In Tune: For a year or so
during 1987 and 1988 I wrote a column about music and records for the
employee newsletter at the Fresno County Department of Social Services.
This next section contains most of these "In Tune" columns.
One of the most fascinating sights I have
witnessed was that of 13-year old boy, a confirmed fan of Motley Crue and
other hard rock groups, completely absorbed in the movie Amadeus. Of
course, this fictionalized biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has a
compelling storyline, but I like to think that the magic melodies of
Mozart played a part in soothing this potentially savage beast.
My own contact with classical music in my early
years was very limited. Probably the first things I was aware of were
popularized classic themes like Freddy Martin's treatment of Tchaikovsky's
First Piano Concerto, which was a hit many years ago under the title
"Tonight We Love." I also enjoyed Ray Conniff's albums of famous
classical themes, Concert in Rhythm Volume I and II in the
late '50's. My exposure to these brief samples led me ultimately to seek
out the real thing, and over the years I made an occasional purchase, and
listened to classical radio stations off and on. Although my classical
listening is only a part of my total musical enjoyment, watching
"Amadeus" also encouraged me to explore the work of this
youthful genius, with delightful results.
Through the crystal clarity of compact discs, I
have come to appreciate more than ever the brilliance of the great
composers. Although Mozart died at the age of 35, he created hundreds of
works, and any major record store will have a large selection. I have
found my favorite to be Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and recently I have been
listening frequently to his Divertimento for string trio.
If you have occasionally enjoyed the sounds of
the classics, but are not yet a serious listener, you may want to explore
this fascinating realm of pleasure by starting with something by Wolfgang
Albums of 1987
A danger of making up a list of the best of
anything for 1987 or any year is looking at it two years later and saying
to yourself, "Why in the world did I ever put that on the list?"
Ever willing to face self-criticism, I present the best records of last
year. This is my own personal selection, having nothing to do with
commercial or critical success. Also, since I don't always know exactly
when something was released, I used a simple test to decide if something
belonged in 1987--it's an '87 record if that's when I bought it.
Although these are not listed in any particular
order, my best of the best for 1987 has to be Paul Simon's Graceland. A
collection of Simon originals that incorporate bits of popular African
music and features musicians from several African countries, Graceland was
a critical and commercial success, as well as a popular feature on the
Showtime cable channel. It reaffirmed Simon's status as one of the finest
and most innovative musicians of our time.
Two other commercially successful records this
past year were Dwight Yoakam's Hillbilly Deluxe, and Trio, which I
discussed in this column during the year. Yoakam has had two hit albums
reviving the west coast hillbilly sound best typified in the '50's and
'60's by Buck Owens. Trio combined the very major talents of Linda
Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris for some sweet country harmony
on a collection of songs old and new.
Two big favorites of mine, both very recent
acquisitions, will be far less familiar than the first three albums.
Sleepy LaBeef has been working the rockabilly circuit since the early days
of Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, but never with the kind of success
enjoyed by other rock pioneers. His new album Nothin' But the Truth,
recorded live, points out how a major talent can be entirely overlooked by
the mass market. Sleepy plays simple, basic rock and roll and sings in a
deep, powerful voice that probably scares major record label executives
away. At this point in his career it's unlikely that he will enjoy a major
breakthrough. But if you enjoy this kind of music, check him out.
Another, much younger artist who also has worked
mainly in the country/rockabilly area is Joe Ely. His latest, Lord of the
Highway, is a slight change of direction, combining a more up-to-date
basic rock and roll sound with some slow but no less intense performances.
One other musical event of the past year deserves
special mention--the release of the Beatles on compact disc. When properly
remixed, performances of the past can attain new life and reveal some
amazing sounds that were previously not audible due to the technical
limitations inherent in record production at the time they were originally
released. Although there has been a lot of negative comment about the fact
that the first four discs are in mono, the Beatles CD reissues for the
most part take full advantage of what this new technology can do for the
music. Abbey Road in particular sounds spectacular. Beatles fans
contemplating replacing their worn out LP's with the CDs should be aware
that what was issued so far has been the English versions of all the
Beatles albums, which do not contain such hits as "I Want to Hold
Your Hand" and "She Loves You." However, these are
available on good English compilation albums, and if things go as they
should, they will also come out on CD.*
If there was a trend in '87 it might have been
the lack of any specific trend. Traditional style country music and rock
and roll with it's early roots clearly visible enjoyed increasing
popularity, and fans of almost every kind of music found more than enough
to choose from. Ownership of compact disc players approached the 10
million mark, a situation which has been good for record sales in general,
but cassettes and black vinyl LP's do not appear to be candidates for the
endangered species list any time in the near future.** Fifty's rock
received a major shot in the arm with the giant success of "La Bamba,"
the Ritchie Valens film biography, but that is likely to be short term
since the appeal of the film hinged as much on a strong storyline as it
did on the music. It seems likely that music fans can look forward to
enjoying as much of their favorite type of music as they want, with sound
quality limited only by the individual's budget.
*These missing hits and other goodies became
available on two CDs, Past Masters Volume I and II.
**Along with many better known music
"experts," I did not foresee the quick demise of vinyl--this
traditional record format has been virtually unavailable since about 1990.
Although cassette popularity remains strong, CD unit sales took the
undisputed lead not long after that. (As of 2012 it's hard to find
cassettes or even cassette players sold commercially, but a limited
number of vinyl albums are still being released.)
footnotes as of 1994)
Ronstadt and Harris: a "Trio" Worth Waiting For
Nearly ten years ago music magazines began
printing tantalizing items about a joint recording project by Linda
Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. The complexities of three busy
careers prevented their joint project from getting off the ground until
last year, while all three artists enjoyed success in both country and pop
recording. The album, entitled "Trio" and released several
months ago, was well worth the wait.
Each of these artists has a unique sound, and as
expected, each takes lead vocal on several songs. However, all of them
have solid credentials as harmony singers, too, and it's when they sing
together that this disc takes on its special quality.
The songs are a mix of traditional, such as the
old spiritual "Farther Along," plus old and new country and folk
compositions, including Jimmie Rodgers' "Hobo's Meditation" and
Kate McGarrigle's "I've Had Enough." The overall sound is
mellow, traditional country, helped along by prime session pickers like Ry
Cooder, David Lindley and Albert Lee.
If you listen to country radio, you're hearing
"Telling Me Lies" in the top twenty, but my favorites are
"Wildflowers" and "The Pain of Loving You," both
written by Parton (the latter with her former singing partner, Porter
Wagoner). Every cut on the album is a delight, and the ladies enjoyed the
project enough that they're already talking about a follow-up. Let's hope
we don't have to wait another ten years!
The 1994 update: Well, it's been seven years, and
still no Trio II. Recently Dolly Parton joined with Tammy Wynette and
Loretta Lynn to create an album called "Honky Tonk Angels."
It'll have to satisfy till she gets together with Harris and Ronstadt
The 2000 update: Trio II finally appeared in 1999
(a 12 year wait!) Linda and Emmylou also recorded an album together this
year that has received good reviews.
for a Desert Island
An English disc jockey is credited with having
originated the term, "desert island disc" in the 1960's.
