The Chalice

Last Saturday Jane and I took the Metro to the National Gallery of Art to attend a lecture by our friend and my colleague Eric Denker.  The Metro was fairly crowded, because it was the occasion of the March for Science and Earth Day.  That’s why we did not drive; too many street closures were in the offing, and even if we got in we would not be likely to get out easily.  We struck up a couple of conversations with grizzled marchers (one couple from Newton, MA), carrying their placard slogans, and wished them well as they debarked at Federal Triangle, launching into the drizzle for their walk to the Washington Monument.

Our own walk in the insistent wet was to the East Building Auditorium, where Eric spoke on the subject of Frédéric Bazille, a young, aspiring French painter, friend of the more famous Impressionists.  His more concrete style stood in contrast to the broken brushstrokes of Monet, and was somewhat more in the Manet camp.  He decided, with the thorough disapproval of all his family and friends, to enlist to fight in the Franco-Prussian war as a Zouave.  The bright, flashy uniform on his 6’2” frame must have made a good target, because he was killed on his first day of combat, less than 50 miles from Paris, just a few days before his 29th birthday.

Afterwards we completed our tour of the Bazille exhibit that we’d begun before the lecture, and stopped by to see a magnificent exhibit of Della Robbia ceramics from the Italian Renaissance.  We’d never appreciated the differing styles of the different family members, or the secret and exclusive success of the glazing formulas.  Our favorites included Luca’s “Holy Visitation,” Andrea’s “Virgin and Child,” Girolamo’s “François I,” and Giovanni’s “Resurrection of Christ.”  We traversed the length of the West Building indoors to stay out of the rain longer.  And then, before the wet walk back to the Smithsonian station, we stopped to visit The Chalice.

The National Gallery of Art is not noted for its pre-Renaissance holdings.  For medieval and ancient art in our neck of the woods one really needs to head up I-95 to Charm City and the Walters Art Gallery.  But our beloved National Gallery of Art has one piece that will stand up to just about any single piece in any European cathedral treasury . . . well, except for Aachen.  Ever since I discovered The Chalice in the 1970s, I have been drawn to it like a moth to flame, and more often than not we stop by the small, dark room of which it is the spotlighted centerpiece when we visit the museum.

Smithsonian chalice

The Chalice

The Chalice is a 12th-century work consisting of a sardonyx cup dating back to the 2nd or 1st centuries BCE, carved from a single piece of spectacularly marbled stone, in a heavily gilded silver setting with rubies, sapphires, pearls, glass, and white glass pearls.  The goldwork is heavily filigreed.  On the base are four discs; the one original shows the Byzantine Christus Pantokrator and the Western Alpha and Omega.  The other discs probably portrayed St. Denis and his two companions.  It was made for Suger, Abbot of St.-Denis, near Paris.   Suger, a powerful French churchman and statesman, caused his abbey church to be rebuilt in a new, light and lofty style.  It’s the earliest Gothic church there is.  Suger believed in the mystic spiritual power and symbolism of light.  The choir of his rebuilt church is illuminated by tall pointed stained glass windows all around.  In 1144 this renewed building was dedicated with many notables in attendance, including King Louis VII and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  (As one historian said, “much of [Louis VII’s] trouble” arose from this marriage to the headstrong Eleanor).  This chalice was presumably used in the dedication ceremony.

It’s not just the building in which The Chalice resided that’s remarkable.  St. Denis himself is a worthy personage.  He was the Bishop of Paris in the 3rd century, a time when the Christian Church was subject to persecution.  So effective were he and two colleagues that the Romans who then occupied the region perceived him as a threat to pagan practices.  Denis (whose name is a Frenchified version of the original “Dionysius”) was executed by decapitation shortly after 250 CE on Montmartre.  He then attained fame as “one of many cephalophores in hagiology” (thanks, Wikipedia) by picking up his head and walking 6 miles (10 km) to the place that now bears his name, preaching repentance all the way.  (An alternative narrative has his headless corpse being thrown into the Seine, and then recovered and buried by his followers the same night.  But where’s the fun in that?)  A small shrine was built there in the 5th century, and from the 10th century onward all French kings were buried in the church, until their remains were all desecrated by the French Revolution.  Today the community is a working-class suburb of Paris, with a stop on the Metro and the French national football stadium, the Stade de France, as well as the church in all its 900-year-old splendor.

With all this rich Christian and French tradition surrounding The Chalice, who wouldn’t stop and soak it all in whenever possible?  We went home in the rain happy.


Hockey Game

About once a year I go to an NHL game at the Verizon Center, often as part of an anniversary gift.  Usually on my own, because my wife Jane is happier to have the evening to relax at home.  Last night was the night, determined by the opponent of the home-town Capitals and the convenience of the date.

