Welcome to my family’s street

October 17th, 2016 by John Morris

Bordering the Vatican is a street named Via del Mascherino.  This is noteworthy because my mother’s family’s name is Mascherino.  It is named for an architect named Ottaviano Nonni, not my family. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottaviano_Nonni

However not to miss out on a good time, my family, led by cousin, Anthony Mascherino, have always stopped at a local bar to drink the wine and the ambiance while sitting under a street sign.

Michael Petrillo and I made the long walk from our hotel to this destination.  Michael grabbed some poor waiter for me to talk to.  I told him about my family’s name, and I wondered if he remembers Anthony Mascherino.  The man raised his hands to his lips and made the universal sign for a handle bar mustache.  Oh yeah, he remembers him.  See photo below:

Next Michael muscled the bar’s owner over to our table.  I asked the same question, and he gave the same response.  This man, also named Antonio, was gracious and sat with me for a few photos.

Next time you’re near the Vatican, stop at Via del Mascherino no. 36 for a while.  Then post a photo on Facebook.

 

 

Italia, Michael and me.

October 17th, 2016 by John Morris

Choosing a traveling companion is serious stuff.  If married, traveling with your spouse is understood.  You do it because it’s what husbands do.  What to do if you plan a swing through Italy for you and one friend?  I suggest you choose wisely here.

Old time friend, Michael Petrillo said he’s like to take the trip with me in order to get a different traveling experience.   He accepted the restrictions of not making hotel reservations; not following a rigid itinerary and traveling using the cheapest methods.   He seemed to embrace my favorite form of traveling: just bumming around.

I did worry about two opposite personalities clashing.  Two week together with anyone will test friendships and family ties.

Preparations for the trip meant splitting duties.  Michael bought the plane tickets; I made the arrangements to stay in one of the trulli in Alberobello.   Together we made sketchy plans for what would be a fast paced journey for two septuagenarians.

 

Our first test came at Rome Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino.  After the long flight, we would train to Roma Termini where we would search the area for our first night’s lodgings.  We had it in our heads to stay at a convent or monastery.  We even had an outdated book to help us.  No way this plan would fail.

It was during this trek where I learned how sharp Michael’s sense of direction is.

Poor guy would walk ahead of me.  I do walk slower than he does, but I was also dragging a carry-on over Rome’s cobble stone streets.

Michael visited the first convent where he alone encountered an angry Nun.  No room for us here, but he did get another lead.

Overall we stopped at maybe three mainstream hotels and were rebuffed due to the “holiday”.  Ut oh!   There’s a holiday!  We decided to walk back toward the Termini and to a greater selection.  We found lodgings at the Le Duca d’Alba.  It was fancier than my usual, but it beat pushing on.

After we dropped our bags and showered, we went to the closest restaurant called Antoinella.  We often referred to this meal as the best one we had.

The following morning’s journey had us going to Roma Timburtina to catch the only daily bus to Teramo.   Michael figured out how we could take the subway to Timburtina for 1.5 euro.   I approved of this lower priced form of motion.   The rookie was showing me something.

At the station, we took great pains to make sure we were we needed to be and would catch the right subway.  Thanks to Michael and a friendly native, we were.

With this behind us, we entered into the maze that is the Roma Timburtina’s bus terminal.  We looked at all the signs but caught no mention of our bus or even its company.  Michael asked a series of clueless attendees with only confusion resulting.  There was this one information lady who did actually help us out.  Michael wanted to buy her a gelato.

When we were, at last, near our destination, we needed to get better directions.  Michael took control of the problem and asked bus drivers but to no avail.  I saw a booth with the small letter “i” signaling “information”.  I used my sparse Italian with her, and she used her English cheat sheet.  She gave me the departure time and station: “Stallo 17”.  You’d think this would end the problem.  Nah!  Finding “Stallo 17” would not be so easy.  The ever persistent Michael just kept asking and asking.  Finally we found it.

