Memorable Providences

Cotton Mather enjoyed his cachet and influence as a religious leader of the Puritan Church. And he was a very prolific writer. He published more than 450 books and pamphlets over the course of his life, most of which are now forgotten.

But history will never forget his book, Memorable Providences, published in 1689. It’s a true story about children in Boston who fell under the spell of a wicked witch named Ann Glover.

Ann Glover and her daughter, Mary, worked as housekeepers for the Goodwin family. One day, the Goodwin’s 13-year-old daughter, Martha, accused Mary of stealing laundry. Ann felt outraged and got into a hellacious argument with the Goodwin children. Then she cast a spell upon them.

The Goodwin children soon became ill and began falling into mysterious fits and seizures.

A doctor determined they had been bewitched by Ann Glover. She was arrested, tried, and hanged. But at the gallows she cackled a sinister warning. According to Memorable Providences, she prophesied that the children would never recover from their spell, and claimed that she wasn’t the only witch in the colony. There were many others.

Memorable Providences exposed the devil’s dirty deeds, forcing Lucifer to leave Boston and seek more fertile ground elsewhere. And so Ann Glover was the last witch to be hanged in Boston.

The Prince of Darkness’ search brought him to the little village of Salem. The citizens there hated each other. A feud had broken out a few years before. People took sides. They quarreled. They brawled. Things got personal, and more and more controversies erupted. These Puritans were pious, but piety alone could not stop them from fighting amongst each other.

Satan arrived, surveyed this situation, and felt very pleased his evil influence had taken such a hold. Everyone was at each other’s throats. Everyone that is, except the children. Children are too innocent to fall under the devil’s influence. They don’t know how to hate, the way adults do.

The devil pondered, while playing with his pitchfork and twitching his tail. Something had to be done about those dratted children.

The children of Salem were a happy, playful lot, before the devil and his diablerie descended upon this unsuspecting town. Note: The dioramas in the photos of this post can be found at the Salem Witch Museum, in Salem, Massachusetts.

Sarah Good was deeply in debt, impoverished, and kind of annoying to her neighbors, from whom she frequently begged. And she had all the audacity to question Puritan values. Satan saw an opportunity for bad in Good. He transformed himself into a man dressed in black and approached her in the night. He offered to help her with her financial situation if she would become a witch and cast spells on children. She agreed, and she also agreed to help Satan recruit other women who had been reduced to beggary.

Soon young girls all over Salem were falling into fits and seizures. They became tormented by unseen forces that pinched and stabbed them, causing them to shriek in pain. These fits were caused by spells the new witches had cast upon the poor kids.

These erstwhile happy little kiddies fell under the spell of hexes, and became possessed by the spirits of demons. Which is the only reason why kids would ever behave crazy, weird and stupid.

But the men of Salem were wise, in spite of their bickering ways. They, with their families, had read Memorable Providences, and thus were very familiar with the workings of witchcraft. Yep, they knew a thing or two. It was all right there in that book by the esteemed Cotton Mather, that they had read to their wives and kids. So it didn’t take long for them to conclude that all these fits and seizures were the results of bewitchings.

And the afflicted girls knew who their tormentors were. Cotton Mather’s book taught that the witches who hexed them would appear to them in the night, in the form of specters, or apparitions. And indeed they did, just like the book said.

In no time, Sarah Good and several other women were identified by the young girls. They were arrested, tried and convicted. And this bad Good witch was hanged with four others on July 29, 1692.

These condemned witches are being carted off to the gallows. Their distress is evident, but they should have thought about these consequences before they made their deals with the devil.

The devil was undaunted by these hangings. He kept busy, continually recruiting more servants of evil to replace those who had been uncovered.

He found Martha Corey. Unlike Sarah Good, she was a devout churchgoer. But she was vulnerable to the devil’s wiles due to her way of thinking freely, and being blunt and abrasive with others. He convinced her to go about claiming that the children were lying, and that there was no such thing as witches, and to denounce the witch trials.

A couple of children overheard Martha Corey calling them liars. They discussed this with each other and it occurred to them that she must be a witch. So they identified her to the authorities, and she was arrested, tried, convicted and hanged.

Rebecca Nurse was one of the most pious, well-respected members of her community. But she was old and nearly deaf, and her difficulty hearing often led to misunderstandings. The devil took advantage of her hearing disability. He appeared to her one evening, in the form of a doctor. Then he convinced her to sign away her soul, letting her believe she was actually getting rid of a mole.

Shortly after this she got into a dispute with a neighbor concerning some pigs. Or were they wigs? Whatever, the exchange was awkward and left her neighbor feeling bewildered and pissed off. Very quickly it became apparent that Rebecca Nurse was no pious saint. She was really a witch.

She was arrested, tried and found not guilty. So she was tried again. This time she failed to hear a critical question accurately, and gave the wrong answer. It resulted in a conviction, and Satan was defeated. She was sentenced to death and hanged.

A couple of good and pious citizens of Salem, giving some condemned witches a piece of their mind. Little did they suspect, until the Rebecca Nurse case, that they too could be fooled into following Satan.

Most of the witches of Salem were female, which at the time was the more vulnerable of the genders. But the devil did manage to snag a few weak males with his recruiting efforts.

The most notorious male witch was George Burroughs. He had been a minister in Salem nine years earlier. Then he made a pact with the devil. Lucifer gave him superhuman physical strength in return for stirring up just a little bit of trouble.

He induced Burroughs to get into a dispute with his parishioners over his pay, and to borrow money, and finally to skip town ahead of his creditors. The devil promised that no one would pursue him, due to their fear of his strength and fighting skills.

The minister resigned his position in 1683 and moved to the Eastland (now the state of Maine). As promised, no one gave chase. But his former parishioners and creditors never forgot him. When the witch trials began in 1692, they realized he had been a witch all along, and it occurred to them that this was why he was so strong.