The Nashville Predators are in the Western Conference, and so are infrequent foes for the Eastern Conference Caps.  Their logo suggests a saber-toothed tiger.  The name is a little ambiguous, like the Toronto Raptors of the NBA or the even-more-vague NHL Minnesota Wild (a state and an adjective!).  The Wild logo’s vague predator features a more ursine animal profile.  I suppose both these team names are better than those of a prey species, like the Penguins or the Ducks.  Nashville, in any event, seemed a suitable adversary for a team named after a seat of government.  I’d have called the team the “Nashville Sound,” but what would that logo look like?

Even buying the ticket was a new deal to me.  I use Ticketmaster, having found that the discounts on other sites are not dramatic, and that this site provides reliability.  I was not prepared for the ticket format choices, however: an app or my credit card at the gate.  Chose the latter, leaving me more mystified than ever about the “Order Processing Fee” of $6.00.  Amazon can and has recently physically delivered everything from Haynes briefs to a stand-alone printer/scanner to my door in two days with no fees at all.  But somehow the ticket folks need $6.00 to allow some electronic information to flow through their circuits and to send me about three emails.  When I got to the gate they swiped my card and printed out a small slip with the seat location.  They probably made about $5.98 pure profit on that transaction.

Jane dropped me off at the Metro, which conveniently has a stop right at the arena.  Not quite as good as the old Boston Garden, where you could walk right from the North Station platform to the admission gate without ever going outside, but not bad.  I headed straight to Fuddrucker’s for a pre-game burger and fries, and then went in to find my seat.  I wanted to watch the pre-game skate, and I knew getting to the spot would take some time.  I bought a $65.25 (tax included) seat, one of the cheaper available.  It was on the third level (what they called the Second Balcony at the Garden, though we had other names for it), nearly at center ice, three rows from the top, on the aisle.  Actually, it provided a very good view of the whole ice, from a somewhat high and distant perspective.  The shocking thing to me is how expensive these seats are.  For this very ordinary game, the best places in the stands go for nearly $300 apiece (this excludes the suites and other elite locations).  You can’t get a seat anywhere for less than $55.  I remember buying a box seat in the old Garden a couple of times, especially once when I was astounded that some people who’d paid box seat money got there late and missed some action (Don McKenney had scored twice in the first ten minutes on Jacques Plante, if you can imagine that!).  That seat cost me $12, and while I know that was “real money” in those days, it was not the equivalent of $250, and maybe barely of $65.

After a series of escalator rides and a walk almost halfway around the concourse, I arrived about 30 minutes before game time.  The arena was nearly empty.  But I had come to watch the pre-game skate, which began a few minutes later.  Whirling circles of skaters looped around.  A few players stretched or did their private rituals.  Dmitri Orlov practiced his stick handling, but let’s just say that at his best he’s no Brad Marchand.  Braden Holtby, after practicing splits in full goalie gear (!), went between the pipes, and players started giving him shots, some hard and some easy.  Nikki Backstrom got about a dozen pucks at the top of the right circle, and fed them one by one to his linemate Alex Ovechkin, who waited in the middle of the left circle, instantly slamming each one into the now-empty net as it arrived.  Goal, goal, goal, . . . At the end, TJ Oshie ignored his teammates filing off the ice until he was all alone.  Then, feigning panic, he raced for the door, did a flying leap over the boards, and disappeared down the runway.   Then two Zambonis came out to preen the ice.  So did a full-scale inflatable car balloon, powered and controlled like a drone, with 4 little props, advertising some dealership.  Made me wish for one instant that I had a good air rifle for just long enough to take it down.

At the start of the game the arena goes dark.  It is just 7:00.  The seats are now maybe half-full.  The four officials skate around to the very loud music designed to stir up the crowd.  Spotlight beams dart about in the dark.  Two minutes later both teams emerge.  While the Capitals get a full spotlight and a “color guard” consisting of peewee players raising Caps banners on hockey-stick poles, the visiting Predators skulk out in darkness.  Then it’s lights up, honor a soldier, national anthem, and the puck drops at 7:08.  Afterwards I heard a fan describe it as a “sleepy” game.  The Caps, red-hot and leading the Conference by several points three weeks back, had their “bye week” (a dumb idea if I ever heard one) and came back flat.  Since then they had been 6-6-2, including a zip-for-four West Coast trip.  Last night they played tough against a defense-minded Predators club that looked like they’d have trouble scoring in the between-periods peewee game.  Late in the first period a Nashville defenseman, carrying the puck, lost his footing as he was turning to the left of his net to head up-ice.  He fell and the puck skidded behind the other defender.  The Caps suddenly had a 2-on-0 right in front of the net.  Highly touted rookie Jakub Vrana drew the goalie’s attention, passed to (ex-Bruin!) Brett Connolly on the open side, and the Caps had a goal.

