Monthly Archives: March 2015

10 Money Superstitions that Still Survive

Superstitions about money have been around for thousands of years. Here are the top 10 that still survive today.

  1. No Red Ink – In a company’s ledger books the color red is bad. It means the business is losing money.  To this day, many stores do not allow any of their workers to use red pens or pencils for anything. There is no point in tempting fate.

2.  Never have an empty cash register . Have you even been in a store or restaurant                    and seen a dollar bill glued into the bottom of the cash drawer? That is because it                  is   considered such bad luck to have an empty cash resister that many owners actually glue good money into every register.

3. Never Pick Up a Penny if it is showing “Tails” . You see a lot of pennies on the street. Take a look and see how many of them are on “tails”. To this day many people will not pick up a penny unless it is showing “heads”. If it is on “Tails”, it is the proverbial” bad penny. ” If you pick up this bad penny, it means you are picking up someone else’s bad luck.

4. Always make the first sale of the day. This is still a common belief in the garment business. If you make a successful sale to the first customer who walks through the door in the morning, you will have a good selling day. If you don’t make that first sale, the sales for that day will be awful. In the New York Garment District, you will still see people rushing through the store doors  early in the morning the second the shop opens. These customers have heard of this superstition and want to be the first customer of the day so that they can haggle with the salesperson for a low price.

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5. It is bad luck to give someone an empty wallet or purse. This id bad luck for both the giver and the receiver. That is why people still put money in a wallet or purse when they give one to someone as a gift.

6. You will have good luck with money if you find a coin with the year you were born on it.  The luck is even better if you always keep that coin once yu have found it.

7. If you find money on New Year’s day you will have good fortune with money all year long.

8. If you hide money and die without telling anyone where it is, you will walk the Earth as a Ghost until someone finds it.

9. The best time to collect debts is on a Wednesday. Even today some professional bill collectors swear Wednesday is always their best day of the week.

10 You will never be rich if you keep your paper money smooth and unwrinkled.  This is one of the few superstitions regarding paper money. However, there are still some shopkeepers today who will not put a brand new bill into the register without crumpling it a few times.

We don’t know if these superstitions really work, but you never know.  How many money superstitions can you name?

 

 

Cache – movie review by Gregory Farrell

Cache is a superb French mystery movie which came out in 2006.  It is in French with English subtitles. The movie is about a Parisian family whose very comfortable life is suddenly disturbed by the arrival of a video tape. (Yes, this was just before the days of DVDs).

Someone has filmed the outside of their apartment for an extended period of time and then sent the tape to the Laurent family. Nothing unusual happens on the tape and there is no note left with it. Still, the Laurents feel vaguely threatened knowing someone is watching them.

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Over the following days, tapes continue to arrive, and even more concerning are a series of pictures, The pictures are a child’s crayon drawings. The drawings are of a little boy with his neck slashed and blood coming out of his mouth.

The Laurent family goes to the police, but are told that there is nothing which can be done, since no violence has actually happened and there are no clues as to where the tapes are coming from.

In fact, there are clues on the tape, and the father George Laurent (played by Daniel Auteuil) knows what they mean. However,  the clues revolve around an incident in his childhood, which he hides from the police and even his wife. George decides to track down the sender of the tapes on his own, and put an end to the harassment.

We will not say too much more about the plot since we do not want to give away the mystery. It is a fascinating film, that shows some of undercurrents of French society of which most Americans are not aware.

There is a factor of racism surrounding the French Algerians who moved to Paris after the Algerian War of Independence ended in 1962.  These people are technically French citizens, but are not realty accepted as such. They are outsiders, instantly noticeable by their darker skin.

George and Anne Laurent are  part of the well-to- do intellectual elite of Paris, and have no connections with the lower class Algerians.  At least that’s what it originally appears.

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Anne Laurent is excellently played by Juliette Binoche,  who American audiences will recognize from the popular film Chocolate. Her worries about the tapes soon turn to anger as she begins to realize that her husband is hiding something from her. As an independent French woman she has no intention of just meekly following his instructions to stay out of things.

When you see this film, be sure to watch the ending credits very closely. There is some final action going on in the background which would be easy to miss  if you are not looking for it.

We hope that someone eventually does a re-make of this film based in America.  A  mystery movie with an underlying racial theme of subtle threats and violence would transition perfectly to the U.S.

We give this movie Five Stars *****

 

 

Turkey Bowling

You probably never wonder what goes on in a Supermarket after hours. That’s most likely for the best. If you knew you may never look at your food the same way again.

Like many American’s I had a summer job working in a supermarket when I was a kid.  Most of the kids working there really didn’t need the money, but our parents thought it would be a “good learning experience” for us to have a job.  They were right about it being a learning experience. Whether or not it was good, is another matter.

The supermarket would not close until late at night and that’s when all the high level managers would go home their families.  Left behind in the gigantic store were all the people with the low level jobs who still had a few hours of work left to perform. We had to re-stock the shelves, sweep the aisles, empty the trash, clean the counters.