We were on the bus and on the way to Teramo.  After a two hour ride, we were at Teramo’s bus station.  Now all we needed was a cab to go to Maria Pia’s.  Oops again.  Today is Sunday, and there were no cabs.  The backup plan was to call cousin Vittorio, but I didn’t want to trouble him. One guy at the station said another guy said he’d drive us there for 30 euro.  We jumped at this chance.  The guy did get us to Maria Pia’s home thanks to my flaw-filled directions.

Somewhere through this journey from Roma Termini to Roma Timburtina to Teramo’s bus station to Maria Pia’s, I realized Michael will be a splendid travel companion.

Together we’d combine our individual strengths and make the trip memorable.

Next question: would one of us assault the other?

 

Overnight in a coffee shop

May 16th, 2016 by John Morris

At the age of 30, coffee was struck from my diet due to a troubling reaction to it.  Up to then, I really liked the stuff.  But it had to go.

I switched to decaffeinated coffee for a while, but it’s just bad.  A new dedication to tea brought a suitable choice.  Today I drink a great amount of hot teas.  Green tea accounts for about 90%.  I especially like using loose tea leaves in tea containers.  There is a vast world of fragrant teas for all palates.  I don’t miss the coffee anymore.

There remains one, old coffee story for me to share.

My radio detachment finished our mission in the Mekong Delta and were convoying to our home base of Cu Chi.  Bad timing caused us to be stuck in Saigon at sundown.  Our Lieutenant made arrangements for overnight lodgings.  The place he found was a large single room with ten bunks located above a coffee shop.  The setting was spartan, but we had just finished three months living in sandbagged hutches.  It wasn’t so bad.  Our first thoughts were to go on the town for cultural reasons.  Lt. Tallant nixed our ideas and said leaving the store would carry punishment.

In the morning, our senses were shocked awake by the strongest coffee aroma  imaginable.  We looked at each other; threw on clothes and dashed downstairs for the only thing our tastes craved: coffee, coffee, coffee.  The first round of cups could not arrive fast enough.  It took me two pulls on dark, bitter goodness to hit the sweet spot.  It was like nothing I had experienced.

Today my little borough has several coffee spots with more coming. Citizens can sip hot, tasty beverages and allow a lazy day to drift by. Someday we may even have a good tea house.

Coffee drinkers shouldn’t have all the fun.

 

Il punto di svolta (The tipping point)

March 14th, 2016 by John Morris

These days I’m learning Italian.  Why would a septuagenarian take on learning of a new language?   Well, intrepid reader, learning a new language is a stalwart weapon in the fight to keep out the Alzheimer’s. Work the brain to keep it from getting flabby I’m told.  While this is enough of a good reason for my late in life desire to parla Italiano, I have a more personal one.  

At my last visit to my family’s ancestral home of Teramo, Italy, I told my cousins (cugini) there I would be speaking Italian on my next visit.  They encouraged me, and I want to reward them for their faith.

How hard can it be?

I had many false start with books and electronic language courses.  Oh sure, I got their greetings chapters down but no real knowledge of the language.

It was time to pick up the pace, I used inheritance money from my Mom to buy a Rosetta Stone course.  I thought she’d like this idea.

That was over a year ago.  I did lessons five nights a week.  At the halfway mark on the course, I realized I’ve knew words but not how to use them.  Learning refrigerator was frigorifero and vacuum cleaner was aspirapolvere would not help when I need directions to a ristorante?

Step two was Duolingo, a web based learning tool.   It addresses the use of words over just learning of them.  I doubled my efforts with both e-courses, but still sensed I needed more.

Next I enrolled in an Italian for travelers course at Widener’s Exton campus.  Early on, I knew what I needed to learn.  How to say baffling words like “gli” – “the” when used before masculine, plural nouns starting with vowels or “Z” or “S” followed by another consonant.  Got to love the complexity of Italian.

Where am I now?  My desire to speak Italian has gained momentum.  I spend large chunks of my time each day studying; getting frustrated and going back for more.

By reaching my tipping point, I believe my working knowledge will produce full Italian sentences.  I am excited about being where I am and where I’m going.

