Tom and Becky had Nothing on Us (Chapter 1)

In mid-1966, there were about 3 months between the end of the North Dakota job and my Dad’s next assignment near LaCrosse Wisconsin. We traveled east and visited all of the relatives until I am pretty sure they were ready for us to head back west. The most lasting of all of the memories on that trip was the time we spent at Aunt Ellie’s. Ellie (Helen Kosco) was one of my maternal great aunt’s having been born in 1903. She was a lifelong spinster who was particularly hard of hearing, did not have many teeth at the time we visited and lived in Baba’s (my maternal great grandmother) house at 894 James St. where as far as I know where she had lived for a significant time.  As I understand it, my Uncle Bart built both the 887 and the 894 James St. houses. Ellie’s house was a testament to the ’20s, ’30’s and ’40s. She had an old Philco radio that at the time was almost as tall as I was. It had a couple of shortwave bands plus AM radio. All of the beds had feather ticks on them that you could get lost in, the furniture was all Baba’s furniture from when the house was built, electrical lighting was sparse and the basement was sort of a nightmare on James Street that I certainly was not going to go and explore. Then there was Ellie.

It was never clear to me why Ellie was hard of hearing. My Mom would always say that she stuck an egg beater end in her ear and broke her eardrum so don’t stick stuff in your ear. I don’t think that was altogether true. In retrospect, I think that she and the rest of the family management had some sort of tacit agreement to tell all the kids that. So without thinking about it they elevated Ellie in all of our minds as a disabled success, while giving us the reason that she was just a tad bit eccentric. She wore glasses that were always bent and did not fit well on her face because she would fall asleep at her chair, her head would mash up against the recliner side and they would bend. Ellie had “the gouch”. She would talk about it all the time because her foot was always swollen, it hurt most of the time and doctor’s were idiots etc etc. She had an old recliner with a 30’s floral print that was pretty worn and an ottoman with a pillow covered with a white pillow case with embroidered flowers on the edges that she would put her foot on. I guess gout is genetic or Slovak eating and drinking habits are so ingrained it might as well be. I wish I had been as interested in Family History back then as I am now. I remember her talking about people from the past non-stop with Mom Hagar; and she had an opinion on each and every one of them. So in the end, I never really knew Aunt Ellie but the time I spent in her home and listening to her left me with an intriguing curiosity and way more questions than answers.

During the summer of ’66, we camped at relatives, camped at campgrounds, camped at the ocean, camped in the Pocono’s. We were gypsies in the truest sense of the word for those three months. Dad loved it… I loved it…. Mom … not so much. At some point, as school approached, we packed up the trunk of the car (per Dad’s drawing of where all the suitcases went) and headed off to LaCrosse, Wisconsin where we rented a small but comfortable 2 bedroom house with attic and basement at 1637 Travis Street a couple of doors down from Tim Sciborski’s house and a half block from Carl Newcomb’s place – the three musketeers ride again!!

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Christmas 2017

As an engineer and scientist I am not a huge believer in luck. Luck is just the occurrance of a highly improbable event. It is with that thought that I am extremely thankful to have spent the last 62+ years being the participant in and recipient of truly a plethora of unlikely events, the vast majority have been good/great improbable events, some way more improbable than others.

I have a beautilful wife, four great daughters, son-in-laws, grandkids, granddogs and cats, inlaws, outlaws and relatives all who put up with me and my sometimes far fetched, arm waving ideas. I have friends that I sometime don’t get to see as often as I would like but they are in my thoughts every day. I live in what is probably one of the best climates in the US with ocean views that apparently people are willing to pay millions to see. I am frequently overwhelmed by memories of people, places and things that bring me peace and happiness.

This Christmas all I wish for all my family and friends is an unbroken string of good, highly improbable events – Merry Christmas – Peace on Earth – Good Will To All.

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So This is Christmas … sorry John and Yoko

Christmas is one of those holidays that I always have mixed emotions over. I made a few lists. Some items may appear on more than one list demonstrating my conflicted thoughts. Some of the longer bullets approach rants. I prefer to think of them as observations of an aging skeptic.

