STATE OF MY NATION – Marilyn Armstrong

STATE OF MY NATION – RDP SATURDAY


I have forbidden television viewing today. It’s the Republican opportunity to deny everything and I don’t think I can handle it. Worse, this might be the broadcast that finally makes Garry kick the TV until it shatters. Since we need to fix a broken toilet and the floor under it, we can’t afford a new TV so we’ll have to hang onto this one. This part of the impeachment will have to wait for the evening news roundups and late-night comedies.

Watching it will make us crazy.

Trump has only been in office for three years, but it feels like at least twenty. Maybe more. It isn’t only what he has done. It’s what he has tried to do, his twisting of reality and constant blatant lies. He has been the first president in my lifetime to make me wonder whether this country has a soul, conscience, or any aspirations other than the gathering of money and “things.”

Someone — and I really have no idea who — said that no one goes to their grave wishing they’d spent more time at the office. It goes hand-in-hand with all the wealthy people who have the money to buy everything they ever wanted yet feel as if there’s a big, empty hole in the middle of their life. They are lonely, bored, and feel unloved. They (who ARE they?) actually did a survey on this which has been on the national news for the past few nights. The rich don’t have friends. Making money hasn’t been nearly as satisfying as it was supposed to be. No amount of publicity, plastic surgery, or fashionable clothing fills that hole.


I have come to believe “The American Dream” is just a soft-focus, rose-colored version of greed for all.


With all the issues we have got, I am not lonely. I wish we had more in-person time with friends, but as we have grown older, so have they.  Our contemporaries mostly don’t like long drives anymore. Distances that weren’t a big deal even five years ago seem much longer now.

I always hoped we’d somehow find a way to stick together, but life has taken us in the opposite direction. Retirement to warmer climates and/or moving to wherever our kids and grandchildren live has spread us all over the map. There have also been too many deaths.

With all that, I’m pretty sure that if I died tomorrow, there would be at least a dozen people at the wake who cared about me. It wouldn’t be a crowd of people with whom I “did business,” but people I knew, talked to, and loved.

This nightmare through which we are passing has not only caused individual personal fear but has breached many friendships and family relationships.

Where we used to disagree and were willing to “agree to disagree,” we can’t seem to do that today. I don’t think I had a lot of Republican friends, but maybe I did. I never checked anyone to make sure they agreed with me politically. We didn’t talk about politics all the time. You were allowed to believe privately and in peace.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

There is so much anger, frustration, confusion, and hatred everywhere. You can feel it prickling your skin. If we don’t manage to get Trump and his trashy pals out of office, the future looks grim and frightening.

Worse, I’m ashamed of being white, and ashamed of my nation, and seriously wondering if we will ever find our way back from this mess. I never thought it could come to this.

From Mr. Potato Head to Flushin’ Frenzy

If you thought you had the worst toys, you don’t.. This has got to be IT!

DCMontreal: Blowing the Whistle on Society

Potato Mr. Potato Head with plastic potato

In 1952 George Lerner designed a toy called Mr. Potato Head. Originally the toy consisted of several facial features, ears, and hats that could be pushed into a potato (or any other veggie really). I assume Lerner figured that even a poor family could spare one spud for decorating, it could also be eaten after.

No more rotting taters; but limited options for creativity.

But by 1964 the stench of rotting potatoes became too much and the manufacturer, Hasbro, decided to include a plastic potato with slots to receive the various body parts. No more rotting taters; but limited options for creativity.

Of course, using ‘real’ things in toys can lead to disaster. Just think of the classic nerve-testing Operation. Or the potential for economic ruin with Monopoly or, God forbid, the arrival of Armaggedon in the guise of the war game Risk.

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BALLS, NERVE, AND חוצפה – Marilyn Armstrong

“You’re one tough broad,” my friend told me. I recognized this as a compliment. Maybe you have to come from New York or New Jersey to “get it,” but I got it. “Tough” includes brave, determined, and hard to kill. A survivor with חוצפה  (chutzpah).

I’ve heard “moxie” used in old British and American movies, mostly from the 1930s or 1940s, but it’s not what people say nowadays. In New York, if they don’t call it chutzpah, they would call it “nerve” or more accurately “noive” as in:


“Eh, buddy, you got a lot noive on youse.”


