AN EARLY VISIT – Garry Armstrong

It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.

That lends itself to our professional sports teams and our current financial dilemma. Our Boston Red Sox are almost officially eliminated from postseason play. The lamentations about the Bosox lengthy hangover from last year’s World Championship are filling up bars across Massachusetts. But sorrow is mixed with elation for the Brady Bunch aka the New England Patriots’ who opened THEIR world championship defense with a sound thumping of the Pittsburgh Steelers, always a worthy adversary.

Sports is our Rx as we try to deal with an insurance company that refuses to do the right thing. It’s an insurance company that’s had our very loyal business for 40 plus years and paid nary a cent to us. Our home has been battered by recent storms and two sides of the house could cave with the next storm. A storm due within hours. It’s a major league headache for Marilyn and me who, coincidentally, are battling a bug that leaves us wondering — who did we antagonize?

The house and health problems have prompted us to cancel two planned trips we’ve looked forward to with enthusiasm. It’s a bummer. We’re not feeling very sociable these days.  It reminds me of that old Kingston Trio song, “The Merry Minuet” about international social discord with the refrain “… and, we don’t like anybody very much.”

That’s the cue for today’s happening. The welcome sign outside our home has drawn precious few visitors — family or good friends — in the 19 years we’ve lived in picturesque Uxbridge. We almost feel like Lepers.

I was startled when Marilyn awakened me with news this morning that we had company coming — in FORTY minutes! I felt like yesterday’s garbage as I got my act together. Company?  We NEVER have company. Why TODAY? Gee Whiz!

Turns out that our visitors were one of the two families we had to cancel on because of our problems.

Garry and Karin MacMillan

Karin and her business associate lit up our house with amiable good cheer. Karin actually is a good friend of my “Baby Brother,” the noted Dr. Anton Armstrong, head of the illustrious St. Olaf’s Choir.

We’ve been swapping emails for weeks so Karin was up to speed on our problems. Despite our visit cancellation, Karin was determined to meet us and spread some cheer.

It was like sitting with old friends. We rambled on with cross conversations. I, as usual, held court with stories of my celebrity encounters. Our visitors didn’t seem bored so I kept jabbering with one eye on my watch and finally gave myself the hook — time to shut up and let the others share stories.

We laughed a lot. I was the target of some of the laughter but it was just fine. It was good to laugh, taking my mind off the headache, queasy stomach and other gifts from the stubborn bug. I was surprised about how much family stuff we shared. That’s a good indicator of relaxation with newly made friends. It doesn’t happen often with us.

We emphasized our gratitude for the visit. As mentioned, we don’t receive many social calls. You wonder if you’re a leper after extending invitations and no one shows up.

It’s been a special day. One of the last warm, sunny and perfectly golden days of summer. Our front yard has been manicured. It’ll never look better even with the furry kids staking out their territory. If we had smell-o-vision, you’d really appreciate how nice our yard looks.

It can’t obliterate our concern about the sides of the house which are in danger with the next storm on the horizon. An Insurance investigator recently documented the damage but bluntly told us not to expect much from the insurance company. We’ve reached out for help but everything is in limbo right now.  We feel very, very vulnerable. Senior citizens, surviving on social security and puny retirement funds.

For a few hours, on this day, we could laugh and relax – thanks to the kindness of strangers who now are definitely friends.

WHERE IS STEVE McQUEEN WHEN I REALLY NEED HIM? – Garry Armstrong

It must be payback. Karma, hubris – or both.

For more than 30 years, I drove a succession of fully loaded convertibles with Steve McQueen in my brain. Once, I was racing to a story in the dead of night when a State Trooper pulled me over. He asked the traditional question. He smiled when I told him I was heading to a fire. After being cautioned to drive responsibly, I sped on to the scene. Steve McQueen was with me.

Nothing fazed me. Not Boston crazies or New York cabbies. Oh, hubris!

My convertible days are behind me. Thanks to retirement, an income adjusted to social security, “wonderful” pensions and too many tickets from my Steve McQueen days, I drive like a normal guy, more or less. You’d think I’d paid my dues, atoned for my sins.

Not hardly, Pilgrim.

I’ll admit I still drive too fast, even if I’m doing the speed limit. That’s because I wasn’t born in the Valley and I don’t have Valley in my blood, so to speak. You see, in the Valley, driving is a leisurely business. Very leisurely. Twenty miles an hour is fast for a lot of our local people and not only in school areas. We are talking normal stretches of road with no special considerations or construction.