Abbreviated to DID's, these are records/tapes/CDs to take if stranded on
a desert island--ten albums to get you through a lifetime. A now defunct music
publication, Pulse, used to print readers' lists of DID's in its
letter section for a couple of years, inspiring me to try to come up with
my own choices.
If you're a music fan, the impossibility of
selecting ten favorites becomes obvious the minute you try it. I don't
think there'd be a problem with getting tired of what you took along. I
could easily list ten albums I wouldn't mind hearing once a week--it's the
pain of leaving all that other wonderful stuff behind.
Here then, is my list today--in no particular
order, subject to change tomorrow, and using only commercially available
albums (multiple sets count as one):
CHRISTOPHER HOGWOOD AND THE ACADEMY OF ANCIENT
MUSIC: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Mozart) - This ensemble plays authentic
antique instruments in the performance style of Mozart's time, a technique
that has both fans and detractors. I find it creates a crisp, open sound
that helps make this my favorite classical selection.
ELVIS PRESLEY: Elvis' Golden Records - Although
this collection does not include any of the great early recordings from
Sun Records, it covers the king when he was at his peak, before the army
and Las Vegas changed him forever.
NEIL YOUNG: Decade - One of the hardest things
about taking only ten records would be leaving behind Neil's classics,
Harvest and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. This three-record set
includes the best from those albums plus a good sampling of other work by
this unique musician.
HANK WILLIAMS SR.: The Great Hits of Hank
Williams - The man who wrote the definition of country music for our time.
THE PLATTERS: Golden Hits - The smooth, polished
rhythm and blues sound of this group was my introduction to record
collecting and to my generation's music as a whole.
EMMYLOU HARRIS: Profile - A greatest hits
collection by a singer whose voice fits country, pop and soft rock with
equally delightful results.
BOB DYLAN: Biograph - A real bargain for DID
list-makers, this three-CD set contains 53 songs--over two and a half
hours of entertainment from one of the legends of contemporary music.
JOHNNY MATHIS: The First 25 Years - or maybe I'd
choose the CD Sixteen Most Requested Songs. The latter has more of his
early hits, but the anniversary album is a double and has a fantastic
rendition of "Begin the Beguine."
DAVE BRUBECK: Jazz Impressions of Eurasia -The
album that made a jazz fan out of me--with the incomparable saxophone
sounds of Paul Desmond.
THE WHO: Who's Next - It's hard to pick a band to
represent the best of "second generation" rock and roll. With
the Rolling Stones a close second, The Who win out for their incredible
use of dynamics.
What? That's ten already? But what about the
Beatles, and Flatt & Scruggs, and Tom Petty and Hank Jr., and the
Moody Blues and Chuck Berry and Simon & Garfunkel and The Everly
How about a 1994 update? The recent release of a
multitude of retrospective, multi-CD packages takes some of the sting out
of choosing from an artist's many good single albums. I think everyone on
that list except Neil Young and Emmylou Harris have boxed sets available,
and they're sure to join this bandwagon. And did I mention the best part
about boxed sets? Most individual CDs are around 70 minutes long, nearly
twice the length of a typical vinyl record.
HOGWOOD: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
PRESLEY: The King of Rock & Roll - The
Complete 50's Masters (5 CDs)...and there's another box set with his
recordings of the 60's!
LOS LOBOS: Just Another Band from East L.A. - The
best rock & roll band in America today.
MATHIS: A Personal Collection (4 CDs--but sadly
without "Begin the Beguine.")
NEIL YOUNG: Decade (but can I wait for the boxed
set before I have to go?)
U2: The Joshua Tree - "Alternative"
rock joins the list. When I first bought this CD it stayed in my player
for a week straight, and I could still listen to it every week.
TOM PETTY: Greatest Hits (or maybe You're Gonna
Get It. Make that probably.)
BUCK OWENS: The Buck Owens Collection (3 CDs).
DAVE BRUBECK: Jazz Impressions of Eurasia.
THE PLATTERS: The Magic Touch (2 CDs).
What? That's ten already? But what about REM, and
Johnny Cash, and Dwight Yoakam, and Nanci Griffith and Marty Stuart and
Joe Ely and Ray Charles and Credence Clearwater and John Prine and.......
Forget it, I'm not going!
like time for another update, jumping ahead an unbelievable 18 years
since I last revised this entry. During that time my musical
interests have changed - most of my listening now is bluegrass,
classic country (1940s through 1960s), and early rock. Still love
the Who, Tom Petty, certain jazz and classical artists.
taking ten disks or CDs or whatever assumes a device to play them on
and power to run it, the problem has been solved for all time if we
can take our iPods. But just in case we're limited to ten artists:
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
& SCRUGGS: Flatt
& Scruggs 1948-1959 (4 CD Set) (I'd like to pretend that the two
other Flatt & Scruggs sets, 1959-63 and 1964-69 are all part of
the same set)
HAGGARD: Down Every Road (4 CDs)
YOUNG: Decade (STILL no box set!)
BRUBECK: Jazz Impressions of
THE PLATTERS: The Magic Touch (2
PRESLEY: The King of Rock & Roll - The
Complete 50's Masters (5 CDs)
WILLIAMS: 40 Greatest Hits (A big improvement over the 12-song
PETTY: Playback (6 CDs)
MATHIS: A Personal Collection (4
already? Again!!?? But what about Ralph Stanley and Jim & Jesse
McReynolds and Snap Jackson and Buddy Holly and ....
it...I DEMAND to take my iPod!
It's round, has a hole in the middle, and stores
information that can be converted into sound waves. Otherwise, Compact
Discs are very different from the familiar vinyl record album that has
dominated the recorded music market for 40 years. Compact discs (CDs), the
digital, laser-read recording medium introduced in 1983, mark the most
significant advance in music reproduction since the advent of the LP in
The CD is a thin, aluminum-coated plastic disc,
not quite five inches in diameter, that reflects the colors of the rainbow
from its tough, smooth surface. In a greatly simplified explanation of CD
technology, the musical waveform is sampled thousands of times every
second. Each sample is assigned a numeric value, represented by tiny pits
molded into the plastic base of the disc (over five billion pits per
disc!) A laser beam reflects the presence or absence of pits as it moves
across the surface of the disc, and this information is converted by
computer logic into electrical signals that are in turn changed to audible
sound by the loudspeaker.
Touted as the ultimate in improved sound
reproduction, CDs for the most part live up to expectations. It is
possible to find some specially-made tapes or LP's that sound as good as a
CD made from the same master tape. But CDs have one major advantage over
the best vinyl pressing--there is no physical contact between the laser
and the disc, eliminating the surface noise and wear problems that have
plagued records from their inception. CDs are much more resistant to
damage from handling, dust or scratches than any vinyl disc.
the lack of any background noise, better better
stereo separation, and a greater dynamic range, and the sonic advantages of
the CD become clear. Another important feature for most users is the
ability to program the playing of selected tracks from the disc. A few
simple touches of the correct buttons allow you to play any desired
selections on a disc, in any order. One company sells a player which an be
programmed to "remember" your favorite selections from each of
over 700 discs. Another model holds five discs, and allows you to program
selections from all five in any desired order.
The CD format's one true disadvantage is expense.