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It was incredibly boring work,  at least it was until we  began cleaning the floor near a display containing frozen turkeys. That’s when my friend Kevin came up with an idea. He reached inside the freezer and lifted out a frozen Butterball turkey. Kevin had noticed that Butterball turkeys were packaged in a plastic net, with a convenient handle on the top to make them easy to lift.

Kevin took the turkey by the handle, swung it back like it was a bowling ball and then shot it forward  like the supermarket aisle was a lane. It turns out that the ice coating on the outside of the turkey makes an excellent lubricant and the turkey smoothly sailed down the aisle.

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Within minutes we were suddenly surrounded by everyone else working in the store that night.  They did not want to reprimand us. They wanted to get in on the fun. Cans of soup and peas were taken off the shelves and set up as bowling pins. Teams were established and bets were placed.

Regular bowling can be fun, but it cannot compare with the thrill of sliding a frozen turkey down a supermarket aisle into a mountain of canned corn while all your friends cheer.

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We turkey-bowled for about an hour, and then someone remembered the time.  We only had 30 minutes to put back the turkeys, replace the cans and clean the whole store before the General Manager of the store showed up.  He came by at the end of each night to do a final check, get everyone out of the store and set the alarm.

We scurried about frantically, working harder than we had all summer. We stocked shelves, cleaned and polished, and removed all traces of our illicit sporting event. When the manager arrived, he actually complimented us on how clean the store looked.

I always thought were were the kids who invented turkey bowling and that it was unique to my hometown of Stamford Connecticut. Then years later I happened to mention it to my wife.  She told me that as a kid  she also had a job in a supermarket in Ardsley New York. It turns out that in Ardsley they also bowled in the supermarket aisles, except that they used frozen hams not turkeys. Apparently there are regional variations to the sport.  Over the years I have found that just about everyone who worked in a supermarket as a kid had a similar story.

Of course, now days stores have so many hidden security cameras that it would be impossible to do any of this. When the manager is not around, the workers have to actually work, knowing that the “eye in the sky” is watching their every move. One of the true “learning experiences” of a summer job has disappeared forever.

I’m glad they didn’t have those security cameras when I was a kid. The job paid almost nothing, the hours were long and the work was boring.  Despite that, I still remember it as one of the best jobs of my career.  It wasn’t the job that made it great. It was the fact that we were young and surrounded by friends and still at an age where we could make even a frozen turkey and a few cans of corn into a great adventure.

The Connecticut Texan

His name is Bernard Powell and I always thought of him as a man living in the wrong State in the wrong century. He lived in Norwalk Connecticut and and commuted by train to New York every day. He made his living as a high level advertizing executive. Even as I kid, I thought that seemed totally inconsistent with who he really was.

No one ever called him Bernard. Everyone just referred to him as “Tex.” He had been born in Texas and spent most of his life there before moving to Connecticut. He was everything a kid expected a Texan to be. He was tall and muscular, with a Texas accent, and lots of hilarious stories about growing up in rural Texas.

Although he lived in Connecticut, Tex Powell had no interest in the wealthy suburbanites of modern day. His main interest in life was in the inhabitants  of Connecticut from hundreds of years before. He wanted to know everything about the American Indians who once lived there.

Unlike most people, Tex was not satisfied with just reading about them in books.  What he wanted to know about them was still there, just underneath our feet. There was a building boom going on in Connecticut back then. The Baby Boom and created a demand for houses and schools and hospitals.

A lot of people saw all this construction as a chance to make money.  Tex, on the other hand, saw it as a chance of a lifetime to explore the past. He soon became a fixture at construction digs all over the State.  He came away with arrowheads,  pottery, and even bones of the original Native Americans.

You might think that construction crews would get annoyed at this, but Tex charmed them with his stories and jokes and somehow Tex could get even the toughest construction foreman to let him onto a site with his archeological kit.

But Tex didn’t just want relics. He was out to prove something. He was out to show people that the East Coast Native Americans were much more civilized, complex and modern than people had previously believed.

His great moment came when he found an ancient skull. It was not just any skull. It was one that proved that Native Americans had actually practiced a form of emergency brain surgery.

Tex had found an ancient Indian  burial mound on what was soon to be a foundation for a school. This was long before the days of preservation laws, so if Tex Powell had not saved the bones and relics they would have simply been tossed in the garbage like so much construction debris.

Tex carefully examined the bones and in particular the skulls to try to determine as much as he could about who these people had been.  Then one skull in particular caught his eye. It looked like a precise circular hole had been drilled in the hard bone  about the size of a 50 cent piece. There there was much thinner bone filling in that hole.

Tex was an advertising exec not a doctor, so he was not sure what it meant. However, Tex was curious enough to bring it to the hospital and show it to some of the doctors.  The chief of neurology took a particular interest.  The doctor said that when a person suffers a severe blow to the head, the main problem in swelling of the brain. In extreme cases, surgeons must drill a hole in the skull to relieve the pressure. If this is not done the patient will die.  Eventually the swelling then goes down and the skull bone slowly grows back, with the new bone being thinner than the original skull.

