Night Watchman

Night moves at a different pace than the day, not slower or faster, but wider, or narrower, I’m not sure how to describe it.  It’s as if each night takes long enough to reveal whatever it has to reveal.  It’s the way the dark can feel infinite and claustrophobic at the same time, its endlessness pressing down on you.

I rise in the dark.   Out here, in the country, beyond the town limits, there are no streetlights.   I put my uniform on and join the rest of the people working in the night, people baking bread, occupying toll booths, lifting and lowering gates, driving 18 wheelers on the interstate.   We wake and we work for those who are sleeping.   Our real job is to be unnoticed, to get our work done without disturbing them while they sleep, so they wake up refreshed and well rested, with their morning papers on their doorstep and their freight delivered.

Tonight when I start my rounds, before I make it into town, it’s cloudy and black and still.   It’s still March, too early for the summer chorus of crickets, and there is no moon for the coyotes to yip and yap at.  You’d think that by now I’d be used to nights like this, but I still feel apprehension as I make my way past the silent fields and woods and farms and into the lighted streets of town.

On the west side, my first stop is Bob’s rental.   The gates to the wire fence that encloses the yard are chained and padlocked, and the door to the store is locked and secure.  Bob is an ornery and cranky old fart, but I like him.   Before I took the night shift, he’d been hit three times in four months. 

Then I patrol the neighborhood near the elementary school.   There is the occasional porch or yard light left on.   I pass where Jack lives.  Tonight they remembered to shut the garage door, I don’t know how many times he’s left it open.  I’ve told him over and over, you may as well be extending a written invitation to criminals, just because you haven’t been hit yet doesn’t mean you’re not going to be.  I shouldn’t waste my time or breath, though, because he just doesn’t listen.   I may as well talk to the wall.

After I check out the school and the auto parts store and the junkyard, I make my way down Main Street.  It’s after two now, all the bars are closed.   At the furniture store they forgot to turn off the lights again, I don’t know who they have closing but it’s the third time in the past week.  I make a note of it in my log.

At about three thirty I check out the lumber yard.  I stop on the west side of the wire chain link fence that surrounds it and pour a cup of coffee from my thermos and pull the roast beef and cheese sandwich from the brown paper bag.    I take a sip and from the corner of my eye, I detect movement, shifting shadows, from the stacks of treated four by fours in the middle of the yard.  I walk over to check it out, moving in and out of the yard lights, and as I approach the four by fours, I sense movement behind me, and as I turn I see more movement, the dark trace of shadows shifting and dissolving on the black pavement.    I finger the butt of my piece in its holster.   Then I think I hear something, and I pivot, and behind me, on a stack of two by fours, I see a splash of blood, and a feeling something like déjà vu and something like dread overwhelms me, until I realize it isn’t blood at all but the red dash of lettering they stamp on the ends of each board.   Then I hear a crash of something falling over from the north side of the yard.  I draw my revolver and put a stack of two by fours between me and where I heard the sound come from, and I can hear the rustle of something moving, it’s only about 10 yards from me, and I pull the hammer back on my revolver and step out of the shadows into the light.  “Halt!” I yell, my pistol cocked and aimed at the bundle of meshed gardening fence that had been knocked over, and then I see movement, this time three dimensional, not just shadows, and I see two yellow eyes glowing at me from the darkness, and I realize my hardened criminal is a stray cat, and I lower my gun, my heart still pounding, sweat on my brow.  I am relieved and I try to laugh it off, but then my eyes detect another splash of blood, this one the red stamps on a stack of two by sixes, and I know it is nothing but red ink, but I have difficulty processing that, I can’t get the image of blood splashed and stained across a stack of fresh lumber out of my mind.

It’s four thirty as I leave the lumber yard, and I have one last stop to finish my rounds.  It’s on the southern outskirts of town, on a dead end street.  As I approach, the two story house is dark.   I check out the perimeter, the yard, the tool shed, the garage, and then I check the doors.  They are all locked, the windows are all shut.  I silently enter.  I make my way up the stairs.  It’s a big house for her, with her children all grown now, to live in alone.  She is in bed, lying on her side like she always did with one leg under the covers and one sticking out.  My eyes are used to the dark, and I can tell she is wearing a blue t-shirt, her brown hair spread out across her pillow.  She is breathing, soft and rhythmically.  Her eyes are closed, and she looks so calm and content and peaceful.  I want so badly to lean over and touch her, to kiss her on the cheek, but I can’t, she’d be afraid, she wouldn’t understand, that I still love her, that I’ll always love her, and that I could never hurt her, and even though we aren’t together anymore, I will still look out for her, I will protect her.  It’s what I do.

