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DRINKING THE NEWS – Garry Armstrong

Manhattan in the mid-’60s.

I was a newbie newsie at ABC News. The kid reporter among guys who’d worked for Ed Murrow and shared tall tales about Mayor LaGuardia, Governor “Beau Jimmy” Walker, Tammany Hall grifters, speakeasies, Jazz and an era that had gone with the wind before I arrived.

I was plopped in the middle of middle and old-age, usually White guys who took no notice of my skin color unless they were talking about Joe Louis, Lena Horne, or Jackie Robinson. The jibes were about individuals — not marked by race, sexual preference or religion.

Sometimes they laughed about “pretty boys” but that usually was about fellas who were light on work effort and heavy on looking good on camera.

The bartender and owner who was usually an Irishman. He ran the local numbers game and was an off-the-books source of loans if you were short. He usually broke up the noise if the conversation bordered on trouble.

He nodded at me. It was an inference: “Hey, watch it. The kid is here.” Not sure if I appreciated being a greenhorn among the grizzled guys. Lots of famous faces came in, usually tired, looking for a little respite and no hassles.

I absorbed the stories which, years later, became woven into my own tales. Funny thing, most of the chatter, although fueled by booze, was intelligent, sharp, witty and observant of the times.

A decade later, I was in the world of Boston bars. I became a familiar face, popping up on the tube pretty much every day. Chasing bad weather and bad hombres. The conversations were animated — VERY animated if they concerned the Red Sox “Curse of the Bambino”, and another pennant lost to those damn Yankees. There were rumors about lobbyists greasing the pockets of certain pols, queries about the availability of “Tommy, The Torch” and his crew

Whispers about “Whitey” and the latest bloodbath in territorial “hits.” Now, I knew who was who and played dumb when asked for the inside stuff. There was always a fresh drink to maybe loosen my tongue. No, there was never enough booze for that.

There were the lawyers in their rumpled suits, complaining about Judges they swore were in the pockets of people who went unnamed.

There was a bar near Fenway Park which gave me the greatest joy. Baseball players, sportswriters and sports wannabees came and went leaving us with a goldmine of baseball info. Once I was “in.” I was “golden.”

I loved kicking back the rounds, swapping stories with no fear of insulting anyone. Pesky “pilgrims” were quickly shown the door before they became the source of brawls. Many “tips” were turned into legit stories which solidified my notion that I was working.

It was a bar where religious leaders could bend elbows with wiseguys and, sometimes, you couldn’t tell who was who.

Those were the days, my friend.

INSTINCT OR THE GIBB’S THEORY OF “GOING WITH THE GUT” – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Instinct


Without getting all Leroy Jethro Gibbs here … is there any other way to make a decision when you have no hard facts with which to work? It sounds right, doesn’t it?

Except when Gibbs does it, the entire agency agrees. When I do it, no one ever agrees.

If you’re a mother and you know your kid is “off,” you take him or her to the doctor. You don’t wait until the strep throat or whatever it shows up with full symptoms. The doctor promptly tells you he can’t see any problem. You go home. The kid is a mess the next day.

Let’s hear it for instinct!

pinterest.com

You hear a noise in your car’s engine. A funny little squeaky noise which comes and goes. Do you wait for the serpentine belt to snap or take it to a mechanic? You take it in. They look. They shrug.A few days later, the transmission falls out. Instinct! Gotta love it.The meteorologists on the television are predicting a few inches of snow, but your bones are screaming “it’s a big one on the way.”

Do you ignore your instinct and believe the guy on TV? Or lay in some supplies, fill the car with gasoline, and bring the candles out … just in case. I mean, what the hell. A few extra items in the house won’t hurt, right?If I have data to work with (better yet, if I had Data to work with), I’ll work with it or him. But through most of real life, we have no facts. We have instinct, experience, “gut feelings.” Plus, we have a sort of prescience that comes with years of making judgment calls, dealing with emergencies … a kind of “know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em” sort of thing.

Unfortunately, the doctors, mechanics, bosses, friends, colleagues et al? They don’t share that with uw. They merely think we are a bit strange. Remarkably, no matter how many times we are proved right? They still won’t believe us.

The next time you just know what’s going to happen? Everyone will completely ignore you. Totally.