So they sent a very large posse to arrest him.

His incredible physical strength made him difficult to subdue, but the posse finally managed to put this herculean witch into chains and dragged him back to Salem.

George Burroughs fought hard, using his demonic strength to knock one member of the posse out cold, before the others could restrain him with chains.

He was tried, convicted, and brought to the gallows with four other witches. But then this very gifted former minister made a spectacular bid to enlist the entire town into the league of the devil.

He stood at the gallows and gave an impassioned sermon proclaiming his innocence. It was such a fine speech that the crowd was stirred. Little did they know that Satan the devil was standing there with him, whispering the words of this persuasive talk directly into his ear.

At the end of the sermon he recited the Lord’s Prayer with elegant perfection. This astonished the crowd because everyone knew it was impossible for a witch to recite the Lord’s Prayer in such a beautiful, flawless manner.

The crowd was moved to tears, became agitated, and cries issued forth to release him and the four other witches. But the hangman saw the danger and acted quickly, sending Burroughs kicking and writhing to the bowels of Hell.

Upon witnessing this, many in the crowd murmured that an innocent man had been executed. This marked a crucial moment for Salem. The devil was gaining control.

But much to Lucifer’s chagrin, Cotton Mather happened to be one of the crowd.

Mather bravely sat on his horse before the mob and gave his own grandiloquent speech, all the while prepared to gallop away in case the speech failed. He reminded them that the devil can appear in many forms, including an Angel of Light. And he was able to correct the picture of the evil George Burroughs so well, that soon the masses were placated. The sight of Burroughs’ dangling body, twisting in the wind, left them satisfied. And they allowed the hangings of the four other witches to continue without further interruption.

The proper way to bury a witch is in a shallow, unmarked grave. Executed witches in Salem were inhumed two feet deep, sometimes with hands, feet, or other body parts protruding from the earth.

The devil felt furious about this, and began putting all the energy of Hell into his campaign. He converted dozens and dozens more into witchcraft, until soon the witches of Salem numbered in the hundreds.

But the pure souls of Salem responded in kind. The jail overflowed with newly accused, and the witch-trial court clogged. But still it plodded along as best it could, and craftsmen worked sedulously at meeting skyrocketing demand for fresh rope at the gallows.

Then the devil got a diabolical idea. He managed to convert the governor’s wife. And soon she, too, fell under the finger of accusation.

That changed everything. Governor Phips loved his wife, for she was particularly bewitching. And because he had fallen under the spell of her love potion.

He took immediate action. He dissolved the court. He then pardoned all those who were awaiting execution. And he established a new court with a new, much more merciful judge.

Soon accused witches were released in droves from the jails. As quickly as they began, the witch trials ended. And the hapless citizens of New England were left to the mercy of an army of Lucifer’s minions. Including Governor Phips’ wife.

The devil had finally defeated Cotton Mather. Memorable Providences dropped off the bestseller list.

Witches have continued to haunt America from that time forth. But they are no longer called witches. Satan, in his craftiness, has given them new forms and new behaviors. They are just as wicked as their predecessors, but they morph like a deadly virus.

In the 1940’s they took on the form of Japanese spies. We responded by interring them into concentration camps.

In the 1950’s they morphed into communists. But thanks to the heroic efforts of Joseph McCarthy (a modern-day Cotton Mather), these witches were imprisoned and blacklisted.

In the 1980’s they became deviant parents and sexually abusive daycare workers, with a large coven concentrated in Kern County, California. They molested young children and subjected them to Satanic rituals, until District Attorney Ed Jagels saved the day. 36 witches were convicted, with many spending years in prison before the devil got 34 of the convictions overturned. The other two witches died in prison before Beelzebub could help them.

Nowadays we see a large variety of witches. For instance, they manifest as illegal immigrants, raping and murdering our citizens. They’re misogynists, accused of sexual harassment without due process. And they’re members of the media, who act as enemies of the people.

Our failure to contain the devil, back in 1692, has haunted us into the 21st century. Today there are witches everywhere we turn. Who knows which of us is a witch? Maybe your neighbor. Or maybe your husband or wife. Or maybe you, yourself. Or perhaps me.

Oh no, not me. I emphatically deny it. I am innocent. I am not a witch.

Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee!

Happy Halloween!

Agiocochook

The drive up Mount Washington offers several viewpoints where you can pull over and watch clouds play peekaboo with mountaintops.

My wife and I have embraced the tourism industry, in our retirement. So in honor of this industry we decided to visit Mount Washington, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In 1852, Mount Washington became one of our nation’s first tourist attractions, with the construction of a stone hotel at its peak, called the Summit House.

We enjoyed this spectacular view of New England, at the top of Mount Washington, through a small break in the clouds.

This just proves how inexperienced and ignorant we Americans were back then, at vacationing and sightseeing. Mount Washington bills itself as “Home of the World’s Worst Weather.” It’s the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, at 6,288 feet. And as you may guess, it’s pretty cold and windy up there.

There’s a big weather station at the top of the Mount, with all kinds of large, mysterious meteorological instruments. I think the big white drums are used for alerting New Englanders of coming Nor’easters.

In 1934, the Mount Washington Observatory weather station recorded a world record surface wind speed of 234 miles per hour. Hurricane-force wind gusts occur on the summit on average of 110 days per year. It warms to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (F) or more on only 13 to 14 days of the year, with its highest recorded temperature hiccuping to just 72F. It’s official record low is -50F, occurring in 1885, but it’s lowest recorded wind chill is -102F, occurring in 2004. Mount Washington’s average daily mean temperature is just 27F, and it receives 97 inches of precipitation per year (including over 28 feet of snow).