The clock radio on the headboard says it is five fifteen.   My shift is over, and the sun will be up in less than an hour.  I let myself out and head for home.   It’s starting to warm up.  The grass is thick with dew, and I can hear the waking sound of the first of the morning songbirds.   I’m tired as a faint pink line lights up the eastern horizon.  It’s just bright enough for me to make out my name on the stone.  I’m home, and it’s time to sleep again.



Bald Tube

(I sincerly apologize for this, especially to those of you who read to the punch line at the end)

It all began innocently enough one spring morning when Leonard’s teenage daughter, Ariel, on her way out to school, asked Leonard if he knew what the weather was supposed to be like.  Before Leonard could answer that he hadn’t seen a forecast, his daughter stared at him.

“What’s that on your head?” She was looking at the top of his bald head.  “Oh, my God!”


“Your head!”  she said.  Colors, including vibrant reds and blues, started appearing on Leonard’s head, moving and bleeding into one another until they took the shape of a weather map of the corner of southeast Wisconsin where they lived, with a smiling sun and the words “Hi 57, Low 41”.  “How are you doing that?”

“Doing what?”

“Your head!”   She led him into the bathroom mirror, but by the time they got there, the image was gone.

“Very funny.”   His kids loved to make fun of his bald head.

He finished his morning rituals, kissed his wife, and drove to work.   After reading thru the e-mails in his in-box, he went to get a cup of coffee.   He nodded to Jenkins and Williams, fellow managers in I.T. at  Pipcorn Industries, who were in a typical early morning debate.

“Leonard”, Jenkins said, “maybe you could help settle a debate we’re having.  Who threw the pass to Christain Laettner when Duke beat Kentucky?”

As Leonard started cycling through his memory banks, Williams pointed at the top of his bald head and said, “Look.”

Again, colors started to bleed on Leonard’s head, and soon a video of the famous play was playing.  Both men stood with their mouths gaping open.

“What?”, Leonard asked.

“Ha!  I told you it was Grant Hill!”  Jenkins raised his hand for a high-five.   Nobody responded.

“What?”  Leonard was getting impatient.

“How’d you do that?”  Williams asked

“Do what?”

“Play that video.  A video just played on your head,” Williams responded

“Let me see”, Leonard said, looking for a mirror.

“It’s gone now,” Williams replied.  “But it was a video, a replay of the Duke Kentucky game.”

“A video?”  Leonard asked.

“But there wasn’t any sound,” Jenkins contributed.

“That was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen”, Williams said.

Leonard told them about his daughter seeing the weather map earlier that morning.  Being IT professionals, they quickly used their trouble shooting skills to determine that the visuals appeared on Leonard’s head in response to questions.  “Let’s try asking it another question”, Williams suggested.   Leonard agreed, but insisted they go into the men’s room first and stand in front of a mirror.  He was eager to see what everyone was talking about.

They ventured to the men’s room, debating what question to ask, when Williams said, “Don’t worry, I know what to ask.”

They entered the men’s room and stood before the big mirror, Leonard in the center.  “O.K., we’re ready”, Jenkins said

“All right, “ Williams started, smiling and exchanging a glance with Leonard and Jenkins.   “Here goes:  what was Selma Hayek’s role in From Dusk till Dawn?”

“Oh, for cripes sake,” Leonard complained.

“What?  It’s the greatest scene in movie history!” Williams replied.

Before they could say another word, colors appeared and started bleeding into each other on top of Leonard’s head.  Soon the bikini clad image of Selma Hayek, with a snake draped around her shoulders, started gyrating on top of Leonard’s head.

“It’s unbelievable”, Williams exclaimed in delight.

“What the Hell?” Leonard’s jaw dropped.

“You’ve got a fucking Youtube on your head!”, Williams proclaimed.

“But there’s still no sound,” Jenkins complained.

“What’s wrong with you?”, Williams looked at Jenkins.

“I’m just saying.  It’d be better with sound,” Jenkins replied.

“Shut the fuck up!”, Leonard said, panicking.  Selma Hayek was still dancing seductively on top of his head.  “What the Hell is going on?”

“Let’s ask it another one, “ Williams said.

It?   ‘Let’s ask it another one?’”  Leonard replied.

“Yeah.   What’s wrong?” Williams asked, perplexed.

