Close Encounters of No Kind in Particular


Have you ever had a serendipitous encounter with a famous person?  I don’t cotton to celebrity worship, but a chance meeting can be fascinating.

Fifteen years ago I saw O.J. Simpson in the Minneapolis airport.  He was riding a conveyor sidewalk at rush hour.  Passengers clustered every three feet or so along most of the conveyor’s length, but O.J. and his very young and adoring female companion stood in a thirty-foot dead zone.  O.J. had been acquitted of double murder by a Los Angeles jury, but the court of passenger opinion on that day rendered a different verdict.

Years before, at an event in Washington, D.C., when I was 15 years old, I met Gloria Vanderbilt.  She was warm and very personable.  After signing an autograph for me, she complimented my dress.  (!)

My younger sister Diana, a scientist, has a truly uncanny talent for running into famous people.

She enjoyed an extended tête-à-tête with Robin Williams on the set of Patch Adams at Berkeley.

A few years later she met Russell Crowe as he was filming A Perfect Mind in Princeton.

She met Matt Damon at a communal Thanksgiving dinner in North Carolina.

She ran into Carl Sagan on the Berkeley campus and was thrilled to be able to tell him how his Cosmos TV series had changed her life.

Later, on a trip to London, Diana lucked into last-minute tickets to the closing night of a play starring the elegant Anthony Andrews.  Because she had recently seen Brideshead Revisited and fallen hard for Andrews’ character Sebastian Flyte, she was over the moon to be able to meet him at the stage door.


My parents saw Ralph Nader navigating the crowds in the Atlanta airport in the late 70s.  We ran into Gary Hart at Dulles airport in the late 80s.

My paternal grandparents, lifelong Democrats, bragged of having had tea at the White House with Eleanor Roosevelt.  Thirty years later, they attended the same Washington Baptist church and the same Sunday school class as Jimmy Carter when he was President.  They also saw Henry Fonda at National airport, although they might have been less pleased had they known that Fonda was a lifelong Republican.

My mother saw JFK in person during his Presidential campaign and says that he was “absolutely radiant.”

My favorite close encounter story stars my maternal grandparents.

It was the spring of 1959, and they were living on an Army post in West Germany.  On their first trip to Paris, they made their obligatory trip to the Louvre.  Upon arriving at the museum, my grandparents felt themselves strangely drawn to the Venus de Milo.  On this particular weekday morning, the museum was nearly deserted.  Standing alone before the statue was a tall, beautiful woman.  My grandparents walked up and stood silently nearby, gazing at the statue.  After some moments had passed, the beautiful woman turned to them, smiled, and said, “I always come here first when I visit the Louvre.  This is my favorite part of the museum.”  They struck up a friendly conversation.  She offered to give my grandparents a personal tour of the artworks that she loved best.

After a pleasant hour, my grandparents and the beautiful woman shook hands, wished each other well, and parted.  Never once during their magical time together had my grandparents let on that they had recognized their gracious tour guide, Ingrid Bergman.

Do you have stories about chance encounters with famous people?  I would love to hear.

Quote for Today

“Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895)


The Disco Beat: On the Fly with an Avian Impressionist

I am planning a future post in tribute to a wonderful British actor who has built a second career for himself as the author of specialty cookbooks.  His name is Robin.

Although the hilarious territorial skirmishes of the robins in my back yard might someday merit a post, today my subject is not robins but parakeets and more specifically budgerigars.

Disco       (A portrait of the artist, excerpted from his blog.)

I have had the pleasure of knowing four pet “budgies” in my lifetime.  They can be delightful creatures.  They awaken every morning happy, as though overjoyed that the sun has once again chosen to rise.  They sing and play constantly, they require minimal maintenance, and they are quite intelligent for their size.  They can also be great mimics.

It was a talent for mimicry that saved the life of a little budgie in urban Japan a year or two ago.  I believe the story unfolded as follows.

One afternoon a budgie – let’s call him Pete – flew away from his home.  After a few hours, Pete made what turned out to be a smart decision by flying through an open door into the lobby of a fancy hotel and alighting upon the shoulder of a rather shocked guest.  The hotel called the police, the police called animal control, the animal control people procured a cage and food, and before long Pete was comfortably ensconced in a new cage at the local police headquarters.

This left the police with the apparently insoluble problem of discovering where Pete actually belonged.  At first Pete offered nothing to aid the police in their inquiries; but after a day or so Pete seemed to have decided that the policemen were actually good guys, and he opened up.

I like trying to imagine what must have gone through the mind of the police captain who was keeping Pete company that day.  There the man was doing paperwork or reading email when suddenly the little bird in his office started reciting a street address.  Pete had broken his silence by repeating a street address, clearly and distinctly, again and again.

Armed with this new lead, the police packed Pete into a squad car and drove to the address he had provided.  There they found his owner, who was beside herself with relief and joy.  Some years before she had lost a budgie who had flown away, never to be seen again; so to keep Pete safe she made sure that he knew how to tell people where he lived.

Not all budgies have the talent or the inclination to imitate human speech.  My bird Shorty, although a perpetual chatterbox, seemed satisfied to carry on his one-sided conversations in his own private language.  Sunny, a family pet from my childhood, learned how to say the words “chirp” and “birdie.”  It was very funny to hear her declaim, “Chirp! Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!” in English.

All of this is by way of introduction to today’s featured guest, Disco the Parakeet, who is the Rich Little (or, for my fellow tennis fans, the Josh Berry) of budgerigars.

