Having and losing a Friend

I don’t have any friends. True, there are many acquaintances, lots of colleagues, classmates, neighbors, co-workers, primos and primas, but no friends.

At least not anymore. The only person I believe was my Friend died last week.

I’m going to miss him. My sons called him Vince-Uncle, I suppose because our youngest son, Ben, mixed up the words, and that stuck. I liked our artificially appending “uncle” to our names; somehow that made me feel closer. We go back about 50 years, to when my wife and I joined the faculty at Cuba (N.M.) Schools, where Vince-Uncle had been teaching.

Vince was a gentle giant, standing at 6-1 and 230 pounds in his prime. Most of the rest of us teachers stood at around 5-8. When in Cuba, we heard about the time when, as a class sponsor, Vince arranged to borrow a small car to pull a float for the Cuba Rams’ homecoming parade.

But the car’s owner never showed up, so Vince hitched straps to himself and ran the parade route, much to the thrill of the crowds.

I admired Vince-Uncle. We rode bikes to school. He lived some five miles out; we lived three miles out. We rode to school almost every day, but since I was a smoker then, I struggled to keep up with him. Continue reading

What music do you like?

We spent much of Sunday evening at the United World College, attending a student recital, which featured some excellent instrumental and vocal offerings.

We went as guests of our get-away student, Belen Sogo Mielgo, from Madrid, Spain.

Some of the entrants sang, some played the piano, and with kids in the late teens (and even of any age), there’s bound to be a slip or two — obvious to all.

So I remembered my own youth, when I was a work-study student at Highlands University’s music department. I worked under then-chairman Champ Tyrone and spent time with Ronald Wynn, the choral director. Once I asked Wynn, “You know that piano recital you asked me to tape last night at Ilfeld: Well, when the pianist hit the wrong note, why is it that everyone noticed?”

Wynn explained why even the most un-musical person on the planet — I think he was referring to me — notices keyboard errors. He spoke in terms too technical for me, and through no fault of his, I failed to take note of the tenor of his explanation.

But rather than turn this into a treatise on how lay persons take in music, let me digress to discuss our family’s experience with the first and only piano our family ever owned. Continue reading

‘For want of a nail . . .’

There’s an old rhyme that clearly illustrates the need for things working together. It reads: “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For want of a horse, the rider was lost. For want of a rider, the battle was lost.

Dire consequences must have occurred when the above battle was being waged. But how about the big difference a simple punctuation mark can make? Can its inclusion or omission create or settle a lawsuit?

I refer to the Oxford comma, a tiny punctuation mark whose name many of us have never heard of. I don’t I recall ever hearing about the Oxford Comma in all my 12 years at Immaculate Conception School in Las Vegas.

Admittedly, that was a long time ago. True, Oxford University had been around a number of years before my classmates and I studied at the local parochial school. So the English college must have existed quite a while. How about its founding date of 872?

The Oxford comma, also known as the Harvard comma and the serial comma, is the punctuation mark between the second-to-the-last and the final item in a written list. Continue reading

Enjoy D.S.T. — It’s great!

She’s on the phone, railing to a fellow church member about the first days of Daylight Saving Time. “Oooh! I just hate it!” she tells her friend, Betty Quick, who agrees.

But really now, what can we say about the extra hour of daylight except that we’re glad it’s finally here? Each year — it seems since we married in 1966 — I’ve used the parable of the man whose blanket failed to cover his feet, leaving him shivering in bed. So he cut a foot off the top of the blanket and sewed it to the bottom. Problem solved. But maybe not. Now his head is cold. That’s how DST works.

Bonnie says she dislikes having daylight saving time clashing with standard time, but I wonder if it’s the chore of adjusting clocks twice a year that really factors into her annoyance.

Our third-born, Ben, arrived around the time a doughnut shop opened on Hot Springs Boulevard, north of Mills. Our son welcomed the new business, which for years he regarded as connected to the U.S. Energy Policy on Time.

Ben naturally associated the name of the donut shop, Daylight Donuts, with daylight saving time, and he often broached the subject that way to hint that his taste buds needed exercise in the form of a donut or a cinnamon roll. Continue reading

Less of a terrorist

Maybe my greying mustache and my already-greyed hair make me look more presentable to personnel with the Transportation Safety Administration at major U.S. and foreign airports. I say “maybe” because it seems I was hassled less than ever before on this go-round to Iceland.

There are a few perks to passing the age-75 barrier: People my age and older don’t need to remove their shoes when passing through that scanners that check for strange objects. I don’t consider that such an honor, but merely a way to show up my wife, Bonnie, who has one more shoe-removing routine to undergo, before she reaches the Big Five-Oh.

Except for Icelandic Airlines’ mistakenly shipping my bag to Seattle and not returning it until we arrived home, the trip went well. One gets used to washing out clothes each night.

After my retirement from teaching, in 1999, I’ve captured myriad incidents that I hadn’t expected. This column is not intended to serve as a travelogue, but merely as a way to highlight some of the silly and not-so-silly incidents visited on a person (me), who for quite a while asked myself, “Self, do I look like a terrorist?”

