Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Pleasant Surprise

Warning, I suggest you avoid reading this post if you are eating or have a weak stomach!

Few things strike fear into the heart of a homeowner than the need to summon a plumber! I suppose that making the call for help is a personal admission of defeat. Then there is the fear of the unknown; just how much is this going to cost me. Will I have to take a second mortgage or sell something?

So begins my story. Last Friday I arrived home to find the renter of our apartment wanting to borrow a plunger. She didn’t mention what was the nature of the clog, but I was confident that my assistance would be required in short order. My hope was that the clog was confined the low flow toilet but when she failed to return in five minutes I began to fear the worse! If you have ever owned an old house, then you have likely guessed the problem, a hopelessly clogged kitchen drain.

One look at the situation and the immortal words of Hans Solo of Star Wars fame came to mind: “I have a bad feeling about this.” My feelings were correct, no amount of plunging was going to open the drain. Being cheap and foolish, I decided to disassemble the P-trap and make an attempt to reestablish drainage with my handy dandy snake. With a few turns of the wrench, the P-trap was removed and I was immediately greeted by a large volume of greasy water that quickly overflowed my containment bucket. In a matter of a few seconds, my shirt sleeves were soaked and the water had continued to drain onto the kitchen floor where I was uncomfortably perched. As I sat there soaked by greasy water, I silently admitted that it was time to call for help.

One of the nice things about living in a small community is that you can usually get a plumber to make a house call the same day. As it was already 12:30 on a Friday afternoon, I ran downstairs an made my call for help. Thankfully, and I mean that in every sense of the expression, the plumber’s dispatcher assured me that help would arrive before the end of the business day! Now all I had to do was shower, change my cloths, and await for rescue.

Around 4 PM the dispatcher called to let me know that the “Chris the plumber” should arrive in about ten minutes. After what seemed like an eternity, there was a knock at the front door and there stood a professional armed with the tools of his trade. We chatted for a few minutes while I explained the situation; he held up the electric drain cleaning snake and told me that if this didn’t do the job, them the drain couldn’t be opened. He quickly went to work and in a matter of ten minutes he said that the clog should now be history. He reassembled the P-trap and ran the water to check his work. As the water immediately disappeared from the sink creating a loud gurgling sound, Chris utter the following: “It’s a good sound, isn’t it”. Oh great, the guy’s a comedian, will there be an additional charge added to my bill?

The bill arrived the yesterday and upon opening it, I was shocked to learn that I was charged for only a half hour of labor. The total', including humorous remarks by the plumber, was a whopping $35.00! Incredible!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

R.T. Is My Hero

Wednesday evening I had the great pleasure to hear a young lady speak about how she spent this past summer. While her fellow class mates travelled to exotic locations or worked, R.T. spent two months caring for thirty of the world's poorest orphans while volunteering in South Africa. For eight to ten hours a day she feed, cleaned, and shined a little light into the lives of these kids!

As you might expect, the orphanage was not in the best of neighborhoods so personal security was always on the minds of the volunteers. R.T. told us the following story: "One day I called my parents and expressed my concerns about the security issues. As I ended the call, it occurred to me that I must have freaked them out. At that moment it hit me how lucky I was to have a family who loved and cared about me while the orphans had neither."

I believe that as long as there are people like R.T., there will always be someone who loves and cares for those little kids! So in honor of this, I have named R.T. my personal hero.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Meeting New People

One of the best things about being a docent at the museum is the opportunities it affords to meet new and interesting people. I just did a tally and noted that during 2009, I had the pleasure to give 34 adult tours and 17 educational programs to kids of all ages. During this same period, I also met visitors from 46 of the fifty states as well as individuals from Tanzania and Vietnam. It never ceases to amaze me that people come from so far and wide to visit Astoria!

Often at the conclusion of a tour, several adults will stay behind because they want to share something from their life experience. I have found these times of listening to very rewarding and always educational. During the past year, three individuals and their stories stand out. I offer a little of their stories for your reading pleasure.

