A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

My Photo
Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Trouble in the Old Neighborhood

My old neighborhood, Frankford, has been in the news every day for a week. A week ago today Amtrak Train #188 derailed as it rounded the curve at a place called Frankford Junction. It was the worst train accident for the railroad in years, but the casualty count didn’t come near the death toll of an earlier wreck in the same area.

The earlier calamity happened in September 1943. The Congressional Limited was packed with service men and women eager to get to their destinations - home on leave or back to their base after leave - for the Labor Day holiday, and the Limited was known for its speed. Demand for the train was high, prompting the Pennsylvania Railroad to add more cars for the day’s run. 
The carriages were heavily used transporting service personnel and civilians during wartime. This may have been a factor when an overheated journal box cased an axle to break on one of the cars as it neared the Junction. One car was upended and slammed into the overheard gantry. The next car was wrapped around one of the gantry’s supporting pillars. The death toll ultimately reached 79 with 117 injured.

My mother lived with her family on East Wingohocking Street at the time. Aunt Vera, then a young adult working in Center City, called home to warn her mother not to let any of the other siblings (six in all) near the crash site. Her younger sister Mary - arguably the most adventuresome of the entire family - didn’t listen. She put on her roller skates and skated to the junction.

Many years later, both sisters recounted their sides of the same story. Aunt Vera asked Aunt Mary what she saw. The younger sister said she saw bodies being piled up on fire trucks. Many of the bodies were decapitated.

Apologies to anyone reading this while they are eating their breakfast…

Since the latest crash, Amtrak has already repaired the track at the junction and put a safety device in place that it was planning to install by the end of the year. The media and pundits have dwelt on the idea that the accident would not have happened if the device - which detects and warns the engineer that the train is traveling too fast - had been installed sooner. Both Amtrak and the National Transportation Safety Board have been pointing fingers at each other during the last week over who was to blame for not installing the device before the crash.

Actually both agencies are at the mercy of Congress, speaking of train wrecks. Congress mandated (and presumably approved funding) that these devices should be installed by the end of 2015. Some of the other railroads have balked at the timetable, claiming that they do not have the money to meet the deadline. The business sympathetic Congress has floated a few resolutions to extend the deadline as much as five more years!

Coincidence was strained the day after the current derailment when Congress debated Amtrak funding for the year. It was expected that the Republican majority would slash funding for the railroad. They did not disappoint anyone. A resolution was put forth from the other side of the aisle to increase funding. This motion was defeated and - no surprise here - along party lines. It might have been more prudent to postpone the hearing, debates, and voting until after the accident scene was cleared and cooler heads could have prevailed.

A postponement would have spared the Democrats from accusations from the right wing media of using the accident to score political points in the name of infrastructure improvement. The other party (guess who) would not have been perceived as a group of miserly grinches who care more about saving a billion or two billion bucks than the cost of human lives. 

But we all know what happened. A postponement did not happen, cooler heads did not prevail and things got ugly as usual.

Whether or not the ultimate cause of the crash is determined to be human or mechanical error, it should not deter us from investing more in our national crumbling infrastructure. Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell addressed his concern in a Philadelphia Inquirer column by Michael Smerconish over the weekend. He pointed out that the United States is lagging behind other countries in maintaining our roads, bridges, railroads, shipping, and so forth. Rendell used China’s high speed trains as an example of how they are now leading the world in funding their transportation system.  Rendell concluded by reminding us that we as a nation are behind countries like Malaysia in keeping up our roads and bridges.

Malaysia! WTF!

Go ahead, Congress, ignore our infrastructure while we wait for the next train wreck to happen.

(Thank you for reading. I repeat, “Malaysia. WTF!”)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Good News and Better News

I had my second cataract surgery this past week and (good news) I now have 20/20 vision again.

Even greater news, I had my second cataract surgery this past week and nobody died. Okay, this may seem like I’m relating two unrelated events, but please recall what happened last month when I had my first cataract surgery. I came home from the surgery center to find a message from my brother that Mom had passed away that morning. This time, I received no news that any one I knew died on the day of my second surgery, so yay! I’ll take any victory that I can get at this point.

This week everything is blossoming. Our Bradford Pear tree has white snowy branches, the forsythia has golden yellow limbs, and the weeping cherry has bloomed with purple and lavender twiny strings hanging down in flaccid fashion.

(Tee-hee!  I said “flaccid.”)

I’m also very happy with the progress of my newly planted rhododendron, as Warrior Queen reported on her blog. I am trying to populate the back yard with flora that reminds me of plants my mother had in our yard while I was growing up, and yet not tempt the local deer population to gorge on my landscaping. Sadly, I made a miscalculation when I brought the rhododendron home.  

