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Guns Now And Then

I remember as a youth of 15 going into a liquor store (now called mini market) after hunting in rural California to buy a Coke and some chips while having a .38 revolver strapped to my side. I would wander the isles a bit, find what I wanted and go to the cash register and pay for my purchase. The cashier could see that I was carrying a sidearm but no one got upset. It was legal and accepted behavior at the time and nothing out of the ordinary at all. In fact, there were hundreds of us hunters and target shooters that regularly did the same without as much as a frown.

Try that today! Someone would scream “gun” and you would be dropped like a bowling pin in under a second. We are talking about a huge change here in the way Americans perceive guns. The pitch has gone from calm to plain nutty.

When I was a child, I can’t remember ever hearing about a murder in our small town. There may well have been some but they certainly didn’t make the evening news. Likewise, I never heard of anyone shooting a thief in a home invasion although I am sure there were plenty of thieves back in the day. And I never heard of anyone shooting anyone else just for the hell of it. So what are we talking about here, facts or perceptions? It is probably a bit of both.

Some sixty years ago, there were fewer guns and yet they were more openly presented as opposed to being hidden away in closets. Today there are way more guns but practically no one wears a sidearm in the open with the exception of law enforcement personnel. (Here in North Carolina, we have an open carry law.) There is way more gun related crime now, even on a per capita basis than sixty years ago yet everyone wants to hide their weapons. These are the facts.

Now the perceptions. Six decades ago, people weren’t particularly afraid of guns or gun ownership. It was a part of the American West that carried over into the twentieth century. Guns were considered a normal piece of family life in America. Sure, there were the exceptions but nobody seemed to get upset at the idea of gun ownership. Then came August 1, 1966. In Austin, Texas, Charles Joseph Whitman, a former US Marine, killed 16 and wounded at least 30 while shooting from a University of Texas tower. Police officers Ramiro Martinez and Houston McCoy shot and killed Whitman in the tower. Whitman had also killed his mother and wife earlier in the day. This was a pivotal day in the perception of guns in America. Guns were now feared. America had long forgotten about September 5, 1949, then it came back in an instant: In Camden, New Jersey, 28-year-old Howard Unruh, a veteran of World War II, shot and killed 13 people as he walked down Camden, New Jersey’s 32nd Street. His weapon of choice was a German-crafted Luger pistol. He was found insane and was committed to a state mental institution where he died at the age of 88.

Today we fear guns as we have seen what they do in the hands of the insane or terrorists. People get shot everyday in America and unfortunately it is viewed as a normal occurrence. Often these shootings are over petty disagreements. Criminals who use firearms illegally put a huge burden on the shoulders of law-abiding gun owners, resulting in the gun hysteria we have seen in recent years. All gun owners are now painted with the same “bad guy” brush.

It is time to take the mystery out of guns, severely punish those who use them illegally while preserving our heritage and rights to own and correctly use firearms. Voices have to calm on both sides of the gun debate. Perhaps both the facts and perceptions will change for the better.

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Of Worms And Blue Birds

Every once in awhile I read a tidbit that I save in my brain for the future. Such was a magazine article I read several years ago about feeding blue birds. I learned that blue birds have a penchant for meal worms. To them it’s like a fast food delight.

Being unfamiliar with their love for meal worms, I tried buying a package of dried worms. I put them out in a little dish and watched as the blue birds approached. Nothing! Was the magazine article wrong? I tried the same thing with live meal worms from a fishing bait store and bamb, an army of blue was all over the dish. Ah, so the worms had to be alive?

The next season, I again bought the live worms and set them out when the blue birds arrived in our garden. Nothing! What? In desperation, I tried some of the old dried worms and instantly our yard was filled with dozens of blue birds all vying for the meal worms. Did my little friends forget to send me the memo that they had switched preferences?

As it turned out, we are apparently visited by a strange variety of these creatures: Blue Birdicus Finicus. In the end, I decided as Marie Antoinette, “let them eat cake”-ed dry meal worms and be done with it. It seems that my feathered friends have decided that a dry worm in the beak is worth two live worms in the far off bait store. Things have now settled down to a neat little routine wherein I have become a slave to spoiled birds that demand that I freshen their cache of meal worms four times a day. Though I oblige, I wonder seriously sometimes if I have lost my mind as my wife claims. Perhaps I should prepare some of those meal worms for her as well to help keep her beak closed.

