Category Archives: Social Anthropology

A message to Garcia

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.We were chatting over breakfast about that bridge in Atlanta that collapsed, closing a part of Interstate 85. One of the guys wondered whether that affected I-75, so we Googled the news reports, and were treated to detailed instructions such as:

From Peachtree, take the Cheshire Bridge Road, under Lindbergh Drive – or was it over Lindbergh Drive, under the Cheshire Bridge and across Peachtree … there were a bunch of other streets and roads mentioned. All of them, probably, of significance to the locals. If I were headed to Atlanta in the next week or so, I believe I would head somewhere else.

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A new area code on the near horizon

It seems telephone sales are doing so well that the phone companies are running out of numbers for the 717 area code, so the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission will be adding a 223 area code. Sometime this summer, probably in August, telephone callers in the 717 area will be required to dial all 10 digits including the area code, rather than only seven digits.

If your new neighbor obtains a new number, you may have to remember that 223 is not necessarily on the other side of the region; it’s next door. And the seven-digit number you are dialing is not in some other state. It’s across the street.

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First solo flight

A boulder once named The RocketI believe I have come down with a nearly debilitating case of cabin fever. This constant grayness, in which I wake in the morning to a liquid sky the color of a World War II battleship dripping just outside my pillow, is like a scene from “The Twilight Zone.”

But I’m pretty sure Spring, if I can hang on long enough, will arrive in a spectacular explosion of soft colors. It’s happened nearly 70 times thus far, so probably …Granddaughter affirmed my hope New Year’s Eve.

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Thanks for everything

The wind was blowing strongly but invisibly when we arrived at the breakfast place. Later, our morning hunger sated, we exited the establishment into a wind speckled with seeds of the impending season.

Not enough to whiten the grass, but snow, nonetheless. For my part of the planet, four days before Thanksgiving is early, even for snow that does not stick.

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Olympic-grade cheering is tiring

Disk showing Olympics runnersI’ve been watching the Olympics with great dedication, and I’m very glad it’s almost over. I am tired, and I don’t know how much more I could take. I need about four years to recuperate.

My favorite sports are beach volleyball – the kind with only two players on each team; gymnastics – in particular the floor and parallel bars; and long distance running – except shorter distances are fun when Usain Bolt is leading, and smiling at the space his closest competitor would occupy if he was close enough.

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A fine kind of sorcery

Gettysburg ER entranceI was about to leave the house one afternoon this week, when I decided to mention to the Resident Nurse:

“I don’t feel right,” I said, “and I’ve been out of bed long enough I should have woke up by now.”

“My heart is sending Morse code like back in the days of black-and-white TV – a couple of quick beats, skip a few, another one, skip a couple more …”

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We are Ameri-cans

There is no hyphen on the American flagAs I listened to a news anchor this week talk about the hullabaloo surrounding a speech delivered by a Muslim whose son was killed in Iraq, I was struck by the way in which the parents of the lost soldier were identified: Muslim-American.

Much has been made of late about how divided is our country, and it occurred to me attaching a prefix to “American” sharpens the wedges. The now departed son was an American. He served in the American Army. He was quite possibly a hero, for reasons beyond merely his signing up to go fight, and die, for the rest of us. He happened to subscribe to the Muslim faith, as do a few million people around the world.

We humans are a tribal lot. We love to identify with a group. We include, within the boundaries of the U.S.A., Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Sikhs, and Atheists. We wear jeans to work, or ban them. We drive Fords and Chevys and Harleys and Hondas.

When I came to Gettysburg, I took up residence in Bonneauville, a town I soon discovered to be nonexistent – at least to the post office and  the Department of Motor Vehicles. When I went to get my Pennsylvania driver license, I put my address as Bonneauville 17325. The nice lady at the window, in a not quite so nice manner, questioned which was correct — Bonneauville, of which neither she nor her computer possessed knowledge, or 17325, which her computer said was Gettysburg.

A label can give us roots. In Maine, it was said to be a True Mainer one had to be at least seventh generation. I wrote about a farmer whose Maine origin went back to two brothers who had been paid for their Revolutionary War service with a deed to land near where I lived. In fact, the original land encompassed much of what had become, by the time I was writing, at least three towns.

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The worst mass shooting

I woke Sunday morning and, as is my wont, perused my email. I subscribe to several forums and news sources and it takes less time to get the important stuff than to turn on the TV and wade through the commercials.

Early reports said 20 people had been killed, 23 more wounded. The writer must have misread, because later the report was 50 killed, 53 wounded – “the worst mass shooting in U.S. history,” some have said. I doubt that, but I suspect it depends on the definition of “mass shooting.” The shooter was one of those who lay dead, which is too bad; it would have been helpful, maybe, to know for sure what prompted him. On the other hand, he apparently called 9-1-1 to proclaim his allegiance to ISIS.

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Getting used to it

Board a 1929 Ford TrimotorThe Transportation Security Administration says the extra security for flights taking off and landing in the United States is necessary because of the attacks in Paris and Brussels. The lines get longer and the evening television news says check your bags so they don’t hold you up in the search line.

Then the airlines increase their fees for checked bags. TSA promises to hire more people to search our luggage.