So, when you get that deep, gut feeling, the one which tells you a catastrophe is on the way? Run around. Tell everyone. They will ignore you. BUT later — you can enjoy the rare opportunity to tell everyone: “SEE? I TOLD YOU SO!” and they will say, “Yeah, yeah. Right. Uh huh.”Most major decisions in my life have been gut decisions and they usually turned out better than the “rational” ones based on whatever evidence I had. Instinct on the hoof.

I think it’s how we contact the basic, hard-wired knowledge in our brains.

If only someone would occasionally agree with us.

THE SNOW IS GONE – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Tuesday: SNOW

The snow is gone.

We didn’t get a lot of it this year. It didn’t show up at all until March and it only lasted a week and a bit, but it rained and stormed almost continuously from February through this month. So our water table is doing fine.

Now that the Gypsy moth caterpillars have been spotted locally, we really need the rain — so of course, we have lovely, dry spring weather. The rain brings forth a little caterpillar killer bug that drops those caterpillars dead from the trees. But we need rain and a lot of it.

It’s as if the weather is rebelling. Whatever it is we want, we can’t have it. It’s not a lack of weather. It’s a lot of weather — at all the wrong times.

It’s funny to think about snow now. All I have on my mind are the hospital tests and getting finished with them. I think I’m about to (in late May and June) finally complete … and how doth the garden grow.

March blizzard

And how many squirrels are hanging on the bird feeder. Perhaps, as Stuart Templeton said yesterday, “Isn’t it great  to see some birds on your squirrel feeders?”

Unsurprisingly, the feeders were filled last night and were nearly empty this morning. I was going to let the feeder run empty and try to convince the squirrels to do their own hunting, but if the caterpillars take over, there won’t BE any food to eat. Those nasty bugs strip the woods and everything goes hungry.

The Gypsy moths are an evil omen in an evil year. Last time, I survived by getting everything sprayed, but I don’t have the money this year — and I don’t even know what (if any) company is set up to to the work. No one was expecting them to come back so soon. They usually lay low for decades before making a return appearance.

If it gets ugly (and Garry is horribly allergic to these nasty critters), I’m going to hide inside and refuse to leave. Since our squirrels are always starving, can they be convinced to eat these guy? Except almost none of the birds will eat the big hairy caterpillars, but many will eat the egg masses they leave behind. We do have most of those birds here. On our deck.

Bring on the birdseed!

And, for what it’s worth, squirrels eat them too, even the caterpillars. So I guess we’re going to keep those feeders full!


More information from Mass Audubon Society and Pests.org:

Some native birds, such as cuckoos, downy woodpeckers, gray catbirds, and common grackles, will eat gypsy moth caterpillars but, unfortunately, not in large enough quantities to have an effect during an outbreak. White-footed mice, and occasionally gray squirrels, prey on gypsy moth larvae and pupae.

Pests.Org

These little-known buggers can lay waste to entire forests and crops as they munch their way through the leaves and plants. Up until last year, the Gypsy Moth Caterpillar was not considered a big deal. Granted, they are still a problem when they infest your farm, but they had taken a backseat to other common pests. That is until some states (the northeast and especially Massachusetts) saw the worst Gypsy Moth infestation in more than 30 years.


NOTE: In 2016 and 2017 — here in the Blackstone Valley — virtually every hardwood and fruit-bearing tree were defoliated by the caterpillars), farmers started paying attention. 


Some birds typically eat Gypsy Moths. Birds such as the Bluejay, catbird, blackbird (cowbirds ARE blackbirds), crows (we have them, though they don’t favor our woods) and such find these insects delicious.

These ARE blackbirds!
One of our many cowbirds.

Encourage these birds to visit your property to feed on these moths by not chasing them away when they come.


We definitely encourage them!

RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t usually get to take a lot of pictures of favorite birds, but this guy really settled into the feeder today and he didn’t flutter off the moment I had the camera up and ready. That’s not entirely true. He flew off a few times into the tree, cracked open some seeds, then came back to the feeder. Sometimes, it just takes patience. And waiting!

The following four pictures were taken from wildlife groups.

Before everyone points out that this bird has a red head and not a red belly, I know that. But there already is a Red-headed Woodpecker who looks a lot like this guy, but his entire head is solid red, not to mention the Pileated Woodpecker who has a red topknot and is about the size of a medium-gauge hawk and a beak you wouldn’t want to mess with. I’m pretty sure he’s the bird the creators of Woody Woodpecker had in mind.