Tex’s find had proved that Native American medicine was quite advanced. This was the skull of someone who had undergone severe head trauma and been operated on. The instruments were not metal, and there were no X-Rays, but somehow the Native American surgeons had performed a life-saving operation similar to what a brain surgeon would do today.

I remember Tex Powell passing around the skull and letting people carefully examine it, while he described the details of the operation. What I remember most, however, is how upset Mr. Powell’s young son Travis got. Travis wanted to know what the name of the Indian was.  When Tex said there was no way to know Travis started to cry. He was very upset that we would never know who this man had been, or even what his name was.

I have always loved archeology, but never felt quite the same about it after little Travis’ comments.  The little boy saw it all much more clearly than any of the adults. Travis realized that these has been real people with real lives, not matter how long ago it had been.

When I drive the Merritt Parkway and look deep into the woods,  I often think of the thousands and thousands of Native Americans who lived in Connecticut many hundreds of years ago. Buried under the soil are their bones and pottery and arrowheads – And their names.

 

 

Mr. Yang and the Electrical Banana

It’s funny how an old song can transport you back through decades as effectively as any Time Machine. Yesterday I was cruising down the highway when Mellow Yellow by Donovan Leitch came on blasting through my car radio. Suddenly I was back at King School in Stamford Connecticut in Mr. Yang’s Algebra class.

Mr. Yang was a teacher we all thought was hilarious. He had moved from Taiwan to the U.S. and still had a very thick Chinese accent. He told us he had served in the United States Army which was  something none of us believed for a second. For one thing, he was only about 5 feet tall. He was also thin as a rail. The boys would laugh openly when Mr. Yang told us of  his “adventures” in Army life.

Looking back on it, I realize that Mr. Yang was actually a great teacher. He made the dreaded Algebra class fun. He didn’t care what was making the kids laugh. What he liked was that they were associating coming to math class with having fun.   You see,  once he had gotten the kid’s attention with stories and jokes he started teaching them Algebra.

Mr. Yang loved his new country of America.  He desperately wanted to be a “cool guy” so he listened to all the same radio stations as  the kids did and tired to learn all the songs and their meanings.  Having a mathematical mind, he just naturally assumed that each song must have a meaning.

Unfortunately the songwriter that Mr. Yang liked the most was Donovan Leitch. Now Donovan’s songs are great and are wonderful to listen to, but do the words really make any sense? All I know is that Mellow Yellow came out in 1966, and I still have no idea what it’s about.

One day Mr. Yang came to class very excited. He had heard Mellow Yellow for the first time on his way into school and it drove him crazy that he could not understand its meaning.

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“What does Electrical Banana mean boys? What’s it mean?” Mr. Yang kept asking us.

Of course  we had no idea either, except that as kids we were sure that the phrase “Electrical Banana” must have some sort of sexual connotation. We all thought it was hilarious that the naive Mr. Yang was too innocent to get the sexual reference.

Mr. Yang  next tried to decipher Season of the Witch with no more success than he had with Mellow Yellow.  Finally he  moved on to trying to figure out the calculation of the correct Star Dates in Star Trek. Somehow, while all this was going on, all us kids learned Algebra without actually realizing we were doing so.

There are several Epilogue notes to the story, which happened long after I graduated from King. The first is that Mr. Yang went back to school himself and earned a PhD in mathematics. The second is that when I got older I looked up some records, and found out that Mr. Yang actually was in the United States Army. Apparently the Army wants small guys with great technical and math skills just as much as it wants big strong guys.

Finally, decades later,  Jeff Donaugh,  one of the guys from our class actually ended up meeting Donovan Leitch in a coffee house in London. He found Donovan very approachable and finally Jeff had the nerve to ask him what Mellow Yellow was about.

Donovan looked him directly in the eye and said, “It’s all there in the song man. All you have to do is listen.”

I just know that somewhere in America Doctor Yang is still trying to figure it out.

 

 

Chappie – movie review

Chappie is a movie about a robot that becomes self-aware and therefore “alive”. This is a common theme in science fiction (just think of Skynet in Terminator). In fact, the literary  theme of an inanimate object  becoming alive has excited even before the genre of science fiction. After all, Pinocchio was one such object.

Despite the fact that the basic concept has been used many times, Chappie is a movie worth seeing since it is so excellently done. Every member of the cast performs wonderfully, and the action sequences are exciting.

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However, the reason we liked this film so much was not for the action, but for the character development.  It takes place in South Africa, where the police force is using robot police officers to patrol the dangerous neighborhoods. The engineer who created these robots (played by Devon Patel) believes they are capable of much more.

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Devon takes a discarded robot and installs  it with  true artificial intelligence. However, his plans go awry when he is kidnapped by a group of criminals who want to use the robot to help them commit crimes.