Other than that, the game was drowsy.  Some antics with the Caps’ cartoony eagle mascot and a pewee hockey “game” enlivened intermissions.  One team had a girl goalie, and she was interviewed.  A few contests, shooting t-shirts into the crowd, the usual stuff.  As if the sport isn’t enough by itself.  There were few good scoring chances in the actual game.  Both teams had a shots-on-goal number in the mid-twenties.  But the Predators won a whopping 70% of the faceoffs, which kept the Caps from applying constant pressure.  Neither team was good at puck possession, neither goalie was severely tested.  On the one setup Ovechkin got in his left circle “sweet spot,” he completely mis-hit the puck, despite his pregame practice, and it weakly drifted to the boards in the corner.  There were an annoying number of “commercial TV” timeouts, a practice entirely unknown in the old days.  In the third period Tom Wilson of the Caps took a Predator hard but clean into the boards by the team benches.  Another Predator decided to take Wilson on.  Big mistake.  Wilson is unlikely to instigate fights, but he likes to fight, and he’s good at it.  The last seven or eight punches, all hard rights, were thrown by him, and the refs mercifully called it a TKO.  Wilson went to the sin bin, the Predator to the dressing room, not to return.

Unfortunately, the two best shots on goal the Predators took both went in cleanly.  The second was in overtime, when they executed a beautiful set play, luring the Caps up-ice out of their defensive zone and then sending both forwards rocketing in on a 2-on-1.  The left wing had an open shot and did not miss.  I was outa there fast to beat the crowd onto the Metro, which does not put on extra trains for hockey games.  I got a seat on the Orange Line, but a couple of people stood all the way to Dunn Loring.  When I told Jane the game had gone into overtime but ended very quickly, she said “actually it was at 3:12.”  Coulda knocked me over with a feather.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017.


For one week of every fifty-two, we like to go somewhere warm, sit by the pool or on the beach at a nice resort, and relax.  We’ve been to a variety of such destinations in the Western Hemisphere, and this year it was Baja California.  Making our travel plans months ago, we found routes to Cabo San Lucas from Dulles Airport through Denver, Chicago, and Houston.  Our travel window, late February through mid-March, made the choice simple: Houston would be the most reliable transfer point.  How could we have predicted that by March 1 Chicago would have recorded no snow on the ground all winter, a 136-year-old record?

Only thing about Houston was that the outbound connection was tight, at 55 minutes from arrival to takeoff.  Understand that it’s really only 45 minutes, since aircraft doors are scheduled to shut 10 minutes prior to takeoff time.  And that 45 minutes is really only 25 minutes if we want to arrive at the gate in time to board the plane with our preferred passenger boarding privilege, which allows us to get to our seats in time to be sure our carry-on luggage can be stowed overhead.  (Lots of folks use only carry-on for warm-climate vacations, since you only need beach gear and enough clothing to pass muster at the resort restaurants.)  In that 25 minutes the plane has to taxi to the gate (“arrival” means when the aircraft wheels touch the tarmac) and get attached to the jetway, we have to debark (leaving no personal items behind, of course), to determine what gate our connecting flight departs from, and walk/run to that gate, toting our carry-on luggage, in time to line up and board with our group.

The wild card is that we have no idea where in the airport the departure gate is relative to the arrival gate.  It could be five minutes away.  It could be fifteen minutes away.  Usually you can count on 5 to 8 minutes from touchdown to gate, 2 or 3 more minutes until deplaning commences, and 3 or 4 more minutes until the seats in front of you have cleared (if you’re located about halfway back in the Economy section).  So that’s 10 to 12 minutes from touchdown to being inside the terminal building, leaving 13 to 15 minutes for the walking/running part.  That’s sufficient time, IF nothing goes wrong.

Our flight, it seemed, would get to Houston on time.  It was slow leaving the gate after the doors were shut 5 minutes before the 8:15 a.m. takeoff time, and actually left the ground 15 minutes after that scheduled time.  But airlines build some slack into their schedules so that they can claim a higher “on time” statistic.  And so it was that our airplane touched down just about exactly on schedule.  The pilot bounced the landing slightly, though, which proved to be ominous.   Because he got to the gate, turned off the seatbelt sign, and allowed us to grab our stuff and line up in the aisle.  THEN he announced that he parked the plane incorrectly, so that the jetway couldn’t attach to the plane.  Seriously?  I thought those folks on the ground gesturing with sticks assured that the plane would be right on the painted markings that indicate correct alignment.  Geez, if I had half that much help parallel-parking my car I would nail it every time!

We had to sit down, buckle up again, wait for the pilot to re-park, and only then disembark.  Luckily the rest is anti-climactic, as we discovered our gate was “just around the corner.”  In airline terminals that means only a five-minute (quarter-mile) walk.