Why in hell would any tourists want to go to this place?

Because we’re stupid.

I think this tall, towering structure is used for measuring snowfall depth. Or perhaps it’s used by the resident meteorologists as an escape rocket when the weather turns super bad.

The Native Americans weren’t so dumb. They named it Agiocochook, which means “the place of the Great Spirit.” Out of deference to the Great Spirit, they made it against their religion to climb the mountain. Or maybe this was really out of deference to intelligence, and an aversion to freezing to death.

No, these stone cairns aren’t little monuments to the Great Spirit. I suspect they mark various spots where tourists have perished from exposure.

But then along came a colonist, in 1642, named Darby Field. He convinced the local tribe that the white man was not subject to their god and asked permission to climb Agiocochook. I imagine they looked at each other astonished, then shrugged their shoulders and said, “Tourists. Go figure.”

They gave permission and Darby Field successfully ascended this peak. And he managed to keep from being transformed into a block of ice by the Great Spirit. But for the next 200 years it was largely left alone by the wise inhabitants of New England.

This building on Mount Washington has been secured with chains, to prevent it from blowing away.

And then someone got the bright idea that they could attract tourists.

The Summit House came first, in 1852, and then two years later the Tip-Top House was built as competition. And tourists from thousands of miles away flocked to these facilities, not knowing, I guess, that more comfortable destinations could be had at places like Florida, California, or Hawaii.

The Tip-Top House, built in 1854. Instead of being secured with chains, this old hotel has been anchored in place with granite boulders.

Entrepreneurs must have realized that if tourists could be attracted to a freezing hell such as Mount Washington, then why not to anywhere else? And thus America’s tourism industry took off and boomed.

A cog railroad was built in 1869, for tourists who felt sorry for any horses that might have to travel to this harsh environment. It is still in operation today.

My wife and I were the latest in a long string of idiots to tour Mount Washington. It’s a privately owned attraction. It cost $40 to enter, and required about 20 minutes of hair-raising driving time to reach the summit.

We spent about an hour or so at the top, admiring the views and touring the old buildings, including the Tip-Top House. Fortunately, the temperature was a mild 48F and the Great Spirit was only blowing about 30 mph. Beautiful weather for September.

There are no guardrails on the road to the top. This is actually a safety feature, as it gives motorists an incentive to drive slowly and carefully.

The descent was more frightening than the ascent, as evidenced by the dent my wife put in the floorboard, with her foot. When we reached the bottom I stopped and opened the window, and caught the whiff of smoldering brake pads. We parked the car and waited a few minutes for the wheels to cool off, and then it was off to saner, more intelligent tourist destinations in the north of New England.

If you tour Mount Washington, eat a bowl of Boston Baked Beans first. You’ll need a good windbreaker.

By the way, if this post has inspired you to visit Agiocochook, this weekend’s forecast calls for highs in the 30s, with the Great Spirit blowing from the Northwest at 70 mph, a wind chill below zero, and an 80% chance of snow.

Walden East & West

We recently toured New England to peep at the autumn colors. But while there I had to take a side-trip. A pilgrimage of sorts. I wanted to visit Walden Pond. My wife had no interest in this body of water, but we compromised. She very much wanted to visit the witch city of Salem, Massachusetts, so we agreed to a few hours at Walden, and then the rest of the day at Salem.

She came to regret that compromise, for Salem was nothing but a tourist trap, crowded and bustling with hucksters. As we departed that wicked village, she pined for the peacefulness of Walden, and wished aloud we had sojourned the entire day there. It was Walden, not a witch, that ensorcelled her.

Walden Pond is the very spot where Henry David Thoreau resided in a cabin, built from his own hands, on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson. His life and experiences in this sylvan paradise inspired his book, Walden, which was recognized as an American literary classic after his death.

You can visit this replica of Thoreau’s cabin in the parking area of Walden Pond State Reservation. Stolen Quote: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Henry David Thoreau (HDT), Walden

Walden is an autobiographical tale by Thoreau, journaling how he lived self-reliant and in harmony with nature, in a 10 by 15 foot cabin near the shores of the pond. But it is much more than autobiography. Thoreau essays on many themes, including nature, economy, and companionship. His sentences soar sublime, and his insights penetrate the heart. He touches an earthly, wild humanity that ruminates deep within the spirit of all of us.

He began living his back-to-nature lifestyle on Independence Day, July 4th, 1845, near his 28th birthday, and departed Walden on September 6th, 1847. Which was strangely close to the Labor Day holiday our country began celebrating in 1894. Was Thoreau prescient?

The actual site where Thoreau built his cabin, on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s property. Stolen Quote: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” HDT, Walden

I devoured Walden when I was 22 years old, and my appetite transformed. I began hungering and thirsting for nature and wilderness, and lost all desire for modern civilization. Thoreau became my idol, and I wanted to be just like him. And I yearned to try my hand at a Walden experiment myself.

There were a few failed attempts but finally, at age 29, I managed a degree of success. I purchased three acres of remote Mojave desert land. I garnered the help of my brother-in-law and his Kubota tractor, and built an 8 by 16 foot, underground log cabin. A dugout actually, lined with peeler logs.

I posted about my life in this underground cabin, nearly three years ago.

My one and only photo of my underground log cabin in the Mojave Desert. Stolen Quote: “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book?” HDT, Walden

But I was not as successful as Thoreau at living off the land. He had the benefit of water, fish, and abundant wildlife and plant life. I, on the other hand, struggled in a desert desiccated by severe drought.

Thank goodness my hunting skills led me to a supermarket just a half-hour’s drive away.

I did manage to kill a rattlesnake once, which I boiled and dined upon for several days. I also shot a rabbit with my 22 rifle. It kicked in the dirt, screaming. Have you ever heard a rabbit scream? I quickly finished it off with a second shot, but have never forgotten those hideous leporine cries.

