Thursday, June 25, 2015

Washington Visit


Susan and Mark

Of course, our bags had already been searched and my candy likely sampled, but they didn’t worry at all about Mark in the flesh. I was back in the US of A, and was again invisible.

We stayed two hours in Seattle, ‘cause that’s how long it took my sister Susan to find us at the port terminal. Kay had already purchased us a rent car before the trip. She got a decent deal on a mid-sized something. One reason the deal was so good was because you wouldn’t get a refund if you cancelled. So, we paid for a car that we didn’t drive. (That has nothing to do with anything, but it still bugs me.)

What happened was, my sister, Susan, called three weeks before we left and told us that she and her son-in-law, Curt, wanted to pick us up at the port terminal and drive us on the scenic route back to place in Grandview, WA. I begged her not to go to the trouble, but I was not that convincing.

The scenic trip from Seattle to Grandview is about three hours. During the first stretch of the trip we stopped at Snoqualmie Falls just east of Seattle. Snoqualmie: It’s what was heard from the first guy to go over the falls. He was from the Puyallup Tribe. The word roughly translates: “Hey, get a load of this!” I suppose.

But forget the name, what I wanted to mention was that while at the falls who should show up but Tom and Marge from the cruise. They hadn’t planned to stop, but their driver to the hotel wanted to stop. We could not get away from these people. They’re from Florida for Pete’s sake, and they keep showing up.

We finally forced ourselves away from Tom and Marge and continued the ride to Grandview. During the ride I discovered that Washington is one of the most beautiful states in the Union.  Any setting you could envision for a movie could be found in Washington. You could film Tarzan, Brave Heart II, NCIS New Orleans, Viva Zapata, Frozen III, and any zombie flick you can think of. Washington has everything.

West of the mountains it’s wet and wonderful. East is considerably less wet, but agriculture is thebiggest industry. They’ve got fruits and nuts covering the hillsides. Apples, cherries, almonds, walnuts, grapes, strawberries, Fruity Pebbles…

And all during the drive, I couldn’t help but notice how nice Curt is. In fact, Sue’s entire family is off-the-charts nice. Scary nice, you ask me. They fed us to the hilt. (Your hilt is just below your ribcage.) They seemed right at home talking about the kids and grandkids and all the family that wasn’t there. Wait a minute. That was mostly me.

At one point during the stay I learned the names of every person there. Wanna test me. Rhonda and Curt’s first son?  -- Clint. – The twin daughters? Bella and Livy. – Meagan is the precious girl who likes to milk the goats. Gracie is—Wait a minute. Back to the goats.

One of the greatest photo opportunities that I missed was that of Curt leading Meagan and Kay to the goat pen for a milking. It was early morning and they were walking in a row up a little knoll. Stick a tune to that last sentence and you’ve got a hit.
In case you're wondering, Kay is milking a goat. 

I did get photos of Kay and Meagan milking a goat. And, Kay took a picture of me milking. I did not intend to, but it seemed the proper thing. I feel relatively sure that on my death bed I will remark, “Well, Martha, at least I milked a goat. Oh, I thought you were Martha.”

Shooting sage rats is something I wanted to do, but passed up my only chance, gabbing with the girls. East Washington is loaded with ground squirrels they call “sage rats.” Their mission in life is to dig, destroy crops and defecate. And they’re good at what they do.

In Washington and Oregon, sage rat shootin’ has become a form of relieving tension. Some people actually pay farmers to take them out to shoot sage rats. I had heard the stories and expected to do some rat killing of my own. However, I spent some quality time talking with Susan and her daughters, Rhonda and Sandy, and a few grand nieces. We talked about my Dad and the rest of the family. Few in that room had ever seen Faris, and I wanted a few of the youngsters to know him through some of the stories.

The next day was Sunday, and that meant church services. Curt is the preacher for the small congregation in Grandview. But on the day we visited, he had my nephew CJ preach.

CJ started out with a reading of  Romans 5:7 – “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die…” –The lesson was about Christ sacrificing himself for all. After the reading, CJ told about the time in Afghanistan when his friend died while raising up to warn him about incoming fire. His friend had made himself a target to save CJ. It was an excellent tie into CJ’s message, and there was not a dry eye in the house when CJ sat down.

These are just a few of the many memorable moments during our Washington visit.  I was eager to get back home, but regretted having to leave Susan and her family. Of course, we didn’t leave Curt and Susan immediately ‘cause they had to drive us to the airport in Seattle. I’m so glad we didn’t get the rental.