It happens to be my head!”  Leonard was upset.  “Listen, no more questions.  And please, don’t tell anybody about this, not until I figure out what’s going on.”

They went their separate ways, back to their offices, back to work.  Pipcorn industries were the leading manufacturer of shoelaces in the Midwest.  There had been a lot of stress lately, with sales down due to the popularity of sneakers that used Velcro straps instead of shoelaces, and there were rumors of restructuring.  Leonard realized he had a management meeting at 9:00, and he knew lots of questions would be asked.  He knew that he wasn’t as prepared for the meeting as he should be, but any worries about that paled in comparison to the distraction his head would cause.  Leonard did not like being the center of attention.  Opening his center desk door, he found a baseball cap that had been given to him as part of a promotional campaign for SL-17, the company’s new product launch, a shoelace designed to not come untied, targeted to compete with Velcro shoes.  Leonard decided he’d wear the cap to the meeting.

At 8:58, Williams and Jenkins stopped by Leonard’s office and picked him up on the way to the meeting.  They noticed the cap, and Leonard again reminded them not to say anything about the weird videos.   They entered the meeting room, already half full, and found a seat at the long rectangular table.  Everyone was waiting for Davis, the Vice President, to arrive.  All eyes were on Leonard, and he could hear the soft murmur of whispers and feel the stares of his colleagues around the table, when Davis entered.  He stood at the head of the table, put down his stack of notebooks and papers, and looked up.  “Good morning”, he started.

“Good morning”, the rest of the team replied in unison.

“We’ve got a lot to …”, he said, looking around the room, when he caught site of Leonard in his baseball cap.  “Leonard, what the Hell is that on your head?”

“It’s the SL-17 cap”, he proudly replied, “I thought I’d wear it to show my support of the product launch.”  He smiled.

“Leonard, this is a professional environment.   With all due respect ….”

Leonard sheepishly removed the cap.

“Now”, Davis started, “Are the latest market trend figures available?”

Wilson from Marketing rose and started to give his report when Davis glanced at Leonard.

“Excuse me”, Davis interrupted.  “Leonard, what the Hell is that on your head?”  Colors had started to bleed and before Leonard could respond, they had formed a bar graph of the latest shoelace market trends.

“Without looking,” Leonard said, “I’d guess it’s probably a market trend report.”

Sure enough, on Leonard’s head was a graph showing the trend of the different product lines in the shoelace market.   Everybody gasped and stared.

“Um, I think the paper copy in your portfolio is easier to read”, Wilson said, trying to regain control of his presentation.

“Leonard, what is going on?”  Davis demanded.

“I don’t know, sir.  Since I woke up this morning, my head has been answering questions.”

“Your head has been answering questions?”  What the Hell does that mean?”

“It’s true”, Williams replied.  “I saw it this morning.  It answers whatever you ask it.”

“But there’s no sound,” Jenkins added.

“But really, ask it a question,” Williams said.  “Some sort of fact based question.”

“Let me try,” Ferguson from engineering volunteered.  Ferguson was an ass, always looking for an opportunity to display his superior intellect and to make others feel stupid.  “What”, he started, a smug expression on his face, “is the equation that describes how the quantum state of a physical system changes with time?”  He sat back and smirked, satisfied that no one else in the room would have any idea of what he was talking about.

The room grew silent as everyone watched the colors materialize and start to bleed on Leonard’s head until they formed:

i \hbar \frac{\partial}{\partial t}\Psi = \hat H \Psi

“Is that right?” Davis asked Ferguson.

Amazed, Ferguson said “That’s almost right.  It’s the Schrodinger equation but I didn’t specify …”

Before he could finish, the words “the general time –dependent Schrodinger equation” flashed on Leonard’’s head.

“.. time dependent or non-relativistic” Ferguson muttered.  The room broke into applause.  “Leonard,” Ferguson said, “I had no idea you were a mathematician.”

“I’m not,” he replied, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“This is amazing,” Davis exclaimed.  “Who was the 16h president of the United States?”, he asked.

Sure enough, an image of Abraham Lincoln appeared on Leonard’s head.  The room broke into applause again.  “Will Jeff ask me to marry him?”. Henderson, the pretty blonde from accounting, blurted out.  The room grew quiet and stared at Leonard’s head in anticipation, but nothing materialized.

“For crying out loud,” Davis said.  “It’s not a magic eight ball!  It can’t predict the future!”  Davis was a take-charge type.  “It only answers factual questions.”

Davis adjourned the meeting early, and asked Leonard to stay behind.  “Leonard”, he told him, “how long has this been going on?”