I sense my tipping point is just ahead of me, and I plan to knock it on its culo.

 

 

 

Conditions of employment

October 5th, 2015 by John Morris

During a one year span, I hired 33 new people for about ten positions.  The jobs offered good starting wages and had few requirements.  At each interview, I stressed being at the work stations at 7:00 a.m.  I also stressed how badly our production is affected when an employee chooses not to work one day or leaves early.  These two items and getting along with others was the core of the interview speech.

It didn’t take long for most new hirees to take exit themselves.  These were the major transgressions:

  1. Late for work or leaving early.
  2. Taking excessive breaks – mostly to smoke or to make calls.
  3. Needing others to keep them working.
  4. Hung over, stoned or fatigued.

The bad workers would not make the thirty day mark.  The ones who did would expect a raise.  If they were good workers, it happened. Good workers with troubling work habits got only mentoring.  Note: the success rate here was still slim.

I began to notice each employee had particular features we, the employers, had to accept to keep them.

I’ll use item #1: Late for work or leaving early as an example.  There were a slew of workers who could never make it to the time clock, let alone their stations, by 7:00 a.m.  Each day provided a new excuse.  We would tell them excuses don’t mattter; results do.

I learned these employees were extracting a “condition of employment” from the company.  They were saying – without saying – if you want me here you need to accept my transgressions.  There were times when we did accept these terms but when conditions changed so did the employees.

As the personnel director,  I noted the employees’ “conditions of employment”.  If there was just one, we worked to keep it that way and to make darned sure the other employees didn’t make hay by pointing out the faults of others.  Many believed they could have theirs and the others too.

The events I’m citing today happened two decades ago.  Has it changed much?  From my view as a part time hardware worker, I still see “conditions of employment”.  I also see how this stacks the deck against long term employment.  Businesses must run on an unaffected flow established by their owners.

The other thing I learned is unless an employee goes all-in with their new company, their tenure will be short.  This comes from reading hundreds of job applications.  Ten jobs in three years is common.

We can lament the dimishing American work ethic or just chalk it up to everyone for themselves, i.e., “I’m going to take what I can when I can.”

How do we cure this?  Will it be cured?

 

Traveling light

September 20th, 2015 by John Morris

Kudos to the airlines for making luggage a profit center.  By charging travelers $25 and more to transport backpacks and such items, they created bottle necks at the gates and on the planes.

On my recent trip, I noticed travelers pulling full sized luggage to their planes.  They’re avoiding the tiresome extra charges by making life difficult for their flight crews and fellow travelers.  One hipster loaded two large backpacks on one flight.  One in the overhead – which barely closed – and one in his lap causing distress for the attendants.  This logjam forced the gate personnel to plea with them to check in the outsized bags so the rest of us could have some storage space.  Very few complied, and it made life rough.

Once all this gear is shoehorned into the plane it creates another problem.  What was once just annoying is now flaming up short fuses.  It now takes twice as long to deplane.  Alpha males jostle each other to remove bags jammed into the overheads. Then we weave our bags down the narrow path to the airport mall in a slow procession.  Yes, the terminals are now a shopping opportunity.

Once in the airport’s common area, my enlightened mind spotted many others heading to their gates with far too much “carry-ons.  This problem may not get worse, but it also may not end.  Too many folks are playing the system and avoiding extra fees and making their problem a shared one.

I don’t blame anyone for avoiding baggage fees.  When traveling in the USA, I haven’t checked a bag in over a decade.  Even when it was free. 

The obvious answer to this problem is for all travelers to follow the baggage guildlines.  Another is to get more lean when packing.  I toured Italy for two weeks with a small carry-on plus a handheld bag.

How?                  