Disco is a four-year-old budgie who lives in western New York state and has a staggeringly impressive vocabulary of phrases in multiple languages, rock song lyrics, lines from classic films, commercial catch-phrases, and cartoon jingles, which he mixes with occasional beat-boxing.  Because of his talents (and through the efforts of his patient and loving owners) he has a sizable social media presence featuring his own YouTube channel, Twitter account, and blog.

Disco is one of the funniest performers I have ever seen on YouTube.  Here is one of his many video offerings, in which he shows off his skills while reminding us that he is a parakeet.



And here Disco offers his memorable take on a well-known line from Monty Python.


I hope you enjoy Disco’s performances.  Happy weekend!

More soon.


Quote for Today

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” – Charles Caleb Colton (1780 – 1832)

ENFJ? ISTP? – I C U R YY 4 Me!

Interpersonal compatibility is such a mystery.

I have no simple answers on the subject, but today I would like to recommend an approach I find to be both useful and entertaining.

“Why can’t we just get along?”

Anyone who found a definitive answer to that question could retire tomorrow.  No such Rosetta stone is forthcoming, though.  Vast literary and therapeutic industries have sprung up to address the need for partial solutions.

For me, the most helpful – and the most enlightening – compatibility tool in the marketplace of ideas is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

I’m sure many of you have heard of Myers-Briggs Types before and/or measured your own.  I took my first test some years ago and have found MBTI categories to be extremely valuable for understanding family and work relationships.

The MBTI measures character and temperament in four areas:

  • Introversion/Extroversion – Do crowds exhaust you, or do they feed you? How much do you rely upon the opinions of your peer group? etc.
  • iNtuiting/Sensing – How do you take in information?  Are you focused item by item and point by point, or do you have a more diffuse awareness of a “big picture”?
  • Thinking/Feeling – How do you make decisions: based upon your thoughts, or based upon your feelings?
  • Judging/Perceiving – Do you prefer to make a definite decision, or do you prefer to leave your options open?  Do others criticize you for being too rigid or for being impossible to pin down?  If you make an appointment for 6 p.m., are you there at 6, or are you unaware of the passage of time?  Do you fill out your datebook in ink or in pencil?

The MBTI assigns one of two letters to each personality category. The options are highlighted in blue above: I or E, N or S, T or F, and J or P, yielding a total of sixteen possible Types such as “ESFP.”

It is fairly easy and quick to take a Myers-Briggs test.  A sample (Jungian/Myers-Briggs) test is available here, and a clearinghouse of tests appears here.

Once you know your Type and the Types of your loved ones, your relatives, or your colleagues, you might shake your head and say, “So THAT’S why…”

…why she is never willing to make travel plans until the last minute.

…why it seems that we are arguing at cross purposes whenever we discuss politics.

…why our tastes in evening entertainment are diametrically opposed.

…why we don’t seem to understand each other when working together on a home improvement project.

Compatibility can be a painfully serious subject, but I find that working with Myers-Briggs Types often leads to laughs, especially if families or other groups take the tests together.

Much has been written about which Types are most and least compatible in personal and professional settings.  This site offers extensive discussion, as do several books.  I can recommend Type Talk: The 16 Personality Types That Determine How We Live, Love, and Work by Otto Kroeger and Janet M. Thuesen.

Most resources agree that the P/J incompatibility is most destructive and most frustrating in relationships, perhaps because issues of day-to-day and long-term commitment are so thorny.

If you have not taken a Myers-Briggs test, I recommend doing so.  It is easy, enlightening, and fun.

(As an aside, it is important to note that the Myers-Briggs approach is limited and does not address, for example, the matter of good and evil.)

You might also enjoy trying to guess the Types of your relatives, your boss, politicians, athletes, or other famous figures, dead or alive.

For the record, I am an ISTJ.

More soon (and not in an open-ended way 🙂  ).


Quote for Today

“A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.” – Mark Twain

3, 2, 1,…

Here goes.

Northwoods Listener opens today for business – a happy business of reflection, musing, exposition, description, and conversation.

Here you will find an eclectic mix of subjects – history, philosophy, Shakespeare, music, and classic film, to name a few.  You may also hear about various sports in their seasons and especially about professional tennis, whose season lasts for nearly the entire calendar year.

Current events may inspire some posts. Others might be infused with an admixture of politics or religion.

My personal views will probably peek through.  Writers, regardless of subject, inevitably reveal aspects of themselves.

For today I would like to introduce myself sans demographic pigeonholes which, in my opinion, can be counterproductive.

I am a native of eastern Pennsylvania.  My antecedents hailed from nine different ethnic or national groups.  The earliest arrived in North America in 1632 and the latest in about 1910.  I have ancestors who served in every U.S. military conflict through the 1970s, including as combatants on both sides of the War Between the States (a.k.a. Civil War) in the 1860s.

I grew up primarily in the American Midwest, taking for granted neighbors who identified as Americans instead of as members of specific ethnic groups, and communities in which nine or ten religious denominations flourished side by side without conflict.

I have lived in seven American states and visited 48 of the 50 – all except Kansas and Alaska – and several countries.

As an undergraduate I majored in physics and mathematics.  My favorite class covered Russian history from 1812 to 1917 and was taught by the son of a Serbian Orthodox priest.

I earned a Ph.D. in physics from UC-Berkeley and served for three years as an assistant professor on the physics and astronomy faculty of a small Midwestern liberal arts college.

Later I worked in the healthcare IT industry and witnessed firsthand the rise in government involvement in U.S. healthcare.

I have also written a feature-length screenplay.

(Actually, when that story came to me, it insisted on my attention, and the screenplay essentially wrote itself.  It was a fascinating experience that might provide grist for an essay on another day.)

I am hoping to post here weekly.

Thank you for reading.

More soon.


Quote for Today

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” – Thomas Jefferson