“Since I woke up this morning.”

“Any idea why?”  Leonard shook his head.  “Did you do anything different this morning?  Eat anything unusual before you went to bed last night?”

“No sir”   Leonard was starting to feel nauseous.  He felt cold and dizzy.

“Leonard, you don’t look so good.  Maybe you should take the rest of the day off.”

Leonard agreed.  He went home, and shut the blinds to his bedroom and got under the covers and quickly fell asleep.   He woke up about a half hour later to the sound of his doorbell ringing.   Peeking through the blinds, he could see a crowd had gathered in front of his house, and there were television news trucks and cameramen in his driveway.

He opened the front door and three men stuck microphones in his face.  Cameras were aimed upon him.

“Leonard”, one of the men shouted, “who starred with Frankie Avalon in Beach Blanket Bingo?”

“What?” Leonard asked.  “Why are you …” before he could finish the sentence someone shushed him, and he realized everyone was looking at the top of his head.  The crowd broke into thrilled applause when the image of Annette Funicello appeared in her white one piece bathing suit, tossing a beach ball to Frankie Avalon.

Leonard made the local news that evening.  The next day all three of the network morning shows were at his house, with Matt Lauer asking him trivia questions about NBC television shows like The Biggest Loser and 30 Rock.  When it was time for the weather, Al Roker came on and asked for a national forecast, and the network broadcast the map that appeared on Leonard’s head.

Leonard’s head quickly became a national sensation, with late night comedians making jokes about it, and panels on CNN and MSNBC and Fox news discussing the political ramifications.  Meanwhile, all types of specialists and experts, from psychics to neurologists to phenomenologist were speculating on the cause of the videos, agreeing only on the point that Leonard’s head had never been wrong.  After his initial reluctance and his natural tendency to avoid attention, Leonard started cashing in on the mania, making millions of dollars and becoming a major celebrity.  He quit his job at Pipcorn Industries, and moved his family from their middle class suburban home to an palatial Bel Air mansion.   His head became a weekly feature on the Jay Leno show, with Jay asking a series of wacky questions, and once a month taking Leonard out for a hilarious man on the street segment.

Finally, a consortium of philosophers and theologians got tired of the trivia that was being asked of Leonard’s head and decided they had some questions of their own.  They scheduled an hour, to be broadcast on CNN, to ask Leonard’s head some weightier questions.  Leonard, who had no religious training and never spent much time thinking about his place in the universe, was nervous and apprehensive about the program.  He insisted that CNN run a disclaimer that the answers given by his head in no ways reflected his personal beliefs.   This plus the quarter of a million dollars he was being paid to sit for the hour were sufficient to gain his approval for the show.

The show was broadcast live on CNN.  Behind a desk sat a panel of a noted existential philosopher, a famous astrophysicist, and noted theologians representing the major faiths of the world.  Leonard sat alone in front of the panel on a chair, with a television camera focused on his head.  Wolf Blitzer, as the moderator, kicked the program off with introductions, then added, “we don’t know how or why the images form on Leonard’s head, we know only two things:  they appear in response to fact based questions, and, to date, after being asked tens of thousands of questions, they’ve never been wrong.”  He then laid out the format of the program, that each panelist would take turns asking questions.

The astrophysicist started by asking “how did the universe begin?”   A colorful and spectacular five minute video describing the Big Bang appeared on Leonard’s head, much to the astrophysicist’s amazed delight.  Then it was the philosopher’s turn, and he asked, “Is there a God?”  Colors moved about on Leonard’s head and then they all turned black, until Leonard’s entire head was solid black.   It stayed that way for about 10 seconds, and then vanished.  Wolf Blitzer intoned, “it didn’t appear to answer that one.”     Then one of the theologians asked, “What does the afterlife look like?”   Again, the same solid black pattern appeared for about ten seconds and disappeared.   Wolf interjected, “It appears we are having technical difficulties.   The head seems to be malfunctioning.   Let’s take a break for a word from our sponsors.”

As the commercial played, on the set, all Hell was breaking lose.  Wolf and his producer were screaming at Leonard, demanding an explanation, while the panel was violently arguing about the meaning of the answers.  One of the theologians stood up and threw his chair at another, while still another one punched the philosopher in the face.   Security rushed in and pulled everyone apart and whisked Wolf to his dressing room, while the network flashed back to an anchor in the Atlanta studio, who explained that due to technical difficulties, the rest of the show would not be seen.  After security gained control, everyone was taken off set, except for Leonard, who was left alone in the darkened studio.  He walked into the men’s room, washed his face, and stared at his reflection in the mirror.