The most interesting characters in the film are the members of the criminal gang, who are all played by South African actors unfamiliar to most American Audiences.  We were particularly impressed with Yolandi Visser, who the robot thinks is its “mommie”. Since the robot’s mind is brand new, it has the characteristics of a child, despite its great strength and intelligence.  Although she has a tough exterior, Yolandi cannot help but return Chappie’s love. In fact, she is the one who give the robot its name.

What makes her performance even more impressive  is the fact that she is not actually an actor. Yolandi Visser is the lead vocalist for a South African rap group called Die Antwoed.

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Chappie also picks a “daddy”, from the gang, who is played by Watkin Tudor Jones. He wants to teach Chappie about fighting. He wants to turn Chappie into a real gangster to help the gang. At the same time,  “daddy” is more complex than he originally appears.  He wants Chappie to understand why it is necessary to know how to fight. He shows Chappie the brutal realities of the word and what happens to creatures that don’t know how to protect themselves.

The movie also has Sigorney Weaver as the head of the company that makes the police robots, and Hugh Jackman as a somewhat crazy engineer, who is willing to sabotage the company to get his own project funded. As always, these two veteran actors put in stellar performances.

The trailer for this movie does not really get across how good a film it is. We definitely recommend Chappie.

We give this film Four Stars ****

 

 

The Boys In The Boat – book review

The Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown is the true story of nine young men from the University of Washington and their struggle to qualify for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The boys are the Crew in the sport of rowing.

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I have to admit that I knew nothing about this sport before I read this fascinating book. the first thing I learned was that in the 1920s & 1930s this was an immensely popular sport, with thousands of people attending the races. It was far more popular in America than football, and almost as popular as baseball.

The premier even in the sport of rowing is the 9 man shell. This is a long thin delicate vessel rowed by 8 large men and guided by 1 small man. Anyone who reads this book will come away with immense respect for the athletes who choose this incredibly demanding sport.

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The one thing I thought about the sport turned out to be wrong. The small man in the boat is the coxswain. I always thought he must have it easy; just sitting there shouting “row-row” while the big men did all the work.

It turns out that the coxswain is, in effect,  the captain of the boat and in many ways responsible for the win or loss. The coxswain has to set the pace and there is a complex strategy to a race.   Setting a fast pace early in the race can put your boat in the lead temporarily, but the men might burn out early and end up losing the race. However, if you hold back to save the rowers strength you could find yourself not being able to catch up to the other boats later on.  All of these decisions fall on the small shoulders of the coxswain, who usually weighs only  about 120 pounds.

In addition to their grueling athletic training, these Washington University students had immense challenges to face in their personal lives.  This was the middle of the Great Depression, and none of these boys came from wealthy families. They had to work outside jobs during school and all summer long just to be able to afford to go to college. Some of them even had trouble getting enough to eat. And given their athletic training, these boys had to eat a lot.

They were not getting athletic scholarships, and they got no under the table payments for anything. In addition they were true students taking difficult courses in Engineering, pre-Law.  and pre-Med. There were no free rides for any of them.

So why did they do it? After all, despite the popularity of the sport, there was no professional version of it. The top ranking members of college crew could not “turn pro” after their college careers. They did this to test them selves and to strive to be the best in the World at a sport as an end in itself. The sense of discipline and teamwork and pride were things that lasted for these boys throughout their entire lives.

At the same time the boys in Washington State were preparing, there was another group preparing in Germany. Hitler was planning to produce the greatest Olympics the World had seen. However, his goal had nothing to do with sportsmanship.  Hitler and the Nazi Party were going to use the Olympics as a stage from which they could fool the World into believing that Nazi Germany was not such a bad place after all.

This is a beautifully written and well documented book, which I highly recommend. The author lets us get to know each of the athletes and coaches personally. At the same time he adds many facts about that time period which were new to me. For example one of the impacts of the Great Depression was that there were large packs of wild dogs.

As people moved away from failing farms and businesses they often left their dogs behind. The people could barely find enough food for themselves, much less a dog.  The dogs left behind began to revert to the wild and joined up in packs to survive. It is touches like that, which make a reader realize that very few of us in modern America can truly understand just how bad things were in those days.

Despite the physical strain of the sport, the boys in the boat come to develop an almost Zen type of peacefulness when they finally begin to row in perfect unison as one entity. The boat is their escape from the Depression,  their family troubles, and their academic pressures. There were times when all of them wished they could just stay in the sanctuary of the boat forever.

 

 

Killing the Kardashians

Edward Graybill woke up, cooked himself a hearty breakfast, and then sat down to work on his plan to kill the Kardashians.  Edward’s life had been revitalized from the moment he decided to kill them.

Ever since Edward had been forced into retirement he had seen no purpose to his life. His wife had died less than a year earlier, when he had been too busy with work to even spend much time with her in the hospital. There was always one more project to finish. One more deadline to meet.

