On the Light Side:

A Trip Down Route 1040

 Easy As I, II, III

 Forget the Fine Print

Technology Aversion

I trust you'll find these little essays enjoyable reading. And if you don't, well, consider how much you paid to read them.

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A Trip Down Route 1040 by William J. Lynott

         It's nearly midnight now and the house is obligingly quiet. I'm gathering the records necessary to start work on my income tax returns for 2005. I'm growing weary, but the minutia scattered atop my desk presents an irresistible temptation to revisit that eventful year one last time.
    In truth, the motivation behind this exercise is not a search for memories, but rather one of possible deductibility.
     The most prolific source for tonight's recollections is my checkbook. Some of the entries are eerily foreign to me, like a hazy dream that hovers just beyond memory's grasp. Who is Roychester Amalgamated Products, and what products do they amalgamate? Roychester apparently sold me something in February for $49.95. But what?
     Oh, yes, I remember: an atomic-controlled digital clock, accurate to one-billionth of a second. No deduction on that one, only the smug satisfaction that comes from knowing what time it really is.
     Here's a list of medical expenses -- my most fertile field of deductibility. I note that the list has grown longer than it was last year -- and much longer than it was the year before.
     Here's a receipt dated March 15. I remember this one. It was for a visit to our ophthalmologist. "You have cataracts," he said, matter-of-factly.
     Cataracts! How could that be? Cataracts are for 15-year-old dogs, or 90-year-old codgers with hip replacements. I would have thought he was referring to someone else's eyes if they hadn't been firmly attached to me while he was peering so intently at them.
     The cataracts are gone now. In their place are two tiny plastic lenses. They help me to see much better, but I note that they are the first foreign objects ever permanently inserted into my body. Will there be others? If so, What and when?
     Here's a check payable to Dr. Youngman, our new family doctor. Unlike his predecessor who retired last year, Dr. Youngman is much younger than I. This is the first time in my life that I have a family doctor who was in diapers when I first became a father.
     What changes does this foretell?      Whenever I went to Old Faithful complaining about a new symptom, I could count on him to say, "I've had that myself. Don't worry about it."
     Will I get the same assurances from Dr. Youngman? If so, will they ring hollow?
Here are our dental bills -- crowns, root canals, gum surgery. Over the years, my spouse and I have funded a significant portion of the cost of Dr. Linocaine's four-seater private airplane, but he has yet to offer either of us a ride in it.
     Apparently, there is no technology that Dr. Linocaine is unwilling to employ in his heroic efforts to save our teeth -- provided our pocketbooks are able to survive the onslaught. What's this entry? Twenty dollars to Dr. Tibia. Oh yes, that was the co-pay for my arthroscopic (amazing how many new medical terms I learned last year) knee surgery.
     Nothing to be ashamed of there. I've read about big-time athletes in their primes who undergo arthroscopic knee surgery. ("No, it's not due to your high school basketball injury. After years of carrying all that weight around, the cartilage in your knees is simply worn out.")
     Look at this pile of receipts from Abington Pharmacy. Here's one for something called tobra dex, and another for terazosin. What were these oddly named concoctions for? Did they cure the problem? I know about things like dyazide because I see that name on the little bottle I reach for every morning, but this one for lotemax and this one for acular opth sol leave me scratching my head.
     What are these receipts from Penney's florist? Here's one for $65 in June and another for $70 in August. Oh, yes, I remember. The flowers are wilted and gone now, like the two friends in whose memory they were dispatched. I recall each of those departed souls with fondness, and I am reminded that neither will ever be required to file another tax return.
     When I tote up the plus and minus columns that make up my year 2005, the result offers a subtle but eminently clear message: This is a time for me to be grateful for the opportunity to take yet another stroll down Route 1040.

published originally in the
Philadelphia Inquirer

Copyright (c) 2006 by William J. Lynott

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 Easy As I, II, III
William J. Lynott

I've been wondering. It's been nearly 30 years since the United States officially decided to join the rest of the world by converting to the metric system of measurements. So, how come it hasn't happened yet? How come we're still clunking around with our inches, pounds and quarts.

