Falls is a great opportunity if you handle cold weather optimistically. The Butterfly Conservancy. The ice wine. The gorge overlook walk.The friendly attitude of the Canadians.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Time warp

The day before the last week of the first month of the year I practiced writing out the new year in the proper digits.

The first time after the third of a series of six doctor’s visits the man got a clean bill of health.

Later than usual while the audience was leaving the theatre at the close of a three-hour movie, the clean-up crew began the job previously done at an earlier hour.

Right now is better than waiting an hour or two, and actually, it is the perfect moment to make an announcement of an event occurring in the future.

Time flies and catching the second hand on the clock is a worthless exercise unless you are a marathon runner.

The day after is often the better of the two.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Desiring a complete travel experience

Folks bring back souvenirs and a suntan from a vacation. Others return with beautiful photographs and empty purses. I, on the other hand, am a collector of experiences.

People young and old flock to a famous landmark, and yet they spent very little time involved with the actual experience in comparison to the other secondary activities in the area. I have observed this over and over in my travels. 

Different personalities handle touring in a way that fits their lifestyle. Shopping, drinking, eating - in no particular order - is as necessary to them as their devices in order to have a satisfactory day without vacation boredom creeping in to ruin everything.  Many have traveled long distances to cross another place off their bucket lists, and so be it. 

I am somewhat cynical as I am a purist when it comes to travel devoid of unnecessary consumerism. There is a huge difference between a tourist and a traveler, and I am more in the adventuresome, seek your own soulful significant moments type of wanderer.

Take Niagara Falls, one of the world’s most scenic spots of natural wonder, and consider the possibilities of engagement in my opinion.

No matter what season of the year, the Falls are THE focal point. The are hours upon hours of natural beauty to be claimed by simply staring at the awesome force of the water cascading down into the river in the morning with the sun slipping over the horizon and a lengthy gorge walk or run. At the end of the day in the darkness as twinkling lights on the American side flick on and cast a softer glow to the falls, you listen and imagine a bit more. Here's where the stories begin to evolve and they will be stored for telling. There is a foggy layer hanging over the falls that distances you from the entire panoramic view during a burst of afternoon rain showers or a dump of white flakes. Amazingly, every single moment there are subtle changes to the view from the direction of the misty spray to the ideal viewing place, and no two days are alike. 

 At least that’s how I spend my time on the Canadian side of the Falls. I arrive with no other expectation than an opportunity for personal communing within, sharing quality time with others and a thankfulness for my life. I leave with a renewed strength pouring over me and a resolve that my small existence is miniscule in relation to this gigantic earth.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A letter to a restaurant owner

Dear Restaurant Owner,

My husband and I support the farm-to-table restaurant concept, and on a mid-week mini adventure to your city we dined at your place (purposefully left vague, blog reader) and we were pleased with a sleek, modern atmosphere, intimacy and especially, the ever-evolving selections on the menu and local wine list. (We have been reading from your website menu for quite some time in anticipation). A reviewer online criticized the overuse of regional wines, and quite possiblly never skimmed the extensive list beyond the first page for the standard international fare. 

We were not staying at the hotel; however, it was simple enough to grab a cab on a very chilly evening and venture off into a different part of the city. A most recent review of your place from someone staying at your hotel claimed that is was easier to eat in and take what was available.That sounds discouraging for you, owner, to read in print.

Our waiter was willing to interact with us, and he made some thoughtful suggestions starting with the Moroccan Brown Ale (local brewery) for my husband and a pork-duck confit for an appetizer neither would we have chosen without that conversation. I think one mark of a well-managed restaurant is taking a diner's tastes personally. I had the sweet potato encrusted Atlantic salmon and my husband had the lamb shank, and both were seasoned properly and artfully presented on the plate. On the other hand, a review online implied that the waiter was too imposing and didn't show the mark a of high-end restaurant employee there to serve and not be seen.

Of course, the view was outstanding and we felt like dining at your restaurant was an evening's experience without a feeling of being rushed through and on to the next customers which is the case in so many other places lacking a European appreciation for freshly prepared food mixed with conversation. It takes time, and one reviewer claimed that he did not have all night to kill on one meal. Nor, a second person stated emphatically that the location was mother nature's and the restuarant held no special claim over it. 

I read a review from woman online that expressed dismay at your restaurant being sectioned-off from the hotel's grand buffet only by heavy curtains. Apparently, we were enjoying our meals and each other's company so much that we were oblivious beyond our space.

We are looking forward to another unique meal sourced from the region on our next visit. When you have a delicious dinner with many layers of flavor, the price is worth it. Again, many online reviews were aghast at the expensive prices, and we wondered what is their criteria for "better" places for special occasions.

We will overlook one flaw, but it is worth a mention here: We were not welcomed graciously (we had a reservation) at the front end, nor thanked when we left. 

Thank you.
An Appreciative Couple

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Collecting an observable moment

I am a collector of observable moments, and on a recent trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario, I recorded this one in my memory.

      Niagara Falls is for lovers, and the elegantly dressed white-haired French couple in their seventies sit side by side in the round upholstered booth facing the colorful illuminated falls view while sipping white wine. By the second glass their bodies are closer together almost rubbing shoulders and his hand rests over hers. They leave in a glow after a third glass, and my guess as to the rest of the evening is as good as yours.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Mixing together 'white' thoughts

    The first word spilling out of my head is white. Indulge me here in the fine art of writing descriptively about “nothing”. Maybe.

     Here’s why. An artist would agree that white isn’t a color, but technically the absence of color. Ask a scientist and you'll get a different reply based on physics: Black is not a color, but white is a color. There are shades of gray to each answer.

