The End of the Line

By Jim Hagarty
I have a fascination with old abandoned farmhouses. Also ghost towns. Canada has quite a few ghost towns, especially in the prairies in the western part of the country. On car trips across the country, I sought out these small villages whenever I could and was fascinated by the eeriness of them. In the biggest one I drove through in the province of Saskatchewan, there was a downtown area with stores, all empty, a Ukranian church and a community centre along with a couple dozen houses. All empty except one and it was very odd to see that place. The lawn was green and well trimmed, the house was kept up. It was explained to me that the house was probably being lived in by squatters who moved out from the city and just took over the place. This place also had a war memorial in the centre of town and a closed gas station. The price on the pump was 43 cents a gallon. In any case, the house pictured above is located just outside of Stratford and will obviously be demolished soon. I stopped yesterday and got a few photos. In my younger days, filled with more nerve, I used to go through some of these old houses. Not any more. A friend and I once went into a place that you could hardly see from the road. Just the top of the roofline above the trees. It took quite an effort to fight our way through the brush that had swallowed up the house and once inside, we were enthralled. The kitchen floor was gone, having fallen into the basement. But we worked our way around what was left of it and went upstairs. There we found papers strewn around and we checked them out. The most recent date on any of them, if I recall correctly, was 1903. The house has long since come down.

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In Search of Moths

By Jim Hagarty
2017

I just got home after an hour’s drive from Huron County to Stratford. I had both front windows of the car rolled down as the air conditioner has decided to take a permanent holiday and it was pretty steamy inside the vehicle.

For most of the way, there was an odd smell wafting through the night air. I couldn’t identify it but it seemed familiar. Finally, I realized what it was. It was the smell of moth balls and I wondered if I was driving by some of the resplendent moth ball fields in our area.

I recognized the smell from a long time ago when, as a boy, I often visited my friend’s home where moth balls were liberally placed anywhere where there might be clothing. So, the smell tonight was just like that smell but I couldn’t be sure.

So I looked out the window all the way home and not seeing any moths in my travels, not even one, I knew then that the moth ball farmers in my area could look forward to bumper crops this summer.

Back When a Car Was a Car

I stumbled onto this old Chevy Impala in my travels around Stratford yesterday. It is a 1958 model so next year will be 60 years old. This one is dolled up about as much as you can get. It even has fender skirts which I haven’t seen on cars in many years. What I like about this classic car is the owner has not modified it in any way that I could see. If I see an old car that has been hot rodded out, I just pass it by. Not interested. One personal reason I am fond of this car is my family had a 1958 Chevy but the most basic model you could get – a Biscayne. I am not even sure it had a radio. It was grey in colour and four doors. I loved that vehicle but was only seven when it arrived on our farm. It was our family’s second brand new car, the first being a 1953 Ford. Starting in 1953, and for the rest of their lives, my parents bought a new car every few years.

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When Scientists Goof Up

By Jim Hagarty
1994

I think the strangest news to hit the papers for a long time is this week’s announcement that the universe may be only half as old as it was always thought to be – eight billion years as opposed to 16 or more. The implications of the discovery by scientists are yet to be fully thought out but some things are already clear.

First of all, perhaps we can all breathe a little easier, knowing this space we occupy isn’t as long in the tooth as we had believed. Ever since I read the news about how young the universe really is, I’ve felt a spring return to my step that has been missing for a while. Just think. This place won’t be as old as we thought it was for another eight billion years. Suddenly, the panic to get everything done just doesn’t seem as urgent. Apparently, there’s lots of time left. Maybe all those leaves don’t need to be raked right away.

The second thing I think we’ve learned is how colossal some people’s mistakes are and how they don’t feel the least embarrassed to admit it. If I was a scientist, and I missed determining the age of something by eight billion years, I’d be sending back my PhD and searching through the help-wanted ads. But these people feel nothing. No responsibility whatsoever. Has it ever occurred to them that a lot of us might have made our plans based on the assumption that this thing was 16 billion years old? Have they never heard of calendars? Or appointment books? Do they think they can drop a billion years here and there and no one will have to reschedule?

What I would like to know is, how you get employment as a scientist in charge of the universe and what the job description must read like. Does your new boss say, on your first day of work, that you are allowed to make mistakes in your estimates up to 10 billion years but bigger ones than that and you’re gone?

Another consideration the newly confirmed age of the universe presses upon us is one that has me quite worried. What does this do to the people who make it their mission to warn us all that the end is near? That the world will cease to exist next Friday at 3 p.m.? Surely they were basing their predictions on the scientific “fact” that the universe was 16 billion years old. Adding it all up, they concluded there are only seven days left. Do they now have to redraw their signs to read, The World Will End (Eight Billion Years and) Seven Days From Now? Somehow, the extra eight billion years thrown in diminishes the urgency of the situation the doomsday warners are trying to impress on us.

And the other thing that has me shaking a bit is this idea that, at the flip of a coin, scientists can cut the age of the universe in half. What I wonder is, if they can slice it in two one day, can they suddenly double it the next? If next week, they announce that this joint is not eight billion years old but has actually been around for 32 billion years – twice the original estimate – will we all be ready? Will that affect our life insurance? Our pensions? The retirement age? Library book due dates?