So we got to Cabo San Lucas and spent a week in San Jose del Cabo at the Royal Solaris, a very nice place.  We left at the perfect time, sort of wishing we had one more day, but also looking forward to getting home.  This would be the easy trip, because we had one hour and 50 minutes for the connection, double what it was on the way down.  Yes, we had to go through immigration and customs, and yes, we had to go through security again, but so what?  The layover was almost two hours, and doing the math we still had an hour and 25 minutes for all the in-terminal processing.  Piece of cake.

The shiny new International Terminal at Cabo San Lucas relaxed us; we waltzed into the aircraft on time; we settled in, buckled up, and taxied what seemed like 15 minutes to the end of the runway (I hate it when the window-seat passengers keep the shades down to “preserve coolness” and “avoid glare,” because I want to see exactly what the plane is doing and where it is on the tarmac).

Then came the announcement: the plane was overweight, unsafe to take off.  It was an unusual situation, we were told, but we’d have to go back to the gate.  What?  WHAT!?!  This was a Boeing 737, the domestic workhorse of the medium-range fleet.  It’s practically the jet equivalent of the DC-3: been around forever; solid, functional, durable basic design.  After all the years they’ve used this plane, United still doesn’t have a way to figure out ahead of time how to prevent this aircraft from getting overloaded?

United wanted four volunteers to stay an extra day in Los Cabos.  It got them in a hurry.  (Having done this ourselves once in the past, we were not anxious to volunteer.  The airlines make it so hard to collect and use the financial reward you’re given that it’s just not worth the hassle.)  A quick, rough math calculation suggests the issue here: let’s say each passenger plus luggage = 250 lbs.  If so, they needed to lose 1000 pounds.  There were about 230 people on the plane, most of them having just spent a week at an all-inclusive resort.  That means that each passenger was responsible for about 4 pounds of the overweight.  If only everyone had eaten more healthily!

By the time the volunteers and their luggage were deplaned, the aircraft re-prepared for departure, re-taxied to the end of the runway, and ready to roll, an hour and ten minutes had elapsed.  We were down to 40 minutes for our connection in Houston, including deplaning, immigration, customs, re-screening at security, getting to the gate, and doors closing before takeoff.  I knew from experience that one jerk at any point, like the idiot Customs Agent we ran into at Dulles one night, could burn up 15 or 20 minutes of that time all by him- or herself.  Spending the night in the Lone Star State seemed inevitable.

By the time we got to Houston, a couple of new factors emerged: our pilot had made up 10 minutes or so on the trip, and the connecting flight itself had arrived late in Houston, giving us another 15 minutes.  The flight attendant with whom we had discussed our dilemma told us that United was monitoring several flights feeding into the one back to Dulles, and suggested the departure time could be set back further.  He also said that the departure gate had been changed, but that news was not good.  The original gate was one gate from being the farthest from Immigration in the entire airport.  The new gate WAS that one farther gate!  But we deplaned figuring we’d just give it our best shot, and hope.

Immigrating into Houston is better than the Dulles experience.  They have the same new automated machines that read your passport and require you to take a selfie.  But when you go to the agent at the desk with the printout, they don’t go over all the information with you again the way they do at IAD.  They simply provide a human verification of the automated process, which is exactly what they should do.  Likewise, customs has sufficient agents to handle the crowds, another contrast to our home airport.

On our way through customs, the same flight attendant was right behind us.  He said “you are going to make it.”  That seemed less sure to us, but we embraced the assurance with a passion.  Then we hit security.  There was not TSA Pre-check, and the line was fairly long.  Suddenly we realized we’d need to be in the mode of toiletry bags out, belts and shoes off—all the intricate rituals of regular security.  The line was moving, though, until we got near to the screening point, and some ill-trained TSA person strode out to lecture us about his intention to deliberately slow the line down to “teach us” that he really meant it when he said we could have nothing in our pockets.  Nothing like being talked down to in such an urgent moment as if we were children by a guy who seemed to barely have made it through high school himself.  At such times it is a real effort to hold my tongue.

However, sanity prevailed.  I didn’t even have to go through the full body scan because I am over 75; only had to reassure the agent that I did not have a pacemaker or any metal in my body.  But coming out of TSA screening we realized that the route to our gate was the longest way, looping backwards, and that time was running out.  You won’t remember the old OJ Simpson commercials for Hertz that involve running through airports if you are (1) too young or (2) settling into senile dementia, but they come to mind in these moments of crisis.  Unfortunately, we are not in the kind of shape OJ was in his prime, nor do we have his innate athletic ability.  But we were doing our best OJ imitation.  There were several defibrillators in the corridors along the way, well-marked for emergency access.  I asked Jane to note their locations because I might well need one.  Finally, about six gates away, I told her to run ahead and try to get them to hold the plane, because I could not keep up the pace any longer.