The following are pictures I took this morning. Even though this bird looks (to me) as if he has an orange rather than a red head, I have been assured that he is a Red-bellied Woodpecker and not a Gold-fronted Woodpecker.

The only difference between the two is the color of their head. Worse, they live in the same parts of the country.

However, this is quite a thin bird and I’m pretty sure he’s recently fledged so possibly has not fully developed his colors yet.

NARCISSUS BY THE WOODS – Marilyn Armstrong

Narcissus – FOTD – 05/21/19

These flowers used to grow on the other side of the driveway. In the garden, in a grouping with the daffodils. I don’t know how they wound up on the opposite side of the tarmac.

Wind? Birds? Bees? The driveway is too wide for any kind of natural spreading, so something moved them.

I was really surprised to see them. I thought they had died. I thought a lot of things had died. Some things did.

The old Rhododendrons died, but new ones popped up and are blooming. We have to cut down the dead ones and are planning to on Wednesday. We also need to cut down the Holly which isn’t a bush and has become more of a  tree. A big, bushy tree.

We have about a thousand baby-sized maple trees trying to grow. And we have too many signs that the Gypsy moth caterpillars have come back.

NOW we need rain and a lot of it.  Maybe a solid week of rain would kill them before they get their tiny fangs into our trees.

It’s the only thing that will stop them. I get totally depressed even thinking about them. The last time they showed up, I hid in the house for weeks while they killed off all our trees. I’m trying to not see it, pretending it isn’t happening, but I’m terribly afraid that it is. And this time, I simply can’t afford to bring in the spraying people.

No money.

The irony of this is that these caterpillars BLEW HERE FROM A CITY MORE THAN 50  MILES AWAY. All that windy weather? It brought the monstrous bugs back. Again.

I’m not thinking about it because maybe it won’t happen. Talk about positive thinking, I actually think I’m more afraid of the caterpillars than Trump. That’s serious fear.

BE HOME BEFORE THE LIGHTS COME ON – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was growing up … and even when my son was growing up in the 1970s, kids went out to play. Alone. Unsupervised. Unstructured. Disorganized with not a single adult to keep an eye on us. We built “forts” and “clubhouses” out of crates and old boxes and anything we could find that mom wouldn’t miss.

We played stickball with old, pink Spalding balls that were often long bast bouncing or even being “round.” You didn’t go and buy a “stickball set.” You found an old broomstick and someone had a ball, or what used to be a ball, or you all chipped in and bought one in the local (!) toy store.

The dock at River Bend

Remember toy stores? Not “Toys R’ Us.”

Local shops where you could buy a ball or a bat or a Ginny doll for a few cents or a few dollars. The shopkeepers were always grumpy old guys (probably a lot younger than we are now), but they had a gleam in their eye. If you don’t like kids, you don’t run a toy store.

We ran around a lot. Playing tag was basic. Even dogs play tag. “Catch me if you can,” you shouted and off you went. If you got tagged, you were O-U-T. But if you could run fast enough, you could grab whatever was “home” and one shouted “Home free all!” and everyone was back in the game.

There was Hide and Seek, another classic. Someone hid, everyone hunted. You had to be careful. If you hid too well, your friends might get bored looking for you and go do something else. But no one’s mother came to complain that you were being bullied. This was stuff you dealt with because there will always be bullies. Unless you were in real danger, it was better (then and now) to cope on your own. Much better than waiting for rescue.

In the real world, rescue is rare, but bullying is not.

1953 -I’m in the middle

Jump rope. There was always an old piece of laundry line somewhere. They actually call it skipping rope in other parts of the country. In the cities, the Black girls played a variation called “double Dutch” using two ropes. We all knew how to do the double Dutch ropes turning, but none of us ever mastered the technique of actually jumping. More like an intricate dance — and I also wasn’t ever much of a dancer.

Klutz that I was and am, I was barely competent on a single line, much less two. I remain in awe of how incredibly graceful, athletic, and coördinated those girls were … and are. There was a feature about them on the news a couple of weeks ago and I am no less awestruck now than I was more than 60 years ago.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Along with jumping rope came chanting. All those weird little ditties we sang as we jumped. They mostly were alphabetic and involved names and places.