The discs currently sell for $12.99 to $14.99 for most non-classical
titles, a hefty boost from the $7.99 price of a standard LP. In addition,
there's the temptation for CD owners to replace their favorite albums with
the CD version. The rate at which older albums are being released on CD
indicates that this is happening on a widespread basis. (On the other
hand, CD players have dropped in price from around $1,000 to under $200
for some models.)
Is the resulting musical experience worth the
price? That's an individual decision. For me it is. Certainly there's
enough choice, in hardware and software, for anyone who decides to invest
in a CD system to get years of enjoyment from it. Will CDs dominate the
market as LP's have? The horizon is clouded by the digital audio tape
system--in existence in several formats, but not in commercial production.
From the number of players sold and the increasing selection of CDs in
stores, the recording industry is betting on CDs as one of the primary
formats of the future.
The 1994 update: CD prices have crept up only
slightly--but there are hundreds available at discount prices--around $9
to $10 for older but popular titles; $3 and $4 for titles that had poor
sales. The CD (along with cassettes) has virtually eliminated vinyl
records, much more quickly than anyone expected. CD recording techniques
have improved, allowing better reproduction of older material. A good CD
player can be had for $150 to $200. You can also find them for thousands.
There's a model out that handles 100-disk magazines, in a juke-box like
approach. Digital audio tape is a miniscule part of the music market.
2012 update: My current CD player, bought in 1998, holds 200 CDs, in
a carousel design. This is a mixed blessing; if it gives out, I will
probably go back to a 5-disk player. I have a 6-disk changer in my
car, and most vehicles in the last ten years come with CD, not
cassette. Prices have held fairly stable, and the majority of music
sales are or soon will be digital downloads. In vehicles, the iPod
dock is likely to replace the CD player over the next few years.
and Death at the Toad Farm
It's hard to imagine anything more grim than
going outside barefoot on a summer night and stepping on a slug. That
greenish brown stain comes off only after several scrubbings. Sure,
nuclear war and the Mideast crisis are really grimmer--but they don't hit
so close to home.
Last summer I did not step on a single slug, and
saw hardly any. What I did see was toads...whose diet, the Funk and
Wagnalls encyclopedia tells us, includes those slimy disgusting creatures.
My six year old grandson and I made many forays out by the dripping cooler
with a flashlight to spot the lumpy little creatures...at least eight or
ten of them, one a real bruiser at least four inches long.
There have regularly been toads in my Mayfair
district yard for years, but this summer was a prime season for them. One
reason is that my grandson and I imported a half dozen or so from a nearby
toad farm, also known as the bottom of the Millbrook canal. When the water
was turned off and the bottom dried out in the fall of '89, we ventured
down among the twisted supermarket carts and old bedsprings, and there in
the green grass that springs up the week after the water flow stops, the
ground was alive with tiny toads, most barely an inch long.
This year we started checking the
"farm" in September. No toads yet, but the water was full of
tadpoles. A couple of months ago my grandson and his buddy each collected
a bucket of slimy water and five or six of the creatures. I thought these
tadpoles would probably be gone soon, but they are still alive and well in
their little buckets.
Ironically, they may be the only toads to emerge
from that stretch of the canal this year. The remaining water has
evaporated, and dozens of tadpoles and fish lie in little pools of death
where the final puddles trapped them, then left them high and dry.
In a town with artificial lakes and decorative
fountains, the drought seems unreal--something to fill newspaper space. In
the bottom of Millbrook canal it's a very real matter of life and death.
I think I'll wear shoes outside next summer.
I've come to the conclusion that boys are
incapable of experiencing weather. I'm talking about boys aged about five
to twelve. (After that, an interest in the opposite sex dictates a
consideration for fashion, including cool-looking cold weather wear.)
As long as weather conditions are not severe
enough to actually freeze the boy in his tracks or blow him into the next
county, it is neither too cold nor too wet for a boy to play outside.
Recently my 10 year old neighbor B.J. knocked on
my door and asked if he could play in the yard. Since it was raining, I
said "You'll get wet, won't you?"
"I already am," he replied, and indeed,
upon inspection I saw that he was damp from top to bottom.
Reflecting on this phenomenon I considered the
fact that our ancient ancestors probably spent a fair amount of time out
in the rain, snow and wind. On the other hand, our ancient ancestors also
did some other rather unpleasant things, such as eating raw mammoth haunch
and dying at age 29.
But despite the usual colds and sniffles, it does
not seem that playing outside in inclement weather does any lasting damage
to a healthy boy. After all, it's a standard rule that the time for a kid
to put on a jacket is when his parent feels cold. The boy is usually
active enough to generate his own warmth in all but the most severe
Whenever you find yourself thinking it would be
nice to be twelve years old again, ask yourself if you're ready to spend
that much time out in the cold. Then fix yourself a cup of coffee or a hot
toddy and settle down by the fireplace with a good book, preferably one
about people who go out and do rugged and adventurous things in cold
If toast always lands butter-side down, and cats
always land on their feet, what happens if you strap toast on the back of
a cat and drop it?
The cat will twist in the harness such that the
toast is under its feet, butter-side down when it lands, and will walk
around the house tracking butter over everything that will stain.
Logically, the cat will eat the toast on the way
down, land on its feet, then go and barf up the toast in some location
where you can't see it until you step in it, to get even with you for
dropping it in the first place.
in a Container?
At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, I'd
like to say few words about the things other things come in. Take pull top
aluminum cans. I'll be among the first to quietly hum their praises. Most
of us old enough to remember when they didn't exist can recall being
caught 17 miles from the nearest bottle opener with a six pack of tightly
But who ever thought the pull-top should be
applied to everything else? On at least three occasions I have opened a
pull-top can of peanuts and had the ring break off. The only thing to do
then is get a pair of pliers and peel the top off. But what if you're
camping or even at work, where you usually don't have a pair of pliers
Then take the wonderful new envelopes that some
mad genius has given us. Bad enough are the very common return envelopes
our creditors send us in which we must insert the bill just so in order
for the address to show through the window. Some put their address on the
back, some on the front. Just so there's no uniformity--that seems to be
The very worst one is the atrocity some paper
company has foisted on my car insurance company. There is an early warning
of the problems ahead when the envelope strictly warns you to "open
It then requires you to pull out a folded up
flap, tear off the part of the envelope that seals in the bill, and fold the flap just right to create a new,
"inside-out" envelope for returning your payment. No wonder
electronic banking is the wave of the future!
All I want is to open up the thing containing the
thing I wanted in the first place without cutting myself or taking more
than three minutes. Is that too much to ask?
Everyone Should (Or Should Not) Have a Home Computer
(After succumbing to the home computer craze in
the fall of 1987, I started working on the following article, which was
eventually published in slightly different form in the newsletter of
Fresno Commodore User Group/64UM, a computer user group that I joined in
It is very probable that I never uttered the word
"computer" before I graduated from high school. My four year old
grandson is making visible progress in learning to use one.
About a year ago I became one of the millions of
people in the world who now own a home computer. Not only can a computer
make your life easier and more fun, it can also make you crazy,
frustrated, angry and filled with self-doubt in less time than any other
technological achievement in all of human history.