A while later I looked up and saw the last gates in the far distance.  Jane was just disappearing into the crowd, the crowd of people waiting to board the flight at Gate C-31.  Our gate!  I chugged up, a sweaty, panting mess; got into what I thought was the end of the Group 2 line; was advised it was longer; relocated.  It didn’t matter.  We all were going to be on that flight, in our seats, with our baggage securely stowed and our seat belts fastened snugly across our laps, remembering that in case of emergency we would put on our own face masks before helping others.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017


It all began, as most things do, with something simple.  One night a couple of months ago our refrigerator leaked a little bit of water onto the kitchen floor.  It had done that a couple of other times too.  The icemaker had been giving us trouble for a couple of years, producing ice cubes erratically, many of them hollow.  The water would leak out into the ice cube storage bin rather than going into the ice cube maker, making a solid frozen block and jamming the dispenser.  Occasionally water would run out of the icemaker, down the front of the fridge, onto the floor.  But the week after it leaked a little bit, it leaked a lot.  And when we went down to the basement we saw just how much more.  Water had been seeping all night through the kitchen floor to form a couple of big pools in the basement.

So we set the ice cube sensor to “off,” turned off as best we could the flimsy shutoff valve in the refrigerator water line, and contemplated our next move.  The fridge was 15 years old, so repair seemed futile.  After checking the internet and a couple of stores, we determined what we wanted as a replacement: a GE model with “French doors” and an ice and water dispenser.  We bought it and set the delivery date for December 9, a safe four weeks away, well on the other side of Thanksgiving.  Best Buy gave us stern warnings about measurements, complete with online videos explaining just what we had to measure, and reminding us that all passages from outside to the installation site had to allow for the passage of this 375-pound brute.  We discovered right away that our model, like all standard refrigerators, needed 2” more clearance than we had under our built-in kitchen cabinets.  The standard height of refrigerators had moved up almost 3” since the cabinets were originally installed 22 years ago.

I’d had to take off ¾” when the now-dying Amana had been put in, but this called for a skilled woodworker to take out the old cabinet, reshape it to allow the right amount of clearance, and not completely destroy the look of the doors, which are paneled.  Meanwhile, things kept happening.  One morning our toaster oven just didn’t work.  Jane discovered boards in the façade of our circa 2002 garage/bedroom home addition that were rotting out, thanks to an apparent flow of rainwater down the façade rather than through the gutters.  And a potentially serious plumbing leak developed in our master bathroom.  We needed help; we started calling handymen.

Aside from just junking the old toaster oven and buying a new one, the master bath problem seemed to be the easiest to solve.  We had a plumbing contract along with our HVAC contract with United AirTemp.  One of their guys came out to look at the master bathroom leak.  The culprit was a faucet in one of the twin wash basins.  Installed 14 years ago, the design model by Kohler was now obsolete (and its polished bronze finish no longer quite in vogue).  But the faucet was irreparable, so we had to choose another.  Obviously we didn’t want to replace all the hardware in the room, so we sought a similar design.  The plumber kept talking about the one we wanted “or something comparable,” gave us a major invoice that would cover the replacement of the faucet with that “something,” and said he’d be in touch.  We called the next morning to affirm the faucet we wanted, and to say that the (Moen) one identified on the invoice was not suitable.  But of course we couldn’t talk to the plumber or his supervisor; the person on the phone would relay the message and one of them would call back.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I needed a woodworker.  On impulse I called the guy who installed the cabinets 22 years ago.  It was like old home week!  The voice on the phone was the brother of the one who actually put the originals in.  Larry was retired and in Florida, but Bob would be glad to do the job, even such a small one.  He’d send a carpenter up from Lorton to look at it tomorrow.  Great that we remembered their work!  We skipped a weekly Church meeting to accommodate their schedule, because the refrigerator delivery loomed.   Time came; no carpenter.  Called the next day, and the staffer said both Bob and the carpenter were on a job, but they’d call back later that day.  No call that day; they still haven’t called.

As soon as they broke the appointment I began calling alternatives; we needed that work done before the December 9 delivery day.  Angie’s List seemed totally intimidating, with so many options, not all in our part of the metro area.  So we tried HomeAdvisor, a site where you describe the job, give them your zip code, and they give you three prime references that you can call or have contact you.  We got two calls right away, and set up an appointment with the first one for the next day.  Guess what?  No show.

By this time we were getting to feeling a bit vulnerable.  Calls unanswered, not one but two potential water leaks in the house, kitchen currently unfit to receive new fridge.  I finally called AirTemp, whose plumber had not called about the faucet despite follow-ups from me, with the ultimatum that if we did not have an appointment to install the faucet we wanted by the end of that day, I would cancel the entire invoice.  (My alternative plan was to buy the faucet at Home Depot and hire an out-of-contract plumber to install it.)  Mirabile dictu!  An appointment was made for early the following week, and the faucet design we wanted would be provided.  We had a feeling that the alternative they offered was cheaper for them to acquire.

