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Story Time (previous tales)

Weather. Or not:

I love the weather. Well, maybe not the stuff that causes loss of life and property, but other than that, I love all kinds of weather. Cold, hot, dry. Rain, snow, fog. I like it when the weather is pleasant. I like it when weather is bad. In fact, the worse it gets, the better I like it.

I'm not sure why that is, exactly, but it probably has something to do with nature showing us who's boss. People often fool themselves into thinking they control everything around them. Yet, even the most powerful person on the planet gets wet when they're caught in a sudden downpour. That makes me smile.

In the very early 1900s, local newspapers began placing weather predictions on their front pages. These were brief and general "cloudy and warmer" kinds of things. Before that, forecasts were made by "local experts" and disseminated in a number of now-unfamiliar and seemingly fanciful ways.

Old George (Granddad) Laughlin, who lived his summers on the Conneaut Lake bluff, a few houses south of Shady, told me that during the 1890s, in his childhood town, the next day's weather was signaled by a factory whistle that blew in different patterns. "The only one I can recall," Granddad said, "was my favorite. A long and a short blast. It meant 'fair weather and cooler.'" The story tickled me so that, when I piloted the Barbara J, I always sounded the horn with a long and a short. Especially when I passed by the old boy as he waved from his front porch.

My own dad (born 1915) was pretty good at predicting the weather. He used mostly clouds, wind direction, and the lake's waves to prognosticate. As in: A strong wind from any easterly direction means a least one upcoming day of slow soaking rain, or copious amounts of snow. That, combined with "fleas on a dog" (his name for tiny wavelets on top of bigger waves) are sure signs of two or more days of steady precipitation.

I was interested enough to take a class in weather prediction during my time at Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Open wave lows. Occluded fronts. Stationary air masses. To this day, all I need is the direction of the wind, a look at the sky, and a barometer to be nearly as accurate as the forecasters on the TV. I know why (in that part of the country) an east wind means precipitation. But, the "fleas on a dog" thing? That remains a mystery, though I know it's true.

Much of figuring the weather is nothing more simply paying attention. For example: During college, I had a daily commute from Conneaut Lake to Greenville and back. I can tell you, that on any gray day, if it's raining or snowing anywhere along that portion of PA Route 18, it's just to the south of the tiny village of Adamsville. I imagine it has something to do with the interplay between the ridgeline, the wind, and Pymatuning Lake.

Even the relatively small Conneaut Lake creates its own climates. Pre-air-conditioning, the place to be was the water's edge with its cooling breeze. Lots of times, we'd leave the house, hot, sweaty, and ready for a swim only to find ourselves chilled enough by the air to not even bother going in the water. I can't tell you how many times I experienced that dead calm right around sunset as air temperatures over earth and water evened out. Or noticed that slight, cooling "evening draft" as the comparatively warm lake pumped air up and away from its surface, drawing from the darkened, surrounding shore.

Micro-climates abound around Conneaut Lake. My favorite example is at the north end of the Midway Bluff. Before the sidewalk starts, there's a small, flat stretch of shore. On it sits a huge, perfectly-upright tree, a Magnolia acuminate. Its local kin grow short and bushy, but the extended autumn provided by a location so close to the lake's shore has allowed this particular individual to gain the size and stature of cousins hundreds of miles to the south! At the same time, the chill of the (literally) ice-cold spring prevents any more than single, extremely rare flowers and no, to very few fruits on its massive branches.

The Weather Channel began on television in 1982. Within a decade, it was carried on 90% of all cable networks. That, and the Internet, has placed the forecast at our fingertips 24 hours a day. In the developed world, those younger than their late twenties have never wondered about the weather. It's sad to say that many of us older folks have forgotten the guessing games presented in the forecasts of days gone by.

To those of you reading who know weather-lore, please find somebody who's interested and pass on what you know. It doesn't matter if it's turned leaves, fish jumping, postures of pine cones, how the birds swoop, red skies in the morning, rings around the moon, the lack of dew, or even fleas on a dog. Please make sure a youngster knows what you know before you leave this place.

I'm not saying everyone needs the skill of a meteorologist, but it's nice to think future generations will continue to harvest the simple satisfaction of stepping outside and saying "sure smells like rain."

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Can we buy real poo next time?


So... This morning I get into the shower.


I’m carrying a brand-new bottle of shampoo. My favorite brand. I use it all the time. Really. It enables what little hair I have to be soft and glowing. Sure does. Yep. I saw it in a commercial. So it must be true.