Edward had planned on visiting Nancy in the hospital every day after work, but often by the time he finished for the day, visiting hours were over. Nancy had been so understanding and sweet whenever he missed a day. Then suddenly, Nancy was gone. Edward went to the hospital one day after work and Nancy’s hospital room was empty. it took him 15 minutes to find someone who could tell him what had happened. It turned out that she had a sudden seizure just about the time he was driving from work to the hospital. The doctor who explained the details to Edward was a tiny redhead who looked like she was about 14 years old. The doctor tried to be comforting, but to Edward it all seemed like some sort of slow motion dream.

Two weeks after Nancy died, the company Edward worked for was bought in a hostile takeover. All the senior engineers like Edward were forced into early retirement.  Edward found himself with nothing to do. He tried looking for work, but apparently there were a lot of engineers out of work.  He found himself competing with people who were younger, had more degrees, more computer training and a hell of a lot more energy than Edward did.

For the first time in his life,  he found himself with nothing to do. Nothing at all. He found himself watching a lot of daytime T.V., and could not believe how much crap was on. He began to feel connected to the people on the television, but not in a good way. He began to hate them.

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The reality shows bothered Edward the most. The people on them were self-centered morons who lead meaningless lives of luxury and fame. Edward hated the fact that those people were alive while his wonderful Nancy was dead.

It never occurred to Edward that he might need psychiatric help.  He had no family or friends to point him to a grief counselor. The precision of working on an engineering problem had always been his refuge from stress, and now even that was gone.

Edward started sleeping more and more, not shaving and not even bothering to shower.  Then one day he had an Epiphany. He was going to do something to help all of America. He was going to rid the country of the worst of the reality show scum.

He was going to kill the Kardashians.

From the moment he made that decision Edward’s life was back on track. He started taking care of himself physically. He showered and shaved every day, ate regular meals and felt a new purpose.

He began planning the kill with the precision and attention to detail with which he had worked on all his engineering projects throughout his career. He broke it down in specific steps.

  1. What Weapon to use
  2. How to get close enough to the Kardashians to eliminate them.
  3. How to get away.

Edward had no intention of getting caught. Any moron could eliminate people if getting caught did not matter. It took a precise plan to achieve the objective and move on without notice.

In his own mind Edward tried avoiding using words like “murder” or “kill”. He tended to think in terms of “eliminate” or even a television term like “cancel.” He did not really think of any of the Kardashians as real.

Which Kardashian to Kill?

As soon as he starting thinking seriously about the weapon he realized there was a problem, which would mean a major change in objective.  The only way to to eliminate all the Kardashian’s at once would be a bomb or an automatic weapon, and that would mean a lot of innocent people getting killed.

Edward made a decision. He was going to have to pick just 1 Kardashian to kill.  He made a list of them and one by one scratched off names. The first one he scratched off the list was Kanye West. Edward decided Kanye should live. After all, Kanye was the only one with an actual talent and a real job. He also was not evena real Kardashian.

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Bruce Jenner also got to live. Edward could not bring himself to hate Bruce. The feeling for Bruce was just one of immense pity. A manly gold medal Olympian who had been so ruined by the Kardashians that he wanted to become a woman. Just sad. Really sad.

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Edward narrowed down his death choice list to Kim or her mother Kris. After all, the rest of the family were really just bit players in their strange lives.  Now the obvious choice was to kill Kim Kardashian. Edward was reminded every day just how much he hated her.  It was impossible to turn on a T.V. or browse the internet for more than five minutes without seeing her fat ass stuffed into some dress like it was a sausage casing.

But in the end, Edward decided that the mother Kris Kardashian must be the one to die. After all, it was Kris who had turned the rest of them into what they were. It was Kris who had ruined Bruce Jenner, and made a mockery of American family life. It was Kris Kardashian the world would be better off without.

Getting the Weapon

The next step was to get a deadly weapon which could not be traced back to Edward, and which could get past security.   This turned out to be Edward’s favorite part of the whole project.  Instead of taking the chance of buying a weapon which could be traced back to him, Edward decided to make one himself.

Edward purchased a top of the line 3D printer. It was an amazing device. It hooked to a computer, and could make objects out of very hard plastic as long as you programmed the correct dimensions into the computer.

For about 2 weeks Edward practiced making small gears and sprockets. Then he began designing a fully functional .22 caliber Derringer made out of hard plastic. In less than a month, his keen engineer’s mind had produced a weapon that was every airport security chief’s worst nightmare. He had made a fully functional gun that was completely invisible to a metal detector.

The bullets were no problem. In his basement there were still a couple of duct covered boxes of .22 caliber bullets left over from when his dad had taken him squirrel hunting many decades ago. Even though his dad was now dead, Edward had just never been able to bring himself to through out any mementos of the precious few times his father had spent any time with him.

Edward figured that getting 1 bullet though security could be done, with some ingenuity. It took him another few weeks, but finally he fashioned an expensive looking ball point pen, with the bullet fitting into the top.  He would put the pen in the basket by the metal security detector along with his keys and coins.  It woud be taking a chance, but he doubted most security people would be able to spot it. The plastic gun he would put in his suit jacket pocket , wrapped in a handkerchief.