“Why?” Leonard asked.  “Why did you choose my head to display your answers?

Colors shifted and bled on his head, and letters materialized and formed words, spelled backwards so he could read them in the reflection.

“I chose your head because,“ it said, “your dick is too small.”

Big Yellow Nuke Plant

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone
                                      Joni Mitchell

In July of1984, I started working as a Systems Analyst at the Zion Nuclear Power Station.   After being there for about a year, one of my responsibilities was system administrator for the Process Computers.  The Process Computers were these old, 1960s technology computers from Westinghouse that took inputs from throughout the plant and converted them to values for monitoring the plant’s performance.   An entire room was dedicated for each of these computers (there was one for each reactor, two in total), with the majority of the room being used for termination points for the cables that ran from sensors throughout the plant.  The actual computer consisted of four small CPUs (the primary CPU, a backup CPU, a Process I/O CPU, and a Data CPU if memory serves me correctly) that each had three panels which displayed the flashing hexadecimal code for which instruction it was executing and what memory address it was accessing at the time.    There were three black and white workstations hooked up to it, one in the computer room, one in the control room, and one in the Technical Support Center, which was where management would huddle if there was ever a significant event or nuclear accident.    There were also printers in the control room that printed key events in the sequence they occurred and time and date stamped alarms when pre-defined limits were reached on the data points.

The data points that fed the process computer were split between digital (on or off) values (for example, breaker switches on a pump) , and analog values (which typically sent a signal of one to five volts), which would use a pre-defined and calibrated polynomial equation to convert the voltages to a value that could be monitored.  The Westinghouse process computers were so old that they didn’t have any mass storage capabilities; for that, corporate Comed IT engineers had designed an interface with the Prime mini-computers that, every minute, sent snapshots of all the Process Computer data points.  I wrote FORTRAN 77 programs against the Prime Computer databases that retrieved this data, and eventually assumed system administration responsibilities for the Prime Computers as well.

The plant was designed in such a fashion that it could operate safely and fully without either the Process or the Prime computers.  However, the nature of technology is once it is available, new uses are found for it, and it becomes relied upon in ways that the designers didn’t foresee.  So it was with the Process and Prime computers.  The operations and engineering staffs became more and more reliant on the data that the systems served up.  This meant that the system administrator had to be available on call should the systems ever fail.

Note that the Process Computers, being 1960s technology, were already, in the mid 80s, approximately 20 years old.   This meant that they failed quite frequently.   I quickly learned that about 90% of the failures occurred with one of the several same hexadecimal values displayed on the CPUs; I learned what the related cause was and more often than not was able to get the system back up and running pretty quickly.  Sometimes I had to call one of the hardware guys, either Dan Z. or Pat M – they had been there a long time and more often than not were able to quickly resolve the problem.  When things got sticky, they had diagnostic programs (on Hollerith punch cards!) that they’d run to help pin point the problem.  I learned a lot from Dan and Pat, and also from my I.T. cohorts, Denis and Terry.

 Note also that Nuclear Power Plants are 24 X 7 operations.   This meant that these failures occurred, more often than not, in the night, usually not long after I had fallen into a deep sleep, and my name was at the top of the call-in list.   Here’s a little secret:  no matter how much I complained about getting roused from a sound sleep, I actually loved it.  It was my favorite part of the job. 

The reason I liked being called in says something to the nature of my ego.  I enjoyed being the guy everybody was counting on, I enjoyed the challenge.  I also enjoyed driving the seven miles in through the sleepy town and the empty streets, and the sight and the feeling of the plant at night.   I’d get in the almost empty parking lot and the containment buildings would be all lit up with yellow lights.  I’d go thru security and enter the service building and take the elevator to the third floor, and walk across the turbine deck to our office in the Prime computer room.  The turbines would be loudly humming as they turned, and I’d enter the computer room where our desks were, and it’d be empty and quiet.  Then I’d exit into the Unit One Process Computer room, and from there go into the control room, and talk to the operator who called me in.   Then I’d get to work on the problem, which 9 times out of 10 was a very easy and quick fix, and I’d talk a bit to the operator, telling him it is fixed and engaging in a moment or two of idle chit chat.  I loved the sights and sounds of the plant at night, I loved the warmth of the lights and the humming of the turbine, and I loved the fact that it was just a skeleton crew on duty.  Most of all, I loved being needed, being the guy that was counted on, and more than anything, solving the problem.