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Mincemeat pie and a perfect Christmas tree

Children on Christmas morning.The previous night’s snow had coated the forest with foot-deep powder, silencing the footsteps of the three hunters – my brother and I and our father, in the annual quest for a Christmas tree. It was like being in a sound-proofed studio – that weird, echoless sensation of walking alone in an enchanted world.

“Look at this one, Daddy,” my brother exclaimed.

“Shake the snow off it and let’s see,” the elder replied.

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A time to thanks give

The last pieceI can almost smell the mincemeat and apple pies, sitting on the porch rail to cool, and woe to the child who even contemplated poking a finger in one before The Big Meal.

In my youth, this was an aromatic week, culminating in a table full of turkey, at least one type of squash (and I love them all, in sooth), a humungous bowl of mashed potatoes, a heaping pile of hand-squooshed biscuits and a bowl of cranberry sauce. When cranberry sauce became available in cans, Mom was sure anyone who used the stuff would be consigned to the lower reaches of the eternal furnace.

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In which are extinguished smoking pachyderms …

A can of tobacco snuffThe day I quit tobacco was sunny and warm. Beyond that, I remember only that it was the summer that Travel Partner No. 2 and I were still dating.

I tried cigarettes when I was in about seventh or eighth grade. I swiped some from Dad’s supply. A few of us slipped off down a trail behind the two-room school house and tried to impress each other with our hoped-for manhood. If inhaling Dad’s Marlboros was a ticket to manhood, I was doomed to stay with Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.

A few years later, I was in the Navy. Cigars – especially big, fat, Bering Plazas, seemed cool and, along with my mustache, they made me look older. Sandy, a.k.a. Travel Partner No. 1, was two years older than I, and would become visibly unhappy when she got carded in some nice wine-and-dine establishments, while I, at 19, was never questioned.

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Father seeks family haven

Millions of our fellow residents are driven bare handed by the ravages of war.Let’s call him Jimmy. He is 31, more or less, from the town in which his father and mother were born. As a youngster, he knew nearly everyone within a mile or so of his home, and several who lived farther away. He rode his bicycle around the town, the way some kids where I live ride their bikes around Gettysburg.

“Sometimes we stacked concrete blocks in an alley, to hold up the end of a two-by-ten board,” he said. “Then we raced our bikes to see who could jump the longest.”
“I usually won,” the now father of four boasts.

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You can’t say that in public

I‘m a bit mixed about banning speech, but I lean mostly toward don’t do it. Sure, there are things I wish people wouldn’t say, but banning speech really doesn’t accomplish anything, other than to drive the sentiments underground.

“Those pictures were not selfies. Someone took those pictures.” – NPR reporter Gwen Ifill

We all learn to disguise what we think other people do not want to hear us say. I used to visit a certain home and listen to “goldurn” this and “goshdarn” that. Did they really think the god they claimed was all seeing didn’t get that they’d merely disguised the word they really meant.

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It’s About the People

Young girl plays catch with a friend in front of the National CathedralAs regular readers know, I am a strong proponent of wandering. A friend and I moseyed down to the nation’s capital Sunday, for the purpose of wandering around the National Cathedral. I love to people-watch, and am especially mindful of the contrasts among our fellow inhabitants.

“… a 40-month-old is entitled; a 40-year-old, not so much.”

Walking toward the church, we passed a sidewalk café. All the tables were full; one particularly close to the surrounding fence featured a couple adult women and several youngsters. On the ground near one kid’s seat but shoved under the fence separating pedestrians from diners, was a kids toy.

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A seriously big togue

A seriously large togueFishing season opened this weekend past. I did not go, for several reasons unnecessary to list here, but the day did pull out images of fishing seasons of my youth.

Being a boy with little patience for sitting still for long hours, I spent most of my fishing time alone with a homemade spooning rig or a spinning rod and reel set and store-bought lures. Dad, was more into dragging a two-inch piece of silver metal wrapped partially around a strip of mother-of-pearl.

He would go out for hours, trolling – the 5.5 hp Chris Craft Challenger outboard barely ticking over, keeping the boat moving just fast enough to steer as he navigated the triangular circuit, from our house to a curve in the far southern shore, to the island at the north end of the lake and back nearly home.

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A consistency among peoples

In the opening sentence of a letter ostensibly to the leaders of the Iranian government, nearly half the members of the U.S. Senate declared that those leaders “may not fully understand our constitutional system.”

Why do we keep thinking people who aren’t us are, if not stupid, at least ignorant? I’m guessing the leaders of any nation which can produce poets and playwrights, jet fighter pilots, and maybe even nuclear weapons, likely is aware of the governmental machinations of their competition on the world stage.

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Je suis Charlie, je suis du monde

When a pair of state-sponsored bullies attacked and killed journalists and police officers at the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo last week, a large portion of the world picked up banners and declared:

Je suis Charlie Hebdo.

Every time a journalist is murdered, whether by bad guys with guns or bad guys with knives, that is an attack on all of us – on journalists, certainly, but also on those of us who depend on journalists to function as our representatives.

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Corrections and other New Year’s resolutions

Homework assignment: Write on a yellow pad of lined paper, 1,000 times, “I will not reverse the roles of Robert Oppenheimer and Wernher von Braun.”

I do not know why I got their names and roles backward, but when I wrote about my last motorcycle ride of the year, to Fort Ritchie with a friend, I erred. An astute reader wrote to bring it to my attention, and it’s a serious enough error that it deserves correcting.

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