Things I Like About Christmas:

  • Family – always the best and more fun than a box of puppies.
  • Memories – Mom Hagar and cookie gift boxes and Christmas cooking, Dad Hagar and photos, kids around the tree and now grandkids in PJs with eyes wide and flush with excitement. Speaking of boxes of puppies.
  • Friends – Where would we be without friends??
  • Decorations – Ok, despite the crabby observation below, they are festive and pretty.
  • Cookies, bobalky, kolache – 5 to 7 pounds of pure joy.
  • Fires in the fireplace – darn the air pollution, forward the ambiance.
  • Amazon – let your fingers do the walking. With one-click buying you can spend money without looking at the cart!! Or… you can ask Alexa.

Things I Don’t Understand About Christmas or Maybe People and Christmas

  • Black Friday – a horrible misnomer if you are a successful merchant.
  • The person down the street who spends $2500 and 2 days decorating his house and feels compelled to share with me that Jesus is the reason for the season and they will be attending Christmas services for a couple of hours (there will be coffee and baked goods after). Could not bring myself to ask if they were donating to the pastor’s new Mercedes gift from the congregation. As an aside — house has balls (big, big balls), lasers, bulbs and music (Run Run Rudolph) – no nativity items.
  • JC started out as a homeless guy. How come we don’t treat the homeless guys in Dana Point as potential prophets instead of pariahs?

Things I Don’t Like About Christmas

  • Santa Claus – a conspiracy so kids will be nice and not naughty. Kids know! They have caught on! Back in the late ’50s and ’60s Santa was usually one of those homeless guys in a suit (see classic and hilarious Christmas picture from my friend James Polhamus on FB).
  • TV Specials – thank goodness for the remote. I can’t take watching Frosty melt again this year!
  • Emails telling me about gifts that someone in my sphere cannot live without — at 25% off and with free shipping – My finger gets sore deleting 42 new emails every morning. Kay Jewlers sends at least 4 or 5 a day. I unsubscribed!
  • Amazon – I’m getting a Walmart butt because I am not walking all over town looking for gifts.
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July – August and Winter

Our time in Idaho was cut short when somewhere in government a bureaucrat realized that nuclear rocket engines had at least one major drawback. We were off to North Dakota in mid-1963 for three + years to build a mine mouth lignite (brown coal) fired power plant on the Missouri River. Originally, we stayed in Hazen, ND while Mom and Dad made some decisions on where to live. We were in a motel in Hazen that was on a property that included a ranch owned by some nice folks with a young boy my age and they had horses. This was my first encounter with riding horses. I got to ride Old Tom since I was a neophyte. We had BB guns with us and there were metal plate targets set up on trees all over the ranch. It was fun riding around their ranch. Very western feeling!

Mom and Dad decided to live in Mandan, which although it was a 55-mile drive one way for Dad, it offered more of a urban lifestyle with choices in schools, housing and commerce. Dad bought a 10-year-old Rambler with a head bolt heater of course for the commute. We rented one side of a duplex from Fred and Tillie Stuhldreher at 209 Division St on top of the hill in Mandan. Great neighborhood – lots of kids; Terry Barnhardt, Mike Finz, Tommie Bear, Jeff Huber (and all of his brothers which apparently arrived on a yearly schedule). I was promptly enrolled in St. Joseph’s Catholic School and then my Uncle Johnny passed away which is chronicled elsewhere.

Once ensconced in third grade at SJS, I met Tommie Tooley who ended up being a longtime friend and Jerome Kostelecky who was famous for smearing ear wax on book covers and apparently had trouble wiping his butt. Jerome’s hygiene problems aside, Mandan was a pretty idyllic life for a kid. Bicycles, 4th of July fireworks, houses being built providing both bicycling nirvana as well as great places to play army (Mike Finz was something of a WW2 nutcase simulating battles against the Hun), cub and then boy scouts, fishin’ huntin’ and campin’ along the Missouri River, living at the top of the greatest downhill bicycle and skating run of all time. I learned to swim in the Mandan public pool and I had my first, and only, fight during the fourth grade school year. Dad Hagar had always worked on boxing with me and it came in handy. Robert Burns was bullying Jerome about being something of a slob. Although I did not disagree with his assessment, I felt that he was getting a little aggressive and said something about it to Robert. He turned and rushed me and took a swing at me which I automatically blocked and apparently, based on my recollection and family lore I took a Cassius Clay swing back at him and decked him. That was good for a lot of calls and meetings with the principal and the pastor and me acting contrite with feigned, but well-acted, apologies to Robert and his mom and dad. Nobody liked Robert Burns because he was always a pompous PITA and bully. I never had another fight after that. It was something Dad Hagar said about being a good at boxing and self-defense and not abusing it.