I stopped hunting after that. Nonetheless, the pathetic little cottontail was boiled and eaten, supplying me with meat to supplement my dry goods over the next week.

Due to the drought there was plenty of deadwood to scavenge, so I never lacked for fuel to warm my earth-insulated cabin.

This part of Walden Pond is known as Thoreau’s Cove. Thoreau built his cabin just a few hundred feet above the reeds you see in the distance. Stolen Quote: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” HDT, Walden

Thoreau was a transcendentalist and avid meditator. I was not. So my insights did not soar to the lofty heights his own heart and mind achieved. My back-to-nature experience did not equip my soul sufficiently to be like Thoreau, and write an American literary classic. I guess you’re just gonna have to get his book.

A closer view of the reeds at Thoreau’s Cove. Stolen Quote: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.” HDT, Walden

What I learned from my life in the wilderness was how to be a cheapskate. I learned the feeling of security from knowing I didn’t have to spend a lot of money to meet the basic necessities of life, and live in basic comfort. I already knew this to some degree, so this was just a lesson reinforced.

I also learned the precious value of spare time, and how relaxing it can feel to loaf around all day. Yet another lesson reinforced. But this reinforcement motivated me later, to work hard for an early retirement. I understood more than ever that one must work, in order to loaf. Or at least to loaf feeling safe and without worries.

So after leaving my cabin, I worked hard and saved most of what I earned. And I studied books on how to invest, in order to preserve my hard work and make it continue to work for my future benefit. It strikes me odd how little forethought most people put into investing. I guess they don’t value loafing around as much as me.

My biggest lesson from my personal Walden is that life is easy to enjoy when kept simple. A freedom is born from this that feels exhilarating. A box of Cheezits and a nap for me, and I’m often content for the day. And when bored I chase unicorns. Which is easy because it doesn’t have to cost a penny. There are plenty of unicorns out there just begging to be caught.

Walden Pond from the surrounding forest. Stolen Quote: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” HDT, Walden

Thoreau did not live nearly as long as me. At age 18 he contracted tuberculosis, and this eventually killed him at the young age of 44. But though his age was young, his soul was old. He was wise well beyond his years.

He remains an idol to me. An early guide to my life. A lodestar, pointing me toward the things that truly matter, and away from the artificiality of the quietly desperate.

A snipe at Walden Pond. When I was a Boy Scout I was sent on a snipe hunt. I was unsuccessful but never gave up, and continued the hunt in secret. Now, after all these years, I finally found one at Walden Pond. At last, my desperate search is over. Stolen Quote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” HDT, Walden

Thoreau lasted two years, two months, and two days at his Walden Pond cabin. Or Walden East, as I like to think of it. I wasn’t quite so enduring, lasting not a day beyond two years in my Mojave desert hermitage. Or Walden West, if you will. I finally ran out of money and had to rejoin the civilized world, due to my desire to keep eating groceries.

There are all kinds of Waldens. Walden is not just a pond in Concord, Massachusetts. You can find your Walden anywhere. I found mine in the Mojave desert. Others have found theirs in such environs as Alaska, the Rocky Mountains, or by living on a sailboat in the sea.

It’s also a state of mind. If you love wilderness and visit it often, you possess a Walden spirit. If you respect the wilds and take care to cause as little disturbance as possible when venturing forth into unpeopled lands, you follow the code of Walden. And if your life is carved from self-reliance and simplicity, you’re as Walden as Thoreau.

This lone loon monopolized the very middle of Walden Pond, seeming to treat it as a place of refuge from hikers on the shoreline. Stolen Quote: “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” HDT, Walden

I circumambulated Walden Pond, paid homage to the original cabin site, and gazed searchingly through the pellucid waters that Thoreau fished, all the while mindful that my wife awaited the witches of Salem. After about an hour-and-a-half I found her sitting spellbound. But not from black magic. She had been calmed by the stillness of the shore. But even so, she looked forward to our next New England adventure.

The amazingly clear waters of Walden Pond. Stolen Quote: “We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” HDT, Walden

Soon after, we motored away, with Walden in my rear view mirror. But that’s not really true. Walden has never been in my rear view mirror. Since departing my cabin in the Mojave, Walden has always been in front of me, beside me, and within me.

I can never leave Walden.

A mushroom near the shores of Walden Pond. Stolen Quote: “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” HDT, Walden. And that’s the morel of this story.

Crazy Colors

Mooselookmeguntic Lake, northwestern Maine.

I’m an infonaut. I explore the vast universe of the internet to discover information and get my facts straight and solid. I like to get everything right. Including when the fall foliage is going to peak in New England.

Rangeley Lake, northwestern Maine.

Problem is, the universe is crazy.

My internet research indicated that the fall colors in northern New England would peak in late-September. Therefore, that’s when I planned a leaf-peeping trip for my wife and me. And I used the internet to make all the reservations, three months in advance.

Rangeley Lake, northwestern Maine.

But after traveling 2,611 miles by air, and a few hundred more by rental car from Boston to the rimlands of the Canadian border, we were surprised. We discovered that in spite of all my internet research three months before, the autumn colors were peaking late this year.

Crazy.

A changing tree in Jay, Vermont.

Why don’t autumn colors peak at the exact same time every year? In fact, why is it that nothing in life seems reliable? We can do tons of research, file our facts, and institute order. But then it all falls apart, because life is so crazy and unpredictable.

Changing foliage in the Adirondacks of upstate New York.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we were ripped off by mother nature. She was still beautiful. Her reds and purples were in near-full glory, and her yellows and oranges were just starting to show. We didn’t get much of the hills-on-fire effect from bright orange shining leaves, but at least we got a hint of it.

