Memory is an odd companion these days. Sometimes I get up to go do something and half way there I forget what I was going to do. Other times, things from many years ago come to mind as fresh and clear as if they’d just happened. Something on Word Press the other day triggered just such a memory, that of my first car. The car was a 1957 Volkswagen, which my father bought used from a friend of his at work for $600.

imageThis car was very much like the one pictured, color and all, except mine had no roof rack but did have a fold back canvas sunroof. It was “powered” by an air-cooled, flat four, 36hp engine, and came equipped with an AM radio, a heater operated by a knob on the floor that simply opened and closed a baffle that allowed warm air from the engine into the cabin, maybe.  Since the engine was in the back, the trunk was up front but was minuscule and once the trunk lid was opened there was no guarantee you could get it closed again.  While the manufacturers of Hitler’s “Peoples Car” didn’t provide a gas gauge, they were thoughtful enough to provide a reserve fuel tank of one gallon capacity, operated by a little lever under the back seat, in case you misjudged distance between fill-ups. I used that more than once. It had a non-functioning odometer, and, if memory serves, an equally non-functioning speedometer, which didn’t matter much since, in that car, the idea of surpassing any but the lowest of U.S. speed limits was nothing more than a flight of fantasy.

imageOh, it also had a front passenger seat that displayed an annoying propensity to come off its tracks and land any poor schmuck who happened to be sitting on it sprawling into the back seat, sometimes landing in the lap of a friend sitting in the back. If you were driving in the winter and had the radio and headlights on and turned on the wipers the strain would push the 6 volt electrical system almost beyond endurance, dimming the lights and lowering the car’s top speed to around 45 mph, if luck was with you and there was a nice tail wind. The taillights and rear window were mere parodies of the real thing.  

For all it’s quirks, the car had it strengths, the metal work was twice as thick as that found on most cars coming out of Detroit at the time, it was a little tank.  If you happened to drive the car into a body of standing water in the road, it still had enough structural integrity to float just like a yacht out on Lake St. Clair, (that was okay unless you were on Lake Shore Drive, in which case there was some risk of floating out into Lake St. Clair itself).

If something went seriously wrong with the mechanics, it was a simple and inexpensive matter to just pull the old engine out and put a new one in; it was sometimes easier to replace the engine than fix it. The thing had 17″ wheels and at something like 1,500 pounds, tire replacement was a once or twice in a lifetime thing; your lifetime, not the car’s. I was so impressed with the car’s strengths, I painted a black iron cross on each front fender, low and behind the front wheel. Teenage hutzpah is a wondrous thing.

Owning that car branded me an eccentric at a very young age. While some kids in school were driving ’55 Chevys with V-8 engines and racing out on Woodward Avenue on Friday nights (it was Detroit after all), I was known in school as the kid with the old, very uncool, VW.  Though I was happy to have any kind of car to drive around in, the label never left me.  With all that said, you might ask, if given the chance, would I like to once again own a 1957 VW? In a Texas heartbeat.


A Sorry Sort of Saint

A 7 Quick Takes Post, hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary


A saint who is sorry is a sorry sort of saint. St. Francis de Sales


There was an interesting article in our local Catholic newspaper by a physicist who was also an Anglican priest before he came home to Rome. He writes about buying a new laptop and, first thing, being forced to sign up for a Microsoft “account”, an idea he found disgusting. His solution? Go out and buy the necessary parts and build himself a computer, one with a lot of memory, 1 Terrabyte of space on the hard drive, a generic operating system, and no connection to the internet. I have to say, I find the idea fascinating, given my near addiction to all things electronic. I can’t help but think people would be better off not being so connected to what purports to be the world.


Browsing the web this week, I came across an interesting article on the Slate web site by someone named Michael Robbins, a review of a new book by Nick Spencer Atheists, The Origin of the Species. The book, it seems, takes the path already well trod by the likes of Richard Dawkins and other “evangelical atheists” and treats faith as belief in some primitive myth. Robbins does a pretty good job showing the poverty of that idea.