Mom and Dad sent me to summer camp at Camp Dominic Savio on the banks of Lake Sakakawea for summer camp. It was run by Jesuit priests who really appreciated my boxing skills; as Jesuits are pretty big on boxing for stress relief. Tommie Tooley and I were there for about 2 weeks and had a blast. My first trip away from home! I wrote letters everyday professing how much I missed M&D and home. Those Jesuits, teaching kids how to lie at such a young age.

The Mandan movie theater on main street had $0.50 double feature western and war movies on Saturday’s. For about a buck and a half, you could get 3 or 4 hours of movies some popcorn, candy and a drink. North Dakota was cold in the winter. I learned to ice skate – probably in October. We went tobogganing on the golf course hills and I had my first ski lessons courtesy of the boy scouts. We had a lot of -36 degree mornings and several -40 degree mornings. There was a famous 3 day blizzard in the winter of 1964 that left houses and underpasses covered. Mom Hagar was down to cooking cans of corned beef hash. I spent a day or so in the hospital due to a case of snow blindness and possible appendicitis — Darn that corned beef hash! I also took up baseball in Mandan. I was not a gifted baseball player so I played right field and was as surprised as anybody when i would get a hit or make a catch.

Vacations from a NoDak home base were epic. A week in the Black Hills of South Dakota, trips to the Badlands National Monuments in both North and South Dakota, my first foreign travel to exotic Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada. Lots of long weekends camping and fishing. It was also during this period that Dad Hagar would take me to work on weekends and sometimes during the week. I had my own hard hat and little ear protection equipment. I was paid $0.10 for each drawing that I would tape the edges of with a cool little machine (there were no computers so there was no AutoCAD in 1964-1965). I learned how to use the mechanical Frieden calculator on my Dad’s desk which when you hit calculate made the whole desk shake as the carriage return happened. I also began to learn about slide rules. I walked the site with Dad all the time and saw the power plant being built. Possibly, more important to my future, I watched the construction of the Big Beulah excavator on the lignite property which began mining about a year and a half into power plant construction so that they could stockpile coal. The lignite here was pretty interesting because it was not unusual to fossilized and partially fossilized ferns, wood pieces and other biologics in the coal.

We got a dog that was half border collie and half terrier. She became Flipper and was a great companion, cementing another of my future activities. As unhappy as our border collie was about riding, Flipper was a car dog. Head out the window, ears flapping but for some reasons she barked at mailboxes as we drove past them. Took years to break her of that. Our neighbors had a visually and hearing impaired little girl and they had a black lab that was her protector and helper that was about the same size as the granddog Jax. Even when Flipper was just a pup she would go over and steal butcher bones from the lab. She had to drag them home they were so big. I always worried that the Lab would bite her in half or something equally nasty. But the lab would just watch knowing that there was always another bone.

Finally, North Dakota cemented a lot of my other interests. The electrical engineer at the power plant was a gentleman named George Scragg. George was a ham radio operator and we would go over to his house and my eyes would glaze over looking at all the radios and the smell of hot electronics. One Christmas, M&D bought me my first Heathkit, a regenerative receiver kit that I built and that worked. We also had a large basement in our house and Dad built his first darkroom with a small enlarger and we would go down there and sniff chemicals while we learned how to develop and make photo prints. He would also splice the super 8 movies together. We also had a model building area where we would put together model airplanes, ships and cars, painting them with accurate color schemes and I learned to glue, carefully trimming excess while under the influence of Testor’s glue. Then we got onto building balsa airplanes and flying them and I became hooked on the whole flying thing. All of the kids rode our bikes constantly until there was too much snow on the streets and since it was always uphill going home (10 minutes to school, 30 back) we all had legs of steel. Skate boards had started to become popular for some reason in about 1965 and we all found an old pair of steel skates that we attached to a piece of wood stolen from a home construction site and learned how to fall while hauling down the hill. Surprised none of us ended up in the hospital. I should add the skate boarding was not my forte.