There are quite a few people who use one of the
small "personal computers" owned by the county department where I work,
and probably several dozen of us who have one at home. These small
computers are a very different beast from THE COMPUTER that we all know
and love--the giant mainframe located somewhere in that mysterious temple
known as "Computer Services." Nearly everyone at the department
uses this giant and virtually none of us knows anything about programming
it or even the limited technical information needed to make use of a PC.
We go to a dumb terminal, tap a few keys, and the information we need is
There are as many reasons people buy home
computers as there are buyers, but very few of us know exactly what we're
going to do with them, or even whether they'll do what we want. Ever since
Radio Shack came out with a $500 PC in about 1979, I have felt I would own
one some day. I am enjoying and using mine a lot--but the main thing I
expected to do with it is something that it is not really suited for. I
My dream of using a home computer: I have a large
number of records and tapes, dating back to the mid 1950's. I want to be
able to see what I have by Elvis Presley. More specifically, I want to see
if I have the song "Little Sister," and whether it is on an
album, or a tape, and if so, what tape number. I step to my keyboard,
enter "Presley, Elvis," and there on the screen is a complete
listing of all song titles and albums and tapes, and the tape numbers, and
what section the albums are filed in.
The reality: I turn on the keyboard, monitor, and
disk drive. I insert a program disk and load it into the computer's memory
(30 seconds to 2 minutes). I remove the program disk and insert the disk
containing my data files. I enter a one letter code, then the name
"Presley." On the screen appears information regarding one Elvis
Presley album. I press two keys and the screen changes to show information
about another album. I continue doing this through 8 or 12 or 20 album
listings. I do not know what songs are on the albums. I can create a
separate file of song titles if I want, which will take hours to make and
minutes to use.
Realistic alternative: I continue to use my old
card catalog, which sits near my stereo, is always "on," and
takes 5 seconds to locate the needed information.
The lesson: For some uses, the old-fashioned way
is best. Of course, if I had a COMPUTER, like the one we all use at work,
I could indeed set up a program which would accomplish my dream. Using this
monster spoils us a little as far as our expectations of what a computer
can do. I could also spend a bundle on an IBM compatible and software that
would come close to my "dream" program, but it still would not
be as instantaneous as the mainframe.
On the other hand, my $800 system has a $12 word
processing program that, for my needs, is virtually as good as the jillion
dollar WANG word-processor in use at the department.
Overall, I'm delighted with my computer and
amazed at its abilities, even if it is not everything I hoped. With
computers, the old adage "you get what you pay for" does not
entirely apply. You get what you get. A little homework in advance
determines whether what you get is what you need.
(Written in 1988)
Update: PCs made significant inroads at
work, reaching all supervisors desks about two years ago. By the end of
2000, every staff member will have one. I am on my fourth (3 1/2,
actually) IBM compatible PC at home. I discovered that the best data base
for most of my purposes is a word processor. I don’t maintain my card
catalog, but I have not had the ambition to enter every title from every
one of my 1000 CDs and 400 vinyl albums. I did enter a dozen or so
favorite artists, so now I can quickly find that "Little Sister"
is on volume 2 of Elvis’ Top Ten Hits CD. (This means that I didn’t
even have it when I first wrote this article in 1988. But due to the lack
of an instant-access data base, I didn’t know it.)
2008 Update: I'm not sure what generation Windows PC I have, but I
bought it after I retired in 2002, and it's about five years old, still
works good and does most of what I want most of the time. I'm on my second
laptop, which has Vista and Office 2005, which SUCK. It's the slowest
computer I've owned since my first Commodore, which I think is mostly
caused by the layers of protection Microsoft has seen fit to give us, but
which slow things down considerably.
grandson referenced above is 25, married, enrolled in a master's program,
and using his second or third desktop PC and at least his second laptop.
His wife also has a laptop, this time by Apple, and I am one of several
people I know thinking of moving to Apple next time I get a new PC. Be
warned, Bill Gates - like most software developers, you've
"improved" your product until you've ruined it.
newer grandson, age 11, is comfortable with nearly all aspects of
computer use, including the Internet and has my old laptop which he
rarely uses. His preferred computer-related activity is playing
games on the Wii. He also enjoys an occasional game of Pacman on my
to my music data base, I've finally come up with a "Song
Index" in Excel, which has a lot of great data base features
and is far less complicated than Access. A series of columns shows
the artist, song title, CD or album title, catalog number, genre,
and remarks. I can sort on any column; select a specific item from
any column and display only matching items (for example, all
listings of the song "Don't Be Cruel," or all songs by
Elvis Presley, or all songs on the album "Elvis Is Back."
It's as close to my original vision as I ever expect to get, and
works fine for my needs.
2014 Update: In 2010 I purchased a newer desktop computer,
custom assembled at a local shop, with Windows 7, which is pretty
good. The laptop also now has Windows 7, but is just as slow. I also
have an iPad, which I use for Email on trips. I only take the laptop
on long trips, for writing my travel
reports. The grandsons are older, still using computers. The
older one is married, and I think he and his wife both use Apple
computers. They have a 20-month old son who can find and open his
favorite song (Old McDonald) on the iPad. We all have smart
phones, for better or worse. I use mine mostly for calling and text
messaging. Even though it has a huge screen (Samsung Galaxy Note 3),
it's still too small for comfortable web browsing and only good for short text
emails. One of my sons-in-law has a Windows 8 PC with touch screen,
which he learned to use skillfully in a short time.
Count" is a work of fiction dealing with the Viet Nam war. It is not
obscene, but contains adult situations and "bad" words, and may not be suitable for
children under 13. Click
here to continue.
Trans-Mississippi Exposition Stamps
Recently I discovered a remarkable collection of
artwork. It was created long before the existence of computers, but it
takes a computer to really appreciate it.
A set of nine postage stamps designed by Raymond
Ostrander Smith was issued in support of the Trans-Mississippi and
International Exposition held in Omaha, NE, from June 1 to Nov. 1, 1898.
The exposition was staged to further the progress and development of the
resources and land west of the Mississippi River.
The stamps consist of nine different vignettes
illustrating America's westward expansion, surrounded by intricately
The original Trans-Mississippi stamps were
intended to be printed as two-color designs, but due to increased demands
of printing revenue stamps for the Spanish-American War, the Bureau of
Engraving and Printing reallocated resources and printed the stamps as
Described by Postmaster General Marvin Runyon as
"perhaps the greatest examples of the timeless craftsmanship and
artistry involved in the engraving of postage stamps," the stamps
were reissued in the summer of 1998, with the borders printed in nine
different colors as originally intended. A second sheet, featuring only
the one-dollar Western Cattle in Storm design, was issued in conjunction
with the nine-stamp sheets.
The reissues were printed by The Banknote
Corporation of America (BCA) using production plates manufactured from the
only existing set of original dies, created 100 years ago.
With face values ranging from one cent to two
dollars, the reissue sheet is a bargain at $3.80. The originals, despite
the single color, are somewhat higher. I purchased an unused one cent 1898
in average condition for $14 via an on-line auction (computers again!) I
also found listings that showed the 4 cent valued at $37 to $208; and a
die proof at auction for $1700, which I passed up.