      You can't mix colors to create white. White is the color of fresh snow — sorry for the mental image — and milk, the color the human eye sees when it senses light, which contains all the wavelengths of the visible spectrum.

     Close your eyes and picture being in the Bay of Alaska viewing the glaciers, and you will see blue tints out of bubbles of whiteness. The dense ice absorbs every other color of the spectrum except for white.
    A white fixation, you say?

     Snowflakes are no joking matter around the office anymore this late into March. You’ve had your fill of fender benders, shoveling time and icy porch steps like the photo of the tiny kid in the red hoodie on the patio going around social media: “For the love of …STOP SNOWING.”

     If you are all set with winter “been there, done that” attitude, I don’t blame you for wagging your finger at me.
     There are other ways to look at the color and be a cheerful optimist. After all, white signifies purity, innocence, wholeness and completeness. They are such admirable qualities and virtues for all seasons.

     Speaking of winter white, it is a lovely color for an outfit – a sweater, parka or slacks — if you can keep your pant legs from attracting slush or your arms from not leaning in while scraping your windshield. It’s a seasonal hazard for Western New Yorkers.

     As a symbol white often represents light in contrast with darkness. All the bad characters vs. all the decent guys are as easy to spot as “The Big Bad Wolf”.
     Times have changed and no longer are whites to be worn after Memorial Day and put away after Labor Day. Back in Emily Post’s day — the nineteen 00s, 10s and 20s — the summer season was bracketed by Memorial Day and Labor Day. Society flocked en masse from town house to seaside cottage or mountain cabin to escape the heat. City clothes were left behind in exchange for lighter, whiter, summer costumes.
     Come fall and the return to the city, summer clothes were put away and more formal city clothes donned once more. It was an age when there was a dress code for practically every occasion, and the signal to mark the change between summer resort clothes and clothing worn for the rest of the year was encapsulated in the dictum "No white after Labor Day." And it stuck.

     Of course you can wear white after Labor Day, and it makes perfect sense to do so in September's temperatures often hardly fall-like. The true interpretation according to Emily Post is "wear what's appropriate — for the weather, the season, or the occasion." So on a blistering Indian summer September day here in Livingston County, you’ll catch me wearing my “whites”.

     If you are of a certain age, you will remember the White Rain Shampoo jingle: “Use White Rain Shampoo tonight and tomorrow your hair will be sunshine bright.” Check out the lovely model in the commercial (YouTube) for a bit of nostalgia. Gillette first introduced White Rain in 1952, and it is still on the shelves.
     Notice the woman standing over the kitchen sink where she “suds up” right in front of the camera. That 50s ad was risky exposing a “private” hygienic routine for public display on television. How far we’ve come.

     Today’s American obsession with the process of teeth whitening to be perfect like everyone and his brother in Hollywood takes us for dental treatments, whitening products and toothpaste with brightening ingredients. A pearly white smile puts your best foot forward everywhere you go.

    In my opinion, there is nothing as glamorous as well-styled pure white hair in an older woman. She bears a regal appearance and commands any room that she enters. A few women in their 40s and 50s are prematurely white, and even then, it is a statement about their confidence as females to accept the aging process we all face.

     Has anyone ever counted how many reams of white-lined notebook paper it takes from kindergarten through high school to get a diploma?  I would imagine that it is astounding, although in the computer age it would include a lot of white computer paper, too. The main use of wood pulp is to make paper, and the whiteness must be bleached out.

     Ask your grandchild if he has heard of a telephone book, and it might surprise you that his household uses the White Pages on the Internet instead of fumbling through the fine print.
     There are tons of songs using the color, and in the case of “White Wedding” by Billy Idol, it doesn’t reference any particular season.
     A white cake layered with butter cream goodness is as pure as winter snow. I had to get in one more reminder before I closed.

     White isn’t my favorite color  — I’m a fan of reds  — and yet it is simple goofiness when I let my thoughts roam filling up the white on my computer screen.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

The eye of memory

There are as many versions of the tale as there were tellers.

Mrs.White remembers it happening in the spring. My mother says it was in the late afternoon in the summer when the Conklins' shaggy dog ran out into the road and there was a screech of tires on the Ford pick-up truck before the hit. Mr. Davis remembers a few remains of dirty snow on the edge of the road when he was hurrying out to the street to check on the whimpering dog. He says that it was in early April. The Conklins came out of their house with a blanket and the driver of the truck helped them gently move the dog to their car for an emergency visit to the vet. Mrs. Roache across the street on her porch continued praying. She fingered her rosary beads and exclaimed it was a miracle that the dog was alive thanks be to God. Everyone agreed on that one point. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Valuing a library card

The public library is responsible for furthering my love of reading as a young child.

The first identity card of significance in my life was one that permitted me entrance into a new world where I could take out two books at a time respecting due dates. I must have been in first grade, and the library was within a short walking distance from my house. I kept the card in my wallet proudly, and honored my obligations not to damage or loose a book. The staff got to know me by name, and I felt welcome exploring the different rooms housing the largest collection of books I had ever seen anywhere.

In fact, I remember worrying so much about loosing my library privileges that I would return books two or three days ahead of time just in case the librarian would overlook them on the cart. I didn't want any blemishes on my clean record. Besides, the two cent fine per day would come from my allowance, and I had better uses for my money.

Once in eighth grade I set a summer reading goal and I began in the stacks at the beginning of the alphabet. It is right there in the "A's" that I made friends for life with Meg, Beth and Jo, and I devoured Louisa May Alcott over and over. I was living in their Concord home for the entire summer and following their adventures. The following summer I decided I had better go forward, and I was delighted to find great classic authors in Jane Austin, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.

Every time I moved as an adult, one of the first things that I would do was get a library card. Then I  officially belonged to the community.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015