A FEW MORE YEARS
our first childhoods, we weren't allowed to cross the street.
We couldn't drive a car or drink or get married or buy our own
house. We looked forward to becoming grownups, when we would be
permitted to experience those things. Our parents told us,
Be patient. It'll be just a few more years, and they'll
go by before you know it.
the coronavirus has forced us into a second childhood! This
time there's a different set of restrictions: We're warned not
to go to restaurants or bars or movies or church services or
basketball games or any other place where lots of people gather.
We're not allowed to cross certain borders without quarantining for
weeks. We're supposed to wear masks.
Dr. Anthony Fauci doesn't think Americans as a whole are going to
change their behavior. Blogger Robert Elisberg, noting that
many on the right refuse simply to even wear a mask for a few
months, writes, If the low level of self-sacrifice for
the greater good during a national crisis was how they'd acted during
WW II, I sense today we'd be speaking German.
a vaccine isn't likely to be available to the general public until
spring. A couple of months ago, Dr. Fauci predicted that
it will be easily by the end of 2021,
and perhaps even into the next year ,
before we start having some semblances of normality. If 50% of
the people say I don't want to get vaccinated, then it's
going to take considerably longer than that.
Futurist Bryan Alexander writes, It seems plausible that 2023
will be the third year of an overall slowdown in global economic
production and growth. Many people will have long-term
psychological stress or trauma. The details of this recession
could drive political desperation.
Recently-leaked Internal World Health Organization documents warn
that vaccines might not reach some countries until 2024.
And, on a conference call, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said he
expects business demand to return to normal around then.
New York's tourism promotion agency says the number of foreign
tourists in the city will not likely return to its pre-pandemic level
currently looking forward to a second adulthood, when we'll
once again be permitted to experience the fullness of life.
Just a few more years.
WITNESSING AN ACCIDENT
I continue to dredge up old memories, I've photoshopped one of
them. It dates back to a weekend in the late 1970s when my
parents came to visit me in Washington, PA. We had driven north
towards Pittsburgh on US 19, maybe to visit South Hills Village.
Now we were returning. I was driving, with my father beside me
and my mother in the back seat.
a lightly-traveled section of road like this, still a mile north of
the Washington County line, I was maybe a hundred yards behind a
Volkswagen Beetle. Suddenly the other
car swerved left, then sharp right. Out of control, it left the
highway, flipped over, and tumbled down the embankment!
Stop! my mother urged; I was already beginning to do so.
I pulled to the shoulder and switched on my flashers. My
sixty-something father jumped out, ran forward, and scrambled down
into the ditch to see if he could help.
Other vehicles pulled up behind ours.
In those days nobody had cell phones to call 911, but just then a
patrol car fortunately came along on the opposite side of the
road. We all waved frantically, and the
officers stopped to check out the situation.
father came back to report that although the other driver couldn't
open his car door, he was awake and coherent. He was a soldier
returning home; he had been traveling all night and had fallen asleep
at the wheel. Now he must have been marveling that it took less
than a minute for the cops to arrive.
police told our small group of civilians that they would take care
of everything, so we could leave.
Wait a minute, I thought, don't you need statements from
witnesses? I saw the whole thing! It happened right in
front of me! But I guessed the driver's statement would
suffice. We onlookers all returned to our vehicles and left the scene.
prompted this memory? I happened to be watching an old episode
of CHiPs, which dated from the same time period. The end
of a chase scene included the elements I've colored blue above, and
they seemed familiar.
course, on television the car tumbled down a much larger embankment
and exploded into flames. My real-life experience was less dramatic.
TOO BAD ABOUT THAT THING THAT HAPPENED
do I stay up on current events? Somewhat haphazardly, it
appears. The people I follow on Twitter often comment on things
I know nothing about, at least not yet. For example, if
everyone suddenly starts reminiscing about a celebrity, I deduce that
the celebrity must have passed away.
2:42 on December 26, I read a joke that Ken Jennings had tweeted 17
minutes earlier: It should only make headlines now when a
monolith DOESN'T appear someplace. Huh? Has there
been yet another monolith sighting, I wondered? It didn't make
headlines in Pittsburgh.
I Googled, and it turns out that early on Christmas morning a tall
triangular prism did appear in San Francisco's Corona Heights
Park. It was made to look like gingerbread, with icing and
gumdrops and all. But by the time I read Ken's tweet, the
structure had collapsed.
was I not kept informed of this?
25, 2010 CHRISTMAS
colorized a 55-year-old snapshot to relive the holiday scene when I
was eight years old.
our second Christmas since moving to the house on Hoskins Pike, the
tree had been set up in front of the east-facing bay window in what
was nominally the dining room. On the old upright piano was a
piece of sheet music, something about a snowflake.
