Color magic.

August 12, 2017

Another funeral in Chicago, Part 3.

August 11, 2017

Today is July 20, 2013. It is now 7:40am and I am sitting here in my underwear, writing these words. I am charging my Kindle, iPod and cell phone and need to finalize my packing. It is impossible to continue packing while writing so I need to put down this pen and continue getting ready if I am to make it to the airport on time.

The time now is 12:33. I am seated on the plane and awaiting takeoff to Atlanta. I am nervously anticipating the events that are about to unfold, but for now, the only thing happening today is just flying to Chicago. You need to think about this. As I write these words I am seated on the plane after having taken some time off to fly to Chicago. As I write this, I have not seen Oma since she died, I have not seen her in her casket and she has not been buried. Quite a departure from the old days when trips to Chicago were actually fun. Now there are no reasons to look forward to visiting Chicago. Who can we visit anymore? We can’t go to Oma’s house. That’s been sold.

The plane is now beginning its taxi to the runway to begin takeoff. Or was. It’s at a standstill as a final safety check is underway.

What can I say about Chicago anymore? My relatives are gone and so are the reasons to look forward to visiting there. It sure beats doing “courtesy calls” all day.

WHY ARE YOU SO DOWN, DIALER? MISS ME ALREADY?

Stupid Dialer. I bet you right now it’s trying to break into the aircraft communication system right now.

“Hello?”

I hear a voice on the intercom. Everyone is puzzled, me included. I don’t know how, but the Dialer broke into the aircraft’s communication system just to harass me.

“HELLO?”

Suddenly it dawned on me. I knew what to do.

“Hello,” I spoke up. “This is Michael with a courtesy call from AT&T. Before we proceed I need to inform you that this is not a sales call and our conversation may be monitored or recorded for quality purposes. Is this is the primary account holder?”

“This is,” replied the voice.

I nodded and replied, “I am calling to follow up on your U-verse service with AT&T and to thank you for your business. Do you have any remaining issues or concerns you may have with your U-verse TV or Internet service?”

“No,” the voice answered. “Everything’s working good.”

“Excellent!” I replied. “Do you have any questions about your U-verse TV service, features, Internet or e-mail, or your AT&T account in general?”

“No,” the voice repeated. “Everything’s working good.”

“Excellent!” I said. “If you have any questions in the future you can find us on the web at att.com. Thank you for choosing AT&T and have a wonderful day.”

“Thanks for the call.”

Click.

It was over. The cabin burst into applause as the plane took off into the cloudy sky.

Meh.

Oh yeah, the plane’s airborne now.

Too late to turn back.

Descending on Atlanta.

Pick your poison. Would you rather…
Land in Atlanta?
OR
Land in the Atlantic Ocean?
Toughskie.

Very smooth flight. Alas, the worst is ahead.

Chicago.

Two funerals, almost one year apart.

Flying across the sky, across my grandmother’s playground.

So Oma flew up here, probably a few days ago. How did the passengers react when they saw a casket being loaded on the plane?

Atlanta is approaching fast.

Time for the Jolt-O-Meter. Too late.

Welcome to Atlanta.

After a quick ride on the train to Gate C, I am now on the plane that will take me closer to Chicago. It is absolutely too late to turn back now. Oma is waiting. Why let her down by not showing up.

The plane is now pulling away from the gate. It’s easy to forget this happens constantly all over the world. As you read this, yes, there is a plane pulling from the gate like this one is.

Raining outside. There was a very strange noise coming from the floor, as if someone were sawing something. The pilot made some announcement that it was raining and “blah blah blah DELAY.”

I did hear about the lightning strikes.

This is starting to feel like an ill-fated flight.

Plane hasn’t moved. It is still raining.

FLIGHT 392 – WE WILL NEVER FORGET?

It is now 4:19. We should’ve been airborne by now. But no. Stupid stubborn thunderstorm has crept into the area and is causing misery. We’ve been sitting on the ground all this time. We should’ve been flying over the clouds. What’s going on? Why can’t I go to Chicago? I’ve gone this far.

I tweeted, “Rain, rain go away, let this airplane fly today.”