By the way, when Kay and I walked down the 18-inch wide aisle on our 737, I looked around to make sure Tom and Marge weren’t on the flight. Those people are so hard to lose. – Next time.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

To sea, we be... we were
It's a glacier! Uh, no,  it's the thing beyond
 the two people at the table. Sheesh. 

On the remote chance that we hear seven consecutive horn blasts, Kay and I are supposed to go to section “R” on Deck five to get in line for our lifeboat. We learned that during a muster call. I thought I’d best tell you that at the get go, just in case I should end this thing in mid sentence. – What? Muster call? Uh, put it out of your mind.

This is the story of our “At Sea” part of the Alaskan Cruise. Last week I told you about our tours in Juneau, Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia. Now, I’m going to tell you about life on the boat. Go find your sea legs.

There are a lot of people on this ship. I imagine there are only a half dozen countries not represented. (That’s an exaggeration, but not a big one.) This has offered us each an excellent opportunity to learn of our fellow planet-dwellers.

One thing I’ve learned is that many of the passengers  on this boat have poor peripheral vision. Most of ‘em have put Kay in harm’s way, because she too has poor peripherals. Fortunately, I’m ever vigilant and have good peripherals. Only once did my vigilance betray me.

It was on Day 3, my friend, when we docked at Juneau just at lunchtime. Many passengers needed to get off boat by 12:15 to make it to their prepaid, pre-scheduled excursions -- Zip-lining, whale watching, gold panning… That meant each of us had to hit the buffet at the same time.

The buffet is on Deck 11 and I could hear the ruckus from Deck 9. (another exaggeration.) When we made it to the huge room that was too small to accommodate, I told Kay, “Pilgrim, leave us go amongst them.” We got separated in the first three minutes. I figured Kay had wandered off in search of a plate. Plates were as scarce as patience.

I don’t wait well, so I stood against the wall and observed. What I saw was a buffet with only one person in line. It was a little old lady waiting at the salad bar. I moved in right behind her. That’s when I reasoned why she was alone. There were no plates on the plate rack. A buffet does not work without plates. Most people know that. The lady was close to grasping the concept.

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before a stack of plates appeared above the heads of the passengers. The man who belonged to the hand wove his way through the human maze and eventually reached the salad bar and deposited the dishes. The guy wasn’t even a part of the service personnel. Let’s call him Gabriel.

If it were a movie, the director would’ve filmed the next three minutes in slo-mo. In a short second, I was pushed aside like a Jehovah’s Witness on Halloween. So many women and children, each with a pair of arms attached to elbows. When the smoke cleared I was left standing alone, next to an empty plate rack. I was plateless, but alive. The experience made me question the effectiveness of our disaster drill instructions.

 It was at that moment that I realized how ridiculous it was for the captain to call for a muster drill on deck. -- “Should you hear the horn blast seven times, calmly head to your room to pick up your life jackets and then proceed to your lifeboat section.” -- I might’ve added, “Or you may wish to avoid the melee on deck, take a dive and swim to the nearest crab boat. (That was just a passing thought of mine.)

During breakfast and dinner there are alternatives to buffet. There are a couple of huge dining areas located on Decks four and five. Each person’s table assignment is posted on his or her Sea Pass. (I.D. card) Kay and I belonged to table 442 for dinner. So did two other couples. I consider it a bit awkward eating with strangers. There are some friends I don’t even want to eat with. Fortunately, Kay and I were seated with two charming couples. Actually, one charming couple and a charming lady with her husband, Tom.

Tom reminds me of Woody Allen, and I told him so. It’s his voice inflection, rapidity of speech and his mannerisms. He didn’t recognize the resemblance. He said, “The only thing Woody Allen and I have in common is we both married our daughter.” Tom’s wife, Marge, and I were the only ones who heard him. Marge hit him with an elbow to the ribs, and, uh, I laughed. I mean it was so quick. A quick quip. Just like Woody Allen.

Bert and Johnna are our other two eating companions. They’re from Worchester, Massachusetts, and they’re both into health care. Johnna is a recently promoted ER nurse who now has a supervisory role at the hospital. Bert is involved in a Lifeflight program near Boston.

Both people have seen and been involved in some grizzly episodes. That’s why I felt comfortable telling them about the kidney stone I was carrying. My urologist advised me not to cancel the cruise; that there’s a good chance the stone won’t move… unless I go zip-lining.

I’ve run out of time to tell you about the stage performances each night of the cruise. Quality shows, I must say. On night two we were entertained by Bowser from Sha Na Na. The person I considered the least talented of the group was likely the most. He and a trio of young singers danced and sang some hits from the 60s. At one point Bowser, Jon Bauman, played some classical music on a Grand Piano. I’m not making this up. He’s a talented man.

