Archive » July 2018 » Columns

— From the Xinhua Agency

Jean-Paul Sartre with Simone de Beauvoir at Tiananmen Square in 1965 for the sixth anniversary of the founding of communist China.

Jean-Paul Sartre was sketched for The New York Times by Reginald Gray.

The French existentialist philosopher and playwright John-Paul Sartre’s 1943 play “No Exit” (Huis Clos in French), contains one of the most celebrated lines in literary and philosophical history: “L’enfer, c’est les Autres.” “Hell is other people.”

I’ve heard a lot of people say that sort of thing over the years but Sartre, as an existentialist, meant something more.

The play is a narrative about three people who have been “sentenced” to hell: Garcin, Inez, and Estelle. A man and two women.

When they meet, they start fudging facts about their prior lives especially about the acts that brought them to hell. Also they are puzzled about what their punishment is supposed to be.

That is, there is no fire, no brimstone, no “official torturer” working the sinful crowd. All there is is the three of them locked in a drawing room bedecked with a hodge-podge of period furniture, seemingly for all eternity.

Because they shave the truth, they get short with each other; a negativity arises and their distrust strengthens.

We soon find out that Garcin died by a firing squad for deserting in war; Inez, a postal clerk, was gassed by her lover for seducing a friend’s wife; and the beautiful Estelle had an affair with a man whose love-child she drowned in front of him; he then took his own life.

Sartre says hell does not need Torquemada to satisfy justice. It exists when we present a “twisted, vitiated” self to others and this occurs once we’ve accepted twisted, vitiated values as the basis of our identity.

The vitiating twist begins when a person relies on the judgment of others to establish personal definition and self-worth, the polar opposite of those souls who strike out on their own in search of authenticity. Strike out not in a John Wayne individualism sort of way but in a way that involves self-responsibility and includes concern for the needs of others.

Sartre’s existentialism, therefore, is about choices, about making decisions to free ourselves from the imprisoning “gaze” of others, from being the object of another’s view, from a consciousness that projects an identity for us to assume. Often under pressure.

Inez, the existentialist among the trio, says accepting such an imprisoning mode of self-definition is the hell we endure because “It’s what one does ... that shows the stuff one’s made of.”

Sartre wants his readers to see that a person’s decisions toward freedom determine his essence; it does not work the other way around. The pudding’s proof is in action.

A person’s addiction to false-identity-status is highlighted in the play when the beautiful Estelle discovers there is no mirror in the room. She grows anxious and panicky — Sartre called this state of being “nausea” — because she cannot connect with a reality that will make her feel alive.

Pathetically she pines, “When I can’t see myself in the mirror, I can’t even feel myself, and I begin to wonder if I exist at all.”

This frame of mind Sartre calls “bad faith.” It manifests little or no concern for others. It follows the axiom: An inauthentic person’s values cannot extend beyond the prison that contains him.

I’m sure that someone coming from proverbial Mars who watches the news in America today and listens to political commentators from every side of the political aisle, would conclude that America is a living Sartrean hell, a hell of its own choosing.

And should our Martian look at things with an existentialist’s eye, he would see sectors of folks who agree to be locked in a “base” (of ire’s hue), amount to little more than an object projected from a politician’s consciousness, gaze, and critical assessment — not for the collective’s well-being but for his own.

Under any circumstances, it’s not possible to create an authentic self by mouthing a script; this is more true when the script requires a person to fit into a one-dimensional, homogenized reality.

Donald Trump’s base seems to fit such a description having turned into a postmodern version of Marx’s lumpenproletariat.

You can search Wikipedia for what they say about lumpenproles but today they’re described as stereotypical clowns, the kind you find in an absurdist comedy.

Robert Bussard, now a music librarian at Western Washington University, once examined the lumpenproletariat the way Marx and Engels first described it.

He said in “The ‘dangerous class’ of Marx and Engels: The rise of the idea of the Lumpenproletariat” in 1987 that lumpenproles act out of “ignorant self-interest.” They shoot themselves in the foot and call it progress.

Because they are subject to a version of self-victimization, Bussard says they are “easily bribed by reactionary forces ... to combat” those primed to meet the needs of others.