As a stamp collector in my youth, I coveted this
set, whose price 40 years ago was well beyond my means. I quickly snapped
up a set of the reissues, which are framed and hanging on my wall.
But before framing them, I scanned them into the computer. This was where
the true skill of the artist was revealed. Even the sharpest eye cannot
make out the details very well in the stamps themselves. Scanned at 600
DPI, the amazing craftsmanship of artist and engraver is brought to life
in exquisite detail.
In researching the stamps I heard of a book
(which I have not seen), "The United States Trans-Mississippi Issue
of 1898" (copyright 1997), by Randy L. Neil with Jack Rosenthal
(available from Amazon).
Long, long ago, when the people still lived near
the big dome rock, Coyote walked upright, and was called Coyote-Man, and
had no fur.
Now Coyote-Man could not run as fast as he can
now, and he had a hard time in the winter. So one day Coyote-Man came to
the wise old woman of the village to ask for help.
"Grandmother," he said, "please
make a fur coat for me, for I get very cold in the winter. With my paws I
cannot hold a bone needle, and you are known all over the mountain for
your beautiful sewing work."
"Very well, Coyote-Man," said the old
woman. "Bring me the skin of five rabbits, and I will sew a coat for
"I also have a hard time catching
food," said Coyote-Man. "Could I possibly have some of that deer
I see hanging in the tree there?"
So Grandmother gave Coyote-Man a piece of
venison, and he went off to catch the rabbits.
In a week he returned, with the rabbit furs.
"Well, Coyote-Man, you have done well. You
have the furs, and you must have had plenty to eat also."
"Yes, Grandmother," he answered,
"but it was so hard, and my paws are very sore."
Grandmother picked up the furs. "I will
start tomorrow, for I have other work I must do today. When the moon comes
up over the big rock just after sundown, come again and your coat will be
"Thank you, Grandmother; you are very
kind," said Coyote-Man, and he went off.
Later that day Grandmother went to fix dinner for
her family, and she found that most of the deer was missing.
"Hmmm," she said, "it looks like Coyote-Man has turned into
a thief. Well, I’ll fix him."
Over the next weeks Grandmother worked cutting
the furs and fitting them together, and sewing with her skillful hand. And
on the night when the moon came up over the rock just after sundown,
Coyote-Man appeared in the camp.
"Greetings, Grandmother; I have come to see
if my coat is ready."
"It is indeed, Coyote-Man," she said.
"Here, put it on."
As he did so, he saw that it was beautiful; the
pieces were sewed so no one could see where they were fitted together, and
it was warm and fit him wonderfully.
"Now," said Grandmother, "I have
to do just a bit more sewing to finish it. Bend down so I can work on
it." Coyote-Man did so, and she worked with her needle and thread for
a few minutes.
When she stepped back, Coyote-Man tried to stand
up, but found he could not.
"Grandmother," he cried, "what
have you done to me? I cannot stand up!"
"That is your reward for being a thief,
Coyote-Man," she said. "You are not fit to walk among men
anymore. From now on you can walk around on all fours. But at least you
will be able to run fast, and you can catch your food and you will not
have to steal."
So Coyote-Man went away, feeling very sad. He
went over by the big dome rock, and sat down, and began to cry in a
strange mournful howl. And all his friends and relations came out to see
what was going on, and they found out that they were now like him; and
they all sat and began to howl.
And that is why Coyote-Man walks on all fours,
and how he got his fur coat, and why he make his strange cry.
Lew, who has lived in Huntsville AL for many
years now, was a live, in-person friend in Fresno, where I still live.
When his Christmas card came back one year, I did the logical thing. I
sent Email to a woman in Huntsville, whom I knew through Commodore
newsletter exchanges and Q-Link (AOL’s predecessor), and asked her to
see if she could find a new address in the Huntsville phone book.
She did, and I got back in touch with Lew; when I
told him how I got his address, he asked if the woman was single and
attractive. "Lew," I replied, "on line everyone is 29 and
Those of us who use Email and are involved in
some activity that interests a wide group of people, have enjoyed
"meeting" and "knowing" some very special people only
in cyberspace. I would never claim that on-line friendships equal those we
make in person. I believe human beings need human contact, and the deepest
bonds of love and friendship must be forged face to face. Body language,
tone of voice, and many other aspects go into in-person communication. So
also do pre-conceived notions, prejudices and assumptions.
However, on-line these issues are stripped away.
We do not know if the person we are "talking" to is black, white
or green; young or old; physically disabled or any of the other many
things that sometimes get in the way. We judge strictly on the person’s
words, and the intellect and personality that comes across through them.
It’s not that everyone lies about their
physical attributes, social status, money and abilities on line, although
that certainly happens. Rather these things just don’t come up, and the
polite correspondent does not care. On line we can have that world free of
prejudice and preconception that people of good will everywhere desire.
The first rule of bluegrass
songwriting is that two people may never love each other at the same time.
If they do, someone’s gonna die.
With that in mind, we present a
summary of the various types of bluegrass love:
1.Boy meets girl; boy loves girl; girl loves someone else. Boy pines
2.Boy meets girl; they fall in love. Boy kills girl for no
discernable reason. Boy pines away regretting his misdeed for 99 years or
till his hanging day, whichever comes first.
3.Boy meets girl; they fall in love and marry. She is untrue, and he
kills her and buries her on the farm. No one finds out. Pining optional.
4.Boy meets girl and falls in love; she marries another and lives in
a mansion. Boy pines away in his cabin.
5.Boy meets girl; they fall in love and marry. She dies in childbirth
or otherwise; boy pines away.
6.Boy leaves the old cabin home and goes to the big city, where he
pines away for the old cabin.
7.Boy leaves the old cabin home and goes to the big city. Comes back;
everyone is dead and everything is changed.
8.Boy meets girl; they fall in love. Her parents disapprove of the
marriage. Boy kills self. Girl kills self.
9.Boy loves mom, but he’s in prison, or in the big city, or
somewhere else far away, pining away.
10.Everybody loves little Suzy or little Billy, but he/she is called
up yonder; everyone pines away.
I Do(Updated September
21, 2006 and other
dates as indicated)
I am retired, people who are still working often ask me what I do with my
time. Usually I can’t remember everything, but I know I am never bored.
if you are working, ask yourself this: Has there ever been a time when you
were able to get everything done you want to? I’m betting no.
it gets better when you’re retired, but you still don’t get everything
done you want to. Here is a brief description of what I do (and don’t
with grandchildren: Actually the older one at age 22 does not play the
way he used to. He has a job, a girlfriend and goes to college, so our
visits are sandwiched in between those activities, and are like social
contact between adult friends. We do try to go out to lunch once a month
little one turned nine in July 2006, and is in fourth grade, but he spends
quite a few nights with me while his parents are busy with their
activities. He likes to go camping, and unlike his brother, even thinks
bluegrass festivals are cool. In 2004 he went with me on a trip across the
country, and one of his regular questions now is “where are you going to
take me next summer?”This
year the answer is probably
National Park; other plans preclude a longer trip. I’m hoping to make a trip across
the south in 2008, but I’m not sure he’ll want to be gone as long as
it will take.