I look to the left and see that repulsive sight of rain. It’s taunting us, supposedly daring us to challenge it. “Yeah, you may have a winged marvel there, but nothing tops the power of Nature! PHEER US!”

Stupid drops of water. This is called an airplane, not a waiting room with wings.

It’s slowing down, right? We can leave now, right? No? Why not? Nature, you are worse than the Dialer.

The passengers are totally losing it. They are yelling, screaming, cursing, singing Justin Bieber songs and threatening to “take matters into their own hands”. One of the passengers kicked in the door to the cockpit, seized the pilot and tied him to the top of the airplane and proceeded to steer the plane into flight amidst thunderous applause.

No, the weather seems to have cleared up enough to finally allow takeoff.

The trip can proceed as planned. Good.

The trip can proceed as planned.

The funeral.

Ugh.

The joy of resuming my trip has diminished.

They want us to power off all electronic devices.

Alas, the perks of pen and paper.

To write…

Once again the plane sits still in Atlanta. I imagine there’s a long line of planes waiting to take off.

#3 for takeoff.

See? I was right.

Planes waiting for takeoff to take their passengers to funerals to bury their Omas.

The funeral.

Once again the sight of Oma in her casket comes to mind. Remember, I have not seen her yet. Needless to say, I’m nervous.

Why? To watch an old woman sleep?

A meticulously detailed statue.

I have to keep in mind what Oma was going through. She was suffering from dementia and it was only going to get worse. Each time we visited her at the nursing home she would sink deeper in her dementia. I still recall that time she was carrying around a stack of empty papers she said would serve as “proof”. Proof of what, only she knew. We had to play along with Oma’s fantasy and it was painful. Adding on to the pain was knowing it was only going to get worse. Okay, so we didn’t want her to leave us, but at what cost? Her dementia would have left her much worse than she was when she passed.

Finally, the plane is in position to take off. Sure enough, there’s a line of planes behind us, waiting to take off as well.

Finally, the plane is accelerating to takeoff speed. Huzzah.

Yay. We airborne now.

The plane is climbing the sky now soon to rise above the clouds, out of reach of thunderstorms.

I feel pressure on my ears as the plane reaches cruising altitude.

Turbulence. Nature is not finished with us.

Fly above the clouds where the sun shines.

There we go.

The cabin just got brighter.

Cool, we can now turn on our electronic gadgets. Ta ta.

Plane descending down to Chicago. That means it’s time to power off my electronic device. Alas I can still write. It’s hard to see how the flow of ink can interfere with the aircraft’s sensitive electronics.

The flow of ink.

To write…

I’m Mike Towrite.

I’m eager for this trip to end. I’d rather the plane descend back home in West Palm Beach.

Back home to Renee, Roxie, collection calls and courtesy calls.

The funeral.

Tomorrow. I see Oma in her casket at the funeral home. Tomorrow. The wake service.

Oma died one week ago. How can she wake up now?

And how will Oma make her presence known? Last year, one of the floor lamps mysteriously flickered and went off. Towards the end of the service, the light turned back on.

No doubt it was Ida. Probably saw some dust.

Now it’s Oma’s turn. How will she make her presence known? I’m sure you know the answer. Wondering about that does take my mind off the sad occasion.

The plane is continuing its descent.

Chicago, now nothing to me but a dead city, is underneath.

The sun is coming from the left side of the aircraft now. I’d think that’s Oma, testing me. Is he coming to my funeral? Oh wait, there he is, writing in his thought book. Good. He does love me.

I do love you, Oma. And I miss you already. So how’s life with Opa?

It is wonderful to be with him again. I thought that day would never come. But it did. He was there, right at my bedside. When I saw him, I knew there was nothing to be afraid of. He took me back. And I am happy now.

The plane is closing in on Chicago now.

Did the landing gear do down? I think it did.

Closer, closer, closer…

Landing…

Welcome to Chicago!

My first night. I am checked in the motel and have commenced to do some writing before I turn in. Still too much going through my mind right now, especially the events to unfold tomorrow. As I write this, the time is 10:30. I will turn in after I translate these thoughts to words on paper.