That is, the lumpenproletariat is a spoiler. It does not “play a positive role in society,” Bussard adds, “Instead, it exploit[s] society for its own ends, and [is] in turn exploited as a tool of destruction and reaction.”

I’m sure you know people like this. They yell, they shout, they think it’s possible to keep things the way they were before the current upheaval began. They’re John Wayne or a comedian playing to the weakest part of the soul.

In movies and on TV these days, hell is projected in a host of dystopian formats, the bastard offspring of George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

In such works — include Marge Piercy and Ursula Le Guin’s among them — every soul from the orchestra seats to the far mezzanine — is panicked for a way out. Like everybody else, they do not like hell and scan the walls for a breach they might squeeze through and breathe life.

All of which points to how difficult change is. It requires re-vision, re-configuring the way the eyes see by reconnecting them to the heart, that is, creating a political economy in which the needs of others count as much as our own.

I ask people all the time about the means they use to escape the unhappiness of their hell — pharmaceutically and otherwise. At first they’re stumped, they stumble over the words. They never thought through what it means to see others as they see themselves.

In the speech he gave in December 1980 upon receiving the Nobel Prize for literature, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz said that freeing one’s self from prison requires a special kind of vision, the kind poets have: double-vision.

Milosz said poets see close-up and face-to-face, but they also see from up above, in overview, not sequentially but simultaneously.

Milosz used Selma Lagerlöf’s “Wonderful Adventures of Nils,” to make his point. Like Nils, he said, the poet sees close up but he also “flies above the Earth and looks at it from above.” He sees it “in every detail” but also “beholds under him rivers, lakes, forests, that is, a map, both distant and yet concrete.”

This is not a therapy session so how to get such a vision needs to be discussed. It will take years.

Realizing this explains why so many people are angry today. They do not want to have this discussion, they deny its importance and, in doing so, encase themselves in hell, a base that feeds on despair.

This may be cause for hope because, as Sartre said in his 1943 play “The Flies” (Les Mouches in French), “Life begins on the other side of despair.”


— Photo from John R. Williams

Bob Giebitz, at 94, cuts a birthday cake that looks like his garden.

— Photo from John R. Williams

Mike Willsey celebrates his 92nd birthday.

— Photo from John R. Williams

Ted Willsey looks thoughtful at his 90th birthday party.

— Photo from John R. Williams

Ted Willsey smiles at his 90th birthday party.

The Tuesday morning of July 17 was a wet one. While the Old Men of the Mountain were in the Country Café in Schoharie having a great breakfast of one kind or another, outside it started to pour.

The irony of this is, when the early birds of the OMOTM arrived, they encountered a workman for the village with his tractor and wagon, watering all the flowers along Main Street. The OFs think that, with the amount of plants he has to maintain, the workman never made it to the end before the rains came, although looking at the tank in the wagon, the village was using fertilized water to keep the plants looking as fresh as they do so maybe he kept going.

July 14 was International Nude Day. This was the day Howe Caverns was having its Naked in the Cave party. None of the OFs had the courage to participate and most thought that they would be turned away even if the OFs applied for reservations.

Just because the cave is dark, slippery, cold, and damp, the OFs thought their rejection would be considered by the planners that to view any of the OFs naked would frighten away all the participants younger than 60.

They would look at the naked OFs and wonder to themselves: “Is that what I am going to look like in another 20 years?”

The OFs would have to reply, “Yep.”

The OFs understood that the event was a huge success, and the caverns had to turn people away. One OF commented that he wouldn’t go because he couldn’t imagine sitting in the boat to cruise the underground lake with a bare bottom on that cold, damp seat.

Naked in the Cave brought more stories about the North American Cement plant that used to be the entrance to the cave. Across the railroad tracks, and the street in Howe Cave, there was a restaurant.

The OFs are talking back in the mid-1950s at this time. The OFs’ resident historian actually could remember the name of the restaurant and it was Tillison’s Restaurant; one OF had a relative who was a waitress there. Just down from the restaurant, on the other side of the street, was the D&H railroad dispatcher’s building for the plant.