As for the cabinet, I retried Home Advisor, got two new names plus the one who blew off the appointment before.  Figured he had work, checked the other two online, and called them both.  The first to respond was Bermudez Construction.  The estimator was there the next evening; he gave a thorough analysis of our outdoors rot situation as well as the cabinet job.  He talked about his methods and pricing, and we came to an agreement.  The work was to be done eight days in advance of the delivery date for the fridge.  He had to push that date back a couple of days because of complications on a prior job, but he assured us about our deadline.  He came with one assistant and did everything expertly in one day.  Aces!

In the course of his initial assessment, however, he moved the refrigerator, and it started leaking.  Oh, no!  We needed immediate plumbing.  This time, however, AirTemp came through.  A different plumber came to assess this problem, and returned the next day to put a modern, sturdy shutoff valve in the line to the fridge.  This job was covered in our contract.  And we were assured we’d meet Best Buy’s expectation of a strong, stable water supply for the fridge installation.

The Bermudez inspector had found another interesting thing, however: a white-faced hornet nest on the back of our house.  Naturally we called our pest control contractor, who came and removed it a couple of days later.  (See earlier blog for hornet details.)

Meanwhile, the other AirTemp plumber came back a few days later to install the new bathroom faucet, which went without incident, except that he had to get a helper to come in to loosen the old one from its mooring.

By December 9, everything was ready for the refrigerator delivery.  These new monsters are so big (36” wide, 34” deep, and 69” high) that they routinely have to remove the fridge doors to get them through standard entryway home doors.  Surprisingly, the two installers lifted the unit with straps, not a dolly, which made maneuvering in the tight right-angle turn from hall to kitchen easy.  Sure enough, the cabinet space gap was just right, and the new water line attachment was made with flexible hose rather than squiggly thin copper tubing.  In 90 minutes the old one was gone, and the new one humming away to cool itself down.  With all our refrigeratable food stuffed into the garage backup fridge and on the cool screen porch, cooling couldn’t happen too soon.

After only five weeks, eight different handymen, eight handyman visits, and about twenty phone calls, our house was not rotten, did not leak, did store and freeze perishable food, and had no white-faced hornet nest attached.  And there was still a little time for the quiet contemplation of the Advent season.  Amen!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016

The Bald-Faced Hornet

The other day we were doing a quick walk-around of the house with a handyman.  We’d hoped to hire him to take care of a couple of relatively minor yet urgent jobs—and we did so.  But while surveying the back yard we noticed a bees’ nest.  Tucked up against the edge of the sunroom, attached to the downspout, gutter, and facing board, was a big gray papery mass.  We assumed this must have been built over the last couple of weeks.  We’re out in the back yard pretty regularly in the summer, even when it is persistently hotter than normal like this year.  It wasn’t perfect porch weather, but we’d spent significant time there, in a place from which one could have seen the nest easily.  We’d mowed, watered, picked basil and rosemary, and raked out there.  The nest couldn’t have been there very long.

Bald-Faced Hornet

A Bald-Faced Hornet, so called because of the white markings.

Since we have a pest control contract to ward off carpenter ants, termites, chipmunks, and other pests (sadly it does not cover white-tailed deer, the pest of pests in our neighborhood), we called the contractor the next morning.  A meeting time was set up for the following day, and at the appointed hour Nixon, our main man, who I reckon to have been born between 1968 and 1974, arrived.  Nixon knows about all sorts of critters, and he took one look at our nest and said “Bald-Faced Hornets.”  We thought he said “Bold-Faced,” which would serve equally well.  He sprayed as a precaution, though he doubted that there were any live bees there.  “But it’s been there only a couple of weeks,” we explained.  Nixon took the nest down, gaining access by our stepladder.  There were many layers of papery gray sheets, with the asymmetrical yet harmonious shapes of so many natural objects built by living creatures.  They left a pattern on the siding; I’ll need to go back and wash them off soon.  Inside the torn-open structure the brood cells lay bare, caps gone, empty.  The last hornets had departed long since.


The nest on our house

Clearly we had just not seen the nest for the several months it had been there.  Looked at it, probably, when it was full of activity, with hornets passing in and out of the large hole near the bottom on the side facing away from the house.  But never saw it. It’s hard to imagine being so oblivious to such a vivid and dangerous life center in our own yard.  On YouTube are several videos in which people try to stir up a hornet’s nest, and for the next several minutes the camera, many feet from the person taking the picture, is under constant attack by angry, buzzing, stinging insects.  Turns out Bald-Faced Hornets are very common, even though I’d never heard of them before.  They are actually a type of yellow-jacket, not a true hornet.  They are very aggressive and persistent in chasing off attackers.  They eat other insects, including yellow-jackets, and in the fall they die off, except for young fertile queens, who hibernate and breed new colonies in the spring.