“I call my girlfriend … in …” when we were playing in a group. You could gauge your popularity by when and who “called you in” to jump in tandem. Looking back, I think the problem was not unpopularity, but being a washout as an athlete. I was a slow runner, an indifferent jumper, and a terrified tree climber. On the other hand, when it came to derring-do, I was a champ. I could organize games of pretending –pirates and cowboys and outlaws and cat burglars.

We burgled, but we never stole. We weren’t thieves, just little girls trying to prove we could do it.

I don’t see kids playing outdoors these days. Almost never, except as organized groups with one or more adults supervising. Calling the plays with whistles and shouts. Children are not allowed to “go out and play” anymore. Everyone is afraid of something. Bullying, kidnappers, traffic, skinned knees. Unlike we kids who were always covered with scabs from a thousand times falling down on the sidewalk or street.

Come home with a bloody knee today and they’ll call an ambulance. Growing up, unless you appeared to have broken something, a bath was the remedy of choice and usually, beneath the dirt, was an unbroken kid.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It makes me wistful, thinking about it. My family was dysfunctional, but I could escape by going out to play.

“Bye, Ma, I’m going out,” and off you went. It was the best part of being a child. Those months between school and hours after school (much less homework and we still learned more!) contained what seemed unlimited freedom. That was the freest I would ever be in this life.

Once you were out of the house and too far away to hear your mother calling, you could do whatever you liked. You could be whoever you imagined. There was nothing you had to do, no place you needed to be. Until the streetlights came on.

Streetlight is on. Time to go home!

You had to be home when the streetlights came on. It was a fundamental law, the bottom line. Do what you will, but be home when the streetlights come on. In those warm summers of childhood, the days flowed in an endless stream.

Darkness fell late. There was more than enough time.

TOO BUSY AND NOT PARTICULARLY DISINGENUOUS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Disingenuous

I am not (mostly) disingenuous. I certainly lack false modesty. Okay, that’s not true either. I’m really terrible at taking compliments, especially when I am not sure I deserve them — but I really improve if I think I’ve earned it.

So, while I am not 100% honest, who is? If you count the fake excuses we make for places we don’t want to go — and little white lies about the dent in the hood of the car — we are all a little bit politely dishonest. We don’t lie about important stuff, though. The fact that I blog probably eliminates “disingenuous” from my resume.

I figure I’m honest enough, especially these days when I’m not even sure what honest is supposed to mean.  Are we all equally confused or is it just me?

Today, it’s off to the hospital to get tested for something that has been lingering with me since I was in my early thirties and for which I have been tested — repeatedly — both here and in Israel. Lots of guesses, all of them wrong. So now they are checking to see if I perhaps have had minor strokes without knowing it.

Tests and followup appointments for the next two weeks will keep me ridiculously busy. I don’t know how this can be, but I swear my life seems three times busier than it felt last year.

I used to have plenty of time to blog, write stories, take pictures and all that and still have time to read other people’s posts and comment. Now I swear by the time I am halfway through my first cup of coffee, I’m already late for something.

Today I am having a Carotid Duplex Scan, which is some kind of intriguing CATscan of my throat and arteries to determine if I have had one or more minor strokes with no after effects. After which, there will be an appointment with the specialist to sort through the half dozen tests I’ve already done. And the bills. Sigh.

This will not even close to the first test for this problem, here or in Israel. They have more advanced testing now than the last time (about 18 years ago) I was tested. It will be interesting to see if they find out something. So far, this has been a lot of running around without anything to show for it. I didn’t want to do this because each time, the result is “idiopathic” — which is to say, medically clueless.

It could be anything or nothing.

This “small seizure” thing has been popping up intermittently for 40 years. It’s scary (especially to those who are around when it occurs), but it never seems to do any harm. Five minutes later, I’m fine and it feels like nothing happened. It may not occur again for years.

As we get older, though, it becomes more of an issue to determine what is happening. So we endure all the tests. So far, we know what isn’t wrong.

I’m betting I’m going through this entire testing and doctoring thing — and will know nothing more when I’m done than when I started.

Also under exploration is my spine. That’s of more concern. I’m hoping — seven years after being told there was nothing anyone could do — that maybe medicine has advanced and there’s something.

Not a cure it because it isn’t curable, but at least something that might make it feel better. Even a little better.

I’m off to the hospital. This time, I get to go to the big shiny building on the campus! Are we having fun yet?