I had dinner with my parents at Barraco’s. We had Chicago style pizza and talked about Oma and her declining health. My mother mentioned this trip to Chicago could very well be our last. With our relatives gone, there really is no reason to come here anymore unless we want to visit their graves. It’s still not the same when these relatives were around and happy to see me. Now they’re gone.

My father brought up the topic of visiting Oma’s house one last time before the closing. I can help myself to anything I like. That’s going to be an emotional visit for sure.

Now for the plans for tomorrow. After I write this, I am going to sleep. I need to be up and ready to go to breakfast at 8. Then we will go and pick up Lisa and Rachel from the airport and then grab a late lunch before the WAKE service which has not happened yet. Tomorrow. We see Oma in her casket. TOMORROW. Scary. Monday. We go to the FUNERAL. That hasn’t happened yet either. Sad. Thing is, as you read this, all this has happened. It’s all part of your memory now, and as of right now, it’s up to me in the past to create the memories of the future you now possess. It’s all up to me now. I won’t let you down. Good night.

To be continued…

Wendy Carlos by request.

August 11, 2017

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When I was growing up during the 1970’s, I enjoyed listening to records on my father’s stereo. I especially enjoyed listening to albums of early electronic music from artists like Kraftwerk and Wendy Carlos.

One of my favorite Wendy Carlos albums is By Request in which she performs familiar tunes on a Moog synthesizer. This album was released in 1975 and hasn’t stopped enchanting me since.

Here’s a breakdown on the tracks on offer:

1. Three Dances From “Nutcracker Suite” – The album starts with the Russian Dance before taking us to the Dance Of The Sugar-Plum Fairy and concluding the set with Dance Of The Reed-Pipes, all of them delightfully performed.

2. Dialogues For Piano And Two Loudspeakers – Basically a heated argument between piano and synthesizer. My father hated this track because of the electronic noises but I found it especially haunting. It painted vivid images in my mind, such as flying saucers, eagles falling from the sky and Sesame Street’s Mr. Hooper in distress. In fact, when I listen to this same track today, those same images come to mind.

3. Episodes For Piano And Electronic Sound – This picks up from where the previous track left off. The piano playing here is more heartfelt but the electronic sounds always find a sneaky way in with chaotic results.

4. Geodesic Dance (Electronic Etude) – After the piano and synthesizer call it a draw, it’s back to the music. Here Ms. Carlos manages to weave various musical tones and textures into a single tapestry she can call her own while still staying faithful to the familiar melodies.

5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 In F Major (1st Movement) – One of Bach’s more recognizable tunes, electronically realized. The variety of tones here is amazing.

6. “Little” Fugue In G Minor – Playing a fugue has got to be tricky but Ms. Carlos makes it sound easy. Again a good wealth of various tones integrated into one masterful track.

7. What’s New, Pussycat? – This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The classic Tom Jones song benefits nicely from its electronic makeover and the playful music captures the mood of cats running amok in the recording studio.

8. Eleanor Rigby – I heard this version years before I heard the original song from the Beatles. Another favorite track.

9. Wedding March – A short and sweet track I really should’ve used at my own wedding.

10. Pompous Circumstances (Variations & Fantasy On A Theme By Elgar) – Ms. Carlos saved the best for last. This epic, 12-minute track is a mashup of familiar classical tunes mixed with variations on the Pompous Circumstances theme. This is beyond ingenious.

This is a fantastic album that’s worth a listen. It just may be the best music you’ve never heard.

Another funeral in Chicago, Part 2.

August 10, 2017

Today is July 17, 2013. Three days before I fly out to Chicago for Oma’s funeral. The week is progressing at a snail’s pace and the wait is agonizing. I am so ready for this to be over. I am nervous about the sight of Oma in her casket and the emotions that will flow throughout the services. I am not looking forward to this. I will be happy when this is over and Oma tucked away next to Opa. That means as of right now she has still not been buried and I have not even left yet. I don’t know if Oma is still in Jupiter or Chicago. Probably back in Chicago undergoing final preparations.

One thing of solace at the moment is my birthday, exactly one week from today. When next Wednesday comes, all this will be over. The trip to Chicago, the viewing of the body, the wake service, the burial and the flight home will all be over within the next 7 days. Life will be back to normal with the exception of having no living grandparents.