Some observers blame you and me. They say that we can't deal with concepts that have arcane names like liters and kilometers. Whether that's the reason or not, the conversion to metrics -- like old soldiers -- has been allowed to just fade away.

That's too bad, say the economists. They tell us that hopping on the metric bandwagon would be good for the country. At the very least, they say, it would improve our economy by simplifying things for business people who have dealings with foreign countries, nearly all of which do their measuring in metrics.

I've been giving a lot of thought to this and I say that conversion to metrics is still doable. In my view, the conversion failed to take hold because it was too scary a step to ask Americans to take all at once. To make it work, we'll have to ease into the metric world an inch (a millimeter?) at a time.

In approving metrics back in the 1970s, our government paid tribute to the French who originated the idea, and to the Greeks upon whose decimal system the whole thing is based. I submit that the logical preliminary step before embracing metrics should have been recognition of another great society -- the early Romans and their magnificent numerals.

The beauty of Roman numerals is such that nearly anyone can learn to use them -- even Americans. Still, after more than 2,000 years, Roman numerals remain in a shameful state of disuse.

I want to make it clear here than I hold no brief with our Arab friends. It's just that their numerals, to which we have all become accustomed, are so darned ugly. On the other hand, consider the grace and dignity that would become part of the written word if we Americans were to adopt the numeric symbols used by the early Romans:

In applying for Social Security benefits or a government job, an applicant would be able to list her date of birth as March IX, MCMXXXVI. How much more impressive that would be to a jaded bureaucrat who has himself been interviewing applicants for XXII years.

Of even greater significance would be the increased impact of prose written in this manner:

Detective Carambo raced up the XXXIV steps to the IVth floor and banged on the door of apartment VI. Carambo blanched when the door opened and he found himself face-to-face with the notorious agent 00VII
"You have X seconds to hand over formula CVII," he screamed at the spy.

"Listen, copper," the man said. "If I told you once, I told you M times, you get the formula when I get my $MMM."

Admittedly, Roman numerals do not lend themselves nicely to complex financial computations. As a result, there will be a few minor inconveniences as we ease ourselves into the new system.

Taxpayers would have to understand that medical costs are deductible only to the extent that they exceed XV% of adjusted gross income, and the standard mileage rate is being held this year at XXXII.V¢ per mile.

But this extra effort would be a small price to pay in return for the advantages gained.

Now that we have entered the year MM, I say it's time for us to take this positive step toward world unity.

Well, you get the idea. I must run now. It's past X:XXX and I don't want to miss the XI o'clock news.

published originally in the
Chicago Tribune
and other newspapers

Copyright (c) 2000 by William J. Lynott

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Some Handy Metric Conversions

1 million microphones = 1 megaphone
1 million bicycles = 2 megacycles
2000 mockingbirds = two    kilomockingbirds
10 cards = 1 decacards
½ lavatory = 1 demijohn
1 millionth of a fish = 1 microfiche
10 rations = 1 decoration
10 millipedes = 1 centipede
3 1/3 tridents = 1 decadent
10 monologues = 5 dialogues
2 monograms = 1 diagram
8 nickels = 2 paradigms






 Forget the Fine Print

William J. Lynott

My trouble began with a casual glance at the cereal box one morning at breakfast. Like everyone else, I had done this a thousand times before. This time, though, it was different. This time, I actually read what was printed on the box.

At first, I was quite exhilarated to learn that such a simple breakfast actually supplied me with 100 percent of my minimum daily requirement of thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. I left for the office secure in the knowledge that I was nutritionally well fortified for the busy day ahead.

From cereal boxes, I graduated to reading the little bits of historical information on my office calendar. A few days ago, while reading August, I was fascinated to learn that the city of Pompeii, with all its people, was destroyed when Mt Vesuvius erupted on August 24, in the year 79 A.D.

I could hardly wait until that evening so that I might appear to casually dip into my mental storehouse of exotic information at just the right moment to impress my high school-age daughter. It didn't work. Not only did she know the exact date of Mt. Vesuvius's eruption, but she countered with a fast question of her own about the electoral college which I was unable to answer. It was a humiliating experience.