I’m in the shower. I’m soaking wet (no surprise there). I snap open the lid of the shampoo bottle and hold it over my upturned hand... Nothing comes out. I squeeze the bottle. Nope. Nothing. At all. I unscrew the cap. Beneath, I find a plastic seal.


What the heck? On my shampoo? A plastic seal? Against what? Shampoo thieves? Shampoo diluters? Shampoo adulteraters?  Shampoo switchers with hair removalers?


What's this world coming to? I bought the same brand and size bottle a couple of months ago. There was no plastic seal. Probably some Homeland Security rule or something. The Shampoo Czar declared an orange state of emergency for all bottles. I shouldn't joke, I know, I'll end up on the watch list - if I’m not there already.


I try to remove the plastic seal. Should be easy, there's a little tab to pull. I pull on the tab. The tab pulls off. The seal stays on. I curse (out loud) at the wonderful engineering behind such a design. Now what? I’m nekked. Soaking wet. In the shower. What might I have that has a chance of piercing a plastic seal? My teeth? For a shampoo bottle? Even *I’m* not that dim.


I have a valve at the shower head that lets me turn off *most* of the flow, to save water while I'm soaping up. I don't use it, of course, being a Wasteful American, but it's there nonetheless. I manage to rip open the shampoo bottle's plastic seal using the edge of that shower head valve-handle. A couple pieces of plastic manage to escape. They hurry down the floor drain. To wait several months before causing a clog. At the worst possible time. Plastic's bad that way. Ornery plastic. Mind of its own, plastic has.


I screw the cap back on, trying not to get any water into the shampoo. That'll change the composition of the shampoo. And, somewhere, give a shampoo chemist bad dreams. I hold the shampoo bottle up and, with vim and vigor, snap open the top.


Hold on... What's that coming towards me? It's a big blob of un-watered-down shampoo. Heading straight for my right eye.


!! BLINK, FOOL !! My brain screams.


"Who, me?" Asks my eye. My eyes are sort of slow, sometimes. They've been headed downhill ever since I started wearing bifocals.


Blam! The shampoo lands right on the lashes of my right eye.


!! DON'T BLINK !! My brain screams.


"Who, me?" Asks my eye. And it blinks. I told you they were sort of slow, didn't I? My right eye is now filled with searing shampoo-lava. It burns. With a big B. And a big URNS, too. I hear a shampoo chemist giggling, somewhere (later, when I’m thinking more clearly, I'll put some water into the bottle to get even). I stick my face into the shower stream to flush the chemicals from my eye.




I don't know what mornings are like at your house. But here, it's a whole lot of people vying for limited resources. That's why I’ve always crawled outta bed first. No matter where I’ve live or whom I’ve lived with. I want to be at the top of the schedule. The first in line. I always want to kick off the schedule. It comes from being a second child. Really - ask any second child you know. If they say it isn't true, they're fibbing like a sack of (sham)poo.


Top of the schedule I am. Still, during mornings, everything has to run like clock-work. Everything. It's like the tides at Normandy on D-Day. The orbits of the planets on a moon launch. Everything has to be lined up just so. Bing. Bang. Boom. Including the amount of time *I* spend in the shower.


It's not that somebody's waiting to use the shower. Nope. But. There are only so many butts and only so many commodes, y'know? And, in a house this old, butts, commodes, showers, and faces are all connected by pipes. All in one nice, neat, sweet, perfectly connected string of events. Like the co-incidences that brought you to this point in time.


I'm running behind my regular schedule because of the sealed shampoo. And my face is in the shower because I’m rinsing shampoo-magma outta my eye. My right eye. My left eye wonders what's going on.


Somebody else, somewhere else in the house. Lifts their butt from a commode. Relieved at finishing one of their first tasks of the day, they push the flush handle... I feel a drop in the water pressure - the cold water pressure.


!! FACE...BACK !! My brain screams.


My face (which isn't nearly as slow as my eyes) pulls back from the soon-to-arrive flash of heat. I even manage a step back and away. Some reflexes, huh? Of course, it takes an instant before the water rises to scalding temperatures and another instant before I realizes that the course of the shower spray is now aimed directly at what some would politely term my “naughty bits.”


My brain screamed something at that point. I don't recall what it was. Except it started with bad words and went on with bad words and ended with bad words. I think I used every bad word I know. That's a LOT of bad words. Trust me. Lots. Luckily I was ‘way too busy dancing around the too-hot water to listen very much to what it was I was saying.


I was kind of tender toweling off. My shampooed right eye looked as if I smoked a bale of weed (perhaps I should say what I have read a bale of weed eye would look like. Homeland Security and all that). My left eye looked more angry than anything else. And slow.


Stupid shampoo.