To be continued…

Another funeral in Chicago.

August 9, 2017

Beginning with this post I’d like to share my second travel log I wrote during a trip to Chicago in 2013 for a second funeral there in just over 12 months.

In recent months, my sole surviving grandparent whom we called Oma had been in residence at a nursing home receiving nursing care and attention. At first she seemed to respond to the attention but in recent weeks her health had seen a steep decline.

So there I was riding the train on July 11, 2013. I had just finished another punishing day at work. I already had my cell phone off when I boarded the train and left it off during the ride home so I could relax. As I got closer to the Mangonia Park station, I turned the phone on in anticipation of the usual barrage of voice mail when I received a text message from my parents.

Oma is getting worse. She might not survive the night.

The shock I felt was similar to jumping in an electrical swimming pool. I was overwhelmed with sadness, shock and despair and it set a very dark mood for the rest of the evening. I knew Oma had been in declining health but didn’t think she’d take a turn for the worse, not after all the impressive feats of recovery she’d pulled off in the past. I began to anticipate losing my sole surviving grandparent, just a year after my other grandmother died.

After I got home, there was a message on my answering machine from my father, who wanted me to call him for news on how Oma was doing. That gave me some hope that she was beginning to recover. However, when I called home, my dad told me that Oma had never regained consciousness since returning to the nursing home and was exhibiting shallow breathing, both of them clear symptoms of dying. The news did not sound good at all and further saddened the mood of the evening.

The next morning, on July 12, 2013, right after waking up, I cautiously approached my cell phone and checked it for any new text messages from my parents. There were none. I was relieved, assuming Oma was still hanging on. She was always strong.

I proceeded to get ready for another day at work. As the morning progressed I began to worry about Oma. When my morning break came I went straight to my locker, turned on my cell phone and nervously watched for any new text messages. There were none. Good. Oma still hanging on. Who knows, she may even be alert. Again I was relieved. I turned off the cell phone and put it away.

I worked some more until lunch and as my lunch break approached I was again getting nervous. When I sat down to eat, I turned on my cell phone and again, no text messages. Again the usual assumptions of Oma hanging on and possibly making a recovery. That put my mind at ease for a while but towards the end of the shift I began to worry again.

When I left work for the day, I turned on my cell phone one more time and was again relieved when I got no text messages. I began to assume that Oma was still hanging on and still had hope she was recovering. I walked to the train station as usual and caught the next train home. The interior of the car I boarded had the coldest temperature I ever felt. It was so cold in the train that the windows were fogged up. It felt like riding in a refrigerator.

When I finally got off the train at Mangonia Park, my cell phone rang. It was my mother, calling to report that Oma had passed away earlier in the morning. That means she was already gone when I checked my cell phone earlier in the day, but my parents had held off telling me the news until I got home from work. When I heard the news that Oma had finally passed, I felt relieved that she was no longer suffering. I had spent the day agonizing about how Oma was struggling with dementia and poor health and it briefly felt like a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. No more worrying. She’s in a better place now in the company of her family. I can imagine that Opa, Uncle Vic, Uncle George and the rest of the family were waiting for her. Oh yeah, and her faithful dog Chips at her side.

Over time though, relief gave way to sadness when I began to realize I had just lost the last of my grandparents. Yet another branch has dried up and fallen off the family tree. I’m still not fully recovered from losing my other grandmother and the loss of Oma only prolongs the grief. Never again will I see her smile, not will I feel the tender touch of her hugs. Even during her last months she still had that personality that was unmistakably Oma. I will miss her smile, her laugh and her cheerful personality that made every trip to Chicago memorable. All that’s gone now, never to return. Chicago just got darker and sadder with no relatives living there now. This is sadness beyond comprehension that continues to follow me everywhere I go. And here I am at work, having just requested the time off to fly to Chicago for the funeral. As of right now, Oma has not been buried yet, and I am nervously anticipating what will be one of the saddest trips to Chicago in recent memory. That means as of right now, I have not attended the funeral, not have I seen Oma since she died.

I leave for Chicago in 3 days. I already can’t wait for this to end.