I googled this species of plant and found that deer do not avoid the rhodo.  Nay, in fact they look upon it as a feast. Sure enough, I googled further and found that one of these critters was enterprising enough to land a rhododendron cookbook on the The New York Times best sellers list (“101 Rhodo Recipes” by Bambi).* Naturally, I did not make this discovery until AFTER I planted my new $30 dollar garden investment in the ground.

Previously I thought I had read somewhere on the Internet (where everything is right, don’t you know) that deer don’t like rhododendrons. Or maybe I got my rhodos mixed up with another species of plant like daffodils.
Okay, okay, I know that it is a bit of stretch to confuse a rhododendron with daffodils, but please keep in mind: my 20/20 vision was not restored until this week.

And of course the rhodo plant will be the main entrée after the deer feast on the hosta salad bar.**  Hosta is another species I fondly remember bordering the postage stamp size garden of our Northeast Philadelphia row house. I have planted four or five around the base of our weeping cherry. Fortunately, I’m spraying both rhodo and hosta with a deer repellant, and so far, so good.

And hey, while I’m depriving the local deer population of a hearty meal, I might as well do my part to piss off the local squirrels too. In the 15 years we have lived here, we’ve filled a bird feeder near the living room window, solely so the local bird population can entertain our cats while they fill their tummies. 

Unfortunately, the birds are joined by the squirrels and deer (remember them?). This depletes a normal two week supply of bird seed in a matter of days. The aforementioned deer repellant has discouraged the deer not to suck and/or otherwise lick the seed out of the tiny feeder holes, but the squirrels proved more difficult.

I recently purchased a squirrel baffle for the base of our bird feeder. For those not familiar with this device, it is simply nothing more than a sheet metal hood fashioned in such a way that the squirrels climb up the pole or post and, instead of reaching around to grasp a paw full of seed within reach, they have to figure out how to climb upside down to the edge of the hood, then climb up the top of the hood. So far, they have not thought this through.

They could develop tiny suction cups on their paws and feet, or order two pairs of Acme brand suction cups on Amazon, but so far they haven’t been able to make either one of these choices. They also haven’t resorted to a third choice: hire a squirrel lawyer to issue a cease and desist order to me to remove the baffle.***

So, with any luck this spring, I’ll have great looking plants and grumpy wildlife in my backyard. I can live with that!

* Who knew that Bambi was so in touch with his doe side to write a cook book? And I always thought he was so…so stag!

** And, no, I’m not putting out croutons!

*** This begs the question: how does one tell the regular squirrels from the lawyer squirrels? Easy! The lawyer squirrels are the ones wearing fluorescent striped bow ties!

(Thank you for reading. Next week in this space: a review of Bambi’s latest New York Times best seller, “Humping Does!” Now that’s more like it!)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Warrior Queen – Ant Killer, or Springtime in Southeast Pennsylvania

The moderating temperatures have finally caught up with the calendar and we can now say that spring is here.

(Wow! Now there’s an opening worthy of Fox News meteorologist John Bolaris.  Maybe we should try a different angle…)

Spring! Wonderful spring! Buds popping everywhere heralding the coming blossoms and pollen and allergies and…

(And allergies are going to be a bitch this year. Let’s try another tact!)

Hi Spring!

(Close enough for Monday morning blogging.)

The first Easter without Mom passed without too many pangs of grief. The sight of Easter lilies marked down for final sale at the grocery store last week reminded me of my Easter tradition. I would always bring a lily to Mom, one with a blossom already opened, and four or five other buds which would open later in the week. The smile on her face when I gave the plant to her will from now on be nothing more than a memory.

Now we head into warmer weather. It still seems to be wintery cold in the morning here, but a few days last week saw temperatures hover around the 70 degree mark. If we can only keep those temperatures for the next few months with the present humidity levels at 39%.... Now those are conditions I can live with, but it will never happen. 
Anyway, the residents of Chez Gunther have begun doing something which I never thought we would do: spring cleaning. Warrior Queen has cleared the top shelf of our kitchen cabinets of long lost plastic containers, souvenir adult sippy cups, and other items we have neglected to use in years because, well, because we put them on the top shelf out of reach of our puny arms. Access to this plastic ware is not possible without reaching for the step stool and, let’s face it, if you have to go to the trouble of getting out a step stool, then you may want to stop and ask yourself if it’s worth the trouble.

She is also clearing out closet space; old clothes are being bagged and board games which we bought years ago and are still sealed are being boxed for donation. I’ll be sorry to see the board games go, particularly since board games are making a comeback in a backlash against the popularity of video games. On the other hand, if we haven’t gotten around to even removing the seal after 20 years, then perhaps it’s best to let them go to a better home. All of these items are now piling up on our porch, waiting for a local charity to pick them up.

