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You're traveling through a wondrous dimension of humor and shadow, of imagination and mist. Welcome to my website! Wander around a bit and see what’s up. If the mists get too thick, well, some things look better in the fog anyway. So come back often to The Joe Zone – and bring your friends. That way, if you get lost, or marooned here, at least you’re together. Not that people get marooned here. Very often. For very long. Signpost up ahead, your next stop – The Joe Zone!
Everyone has deep-seated fears. Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said we have nothing to fear but fear itself. However, most of us have a list of fears that goes far beyond that. Some typical fears include heights, snakes, spiders, and having a water balloon explode on your head in the middle of the night. Public speaking is feared by many people. Fear of failure is rampant. So is fear of flying, and, as exploited by Hollywood, flying in a plane filled with snakes, which is more likely than the scenarios presented in most Hollywood movies.
Some people, like Charlie Brown, fear everything. I’m pretty close to that. I thought of something last week that I’m not afraid of, but I can’t remember what it is. I’m sure that’s just as well. If I thought about it long enough, I’d probably talk myself into being afraid of it, and that would ruin my day. And one of my biggest fears is having my day ruined, so you can see the dilemma.
It’s a tradition here in the Joe Zone to welcome the December solstice, when the winter invades the Northern Hemisphere. Yesterday, December 21, was that day. Excuse me while I cover my ears to protect me from the shrieking – mine, I mean.
Many people love to complain about the weather. I know I do; in fact, it’s one of my best talents. I could even say I’m gifted in the area of weather grumping. So let’s objectively examine the hated season of winter, that abysmal time of year when death would be welcome relief. I can feel myself curling up like one of the dry, lifeless leaves shriveling and shivering on my lawn, under six inches of ice.
Of course, winter isn’t all bad. Some people actually like winter, and in fact look forward to it. They enjoy the cold, the snow, the lack of light, the misery, the depression, the soul-sucking numbness that winter brings. It’s an acquired taste.
Most of us have cherished childhood memories of receiving a particularly special Christmas gift. When I was nine, my parents gave me a Flexible Flyer sled for Christmas. What a great gift! It was better than getting a Red Ryder carbine action BB gun with a compass in the stock. Parents can be tone-deaf to the cool brands that kids crave, but in this case, they hit the ball out of the park – what kid didn’t want a Flexible Flyer? They were sleek, they were cool, if you owned a Flyer, you were nobody’s fool.
We lived about 20 miles north of Pittsburgh, near my mother’s childhood home. I look back on that time as some of the most wonderful days of my childhood, unfettered by concrete and asphalt, free to roam the fields and woods and creek beds. And definitely free to ride a Flexible Flyer without crossing the paths of cars annoyingly using sledding roads for their own selfish purpose.
When we moved to the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, sledding was still on the agenda, as our house was conveniently located at the end of a “sled run.” Well, technically, it was a dead-end steep alley that intersected with a short branch of Duncan Street, then turned 90 degrees left for a short run to 54th street. All downhill, of course, and another right turn onto 54th led downhill for several blocks to Butler Street, but that would be a suicide run on a sled. Sounds great, huh?
My family recently went on our annual catastrophic vacation to Presque Isle on Lake Erie. Our usual practice is to wait till the end of the season, when our shattered nerves are just about to shove us off the precipice into an abyss of despair. The purpose of the vacation is to vanquish the summer blahs, or at least exchange them for a different set of blahs. However, on our trips, disasters customarily abound.
This year’s excursion was better than most – disasters were held at bay, or at least at Misery Bay, with only a few calamities ambushing us. Other years have featured opening ceremonies involving thunderstorms, gale-force winds, and 62 degree afternoons. In a particularly memorable breezy year, the youngest curly-haired granddaughter gleefully tossed sand in the air, directly into her eyes. As it turns out, that’s the perfect beach buzzkill.
Ma Nature was agreeable this year, with warm temps and partly sunny skies. It was one of those rare lulls this season between stifling humidity and flooding downpours, which are the only two phrases modern meteorologists need.
With the country in such a state of crankiness and tension that it seems ready to spontaneously combust, we must beware of adding any further incendiary material. In fact, we all should be trying, as some are encouraging, to emulate the amiable, if unfortunately late, Fred Rogers. We certainly wouldn’t want to use harsh, condemning language of the type used by so many politicians, and even some segments of the news/opinion media.
Our National Crabby Quotient is at too high a level to condone such irresponsible tirades and harangues. (By the way, does the word “harangue” make you hungry? It always reminds me of “meringue,” and then I think of lemon meringue pie, and the thought of the tart lemon starts my mouth watering.) We don’t want to abrogate our duty to make the world a Fredlier place, but I’m afraid there’s a topic that’s too important to leave unsaid. So I’m going to say it. We must unite, and let the world know that we will no longer put up with, tolerate, or otherwise stand for, the behavior so often exhibited by restaurant hostesses.