In no particular order, here are a few encounters with airport officials that have made me wonder whether I’d ever make it home again: Continue reading

A cure for ‘huevoncy’

Almost daily we read or hear about someone who’s upset over not being allowed to use a restroom of his/her choice. When I taught at Highlands, the word “gender” referred to grammatical terms such as he or she. It wasn’t used to describe sex, as in male or female. But in the past few years, an issue — which I won’t dare try to officiate — regarding which restroom one should occupy, has become big news.

In the 1990s, most of my classes at Highlands University were on the second level of Mortimer Hall, the classroom building that used to rest where the new student union lives. It began as a dorm, possibly as early as the 1950s.

Even though it was a men’s dormitory, the upstairs restroom had all the necessary equipment for men, but at ground level, the layout clearly favored women. Why would women be in a men’s dorm? Maybe there were people of the opposite sex (er—gender) who worked there.

I never gave the restroom arrangement much thought until one of my students in an evening class, who was scheduled to give a presentation, asked me to guard the door to the men’s room while she made a pit stop. Obviously in discomfort, she said she wouldn’t be able to make the trip downstairs. Continue reading

Iceland, in February

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND — One of the more memorable lines in a locally-produced play called “The Odd Couple” was about a minor character, a card player named Vinnie, who decided to vacation in Florida in the summer. I played the role of Vinnie, and during rehearsals often wondered who in all creation would even think of such a trip at such a place.

We did. Well, kind of.

That was when my wife and I opted for an eight-day trip to Iceland this month, February. And why would anyone travel there in this cold month? One day, when it hovered around freezing, here in Iceland, we found that even in mid-winter, temperatures one day were comparable to those in our own Las Vegas.

Please don’t misunderstand: The place where we landed, Reykjavik, Iceland, isn’t exactly Tampa or Miami; it does have periods of cold, mostly a constant drizzle. But regardless of the temperatures, we’ve yet to see the sun, except for a moment just before we landed, when the sun peeked through a cloud, thought about it for a moment, and went back into hiding.

It’s been both a challenge and an eye-opener to visit Iceland, an island the size of Ohio. The day we arrived, a fellow Icelandic Air passenger told us a version of how Iceland and Greenland got their names. Continue reading

Optic move stirs memories

Most of the boxes are packed, the furniture has been moved to our new offices, and the movers have finally gotten my hundred-pound dictionary out the door.

About all that remains is junking the unwanted equipment and finding the best place for my Pulitzer Prize. OK, so I don’t really have a hundred pound dictionary, much less a Pulitzer, sadly. The closest thing I have to that coveted award is what results when I try to make breakfast and come up with a Pullet Surprise.

As we turn the page on this chapter of the Optic’s history, I can’t help but think back to the many years I have spent at this decrepit old building, serving as everything from a paperboy to a columnist. I insult the building but I will grudgingly admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for the old place, which has housed the Optic since the dawn of time — OK so it just feels that way.

I can say definitively that we’ve been at our current location on Lincoln Avenue for more than 100 years. I respect the history that has played out here.

It’s difficult to identify too many local businesses that pre-date the Las Vegas Optic.

Founded in 1879 by Russell A. Kistler, the Optic turns 138 this year. And with its aging have come many changes. Continue reading

Where did humility go?

Pick up any news article that deals with the bestowing of some sort of honor, be it the Super Bowl championship, winning the presidency of the United States, being named a beauty queen or being appointed hallway monitor at your high school. It doesn’t matter.

What these supposed honors have in common is the choice of words the awardees use. Invariably, you’ll run across “humbled,” as in “I’m humbled to have been elected president.”

Let’s parse the word. Let’s examine its usage and examine why people have virtually reversed the meaning of the word. Let’s say somebody wins a mayoral election and says, “I’m extremely humbled to have been chosen as your mayor.” That sentence will doubtless be followed by the grandiose plans Señor or Señora Mayor wishes to put in place.

Most post-election speeches contain a smattering of plans, but before getting to the vast improvements, the audience generally needs to hear how “humbled” the winner has become. Most dictionaries define “humbled” as “marked by meekness or modesty, not arrogant or prideful.” Another alternative meaning given is “submissive respect,” as in a humble apology. Yet another alternate meaning says someone “humble” is “low in rank, quality, or station, unpretentious or lowly.” Continue reading

Having a Hillcrest moment

Yippee! We’re in the money, as the old song goes. Just minutes ago I received an email. It’s informal, starts only with “Hi” and its brief message is: “A Payment may have been sent to you.” The amount: $4,392.81. The status is marked as “Approved.”

The final sentence says, “If this email was sent to you by mistake, please ignore it.” And it ends with “Good luck.” The typed name is simply Richard L. I thank Richard for the familiarity and applaud the casual tone of somehow sending by mistake an email that promises a financial reward.

Ah, shucks! Easy come — easy go. And thanks for getting my hopes up. Thanks for symbolically ripping that check out of my cold, shaking, 77-year-old hands.

I’d grown almost to miss such missives. We have a brief history of “pie in the sky.” When my mother, Marie, was alive, she called me excitedly with the “news” that she was about to receive a check for $1,000.

Please note that a check of almost any amount, received serendipitously, would be welcome. People lived much more frugally in those days. Mom and Dad bought the house they lived and died in for $2,000. And the seller, a close relative, let them pay it off in $10 chunks, whenever they could. Continue reading