Mooselookmeguntic Lake, northwestern Maine, showing just a hint of the hills-on-fire effect.

This may sound crazy, but I like craziness. A completely predictable world would be completely boring. If I knew exactly what was going to happen to me, day in and day out, 24/7, 365.25 days per year, I’d have to shoot myself. I want strange, stupid, and undesirable things to happen to me. I don’t always want to get what I want. I think life must be challenging, unpredictable, and at least occasionally, a terrifying trip through hell.

So let the fall colors peak late. Or let them peak early, as they did last year. And just to surprise us tourists, let them peak on time once in awhile.

Rangeley Lake, northwestern Maine.

I think a little crazy is healthy. But a lot of crazy, maybe not. For example, research shows that abscission of leaves is necessary to prevent snapping of branches from the weight of a zillion snowflakes. If trees take too much time to change color and lose their leaves, an early blizzard could devastate them. So trees must be reasonable in their craziness.

Tupper Lake, in the New York Adirondacks.

But then again, maybe I’m crazy for thinking a lot of crazy is unhealthy. After all, if you want some real hardcore craziness, just consider that we humans, with all our intelligence, can’t predict the day of our death. You or I could die one second from now, or we could live for many more years. Who knows when our colors will change and our leaves will drop? Nobody.

But just think how boring our lives would be, if it was otherwise.

A changing tree at the end of an alley, in Salem, Massachusetts.

Untimely death, random rip-offs, miscommunication, and of course, mental illness, are all some of the craziness that can interfere with the course of our lives. From the car that won’t start, to the deal that falls through, to the underwear we accidentally put on backwards, we are enriched every day with craziness.

And so, as our rental car cruised down the country lanes of New England, I reflected on all the greenery powering through the reds, purples, yellows, and oranges. And I muttered, “Screw you, mother nature!”

But thank you, also.

Thanks for your magnificent craziness.

Green and orange foliage in the New York Adirondacks.

An Exciting Flight to Boston

Our plane pulled out from the gate, beginning our five-and-a-half hour flight from Los Angeles to Boston. It’s always a relief when a plane pulls away on time. It means no delays. It means we’re gonna get there when we planned to get there. It means just settle back, relax, and enjoy the view from 32,000 feet.

But when we were no more than 10 feet off the ground the right engine failed. Yep, that’s right. Suddenly no right engine. Sound scary? I hope so, because I’m trying to make this flight sound exciting.

Actually it was just our asses that were 10 feet off the ground. That’s about as high as these jumbo jets sit, from ground to belly, above the landing gear.

The plane had been pushed backward away from the gate and onto the tarmac by the little white truck that does the plane-pushing job. Then the pilot tried to start the engines to get us onto the runway. After about 10 minutes the plane was pushed right back to the gate.

“Aw shit,” I thought.

The pilot got on the PA. “Ladies and gentlemen, that was a short flight, ha-ha. I couldn’t get the goddamned right engine to start. I’m callin’ a mechanic, so just hold tight for a few minutes and we’ll get this bird movin’ again.”

My wife and I held tight. What the hell else could we do? We were prisoners inside a motionless fuselage. But we were philosophical. Sitting trapped on the ground sure beat having our bodies scattered over the landscape in a horrific airplane crash.

A few minutes passed. Then another few. Then a half hour. A sense of anxiety and claustrophobia was becoming palpable when the pilot got on and announced, “Gotta mechanic comin’. Finally, for Chrissake. He’ll be here shortly. Just hold tight.”

15 minutes later a new announcement: “The mechanic just reset all the damned inputs. Now he’s gettin’ to work on the engine. We’ll know something shortly.”

But not long after that came bad news. “The fuckin’ engine wouldn’t start after all that. Now they gotta change the goddamned module. I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t know when we’re leaving this godforsaken airport.”

About an hour-and-a-half after we boarded this A321 came both welcome and dreaded news. “Ladies and gentlemen, fuck me to tears. We’re gonna have to deplane and wait in the terminal for our shitty wrench-turners to finish repairing this bucket of bolts. But hopefully we’ll get your asses to Boston by the end of the day. Or at least by the end of the calendar year.”

This was welcome news because at least we would be allowed out of the confines of our tubular prison and into the more open space of the terminal, where we could stretch our legs, get something to eat, and use the restroom.

But it was also dreaded news. It seemed the big “C” was coming soon. Cancellation. And perhaps the end of our vacation before it could even begin.

Periodic messages dribbled down upon us from airline staff, as we patiently waited in the terminal, updating us on the progress of the mechanics. Such as:

“We sure as hell don’t know when this goddamned flight will depart, but we’ll keep you updated with all of our latest factoids and fuckups.”

“The stupid-ass mechanics failed again. Now they have to replace another motherfucking module.”

“You may have noticed that the plane is rolling away. Yeah, goodbye stupid plane! The stooges we employ for mechanics decided they have to take it to the hangar, so they can screw around with the engine big time.”

A rack of snacks was rolled into the waiting area, accompanied by this announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, food makes everything right. So help yourself, you mindless trained seals, and grab a snack off the rack.”

And we did, descending upon the startled food rack like ravening locusts. A crowd of pissed-off passengers stuffed pockets and purses with bags of chips, cookies, and lukewarm sandwiches. We all grabbed much more than we needed to sate our hunger. We grabbed compensation. Recompense for a delayed day. Revanche, arrogated in crinkly containers, plucked from that food rack until it was clean to its bare metal bones.

More and more food racks were wheeled in to replace the empties, until we finally gave up on protesting through feasting. With faces full of crumbs, and stomachs, pockets, and purses bulging, we belched, rolled back in our seats, and surrendered to an onslaught of more merciless messages.