Another way to put it might be:


“That’s some set of balls ya got!”


This could as easily be referring to a woman as a man. “Balls” is no longer an inherently masculine attachment. I’m pretty sure I’ve got bigger balls than a lot of guys and whaddya wanna make of it, huh?

The best word is chutzpah (חוצפה). You need a good solid guttural on the “Het” (Hebrew: ח) because it’s a sound the English language lacks. Or, as we used to say back in ye olde Jerusalem:


“How’s your ח?


A good “het(ח) is half a throat-clearing with an “et” following the consonant. It’s where the letter “H” came from before English lost its gutturals. Words like “knight” used to have a guttural and the GH was pronounced as (ח). Look it up. English was a Germanic language loosely mixed with Celtic (which has gutturals) and French, which probably had them, but lost them to that back of the tongue rolling R.

Chutzpah doesn’t merely mean (as per the dictionary) “the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage, or aggressive energy and initiative.” It also means a willingness to stand up to potential danger and step out of your normal comfort zone and put it all out there, To not care whether or not you offend someone. Although it is not necessarily offensive, it is gutsy, determined, forthright, and assertive. And just a bit Jewish.

You do not need to be Jewish to display chutzpah but it helps. It certainly helps in the pronunciation. Some people are just like that.

It is an attitude, y’know? You got that?

So if you need to return that thing to the guy who did that other thing and you absolutely want your money back — no stupid restocking fees, either — moxie might do the job. But if you seriously need to get the job done?


Chutzpah. Gotta have it.


Trust me. I would never lie to you.

THE TRAIN THROUGH WORCESTER – OWEN KRAUS

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge:
Public transportation (bus, planes, trains, etc.


One day, Owen met a guy who turned out to be a conductor on a train that runs through Worcester. It’s a very old narrow-gauge train and its maximum speed is 5 mph.

“Take pictures!” I told him. He had never taken pictures except for a few snapshots, so I wasn’t expecting much. And he still rarely takes pictures, but he could. The pictures are great.

The conductor climbs up the engine into the engine

Heading into the woods

Leaving the yard

This is our train. There are two of them and our Department of Transportation runs these trains three or four times a week to keep them functional. This is the train created to run through places where no other traffic could go.

Train in the yard

Through a meadow, passing the long stone fence

Heading into a curve as the rain begins to fall

There are no roads nor will there be. The train travels through woods, swamps, and meadows. It slowly passes long-defunct mills and factories, past sludgy canals and dark swamps. Not only is this a look at an old train, but it’s also a look at parts of the Blackstone Valley no one sees because it is inaccessible.

Passing trains

About to pass

Looking out the window into the rain

Pulling back into the yard

Welcome to the Blackstone Valley. Have a look at our history as the home of America’s industrial revolution. This is where all manufacturing industries began in the U.S. and why we are a historical corridor.

LOOK FOR THE GOO GOO GOOGLY EYES – Marilyn Armstrong

I woke up this morning with an earworm. Not your normal earworm. Mine was a 1920s earworm. It was a song my mother sang often and for once, she actually got the words right. Ask any member of my family and they will assure you: my mother never ever remembered the words to any song — except this one. She would sing words from other songs to whatever melody was bouncing around in her head. But she knew all the words to this one. It’s SUCH an earworm, once you listen to it, it just sort of sits in your head and goes around and around and around.

So I get up this morning and this is what I’m hearing, but without the scratches:

And by golly, the words I had in my head were dead on.

How did Google get its name? – Mobilis In Mobile

The mysterious mysteries of the Internet

How did Google get its name?You may have read this kind of “official answer”: Google derived its name from the word “googol”, a term coined by then nine-year-old Milton Sirotta, nephew of the American mathematician Edward Kasner. The story goes, Kasner would have asked his nephew to invent a name for a very large number – ten to the power of one hundred, and Milton called it a googol. Blah-blah-blah!

Whatever say GSpecialists, Wikipedia or Google corporate itself, last Friday I discovered the secret when I was twittering with Orli. Google was named after Barney Google.*

Just listen to Barney Google’s song. No more to say!


You may have read the “official” answer that “Google derived its name from the word “googol,” a term coined by then nine-year-old Milton Sirotta, nephew of the American mathematician Edward Kasner. But I’d bet money (and I never bet money!) that Google was named after Barney Google.” It was the most popular comic strip in the U.S. for dozens of years … and is still around today.