Core principle: pack for three days:

  1. one outfit for plane travel (bulky clothes: jeans with jackets)
  2. two dressy shirts and pants
  3. four sets of shirts, pants, t-shirts, socks and underwear.  I select clothing I should probably throw away.
  4. one belt
  5. one pair of shoes for men and two pairs for women
  6. ditty bag for toiletries
  7. any electronic gear you really need
  8. a wafer thin poncho or compact umbrella

All this, plus the items only you will need, should fit in an average sized carry-on bag plus one handheld bag.  It helps to study how to pack well

This list is not complete.  It presents the core principle: don’t pack for more than three days. 

After three days, clean the dirty clothes at a laundromat or take them to a by-the-pound cleaner – early morning drop off gets same day service.  Then repeat every three days.

When at three days to go, I discard the clothes worn each day.  I’m making room for gifts, etc and thinning my wardrobe.

Traveling light frees us up to better enjoy flying.  Give it a try.

Good news and bad news

April 28th, 2015 by John Morris

Today I received both good news and bad news from the University of Pennsylvania’s Memory Center.  

The good news was my recent PET scan showed a lack of  amyloids in my brain.

This good news created the bad news.  I can’t continue with their promising three year long experimental program.  I wanted to help these scientists develop better way to fight Alzheimer’s Disease.  I’m now on the outside looking in.  

I watched as my Mother descended into the disease.  There was not much that could have been done for her.  She received the standard care available, but no matter what the disease kept taking more than the care could prevent.  

Does my good health report mean I will not get Alzheimer’s?  No!  If I had had elevated amyloid reading, would I be destined to contract AD?  Not necessarily!  

Right now, I’m mourning my departure from this study.  In a week or so, I may get as happy as I should about such a clean bill of health. 

 

 

The fix was in.

April 26th, 2015 by John Morris

I sometimes use my idle time by logging on to Wikipedia and hitting the “random article” button.   Hit after hit will be produce nothing of any real interest but after a while, something will pop up.

I was playing this game when the internet gremlins rewarded me with a story from baseball’s earlier era.  It was about the game’s most hated player probably of all times: Ty Cobb.  I knew Cobb was disliked and after reading about the forgotten event, I got a sense of the how visceral the hate was.

The 1910 baseball season had reached its final day.  Cobb and Napolean Lajoie were vying for the batting title.  Cobb opted to sit out the season’s last game because his average was such that Lajoie would need a 8 for 8 day to pass him.  This is were the “hate Cobb” bunch dug in to deny this title and its swag award – a new Chalmers Automobile – from the “Georgia Peach”.

Napolean Lajoie’s team, the Cleveland Naps* would play a double header against the Saint Louis Browns.  Every time Lajouie came to bat the Browns’ manager, Jack O’Connor moved his rookie third baseman, Red Corriden to the outfield. Lajoie could get a freebie hit just by bunting toward third base.  This is what he did. 

All went by plan until the scoring official ruled Lajoie’s last at-bat as an error and not as a hit.  O’Connor and his cohorts did what they could to bribe the official their way, but she held her ground.  The result was Cobb won the batting crown by a slim margin.

Howling accusations of wrong doings led American Legion president, Ban Johnson to arbitrate this tempest.  Cobb won out – he did still have the best batting average.  In a clever marketing move, both Cobb and Lajoie received Chalmers automobiles from the company.

Ty Cobb was a stinker without doubt.  Is there a modern day comparison to him?

But what actions can a man take to make others hate him so when he was just playing a game.   Cobb’s transgressions are documented well.   Whether he repented for them was between him and his God.

However his haters had other choices, and they own their bad actions.

 

* the team changed its name to the Naps to honor Napolean Lajoie.

Songs to aging children*

January 19th, 2015 by John Morris

Today the friends and the family of a good man gathered to remember his life.

People met Randall “Randy” Shaeffer and were usually taken in by him.  He was personable, witty and quick of tongue.  However, he lived nearly alone on his island called the Brandywine Hall’s Alzheimer’s ward, first floor.  Randy did not have AD, but he shared the need for 24/7 care.  He was in his 50s and younger by decades than the others.  He was one of a small number able to communicate. Each day brought challenges to keep his wits about him.  I’m sure he looked forward to talking with all visitors.  His island was a little less deserted then. 

