Monday, May 26, 2014

Another One Bites The Dust

Mike Nettleton

 My neighborhood video rental store has closed its doors. After 30 plus years of being the gathering place for movie lovers of all ages, Video Connections has fallen victim to the realities of today’s marketplace.  Between on-line streaming, Red Box and other methods of having movies delivered at the push of a button, the brick and mortar business model is galloping toward obsolescence.

I hate the idea that I’ve become one of those dinosaurs constantly lamenting “the good old days.” Because, face it, they weren’t always that good. Vietnam sucked. So did the brown acid, the Nixon years, runaway inflation, trickle down economics and disco. I just couldn’t pull off the open front shirt and gold chain look. Face it, my Boogie Oogie Oogie just couldn’t Boogie no more.

Without a doubt, technology has enriched our lives. Because of developments in medicine, people are surviving with afflictions that used to mean a rapid death sentence. Thanks to lasers, computers and a talented surgeon, my cataracts were sucked out and replaced by acrylic lenses. How very Bionic Man, right? But, fact is,  I’m 20/20 without glasses or contact lenses for the first time since elementary school.  Shopping online is convenient, habit forming and helps stretch our budgets. You can text people all over the world and never worry about spelling words correctly. It’s a beautiful thing. You can listen to a steady diet of your favorite music on the internet and not have to put up with the mindless blather from a local deejay.

Problem is, I used to be a local deejay. And mindless blather was my singular talent. And the movie lovers who ran that video store will have to find something else to do after being made obsolete. Your neighborhood bookstore is about to go the way of the buggy whip, typewriter and whale bone corset. The nice lady with the beehive hairdo who used to scan your groceries and call you “hon” joins the rest of the people squeezed out of the job market by our quest to minimize our face-to-face contact with other human beings.

Maybe it is a sign of creeping geezerdom, but I’ll miss talking movies with my friends at Video Connections. I’ll miss catching up on the neighborhood gossip with the grocery clerk or buying books from the dollar table outside the bookstore. I’ll even miss yelling “get a clue you hoser,” at the radio when the deejay talks over the vocal of one of my favorite songs.

I feel like what we’re gaining in convenience, speed and efficiency is inversely proportional to what we’re losing in our ongoing battle to remain human and real. Face-to-face contact is becoming rarer—conversation without keyboarding a lost art. And I can’t help feeling a bit sad about the whole thing.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Corn Star

Carolyn J. Rose 

 When sweet corn season comes around, I think of my father. He loved fresh-from-the-garden corn, especially corn from his own garden. And he went to incredible lengths in order to sink his teeth into kernels slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

The yearly struggle to triumph over dry spells, disease, weeds, marauding crows, and determined raccoons began in the heart of winter with the arrival of the seed catalogs. He’d page through them, searching for the old and familiar varieties, and for the latest hybrids that claimed to hold that just-picked sweetness a little longer.

Spring can be fickle in the Catskill Mountains, toying with gardeners, teasing them with mild days followed by snow or hail or plunging temperatures. But, finally, the time would come to hook the plow to the tractor. He’d turn the rocky soil, cart off large stones worked up by the frost, harrow what he’d plowed, cart off more stones, then spread fertilizer and lime from huge brown paper bags. He did that with his bare hands. Having survived World War II and the perils of flying a supply route from India to China, he wasn’t worried about a few chemicals.

Level land was at a premium on his acreage, so it wasn’t a huge field—at least not by the standards of the Midwest, where corn is serious business. He’d stake out rows, carve furrows and, when the leaves on a white oak were the size of squirrels’ ears, space out the seeds and cover them with just the right amount of soil.

In a few days, he’d pace the rows in search of the first pale green sprout. That became an evening ritual, walking the rows, checking progress, planting a second wave, yanking out weeds.
By the time school was out, the weeds were ferocious, and my brother and I were tasked with crawling among the young plants and pulling them out. The best time, according to my father, was early in the morning while the dew was on the ground and the weeds came up easily, root and all.

For me, there was no “best” time to weed. There was only the wrong time—and the wrong time was any time, but especially early on a summer day. Only the threat of allowance withheld got me out of bed and into the corn.

By August, the ears were fat and the tassels turning brown. The corn was nearly ready to pick. And the raccoons knew it. Night after night they came, climbing the stalks, tearing off the husks, dining on milky raw corn.

Day after day my father plotted ways to halt their forays into the field. On visits to the general store/post office he commiserated with other gardeners and came home with fresh ideas.

He mixed hot pepper with lard and painted it on the ears. That night the raccoons ate more.

He hung aluminum pie pans from the stalks hoping the clatter would deter the masked marauders. Apparently it was music to their ears.

He ran a string of extension cords and set a strong light in the center of the field. The light shone through my bedroom window and cast shadows of cornstalks on the wall above my bed. One night the shadow of a raccoon appeared and I ran to alert my father. He seized his rifle, raced to the edge of the field, and fired. The raccoons escaped unscathed.

The next night, they returned, but I slept through their shadow show. Finally, by offering financial incentives, he enlisted us to sleep in the field. We, in turn, recruited friends and, armed with a battery-operated radio, soft drinks, snacks, sleeping bags, and canvas tarps, set up camp.

The raccoons stayed away.

What I remember most about those summer nights is going to sleep damp from the dew and waking up to find some manner of bug crawling on me.

What I remember most about summer dinners is the taste of sweet corn just out of the garden and the fleeting feeling that it was all worth it.