Barney Google – The History

Now you know the truth about Google and somehow, it makes a lot more sense than
any other explanation I’ve heard!

SORRY, WRONG NUMBER – By GARRY ARMSTRONG

People of a certain age will recall the title from a popular radio drama that became a film noir classic with Barbara Stanwyck as the damsel/wife in distress and Burt Lancaster as the spouse with mayhem on his mind.  You can also dial “M For Murder” with the same theme: the telephone as a nefarious device and weapon.

A friend just wrote a piece, extolling the virtues of the telephone as a personal link in the impersonal age of social media. Good point. You need to be able to talk, hold an intelligent and coherent conversation on the phone.  Social media doesn’t require those basic skills.  Courtesy is also another trait required on a phone conversation even when you’re dealing with unpleasant matters.

My wife, Marilyn, rises to heroic stature dealing with insufferable customer service, health care reps, local business people who lose the check and fail to show up. Credit card hackers who’d love a little personal information and the idiots who’ve dialed the wrong number but keep redialing anyway.

I hate the telephone!  It stems from all the years of unwanted calls from the TV station that employed me for 31 years. Three o’clock in the morning calls demanding I grab my gear and immediately report to the scene of a grisly crime, awful weather, deadly fires, criminals running amok, traffic accidents with myriad, mangled bodies and the latest gangland or drive-by shooting with multiple victims.  All breathlessly awaiting my presence to round up the usual suspects for eye-witness accounts and/or to go banging on doors asking parents “how they feel” about the recent death of a loved one.

Hey, how do you feel, Pilgrim?  All of this hurled at me in fleeting minutes once I picked up the phone and heard a familiar voice with the phony excuse of waking me up out of my warm bed.  I usually cursed myself if I answered the phone.

Marilyn normally took the calls because of my hearing problems.  I couldn’t blame her. Nor could I hurl expletives at the person calling.  You can’t shoot the messenger in the TV news biz.  Being called into work goes with the territory.

Instead, I blamed the inanimate object.  The telephone. Outraged, I yelled obscenities at it.  Meanwhile, the telephone sat there quietly,  probably mocking me. After all, the phone was just doing its job. Nothing personal.

Statehouse on Beacon Hill

During my bachelor years when I had to take these calls, I frequently hurled the phone across the room during my tirades against the telephone company, its employees, executives, and Alexander Graham Bell who I imagined as Don Ameche from the old biofilm.

Why did they seemingly always call me?  Why was someone always picking on me?  Frequently, I’d envision conspiracies to target me. Racism? Envy because I was on the tube every day, outshining other folks? Political target?  I had an ‘attitude’ with some local pols. It was me against the giant telephone conglomerate.  I was riffing Dwight Eisenhower’s warning.

Truth time.  Early on in my Boston TV news career, I let it be known I was ‘always available’ for major, breaking news stories.   I envisioned the scoop on that major story that would shoot me to stardom and a mega-contract.  I put myself on the spot that assignment editors love. An eager-beaver young reporter with stars in his eyes and experience not yet absorbed.

Veteran reporters scoffed at my enthusiasm even as I sauntered around the newsroom full of myself at landing big stories that had me prominently featured on every newscast of the day from sunrise to midnight.

In my glee over the big stories I always forgot how it began.  Always the damn phone call.  During my saner moments, I knew I was my own worst enemy. That logic didn’t sit well with me.

During long lunches as everyone congratulated me with my face and story on all the monitors, I realized I was in a catch 22 scenario.  Hero of the hour absorbing lots of congratulations while my brain kept reminding me that it was that early phone call that made all of this possible. I continued blaming the phone for interrupting my sleep. I would go on shooting the messenger for years.

One time I lived up to my vow to avert the phone call-to-arms.  I answered the call. Heard the voice and slowly said, “Sorry, wrong number.”  I grinned to myself, returning for a good night’s sleep.

I was still smiling as I awoke and turned on the radio in the morning.  The all-news station was frantically blaring out details about a massive fire, building collapse and the loss of many lives.  It was such a big story that the networks were in on coverage.

My smile turned to a scowl. The potential ‘story of a lifetime’ had been lost to my erstwhile, “Sorry, Wrong Number.”

Oops.