In the meantime, I have found great solace in knowing that there’s some Oma inside of me, along with Opa. They both produced my father, and my father produced me. Therefore I carry traces of Oma and Opa as well. I carry them both with me and will continue keeping them with me wherever I go.

Always.

To be continued…

Stunned scientists confirm dissipation of global warming.

August 9, 2017

If we believe in this headline, maybe it’ll happen.

Get busy believin’.

Escaping arrest.

August 7, 2017

My eyes glanced at the flashing blue lights reflecting from my rear view mirror. I looked out my rear window and sure enough, there was a police car right behind me. Normally a feeling of panic would begin to ensue right about now, but not this time. I knew what to do.

I slowly pulled off to the side of the road and watched as the police car pull over behind me. All of a sudden, a second police car pulled in front of me, followed by a third that stopped beside me. This certainly wasn’t looking good but none of this bothered me. I knew what to do.

Then the police officers jumped out of their cars and ran towards my car with their guns drawn, screaming for me to come out with my hands up. The sight of five officers surrounding my car with their guns pointing at me would have terrified anyone, but actually, none of this bothered me in the least. I knew what to do.

Then three more police cars arrived at the scene as more officers joined in, accompanied by their dogs, barking, growling and stretching their leashes. I was now completely surrounded with no chance of escape. I smiled. Now was the time to implement my plan.

Mocking a sad face, I waved goodbye to the officers now closing in on my car from all directions. Then I opened my eyes, yawned and stretched my arms before reaching to shut off my alarm clock. Then I climbed out of bed to start another day.

Remembering record stores.

August 6, 2017

At one time, there were plenty of record stores all over town. Only recently did I realize their disappearance over the years.

When I was growing up, I went along with my father to a record store that actually sold vinyl records. He purchased the soundtrack album to Saturday Night Fever, which came on two LP’s. I will forever be haunted by the brand-new smell of the album after the plastic wrapping was removed, which really added to the fresh sound of the music.

I also remember the time when record stores sold cassette tapes, even as compact discs began to take over the music media industry. I would walk into a record store and find the inventory of cassette tapes along the wall and the CD’s displayed in bins throughout the rest of the store. I built quite a collection of cassette tapes, most of which I still have today. And yes, I still have the dual cassette deck to play them on.

I remember a lot of the record stores that were around town, especially at the malls. In fact, it was the main reason for my going to the mall in the first place. One of my favorite record stores was Spec’s, which had a large enough inventory for me to find what I was looking for. Sam Goody was another favorite place to shop, along with Record Town. I also liked visiting Peaches, whose stores always had that unmistakable smell of incense sticks on sale there. They too had a large selection of music.

These days, record stores just aren’t as commonplace as they used to be. Spec’s has long since gone, and so has Peaches. The mall near me that once had both Sam Goody and Record Town has seen them both disappear. I don’t know which malls still have record stores anymore, but I’m sure it would mean a longer drive. Yes, Walmart may sell music CD’s, but it’s just not the same as visiting a standalone record store. It’s depressing to see this era of history come to a premature demise.

The steamed macaroni experiment.

August 5, 2017

Tonight I decided to try an experiment with my steamer. Normally I use it to steam food items like eggs, chicken and vegetables, but I was curious about being able to steam some macaroni for my lunch tomorrow. There was only one way to find out.

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The macaroni was small enough to fall between the holes of the steamer basket, so I used the included container that goes inside the steamer itself.

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I plugged in the steamer and set it to cook for 30 minutes.

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Upon inspection after cooking, I saw that only a few pieces of macaroni were actually cooked, so I set my steamer to cook for an extra 30 minutes.

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Even after the extra steaming time the macaroni was still barely cooked. Perhaps this approach wasn’t such a good idea.

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I’m not sure what went wrong. Either I didn’t do it right or macaroni just isn’t something that you cook in the steamer. In any case, the macaroni didn’t go to waste and was cooked in the microwave in preparation for my lunch tomorrow.

Making your computer talk with VBScript.

August 5, 2017

Who doesn’t enjoy making their computer talk? Here are some fun scripts to turn your computer into a chatterbox.

This first one tells the time.