Christmas night, the presents had all been opened and arranged
around the tree, where I posed with my new saxophone. This toy
instrument had a harmonica reed for each of the nine notes that
sounded when their keys were depressed. The performer's
repertoire was limited to melodies that spanned no more than one
octave, such as "The First Noel" and "Joy to the
World" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."
the tree on the right we can see a microscope set, which came in a
large green box with samples of things to look at under
magnification. On the left is a canister of American Logs;
theyre similar to Lincoln Logs, and I mentioned them in this
article. Next to it is a leather briefcase monogrammed
T.B.T. with which I could carry my music to my weekly
piano lessons. I used it for that purpose for nearly ten years,
and even today its on standby in my closet.
only gift I can identify that wasnt for me is the rectangular
brass-and-pink-ceramic planter, which my mother would use for African violets.
hope Santa was good to you and your family this year!
MURRAY'S 23 TINY REINDEER
would like to suggest that the author of a famous Christmas
poem owned a pair of spirited horses, Vixen and Prancer.
However, to describe an eight-reindeer team for Saint Nicholas woule
require a half-dozen additional names.
went to his library and consulted a book of suggestions. It
wasn't a baby-names book; it must have been something like Favorite
Appellations for Fleet Steeds.
turned to the two-syllable section. Aha, thought
he, on the top of the second page I find Blitzen. That
almost rhymes with my mare Vixen.
here's Dancer, which rhymes with my Prancer.
else might I use? From the alphabetical aggregation he
chose four additional appellations, and the rest is history.
than a century later, Johnny Marks wrote a popular song that begins:
know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen.
do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?
Murray didn't recall. In fact, as a mere stand-in for Santa,
he was unacquainted with any of the reindeer, red-nosed or
otherwise. I would explain his predicament like this:
exclaimed and he shouted, to his team gave a whistle,
to call them by name would have been beneficial.
the top of the store! To the roof of the mall.!
dash away! Dash away! Dash away ... y'all.!
How Murray Saved Christmas by Mike Reiss, the substitute
sleigh-driver has to improvise:
Dumbo and Jumbo! On, Mason and Dixon!
Cosmo and Kramer and Richard M. Nixon!
Bambi and Rambo and Dopey and Doc,
and Sulu, Uhura and Spock.
Lipstick and Dipstick! On, Pixie and Dixie!
Kramden and Norton and Alice and Trixie!
Christmas to all! And to all whatever you're called
a good night.
22, 2010 WAR?
complain their team never gets the respect it deserves. When
they feel theyre the underdog, it motivates them to shock
the world and prove the doubters wrong.
Americans are Christians, yet many claim that they too are being
disrespected. Suppose one of them wishes you a merry Christmas
and you dont answer in kind; instead, you reply And a
happy Hanukkah to you or Seasons
greetings. Many Christians will take offense at
that. They dont like to be reminded there are people who
dont share their beliefs. They prefer everyone to agree
some retailers assume non-Christians are equally defensive.
They think if a clerk says Merry Christmas to a customer
who doesnt happen to be a Christian, that person will be
offended. But actress/comedian Sarah Silverman, whose sister is
a rabbi, tweeted in December 2015: I've never met a Jew
that minds one bit if you say Merry Christmas to them.
it wise for a non-Christian to refuse, on principle, to say
Merry Christmas? Well, lets consider.
was an ancient Roman god of the harvest for whom Saturday was named.
residents of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, claim prophetic powers for
a local marmot and demonstrate his forecasting skills on February 2.
Julius Caesars assassination, the Senate proclaimed him a god
and a month was renamed July.
of Jesus of Nazareth decided that he too was a god, or at least the
son of one, and the day of his miraculous birth was observed with a
Christ Mass originally a solemn, not merry, event.
consider these facts.
have no qualms about mentioning Saturday, since no veneration of
Saturn is implied.
can enjoy Groundhog Day festivities without worshiping an animal.
celebrate the Fourth of July, even though none of us belong to the
cult of the emperor.
if a non-Christian says have a merry Christmas, hes
not necessarily endorsing Christ-worship. Hes just
accepting the fact that the late-December holiday of merriment and
giving gifts, formerly Saturnalia and later
Yule, is currently called Christmas in our culture.
nonbeliever would be wise to go along with this accepted common
terminology, rather than pointedly avoiding it and handing the
Christians another excuse to feel persecuted and hate their neighbors.