Not a racing car exactly!

I’m convinced there’s a legion of slow drivers waiting for me to pull out onto the street. I’ve been targeted. Wherever I go, they are waiting. It’s particularly frustrating when I’m heading to an appointment. These days, it’s usually a doctor appointment for my wife or me. We usually allow extra time for possible traffic jams, construction, weather delays, and accidents.

The X-Factor is the slow driver. (Drum-roll.)

They usually appear just as we are pushing up to the speed limit and think we’ll be able to make good time. We’ll get to our destination and have time to relax. I’m beginning to think about playing some music for the drive.

That’s when they show up. In the blink of an eye, they appear. The dreaded slow drivers. A whole conga line of slow drivers. No way to maneuver around them because our local roads are two lanes. One in each direction and narrow to boot. I can feel the anger and frustration beginning to boil up inside me.

If I’m driving alone, I allow the profanities full volume. If my wife is with me, I mumble, tighten my wrists and think evil, vile things. The slow drivers sense this and slow down even more. It is torture. What would Steve McQueen do?

Photo credit: RolexMagazine.com
Photo credit: RolexMagazine.com

Sanity and common sense kick in only because I know we can’t afford accidents with me as the culprit. That makes it more infuriating. They slow down, even more, sensing my plight. Could it be worse? Never ask that question because the answer is always yes!

It gets personal when I realize nature is calling. Home isn’t that far away but it could be an embarrassment if I don’t get there in time. The drivers drive even slower.

I whisper a prayer, forgiveness for my wild days on the road. I turn onto the road home. I can do this. I can make it. Traffic slows to a halt. What would Steve McQueen do?

Gritting my teeth, I see two cars ahead of me. They are staring at the road. They are texting. They are not old but rather part of the legion of slow drivers targeting me. All seems lost as I swing and sway to delay disaster, traffic begins to move again.

Slowly.

Minutes that seem like hours go by until I reach home. I pull down our long driveway. I race into the house with personal shame just narrowly averted. I calm down before returning to the car to collect my things.

I look up at the street. There’s no traffic. The slow drivers have disappeared. Is it a conspiracy?

What would Steve McQueen do?

SHARING THE WORLD AND AUGUST ENDS WITH A WHIMPER – Marilyn Armstrong

Another person died of Eastern Equine Encephalitis today. And they did not spray last night because it was too cold. Swell. Maybe it’ll be warmer tonight. We can hope.

Not that the spraying is going to fully solve the problem. We are still advised to wear long everything and a lot of DEET. Doubly swell.

And now to the sharing.

Share Your World 8-26-19

If you had to sum up the whole human species in 3 words, what would those words be?

Always too late.

Where is the strangest place you’ve relieved yourself?  Obviously in an emergency situation.

In the woods in Sinai. There weren’t any bathrooms.

1989 shot of earth’s arctic ice

What is the worst smelling place you’ve ever been?

Sitting next to Duke when he let one go. Lord almighty! He left the room and shortly thereafter, the other two left also.

I’m glad it’s not a nightly event!

How drunk is drunk enough?

For me, at all is too drunk. I don’t handle booze well and never did.

If you’d like, please list five things that are priceless to you.

I bet you could take bets on this and probably get it right. But I’m not sure priceless is really the word for it.

Times have changed and what I might have viewed as priceless 30 years ago — or even 20 or 10 — doesn’t carry the same weight it once did. I’m torn between the people I love who are priceless to me — and the world in which I live which is beyond price for the humans who live here.

If we change the wording to “things I couldn’t live without,” it would be easier. My friends and family are priceless to me, but our world is beyond any price.

THIRD HUMAN CASE OF EASTERN EQUINE ENCEPHALITIS (EEE) IN MASSACHUSETTS – CBS NEWS

BOSTON (CBS) – The state’s Department of Public Health has confirmed a third human case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), this one from northern Franklin County.


Mosquito spraying in Worcester Country begins today depending on the weather. There will probably be several spraying, again depending on the weather. Avoid going outside at dusk and dawn.

Wear long sleeves, long pants, and use DEET. It can be lethal to humans. Dogs are less likely to get it than people or horses — and when they do, it tends to be milder. It can kill horses as well as llamas and alpacas. There is no human vaccine, but there is a vaccine for horses. This situation will continue until hard frost.

We need a cold winter with less rain.


The latest victim is a man older than 60.

Massachusetts has not seen a human case of EEE since 2011 until this summer when now-three people contracted the virus.