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How Many Places Have You Lived?

How many places have you lived? It’s an easy question but for most of us, we have to stop and think a bit to get our head all away around the answer.

A hundred years ago, the answer was probably one. People didn’t move much at all and were often born, married and buried in the same town. Fifty years ago, the answer might have been two or three. Post war America offered employment and housing opportunities that often required relocation. Today? Most people have moved frequently for family, work or pleasure.

Me? My list is long: Salt Lake City, Utah / Des Moines, Iowa / North Hollywood, California / San Fernando, California / El Portal, California / Oceanside, California / Santa Barbara, California / Sylmar, California / Redondo Beach, California / Woodland Hills, California / Granada Hills, California / Oak Park, California, Gold Beach, Oregon / Eugene, Oregon / Tret, Italy / Etowah, North Carolina – That’s 16 locations and a lot of miles in between!

While I may be a bit of an exception, most people my age have probably seen somewhere between 3 and 5 different living locations in their entire lives. One friend of mine has actually lived in 52 locations. Another has only lived in two. How many places have you lived?

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What About The Alt Links?

In the past few months, we have all heard about the Alt Right. The term uses a little German to conjour up the vision of Nazis and growling German Shepherds when discussing anything on the right of politics that the left doesn’t agree with. The term has ushered in an era of name calling that hasn’t been seen since the McCarthy era. The idea of a true Alt Right is disgusting but so is using this label on anyone who simply has a different opinion. It’s like calling your local weatherman the Führer just because he said it was going to rain the day you wanted to play golf.

So that begs the question: What about the Alt Links? Ah yes, a double German term that might just characterize the actions of many on the extreme left. When did the left in this country appoint themselves as the moral guardians of the rest of us poor souls? Ironically I have certainly seen more storm trooper mentality coming from the left these days. Its ultimate manifestation was the recent shooting in Virginia aimed specifically at the Republican Party. In the end both sides need to bring it down a notch or two and do something constructive for our country, preferably together.

Name calling serves none of us in the end. It is just plain childish and best reserved for the playground instead of being used as a tool of political persuasion. Calling someone a dick isn’t half as effective as writing a piece explaining why that person might just be one. In the absence of fact, name calling is often employed just out of frustration. Let’s all take a deep breath and grow-up a bit.

Whether it’s the Alt Right or the Alt Links, to have an opinion is basically guaranteed in America. It’s who we are. However to be uncivil to each other, cause property damage and deprive individuals of their right to free speech is not guaranteed. That’s something to think about the next time any of us are tempted to go Alt.

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From Here To Eternity (Not The Movie)

From Here to Eternity is not the movie. Rather this describes our yearly translocation from the United States to Italy and back again. I thought about calling this post The Endless Summer but we also travel in the fall.

We are fortunate enough to live continuously on two continents. We have a home in the Italian Alps and one in North Carolina. However going from one to the other involves ingenuity, a good deal of time and a ton of patience. It is that latter quality with which I find myself in complete short supply. I am getting older and patience is not in abundance in my battered brain.

Let me start by saying that neither of our residences is close to a major airport. I often envy the international traveler who can get on the plane where they live in Los Angeles and get off where they live in Rome. Ah, to be a big city boy once again!

Our trans-Atlantic travel is sometimes smooth but that wasn’t to be this year. This is our actual travel story:

Our odyssey begins in the Italian Alps when my alarm clock goes off at midnight. My wife and I hurriedly jump through the shower and we begin madly shutting down all of our utilities under a black Tirolean sky. Out of breath, we do some last minute checking and jump into a waiting car of a friend whom I’ve coerced into taking us down the mountain to Bolzano some 50 kilometers and an hour away. It is one in the morning. We creep through the night in anticipation of what’s ahead. We finally arrive in Bolzano after the 15 hairpin turns of the Mendola Pass. It is here where the actual journey begins.