2/23/12: As it turned out, we
did the southern trip in 2009 and Lassen in 2010.
The younger grandson is rushing into adulthood (age 17 right now), but the
older one has provided a great grandson, with another due in October.
Great times, and lots of years of playing with the great ones ahead.
So, not surprisingly, the grandsons keep getting older, with the
younger one now 19 and in his second year of college. The great
grandsons are approaching two and four, and are a delight, but not
old enough to travel with me yet. I've enjoyed camping with them
along with my daughter and/or their parents.
: When I retired in April 2002, I had some unread magazines that were at
least a year old. I read the local newspaper every day; and I read and
re-read quite a few books. When it was clear that I was not going to catch
up on my magazines, I let three of them expire. In July 2003, I finally
got caught up enough on my day to day reading to make a dent in the
backlog. Then over the last couple of years I have bought and received as
gifts a fair number of books. So my pile of reading to do is still pretty
have a great morning reading spot in my back yard…it’s shady in the
summer and sunny in the winter. If I have nothing scheduled, I sit and
read the paper and enjoy a Bloody Mary or orange juice.
also read certain things on the Internet on a fairly regular basis. I get
a summary of major stories in the New York Times each day, and usually
read two or three of them. I subscribe to a number of comic strips which I
read on line each day (three of The
’s comic strips are among the best available; the rest are generally
lame). I receive several articles a week via Email from Slate, an on-line
magazine, and occasionally check their home page and read one or two other
articles a week.
And then, along came Kindle, and I don't know how many unread books that I
can take with me wherever I go. Of course, the paper book collection has
No one who knows me will be surprised that I work (actually I play) on my
computer quite a bit. I have compiled a lot of family genealogy
information and entered it in a computer program; I have a bunch more to
enter, but haven’t worked on it much lately.
have a large collection of vinyl LP albums and 45 RPM records. I have
wanted to put some of this music on CD, and I finally have a computer and
programs that let me do it. This involves importing the music into the
computer, putting together the desired songs for a CD, and burning the CD.
I also make nice labels for the CD and box. All of this is quite time
consuming. I did quite a few of these a couple of years ago, but other
things have intruded. I still intend to do more.
Technology marches on, and the arrival of MP3s, iPods, iTunes, etc. has
made it no longer necessary to make my own CDs. My car has an iPod dock,
so I have 20,000 songs at my disposal (which is too many).
how the next paragraph originally read): I have a lot of home video tapes that
I would like to put on DVD. My computer will also do this, and I have just
barely started working on it. It is even more time consuming than audio
CDs, and I have not yet produced a DVD, so I don’t know how it will work
out. This is a project that could take several years to complete, working
when I can and want to.
what has really happened): Transferring video to DVD via the computer
proved to be unsatisfactory (very poor quality), so I ended up buying a
DVD recorder. It’s connected to my satellite system (previously to
cable). I can record DVDs from videotapes, and I have done quite a few.
However, my DirecTV satellite service includes a TIVO digital video
recorder (DVR), which records with much greater quality than videotape. I
have been collecting a few of my favorite series via the DVR, then
transferring them to DVD. So I now have on DVD the complete Home Improvement, That 70s
Show, and a few others. I have also been collecting some new series,
my favorites being House and How
I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory.
course, I check my Email every day, and visit various Internet sites. I do
a lot of my shopping on-line, especially music CDs (and later music MP3
downloads). I use the computer for
various kinds of record keeping – a checkbook program, data base of my
CDs, records, tapes and other things, and miscellaneous writing projects.
As many of you know, I have been doing reports on my trips to bluegrass
festivals and other destinations, and after several years of
procrastination, I finally put together several pages about some long ago trips.
the last month or so (as of September 2006), I have been doing a lot of
work on my web site. I have a bunch of pages relating to music, a bunch
relating to genealogy, and numerous others (you can get to any or all of
them via www.dickestel.com). I
completely re-did all my music and genealogy pages because they did not
look that great. I also have been creating pages for all my trip reports.
This way I can include photos right there with the text.
I started off with a bang, taking a two-month, cross-country trip during
the summer of 2002, starting less than two months after I retired. In 2004
my younger grandson and I went to
and points in between, visiting some old friends who used to live in
Fresno. My other trips have been less ambitious, but have taken me to
and Arizona, usually for bluegrass festivals, but also to Arches, Canyonlands and
National Parks. I also go on camping trips to the mountains, anywhere from three days to
a week. And I visit my mother in Mariposa regularly – not much of a
“trip,” since it’s just an hour and fifteen minutes each way.
trips require a fair amount of preparation time, and the destination
affects what I do to get ready. If I’m going to be gone a month or more,
I’ll take equipment and ingredients for making salsa, hot fudge, etc.
But I don’t have to worry about food – I can find a grocery store
anywhere I go. For a week-long camping trip, I have to take all necessary
food and water, as well as other things you don’t find in the mountains.
packing, the trailer itself needs some attention – checking air in
tires, filling the water tank, making sure supplies I keep in it all the
time are adequate (napkins, salt & pepper, etc.). I put gas in my
generator and fill up the extra 5-gallon can I take with me.
and cleaning up at the end of a trip also takes quite a bit of time and
energy. After a recent trip, I washed the trailer, which involves dragging
out a huge, heavy stepladder, and using a long-handled brush to reach the
roof and upper sides (it’s a job for a warm day; I got thoroughly
I would never have time to get ready or unpack at the end if I was
Organized: We’re all going to get
organized, just as soon as we have some time, right? I come from a long
line of savers, and I have too much stuff, a lot of it paper. My mother
has clippings, photos, books, and who knows what all – two houses full.
There also used to be a small mobile home, but it was emptied and sold in
November 2005. One of the “houses” is a 600 square foot duplex. Still
there’s a lot of stuff that I don’t want to inherit. And I have a lot
of stuff my kids don’t want to inherit. So I am trying very hard to go
through it, get rid of 50%, and organize the rest. Some day I’ll have to
do this with my mother’s stuff, which includes a bunch of my
grandmother’s stuff, since she will never get it all done (and I assume
she will live to be 100, another 12 years).
have had mixed success with this project. I’ve cleaned up some areas,
only to let others pile up (see above to find out what I’m really
doing). A bunch of work related stuff got tossed out with no regret and
very little time spent looking at it.
among the junk there are jewels. We have diaries my grandmother kept when
she and my grandfather and my father came to
in 1934. We have photos going back to the 1880s. It’s just so hard to
find the good stuff under all that other stuff. But I’m working on it
– and next year, when I have more time, I really will get organized.
My mother passed away in 2007 at the age of 89. I spent a day or two
every week the next six months sorting through her stuff. My sister
come out from Minnesota and helped for a week. This inspired both of
us to start getting rid of more of our own stuff. Of course, I kept
a significant amount of my mother's stuff. And I'm still planning to
get REALLY organized, just as soon as I have time.
at the stars: For many years, I have
tried go outside shortly after dark every night and check out the stars. I
can locate and identify a dozen or so named stars. Then I go out again
between 2 and
for another look, since the movement of everything in the universe brings
new objects into view.
