Sunday, July 26, 2015

280 Quiz Answer

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "C" is for "chain")

The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were two inventors and aviation pioneers who are credited with inventing and building in 1903 the world's first successful airplane, the first that was controlled, powered and sustained as heavier-than-air human flight.
Question: Reflect for a moment, who were these guys?

“Jeff!  Always good to see you but I’m afraid you’re a bit early.  We haven’t got the chain on yet.”

“What!  Second time I’ve been here to pick the dam’ thing up and again it’s not ready.”

“But it won't be a total waste of time.  We ordered a new type of chain, much lighter.  It’ll give you a far better ride.  Should be ready tomorrow.”

“You guys are too much.  You may be good mechanics but you’re lousy businessmen.  Why are you mixed up with this kind of tedious work anyway?  When we were kids everyone thought you were headed for glory when you grew up, always tinkering with some invention or other, but neither of you even finished high school.”

“Oh, we still tinker.  We might come up with something surprising one of these days.”

“Like a special type of bicycle chain?  You know, there’s a new century coming up.  You should seriously consider getting married and settling down.  Have a family, couple of kids, a nine to five job – like mature grown-ups.”

“Well anyway, it’s good to see you, Jeff.  Every time you come by we know we’re going to get a little lecture on how to live.”   

“By the way, what is that thing over there?  Looks like a huge casket.  Got a dead body inside?”

“Ha. Hope not.  No, we call that a wind tunnel.”

“And a wind tunnel does what?  I know, tunnels the wind.”

“Oh, it’s just something we’ve been experimenting with.  Besides running the shop we have various projects we work on.  You see, we keep busy.”

“And the money just pours in, though it looks like it’s been mostly nickels and dimes.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.) 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

279 Quiz Answer

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "B" is for "blunder")

I’m afraid this will be looked upon as the timid way out, but I chose the cut-and-run option.
I felt that an apology, no matter how elaborate – especially since I was in no way at fault – would be dragging things out needlessly.  Instead, I just quietly left, did my work and flew home.  Sooner or later they figured out what had happened, and with a minimum of embarrassment for everyone.

I’ve written before about my work as a film-maker a few decades ago, so I thought this time I’d tell you about my Japan adventure.

The movie I was making was nothing special, no polished, potential Oscar-winner; it was just the equivalent of a metallic, nuts-and-bolts film, though the topic was rice-growing

So I flew to Tokyo, ready to go to work. As I got off the plane, I believed that the Japanese were really taking this motion picture project seriously because, as I was surprised to see, I was being met at the airport by a large limo.

And not just a limo; the car had a uniformed driver and another chap, also uniformed, who rode shotgun - though in Japan I suppose it would be shogun :-) - in the front passenger seat.

I had never had a job, of any kind, that started off so auspiciously. They drove me to their head office and I found myself meeting everyone. They were all friendly and welcoming; there was a lot of bowing, me doing my share, of course.

It was lunchtime, so they asked if I would prefer going to a steak-house or would I like to try some authentic Japanese food? Well, of course, we had steak-houses back in the Stytes and besides, I thought it would be a good political move to opt for the indigenous cuisine, so we headed off for what I would today recognize as a sushi place.

I say I would recognize it today; I didn’t recognize it then. Truth is, a few decades ago there weren’t many sushi joints in our country, and you certainly didn’t see sushi for sale in grocery stores. Most westerners of that era didn’t know from sushi; the idea of eating raw fish was regarded as just sort of weird.

However, I could see that this restaurant I was being taken to was elegant and upscale – i.e., expensive – so I looked forward to an interesting experience.

But there was a fly in the saki. Something had been worrying me, and it had nothing to do with raw fish.  It had gradually dawned on me that this was all kind of a blunder: I was inadvertently sailing under false colors.

The reason for the great welcome I had received?  I came to realize that they thought that I, a humble artisan, was actually one of the top executives of the worldwide corporation they were a part of. That explained the limo and its two charioteers.

That was bad enough. Just as bad was the question, how on earth do I go about telling them of the mistake? I had heard all about the importance of saving face in the Orient and if I told them about this awkward situation would they be subjected to humiliation and embarrassment, with me as the cause?

Even worse, would they think I had tried to trick them, intentionally acting the part of an American exec so that I could pull off some fraudulent scheme?

I had reached another of those what-would-you-have done? moments. 

First off, I could have cut and run, just gone off at an optimal moment and without a word to a remote area, shot my rice-growing footage and left for home.  No muss no fuss; let them figure it out.

Or, as a second possibility, I could have adopted a very formal “Japanese” style, bowing numerous times to them and apologizing profusely for the misconception.  (Even though, as far as I could see, it was in no way my fault.)

Or I could have used more of a relaxed, “American” approach: “Say, you know, folks, there’s been sort of a mixup; I think you might find it kind of funny…”

Or, given the possibility that I might be regarded as a crook who planned the whole deal as some sort of illegal scheme, my first priority should have been, before they called the Japanese gendarmes, that they clearly understood this was not the case.

So the quiz this week is, how would you have handled this?