Later that day, Jane observed a Downy Woodpecker pecking away intensely at the place where the nest had been attacked.  I figured that the bird was probably attracted to whatever small vermin had been left behind when the nest was removed.  The following day on my walk I heard a pecking noise up in a nearly leafless maple tree.  Sure enough, there was a big, beautiful Bald-Faced Hornet nest, hanging from a limb free and perfectly formed.  On it was a Downy Woodpecker hammering away.  A week earlier the sight would have meant nothing to me.  But then it seemed like a train of thought had come full circle, that I understood a little more about my world than I had before.

© Arnold J. Bradford, 2016


Braves Beat Indians, Then Indians Beat Braves

I don’t remember when Parmenter Elementary School dismissed classes on Wednesday, October 6, 1948, but I do know that I was out the door in a flash.  Something was happening and I wanted to know about it.  The Boston Braves were in the World Series, and this was the day of the opening Series game!

Were they winning or losing?  As I remember, my mom picked me up from school that day, a somewhat unusual event.  And we had a new car with a radio, a 1948 Oldsmobile, replacing the ’37 Chevy that had gotten us through WW II, when there were few new cars available.  It was a cool, gray afternoon, and I might have heard the end of the game at home on the radio, if not in the car.  It was a short game, lasting only 1:42.   So if it started at 1:00, as I think games did then, it may have been over when I got home.

Spahn and Sain

Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain each won a game in the 1948 World Series

I remember people talking about the “pickoff play.”  That play decided the game.  The Indians had started their ace, Bob Feller.  Feller had started pitching in Cleveland in 1936 at the tender age of 17, was coming into his prime when the war started, and lost almost four whole years in the shank of his career (age 23 through 26) in the military.  But in 1948 he was an all-star for the seventh time, going 19-15 with an ERA that had crept up to 3.56 and would never go below 3.00 again.  The Braves threw Johnny Sain, part of the Braves’ famed “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” rotation.  Indeed, the pair had been instrumental in the Braves’ wrapping up the NL flag by winning 14 of 15 games in a streak from September 6 through 21.  At one point the two of them started and won eight out of 11 straight games.  Sain won six in a row, all complete, in the streak, and seven of nine complete-game starts for the month.  His season was 24-15, with a 2.60 ERA.

The two pitchers were throwing a dual shutout as the game entered the eighth inning.  In that frame, Feller walked Bill Salkeld, a slow-footed catcher.  He was replaced by a slightly less slow-footed catcher, Phil Masi [at whose sporting goods store I bought, a couple of years later, a Ted Williams autograph bat].  Masi was sacrificed to second, and Eddie Stanky (a .320 hitter that year) was walked intentionally to bring up Tommy Holmes (a .325 hitter) and thereby create a force play at third.


Pickoff Play that Decided Game 1, 1948 World Series










At this vital juncture Feller and shortstop-player-manager Lou Boudreau tried to pick Masi off second using a timing play in which each one counted to a certain number, and then Boudreau went to the base and Feller wheeled and threw.  It looked like they had Masi, but the ump said the tag was up his arm, and his hand had reached the base first.  There were, of course, no replays, as the medium of television was in its infancy, though this Series was broadcast regionally for the first time.  The still photos have a quality just slightly better than your average security camera these days, since high-speed black-and-white film and telephoto lenses were also in their infancy.  But those photos do seem to show that Masi was out.  Tommy Holmes then ripped a single down the third base line and Masi scored the game’s only run.

That was the game I remember best, because of the close call.  The Indians came back to win it four games to two, and when Feller pitched again he was matched against journeyman Nelson Potter.  Spahn relieved Potter in the 4th, however, and ended up the victor as the Braves rallied for an 11-5 win.  So Feller lost to both Sain and Spahn, never won a Series game in his illustrious career, and ended with a Series career ERA of 5.06.  In the six games of 1948 each team scored 17 runs, all the games except the Spahn victory were close, and the Braves both outhit and out-erred the Indians.  Satchel Paige, in his first big-league year at age 41, pitched one inning for the Indians.  There were two games shorter than the first game in the Series, at 1:31 and 1:36.  The longest took 2:39.  How times change.  Perhaps most notably, the six-game series was played in six consecutive days, with no time off for travel.  I guess the “Water Level Route” from New York/Boston to Chicago must have provided a quick and easy train ride from South Station to Cleveland and back.  And at least you could sleep in the Pullmans.

I don’t know of any other major sports championship ever played between two teams with native American nicknames, until these same two teams met in 1995, when the Braves won.  And this one almost didn’t happen.  The Indians and Red Sox tied for the American league pennant in 1948.  The Indians won a single-game playoff in Boston, when the Sox inexplicably started Denny Galehouse when more skilled and experienced hurlers were available.  Lou Boudreau hit two home runs and the Sox lost 8-3.  We almost had an all-Boston series.  And that Sox loss made the Braves’ victory on October 6 much more special to at least one nine-year-old fan.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016

Close Encounters of the W&OD Kind

Yesterday was the first day since about early June that I would call truly comfortable.  El niño, climate change, or both, have made this summer truly miserable in the mid-Atlantic states.  The sky was clear, the air was dry, the breeze was from the northwest.  At breakfast time the temperature was in the low 60˚ range.