After cereal boxes and office calendars, my addiction grew to include such unlikely things as instruction sheets. I found myself compulsively reading not only the instructions for everything new that I bought, I even began to rummage through desk drawers looking for old instruction books.

Unfortunately, during one of those forays, I came across the instruction book for our super quadraphonic stereo sound system which had been in quite satisfactory use for over a year. I was aghast to learn that there are a number of profoundly important rules that are never to be broken if optimum performance and long life are to be expected.

In light of this new information, I called the family together and insisted that everyone study the instructions carefully. We haven't been able to use the machine since then, because no one has been able to figure out how to get it started without breaking at least one of the rules.

This morning, I plunged into what I pray will be the final depth of my degradation. Three pieces of junk mail arrived and, before I could gain control of myself, I grabbed them and read every word.

Where will it all end? Frankly, I don't know. But as a precaution for yourself, I would recommend that you insist on having the cereal box removed from the table before you sit down to breakfast tomorrow morning.

First published in the Philadelphia Inquirer
Copyright (c) 1978by William J. Lynott

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Technology Aversion
William J. Lynott

They haven't come up with a scientific term for it yet, but I know for a fact that many Americans are included among its victims. It's a pesky affliction that I call Technology Aversion. As a lifetime sufferer, I could tell you a lot about the ill effects of this malevolent malady.

Unless you were around when we still had the Mickey Mouse Club and 15-cent McDonald's hamburgers, you probably won't remember those oblong pieces of cardboard that started this technology business. Popularly known as IBM punch cards, those insidious implements came into our lives when some nerdy types figured out that a lot of information could be stored and retrieved simply by punching a pattern of little round holes in pieces of stiff paper

The idea worked well. Too well, I say. Before long, punch cards were everywhere. Utility and credit card bills were submitted on punch cards, and each and every one carried the ominous warning: do not fold, spindle, or mutilate.

As a generally law-abiding type, I studiously avoided violating that dire injunction. Unfortunately, after months of submissive behavior, temptation finally got the better of me. In a reckless moment, I folded, spindled, and mutilated my credit card bill before slipping it into the return envelope.

There was an unmistakable smugness in my rebel-without-a- cause audacity . . . until my next statement arrived. The infernal machine that read those cards had charged me with the purchase of 22 Waring food blenders and a cocker spaniel puppy. I don't think I need to tell you how many months of frustration it took to straighten out that mess. I didn't realize it then, but this experience was but the first sign that I had fallen victim to Technology Aversion.

Gradually, punch cards were replaced by mysterious new devices called computers. In those days, most people had no idea what computers were, or what they were supposed to do. But even then, I knew at first-blush that computers and I could never be friends.

Shortly after computers appeared on the scene, we were introduced to another stunning advance in technology: telephones with push buttons. Admittedly, this popular new innovation worked flawlessly. Still, for me, something was missing. I liked the old round dials with little holes to insert your fingers. When you dialed a number, there was that comforting tactile sensation. You had the feeling you were participating -- doing something.

Unfortunately, this dizzying flow of new developments turned out to be just the beginning. Since those early days, we have been all but submerged in a rising sea of frightening technology -- ATM machines, bar codes, electronic Rolodexes. You never know what's coming next. I still haven't figured out how to set my digital watch to eastern standard time, and my VCR has been blinking 12:00 since I bought it two years ago. Frankly, there have been times when I felt that I must be the only person in the universe so technologically challenged.

If any of this strikes home with you, have heart. After years of frustration, and no small amount of determination, I am now in a position to offer myself up as solid evidence that Technology Aversion can be vanquished.

Recently, I decided to put a stop to my foolish defeatism. I'd had enough of living with the fear that life was leaving me behind. Calling on my considerable reserves of inner strength and resolve, I decided to face up to the dark specter of Technology Aversion by confronting it head on.

I gave my trusty Smith Corona electric typewriter to Good Will and bought a desktop computer complete with word processing software. Now, as I sit here confidently typing this with the soft, green glow of a 17-inch interlaced monitor reflected on my face, I take no small measure of pride in the knowledge that I have finally conqteczxx?? ###pppp&&&& %%%xxyy ***###XXX!!!


Originally published in
The Lion magazine
Copyright (c) 1999 by William J. Lynott


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