Oops. While this article is all but over, this trip is far from it. As soon as we dock in Seattle, Kay and I are going to visit my sister on the East Side of the mountains in a town called Grandview. I haven’t seen my sister in three years. And, I haven’t seen most of her grandkids ever. They’re going to love Kay. I don’t know what they’re going to do with me. I’ll let you know how it goes. – Next time.



Harder to enter Canada than I thought 

VICTORIA, BRITISH COLOMBIA – If memory serves, this is the first time I’ve ever communicated with you from British Columbia. You’ll recall that I once came to you from Halifax. Remember the thick Haligonian accent I acquired?

Kay and I toured Halifax during our cruise to Nova Scotia. Today, we toured Victoria because it is the next to the last stop on our Alaskan Cruise. I gave no heads-up on our cruise plans, because I feared some of you would want to come over and mow my lawn while we were gone. Maybe wax the floors. You readers are the glaze on my donut.

Our cruise actually started in Vancouver. We had a direct flight from Bush. I thought sure we would have a stopover in Atlanta, but we flew straight to Canada. Seating arrangements on a commercial flight are every bit as comfortable as sharing a lawn chair with a stranger.

Those of you who have been concerned about weak border security between Canada and the U.S. can stop worrying. We had to wait four hours in 11 monstrously long lines while trying to go through the security at the airport and the port terminal. That was 11 times that we had to show our passports.

Scott: the PhD who wheeled us through Victoria
In Vancouver, they actually studied our faces while viewing our passports. I began to understand how Jason Bourne felt. At one point, I was pulled out of line by a lady who swabbed the palm of my hand with a Q-Tip. I, no doubt, fit the profile of a suicide bomber disguised as a dorky-looking, plump, white guy. I’m invisible to people in the service industry, but to those looking for suspicious characters, I’m a beacon.

But forget that. We’re on the boat, just back from a bicycle tour of Victoria, a beautifully flowered city on Vancouver Island. I believe Victoria was named after Queen Ester of Britain. No, that doesn’t sound right. I lose my ability to listen while on any tour that lasts more than 90 minutes. This 90-minute tour took four hours.

I thought we’d signed up for a bus tour, but the kiosk salesman confused me. After buying the tickets, we were directed to a line of bicycles, each of which was attached to a two-seated carriage. I hated that, because I don’t enjoy having anyone pull, push or carry me any distance. I just hate to be a bother.

Our bicycle guide wore a weird-looking floppy straw hat. I thought it uncharacteristic of a guy with a PhD in religious history. (I asked him about his background because I need to know something about the person who’s peddling my carriage. It’s just the way I’m wired.) The peddler (Scott) was so kind and so intelligent that I felt especially uneasy having him go to so much trouble to get us across town. If anyone should be peddling the bike, it was me. Or I. It was one of us.

Victoria is splendid; the people swell; and Scott way too informative. I went into shutdown mode during a discussion on the history behind one of the hundreds of Chinese restaurants. Kay, on the other hand, “hung in there like grim death, and I loved her for it.” (A quote from an old Robby Benson movie.)

Right before the stop in Victoria, we anchored in Skagway, Alaska. Yes, Skagway, named after the wife of one of their mayors. At least I think that’s what I heard from the tour guide who drove us in a short bus to the mountains north of town. The ride took over two hours, so, again, I was unconscious during much of the return trip.

The mountain views were magnificent and there was plenty of ice to see. Just not as much as usual, according to our guide. We saw two bears, an eagle and two mountain goats. Spotting a mountain goat standing on the side of a mountain that has scattered ice patches all over it, is like trying to find lettuce on a chilidog. I saw two goats and four patches of ice that the guide mistook for goats. Nevertheless, we had a great time.

Before Skagway we visited the port of Juneau where we searched for whales. On the bus ride to the tour boat we saw the State Capitol and the little white structure that some Alaskans call “Russia.” It’s what they surmise Sarah Palin was referring to when she said she could see Russia from her house.

While on our four-hour whale watching tour, we did get to see some humpbacks. They were so named for the odd shape of their heads. I noted this bit of information immediately after the three-hour part of the boat ride. I believe the captain was referring to the humpback when he mentioned the flat head, but it just as well could’ve been referring to a rock formation.

We did get to see a bunch of humpback whale tails. Humpbacks always show their tails when taking a dive. Boxers generally show their feet. The greatest scene was that of three whales doing the breach thing. You know, where half their body comes out of the water and they turn and make a big splash? I don’t know where they learned that, but it’s a most impressive maneuver. And, yes, instead three whales, it could’ve been one whale breaching three times. I have trouble distinguishing between humpbacks. I may have mentioned that before.