I was 25 years old when I started working at Zion.  About five months later, my wife and I bought the house we still live in to this day.   A little more than a year later, in September of 1985, our first child, Jon, was born.  In May of 1989, our second son, Nick was born, and in 1994, our daughter Hannah arrived.

I left Zion in January of 1996, after working there for 11 ½ years, to pursue other opportunities. About a year and a half later, they announced plans to shut the plant down, and now, 16 years later, I think the handful of employees left are involved in moving what remains of the spent fuel off of the plant.

There were plenty of times that I hated my job at Zion.  There were plenty of times when we wondered just what the Hell management was thinking, and there were plenty of times where it was a grind, and time seemed to crawl.  But there were also just as many times where we laughed and fought and triumphed and failed, and looking back on it now, those 11 ½ years, when I was young and starting a family, flew by, and I didn’t realize, I didn’t appreciate, just how good the good times were, and how good it felt to be young and healthy.  I think the Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi” pretty much sums up how we all experience our youth  – we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone.

These days I sleep pretty good – five or six hours uninterrupted on good nights.  It’s been years since my phone has rung in the middle of the night.  But if it were to wake me tonight, it’d be a thrill to go in and walk across the turbine deck and hear the hum of the generator and the rumble of the turbines one last time.

List-O-Mania: Films of the 1960s

It’s almost cliché to say it now, but it’s true, the 1960s were a decade of tremendous change, turmoil and upheaval.   The civil rights movement and the anti-war protests brought about significant but painful changes, with many of our country’s cities exploding into flames.  There were the Kennedy and the Martin Luther King and Malcolm X assassinations, there was the violence and tragedy of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the 1970 shootings at Kent State.  We were fighting a bloody and confusing and divisive war in Vietnam.

It was a decade dominated by young people, as the first of the baby boomers born after World War II went off to college, and a “generation gap” emerged between them and their parents, who had defeated Hitler and enabled the country to emerge as the dominant world power.  Many of these people viewed the younger generation as disrespectful and unpatriotic.  In actuality, I think the baby boomers were working to realize the dream that their parents had fought for in enduring the great depression and winning World War Two, a dream of social and economic justice and freedom for all.  They may have been idealistic, but the whole concept of the United States is based upon idealism – in this sense, by pushing for civil rights and a fair and sensible role in the world, they were not just idealistic but patriotic.

There were seismic changes in virtually all aspects of our culture.   The common theme was the breaking down of barriers.  Rock and roll evolved and expanded and grew more substantive, lead by the Beatles, while Bob Dylan fused folk and rock and songwriting and poetry and literature into a new art form.  Andy Warhol blurred the line between pop culture and fine art.  In literature, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five conveyed themes of disillusionment and absurdity and questioning of authority that resonated with the times.

Film, which in the 1950s seemed to be lagging behind the other art forms, rebounded strongly in the 60s.  There were more films that accurately represented and portrayed what was going on.  Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night confronted institutional racism with depth and complexity.  Stanley Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove comically captured the frightening surrealism of the atomic age and the cold war.   Films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde pushed the envelope of artistic and graphic depictions of violence and horror.   Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita captured the existential emptiness of life in the atomic age, while Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim and Mike Nichols’ The Graduate captured the romantic essence of being young at such tumultuous and exciting times.

Here is the list of my favorite movies from the 1960s:

18.  In the Heat of the Night, 1967, directed by Norman Jewison

17.  Long Day’s Journey into Night, 1962, Sidney Lumet

16.  Hud, 1963, Martin Ritt

15.  The Sundowners, 1960, Fred Zineeman

14.  To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962, Robert Mulligan

13.  The Innocents, 1961, Jack Clayton

12.  Séance on a Wet Afternoon, 1964, Bryan Forbes

11.  La Dolce Vita, 1963, Federico Fellini

10.  Ride the High Country, 1964, Sam Peckinpah

9.   Lolita, 1962, Stanley Kubrick

8.   The Graduate, 1967, Mike Nichols

7.  Jules and Jim, 1962, Francois Truffaut

6.  Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

5.  Bonnie and Clyde, 1968, Arthur Penn

4.  Doctor Strangelove, 1964, Stanley Kubrick

3.  The Apartment, 1960, Billy Wilder

2.  Psycho, 1960, Alfred Hitchcock

1.  Shoot the Piano Player, 1960, Francois Truffaut


Happy Ear Muffs Day

Dates are interesting things.  Every day of the year marks the anniversary of something.  For example, did you know that today, March 13, 2012, marks the 231st anniversary of William Herschel’s discovery of Uranus (and no, contrary to popular misconception, it had nothing to do with his cleaning lady bending over in front of his telescope)?  Or that March 13 is also designated Ear Muffs day, in honor of a man named Chester Greenwood, “a man with especially large ears”, who on March 13, 1877, patented his invention, the “Champion Ear Protector”?   I am not making this up, if you don’t believe me, Google “ear muffs day”.