According to an OF who used to work at the cement plant, this dispatcher was the cheapest guy on two feet. The dispatcher would take the tape from the machine that recorded railroad cars in and out, and he also maintained information on demurrage (a charge for detaining a ship, freight car, or truck) for railroad cars on plant tracks.

This tape would drop into a bucket, and, instead of getting a new tape when the tape was full, this dispatcher would wind the tape back on the roll and use the back of the tape until that was full.

This same skinflint would go over to Tillison’s, order a glass of hot water, take a ketchup bottle from one of the tables, pour it into the glass of hot water, shake a little pepper on the top, order a cheap peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and have soup and a sandwich for lunch and leave. This guy was a piece of work.

Birthday boys

The month of November is a month with nothing much going on. Maybe because there’s nothing to do is what causes July — which is nine months later — to be such an active birthday month. The OMOTM are kept busy with birthday parties during July.

The weekend of the 14th there were three that affected the OFs, two of which the OFs en masse were invited to. On one day, there was one where all OFs were invited and one was a family event on the same day.

When the OFs have birthday parties, they are “bring yourself and nothing else” parties because what does an OF need or want?

One OF said, “What the OFs should do is always invite all the OFs with the proviso that they all take something when they leave.”

The OFs are trying to downsize. One OF said, if he did it that way, he would have a top-prize gift, and that would be take the wife. He would have everything packed for her, and a $50 bill pinned to a ribbon in her hair.

Birthdays for the OMOTM require large cakes just to hold the candles. The smart way would be to have one candle for each decade with the last decade the number of years. Another OF said he wouldn’t be able to blow out even that many.

One OF mentioned that, when we were in our forties and fifties, we were contemplating retirement and how so many of our friends retired and in a few years we were going to their funerals. Today, the OFs said, look up and down the table, these guys have been retired for 20 and 25 years, and some are mad because it is raining and they can’t go out and play golf.

Back in our working years, we never even would have thought of it.  “Yeah,” one OF said, “Rocking chair sales are way down.”

Those OFs who were spry enough to make it to the Country Café in Schoharie, and that of course is all in attendance, and they were: Miner Stevens, Bill Lichliter, Pete Whitbeck, Bill Bartholomew, Dave Williams, Wally Guest, George Washburn, Robie Osterman, John Rossmann, Roger Schafer, Harold Guest, Joe Rack, Mark Traver, Otis Lawyer, Ray Frank, Chuck Aelesio, Bob Benac, Ray Kennedy, Herb Sawotka, Art Frament, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Gerry Irwin, Herb Bahrmann, Wayne Gaul, Mike Willsey, Gerry Chartier, Ted Willsey with son Jerry Willsey from Arkansas, Elwood Vanderbilt, Rich Vanderbilt, Allen DeFazio, Harold Grippen, and me.


In my last column, I wrote about how calorie needs change with aging and a decrease in appetite caused by many factors is part of the aging process. While there are medications to increase or decrease appetite approved for physician prescription, there are other variables you can adjust at home to change your calorie intake.

The Delbouef Illusion is a visual perception bias that indicates how the size of plates and color contrast between a plate and food can impact serving sizes. In fact, much research has shown that the size of your plate and color contrast between your plate and your food can have a significant impact on portion size.

Dr. Brian Wansink, Ph.D., of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, looks at the psychology behind eating behavior. Working with other researchers, he looks at different factors that play into our eating habits.

To test the Delbouef Illusion, the Food and Brand Lab conducted an experiment in which, among other things, some participants served themselves on smaller dinnerware while others served themselves on larger dinnerware. As well, some participants served themselves food on a plate that was a similar color to the food (pasta with red spaghetti sauce on a red plate) and others served themselves using a plate that was a contrasting color from the food being served (pasta with red spaghetti sauce on a white plate).

The study found that people serve themselves more food when using large dinnerware and dinnerware that is a similar color to the food they’re eating. However, people serve themselves less food when using smaller dinnerware and when their food is a contrasting color to their dinnerware.

As appetite decreases with age, these are tools that you, as a family caregiver, can use with your loved ones to increase their calorie intake. While it can be frustrating to argue with loved ones about eating, using plate size and color contrast is an easy way to “trick” them into increasing or decreasing their calorie intake.