A few hours later came this augury:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re really gonna fuck with you now. We’ve moved you from Gate 47 to Gate 9,253. So y’all get off yer fat asses and head down there. Pronto!”

We dutifully grabbed our bags and waddled to our new, distant gate, which might as well have been in Boston itself. And then we waited for more announcements. Finally one came.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the Boston flight. Hallelujah! After a thorough search of our fleet, we finally found a replacement plane. We gave up on that other fucking death trap. Now listen to this ingenious goddamned plan. A plane’s gonna pull up to this here gate. Every peckerhead on board is getting off. Then we’re gonna clean all the shit out of it and allow you to get on board. And then we’ll flap our merry wings and haul your sorry asses to Beantown.”

Finally, six hours after we boarded the first plane, we staggered onto the second. It jetted off into the big blue void without incident. And late in the evening of a very long day, American Airlines delivered us safely to Boston, Massachusetts.

Disclaimer: The staff of American Airlines was actually very professional and polite in their announcements and treatment of us pathetic passengers. If anything in this post indicates otherwise, it might merely be subconscious slippages from my mind, that unintentionally interjected themselves into my writing, betraying my emotional state at the time.

At last, our plane got us higher than ten feet above the ground.

I’m Going to Walley World

The Amazon is a jungle, and I’m not referring to the rainforest in South America. I’m referring to the internet Amazon. Amazon has been my favorite online retailer for about two decades now, but after all that time my loyalty is slipping from the grapevine.

Amazon scams seem to be on the rise. Not long ago I never worried much about ordering from this retail giant. I’d never been scammed. I had great faith in Amazon’s integrity. I always got the product I paid for, and it always arrived in a timely manner.

But a few years ago some of my faith was shaken when I discovered that some Amazon vendors were providing free products to customers who would write a review. I wrote a post about this, hoping it would get the Amazon corporation’s attention and cause them to make widespread reforms. And who knows, maybe it was my meek little voice that motivated Amazon to make some changes, because they apparently ended the practice of biased reviews.

Alright, I’m sure it wasn’t little ol’ me. But just in case it was me, I’m writing this post to encourage further changes. So Amazon, with the might of my meek little voice I command you: Stop the scams, now! (Cue Tarzan call.)

Because it isn’t just biased reviews. Lately I’ve encountered additional predators in the Amazon jungle:

FALSE ADVERTISING PREDATOR:
THE CASE OF THE COLOSSAL SUITCASE

Early this year I ordered a suitcase. I wanted a portmanteau that would be just under the size limits allowed by United Airlines for checked bags, which is 62 linear inches. The product description said this trunk was 61 linear inches. But when I received it, I found it was 64 linear inches. That could subject me to some hefty extra fees by my airline if they happened to notice and make an issue of it.

So I returned the suitcase and got a refund. No big deal, but the misrepresentation wasted my time and left me feeling irritated.

BAIT & SWITCH PREDATOR:
BAD CALL BY A TELEPHONE VENDOR

About three months ago I ordered a telephone. I wanted a nice fancy one that would allow me to block lots of phone numbers. I was sick of all the junk phone calls I constantly get and was going for overkill in my defense weapon of choice. I decided to splurge and get a phone that cost $269.99, rather than a different phone offered by the same vendor for about $85.

Both phones looked very similar.

A few days later I received the phone, unpacked it, and set it up. It worked great. But as an afterthought I checked the model number against my order. It was the model number of the $85 phone. Yet the vendor charged me $269.99.

I immediately contacted the vendor and complained. They apologized and claimed that their more expensive phones had been water damaged, so they were only able to send the cheaper phone. But if that was so, why did they charge me for the expensive phone? And why didn’t they contact me before shipping the cheap phone, to give me a choice? This seemed like a bad call on their part.

I had already set up the cheap phone, so I went ahead and kept it, and accepted a refund for the difference in price. But if I hadn’t noticed the different model number, and had not complained, I believe I would have been scammed. And what a sneaky little half-legitimate scam it was.

REFUND HASSLE PREDATOR:
THE BED THAT WOULDN’T GO TO BED

About a month ago I ordered an adjustable bed frame from Amazon. It did not arrive on the day the tracking information promised it would arrive. But the day after, I got an email apologizing that the shipment had been delayed, and advising me to wait another 10 days before making any inquiries.

I wouldn’t wait. That’s because the tracking information showed that the bed frame was in the shipper’s facility just 70 miles away. Why would that take an additional 10 days to deliver?

So I contacted the vendor through Amazon’s chat service. After a little research, the vendor told me the bed frame had actually been damaged in shipping and was being returned to the vendor by the shipper. Gee, it would have been nice had their tracking information told me that, rather than leave me waiting all day for a delivery that was never coming. And why did the email say the shipment had been delayed, rather than returned? And why was I advised to wait 10 days before making an inquiry?

The vendor offered me a refund, which I accepted.

But after a week the refund had still not appeared on my credit card. So I contacted the vendor again. They again promised me a refund.

But the next day I got an email from a trucking company saying they were going to stop by my house and pick up the bed frame. This left me feeling alarmed, because I had never received the bed frame in the first place. I worried that my refund depended upon this trucking company picking up this nondelivered bed frame from my house.

So I took the time to contact the vendor again. They called off the pick up and again promised me a refund. And a few days later I did, indeed, receive the refund. At last, I finally put the bed problem to bed.

But what a time-consuming hassle to get my money back on an item I never received. I’m not sure if this was an attempted scam, but even if it wasn’t, the incompetence has left me feeling nervous about Amazon.