Next Up: Becky and Tom had nothing on us – The Wisconsin Years.

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There Are Places I Remember…part one

With all due respect to John Lennon and Paul McCartney!

Birthdays are a great day to sit/lie back and reflect. I was lying in bed this morning, thinking I should get up so that my back would not hurt and I could hit the men’s room and then look for my glasses. All of these things are minor inconveniences in the overall scheme of life — as we get older…

A lot of my memories are refreshed by family photographs which I am so grateful that we have. As I started writing this I realized that either I am way too wordy (most probable) or there are just a lot of things I wanted to write down. This will probably be a multiple post blog. Here we go…

I remember when I was three or so when my cousin Steve and I tied ourselves up so securely with a rope we sat on the lawn at the house on Leslie Road waiting for rescue. I remember Uncle Ben’s black Cadillac (probably a 1958 model) sitting in front of the roadhouse in Balmville. Then there was the family fun of watching me as a 4 year old retrieving eggs from the hen cages – still in therapy over that. I remember lying on the radiator in the study in Hazleton watching the Flintstones in black and white. Dad Hagar was commuting to NYC and would come back to Hazleton on weekends on the bus and I remember now and then going to the bus depot with Mom to pick him up. He would often bring me wooden 3-D puzzles as gifts; there was a round one in particular that I remember. I think that it was during this period, that Grandma and Grandpa Casucci  moved to 478 Liberty Street in Newburgh. I remember riding in the blue Ford from Hazleton to Newburgh to visit them, while lying on the back seat or on the backseat deck above the trunk during the trip up US 209. Looking back on it, I wonder what I would have thought if there was a panic stop or wreck as I flew from the trunk deck across the front seats causing severe head injuries to my parents before crashing through the windshield.

I went to Locust Street School for kindergarten – very traumatic. I did not develop shoe tying abilities early which was a prerequisite for K back then. I remember hitting my cousin Joe in the head with a piece of wood in our small swimming pool and Uncle George coming up into the front bedroom at 887 James St and raising holy hell with me (I was 5 or so).  Then there were the holidays and get togethers. Hide and seek at 887 James and at Uncle Mike and Aunt Edna’s with all of the family.  I remember thinking “why are they calling that woman Aunt Dedna”. Trips to Price’s Dairy with the Gaydosciks, and the milk being delivered with a horse drawn cart. Mr. Rabitz (sp) the local junk man (we call them waste haulers or Good Will today), tonsillectomy, John getting clonked in the head with an icicle falling from the roof, putting a new roof on the James Street house, going to watch Mike play basketball and a dance party in the living room that I found out later had an admission charge. There were four of us that were younger, Joe Gaydoscik, Joe Grula, John Yourishin and me. Sometimes Davey Smulligan joined in. Sometimes Walt would join in but he was in the cusp of being older. Pretty much the “rat pack” of five to nine year old hooligans terrorizing James Street. Playing in the old clinker dumps, going to Angela Park which for us was our Six Flags and stealing fruit off of neighbors trees.

There was a summer on Roxbury Pond in Maine. Dad Hagar was working on the Andover Earth Station (sounds so SciFi) one of the Telstar I receiving stations. What a spot for a 6 year old. The place we lived in was on the lake, there was a canoe, swimming, wood stoves, forts built in wood piles, hikes in the woods and rumor has it that I even got my picture in Life Magazine as they were inflating the Earth Station dome. It was like summer vacation for poor people. Mom Hagar and I left early because the school system was such that I would have had to repeat kindergarten because I missed the first grade birthday cut off date. Mom Hagar stood up and in her polite, quiet way informed them that they were idiots and that her son was not. By God he could tie his own darn shoes and did not have to go through another year of learning that. For those of you that have been to Maine.. well lets just say that they were unmoved by her impassioned plea.