Dates are part of a calendar, and calendars are created to mark the number of days it takes for the earth to complete it rotation around the sun, which takes 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds to complete (I imagine some guy in a lab coat holding a stop watch figured this out).    Note that a day is defined as the amount of time it takes the earth to turn on its axis, which averages out to 24 hours (although it seems much longer if part of those 24 hours are spent in the presence of a tax accountant). The calendar we currently use is the Gregorian Calendar, which is named for Pope Gregory XIII (I didn’t know that inventing calendars was in the Pope job description – I can see a help wanted ad in the Vatican Times: Wanted – Pope – job duties include, wearing a pointy hat, washing poor people’s feet, and creating and maintaining calendaring systems) , who invented the calendar as a way to more accurately calculate the occurrence of Easter than the previous system, the Julian Calendar (not to be confused with the Julienne Salad, which is a lunchtime dish consisting of a bed of crisp salad greens topped with strips of ham, turkey, or chicken, cheeses and garnished with tomato wedges and quartered hard boiled egg, although a Greek restaurant Waukegan, Illinois, I lunched in once served such a huge portion of Julienne Salad that I wouldn’t be surprised if its volume approximated 365 ounces).   The Gregorian calendar was successful in more accurately calculating Easter, which, under the Julian calendar, was creeping closer to the beginning of February, which resulted in a lot of confusion in the observance of the sacred holiday.   There were conflicts between Easter and Groundhog Day, and some thought that if Jesus saw his shadow there’d be six more weeks of winter, with others believing that a dead woodchuck would be resurrected and hide baskets of colored eggs and candy for children to find.

Pope Gregory (or Greg, as friends called him, or P.G., as really close friends  called him) came up with a calendar with 12 months, 7 of which have 31 days, 4 have 30 days, and 1 having 28 days, for a total of 365 days  (It would seem easier to have 5 with 31 days and 7 with 30 days, but we must take into account the vast supplies of good wine that P.G., as CEO of Vatican, Incorporated, had at his disposal, and assume that he consumed liberally).    P.G. deemed the second month to be the one with 28 days, and, in order to account for the extra 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds, every four years (in years who’s number is divisible by 4) he added a day to February.   There is a little known but real exception to this rule – century years (like 1800, 1900, etc.) that are NOT divisible by 400 are not leap years.   This means that although the year 2000 was a leap year, the next millennium year, the year 3000, will NOT be a leap year.  Because of this, I have already told my wife not to make any plans for February 29, 3000, and that I plan on sleeping in that day.

P.G. then went about naming the months, using a combination of Roman Gods (for example, January was named for the Roman God of beginnings and endings, Janus , and March was named for the God of War, Mars) and numbers (September, the ninth month, took it’s name from Septem, the Latin term for the number seven – makes sense if you believe that P.G. was hitting the wine pretty heavy by this time) for inspiration.  The month July was named for the Orange Julius franchise in the Vatican City mall, of which P.G. was such a frequent customer that he was on a first name basis with the employees (which lead to scandal, as investors trying to open a rival “Chick Fil A” franchise in the mall filed charges of favoritism after they were turned down due to alleged zoning law violations.)

To further complicate time-keeping matters, starting in 1916 (or 96 complete rotations of the earth around the sun ago), the government implemented something called Daylight Savings Time.  The intent of Daylight Savings Time is to advance clocks so that evenings have more sunlight and mornings have less.  Thus, as we did this past weekend, in the spring, we adjust clocks ahead one hour, and in the autumn, we adjust them back an hour.   The changes normally take effect on a Sunday at 2:00 A.M.  In the spring, we “spring forward.”  This has never caused me a problem.  However, in the fall, we “fall back”, and I have tremendous difficulties, as they will say, for example, “Daylight savings time goes into effect at 2:00 AM on Sunday morning.  Make sure you turn your clocks back an hour.”  I stay up and wait and, when 2:00 rolls around, I turn my clocks back to 1:00, but then, an hour later, it is 2:00 again, and I turn my clocks back to 1:00, and the cycle repeats itself until, with the sun now rising in the east,  I finally fall asleep, and when I wake up after eight hours,  my clock says it is 9:37 A.M., but on TV they claim it is 3:37P.M., and I don’t know who to believe, until Alex Trebek comes on and I know it is 4:30 P.M.