I was in
in the summer of 2002, my sister gave me a small telescope that she had
picked up at a yard sale. In 2003 I upgraded to a better one, so now I can
take an even closer look at things in the sky. This new hobby requires
some research on the Internet and takes up another portion of my time.
However, because of the excess light pollution in the neighborhood and
general laziness, I haven’t had the telescope out for a year or so. One
neighbor found it necessary to install a huge bright light out on the roof
overhang which shines into my yard and is really annoying. (Ultimately I
sold the telescope and went back to naked eye gazing.)
Sometimes I just take advantage of
being retired. One morning I got up, didn’t exercise, didn’t walk,
didn’t get dressed till
noon, and had ice cream for breakfast. Of course, later that day I scrubbed
and rearranged the kitchen counters, and cleaned out the pantry (a major
“getting organized” project, but sadly, as of September 2006, it needs
to be done again), so I am still not that good at pure laziness.
all this, I go to retirement association lunches, lunches for people who
are retiring, and stop by my old work place now and then to annoy the
people who are still trying to work. I also go to lunch about once a month
with a bunch of working and retired friends, and somehow I have been given
the job of organizing this lunch. In all fairness, all it amounts to is
sending a few Emails and figuring out which day has the fewest conflicts
for everyone. I also got invited to join another group of retirees that
goes to lunch every Friday, but someone else is in charge of what
little organization is involved.
if you’ll excuse me, I really MUST get busy doing all the things I
Demise of Tower Records (posted
November 6, 2006)
2006: The news that Tower Records is closing down brought a touch of
sadness. A lot has been written about once highly successful chain
in recent weeks, not all of it accurate.
An article in The Fresno (CA) Bee states:
“[Russ] Solomon…opened the first Tower store…in 1960. ‘There
were no stores devoted to music at the time that Russ Solomon came
along,’ said Sacramento
musician Mick Martin, a former Tower employee. ‘You went to
Mr. Martin is probably too young to know how wrong he is. I moved to
in the fall of 1957 to attend Fresno State College, but prior to
that I remember patronizing music stores in downtown Fresno. Back when
was a street instead of a pedestrian mall, there were at least three
stores which focused on music. Except for Hockett-Cowan, I can no
longer remember the names of these stores. They carried all the
popular records of the day, although it’s true that their focus
was on musical instruments.
However, prior to 1960 we had Record Outlet in
Fresno, where LP albums were a dollar or more cheaper than the regular
retail price. Also pre-1960, Record Rendezvous in Merced
focused on records, and I remember shopping there several times
prior to moving to Fresno.
None of this takes away from the cultural and commercial phenomenon
that was Tower Records, and it will be a sad day when they close the
doors for the last time.
However, changing tastes and a changing market make it inevitable. I
certainly helped drive the nails in Tower’s coffin. I buy
virtually all my CDs on line or directly from the artists at music
festivals. However, it’s also true that Tower does not carry most
of the CDs I buy.
Cats Eat (posted 9/25/07)
(updates at bottom 9/28/07, 3/31/09, 7/5/10,
6/22/12 and 5/15/17)
morning I was peeling some par-boiled potatoes to make hash browns.
My cat, Furry Lewis, came up and started begging. “OK,” I said.
“Have some potato peels if you insist.”
my surprise, he downed the piece I dropped on the floor, and
immediately requested more. I gave him several pieces of the cooked
peel, and he ate them all. From then on, hash brown day was a
shared experience for Furry and me.
inspired me to ask other people if their cats had any unusual food
cravings. Jamie reported that Spot was big on watermelon – clearly
begging for it and going berserk until he gets a share. Snowflake
went way over the line, dining on dill pickles, and yogurt and ice
cream (though not all at the same time). In fact, Snowflake was pretty much
happy with any human food.
reports that her old cat liked cornbread. The new one has a much
wider list of favorites, including carrot cake (preferably with
cream cheese icing), canned corn and peas, cream of wheat, and a sip
of eggnog with brandy on Christmas Eve.
cat had a Homer Simpson-like craving for Mexican-style pork rinds
– he could smell them through the grocery sacks, and would tear
into the bag. She had to hide them in a tightly closed cupboard.
reports that his white and black male cat Buster is fond of lettuce.
He will go so far as to snatch it from the countertop or the kitchen
trash. Julie reports on a couple of cats: “One of my friend’s
cats always has a slice of cantaloupe in the morning. Hard to find in
the off season but it was always there. She would put her paw in the
center and eat it down to the rind. My other friend,
and I taught their cat to eat popcorn, unbuttered. Bud would go nuts
when he smelled it and sit up and take the popcorn from your
reminded me of my parents cat Lani, who would push his face into
ours when we were eating popcorn, and required his own bowl before
he would be satisfied.
writes, “Kitten was crazy about Nacho Cheese Doritos and popcorn.
And we almost had to hide to eat beef jerky when Fridge was with us!
She'd hunt you down and hound you for nibbles. Sausage loved corn!
Since we often eat in the living room (over carpet), Rod would
put the corn kernels on top of his shoe for Sausage.” And later:
“We found out on Sunday that Giblet loves lasagna! I guess,
considering the cheese content, that that's no surprise! But she
really went ape.” (Remember, this was one of Garfield’s favorites too.)
an Email, Bob reports that his cat Huntsie (a real female hunter of
all animals) loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She will
jump up in his lap when he is at his desk and eat the sandwich out
of Bob’s hand, and takes big bites.
from Florida checks in with this message: “One of my girls likes
crackers, toast, fruit (a lot of cats eat melons).”
the category of what cat’s don’t eat, here’s what Tina has to say: “My cat Chewy, hates
dry cat food that comes in a 5 pound bag. He prefers the canned food
in those silly little cans. He hates dry food so much that he
travels the neighborhood in search of canned cat food. Then when I
get around to buying the canned food again, he refuses to leave the
house. True story - you would not believe how many neighbors have
called us asking what to do with Chewy (his collar has our address
and phone number) as he walks into open houses and begins eating the
current resident's cat food. Mando and I say he is a cat whore.”
writes, "When I had a cat, he really liked artichoke
says: "Right after I read What Cats Eat, I was
lamenting the fact that Butch's diet is so boring and then, that
same evening, he decided that he wanted to eat some dried mangos.
