a shining moment
SIS writes: “Subject: Diva.
“I can hear my old friends scoffing: ‘Say that again! Did you sing at the world famous La Scala opera house in Milan? Impossible! You can’t sing, period. Sister Edeltrude coached the sixth grade choir. She would let you stand on stage with your friends as long as you moved your lips. Let’s face it, SIS, you can’t carry a tune.”
“In the jargon of our old schoolyard, I would haughtily reply, ‘Me too.’
“Years ago, I was in Milan, Italy, on a hot August day. The inhabitants of the city closed their businesses and headed for the beach.
“I hired a private tour guide to take us (my aunt, a neighbor and me) around the city. We met Mr. N. at a street corner, an old man in his 70s. He was wearing a tweed jacket and mopping his face with a large white handkerchief. After brief forays into numerous churches, I was alarmed by Mr. N’s appearance. I thought he might pass out from the heat at any moment.
“I talked. ‘Sir, please take off your jacket. It is too hot.
“Being old school and picky, he replied, ‘Thank you. I was waiting for your permission.
“‘Excuse me! My God! In 90 degree heat!
“He said, ‘I have a surprise for you. I think you will enjoy it.
“We were nearing the end of the tour when he led us to the back door of La Scala. It turned out that the gatekeeper was a friend. The custodian smiled, and we entered and found ourselves backstage in a wide corridor, lit by a series of chandeliers.
“We peek into the dressing rooms of Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi before reaching the main stage. There was no production at this time.
“The custodian lit the footlights. There were seats on the ground floor. Cream and gold boxes in tiers encircled the stage. It was beautiful. The custodian saw my look of astonishment. Winking at me, he said, ‘Go and sing.’
“I thought he was joking. But no, the footlights went on. I was standing where the opera stars of yesteryear accepted worldwide acclaim. It was exciting.
“I picked a song out of nowhere.
“’Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
“’And the deer and the antelope play,
“Where a word of discouragement is seldom heard,
“’And the skies are not cloudy all day.’
“In the end, the team backstage (my aunt, my neighbor, Mr. N. and the custodian) applauded wildly, shouting ‘Bravo, bravo, encore!’
“I declined the latter, bowing to my right, to my left, and a knee-grazing curtsey toward the main auditorium. For once, I understood what it was like to be an opera star.
“On my way out, the guardian approached a chandelier, tore out a crystal, and handed it to me with the immortal words: ‘For you, Mademoiselle, on your debut at La Scala.’
“I floated out the door, exultant. Looking back, I whispered, ‘Watch out, Maria and Renata, a third Diva has joined her ranks.’
“The words of the mockers came back: ‘You never sang at La Scala, SIS. You figured you did.
“I sighed and replied tiredly: ‘Me too’.”
Then and Now… Tom Swift, Electric Car Division and Failing Banks
GREGORY J. of Dayton’s Bluff writes: “Tom Swift was a clever and inventive boy, as we see again in the 1910 book ‘Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout’: a runabout is a two-seater sports car.
“At the beginning of the book, Tom tells his father that he wants to build, you guessed it, a small electric vehicle.
“Here’s what Mr. Swift has to say: ‘I don’t make a big deal out of electric cars, Tom. Gasoline (as gasoline is spelled in the book) seems to be the best, or perhaps steam, generated from gasoline. I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. All the little electric cars I’ve seen, while they were very nice cars, didn’t seem capable of going very fast or very far. To which Tom replies, ‘That’s true, but it’s because they didn’t have the right kind of drums.’
“A friend wants to know more about the battery that Tom would use. ‘What system do you use? Lead plates and sulfuric acid? ‘Oh, that’s a long time out of date,’ Tom tells him. Yes and no. We still use lead-acid batteries in cars, but for various technical reasons they were never practical for powering electric vehicles.
Tom has another conversation with his father. ‘What will you do when your battery runs out?’ ‘Reload it.’ ‘What if you’re not near a charging station?’ ‘Well, Dad, of course those are some of the details I have to work out.’ After describing various methods of charging a battery, Tom adds: “My battery will be able to recharge very quickly.”
“A discussion follows of various materials that could be used to make the type of drum kit Tom needs. But the material he chooses is, wait, lithium. And as we know, lithium batteries are what power electric vehicles today. Being over 100 years old, much of this book is still relevant today. It seems that everything old is new again. I have a feeling Elon Musk might have read this book when he was young.
“A rather bizarre subplot involves the local bank and how an evil rich man has tried to destroy it so he can start his own bank. We then get a detailed explanation of how banks operate, what conditions could create a bank run, and how this could cause the bank to fail.