I’m referring, of course, to the hostess seating you, or me, or anyone, right next to the only other dining party within a quarter mile. Yes, the room is almost empty. Space abounds. Empty tables as far as my admittedly nearsighted eyes can see. You could detonate a paint bomb and not hit anyone, although that goes against emulating Fred Rogers. But if you did it anyway, just in your mind, or maybe on the Enterprise holodeck, you wouldn’t hit anyone, because almost all of the tables are empty. And yet THE HOSTESS STILL SEATS YOU NEXT TO THE TABLE WITH FOUR LOUD ADULTS, THREE WHINING KIDS, TWO CRYING BABIES, AND A BARKING DOG.
Creedence Clearwater asked who’ll stop the rain, several decades ago. I’ve never heard the answer to that question, but I sure wish I knew. Somebody needs to step up and stop this nonsense of constant precipitation.
The problem is, the weather has been squirrely the last few years. Some people attribute that to global warming, which I suppose may or may not be the case. I can encapsulate my feelings on the matter succinctly: Mother Nature is off her meds.
Old Ma Nature doesn’t know how to do anything in moderation anymore. Take rainfall, for example. Most people consider it to be beneficial, at least in reasonable amounts. The rain we get in the Joe Zone is no longer reasonable. I remember when, in the weather forecast, the word “rain” wasn’t always preceded by “heavy,” “flooding,” or “Biblical.” I think this is partly due to the “Whether-casters” (they don’t know whether it’s going to do this or do that) being melodramatic to boost ratings, but weather psychosis is definitely on the rise.
When I was twelve, my Christmas present was a brand-new J. C. Higgins 26” Flightliner bicycle. I was probably more surprised than Ralphie was when he got his Red Ryder BB gun. Money was not abundant growing up, and we kids didn’t expect lavish gifts. But Christmas morning, there it was in the downstairs hallway, shining brighter than the tinsel on the tree. It was a present far better than anything Santa had ever brought down the chimney.
It was the most gorgeous bicycle ever made. All red, white, and chrome, sleek as a Corvette, with whitewalls, tailfins and dual headlights. Just standing in the hallway on its kickstand, it looked like it was speeding, and I was sure it was faster than anything around, except maybe an F-104 Starfighter. Even the name “Flightliner” conjured images of jets coursing through the sky, as I would soon be coursing through the streets of Mt. Washington.
Ah, Thanksgiving! A time to be grateful for many things, including the abilities we were given. Everyone on this Earth has some areas in which they have natural talent. Most of us learn at a young age that Mother Nature or Father Time or the Fairy Godmother, or whoever is in charge of such things, doesn’t deal a fair hand to everyone. Some fortunates receive a bountiful bouquet of talents, while others get a wilted bunch of thorny stems. We must then play the hand we’ve been dealt. One of my talents would seem to be mixing metaphors.
My wife and I complement each other in this regard, as we each have abilities that the other utterly lacks. We also compliment each other on these talents, which makes for a happier home. My wife is extremely organized and neat. I was off lollygagging when those gifts were dispersed. Left to my own devices, I would end up living in a hovel and being featured on a ghastly segment of the six o’clock news. I often seek her inspiration for how I should organize my things of this or that ilk. I have any number of ilks that consume vast hours of my life. My tombstone could read, “He frittered away too much time on ilks. But he amazed us with his untidiness.”
Regular Zoners know that we usually celebrate the arrival of each new season. So once again we unholster the Joe Zone nuclear-powered microscope, and examine the season of autumn, which sneaked in on tiny little fall-feet in the northern hemisphere yesterday afternoon. Did you hear it? Me, neither. I think it’s hiding in my basement.
Ah, autumn! It’s often the fairest of times, with mild breezes and pleasant temperatures. This year, in my neck of the woods, it’s very hot and dry. (In the spirit of transparency, I should point out that I don’t live in the woods, or in any kind of neck for that matter. I don’t even know what that means. If any of you are neck-dwellers, please let me know.) That’s fine with me, as I had grown weary of seeing the rabbits and squirrels being swept down the stream in my backyard from the flooding rains this summer.
Autumn is sometimes referred to as “fall.” This is because come September and October, so many things are falling – leaves, temperatures, raindrops, hems, footballs, meteors… Also falling is the number of daylight hours, which of course means that the number of nightlight hours is increasing.
My wife showed me a photograph of an attractive model and announced that she wanted to look like her. This is dangerous ground for a husband. Walking through quicksand, then leaping into a viper pit seems a safer alternative. I deftly spluttered my way through a response. We both agreed the model was flawless, though I’m sure she’s insecure about her looks, and approaches each modeling session with sufficient angst to fill a boxcar.
Our American culture certainly encourages us to emulate the famous, the wealthy, the stars. Who doesn’t want to live the lives we see glamorized on the screens, small and large. After all, our lives are crushingly monotonous compared to theirs, or so we are told. Just look at the fun and good times the celebrities are having. Who wouldn’t want that?
I remember as an adolescent seeing Cary Grant in the movies, and thinking, surely, here is the epitome of suave and class. I want to be like him. I want to BE him. But how can Mortimer Snerd become Cary Grant?
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