Then Edward made his first full-scale test. He bought a round trip ticket from Newark to Washington D.C.  He went to the airport carrying his gun and bullet, and went on a weekend trip to the nation’s capital.

By the time Edward returned home on Sunday he could not have been happier. He had successfully made it though airport security and had even visited a total of 5 Washington museums with strict security.  He had never even been questioned.  Edward figured his success was due to a combination of his cleverly designed weapon, and reverse racial profiling. Security simply did not care about an old white man with grey hair, dressed in slacks and a sports jacket. He was just not dangerous.

Where to Kill Kris Kardashian?

The final phase of the plan was tricky and was going to cost some money. However, money was something that Edward quite unexpected found himself with quite a bit of.  It turned out that his wife Nancy had a very large life insurance polity through her work of which Edward was the sole beneficiary.

He was stunned when the insurance company called him.  He was to receive over half a million dollars tax free. He got no joy from the money. It just  made him very sad that he and Nancy had never had any children who he could pass the money on to.  He felt incredibly guilty about benefiting financially from his beloved Nancy’s death.

Unfortunately, in his somewhat psychotic state,  Edward  also started thinking about how suddenly being rich could get him close to Kris Kardashian.  Close enough to use his home-made gun.

Less that a month later, Edward got his chance, and he didn’t even have to fly to California. The Kardashians were hosting a charity fund raising event for the Wounded Warriors foundation, right in New York City.  Edward sent in a $15,000 donation. A few days later her received ticket for the event, plus a hand-written note from Kris Kardashian saying she was looking forward to meeting him personally at the dinner.

Edward was filled with excitement as he rehearsed in his mind the final steps of his plan. He would arrive at the party early and carry the gun in his right hand suit pocket wrapped in a handkerchief. Once through the metal detector, he would go to the men’s room, take the bullet out of the pen and load the gun.  Then he would look for his chance to get close to Kris Kardashian.  He had watched Kadashian group events on T.V., and he calculated that the best time to assassinate Kris was then Kim Kardashian made an entrance.

Kris always arrived first to set things up and stage-manage the show. Once the room was really full and everyone had had a few drinks, Kim would show up wearing a scandalously skimpy outfit and make a grand entrance.

All eyes would be on Kim, including the security guys. That’s  when Edward would casually walk up behind Kris and shoot her in the back of the skull with the .22 caliber Derringer. The crowd inside and on the street would be making so much noise at the arrival of Kim Kardashian, that no one would even hear the gun go off.  Then Edward would move away into the crowd and out a back exit as the body of Kris Kardashian fell to the floor.  With the right luck, Edward could be outside and on his way home before security even realized she was dead.

Moving in For the Kill

The event was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  When Edward arrived, he realized that his that all his time designing a plastic gun had been a waste. All he had to do was show his ticket and he was let in immediately.

The reason for the lack of metal detectors was obvious all around him. The room was filled not only with celebrities and political figures, but also with a large number of wounded soldiers. Many of them has prosthetic limbs or wheelchairs.  Someone had obviously made the decision that having the metal detector constantly being triggered by the prosthetic devices of injured heroes would not be good publicity for the charity.  Edward could have put a regular metal handgun in his pocket and gotten right in.

Still, Edward followed his original plan. He found an empty stall in the men’s room, and disassembled his pen. Then he removed the bullet from the pen and loaded his plastic gun. He  carefully wrapped the gun in a handkerchief and put it the right pocket of his suit jacket.

There were just two more steps left. Finding Kris Kardashian, and shooting her in the back of the head.

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The room was packed and waiters circulated with wine and plates filled with tiny delicacies.   Edward took wine and food, since he did not want to draw suspicion to himself. Then he realized he was standing completely alone, and realized that this also might draw the attention of Security. There may be no metal detectors, but there were a number of very large muscular men wearing identical blue blazers, watching over the crowd. These guys were obviously security and were looking for anything out of the ordinary.  A man at a party who stood alone and  did not speak to anyone was definitely out of the ordinary. Edward decided to make an attempt to blend in.

Edward spotted a young soldier and his very attractive wife standing near a mummy exhibit. Edward decided to speak to them until the Kardashians showed up. Edward walked over and said,

“Hello. Excellent turn-out tonight isn’t it?”

The young couple seemed startled that anyone had spoken to them.

“Yes it is,” answered the man, who was in the uniform of an Army Lieutenant.

The woman did not say anything, but up close Edward could see that she was quite beautiful. She had on a long white evening gown, and had come sort of large shawl draped over her shoulders. There was something strangely familiar about this young woman. He realized hat her light grey eyes were very similar to the way Nancy’s had looked when she was was a young.

Edward looked around the room but still did not see any type of Kardashian. He was beginning to worry that his target might not show up at all. Edward decided to make another attempt at conversation.

