Patsy Porco

Archive for February, 2016|Monthly archive page

Long-Distance Calling

In Humor, long-distance phone calls on February 28, 2016 at 3:23 am

Years ago, in the late 1990s, an elderly neighbor of mine announced that she had outlived her time. Her new telephone with voice mail baffled her, and she didn’t even want to contemplate computers. She said that, at 89, it was time for her to go. She did manage to live a few more years, but she never did figure out voice mail.

I had a similar thought the other day when my friend called me during the day from Israel.

“Why are you calling me long-distance from Israel?” I asked him, incredulous.

“Why not?” he answered. “It’s not the 1960s.”

“But isn’t it outrageously expensive?” I asked.

He snorted. “I have a plan.” Having had enough of this topic, he moved on to others.

After he hung up, I wondered at my own surprise. I no longer worry about when or where I call, because there’s no need. Phone calls cost much less than they did when I was growing up. But, I haven’t traveled out of the country in years, so I thought the cost of international calling was exorbitant. Not if you have a plan, apparently.

rotary phoneI grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, when “long-distance” was always pronounced in italics. Nobody called during the day, when rates were high. Long-distance calls were made at night after 5 p.m., and if possible, after 11 p.m., when rates were cheapest.

In order to avoid paying long-distance charges, all kinds of shenanigans were employed. Our family lived in Philadelphia and my mother’s sister lived in Doylestown, 45 minutes away. For some inexplicable reason, if my mother called her sister, it was long-distance. But, if her sister called her, it was a local call. So, whenever my mother wanted to talk to her sister, she’d call her, let the phone ring once, and hang up. Then she’d wait for my aunt to call her back. The obvious flaw in this system was that if her sister wasn’t home when my  mother called, she wouldn’t hear the phone ring, so she wouldn’t call back. Meanwhile, my mother waited, and waited.

Collect calls were popular, too. If you were at a phone that was not your own, you’d pay phonecall “collect” (meaning the person you were calling would have to pay for the call). You’d ask the operator to dial the number and she’d announce to the person who picked up that it was a collect call for a specific person. Whoever answered the phone, even if it was the person you were calling, would automatically say that the person wasn’t available. In the split second before the operator broke the connection, you would quickly say why you were calling: “I got home safely,” “The baby’s a girl,” or “Don’t look in the  basement closet.” My husband said that when his Canadian relatives were on their way to his family’s house for a visit, they’d call collect from a pay phone and ask for Phil Rizzuto. His mother, knowing the code, would refuse the call. Then they’d yell over the operator, in Italian, that they would be there in six hours.

There were also “bill-to-a-third-party” calls. If you were away from your phone and using someone else’s to call long-distance, you could bill the call to your own phone. The operator would take your number (or whatever number you gave her) and bill the call to it. A lot of people must have given false numbers, however, because the rule quickly changed. After the new protocol was in place, in order to make such a call, someone at the number you provided had to agree to the call being billed to that number. If nobody was home at your number, or you lived by yourself, there was no one to answer the operator’s verification phone call, so you were out of luck.

But now, everyone carries a phone and has a plan and the world has changed. I am not especially baffled by my cell phone, although I do need to learn to occasionally check my texts and voice mails. But I do know how to check them, so I’m not ready to call life quits like my neighbor did. The way I figure it, if I don’t learn a new technology, it’ll be replaced by a newer one in a few months, so if I can just hang in there, the technology will have checked out before I have to.






Valentine’s Day Popcorn Massacre

In Humor on February 15, 2016 at 3:19 am

popcorn and sodaToday I ate  a bucket of popcorn, washed down with a giant-sized diet soda while watching “Hail, Caesar!” with my husband. The movie was fluffy  and fun, and the junk food was delightful. The company was great, too.

It was a day of wonderful over-indulgence, but it will pale in comparison to this Wednesday, when all chocolate Valentine’s Day candy will be reduced to 75% off. Don’t expect to hear from me until about next week.


The “S” Word

In democratic socialism, politics on February 13, 2016 at 4:39 pm

One thing I really hate is when I turn on a usually funny sitcom and the episode has a serious plot line, or —gasp!— a moral. If I regularly watch a show in order to laugh, I don’t appreciate having that expectation taken away, even for half an hour. I’d go as far as to say that the producers have pulled a bait-and-switch on its audience. Not fair, I say.

Which is exactly what I’m going to do to you, my audience, today. Instead of trying to make you laugh, I’m going to tell you what I think about a subject that is going to make many of you recoil in horror, or at least close my blog. I’m going to talk about the “S” word: Socialism.

Okay, I’m not really. I’m going to talk about democratic socialism, which some people think is the same as socialism. But it’s not. In fact, I think it should be renamed to avoid confusion. Feel free to suggest new names if you’d like. How cool would it be to be the person who renamed a political philosophy? Make sure you include your name in the philosophy so that you’ll get credit for the rest of time. (I hope Donald Trump doesn’t read this and decide to name it Trumpalism.)