Time marched on and we entered our sight seeing phase when we moved to Idaho. It began with the trip from Pennsylvania to Idaho in the dead of Winter. We had a company car – a 1960 Chrysler station wagon with push button hydromatic automatic transmission. Not a lot of interstate highways were completed so it was a slow scenic route. I do remember the Pennsylvania Turnpike and also the Illinois toll road which had the restaurants built as bridges over the highway. Pretty darn cool when you are like 7 years old. I also remember that we only stayed at Holiday Inns or Best Western Inns. 

As the thaw struck, we were off to Craters of the Moon, Yellowstone, Grand Teton Park, the Snake River Gorge and Sun Valley which were all within driving distance. Mom Hagar would whip up a batch of chicken and potato salad, drop it all into the old metal Coleman cooler and then into the trunk of the car, Dad would grab the cameras and we were off. Finished second grade in Idaho Falls, fell in love with the little girl down the street and had my first border collie who it turned out could not ride in a car. She ended up on Ardell Balls sheep ranch where I am positive that she was happier.

Next up – July-August and Winter, the North Dakota Years and Tom and Becky had nothin’ on us, the Wisconsin years.

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Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear? R. Service

I love Southern California sunsets. I have picture after picture of sunsets over Catalina, the Northern Channel Islands, San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. However, our trips this year to Hazleton, Pennsylvania; Truckee, California; Golden, Colorado; and Albuquerque, New Mexico; reminded me that I love the feeling of being at altitude and enjoying clear skies and sunrises and sunsets in the mountains. There is something special about cool, thin air (with a very low concentration of particulates) and a panorama of stars.

Speaking of stars. Looking back on it, it was a very close race between geology and astronomy when I was in high school. In retrospect, I gravitated toward geology because I liked the geology instructor more than the astronomy instructor. Since I had been in about half of the states in the US by the time that I was in high school, geology also made a bit more sense to me because I had seen it. Unfortunately, I had only seen the stars and planets from afar and I did not have a lot of hope for field trips to space in 1970.

But when it all comes back around, all of earth science was and is still intensely interesting for me. The roots of that interest are probably family related. Mom and Dad Hagar were travelers and I was the beneficiary (probably not always an enthusiastic beneficiary) of their curiosity to see new things. There are also probably some genetic contributions based on about half of the Yourishin/Kosco clan being coal miners and Granddad Hagar being a construction engineer for tunneling and aqueduct construction.

Dad Hagar was a big photography buff and telescope and telescopic lens guy so we would go out at night in North Dakota or Idaho or Yellowstone Park or Wisconsin and stare up at the sky. In the 1960’s there was a lot less light pollution!! He would point out constellations for me while working on getting pictures. On our vacations, we would drive and drive and drive and drive and he and Mom Hagar would talk about Badlands and granite and rivers and dams. Dad was a voracious reader with a lot of interests through the years and I am both thankful and a little concerned that his wide ranging interests might have contributed to my ADD tendencies. Or… it could be that my ADD tendencies contributed to his wide range of interests. Mom Hagar would add her knowledge about history and archaeology which she seemed have a very keen interest in. Until the day she died, she could tell you what type of bird was in a tree, on a picnic table or in the feeder and at least in South Carolina whether it was a regular visitor or an interloper.

Astronomy and trying to understand planetary motion also provided fodder for my love of navigation and surveying and being able to find out where I was with some simple measurements (okay maybe not simple until you do several hundred) and calculations (always helped to have the cookbook with you).  I am a huge fan of GPS and the underlying theory behind its operation. But there is just something magical about being able to measure an angle with a sextant, jot down an accurate time and begin to figure out where you are.

Hmm. this little post really went off the rails. I had planned on writing about hiking and camping…. Maybe next time!

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Road Trip

Thanksgiving was in Albuquerque at Casa de Pat en Sandia this year. It had been scheduled almost a year ago as soon as she had purchased the new place.

Mollie, Olive and Bear and Swamper arrived on Monday after a 16 or so hour trip from Truckee. Apparently it was epic. Mollie set her sites on Albuquerque and rolled in at 0500 in the morning and drove right past Pat waving and the gargage lights on. Highway hypnosis at its finest. Joni, Kiara and I hit the road around 0600 on Tuesday for an 810 mile trip. North to Barstow, turn right and follow Route 66 until Albuquerque. The CMAX was loaded to the gunnels as we generally travel pretty heavy. We hit ABQ around 8:00 PM.