The two giant breaches were well worth the arm-and-a-leg cost of the tour. Kay enjoyed the experience even more than I did, because she has a call-of-the-sea. I have a call-of-the-buffet. And it is the buffet and our many adventures aboard ship that I hope to discuss -- next time. Till then, stay dry, my friend.


Friday, June 5, 2015


A country without a language

Do you know how many languages there are in the world? Well, I’ve got a number here that’s going to shock and amaze. There are 6909 languages spoken on this planet. At least there were back in 2009.

 Last week I heard a narrator of one of those UFO series say there were over 6000 languages. I never take those guys all that serious, so I researched it. Vetted ‘em is what I did. That’s when I hit the 6909 figure. I don’t think they were all that accurate about aliens living in a cave in Quebec, but the language thing is close to right. Understated, even.

The big question is, how do you determine the number of languages? If I were in charge, I’d use telemarketers. --  “Hello, Ms., uh, Rabadobal? How are you doing? What? You can’t understand me? Okay, what language would I need to be speaking for you to understand? Gubangi? All right. How many people are in your household? Bazaku? Uh, tell you what, if it’s less than eight, dial one. Ms Rabadobal? Ms—oh, shoot!”

But, let’s get past that, if we can, and look at the one fact that really knots my shorts… and you know how much I hate underwear problems. The most important language, the best language, and the most efficient language on the planet is not even included on the list.

Conspicuous by its absence is “American.” Seems the smartest linguistic collectors in the world do not recognize “American” as a language. The British claim that we don’t speak English. They call our language “barbarous.” I believe they said that because Shakespearean plays never do well at the box-office over here. That’s because our language has evolved beyond the 17th Century. Hey, I can’t believe it either.

While using the American language, you seldom end a sentence with a verb. “What light from yonder window breaks?” That’s Yodaspeak. “The Force, Luke, you have.”

The British believe that conjunctions are lazy words. The word “isn’t” is considered ungenteel. The British won’t even drop the “g” at the end of “ing”. They’re never “ridin’” around London; they’re always “riding” around London.

A lot of people up north even pronounce the “g” in “ing.” Several years back, I was in a play called “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.” I was constantly losing my fake New York accent. I was not unlike Marlon Brando in “Missouri Breaks.” He used a different accent in almost every scene. It was considered genius… by many.

 There was no shadow of Marlon Brandon in my performance.  The director rode me like John Wayne on a goat. “Hayter, if you can’t do anything else, at least pronounce your participles without dropping the bloody ‘g’!’The writer put them there for a reason, you—“ I was going tell him that “bloody” is considered a curse word to the British, but he just didn’t seem to be in the mood. I could tell from the way his sentence trailed off.

But, what say we move past American and English and look at some of the weirder languages. Take Russian, for instance. Russian is one of the worst spelled, worst spoken languages in the Eastern Hemisphere. It took me until this morning to come up with a theory as to how Russian works. I haven’t vetted it, yet, but I’m fairly confident that someone played a bad joke on the Ruskies.

Someone took the English alphabet, moved the “Z” up to the front and shoved the “A,” back which made the” B” a “C” and so and so forth. This changed the vowels to Z, D, H, N, T and sometimes X and V. Can you imagine how hard it is to pronounce a word that has a Z where the A should be? That’s why so few contestants on “American Idol” pick Russian songs to sing. I imagine.

Likely the weirdest of all the 6909 languages is spoken by a small group of people living in Southern Africa -- San Bushmen. Did you ever see the movie “The God’s Must Be Crazy?” The lead actor in that was a Bushman. He spoke in clicks and pops. It’s supposedly the oldest language still in use. However, it may soon disappear as the population of Bushmen continues to dwindle.

Do you know Clint? Big Al’s boy? When he was a kid he used to make clicking sounds when he talked. Anytime Clint would say “Uncle Mark” the “M” was a click or a pop. I’m unable to duplicate the sound, nor can I even spell it. I always considered Clint’s childhood language to be a gift. It was too cute to be a curse.

You can do so many things with the American language. You can turn nouns into  verbs as in “Did you hear him disrespect me?” You can also completely change the meaning of a word, and it will catch on. As in “He’s about to go postal on us.”

Yes, American is a fun language, because its flexible. I’ll bet if we had a time machine we could go back to Boston during the Tea Party and the people wouldn’t understand half of what we said. And, if we could go 20 years in the future, we wouldn’t understand what people were saying. We certainly wouldn’t understand what they were writing. They would write and speak in a form called “Advanced Texting.”