What a guy – always keeps me guessing."
adds: "Peas. Yep, canned peas. Rod decided to see if Giblet
would like a pea. She got up on her back feet to take the pea like a
cat treat! Then a few more."
and Chuck report that Ebee has a Jones for whipped cream. No Cool
Whip or other artificial substitutes - just the real thing. But if
she hears the hiss of whip cream being applied, she is right there,
demanding her share. It doesn't have to be on top of anything...if
they put a little pile on the floor, she'll clean it up.
in, Jennifer reports that Nibbles likes green olives. No word on
whether he wants them in a martini. And in an update, she tells us
that the Nibbler also loves sour cream and yogurt. It's true they
are dairy products, but she's quite adamant about getting her share
(and yours as well).
another cat in Jennifer's household ate dry roasted peanuts. "Rod shells a peanut, gives her half, and she munches down."
evidence that TV
really don’t pay attention to other shows
or what is
going on in the industry.
else can you explain the creators
of House giving
one of their brilliant doctors
the same name as
one of the goofball kids
70s Show (Eric Foreman/Forman)? It may
spelled the same, but
we have two new shows
where a key character’s
last name is
Darling. Kelsey Grammer is
Chuck Darling in Back
to You. And “the wealthiest family
in Manhattan,” headed by Donald Sutherland, is the Darlings
named Dick carries with it certain burdens. While the teasing pretty
much died down after the middle elementary years, the rise of the
Internet brought its own problems. Sometimes Email filters will dump
my Email or links to my web site (www.dickestel.com)
into the spam folder. The Kings
County (CA) School District
system won’t let its users accept my Email unless they request
I was entering my name on a web site, and as soon as I typed
“Dick” a message popped up that said “enter a correct name.”
never complained to my mother, since I assumed she had good reasons
and liked the name. Richard is, after all, an ancient an honorable
name. I’ll bet no one ever teased Richard the Lionhearted more
in her life I did mention the issue to my mother, whereupon I found
out that this innocent Ohio
farm girl had never known the name could have any sexual
course, as my co-worker, Michael Glasscock once said, “it could
have been worse.”
So even though I sign my checks “Richard,” you can call me
New Haircut (Posted 6/18/08)
A few years back, when I
worked in the northeast corner of Fresno, I went to a barber shop near my workplace. I didn’t have a
special barber, and I suppose the results were mixed, but I’m not
a hair stylin’ kind of guy, and as long as people in the street
didn’t laugh, I was satisfied.
That job ended in 1973, so I looked for a place close to my home in
the northwest, which is when I discovered Faretta’s Barber Shop at
West and McKinley. At the time there were two barbers, owner Jim
Faretta and a young man named Leonard.
Over the years there were evolutionary changes. The north and the
west of Fresno
moved farther north and west. Leonard got a job in a hair
“styling” shop, so Jim carried on alone. I moved to Salinas
for about a year, but since I returned to Fresno
every month or so, I usually went to Faretta’s, getting maybe two
haircuts in Salinas.
After I returned to
Fresno, I got a job in the southeast corner of town, and moved to the
central part of town, but I continued to drive across town to
Faretta’s. After my brief sojourn in Salinas, I got only one haircut elsewhere, in
during a two-month cross country trip. Meanwhile, Jim cut his work
week down to three days a week, Thursday through Saturday.
Faretta’s is what I would call an “old school” shop. The
waiting area has the day’s newspaper, along with sporting
magazines and Playboys. If you wander in on a Saturday and there are
four guys sitting around, it’s probable that not more than one of
them is there for a haircut. The rest are people who’ve known Jim
since their youth, and have come in to shoot the breeze.
At one point I realized I had been going that that shop for a long
time, so I asked Jim if he was planning to retire soon. “How old
do you think I am?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve been coming in here for close to 30
years, so we both must be about 30 years older then when I first
fact, he was 75 at the time, and further conversation revealed that
he continued to work mainly to get out of the house and have
something to do. Keeping the shop open was more a social activity
than a job, and I suspect he barely made enough to pay the rent
(and probably not enough to drive to work when gas was $4 a gallon).
Not long ago I drove over to West and McKinley on Thursday, only to
find a sign in the window “back Friday.” I returned the next
day, along with another patron, and we stood looking at the
“Friday” sign, along with a “Closed” sign and a locked door.
We checked with the people in the mini-mart next door, and they said
they thought Jim was sick, but might be back on Saturday.
I was unable to get back the next day, and ordinarily I would have
just waited another week or two. But my grandson’s wedding was the
following Friday, and there would be no chance to return before
With a great deal of hesitation and trepidation, I entered a shop
near my new home in Clovis, and got what is probably the 4th
haircut not done at Faretta’s in about 35 years. And what a
haircut it was.
The shop was no busier than Jim’s, but had a modern, sterile look.
There was one barber on duty, a “boy” not much older than my
grandson, along with a young lady whose duties seemed to involve
walking back and forth a few times.
The young man said my hair was very fine, and hard to cut with his
tools, but he worked long and hard, getting it just right. He used a
series of plastic guides that he attached to his clippers, which
allowed him to make rapid, hard passes while not cutting too deep.
“Jim would laugh at this guy,” I thought, but he dispensed with
the guides for the finishing touches, and proved to be quite
To my great surprise, he even trimmed my eyebrows and mustache, and
in the end, though my hair looked different, it looked OK to me.
I’ve enjoyed a $6 senior citizen price at Jim’s for the last
four years, but I thought the $9 charge here was quite reasonable.
Of course, I have realized for some time that I will probably need
haircuts past the time that Jim is physically able to give them,
even if he goes till the day he dies. I had my eye on a shop close
to my home in central Fresno, but long before I had need of it the shopping center it was in was
torn down. It was replaced by a big discount grocery store and a row
of small stores, which includes a Starbucks, but no barber shop.
So, will I go back to the kid next time, or return to Jim? I’m not
sure yet. It partly depends on what people think of my “new”
look, if they even notice. I know when the time comes, I will really
miss the old school ambiance and the old timers’ stories at
Post Script: My very first barber was Winnie Williams in Mariposa,
who charged one dollar (in the 1940s-50s). After his retirement,
Winnie provided free haircuts to the gentlemen in local nursing
homes, a service he continued to provide until his final illness in
After I left the security of my home and Winnie’s shop, as a poor
college student I briefly patronized the barber college in Fresno. Here you could get a haircut from a new student for 25 cents or a
more advanced pupil for 50 cents.
Post Script (7/10/08): Recently I visited a high school classmate
and his brother, who are the sons of my first barber, who passed away a few years ago. In their house they have an old pendulum clock that hung on the wall of Winnie's barber shop as long as it was open. The clock has never been repaired or cleaned, and still keeps good time.
They also have Winnie's old barber chair, in which I (and every other male Mariposan) sat, back in the 1940s and 50s.
23, 2012 update: Faretta's has closed. I don't know what
happened, but last time I went there it was locked up and empty. Jim
had re-married after his wife died, and I suspect the new wife
convinced him it was time to hang up the clippers. I had a couple of
haircuts at a shop near my new home in Clovis, the second one being
unsatisfactory. Then I found more of an "old school" shop
in a nearby shopping center. I've been in twice, and so far, it
looks like this will be my barber shop for the long term.
Cat Spotting (posted July 1, 2008)
(July 12, 1998 to be exact) when I was taking my regular morning walk,
I noticed a dead cat in the middle of the street, with a live cat
very cautiously checking it out, from a distance of at least eight
feet. Only a fool attributes human thoughts to a cat, so let me
foolishly propose the following: “Gee, that coulda been me!”
“Poor old Tom; we had a lot of good times together.” “I’m
glad you’re dead, you tuna stealing scum!” “Hmmm...wonder how
I can get that mean Siamese next door to walk in front of a car.”
“Hey, I better get out of the street before the same thing happens
Obviously he did NOT have this latter thought; when I returned from
my walk, the eyewitness was still walking out into the street to check
things out. Like gawkers at an accident who get run over by the
ambulance, he was paying more attention to me and the dead cat than
to the car that was turning the corner and bearing down on the
scene. However, he realized the danger in time, and fortunately,
there were no further victims.