In early June, I noticed a gentleman in bright yellow spandex clothing wandering the deck of the Lightship. Experience tells me that few middle age men will appear in public wearing spandex unless they are a serious bike rider. During our conversation he told me that it had been a life long goal to ride across the United States; at the time of our meeting he was in the second day of the journey. The story would have ended there except about a month later I stumbled across his blog on the Internet. I spent the rest of the summer following the progress of his journey. I am happy to report that his goal was met when he dipped the tires of his bike in the icy water off the Maine coast just after Labor Day. Congratulations on a job well done!

Another afternoon a gentleman approached me and told me how excited he was that the museum had a model of a LST, a Navy vessel capable of delivering tanks and personnel onto the unimproved shoreline. He went on to share that during the war, many of these vessels were made in his home town. With pride, he also told me that his father was one of the engineers who designed the vessel's front ramp/door. Now every time I pass the LST model, I remember that gentleman and his father's contribution to the second World War.

My final encounter occurred in the navel history gallery one morning in September. At the tour's conclusion, a woman pointed to the picture of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri and told me that her father was in the picture. As she proudly pointed to him, I felt as if I was an eye witness to the historic event!

Maybe this summer I will offer a tour that will focus on past visitors and how their stories contribute to the life of the museum.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A December Update

To my five faithful readers, perhaps a quick explanation regarding my absence is in order. No, I have not been lost in a grassy field such as the one pictured above nor did I spend time basking in the warm and sunny latitudes.

Much of the past month was spent working on a project that defined the true spirit of Christmas for me this year! I spent the better part of the month working on what I would call the community Christmas project. The program began about twenty years ago with the objective that no family should be without food or gifts on Christmas day. Everything, including the wrapping paper and tape are donated. This year the need, as you would expect, was overwhelming. We gave out over six hundred food boxes which included bread, milk, eggs, a turkey, and an assortment of canned and packaged good to meet the family's needs. I spent days sorting the cans of donated food; for the chicken soup alone, there are at least twenty different way of getting a chicken into a can of soup. I also discovered that there is a soup called Italian style wedding soup; so could someone tell me why Italy needs it own special soup just for weddings?

All the time while we were sorting and filling food boxes, another team of volunteers were wrapping gifts and matching them to the requests of specific children. It still boggles my mind that money was donated to purchase over seventy-five bikes of all shapes and sizes. I am certain that on Christmas day there were more than a couple of smiling kids in Astoria!

The final stage of the project happened the Sunday before Christmas when the adults came to pick up the food and gifts. For me the day was filled with mixed emotions; you could see joy and pain in the faces of those waiting in line for their turn. I am sure that for many, this may have been the first time they had to depend upon the generosity of others. It was also a bit unsettling as I recognized a number of the people which I sure added to their discomfort. On a more joyous note, there were the smiles of kids packing out bags of gifts and the simple expressions of thanks from parents that made it all worth while.

My lovely wife and I also made a journey to the east coast to spend Christmas with my family who live about an hour south of Boston. We arrived in the early evening of the 22nd to bone chilling winds and a temperature hovering around eighteen degrees. Thankfully we anticipated such conditions and were prepared with extra layers of clothing, gloves, and hats. No journey is without it trials and this one was no exception. Upon arriving at the baggage claim area, we soon learned that my wife's suit case has decided to spent a little more time at New York's JFK airport. The Delta baggage representative did assure us that it was on the next flight and should arrive in just about an hour. She even gave us a seven dollar food voucher; at airport prices it's hardly a meal but a nice gesture all the same.

Finally with baggage in hand and nearly eighteen hours without significant sleep, we board the shuttle bus for the car rental experience. If you have ever rented a car then you know exactly what I mean! After a short wait, we discover that the rental lot was nearly cleaned out so we had to wait while they prepare a vehicle for us. No problem, at that point another half hour or so didn't really matter.

Otherwise, Christmas and visiting with family was great. My sister cooked an outstanding dinner and my mother was constantly offering us homemade cookies. I ever got to spend some time with my best friend from high school which is always a treat.

The return trip was also one very long day complete with multiple flight delays, but we arrived at our final destination in one piece and very happy to be home. I still remembr the first time I travelled by air, it was in July of 1969. Oh how the world has changed since then; it's kind of sad.