“Tom Swift jumps into action driving his speedy minibus to another city, picking up loads of cash and racing back home just in time to save the bank. During the ride, bumpy roads and large holes slow you down and almost steal you. This all seems pretty quaint because, as we know, the roads are excellent and banks don’t fail in the 21st century. And then, a few days after reading the book, Silicon Valley Bank self-destructed, probably because it didn’t have Tom Swift to save it.
“Tom has many other adventures and misadventures with his electric vehicle, and the book ends with his victory in a 500-mile race. His battery worked great, although the tires on the car were a problem.”
The permanent friendly file
Nininger’s ASTRONOMER reports: “The weekly Car Guys meeting on Friday morning found about 20 vintage car enthusiasts [Bulletin Board interjects: Vintage cars ??” or vintage enthusiasts? Both, we’re guessing!] with their winter driving machines lined up in order for the cars and/or trucks to face out. It must be a ‘guy’ thing, because I didn’t see a single one of the vehicles facing the inside of the sidewalk. They all seemed ready for a quick getaway. But then, it was like they were lined up for a car show.
“The doors of the American Legion were flung open at 08:00. The boys were lined up, ready for breakfast and conversation. The coffee was already set out on the tables in the Gold Room (what you would probably call the back room). We distributed the cups around the tables, and the coffee pots as well, until everyone had a hot, steaming brew. Keith refused, as he wanted hot chocolate instead.
“Nate, a first-time guy in the group, dared to join in the story sharing and add what he could to the revelry. These guys are, in a way, historians who preserve, follow and share the development of various cars. Like other segments of society, changes in the human condition are permeated by new technologies. Understanding technologies, improving them and envisioning new ones advances Western and world civilization.
“A gentleman brought some old photos, possibly 60 or 70 years old. They portrayed life when most of these guys were young, and the vehicles that seemed front and center reminded us of what life was like back then. They also brought good times. Some guys reminisced about first dates and the back seats of those old cars. Another classmate passed around a glass container with a protected metal lid. We tried to guess what it was. Some of us had no idea. Someone said it could even be a sex toy. But it was one of the first fuel filters available as an aftermarket device. It was nothing like a modern fuel filter, but that chronicles the advancement of technology.
“Guys seem to care about the health and well-being of others. He hadn’t seen Kenny there for a while, but Tom assured us that he is recovering from a fall and getting better. Keith came, though he needed a cane until he underwent a hip replacement in May. And the leftovers went into a crate for Hank’s dog. Car show season is just getting started and we will have some really good stories to share.”
Are you not clear on the concept? . . . Or: The self-incriminating
THE RETIRED EDUCATOR of Arden Hills: “Subject: Do what I tell you. . .
“The main character of the TV show ‘Lucky Hank’ is the head of the English department of a small university.
“During a recent episode, he made these comments:
“In response to someone telling him that a table was reserved, he asked, ‘For whom?’
“During a conversation with his wife about a decision about the future of his son and daughter-in-law, he said: ‘Without me and you dragging it down.'”
NOTES TO THE BULLETIN BOARD: Of course, a perfectly grammatical version, “Without you and me dragging it down,” would sound just as bad!
The verb of America
DONALD: “Subject: I’ve always liked your music.
“One of the pundits on a cable news program made this comment: ‘They want to muddy the water.’”
life as we know it
THE DORYMAN of Prescott, Wis.: “Subject: To each his own. (Bulletin Board chimes in: The modern marriage of singular and plural will never stop bugging us!)
“My snowbird friends love to send me photos of their tropical vacations and tell me about the soothing sounds of waves lapping against warm, sandy beaches. It escapes me these winter days, as I love the sound of the snowplow on the pavement. It reminds me that I am safe and secure at home.”
ELVIS writes: “Issue: The lowest common denominator.
“ELVIS made the decision a while ago that one small way he could make the world a little better place was to take care of his shopping carts.
“This includes being careful around other people’s vehicles, not leaving trash in them, and always returning them to their proper place, usually a car corral of some kind in the parking lot.
“ELVIS buys from a store that uses two sizes of carts, and their pen system is set up with one side for the smaller carts and one side for the larger ones. They are marked and of course the right size.
“The other morning, ELVIS found the situation in this photo.
“Someone had tried to fit a big car on the smaller side. It wouldn’t go all the way in, but they tried. Someone else came along and just put their big car close to the other one, also on the wrong side. Two other shoppers then left their smaller carts on the larger side.
“ELVIS wouldn’t be surprised if the clerk who brings the carts has to see this a lot. Very simple, people!”
The truth in advertising. . . Or: Honesty is the best policy
OTIS FROM INVER GROVE: “As seen in my local store. . . .”
BAND NAME OF THE DAY: Murky Waters and the Runabouts