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How long is a plutt?

AS the old year dutifully waned and I girded my loins (poetically speaking, only) to embrace the challenges of the new, I was happily reminded by an advertisement on the radio that I should replace my permanent antifreeze. I lost no time in hieing myself to the business headquarters of my friend Petruccio O'Brien, a filling station, and I said, ``Why would anybody need to replace his permanent antifreeze?'' Thereupon he laughed a good, round, hearty, jolly, noteworthy laugh and so exhausted himself that he had to lean against the unleaded pump for about 10 minutes.

``Trouble with you,'' he gasped at last, ``is that you know too much. They don't teach things in school the way they did back in your time. Nobody knows what permanent means. That commercial on the radio scairt people, and one day last week I replaced $300 worth of permanent antifreeze with permanent antifreeze.''

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``You're a crook,'' I said.

``That's one word for it, but another is that I'm the happy beneficiary of clever modern advertising.''

``Is there resale value to recycled permanent antifreeze?''

``Yes, they is, but I ain't crook enough to go after it. I dump the stuff in a drum and give it to Toopy Ruggles, down to Ash Point.''


``Eyah. Toopy's a plumber and every fall he has to winterize all the summer cottages around Applesass Cove and down to the islands. He laces the plumbing with used permanent antifreeze, and it's a lot easier than draining pipes. He sells the stuff to summercaters for 10 smacks a shot. Toopy's a crook.''

I told Petruccio that I was reading in the paper where a school superintendent said kids didn't go to school now to be educated - they had to be entertained. ``Cheers for him,'' he said. ``If school kids ever get to know what words mean, it'll cost me a good many smackeroos a year per annum. I put two kids through college on replaced permanent antifreeze, and neither one of them knows which mitten goes on which hand.''

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``You jest,'' I asseverated.

``Some, but not all that much.''

I am moderately pleased that l986 went down the drain and I still don't know about the Richter scale. Every time there's a rumble the news people say it measured such-and-such on the Richter scale, and nobody has ever told me what that is. My dictionary and my encyclopedia are silent about it. There was a time that newspapers were informative instead of opinionated, and editors were careful about advancing something of that sort. My early-day editor used to hand copy back with, ``You know better than that!'' and he'd say, ``Our readers never know anything until you tell 'em.''

I remember one story I did about a carpenter who was building a cupola to go on a barn. Somebody told the editor it might make a story, and I walked two miles out into the countryside to see. He was building the cupola on the ground and hadn't found it necessary to climb up on the roof for any measurements. Furthermore, he didn't use measurements in that sense - feet and inches or metrics.

When he started a job, he'd take a stick and divide it into sections with his compass, and then he'd divide the sections into subsections until he had something like a yardstick, except that he didn't know how long the stick was in feet and inches. You think about it, and it really doesn't matter so long as you go by the stick.

Then he would think up names for his divisions and subdivisions, and after he finished a job he'd throw that stick away and mark off a new one for the next job. So he never knew the size of anything, except in his own terms - a door would be so many threetles and one and a half quitchets.

So there he was making a cupola to be hoisted to the roof, and along comes an innocent kid reporter who will describe everything to an interested public. I asked him how he figured the pitch of the roof from down here. Then I had to walk back to town to fetch a yardstick so I could put some sense into my little story, because my editor would keep saying, ``What's this with a pobble, a seeplet, and two plutts?''

Richter scale? The bagpipe scale has nine notes. Birch leaves rustle for the Beaufort scale. Oyster scale forms on apple tree limbs and should be eradicated. Morning fog scales off as the sun rises. And the serpent was swingeing the scaly horror of his folded tail.

Good old 1986 had a few other glad moments. I asked my yaller-headed neighbor of nine joyful years if she had read ``Alice in Wonderland.'' ``I don't have to,'' she said. ``I got it on a tape.''

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