Sunday, July 12, 2015

278 Quiz Answer

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "A" is for "Alan")

(The following scenelet might suggest to you a Victorian gentleman who became a well-known writer.  Who was he?)

“Millie!  Come in, sit down.  What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Well, a number of us mothers in the neighborhood have come to the conclusion that there’s a potential dangerous risk living here.  I’m speaking of Mr. Halleck.”

“Alan Halleck!  Dangerous?  We’ve known Alan for years.  He’s about the most un-dangerous person I could imagine.  Why would you think such a thing?”

“A number of us have been wondering about this for some time.  It’s what happened last Wednesday that finally convinced us that something should be done.”

“And what was that?”

“Mr. Halleck took some children for a boat ride and picnic…”

“Yes, I’m well aware of that.  My daughter was one of the kids.  We knew all about it.”

“And you didn’t find this bizarre, suspicious?”


“He just took the girls out for a boat ride on the river and they stopped and had a picnic on the riverside.  Then he brought them home.  And for this you want the guy arrested?”

“You’re missing the point.  None of those children were his…”

“Millie, he’s not married; he has no kids.”

“Exactly.  Which makes it all the more odd that he takes other folks’ children for boat rides and picnics.”

“Good lord, if you knew Alan Halleck as well as we do.  He’s a quiet sort of lonely guy who teaches arithmetic.  It may be boring to say this but he’s what you might call mousy.  No harm to him at all.”

“That’s what they say about all the dangerous child molesters at first.  We should have zero tolerance for such stuff.”

“Child molester!  What he loves to do is tell the kids stories, and they really enjoy them.”

“Now you’re getting to another key point.  What he told those children during that boat ride was outrageous.  Dark tales of people getting their heads cut off and other such terrifying stuff.  Not suitable for little kids.”

“Wait a minute.  Those weren’t little four or five-year-olds.  My daughter is ten and she was well aware that what Mr. Halleck was doing was telling the equivalent of harmless ghost stories.  Except she says his tales are much more fantastical and quite funny. 

“She might be the exception.”

“She loves the stories he tells.  She thinks he should publish them in a book so kids in the future can enjoy them too.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Berowne's 277

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "Z" is for "zero")

Yesterday was the day for fireworks and I got to thinking about Little Roy.

And that made me remember a special example of the pyrotechnician’s art: the JumboBlast rocket.  (This all happened way back when I was just a lad of ten years of age, which is way back indeed.)

We had heard about that rocket because so many of the kids our age spoke of it.  However, it was extremely expensive – it cost fifty cents – so it was out of the question for our celebratory pyrotechnics.

You see, at that time we were in the middle of the depression.  I mean The Big One, the worst depression in our nation’s history.  This was bad for the entire country, but it was also bad for me: if I ever had more than one dime at any time I would have considered myself on the road to affluence.

On the same street where I lived were the Yeagers, a family of four boys, so I hung out there a lot.  They too were also suffering from galloping penuriousness.  Our holiday was spent disappointingly with sparklers and very cheap firecrackers, so weak that if anyone was speaking loudly when you set one off you could entirely miss the “pop” sound.

But on that day the youngest brother, Little Roy, five or six years old, had a secret.

A secret no one knew about, for he certainly had told no one.  For the past few years, for most of his life as a matter of fact, Little Roy had been hoarding.  Any penny, along with the rare occasional nickel, that he managed to get hold of he hid away in a special cache only he, acting aloof, knew about.  I’m not sure he was aware of how much he finally had because counting past ten wasn’t what he was good at, but it turned out to be a total of about fifty cents.

We learned that because one of his brothers had stumbled upon this whole treasure and suddenly our July Fourth took on dazzling possibilities.

The Yeager guys were not bad with their little bro.  They didn’t bully him and they certainly wouldn’t physically harm him.  But they, and I, set out on a propaganda campaign to illuminate for him what a sensational holiday this could be.  If he’d just turn over those fifty centavos, we could actually go and buy a JumboBlast rocket! 

Think of it, Little Roy!  Your rocket – (yes, we’d make sure it was known as his) – would shoot up into the firmament and explode and the entire vault of heaven would burst forth into brilliant, positively ravishing examples of incredible fireworks display.  We would have a holiday none of us would ever forget.

It wasn’t hard.  Little Roy wanted the rocket as much as the rest of us.

Long story short, one of the older boys went and bought the device.  We set it up carefully in a wide patch of the back yard.  It was a thrilling moment when the lit match touched the fuse.

I was only ten or so, and I didn’t know all that much about aerodynamics, so I didn’t understand why the rocket, as it started off, suddenly took a quick turn to the right.  It shot like a bullet just over nearby housetops and in a matter of a second or two was totally out of sight.  Its pyrotechnical effect was zero.

Whatever dazzling display that rocket was going to put on would be displayed before someone else.  Little Roy had a stunned look on his face, as if to say: Was that it!!!?

There was not much we could say to ease the situation.  Little Roy just sat there staring into space, thinking about his life savings, perhaps hoping the rocket's absence was only temporary and it would come back again and perform as expected.

The rest of us got together and ponied up some money so we could buy him a Popsicle.  That helped a little.  In its way it was a Fourth of July I’ve never forgotten. 
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