Tuesday, July 26, 2011


The word "famished" comes from the old English word "famisshe" and it's where we get the word "famine".  It means to literally starve to death or to suffer to cause extreme hunger.

How many times have you used that word?  I'm famished.  I'm starving.  I'm dying of thirst.  But miracle of miracles, you have survived to tell the tale.  Some haven't.

I remember hearing as a kid growing up in my little town of Smock, Pennsylvania about the starving children of Africa or China.  And, I'm sure that most kids were reminded about this at the dinner table.  "Eat your broccoli."  "No.  I hate broccoli."  "Listen boy, you better eat that broccoli.  And you better think about the starving children of Africa."  "Well, if the children in Africa are starving, let's send THEM my broccoli."  And then you got some kind of discipline.  The kind of discipline that made you want to stand up the whole day in school because your back side was a bit, shall we say, tender?

Last night while channel flipping (I still have the attention span of a mayfly) I came across celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his show, "Hell's Kitchen."  Its a show where chef Gordon gets to berate and totally slice and dice young men and women who, before the show, wanted to become a chef.  After the tongue lashings and insults, I think that many of them have probably decided that cooking in a fast food restaurant is more suited to their future.  In last night's tirade of the week, Ramsay kept pushing this young lady to cook several lamb chops.  "Hurry up..hurry up" was all he could say.  When the poor girl plated the chops, they were dark red in the centers, meaning that they were "RAW dammit...LOOK AT THIS...BLOODY RAW YOU FOOL...GET THE HELL OUT OF MY KITCHEN!!!!"  But before Ramsay banished them to the life of a hot dog vendor in New York City, he made them march out to the dining area and personally apologize to the patrons.  LOOK AT THOSE CHILDREN, he said.  "THEY'RE FAMISHED."

Dammit Gordon, they are NOT famished.  Oh sure, maybe they're a bit peckish since it had been several hours since their afternoon Twinkie break, but they're not famished.  They're not even starving.  Look at them.  All dressed up with their parents, wearing nice clean clothes and some even sporting a necktie.  But famished they're not.

Yes, the children of many African and Middle Eastern nations ARE famished.  In a 60 Minutes segment I saw a couple of years ago, I found out that there are towns in Africa that have taken to eating "mud cookies".  Yep, cookies made entirely out of mud.  Dirt.  And they're dying every day.

The starving children of this world are not a joke.  I remember my military training where we camped out in various forms of wilderness and went for days without much nourishment, just to prove that we could endure much more than we thought.  But even then, we didn't starve.  Not even CLOSE to starving.

And so this little story today is a plea on behalf of those people who are truly starving.  Help.  HELP.  But many of us say, "Well, I don't know who to get in touch with about this sort of thing."  You know something?  You ought to be SHOT.  I would say that every person who says crap like this has a phone or maybe even a computer.  So go to your computer and Google the words "starving children" and you'll get TONS of addresses to send the money you may have already earmarked for your next dozen of Dunkin Donuts.  Or will you just echo the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Confessions" and say "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche"?  Come on.

Even as a kid that came from a tiny coal town, we never starved.  And if times were tough, the neighbors helped or the Company Store would extend that ever lengthening line of credit.

But what of the people of today's Africa?  You know something?  It isn't just the children who are starving any more.  Try going here and just click with your mouse;  http://www.thehungersite.com   It won't even cause you to burn ONE calorie or cause you to spend one penny.  It's FREE.

Now, was that so hard?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How Smock saved my life

It took me sixty-one years to figure out that my home town most likely saved my life.  Actually, a more accurate way of saying it is that Smock, PA contributed to the improvement of my life.  Either way, explaining my "early years" to someone last night caused me to think about how my home town directly contributed to who I am today.

I do not have anything against cell phones or I-Pods or anything else that has to be plugged in or requires batteries.  But personally,  I have little use for these things.  Sure, I get on the computer which provides a platform for me to say stuff, but other than that, I'd rather be outside.  Outside doing what?  Anything.

Now we can satisfy all of the smart people who are saying "he's going to start turning back the clock" by turning back the clock.  The Smock I knew in the 1950's was illuminated by incandescent light bulbs which attracted moths which attracted bats.  And so almost every night of the three months of summer, the bats put on an airshow that they probably called dinner.  And we learned about how sonar worked.

On most summer nights, the usual gang would creep out the house after dinner and play "hide-ee-go-seek".  People in my town were masters at butchering words and phrases.  We used a telephone poll as "home baste".  The person who was "it" knew all of the hiding spots.  And that litany of names rang through the silent streets most every night.

A couple of years ago, I took my dear friend Brian to Smock.  We were riding very noisy Harley Davidsons.  When we shut them down near the house where I was born and raised, I said "Listen and tell me what you hear."  Brian said "I can't hear anything."  I answered "Correct."  Ever since the evangelists of the New Testament could write, we learned that Jesus would now and again head out to the desert or to the shores of Galilee.  He wanted that blessed peace and quiet.  And hey, don't tell me that you do that today by going to Ocean City or the Outer Banks.  There's usually more noise there than where you live now.

As a child, we played "catchers" around the streets of Smock.  Actually, there was one street that sort of made a big square, but we also had alleys.  They were the roads less graveled.  And in the winter, we played "catchers" in the snow.

The importance behind relating all of this is that nothing we did required batteries or an electric cord with a plug.  Last night, I watched people texting and playing "Angry Doves" on their phones while Mike Gallagher, a Pittsburgh treasure, sang some of the most beautiful songs you would ever hear.  But I can probably ask a representative number of those people who were there last night to name ONE song and they would most likely fail the test.  It's really sad.

Do you have a place that you can go to hear literally nothing?  If not, then why not?  Are you addicted to cluttering up your brain like so many others in today's society?  I hope not.

My home town taught me the value of peace.  And quiet.  And of things that didn't need "booting".  There was that apple tree that my mind made into a space ship.  Each limb of the tree represented a part of the space ship that did something special.  And after Neil and Buzz landed on the moon, I repeated that landing many times in my apple-producing space ship.  And then there was that mound of slack (shale which does not burn) which became a pirate ship.  You've heard of the dread pirate Roberts?  I was the dread pirate Bobby Joe.  And you just didn't mess with me and my sword (err, I mean, broom stick).  The still, small voices in my town forced us to use our imaginations instead of having somebody's else's imagination spoon fed to our impressionable brains via some electronic umbilical cord.

My writing just now was pleasantly interrupted by a very dear friend who is returning home from a music camp in Western New York who said that when he attended this summer camp in his younger days, they forbade any cell phones, video games, or any I-this's and I-that's.  And it was GREAT.

These "mod cons" as my friend Charlie Heaton would call them, have a good place in our world today.  Shoot, I even bought a new Droid X-2 phone two weeks ago (I didn't know that they had an X-1).  And why did I make the leap to a "3-G smart phone" with "apps" galore and billions of megapixels and digital storage?  The numbers on the phone dialer were bigger.

Embrace the future and all of it's apps and craps, but don't forget to just glance in the rear-view mirror once in a while.  And while glancing, turn off the radio or the MP-3 player and then listen and tell me what you hear.