MORE PREDATORS, AND MY SUMMER VACATION TO WALLEY WORLD

Apparently I’m not the only one. Here’s an article from Forbes about Amazon scams on the rise:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/wadeshepard/2017/01/02/amazon-scams-on-the-rise-in-2017-as-fraudulent-sellers-run-amok-and-profit-big/#493cf87a3ea6

I’ve revered this company for years, but no longer. I’m now actively seeking a replacement for Amazon. I love shopping online, but only when I can trust that I’ll receive what I’ve paid for.

I’ll still make some small purchases through this jungle, as I transition away. But right now I’m sizing up Walmart as a replacement. I checked out their website and it seems they’ve greatly improved their online service from what it was a few years ago. So I opened an account and plan to give them a try.

Walley World seems to be the first to give the Amazonians a serious run for their money. I hope they hang in there and stick around. I believe online retail needs better competition, to battle the scams.

Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed and hope Walley World continues to hold their own against the gigantic jungle of Amazon, and maintain their online presence. I’d sure hate for them to be closed when I go to place an order.

A Guide to Political Correctness

It seems like every day someone famous says or does something that is considered politically incorrect. And predictably, they lose their job. Or they’re vilipended throughout the land and savagely excoriated in the press. Even after they apologize.

It happens to us less famous citizens as well. One carelessly spoken word or sentence that treads upon someone’s sensitivities can end a career or ruin a relationship. Because what happens on the global stage tends to be emulated at the local level.

In this day of extreme political polarization we all have to learn how to be politically correct. For some this is easy. They just keep their mouths shut. But others seem to have no clue.

Sometimes I can be clueless myself, as evidenced by this post. But I’m just trying to help. I wrote this guide to political correctness because I’m trying to eliminate confusion as to what is politically correct, and keep everyone gainfully employed and in rewarding relationships.

I’ve found that one way to stay PC while opening one’s mouth is to keep abreast of current events. That way you know what is currently in vogue and considered correct actions and speech. I’ve been doing just that, avidly watching both FOX news and MSNBC news, so that I can learn from both sides of the political spectrum just what is considered politically correct.

The following are some lessons these TV news networks have taught me:

It’s politically correct to kneel while the National Anthem is played, to show that black lives matter and police can be brutal. But at the same time you should always stand with your hand over your heart, because to do otherwise is disrespectful to the flag.

It’s politically correct to stand up for your religious beliefs and refuse services to homosexuals, if homosexuality is against your religion. But it’s also politically correct to have no religious beliefs against homosexuality, and to offer services to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. Because to do otherwise ignores genetic science and discriminates without good cause.

It’s politically correct to discourage all forms of gun ownership, as guns are a major cause of violent deaths in our country. But it’s also politically correct to own and carry the latest and most powerful assault rifles you can afford. Because otherwise crime will run rampant, and we also will have no way to rise up in armed revolution when Armageddon arrives and Satan takes over America.

It’s politically correct to protect the lives of unborn children, by requiring women to carry their pregancies to full-term. But it’s also politically correct to give women the right to choose what they do with their bodies. Because to do otherwise allows men to control women and helps maintain a patriarchal society.

You see? All you have to do is watch both FOX news and MSNBC news, and you’ll eliminate all confusion as to what is politically correct.

But here’s what I believe is the most important lesson in political correctness:

You may have noticed that some of the examples listed above tend to slightly contradict each other. Of course they contradict. Politics by its very nature is contradictory. Politics is about disagreement and debate. It’s about people thinking differently and expressing their differences. It’s a forum for hashing out issues, as humanity seeks answers.

And when you look at it that way, the contradictions above are not confusing, they’re enlightening.

Healthy debate enlightens and ultimately unites. It’s unhealthy debate that leaves us struggling endlessly for answers, over issues that could have been resolved long ago. And it’s unhealthy debate that divides and polarizes, and leaves us fearful and suspicious of each other.

Healthy debate makes every example I listed above, politically correct examples. But unhealthy debate renders them politically incorrect.

Healthy debate becomes unhealthy when someone says or does something we disagree with, and we take offense. Then we demonize that person. We act like victims and treat them as perpetrators. And we attack them personally and may even attempt to put their jobs and relationships in jeopardy.

This drives many who would debate, into silence. It slows the free exchange of ideas. And it makes everything that would otherwise be politically correct, politically incorrect.

But we, ordinary citizens, don’t do this alone. We get a lot of help from political pundits, who profit from unhealthy debate. They are the ones who publicly foster and encourage the demonization of those who hold views they disagree with. They are the ones who turn the politically correct into the politically incorrect. And they are the ones behind the schisms and polarization that currently paralyzes our politics.

Political pundits work in a big industry, for big money. And there’s so many of them, I can’t name them all. But here’s one or two that come to mind:

Rush Limbaugh
Al Sharpton
Gloria Allred
Sarah Palin
Howard Dean
Rachel Maddow
Glenn Beck
Sean Hannity
Arianna Huffington
Ann Coulter
Keith Olbermann
Laura Ingraham
Maureen Dowd
Alex Jones
Tucker Carlson
James Carville

Many of these pundits have their own separate talk show, column, or other forum. They’re lone wolves scavenging off the political landscape. Wouldn’t it be better if they were all put together to debate in the same venue?

Then they’d either kill each other or learn how to debate in a healthy, diplomatic manner. And if the latter came true, we’d have an example to learn from and follow. An example that could improve the health of public debate, and turn that which is politically incorrect into political correctness.

What might happen if all the political pundits had to debate each other in the same room. If they didn’t kill each other, instead.

[ Note: This post was inspired by a recent interaction I had with GP Cox. GP Cox has an excellent, well-researched blog about the Pacific Theater of World War II, which you might want to check out if you’re a history buff.]

Great-Grandma’s Dirty Jokes

My Great-Grandma Florence Jackson. “Flojack.”

I was fortunate and cursed enough to be around several of my great-grandparents while I was growing up. That’s because my family is blessed and cursed with longevity in our genes. We tend to live a long time, but when we finally expire we die of long, lingering chronic illnesses.