If you’re looking to encourage your loved one to eat more, try having them serve their food on a larger plate or using a plate that is a similar color to the food you’re eating. If you’re trying to decrease calories, try using a smaller plate or a color that will pop against the food you’re having at that meal.

Food doesn’t always have to be a fight. Since lots of what we eat is behavioral, sometimes it’s easier to adjust our behaviors to meet our goals instead of choosing different foods. If you’re interested in reading more about food behaviors, search online for “Food and Brand Lab” to read more and see how you can make small changes for a large impact.

Editor’s note: Sarah Roger is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher and incoming second-year medical student at Albany Medical College. She is interning with Community Caregivers this summer and will be writing articles on health and wellness, which are both topics she is passionate about.


If you’ve been reading my column for a while, you know that I’m a voracious reader. I generally have two books going at all times, usually from the library. I prefer library books because our tax dollars have already paid for them and you don’t have to store them. Those are both big pluses. Hooray for libraries!

One thing I’ve always been proud of is in the more than 50 years I’ve been using libraries I’ve never once had a late fee or failed to return a book. This is really a matter of pride for me.

I’ve read many times about books finally being returned after decades, as if that were a good thing. It’s not! A book never should have been treated so carelessly in the first place.

When I borrow a book, I treat it as my own. I don’t spill stuff on it, crease the pages, or write in it. Treating it as you would if it were your own is just the right thing to do. If you really need to highlight or write in a book, then go buy your own copy.

So the other day I had just finished reading “Approval Junkie” by Faith Salie. She’s a comedian/journalist who appears regularly on the wonderful NPR radio show, “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” and she’s also a correspondent on “CBS Sunday Morning News.”

I’ve always enjoyed her and, while the book was great, it was very female oriented — lots of stuff about clothes, hair, relationships, and pregnancy. Because of all that, it didn’t really grab me so much, but I still enjoyed it.

I had been reading this book while sitting in a beach chair with my feet up on the back bumper of my F150 truck. This vehicle has a broad, flat bumper, with multiple heights making it perfect for propping up your feet and providing a place for your phone, drink, or whatever.

It’s my favorite place to read when the weather is nice. The only problem is, every now and then, I’ll forget to remove something from the bumper and then drive off and lose whatever was there. (I lost a really nice ashtray fashioned from an old motorcycle piston this way.)

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Shortly after reading the book, I had to run out and do some errands. When I came back, I set up the chair, getting ready to start my next book (I really do read a lot) when I realized I didn’t know where “Approval Junkie” had gone to.

We had house guests that weekend, so there was more commotion than usual. I checked all the usual spots but it was nowhere to be found. Finally it dawned on me that I must have driven off with it on the bumper.

I got in the truck and retraced my route. The neighbors must have thought I was critiquing their lawn-cutting techniques. Alas, the book was nowhere to be found.

I was so depressed by this, it was all I could think about for several days. I truly have never paid a library late fee in my life, much less actually lost a book. To finally have to join that club was making me ill.

n my mind, I was using my Toastmasters’ skills to craft a speech for Tim Wiles, the director of the Guilderland Public Library. In the speech, I would apologize profusely, beg for forgiveness, and promise to never let it happen again.

I’m pretty sure I was going to offer myself up for corporal punishment as well. I mean, they trusted me with a valuable library resource and I had let them down.

I was really, really bummed out. It was not a good feeling at all.

Then I was at a concert and randomly decided to check my email when this missive appeared from Heather Nelson, a senior clerk at the Guilderland library:

“Hi Frank, a patron found the book you had checked out, “Approval Junkie,” in the middle of the road near Suzanne St. I checked the item in so it is no longer on your record. I then placed another hold on it for you and you have until July 18th to pick it up here. If you no longer want the item, let us know and we will cancel the hold.”

Holy cannoli, Batman! I could not believe it.

One of my neighbors must have found it and returned it to the library, just like I would have done if I had found a library book in the middle of the road. What a welcome surprise. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Now my no-late-fee-and-no-missing-book streak would still be intact. Whew!

Public libraries are one of the great achievements of modern society. These clean, efficient institutions allow the wealth of human knowledge to be shared by lucky community members.