The weather was fabulous! Pat’s house is very southwestern in design and it is in a great location. We spent all Wednesday and of course Thursday putting together the feast. Pies, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, salad, ham, turkey and on and on. The girls played cards each night and drank wine while I went to bed.

On Friday, we went up Sandia Peak on the tram. Top elevation is 10,364 feet AMSL. One of the interesting observations on our trip to Albuquerque, no asthma irritants while we were there. At 10,000 feet, hiking around I almost felt like I was young and in control again and could breathe (always good!). The kids enjoyed the hike (including Kiara). Olive was fascinated by the fossils in the limestone at the top of Sandia Peak. Bear found all the vegetation, particullary the branches that looked like firearms, fascinating. We had a long talk about tree bark and how it helps the tree live and shouldn’t be peeled off. Both of those kids are smart as whips.

On Saturday, we loaded up and headed home. Mollie, kids and dog caravaned with us and we eventually stopped at Barringer Crater to look over the best preservd impact crater in the US. I had been there before, but nobody else in the caravan had. I think they were all a little skeptical about how interesting a hole in the ground might be. Once there everybody changed their mind and finally believed me when I said it was one of the more interesting places I had been. Bear saw it and first thing he said was “ASTEROID!”. Nice that I have a family of science believers.

We continued on with Kiara at the helm of the CMAX and Mollie peeled off at Kingman to head up through Las Vegas and then on to Reno and Truckee while we made our way back to SoCal. Took a leisurely dinner stop at Barstow since there were accidents on the Cajon Pass slowing life down … welcome back to California! Through skillful rerouting of most of the map applications that we had, we ended up driving down the San Andreas fault waiting for the “big one”.

So the trip was a rousing success. Everybody had fun. We rolled into the garage about 9:30 on Saturday evening and immediately dropped into bed.


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No, There Has Not Been a Successful Human Head Transplant — and There May Never Be

So the scariest part of the headline above is the “May” part of the phrase. Really??? The implications are nothing less than mind boggleing (har har har). I have so may questions not the least of which is where this Italian doctor is getting the funding to keep up this research?

I would hope that even though this particular end result seems way out in left field, there are a lot of steps along the way which may benefit assuming Dr. Canaverro is actually proceeding as a scientist (somewhat questionable). But it is an interesting concept.

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Trials and Tribulations

A work related saga. I used to be a hydrogeologist. Now all I do is fix problems, almost all related to something other than hydrogeology.

Didn’t write any more yesterday because that last line is pretty much just me bitching and I try not to bitch in these writings.

The upcoming weeks look to be real winners. Thanksgiving in Albuquerque with family, Christmas at home, with family and I am lobbyiung for New Years in Catalina.  The boat is in pretty good shape. We recaulked some of the teak on the deck to minimze water flow through the tesk. We will probably continue that process this weekend. There is a very slow leak in the main engine through hull. It is more of a weep than a leak. I will probably schedule some yard time in January or February to get it fixed.

We also seem to be begining the process to move onto the boat for a year. We will rent out the house. This is one of those things I probably want more than Joni but with what we spend on the boat, I would like to use it for something. The move involves further downsizing which is always a good thing to work on. The garage is getting less and less cluttered all the time and we are being very careful about how much stuff we have in the house itself working on getting rid of one thing for every new thing that we bring in.

Starting to think about this weeks road trip to Albuquerque. Looks like a 11-12 hour drive. Weather is looking good. Juat a matter of finding slurpees and slim jims on the road!

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Haircut Day

Yesterday was haircut day. For at least the last almost 29 years, I have gotten a haircut every three (or four) months. I have gotten every one of those haircuts from the same guy. In those years, we have been through and shared experiences on births, deaths, weddings, vacations, new cars, new houses, college, job changes, illnesses, political views and techno changes. I did a small geotech job for him at his hillside property and he cut my hair for free for a while. He hired one of our girls to sweep the hair up at his shop and do towels and other odd jobs. So for 29 years he has been my friend, my psychiatrist and my hair guy. Both of us are getting older, and I am a little concerned about the day that he retires. Although he tells me that his son is also a hair guy in his own shop, I am not sure if that will be the same experience. I may just have to let my hair grow.

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