“So have you two been married long? I bet you are glad to have your husband safe from the war. It’s great of the two of you to support the Wounded Warriors. I think your husband is a real hero for serving out country.” Edward stopped talking, when  he realized he was babbling. It occurred to him  that he had not had a real conversation with anyone sine his wife Nancy had died.

“Julie here is the hero, not me. By the way we are not married, just friends,” said the young Lieutenant.

The woman blushed and said, “Stop it John. You’re embarrassing me.”

That’s when everything happened at once. Edward felt a light hand on his shoulder and as he turned he was looking directly at the face of Kris Kardashian. “I see you have met our guest of honor”, Kris said to Edward. “There is talk that Private Julie Nelson here might get the Medal of Honor for her bravery in Iraq.”

“That’s idiotic,” replied Julie, very  annoyed. “I did not do anything brave. I just got blown up. That’s it.”

“Well you are a hero to me” said Kris, who moved over and gave Julie a big hug. As she did so, the shawl slipped off Julie’s shoulders, and Edward saw she was missing her right arm below the elbow. In its place was a very bulky looking prosthetic arm.

Edward instinctively bent down to the floor to retrieve the shawl. When he did so he could see that Julie also had some type of metal right leg, of which a small portion could be seen at the bottom of her evening gown. Whatever explosive had hit her had done tremendous damage.

Edward went to hand the shawl to the young woman, but by the time he stood up, she had hurried off quickly to the interior of the museum to  hide behind some of the museum’s exhibits.  This left John and Edward standing awkwardly with Kris Kardashian.

“I’d better go check on her,” said John and he ran off in the direction of Julie.

This left Edward completely alone with Kris Kardashian. He patted the side of his jacked and felt the outline of the gun. Then Kris looked him directly in the eye and said,

“It’s the survivor’s guilt that makes you want to lash out at other people. The fact that you survived and someone close to you died and you could not stop it.”

Edward felt a shiver run through him. It was like she had looked directly into his soul and knew what he was doing there. All he could manage was to stammer out was “Wha-What do you mean?”

“Julie feels survivor’s guilt that she is alive and all the other soldiers in the Humvee died. That’s why she lashes at at people now. The Army doctor’s all say that’s what she is going through.”

Suddenly there was a huge roar in the crowd as Kim Kardashian and Kayne West walked through the front entrance.  As Edward had predicted, everyone in the room turned to look at Kim and Kayne. In addition every security man in the room moved towards, the entrance.

Kris Kardashian turned to look at her daughter, and  now had her back to Edward. All he had to do was to pull out the little gun, put it to the back of her skull and pull the trigger.

Instead, Edward turned and walked into the depths of the museum. He had to search through a lot of exhibits until he found Julie. It is a huge museum.  He finally found Julie sitting alone on top of an ancient Egyptian stone casket like it was a bench.  Lieutenant John had either not found her, or she had sent him away.

Edward held out the shawl to Julie and said, “I brought you your wrap.”

“She took it and gave him a meek smile.  “I don’t really need it. I was just using it to cover this ugly prosthetic arm. I suppose Mrs Kardashian-Jenner was giving you an earful about all my psychological problems.  She just loves to play doctor. I know she raises a lot of money for wounded vets, but I feel like an animal on display at this thing. Everyone wants to look at the one-armed, one leg soldier girl. That’s all anyone notices about me.”

Then Edward climbed up on the casket and sat next to Julie. “I don’t think anyone feels that way at all. Not at all, said Edward very gently. What I noticed first about you was your eyes. They reminded  me of the first think I noticed about my wife when I met her so many years ago.”

“She has passed away hasn’t she” said Julie sweetly.

“Yes. Yes she died alone in a hospital. I wasn’t there because I worked late to balance some budget figures. Instead of being with my wife, I was entering numbers into a God-damned calculator.”

“I was supposed to be driving the Humvee,” said Julie. “I was supposed to drive but I was really tired that day. There was a new guy who had never driven one before and I let him drive so I could take a nap while he drove. He was excited about driving. I let myself be a passenger and the next thing I knew the bomb went off and the Humvee exploded. Everyone in it was killed but me.  If I had been driving it would not have happened.”

“It would have happened anyway,” said Edward.

“No. I had experience. I would have seen the bump in the road and known it was a buried explosive device.  I would have stopped and turned around. The new guy just drove right over it, like it was just a pothole on the Jersey Turnpike. They are all dead because I was too lazy to do my job. By the way, you are the first person, I ever told this to.” Julie finished speaking and tears rolled silently down her cheeks.

Edward had not been able to help his wife in the hospital but maybe now  he could help this girl. He decided she did not need someone to talk to her. She just needed someone to be there for her. The way he should have been with Nancy in the hospital.

Julie and Edward sat in that out of the way spot for the rest of the party. Edward did not try to speak or offer any great advise about how to handle her grief. They just sat there on the cool marble of the ancient Egyptian casket in the darkest part of the museaum.