Anyway, here goes. Sorry for the betrayal.

Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate for President of the United States is a Democratic Socialist. This term brings terror to the hearts of many Americans. There’s a post circulating on Facebook right now of Vladimir Lenin’s quote, “The goal of socialism is communism.” That post has people in a panic. How can we elect a socialist, whose ultimate goal is communism, for leader of the free world?Communism comprises everything that the United States stands against.

But, before we start building underground bunkers and stocking up on jerked meat, water, and canned beans, I think we should take a minute to figure out if we need to be afraid of democratic socialism. The more I learn about what democratic socialism means, the more I learn how it is not the same as socialism.

Capitalism, our core economic principle, would remain under a Bernie Sanders presidency. So would the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government. What would change is that loopholes would be closed for corporations who have avoided paying taxes, and the very wealthy would be taxed more to pay for social programs like universal health care and free state-college tuition. These are goals, however, and probably not even ones that can be accomplished in the near future, if ever. (There’s still the House and Senate to contend with, as well as state governments.)

As I tried to familiarize myself with the concept of democratic socialism, I did some reading and learned that it already exists in our society to a large degree, and not only in government-assistance programs, like Medicare and Medicaid; you’ll see democratic socialism at work in our national highway system, our free public school system, our libraries, our post offices, our municipal trash pick-ups, municipal snow removal, state road resurfacing, bridge building, etc. These things are all possible because democratically elected officials voted for these projects and institutions, for the good of all.

So, I’m rethinking my political philosophy, which is mostly center, or a little left of center, but occasionally veers to the right. I will always support a free, capitalist society. I also support Senator Sanders’ contention that medical care and higher education should be available to all. These two things are not mutually exclusive if some major adjustments are made. After all, you can make a cake with many different recipes, but you’ll still wind up with a cake.

P.S. This is not an endorsement for Sen. Sanders. I’m still a mugwump (definition #2).

Lenin quote

Patsy Porco, Crime Solver?

In Humor, Murder Mystery on February 1, 2016 at 12:27 am

Last night, my husband, four strangers, and I went in search of a serial killer. We did all of the legwork in a locked room filled with trunks and desks bearing combination locks. Each lock was different. Some had number combinations. Some had up/down/left/right combinations. Some had number and letter combinations (but only some of the alphabet was represented). Each locked drawer or trunk held a clue or two. The door to the room also had a combination lock that we had to solve before we could escape from the room in order to find our killer. And, we had one hour to accomplish everything.

Fortunately, my husband and the other four people found all of the clues, opened all of the locks, located the whereabouts of the serial killer, and got us out of the room before our time was up. Otherwise, I would not be writing this post. I would be the next clue.

I was very little help to them. I had a splitting headache. I tried to look useful by turning over furniture, in the search for clues. I found a cassette tape attached to the underside of a chair and a paperback, with circled words on page 187, in the magazine rack. I spent the rest of my time trying to assemble Scrabble tiles, that the others had found, into a coherent clue. Little did I know that I didn’t have all of the tiles. They turned up later in another locked drawer. I was also absolutely no help with the analytical part of the process. Even if I had felt wonderful, I wouldn’t have been an asset to the group. My brain isn’t analytical even on my best days.

There were two bodies found in trunks, as well as a bolt, clock, mirror, deck of cards, a crossword puzzle, a ring, a statue of the Eiffel Tower, a phone charger, a typewriter, a poster, and lots of other clues spread around the room and in desk drawers. Most of the clues were locked away and the combination of every lock had to be discovered before the clues could be located.

As I said earlier, our group opened every lock, found every clue, and made sense of them all. Then they opened the locked door to the room, with the street number where the serial killer was hiding. Our work ended there. I have to assume that someone followed up.

There was a lot of assuming, but that’s because this was a game, as you no doubt have inferred from the clues I’ve left scattered throughout this essay. It was a locked-room, panic-room, or escape-room mystery game—one of many that are taking off in the United States. According to the company that offered this game, as well as three others in the same building, the craze started in Asia, moved to the United Kingdom, and is now sweeping the United States.

My nephew had been to a similar game in Koreatown in Manhattan, and there are a number of such games throughout New York City. I never expected my town, Norwalk, Connecticut, to be on the cutting edge of cool games, but it is. The location of this game was within a mile of my house, in an office building where my friend works. He didn’t even know it was there until we told him. Apparently a lot of the people who work in that building haven’t noticed the constant stream of giddy crime solvers flooding their hallways. Perhaps that’s why the killers chose to leave their clues there.


Paniq January 30, 2016

My husband, Frank, and I are on the far left. Frank’s “6:03” sign indicates how much time we still had left to solve the crime. “187” is name of the game.
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