They offer so many services — books, magazines, newspapers, movies, and all kinds of programs — that it’s almost unbelievable. We are so, so lucky to have our community libraries.

Thank you to my neighbor who returned the library book for me. You made my day. Heck, you made my year!


Tuesday, July 10, the wives, girlfriends or whoever the housekeepers are must have been anxious to get the Old Men of the Mountain out of the house.

Tuesday morning, 40 Old Guys and not-so-Old Guys pushed their way through the doors of Mrs. K’s Family Restaurant in Middleburgh to have breakfast together. The number of OFs who crowded into Mrs. K’s generated quite a din. It was hard for this scribe to pick out conversations to eavesdrop on.

This scribe also observed regular patrons trying to talk across their tables and they appeared to need megaphones to do so. This scribe supposes the younger ones could text each other across the table; that way, the OFs’ racket wouldn’t bother them.

One OF told of needing a gardening tool and went to the box his wife keeps to do her gardening. The OF said he sorted through the tools to find something he could use. The OF said that he located a shiny tool with a plastic handle that would fill the bill.

Just before he was about to use it, he noticed the plastic was not a common plastic so he looked at the tool. The tool was brand new and still had the sticker on it.

This tool was from the Middleburgh Hardware store, and the phone number was VA xxxx (two letters and four numbers) and the price was $1.89. How long had this tool been in his wife’s box and never used?  It had to be years upon years.

The OFs wondered how many things like this are still tucked away in tool sheds, garages, and barns. One OF said, “How about junk drawers in the kitchen and behind the furnace in the cellar?”

This OF took the tool to Middleburgh Hardware and donated it. The OF found out the hardware store has started a collection for items like this and is going to make space in the store to display them.

Vintage vehicles

Some of the OFs talked about the power plant on the Schoharie Creek below the Gilboa dam and about the large pond they built on top of the mountain to run the generators. The OFs were surprised that some local OFs did not know about it. Lansing Manor is there, so is the Mine Kill state park.

One OF commented, “Can you imagine going from Lansing Manor to Albany in a horse and buggy in the winter time to go to work in either Poughkeepsie and/or Albany?”

The OFs have talked about this before — vintage vehicles — one of their favorite topics, because the OFs are vintage themselves. The OFs commented on how similar vehicles look today and how hard it is to tell one make from another and how they have no individual class.

However, back when the OFs were not so vintage and cars had style, quite often the OFs would see one of these cars broken down on the side of the road. The OFs said some of the cars even came with tool boxes so the driver was able to make repairs if necessary.

Today it is rare to see a car broken down on the side of the road, and they are mechanically so sophisticated most drivers wouldn’t even know what to look at to repair and get going, other than to fix a flat. One OF supposed many vehicles now have the ability to repair themselves when certain things go wrong, and rust seems to be a thing of the past said another OF.

A different OF said that with today’s vehicles it is almost impossible to run out of gas. When the gas becomes low there are bells, whistles and blinking lights to warn you. Even a message comes on a screen — e.g.: “This vehicle only has enough fuel for 100 miles.”

Running out of gas was common when the OFs weren’t vintage. If the OF had poor vision, the OF was unable to tell how much gas was in the vial in the fuel indicator sticking out from the hood on the front of the car.

This scribe does not think the OMOTM are that vintage but they are vintage enough to know dimmer switches on the floor, no turn signals, vacuum windshield wipers, mechanical brakes, curtains on the windows in the back, windshields that cranked out, and little side windows that flipped in.

One OF commented on keeping his old military vehicles running and on the road by going to junkyards and swap meets to get parts. One time, the OF purchased two tail gates for a vehicle that was being rebuilt.

One was rusted out on the bottom but had a good top, and on the other the top was all banged up but had a good bottom. The OF said he cut them in half, welded the two good parts together, sanded them down, and painted them and no one knows the difference. To the OFs, if they can’t make a pot, they will make a pan.