We wait impatiently for the airport shuttle to arrive. They are always on time. After all we are in the German speaking province of Bolzano now and things take on a Teutonic order. We came early as usual just in case of Italian-esque problems. None appear. We load our luggage which consists of only two small carry-on bags as we have learned that anything more is suicide. Off we hurl into the black, up the Brenner Pass, through Austria and on to the airport in Munich. It’s a 4 1/2 hour ride up but we want to make sure we make our 9:30 flight to Atlanta. We hit the airport early and it’s only six AM.

The Munich Airport is bustling, even in the early morning hours. We go through the departure desk and security in one smooth motion. We have done this over thirty times before so we are practiced. If everything goes as planned (it seldom does), we will be off for Atlanta at 9:30 but we have already been up nearly ten hours.

This is a good trip and we haven’t been bumped. That means we don’t need a ride out to a hotel in Erding and the added time and expense. Oh rapture! Wait a minute, no – wrong. We are bumped and must now go back through security, out of the airport and wait for a hotel shuttle. We are now in Deutschland and nothing is free. The shuttle ride is an arm and a leg but we finally make it to Erding after waiting and hour for the bus.

The hotel that I booked hurriedly in the airport informs me that the 120 Euro a night room is now 750 Euros because they are in the middle of Oktoberfest. Scheisse! They are nice enough to lead the poor Americans to a cheaper hotel and we finally throw down our luggage in disgust, take a walk, and head to our favorite Greek restaurant. A complication quickly arises. My wife is sick from so much travel and can’t eat. I polish off her meal as well as mine, belt down two Ouzos and head for the hotel. Any festing in October is out of the question.

The morning comes and we take an overpriced cab to the airport and start all over. This time the Gods of air travel are kind…. sort of. We can’t go to Atlanta but Detroit is open. I bob my head in the affirmative. We board, I play a quick game of trivia when we reach cruising altitude and we both settle in for the 10 1/2 hour flight. The good folks on the airline keep us busy. “Want coffee?” “Want a hot towel?” No, actually I just want to sleep for our journey has just begun but sleeping is a near impossibility. The mixed linguistic clatter from the cabin and the whining infants will make sure my eyes are not shut for more than ten minutes. Tick-tock!

We arrive in Detroit and go through customs. It is a ten minute procedure compared with over an hour in Atlanta. I file that gem away in my brain for next year. We skip the baggage carousel (remember we pack light). We have to wait a couple of hours for the Atlanta flight but it seems worth it. We make it on the plane and do the three hour plus pop to Atlanta. The trouble is that the airline confiscated our carry-on luggage, saying there was no room on the plane. At this point, I really don’t give a damn… they’ll show up.

We make a smooth landing in Atlanta, Georgia. It would be grand if we could get off the plane, which has now become a swampy breeding ground of germs, and just go on home. Yes that would be great but it ain’t so! We have to go again through security. After assuring everyone we are not Sacco and Vanzetti, we are allowed to proceed on the tram toward the gate for our connecting flight to Asheville, North Carolina. The trouble is that flight doesn’t leave until 10:30 PM and it’s only five.

Now we kill five hours eating and trying to nap. The napping thing just isn’t meant to be. After what seems to be an eternity, we see that the gate is open. Great! We’ll be home in an hour. Wait a minute, actually no. It seems that all flights are oversold. Now our options are simple: Spend the night in Atlanta and catch a morning flight or rent a car and drive the three and half hours to home. I opt for the latter as I just want to get into my own bed.

The rental car counter isn’t actually in the airport but in a satellite building. We walk and walk and finally we are there. I ask the smiling face behind the counter for directions to I-85. He obliges but with a major omission. We get on I85 and after a mere 3 miles traffic comes to a complete stop. Mr. Smiley sort of forgot to mention the re-pavement of two lanes of the interstate in downtown Atlanta. I muster up the absolute last of my patience and we finally make it to the Asheville airport after 6 hours of driving. I want my damn luggage before we go home. They all know us at our small airport and one airline friend sees me coming like Popeye spinning his pipe. “Your luggage is right here Mr. Rizzi. We know what happened and we’re sorry… but good to see you again.” I put the bags in the rental car. Thank God it’s only another 20 minutes to the house.