Energized by the weather, I took off for a cruise to Herndon in mid-morning.  Before I got back I had two very unusual encounters, not unknown to frequent riders on the trail, but firsts to me.

I got out to the west Herndon Trailside Park, with its skateboard facilities, thinking that the skateboarders there were enjoying their last week of free and easy fun; those boarding next week would be playing hooky.  After a brief rest I headed back, feeling cool and fast, enjoying the tailwind.  Suddenly the only rider I could see, about 50 yards ahead of me, went down like a sack of potatoes.  It was as abrupt as the moment in the 2004 Tour de France when Lance Armstrong caught his handlebar in a musette bag held by a fan beside the road: the fall was definitive and heavy.

When I got there a few seconds later he was just rolling over, a middle-aged guy with a small backpack, somewhat heavy-set, wearing glasses, a t-shirt and cycling shorts.  He had road rash on the left side of his left knee, and more severely on his left elbow and upper arm.  He said there wasn’t much pain, and he thought he could make it back to his start point.  Then he tried to lift his left arm.  He was suddenly in a world of hurt.  He said he’d had rotator cuff issues, but this seemed different, located below and inboard from the tip of his shoulder.  He got up, in more severe pain (shock wearing off I suppose), and walked over to the chain-link fence that marked the border of the Herndon Centennial Golf course to compose himself.


Trek Madone 9.2 in “Stealth Fighter” matte black

Meanwhile two other riders passed.  The first stopped, and we discussed what we might do.  We waved off the second.  The fallen rider came back and talked of riding one-handed back to his start point at the Route 28 overpass.  We both thought that was a bad idea, and convinced him to call his wife.  He explained that he fell because he caught a little bit of the grass at the side of the trail, and then lost control when his wheel caught a rut in the grass.  Looked to me as if the front wheel abruptly turned 90˚ left, and he was thrown by his momentum.  Not just a “fall.”  [His bike, by the way, was a Trek Madone series, I think a 9.2 ($5000-$5500) in “matte Trek black/ gloss Dnister black” that everybody thinks is so cool right now.  Ironically, one can also get these bikes in a variety of color combinations that are actually attractive.  Guess his Bontraeger R3 slicks did not handle the grass well.]

The guy turned out to be a former Air Force pilot (Lt. Colonel) who since then has been a captain for Eastern and then United.  He was saying this when another rider came by, and she (on a matte black Felt with green highlights) was an orthopedic nurse.  What luck!  The other would-be assistant left while she got the victim’s symptoms, sized things up as a probable dislocated shoulder, and directed us to the next intersection, Ferndale Avenue, and just down the road to the golf course.  She was determined to wait with him by the street, but then decided he’d fare better out of the sun, so she got the golf course to provide a van to take him to the clubhouse, some ice for his shoulder, someone to carry his bike, and shelter in the shade.  Once all that was settled we took off.  He had


United Airbus 320 Not Being Piloted by Fallen Rider

determined he needed to go straight to Emergency Care.  Interesting how he, like most of us, realize only slowly the full implications of a serious situation.  We begin by assuming it’s just a minor interruption to our day, even if it truly means we can’t possibly pilot our Airbus A320 to Houston and Philadelphia the next day, as planned.

The other encounter was briefer and sillier.  I was nearing the top of the low hill between Vienna Community Center and Cedar Lane, almost home, when a vehicle crested the rise.  Vehicles on the Trail are not as uncommon as they should be; I had thought earlier on this ride that it was a rare day because I hadn’t seen one.  No Park Ranger truck, no mower with its huge circular blade on an hydraulic arm, no subcontractor out to prune trees, no electric company vehicle to work on the lines or some wayward transformer.  But here was a vehicle, with headlights on.  It soon was evident that this was a civilian car, moving very slowly.  Another cyclist only a little behind me and I immediately started shouting.  “This is the bike trail. No motor vehicles are allowed.  Get off of here! You can’t be here.”  The car stopped.  It was a red sedan with Virginia plates.  The driver was easy to see and hear because his window was already down. He looked middle eastern, wore sunglasses, and spoke with an accent.  “I know I shouldn’t be on here.  I made a wrong turn.  How do I get off?”  Our advice was to turn around and go back to Cedar Lane.  As he moved on ahead to begin the turnaround process, we two cyclists looked at each other.  “What the hell?” the other one asked.  “Takes all kinds,” I said.

When I got to Cedar Lane a half-mile later I looked back.  There was no sedan to be seen, so I don’t know what he did.  I crossed the street, rode the last half mile, and mused on one of the stranger rides I’ve ever had.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016