Next, WQ proceeded to the upstairs bathroom to seek out the origin of our ant problem. Yes, we’ve had thousands of the tiny buggers in our house since the beginning of the year, crawling on the kitchen counter, the powder room floor, and in and out of the food left behind by the cats in their dishes. We responded with spray on the counter, stomping on the floor, and discarding the cat food. In recent weeks, they had retreated to the upstairs bathroom where they found lots of places to crawl and, surprise, to lay about a million eggs.

Last Friday, WQ lifted the maroon shag bath rug and discovered Antopolis, or the United States of Ants! There were hundreds of the buggers going about their business under the rug; WQ swore she caught two of them in flagrante delecto, which means her vision must be fabulous since these creatures are no more than one-sixteenth of an inch long. And she has never had cataract surgery…which is a better record than me.

She also surmised that the rug was one massive incubation and maternity ward for future generations of ants. The rug went into the garbage - ant eggs and all - after 15 years of faithful service catching the drips of water from our post-shower bodies. Then she evicted the adults. Actually, eviction is a mild term for what actually happened.

WQ sprayed the floor with a well-known ant killer spray. She did this with great relish and, I dare say, accompanied her action with diabolical laughter. The poor creatures never had a chance!

The spring cleaning will most likely continue for a few more weeks. I have some things to contribute to the donation pile, but until this is over I think I’ll keeping moving around the house and not stay in one spot long enough to be mistaken for an object worthy of donation.  It can happen…just ask the ants.

(Thank you for reading. Trivial Pursuit anyone?)

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

At the end of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, all seemed right with the disparate group of British pensioners who now call India their home.   Relationships ended - Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton); relationships began - Douglas and Evelyn (Dame Judi Dench); or just moved forward - Sonny Kapoor and Sunaina (Dev Patel and Tina Desai). Alas, it turns out that all is not right; therefore it is not the end…which brings us to the sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

First there is Sonny, the manager, eager to branch out and franchise his hotel idea for the elderly to live out their final days. And some do live there until their end; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is probably the first hospitality venue in history to demand that its residents answer a roll call every morning to verify that none of them ran off with Death in the middle of the night. He has an eye to renovate another nearby hotel to start his empire, but he needs investors.

And, oh yes, he is soon to marry Sunaina. The man has a full plate, yet still has time to personally entertain the mysterious American guest (Richard Gere), whom he believes is an inspector sent to spy on him by a prospective investor.

His desire to please and sincerity is beyond question, even as his ineloquent attempts to communicate across cultures embarrass himself and those close to him. Yet, as one character surmises, he is more often right than wrong about life. If only he could overcome his jealousy toward his bride’s male friends and stubbornness to work with a prospective partner.

When last we saw Douglas and Evelyn, they were riding off into the sunset on a scooter. The second Marigold Hotel opens with their relationship not having progressed much beyond the scooter buddy phase. Evelyn longs for Douglas, and one can see how she desperately wants him to sweep her off her feet before she accepts a fabric buying position in far off Mumbai. For his part, Douglas hems and haws so much that he nearly loses out on the relationship. It is only when Jean reappears and practically demands that he start an adulterous relationship with Evelyn (which will make it easier for her to divorce him and begin dating a lawyer back home) that Douglas finally steps closer to Evelyn. 

Meanwhile, deceptions abound in the lives of Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle), who are trying to keep the British ex-pat hang out Viceroy Club from bankruptcy and stay faithful to each other. Madge (Celia Imrie) tries to balance a relationship with two wealthy suitors at the same time. By the time Sonny marries Sunaina, all deceptions are exposed or otherwise resolved.  

Given the framework of the first Marigold Hotel, and given that most of the characters are closer to the mortuary than menopause (a variation on another of Sonny’s ineloquisms), you have to expect that one of the characters will die before all is said and done. Sure enough, the foreshadowing of one character “leaving the story” is omnipresent. At the end, the death does not take place onscreen, but Muriel (Maggie Smith) does get to say the final words of the story, eloquent and all.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tries hard to top the original, but how can you top the wonderful philosophy of the first film (“Everything will be all right in the end…”). The best the second can offer is “It takes team work to make a dream work.” True enough, but why does that sound like it came from a motivational poster hanging in every break room all across corporate America?

Once again, we are left with a scene of the characters riding off on scooters, but somehow we just know that not everything is all right yet. Let’s face it: Norman will never settle for a monogamous relationship, and haven’t we ridden down this road before with Douglas and Evelyn? The story may stop here (for now), but the door is left open just wide enough for another sequel to come in.

Should the story continue? Why not? After all, it is the journey that matters. All of the characters, be they young or old, have much to teach and learn from each other. 
May the journey continue for all!

(Thank you for reading. And I hope everyone had a Happy Easter/Passover!)