21, 2020 QUADRICENTENNIAL
Captain John Smith, late of Jamestown in Virginia, explored the
coast of Massachusetts Bay in 1614. There he encountered the
Patuxet band of the Wampanoag tribal confederation, who were living
in a village called Accomack.
published a map two years later. A river was named after
Prince Charles, the teenager who would later become King Charles
I. The prince had suggested that the towns in New
England ought to have English names like London or Oxford.
Therefore Accomack was labeled New Plimouth. Cape Cod and its
bay were named for King James and the royal family, the Stuarts.
another four years, a group of Pilgrims left England's old Plymouth
on a ship called Mayflower. They arrived at New Plimouth
on this date in 1620 400 years ago today!
first landing party found that the people of Accomack had been wiped
out by disease, probably contracted from European visitors.
Therefore, the Pilgrims could claim their abandoned fields.
121 years would pass before Plymouth Rock was identified as the spot
where they first set foot. Despite the doubtfulness of the
claim, the famous boulder has been enshrined.
photographed it during a family vacation in the summer of 1958.
On the upper right of my snapshot, you can see the feet of other
tourists staring down at the rock from the far side of its protective cage.
the year before, the replica ship Mayflower II had sailed
across the Atlantic. We tourists went on board. Recently,
after undergoing eight years of repair work, the replica has returned
permanently to its dock in Massachusetts.
1958 I also photographed the 11-year-old replica of Plimoth
Plantation (below), a living history museum. This year it began
changing its name to Plimoth Patuxet to recognize the Native American
the weather on this winter solstice, I'm reassured to find that from
here on, the days are going to start getting longer again.
Spring will be here before we know it! Tomorrow we'll have one
of additional daylight!
WHAT'S ON THE OTHER SIDE?
you be celebrating the holidays in a group of 11 or more folks?
Two-thirds of the nation thinks you shouldn't.
AP-NORC poll asks Americans whether gatherings ought to be limited
to 10 people because of COVID-19. This month, the proportion of
all adults who favor such a restriction, somewhat or strongly, has
grown to 66%.
order to that effect has become acceptable to 90% of Democrats but
only 38% of Republicans, and the gap is widening even as the virus
spreads. This is likely due to political polarization between science-affirmers
most of us, it's a year of loneliness. I sit in my apartment
using my DVR to watch TV. Usually, I fast-forward through the
commercials with their annoyingly quick video cutting. But one
ad began with Willie Nelson singing a gentle 30-second version of
Rainbow Connection, so I listened. Then I rewound
to see what the commercial was selling.
was selling connection. Connection between people, even though
they're isolated in their individual homes. I was amazed to see
a heartwarming little story unfold in 23 shots averaging only 1.3
is the full version. According to the sponsor, it hints
at current events without making them the focus of the spot.
Rodrigo García Saiz says, I think we can all relate to
the little girl longing for a friend. That's all she
wants for Christmas.
MOST STATES CAN BE IGNORED
the big buildup to the Presidential election? Everyone was
talking about it, and two-thirds of us who were eligible actually did
cast ballots. However, we already knew how most of the
Electoral College would vote! Of the 538 electoral votes that
were cast yesterday, 315 had been predicted in October by the pollsters.
is this possible? America has split into two partisan camps,
and in most states the outcome can easily be predicted. In
2020, more than three-fifths of the states were decided by landside
margins, as shown in this chart from the New
have threatened the very idea of voting in a democracy,
writes Dave Anderson in The
are handing our freedom to the pollsters, since we vote feeling that
the outcome has already been determined.
are the polls always to be blamed? You don't have to be an
expert conducting interviews to know that most Wyoming votes will go
to the Republican candidate (70% this year) and most Massachusetts
votes to the Democrat (66%).
organizations correctly predicted that Donald Trump would win 18
red states (including two Nebraska congressional districts),
of the nation's population and 103
also knew that Joe Biden would win 19
blue states (including D.C. and a Maine district) with 40%
of the nation's population and a whopping 212
electoral votes. Biden's electoral number was more than twice
as large because five of the blue states are each more populous than
any one of the reds.
only voters who actually mattered this year were those in the
undecided states and districts, comprising 44%
of the population and 223
electoral votes. They were subjected to most of the political advertising.
of these battleground areas (in pink), including four big
states. That added 129
electoral votes to his total.
Biden won the other nine
areas (in light blue), even though Trump claimed fraud in most of
them. Biden thereby gained 94
electoral votes. Because he was already well ahead nationally,
that was enough to put him over the top.
you're among the 56% of Americans living in a predictably red or
blue state, you had no voice because your state's result was a
foregone conclusion. On average, your winner defeated the loser
68 percent to 30 percent. You might as well not have bothered
to vote for President! Thanks, Electoral College.
