July 2013

Posted by Ellen

The story is that Sam here, a Boy Scout with Troop 97 in Portland, Maine, caught a heck of a lot of fish last week when his troop paddled the Allagash River up in northern Maine. He released most of them back to the wild, but this little trout had dinner written all over him.

Posted by Ellen

Philadelphia history is conveniently compressed: Benjamin Franklin flew a kite, then all those guys rang the liberty bell, and then Rocky Balboa ran up the steps of the art museum.

Today, Franklin is easier to find on an oatmeal box than on the city streets, and the liberty bell is cracked and silent. But Rocky? The fighter who never was, except, of course, in the movies? He's big and bronze and easy to find, right by the foot of the museum steps.

Tourists from all over the world seek him out daily, eager to pose for pictures with fists raised triumphantly, just like his. This group included my brother-in-law and his sons, visiting from Israel.

After their moment with the statue, the tourists run up the steps, just the way Sylvester Stallone did in the movies. But you may recall that when Rocky "really" was training for that first fight and running all over town, it was wintertime. He wore a hoodie and sweatpants, and we could see his breath.

This past Fourth of July weekend, the Rocky wannabes among the tourists–and they were legion, as always–were in shirtsleeves, if not shirtless. The sun was unforgiving, and the air was almost too thick and heavy to breathe.

But straight up the 72 steps everybody went, as their friends held up cellphones to record the moment. Entire tour buses emptied out to run up the steps. Children ran up with their grandparents. Dogs ran up with their people. Cyclists ran up with their bikes in their arms. Earbuds or no earbuds, everybody had "Gonna Fly Now" in their heads.

Search for "Rocky steps" on YouTube, and you'll find 86,500 results. Here's a nice short one in Spanish, viewed by more than a quarter of a million people.

The crazy part, of course, is that Rocky isn't real. People all over the world say his story in the movie is inspirational, proving somehow that even a nobody, just another bum from the neighborhood, can beat the best.

"I will do the stairs on my 50. birthday, december 2013," wrote one of the inspired people. "From germany just for one day. It's crazy, but it's a dream since 30 years. In all of us there is a rocky...."

At the top of the steps, some people feel ready to take on the world. Some of them propose marriage. Some of them go on into the museum, eventually. All of them turn around at the top and look out over the city, just like Rocky, and raise their arms high and then . . . probably they start thinking about cheesesteaks.

Posted by Ellen

In my humble opinion, in my humble backyard, even the hibiscus is not completely happy with life when the mercury hits 94 and the heat index is over 100.

You'd think something tropical and well-watered that only had to hold it together for a single day could bloom right through the scorching. And you'd be almost right. These flowers are still beyond awesome, at least a 20 on a scale of 1 to 10. But the heat's in charge these days, not the petals.

Air conditioning is my friend.

Posted by Ellen

We pensioners in the Alabama Retirement System, we own us some serious real estate: hotels, golf courses, the tallest skyscraper on the Gulf of Mexico (outside of Houston), and believe it or not, the biggest office building in New York City.

55 Water Street in lower Manhattan, the big, boxy building in the picture above, the one with black and white vertical stripes–that's my building, all 52 stories of it. I rent out its 3.6 million square feet of office space, but I let the peregrine falcons nest for free on a ledge above the 14th story, near the bottom of those vertical black stripes.

A falcon couple named Jack and Diane built a nest there in 1993 and over the years raised 19 chicks up there on the 14th floor. Jack was a local boy, born and raised on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge; Diane moved to New York as an adult, from Connecticut. Sadly, in 2001, she was found trying to live on the street in Manhattan, suffering from severe arthritis in one of her wings.

Peregrine falcons mate for life, but after Diane was placed in a raptor center, Jack found himself a spring chicken, so to speak, a much younger falconess from upstate named Jill. Annual nesting continued at 55 Water Street through July 2011, when that spring's four hatchlings–Jordan, Shattuck, Hope, and Austin–successfully fledged and the family took off for ?? They have not yet returned.

But as long as I have anything to do with this building, I say falcons can come and nest here whenever they want, stay as long as they want, and if any of the paying tenants complain, they can just take their business elsewhere.

Posted by Ellen

It's not hard to remember the excitement of those days fifty or so years ago when the teacher would tell us to pick up our chairs and form a line at the classroom door. We would all carry our chairs down the hall from the classroom to the school's "all-purpose room," where we could sit facing a big black-and-white TV set at the front of the room to watch those guys at NASA choreograph a countdown and a liftoff and all the other amazements that were part of America's new space program.

Today, it's hard to figure out exactly what NASA is up to in outer space. There seem to still be astronauts, but it appears that we now rely on the Russians to do that whole countdown-liftoff thing. Americans mostly look at pictures from faraway cameras.

From Ted in Washington, D.C., comes this photo of a sign of the times for NASA and perhaps the grand American dream: a NASA message held in place by a bicycle chain and a couple of sacks of Quikrete. The NASA folks may not be zipping around in space these days as much as they used to, but their public website is freshly launched, or rather relaunched on a freshened, open-source, space-age sort of platform, saving us taxpayers millions in licensing and maintenance costs. For this, we can thank our Ted and his Inner File, the little company that could.

Do people still have hot dogs and watermelon for the Fourth? Hope so.