It is now nearly six in the morning and be have been in transit for some 60 hours. As I enter our home I turn to my wife. I honestly want to cry but simply mutter “never again” as I admit to myself that we will be doing this all over again in a few months but in reverse.

PS – Our return trip was also bumped so we spent a night in Atlanta. The good news? We got moved into business class and were able to get a few winks before landing in Munich and taking the train home. Oh, to be young again….

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They Are Us

How many times have you heard it? “They should do more for the poor!” “They should be more honest!” “They should pick up the trash on our streets!” The list goes on forever.

In my adopted home of Italy I hear the same thing. “They need to fill the pot holes!” They should shovel the snow in front of our church!” “They can’t do anything right down at city hall!”

The they they are talking about is invariably the government, both local and national: That faceless mob that many feel runs our lives in circles. They need to do something, everything and do it real quickly.

But who are they? In most democratic countries (and those who profess to be), the very people who are always complaining are part of a representative government. They are us and we should all get off our collective butts, chip in and give a hand in making our lives better. Waiting for them just doesn’t get the job done. It’s an old but true adage: They are us!

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WFB – Alice In #shitbank Land

We recently returned to Italy and after two weeks we suddenly found that we were denied access to our Wells Fargo Bank online banking service. There was no way to check balances, pay bills or even read messages from the bank.

Being halfway patient prudent people, we contacted the bank and manually paid our bills from 6,000 miles away by telephone. When we inquired as to what was the problem with online access, we were fed nothing short of a buffet of bullshit. This was a new rabbit hole we had fallen into after suffering the Wells Fargo “fake account” scandal, the CEO scandal, and accepting uncompetitive CD rates for years.

A second phone call to the bank produced an “online tech” who knew next to nothing about computers. Out of frustration, he finally stated that Wells Fargo Bank no longer supported Android 4.2 and that this was Android’s fault. (I am quoting directly.) What the hell? The whole internet supports Android 4.2 – why only not Wells Fargo Bank. His parting and snide advice was to “buy another tablet.”

Even if this story was true (which I doubt), we certainly never recieved any notice whatsoever from Wells Fargo regarding software support changes of any kind. I suspect the truth lies in either bad programming (not my fault), a possible case of hacking (not my fault) or unbelievably bad customer service (not my fault).

After several critical tweets using the hashtag #shitbank, I finally recieved wih a DM stating that they would call us by phone. Even though I supplied them with a proper number, no such call was ever made. They claimed they had called several times although our call register disputed this claim. Obviously this world class cretin bank does not know how to call Italy. (Again, not my fault.)

We next tried a direct phone call to our bank branch in North Carolina to no avail. It seems that local bankers know nothing of online banking – it’s just a product they push without any real knowledge of its workings. It’s out of their jurisdiction. Really? It’s the twenty-first fucking century folks!

The comedy of no customer service and miscommunication continued for another 7 days. In the meantime, we still had zero access to our bank except by long distance phone calls. A week of snivelling non-customer service and we are still have no credible answers, no customer service and no access to our own damn bank accounts.

We are now at the point where we have only but one coure of action. When we return to the United States, we will close our entire 40 year old banking relationship with Wells Fargo Bank and move our assets to another bank that is honest, competent and that doesn’t constantly lie. No more smiling Cheshire Cat that disappears when we need him the most.

You can find my Twitter entries at @allen_rizzi. In the meantime, we sincerely urge all Wells Fargo Bank customers to withdraw their money and look for a REAL Bank With REAL CUSTOMER SERVICE.

If you have similar problems, contact @WellsFargo. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get lucky.

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Similes are metaphors that compare two things using the words like and as. However, metaphors that compare using the word than are also similes. They are lovely little bits of our language that I truly adore. Some examples from over the years:

Dumber than shit!
Colder than a witch’s tit!
Dryer than dirt!
Busier than a one-armed paper hanger!
Stupider than a stone!
Fatter than a whale!
Head harder than a rock!

(This list could fill many, many pages but you get the idea. Right?)

I, like many of my contemporaries, love to invent new similes. The first reason is to introduce some new texture into our language. The second reason is to exercise the gray matter a bit to keep it trim and in shape. After all, who wants to have a brain that has exceeded its expiration date? It could go stale or something.