Pardon me for all this angst, but I like certainty. In fact, I thrive on it. No surprises for this guy. I can handle my car bill exceeding the estimate by a few dozen dollars. I can absorb an unexpected tax hike of 50 bucks.

But you start cranking up those errors to the levels these scientists apparently feel comfortable with and I’m getting just a bit edgy.

I could handle, say, 500 million years. But eight billion?

Waiting In Line At The Bank

By Jim Hagarty
1993

Certain indignities in life can be, more or less, absorbed into the overall ache of living in our modern world. Getting cut off by thoughtless louts in traffic, for example, while not a pleasure, is something most of us find we just have to live with. Paying an ever-increasing tax bill so politicians can feather their nests and those of their pals is also something that, barring an armed uprising, we know we may as well resign ourselves to and move on. Crawling out of bed, on a Saturday morning to stand at the front door listening to a sermon from a grinning total stranger is annoying but, on reflection, a vital aspect of our society where people can trade freely in ideas just as we do in goods and services. (Copies of this speech will be available at the back of the room following the question-and-answer period.)

But we all have our breaking points and I was reminded of mine yesterday while waiting in line for a teller at the bank. I was patiently parked behind three or four people and not in a particularly aggravated frame of mind. In fact, for a mid-week day in the mid-1990s, in mid-life and in mid-federal election campaign, I was relatively calm. But out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly spotted a man who had slipped in and feeling special, hadn’t bothered to go to the back of the line. Like a raindrop hitting hot pavement, my good mood disappeared in a flash and I fixed a steely gaze on this gutsy interloper.

“He’s just confused,” I suggested to myself, “and won’t actually cut in front of me.” But as I made it to the front of the line, he and I were positioned like Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis at the start of a big race and he glanced over at me with a look that said, “Good luck, sucker!”

Finally, came the familiar, “Can I help you?“ from the teller, and the race was on. Unfortunately, I stumbled in the starting gate and this very important man made it to the wicket in front of not only me, but several other people who had been waiting in line behind me and who were also ahead of him.

Not being a medical specialist, I’m not sure how many aortas a person has, but I’m sure I have one fewer today, having blown one out at the sight of this guy who had the nerve of 10 Don Rickles, happily doing his banking while the rest of us stood to the side like runty piglets kicked off the sow by a bigger, more aggressive littermate.

In the few more seconds it took until another teller called for me, I considered grabbing the guy, throwing him in my car, driving him out to Downie Township and administering a lesson or two on proper banking etiquette behind a big, old maple tree. But, the thought vanished as I realized I probably wasn’t up to the challenge now, what with my pumping on one fewer aorta than I had when I walked into the place.

Besides, as a Canadian, it is my lot and my nature to suffer sales taxes, election promises and drips who have all the manners of a young bullmoose in love.

(My apologies to lovesick bullmoose.)

Doggone It. Things Are Getting Ruff

By Jim Hagarty
2017

Political news is so discouraging these days but if you look closely at what’s really going on, there is reason for optimism.

For example, Brynneth Pawltro has just been elected the latest mayor of the small Kentucky town of Rabbit Hash. Residents of the town are praising her as outgoing and having a great smile. She also happens to be a dog.

Town council meetings are upbeat affairs but not without some wrinkles.

“There’s always inappropriate licking going on,” Bobbi Kayser, secretary of the town’s historical society, told WDRB.com of how meetings with the new mayor tend to go.

Brynneth, or Brynn for short, is a 3-year-old rescue pit bull. She defeated several contenders, including Stella the cat and a donkey named Higgins, to win the mayoral election. According to People magazine, Brynn amassed more than 3,300 votes, winning the election by a “landslide.”

This is Brynn’s first foray into politics, but it’s not the first time Rabbit Hash has had a canine mayor. WDRB.com reported that Brynn is the town’s fourth consecutive dog mayor. She took up the mantle after Lucy Lou, a border collie, stepped aside. The Huffington Post reported in 2015 that Lucy was considering running for president.

Brynn won her office last November and was “indawgerated” on Jan. 20. But her story has gone viral again this week. Brynn’s owner, 23-year-old Jordie Bamforth, told the Cincinnati Enquirer in an earlier interview that Brynn had run for mayor on a platform of “peace, love and understanding.”

“Brynn has declared to be peaceful with any human or animal that comes through Rabbit Hash, especially the cats. Brynn does like to chase the cats around here, but has pledged to refrain from it as much as possible,” Bamforth, who adopted Brynn from a local shelter, told the outlet.

According to the Associated Press, Rabbit Hash is such a small town that it doesn’t really have need for a mayor. Since the 1990s, however, the town has been holding elections as a fundraising effort. Each vote costs $1 and residents can cast as many ballots as they want. The most recent election raised almost $9,000, according to People. That money went toward restoration of the town’s general store, which burned down in a fire last year.

In March, Mayor Brynn announced the store’s impending grand reopening on her Facebook page.

In the age of Donald Trump and his Rethuglicans, there is still hope.