My great-grandma was born in 1889. She drove a crankstart Model T when she was young. It gave her a great scare when it chased her around the yard one day, after she crank-started it while it was in gear.

She made it through two great world wars, struggled through the Great Depression, and survived the Great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. So by the time I met her, she had quite a few great tales to tell.

She’d come visit us about once a year, when I was a kid, and stay several weeks, all the while reminiscing about the past. I found her stories fascinating. I learned a lot of history from her, and for that I’m great-ful. I sure wish now I could remember all of those stories.

One day I asked Great-Grandma if they told dirty jokes back in the old days. And with that she surprised me by relating a few she had committed to memory. I immediately recognized this as an historic discovery, and surmised that these jokes must be preserved for posterity.

I hardly remember a damn thing about most of the historical accounts I heard from Great-Grandma. But I made it my duty-bound pledge to memorize her antiquarian dirty jokes, so that one day I could pass them on to newer generations.

And so, for your edification and academic study, here are Great-Grandma’s dirty jokes:

ELECTRICITY

Back in the early days of electric utilities, when a storm knocked down power lines, electricity would be out for long periods of time before those lines could be repaired. That’s exactly what happened to a little old lady who lived way out in the boondocks.

Finally she managed to call the electric company and alert them to her problem. But her message left them kind of confused. She told the dispatcher, “I need you to send a man to my house right away! I’ve had to use a candle now for two weeks.”

PERIOD

A young schoolgirl and her classmates were being instructed by their teacher on proper use of punctuation. She seemed a little distracted, as if she wasn’t paying attention. So the teacher pointed at her and said, “Young lady, what can you tell me about the period?”

She answered, “Well teacher, I know that periods are dangerous.”

The teacher thought she was being a smart aleck, so he decided to put her on the spot.

“That’s nonsense!” he scolded. “Young lady, I want you to stand up in front of the whole class and explain why periods are dangerous.”

The schoolgirl did as she was told. She stood up, faced her classmates, and said, “This morning my big sister came down the stairs and announced, ‘I haven’t had my period in two months.’ My mother fainted, my father had a stroke, and the boy next door shot himself.”

SUPERNATURAL

One evening at a prayer meeting the topic turned to the supernatural. The preacher was lecturing about the dangers of the occult, and especially the evils of attending séances and intercoursing with the dead. At one point he asked, “Has anyone here ever had intercourse with a ghost?”

A little old lady in the back raised her hand. “I have!” her crackly voice declared.

“You have?!” the preacher replied with astonishment. “You . . . you’ve had intercourse with a GHOST?!”

The lady quickly lowered her hand. “Oh,” she corrected, “I thought you said GOAT.”

Home Repair

You can do anything with one of these.

Most home repair jobs can be handled without hiring professional help. All it requires is a certain attitude. First you have to believe in your ability to accomplish a somewhat complex task. You must also be willing to risk making a problem worse rather than better, because that will occasionally happen. Though it’s rare. And you must maintain a level head, so that you can assess the repair situation, and any contingencies that may arise, in a logical, common sense manner.

For example, our bathroom had a minor plumbing issue. Water would leak out the faucet handles of the shower whenever the faucets were opened. No big deal, but after a while I got tired of it and decided to fix this problem.

I logically and correctly assessed that the compression washers and valve seats in the faucet valve stems required replacement. Pretty easy job. And I’d done this before, so I knew how to fix it.

I started with the hot water side, on the left. I got the old faucet seat out with a bit of a yank (it was in there pretty tight). Then I put the pipe dope on the new one, and confidently inserted it into the pipe head and turned the nifty little seat wrench I had just purchased from Home Depot.

But it wouldn’t thread into place. I tried and tried for about 15 minutes, but I just couldn’t seem to get it onto the pipe threads in the exact proper position, so that it would start to screw in.

It’s a must to remain level-headed and logical in these situations. So I attempted to keep my cool while assessing the situation.

The shower wall on the left, and the cold water faucet handle on the right were complicating things, because they were getting in the way of my seat wrench, forcing me to go about a third of a turn, then pull the seat wrench out, reposition it, and put it back in.

This short turning radius was frustrating. But after I calmed down and my hands stopped trembling, I decided I’d have to pull the cold water faucet out, so that I could get close to a full 360 degree revolving bite on the seat wrench, and get that dilly of a faucet seat threaded into place.

But the screw on the faucet handle was frozen. I struggled with it, while a few feelings of apoplexy kind of popped through my skull. Finally, after several cerebral hemorrages, I stripped the head of the fucking screw. So then I had to spend the next goddamned hour drilling the asshole screw out, and ruining the friggin’ valve stem in the process.

But after much drilling and swearing I finally got the muther-fucking stubborn, shithead, ass-wad valve stem out, and at last had a nearly full circular muther-fucking swing available for installing the goddamned, muther-ass, stupid, pissy-assed-bastard hot water side faucet seat.

With this near full-freedom swing, blazing eyes, and a breath of desperate hope in my flaring nostrils, I attempted to thread this shitty-ass faucet seat one more fucking time. But wouldn’t you know? I still couldn’t get the cocksucking, ballbusting, jackass, stupid, damned son-of-a-bitch to go in!!!

I stormed away. Stomped into my bedroom. Closed (slammed) the door. Slapped my head a bunch of times. Called every plumber who ever invented plumbing a dumb-assed mother-fucking son-of-a-bitch.

But after a bit I finally calmed down. And then an idea occurred to me. What would happen if I tried turning the seat wrench clockwise, rather than counter-clockwise?

So I gave that little ingenious trick a try.

Instant success.

And so you see, I can handle home repair jobs. I don’t need professional help.