All except for the British. While American evolves, the English will do what they do to keep English intact. They’ll never spell “tonight” – “2nte.” They will always 1DR (wonder) What light from yonder window breaks.” – In short, I like American, but I respect the daylights out of English. I just don’t use it all that well. – Next time.


British TV

I'm Mark Hayter and I'm a sucker for British TV Programs

I would like you to be the first to know of my new career change. I haven’t told Kay yet, ‘cause she won’t take me seriously. We’re at a place in our marriage where Kay can read me like Times New Roman with a 48 font. What?

So, for your ears only. -- I’m seriously thinking about returning to school to study midwifery. I decided this because I like the sound of the word. Mid-wiff-eerie. Sounds like a position in a game of cricket.

Other than the cool name, I got the idea from a PBS series that I enjoy.  “Call the Midwife.” I’m not afraid to mention here in print that I like “The Midwife” because I know that my brothers don’t read my column, and let me tell you, they have castigated me for much less than my preferences in TV viewing. Castigated?

I haven’t even told Jill that I watch Midwife. I was going to the last time she was here and we saw a preview of Midwife. Before I could recommend the show to her, she said, “Who on earth would want to watch that?”

Obviously, I hate the birthing scenes on Midwife. I have to close my eyes, plug my ears and hum the Mr. Ed tune. (Don’t ask.) The one thing I like most about Midwife is that it takes place in Britain. There’s something about British TV that is a big draw for me. It started with “Monty Python.” The first time I saw that show, I thought it was a hoot. It was so crazy. So different.

After Monty Python, I started watching British detective shows. What is so unique about the British is that they don’t care one bit what their leading characters look like. You can be old, ugly and weak as a worm’s sternum, doesn’t matter. They’ll let you be the lead detective.

British leading ladies are seldom anything close to gorgeous. They’d never make it on “Castle” or “Rizzoli and Isles.” But, their characters are so well written that after awhile they become attractive. I understand that intoxication can do the same thing. Except in the case of Miss Marple.

Granted, almost all British dramas move along slower than slow. Little action. Not a lot of chase scenes or fights. For some reason, when the unarmed detective tells the bad guy that he’s under arrest, the thug usually just gives up. Logic being, the real story is in the hunt, not the physical exertion required to the cuff the villain.

 Right now I’m hooked on period pieces. I watch “Mr Selfridge” and “The Paradise,” two turn-of-the-century dramas about British retail stores. I have no explanation as to why I enjoy them. Why do I like peas with my mashed potatoes?

I watched the entire BBC series of “The Tutors.” I know more about Henry VIII than I do George Washington. Recently I found “Wolf Hall.” It’s another series about same King, only the facts are different. In TV shows as with politics, it is acceptable to skew the facts to enhance the story.

I also enjoy “Death in Paradise.” Great characters, great location, with a good sprinkling of humor. “Broadchurch” is darker than dark and slower than slow, and I really like it. “Luther” is about a black British detective who can sense who the bad guy is by being in the same room with him. He’s almost as good as Patrick Jane. And like the Mentalist, Luther just steals a scene the minute he sets foot in a room.

“Foyle’s War?” Absolutely my favorite. It’s the one show that caused me to become a contributor to PBS. By contributing, I got the entire set of “Foyle’s War” DVDs.

My favorite comendy today is found on Netflix. It’s called “The IT Crowd.” In this case “IT” stands for “Information Technology.” Like practically all of the British programs, by the time IT made it’s way to America, production had ended. The IT Crowd aired in Britain from 2006 to 2013. I’m fairly close to seeing the last 2013 episode. Drat!
The IT Crowd
I have watched so many American sit-coms and detective shows that I’ve caught on to practically all of the formulas. There is no U.S. detective show, or any other drama for that matter, where most of the dialog does not take place while on a fast walk. The scene opens with the detectives or lawyers or reporters hurrying through an office area, down hallways, around the corner and eventually back to the starting place.

With regard to sitcoms, 90 percent of the humor is tied to the unexpected, which makes the unexpected expected. For example: Bob: “I wouldn’t take that job for a million dollars!” – CEO:  “I’ll give you $1000 more than you’re making now.” – Bob: “Throw in a red stapler and I’m yours.” (Eight seconds of canned laughter)

I’m certain that I will one day catch on to the sameness of British programs, but before that time, perhaps American TV shows will have evolved beyond the current state of creative stagnation. Until then, I will continue to watch “Peaky Blinders”, “Inspector George Gently”, and Midwife… but not the parts where the babies are being born. Who wants to watch that?