Randy knew nearly everyone at “the Hall”.  His self-imposed avocation was to be the fly on the wall.  He kept an eye out, and then he spoke up for the many who could not.  He would tell me about his latest “talking to” from the suits.  I think he enjoyed this slightly naughty pleasure. 

The print media would find Randy whenever they’d visit the hall.  It was a matter of natural attraction (reporters seeking the right story).  His story was one of courage few of us will attain.  The better writers made his humor and humanity soak the pages.  

Randy always had the latest skinny.  Unfortunately it was usually about who had passed.  Sad as it was, it gave us all closure about people who brushed up against our lives.  The usual response was a sense of relief that these folks are now at peace.  

Randall Shaeffer let me know a little bit about his former live.  He worked at F. H. Swisher’s Plumbing for nearly three decades.  He was the same merrymaker there he was at Brandywine Hall.  His former co-workers come into Maxwell’s Hardware and tell me stories with Randy at the core. 

This is the snapshot I’ll leave with you about my late friend, Randy Shaeffer. 

Life dealt a really bad hand to Randy.  In a wheelchair at young age, there were times when he struggled to talk.  His body was always breaking down.  Despite these crushing problems, he’d keep his spirit up and spread good will and cheer to all who ventured to his island and spoke with the “Mayor of Brandywine Hall.”  

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/dailylocal/obituary.aspx?n=randall-s-shaeffer-randy&pid=173853080&fhid=28394

* song title by Joni Mitchell

 

Marijuana can be a buzz kill.

January 17th, 2015 by John Morris

If your bliss is to be either a comic or a writer, steer clear of marijuana. I know there are many who will disagree with me on this, and their views on the matter can be added to this blog in the form of “comments”.

Here are my top three arguments to support this bold statement.

Argument #1: Buddy Hackett said smoking weed stalled his work ethic.. He said he smoked it every day for one year straight. After the year was over, he realized he had not written as much as one new joke, and his career had been in neutral all the time.

Argument #2:  When you’re stoned, you’ll think anything you do write is either funny or profound. If you present this new material and you’re still buzzed, nothing changes except the audience who may not follow you on your trips.

Argument #3:  Once you’ve forsaken the bong and Zig Zag papers, you buckled down; worked diligently and are ready to spread the good times. Be sure to stay away from audiences who will laugh or applaud anything because they’re buzzed. Even your bad stuff will get giggles and snorts. How can you be sure your latest efforts have any real value?

 

 

about


The old boy writing this blog wears many hats: Vietnam Veteran, husband & father, salesman and techno-dude. After my service with the Army Security Agency, I operated a sign company for nineteen years, The sign industry changed after CAD/CAM machines made the task easy enough for the non-talented. I sold my company and never looked back.

Life has granted me a life partner better than I deserve. My wife, Lyn is a transplanted Kansas gal. Her bliss is teaching kindergarten and first grade.

I am the most proud of my children. My son, Adam lives an international life teaching English and living in Sozhou, China. He is married to one of life's truly lovely women, Yuri Kim. My daughter, Beth grew up in a small town and found her way in life means working and living in major cities like Chicago and New York. She and her life partner, Julie Sterling married in LaJolla, California in 2010.

I like getting the newest gadgets, but also I like to use things until they are useless, i.e., my last personal car was an 88 Honda Prelude Si.

I wrote a Vietnam Veteran newsletter for nine years. During this journey, I learned I like to write. It is a harmless exercise that rewards honest effort while tolerating failure gracefully. I been away from it for too long. My son gave me the blog, and it was a lifeline back to writing.

My best advice is to show the world what you can do but to accept only your opinion of who and what you are.

Update: In August 2008, my job became one of the half-million jobs that went away that month. I took the following year getting the home ready for my official retirement.

In October 2009, I took a part-time job as a saleman at the vaulted Maxwell's Hardware.

On November 29, 2011, I reached my 66th birthday, and I officially started Social Security. I intend to stay with Maxwell's as long as I can contribute.

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