' speaktime.vbs
Set objVoice = CreateObject("SAPI.SpVoice")
objVoice.Speak "The time is " & Hour(Now) & " " & Minute(Now)

A variation of this script is one that vaguely tells you the time. I got the inspiration for this script from a program called FuzzyClock that does the same thing, albeit quietly.

' fuzzyclock.vbs
Dim strHour, strMin, FuzzHour, FuzzMin, NextHour
FuzzTime = Now
StrHour = Hour(FuzzTime)
StrMin = Minute(FuzzTime)

if StrMin = 0 then
FuzzMin = "exactly "
elseif StrMin > 0 and StrMin < 5 then
FuzzMin = "just after "
elseif StrMin >= 5 and StrMin < 10 then
FuzzMin = "well past five after "
elseif StrMin >= 10 and StrMin < 15 then
FuzzMin = "nearly a quarter after "
elseif StrMin = 15 then
FuzzMin = "a quarter after "
elseif StrMin >= 15 and StrMin < 20 then
FuzzMin = "just past a quarter after "
elseif StrMin >= 20 and StrMin < 25 then
FuzzMin = "well past a quarter after "
elseif StrMin >= 25 and StrMin < 30 then
FuzzMin = "nearly half past "
elseif StrMin = 30 then
FuzzMin = "half past "
elseif StrMin >= 30 and StrMin < 35 then
FuzzMin = "just half past "
elseif StrMin >= 35 and StrMin < 40 then
FuzzMin = "well gone half past "
elseif StrMin >= 40 and StrMin < 45 then
FuzzMin = "nearly a quarter to "
StrHour = 1 + StrHour
elseif StrMin = 45 then
FuzzMin = "a quarter to "
StrHour = 1 + StrHour
elseif StrMin >= 45 and StrMin < 50 then
FuzzMin = "past a quarter to "
StrHour = 1 + StrHour
elseif StrMin >= 50 and StrMin < 55 then
FuzzMin = "well past a quarter to "
StrHour = 1 + StrHour
elseif StrMin >= 55 then
FuzzMin = "almost "
StrHour = 1 + StrHour
end if

if strHour = 13 or strHour = 01 then 
FuzzHour = "one"
elseif strHour = 2 or strHour = 14 then 
FuzzHour = "two"
elseif strHour = 3 or strHour = 15 then 
FuzzHour = "three"
elseif strHour = 4 or strHour = 16 then
FuzzHour = "four"
elseif strHour = 5 or strHour = 17 then 
FuzzHour = "five"
elseif strHour = 6 or strHour = 18 then
FuzzHour = "six"
elseif strHour = 7 or strHour = 19 then 
FuzzHour = "seven"
elseif strHour = 8 or strHour = 20 then
FuzzHour = "eight"
elseif strHour = 9 or strHour = 21 then 
FuzzHour = "nine"
elseif strHour = 10 or strHour = 22 then
FuzzHour = "ten"
elseif strHour = 11 or strHour = 23 then
FuzzHour = "eleven"
elseif strHour = 12 or strHour = 00 then 
FuzzHour = "twelve"
end if


wscript.echo  "It's " & FuzzMin & FuzzHour & "."

This next one tells you the day of the week, along with some added commentary.

' speakweek.vbs
Set objVoice = CreateObject("SAPI.SpVoice")

dtmToday = Date()

dtmDayOfWeek = DatePart("w", dtmToday)

Select Case dtmDayOfWeek
    Case 1 objVoice.Speak "Working on a SUNDAY? Something's not right here."
    Case 2 objVoice.Speak "Today's Monday. Blargh."
    Case 3 objVoice.Speak "Today's Tuesday. Leave me alone."
    Case 4 objVoice.Speak "It's Wednesday. At least the week's half over."
    Case 5 objVoice.Speak "Today's Thursday. The week's almost over."
    Case 6 objVoice.Speak "It's FRIDAY! WOOT!"
    Case 7 objVoice.Speak "What are you doing here on Saturday? Take the day off!"
End Select

Finally, here’s a script that prompts you for some text you want your computer to recite.

' speaker.vbs
strText = InputBox("What do you want me to say?", _
    "Speaker")
Set objVoice = CreateObject("SAPI.SpVoice")
objVoice.Speak strText

Have much fun.