Some offerings:

Dumber than a dead trout!
Colder than an ass on ice!
Dryer than Martian mushroom!
Busier than Hillary’s paper shredder!
Stupider than a tire valve!
Fatter than a Walmart shopper!
Head harder than a wet sand box!

So my fellow metaphorists, do you have any simile offerings of your own? I’d love to see some.

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The Wonderful World Of Windows

Windows is the almost universally despised flagship of the Microsoft armada that dominates the PC world. In its theoretical form, it is a godsend that makes using a computer at home a breeze. In its practical form it is often a long and unwelcome nightmare.

We have now arrived at Windows 10 which is basically a gimmicked-up version of the older ones (7 and 8) that was designed to appeal to the minimum millennial mentality. That is to say, it looks like a smart phone and programs are now called apps. Wow! How impressive …. NOT!

What is still there with Windows 10 are the unending updates and instability that have haunted Windows from the Windows 97 days. That a long gig with very few real improvements in 20 years. Oh and then there is that nasty little fact that every time Windows changes its version, various amounts of your software programs (okay – Apps) refuse to work properly any longer. Bummer? No, actually they want you to go out and buy new Apps, programs or whatever you choose to call them. It gets a little expensive and that’s not counting the hemorrhoid cream you need on top of the bargain. Och!

If you have a problem with Windows, you are directed to various forums where questions are never answered. Instead you are treated to drawn-out squabbles between the wee folk that live in their parents’ basements. That leaves trial and error as the only solution and it’s likely to end up as the latter. Bummer? Not really; at least you are being entertained for free.

Windows is a crap operating system. Most agree. However, it is so widely diffused and inexpensive (compared with Apple) that most of us put up with it forever. My advice? Take a close look at Android.

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Old Math – New Math – No Math

If you follow this blog regularly, you know that I am a semi-geezer who is chiseled from the stone of another era. I have a strong reverence for the 1950’s and 1960’s which polished my rough facets into a finished urban American.

I come from a time when the Three R’s were standard fare in public schools and I have benefited greatly from my education. While all three are woefully lacking in today’s education system, it is the third R – ‘rithmatic that seems to have been completely lost in its various manifestations over the years.

As you have probably guessed, I hail from a time when math was the old math: You know, the kind that made sense and was actually used on a daily basis. I was once a paperboy some six decades ago and I remember being able to make change for any dollar amount without employing a calculator or cell phone. It was pretty basic stuff actually! I have gone through life using my old math just fine. I can use basic algebra and trigonometry to build things, figure the mileage in my car and just about any other task that requires math. I am a poster child for the old math.

When my son was in school, the dawn of the new math was upon us. I learned it as well, mainly to correct homework but also to maintain my mind up to date. After all, no one wants to have a brain with an expiration date that has been exceeded. I was okay with both old math and new math but I practiced the antique version more out of habit than anything else.

And then a strange thing happened. As the years progressed, I noticed that young people working as cashiers in markets and stores had become completely bereft of math skills. I once gave a stunned youngster a ten dollar bill and 16 cents for a purchase that came to $4.16 and was met with a vacuous stare for over a minute. Finally, the youth queried, “What are you doing dude?” The fact that I am not a dude aside, I gently explained that I was trying to make the transaction simpler so he could just give me back bills sans the change. Youth interrupted still didn’t get what I was doing so I finally gasped, “Christ, just give me six bucks!” He immediately complied but in such a manner as to convince me I could have asked for 50 bucks and it would have been the same to him.

This scene was repeated many, many times over the years to the point where I now don’t want to embarrass anyone so I just hand them a bill and wait for them to have the computerized cash register figure it all out for them. My pockets have become heavier in the process and I am still at a loss as to what happened to math in our world.

Occasionally I will be greeted by a cashier roughly my age. After all in today’s world people have to world into their eighties just to stay alive. With a knowing wink and a nod, I will slip them the even change. They make the transaction correctly and sometimes say, “Oh, you took the old math too!”

We’ve gone from old math to new math to no math. How would one ever compute the ratio of Facebook friends to phone contacts? As this old mather would say: Bummer!

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