13, 2020 SUPERDICE
you need a random number between 1 and 120? The easiest way to
obtain one nowadays is to ask your computer. In Excel, the
function =RANDBETWEEN(1,120) does the trick, giving you results like
22, 12, 90, and so on. However, the numbers aren't truly random
because they're based on an algorithm which will eventually repeat itself.
it's better to roll a 120-sided die. When it stops, you read
the number that's uppermost. If it's a fair die, that result
should be truly random.
if one half of the die happens to be shaved, a little
below average in weight or surface area, the numbers on that half
will be slightly more likely to come out on top.
how should the numbers be distributed? The fairest arrangement
was determined by Dr. Robert A. Bosch, who like me is an alumnus of
Oberlin College. Having graduated in 1985, Bob is now a professor
in Oberlin's mathematics department. He used trial-and-error
computer programs to come up with an optimal solution.
I was a graduate student at Syracuse University, I spent a lot of
time walking. There
were various possible routes from the campus (in the foreground
below) to my rented room in a house
on Miles Avenue. Sometimes I'd take a scenic detour through Thornden
Park. But more often I'd choose the
direct way, the major portion of which was a boring trek straight
east for almost three-quarters of a mile on Euclid Avenue before
than once, lost in my thoughts, I suddenly realized I didn't know
where I was. I could tell I was still on Euclid, but how far
had I come? Had I missed my turn? It was necessary to
continue walking for another couple of blocks before the landmarks
seemed familiar again.
today I take contemplative strolls inside my apartment.
When I get up in the morning, it's dark outside and chilly. I
feel like going right back to bed, but instead I pace the floor to
get my pulse and respiration up to speed. I walk back and
forth, pondering the great and small issues of the day. I soon
feel much more energetic. Apparently the blood shifts from my
torso to my legs and brain, because after 10 minutes my arms begin to
feel chilly and I break out a sweater. I climb steps, for two
minutes at a time. But I never break out in a sweat. This
activity is never strenuous enough to cause perspiration.
all prefer not to suffer the vicissitudes of daily life. For
example, I don't like to become
hungry, thirsty, sleepy,
dizzy, confused, cold,
hot, sweaty, or tired.
prevent the first three conditions, I eat, drink, and sleep.
To prevent the last three, I stop pacing after 30 to 60 minutes and
sit down at my desk.
7, 2020 NORM!
sets for classic TV shows and movies are not totally realistic.
In particular, just like a stage set, they lack a fourth wall.
That's where the cameras are, and behind them the live audience if
any. I can accept that.
another departure from reality actually bothers me. In many
cases, the entrance door is a couple of steps higher than the rest of
improves the staging, I guess. An actor at the door is not
blocked from our view by actors and furniture in the foreground.
But does your house have a sunken living-room floor and
sunken kitchen and sunken everything else?
are just a few examples.
and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Van Dyke Show
Tyler Moore Show
and a Half Men
4, 2010 EARLY
TO BED, VERY EARLY TO RISE
you ever received an e-mail from me and wondered why I sent it in
the predawn hours? Heres the reason.
usually work on sports telecasts in prime time, but I
work only a few evenings a week. I do get nights off, often
several in a row.
a night when I haven't had to work, I go to bed as usual.
However, Im well rested by 5:00 A.M., so I get out of bed and
begin my daily activities. That afternoon, I ought to take a
nap, but often I don't get around to it. That evening, I settle
in to watch my familiar TV shows from my comfortable couch.
Within half an hour Im so relaxed that I fall asleep.
Then I awaken at 3:00 A.M., eager to check my e-mail and start
an unpredictable schedule like that, its fortunate that I live alone.
don't want to have to constantly tell somebody where I'm going.
I don't want to have to be quiet when I get up in the middle of the
night; I want to turn everything on. So I'm selfish. And
it's better if selfish people live alone.
Grace Slick, on the Biography Channel
17 years after my mother died, my father lived alone. He
confessed to me that sometimes he lost track of time. In the
winter hed awaken when it was dark outside. Hed
check his watch and see that it was around 6:00, so hed get
dressed and drive downtown for breakfast. At the restaurant
someone would tip him off that it was actually 6:00 P.M.
have similar experiences, although I soon realize my mistake.
To eliminate the ambiguity, I've taken to setting my watch to 24-hour
military time. Eating breakfast at 06:00 is
permitted; eating breakfast at 18:00 is silly.
house was warm, secure, and beautiful,
fair and pleasing both to sense and sight.
marvel, then, the cat that there did dwell
as in heaven, where all is happiness
everything is good and leads to joy.
so it might have long continued thus,
cat and lady both quite reasonably
their lives quite reasonably happy ...
rest of the story, a poem I wrote 54 years ago with my sophomore
crush in mind, is this month's 100 Moons article.