“What’s most galling about evangelical atheists is their epistemic arrogance—and their triumphalist tone: If religious belief is like belief in the Easter Bunny, as they like to say, shouldn’t they be less proud of themselves for seeing through it? [John] Gray put the matter starkly:

‘Driven to the margins of a culture in which science claims authority over all of human knowledge, [religious believers] have had to cultivate a capacity for doubt. In contrast, secular believers—held fast by the conventional wisdom of the time—are in the grip of unexamined dogmas.'”

The point I find most interesting is that such an article should appear in a venue like Slate, a left leaning web journal/magazine. A sign of hope that maybe there is the tiniest bit of awakening to new ideas among those on the left?


My adventures with the clarinet continue after a frustrating week of life and death struggle over trivial matters. I had been making pretty good progress until I hit the challenge of playing, in tempo, a dotted quarter note followed by a half note, in two/four time. It blew my mind. However, come time for the lesson and I played all but one of the assigned exercises to my instructors satisfaction. He was of the opinion that the assignments he had given me to play were, in fact, far too easy for me and my frustration resulted from boredom, so he has upped the challenge for the coming week. Boredom won’t be a problem for the next several days and I should have kept my mouth shut.


I can’t believe that in two weeks or less, NFL training camps will open, for me always a harbinger of fall. I know that idea isn’t completely reasonable but once football news starts hitting the headlines, it seems only a moment until the season opener, then the falling leaves, and then Halloween and All Saints Day. Time flies, it seems all the faster since I retired.


We now have a humanitarian crisis developing all across the country and our borders are now virtually non-existent. One has to wonder why. From all I can gather, this is what was once known as a “man caused disaster” and perhaps it’s time that our leaders, rather than putting political gain first, a fault on both sides of the political spectrum, our leaders began to take on the challenge of governing.


“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Jonathan Swift


Meeting an Old Friend

When I was about nine years old my parents saddled me with an incredible burden, they signed me up for clarinet lessons and even bought a nice Buffet clarinet for me to use. I thought it was the most uncool instrument imaginable, not even close to being on the same level with the drums or trumpet; cool kids played the drums, my parents deemed me clarinet material. I was crushed, but took it like a man. Actually, since my father went to the expense of actually buying a clarinet, I had no other choice.

I actually progressed (I thought) pretty quickly, even with minimal practice, and played in the school band, eventually the school orchestra, and was also invited to join the District Band, I thought it a big honor and considered myself pretty hot stuff on the ol’ licorice stick. Yet, after middle school, I put the instrument down and thought I’d never play it again. Not that I didn’t enjoy good clarinet playing, I did, and throughout my life was thrilled when I heard the glissando from Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and had several versions of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in my CD collection. I never lost my hidden fascination with the clarinet.

Fast forward (very fast it seems in retrospect) to retirement and a sudden, not well considered inspiration hit me to try once again to play the instrument of my school days. About two months ago, I finally decided to do something about it and began researching music stores and trying to find an instructor, not an entirely easy task as it turned out. In the end I settled on a music store to work with where a rental instrument was easily and inexpensively available. When I was in college, a young cousin of mine started to play clarinet in school and my mother strongly suggested, since I was no longer playing, that I give him my beloved Buffet, and I finally gave in and did so. I regret that to this day since I think I had a classic wood Buffet that would cost a good deal of money to replace. Oh well.

Anyway, about five weeks ago lessons began, and what an eye opener. My instructor, Jay, focuses on classical clarinet and insists on proper technique for breath control, tempo, and posture. What an eye opener, it turned out that even though I had spent a lot of time playing the clarinet it school, much of what I learned consisted simply of bad habits. Turns out, it’s hard work playing the clarinet and yet I’m throughly enjoying it. I’m learning to properly read music, even to the point I can decently sight read simple songs, something I could never do in school. I’m also spending at least 45 minutes every day in practice, also something I never dreamed of doing in school, I just played around with the instrument.

I don’t know where all of this musical endeavor will end up, if I’ll be able to play in a band or some kind of group, or just keep tootling away on my own and it’s not important. The important point is that I’m becoming reacquainted with an old friend, someone I thought I knew well but never did, and enjoying every minute of it.

Oh, by the way, I’m a bit tardy with this post because I had to stop to get my clarinet practice in for the day.