Julie felt  great sense of relief sitting next to Edward. He was the first person she had met in a long time who did not try to give her advice on how to cope with things.  Somehow he seemed to know that some things you just can’t make go away. Some types of pain can’t be talked away and have to just slowly erode away with time.

The party ended, but before it did Julie and Edward exchanged e-mail addresses. Julie left with her Army Lieutenant escorting her. The Lieutenant had been frantically searching for Julie and was happier to be reunited with her.

Edward made his way  back to his empty house. He went to the basement, unloaded the plastic gun and then took a hammer and smashed it to tiny pieces. He felt like his life had been a strange dream since his wife had died, and now he had suddenly woken up.

The next morning, Edward Graybill woke up, made a hearty breakfast and went to work on his new plan. He was going to use his Engineering skills and 3D printing ability to design and make distinctly feminine prosthetic devices for wounded  female veterans and accident victims.

Julie and Edward continued to keep in touch. She was excited about Edward’s new project and helped him every step of the way with advice and encouragement.

The following year, Private Julie Nelson and Lieutenant  John McNeil were married.  Julie’s father had passed away years ago, so she asked Edward to walk her down the aisle.  In addition to her white gown the bride wore a prosthetic arm that Edward had designed and made. It was light and slim and matched her skin tone perfectly.

As they entered the church Julie said to Edward. “The publicity agent for the Kardashians called me last week. He said they wanted to all come to the wedding and make it a big media event. He was very  angry when I told him ‘No’. You know, there are times I could just kill all those Kardashians.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edward, as he smiled warmly at the beautiful bride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baby Deer at Window

If we think the winter has been tough on us imagine how it is for the animals who live outside.

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There are two feet of snow on the ground and it is 15 degrees.  How do the deer survive? As we sat in our dining room we got the sensation that we were being watched.  It turned out that there is a baby deer who decided to take shelter from the weather by making a home for herself under the bushes right next to the house.

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She is not at all afraid of us. Notice how thick her fur has become to protect her this year. She is content to look directly in at us as if we are creatures in a zoo for her to examine.

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Next week the weather is supposed to finally change and be almost fifty degrees. We know of one little hungry animal who will be very happy to see grass again.

 

 

One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich – book review

As the coldest Winter in 100 years continues in most of North America,  now is a good time to read One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It is the story of a man in a Siberian prison camp when the Soviet Union was ruled by Joseph Stalin. Our current American weather seems like a warm spring day compared to a winter in Siberia.

This is a very short, easy to read and fascinating book. It is supposedly a work of fiction, but the author himself was in a Siberian prison camp from 1945-1953, so it is really autobiographical.

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The Siberian prisons were work camps and the prisoners were forced labor. Stalin wanted to build up Siberia, which, despite the harsh climate,  is full of natural resources. The prisoners in this book are working on building a hospital. Ivan and his crew have to work outside in sub-zero temperatures to build the outer cement block wall. Ivan is the foreman of the crew.

Despite the subject matter of the book, it is actually hopeful and inspiring rather than depressing.  Ivan and his men build a good wall, which is strong and straight and well put together. They do this not to impress the guards, or because they are afraid. They build well because they have pride in their work and in their own toughness. The book shows how men can still have dignity even in the most dire of circumstances.

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The details of life in the prison camp are also fascinating. For example, the guards themselves are almost prisoners.  No one got assigned to be a guard in Siberia unless he had angered some superior officer, or else make some political mistake.

It turns out that prisoners could also receive gifts that friends or relatives would send to them. If you were lucky some friend might send you some sausage or other food. The unwritten rules about receiving the gifts were very simple. Theoretically any gift was all yours, but you actually only got to keep 1/3 of it.  If you got a package of food, you would give 1/3 to the guards, 1/3 to the “voy” and keep 1/3 for yourself.

The voy were the criminal bosses in the prisons. There wee two types of prisoners – political and criminal.  The career criminals were naturally much tougher and more dangerous than the political prisoners, so it was important to pay respect to them.

This book was first published in 1962 when Nikita Khrushchev was in charge of the Soviet Union and Stalin was dead. Khrushchev decided to lift the restriction on censorship and allow authors to publish without government oversight. One Day In The Live Of Ivan Denisovich quickly became a sensation in the Soviet Union and throughout the world.

People had known of prison campn in Siberia, but this was the first time anyone had actual detailed exactly what they were like.  People in the Soviet Union were astonished to see in writing things that they did not dare whisper about when Stalin was alive.

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Khrushchev’s flirtation with artistic freedom did not last long. One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich was more than had been expected. The  government began gradually putting censorship back into place. By 1970 the censorship was reinstalled to the point where Solzhenitsyn could no longer publish in the Soviet Union. He had to have manuscripts of future books smuggled out to be published in the west.  Of course, in the long run, Solzhenitsyn’s  books ended up outlasting the Soviet Union.

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So on this cold winter day, I recommend that you read this little book about one man’s day during a Siberian Winter. It may warm your heart to know that even in the bleakest of times, there is a spark of pride and freedom than can keep a person warm.