Now that I think about it, it seems that Alex Trebek would make a pretty good Pope.

Mysterious Ways

(The following is the transcript of a correspondence I had with the Creator over the past week or so.  I have de-identified the e-mail addresses to protect privacy)

From:  GOD@xxxxxx.COM


Dagwood, how’s it going?  Was working on my speech for the deities conference next week, plan on opening with a joke.   Tell me what you think of this:   “I was talking to the Pope last week, and he’s had it up to here with his cell phone provider.   Said the Rome-ing charges are killing him.”  I was thinking maybe the band could give me a rim shot with the punch line.  What do you think?

Say hi to Blondie for me.



To:   GOD@xxxxxx.COM

I think you have the wrong e-mail address.   Perhaps you were looking for Dagwood Bumstead?

Having said that, are you really Him?  The omnipotent, all-powerful, all-knowing?  If so, I certainly have a lot of questions for you.   But first, if I may be so bold, some advice:  your joke doesn’t work.   It depends too much on the different spellings of the words “Rome” and “Roam”.   You might try this:  “I had a sore throat, so I took some of those new throat lozenges on the market.   You may have heard of them – they’re called Command-mints.    Just take a stone tablet or two, and thou shall not cough all night.”


From:  GOD@xxxxxx.COM


How dare you question me!   Of course I am omnipotent, all powerful and all-knowing!   Do you really think that I, the supreme force in the universe, would use the wrong e-mail address!   It’s all St. Peter’s fault, though you really can’t blame him, what with all the restructuring going on up here and me losing my administrative assistant.   Have to do more with less, and Pete’s been helping out where he can, but let’s face it, he’s more of a gatekeeper, that’s what he got his degree in – but he’s so eager to help out, I guess I can forgive him a mistake or two.

As for your temerity, your unmitigated gall, to question my joke!  Who are you but a mere mortal?

That being said, I did like your joke – “thou shall not cough all night” – that cracks me up!  I was thinking that as a follow up to the punch line, I’d grab my hair and do my best double take and exclaim, “Holy Moses!”  You know, really sell it – kind of like a Jerry Lewis thing,

By the way, I hope you enjoy the attached link.


To:   GOD@xxxxxx.COM

Thank you so much for the link you sent me.  Pictures of kittens are always so cute.

Glad you liked the joke.  I’d refrain from the “Holy Moses” bit, though, as it doesn’t seem to be properly dignified behavior for the King of Kings, the Supreme Being.

I’d be happy to proofread the whole speech.   In exchange, I was wondering if I could respectfully ask a couple of questions?   I was wondering if you could tell me whether there is an afterlife or not?

Let me know what you think.

From:  GOD@xxxxxx.COM


Thanks for the offer.   Attached is my rough draft of the speech.  I hope you can read it, I saved it in Microsoft Word 97-03 format.    My PC has been acting up lately; St. Peter says I might need to re-load my anti-virus software, whatever the Hell that is.

If you could send it back to me with your comments by Tuesday, I’d appreciate it.  The conference is on Friday, but I want a couple of days to rehearse – I hate public speaking!

As for your question about an afterlife, um, yeah.  Sure.

Well, gotta run.  Things are so hectic around here!  When it’s not a meeting, it’s a teleconference call!  But who am I to complain?  In the mean time, enjoy this link.



To:   GOD@xxxxxx.COM

First, thanks for the link.  I would have never taken you for a Jeff Foxworthy “you might be a redneck” fan.

Finished proofreading your speech.   Just a few corrections:

–           On page 3, I think it is “Nietzsche”, not “Nitschke”, unless you actually intended to refer to Green Bay Packer hall-of-fame linebacker Ray Nitschke, and not the German philosopher

–          I have marked several  incorrect usages of apostrophes, especially as it relates to “it’s” versus  “its”  (remember that the apostrophe is used in this case to designate the contraction “it is” and not the possessive)

–          In the closing paragraph, I think you wanted to say, “Moses walked through the desert”, not the dessert.

Good luck with the speech!  Don’t be nervous, you’ll do great!

See you in the afterlife?   (note the question mark, if you could confirm, I’d appreciate it!)