The risk level in the towns of Heath and Colrain in Franklin County has been raised to critical.

A horse in Mendon and a horse in Uxbridge, both towns in Worcester County, have also tested positive for the EEE virus. The risk in those towns has also been raised to critical.

Massachusetts EEE risk levels as of Aug. 19 (WBZ-TV)

The threat caused Mendon to cancel Saturday night’s “Mendonfest” because it’s scheduled during peak biting hours.

“2019 is really turning out to be not just an active year, but a very active year,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown.

Dr. Brown said several factors are contributing including changing temperatures and precipitation along with the shifting types of mosquito species.

“Because we’re seeing an increase in the populations of the mammal biting mosquitoes, we think that might be one of the reasons that the cycle is changing a little bit as well,” Dr. Brown said.

Earlier this week, DPH and the Department of Agricultural Resources said aerial spraying in specific areas of Worcester and Middlesex counties is scheduled to begin Sunday, Aug. 25. As a result of the elevated risk in several communities, the spray zone has been expanded. The additional communities either partially or fully in the spray zone are Blackstone, Douglas, Dudley, Holliston, Hopedale, Mendon, Millville, Oxford, Uxbridge, and Webster.

In total across Massachusetts, there are 23 communities now at critical risk, 22 at high risk and 52 at moderate risk for the EEE virus. So far, EEE has been found in 330 mosquito samples this year, many of them from species that can spread the virus to humans.

EEE symptoms can range from a stiff neck, headache, and lack of energy to dangerous complications like inflammation and swelling of the brain.

The risk of EEE will remain until the first killing frost.

Aren’t we glad that climate change is a myth?

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES – Marilyn Armstrong

Xfinity has an advertisement. They assure viewers that their wi-fi is so fast, you will definitely be able to keep up with the Joneses.

I didn’t know it was a race. I didn’t know I was supposed to be keeping up with anyone.

If you use Xfinity, you will be able to keep up with the Joneses, whoever they may be.

“Garry,” I asked. “Are we keeping up with the Joneses?”

“The who?”

“Joneses.”

“I don’t think so. We don’t know anyone named Jones. I actually can’t remember ever knowing anyone named Jones. Lots of Smiths and many of them named Mike. No Joneses. Of any name. So probably we aren’t keeping up with them.”

On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever worried about keeping up with anything that didn’t have a dollar sign attached. I certainly don’t worry whether or not I’ve got faster wi-fi than my neighbors, especially not in Uxbridge. This just isn’t a “keeping up with the Joneses” kind of town. We all use Charter. We don’t have any choice. That’s what the town decided for us.

We have enough trouble keeping up with the mortgage, bills, and taxes.

PARKS BY A RIVER – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Parks

We live in the Blackstone Valley Historic Corridor, so basically, we live in a park. It’s one level below a national park, but without the funding (such as it is these days). The good news is that we have parks. Everywhere.

As the Blackstone winds its way down from the Worcester Hills, there are parks in every town and at every curve along the river.

The Dam on the Mumford

From Worcester, about 20 miles north of here, all the way through Rhode Island, the Blackstone has parks with areas designed for walking, fishing, swimming, and kayaking.

Marilyn on a bench by the river
The big Canal locks and a couple of bloggers with cameras!
Garry and me – Thank you, Rich Paschall!

There are picnic tables and barbecues. Best of all, there are places to safely walk and park the car. All of them are open all year round, though when the snow is heavy, it’s difficult to get into the park. The small parks don’t always plow, but the larger ones do plow. Then all you need to do is find a way to get through the drifts.

Take a walk along the banks of the Blackstone
The stone bridge in the rain

My favorite three parks are the one in the middle of town around the Mumford (one of the larger tributaries of the Blackstone), another behind the medical building in North Uxbridge. That one has two connected parts: the Canal and its locks — as well as its lovely stone bridge — and River Bend which has turned a farmhouse from the 1600s into a small museum.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Blackstone River

You can walk from one park to the other along the route that was once used by horses to haul the barges in the canal.

And in the water …
Together forever, swans mate for life

Finally, there’s a lovely park in Smithfield, Rhode Island which is literally on the same road on which we live. It’s set up for fishing and loaded with trout. People come there to kayak, fish, and swim. We come to take pictures, enjoy their smiles and their dogs and little kayaks. And of course, the fish!

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It’s nice living in a park. For at least three seasons every year, the parks welcome us and we are always glad to visit them.