The roads must have been plugged with the Old Men of the Mountain headed to Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh because they were: Wally Guest, Harold Guest, Roger Shafer, Bill Lichliter, Ted Willsey, John Rossmann, George Washburn, Robie Osterman, Dave Williams, Bill Bartholomew, Roger Chapman, Chuck Aelesio, Ray Frank, Jim Heiser, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Joe Rack, Karl Remmers, Kenny Parks, Pete Whitbeck, Ray Kennedy, Herb Bahrmann, Art Frament, Bob Benac, Wayne Gaul, Herb Sawotka, Jake Lederman, Ted Feurer, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Warren Willsey, Gerry Chartier, Russ Pokorny, Mike Willsey, Elwood Vanderbilt, Rich Vanderbilt, Allen DeFazio, Harold Grippen, and me.


— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

The adult craze for wheeling came to an abrupt end when the first automobiles began rolling into towns and chugging out past the farms on country roads. This postcard view of Altamont’s Lainhart block tells the story. After that time, bicycles were for children. The Lainhart block, on Maple Avenue, not far from Main Street, burned in the late 20th Century; a public parking lot fills the space today.

— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

These three youngsters posed with their bicycles in front of the Dunnsville Hotel’s crowded porch. The photo is probably about the same vintage as the Altamont postcard view.

One September weekend in the mid-1890s found Fred DeGraff of Guilderland Hamlet and four friends mounting their wheels, pedaling over to Pittstown to visit a friend while, on another I.K. Stafford, Fred Keenholts and Andrew Oliver traveled from Altamont to New Jersey to Asbury Park for an extensive cycle tour.

They reported to The Enterprise, “The wheeling in New Jersey was very fine.” As interest and participation in cycling spread, The Enterprise was abuzz with local bicycle news during the decade of the 1890s, often called the Golden Age of the Bicycle.

This craze for wheels, as bicycles were then commonly called, took off in the 1890s as the technological advances of the previous decade came together to create a practical modern bicycle. It began with the concept of two spoked wheels of equal size on a tubular frame followed by the invention of pneumatic tires to provide a smoother ride and propulsion from pedals connected to a chain driven sprocket.

However, early braking systems were less than adequate until the invention of the coaster brake in 1898. Wheels didn’t come cheap, ranging from $25 for a used bicycle in the mid-1890s to over $100 for the finest models in 1890s’ dollars, a luxury for most people at that time.

Advertisements of bicycles for sale showed up in The Enterprise as early as 1890, some inserted by the manufacturers themselves. Monarch Cycle Co.’s appeared frequently, claiming theirs was “absolutely the best” with elegant designs and unsurpassed workmanship using the finest materials.

H.A. Lozier & Co. not only bragged about the Cleveland bicycle’s construction, but added the practical information that its “resilient” tire could be repaired “quicker and easier than any other tire in the market.” Several Albany dealers jumped into the market and, sensing a good business opportunity, some Altamont men began selling wheels and advertising their wares in the paper as well.

“Notes From Gotham,” a July 1893 Enterprise front-page column, noted there was “a growing interest in bicycling as an amusement,” claiming that there was “a popular craze” for the sport, “destined to be the most popular form of outdoor entertainment that has ever engaged the American people.”

While bicycle owners could be found in all parts of Guilderland, by far most cyclists seemed to be concentrated in Altamont, so many that in 1893 sixteen men joined together to organize “The Altamont Wheelmen.” After electing officers headed by I.K. Stafford, plans were made to find club rooms.

Soon they moved into “commodious” and “airy” rooms on the second floor of J.S. Secors new warehouse where a new coal stove supplied not only heat but hot water for the bathtub they installed! It was claimed that they had a “very cozy room and it makes a pleasant place to spend one’s evenings, if they must be spent from home.” A year later for reasons not given, they moved to space over the post office

Immediately after the club’s formation, its members began planning runs to Amsterdam, Albany via Voorheesville, Guilderland Center, Averill Park, South Bethlehem, Slingerlands, and Sloan’s (now Guilderland Hamlet). Remembering the dirt roads of that time, this was an ambitious undertaking but reports in the ensuing weeks indicate that they really did pedal their wheels to these destinations.

As 1894 came to a close, 36 men had been voted into membership, especially once it was made known that actually being a wheelman wasn’t a requirement to becoming a member. The Wheelmen had become not only a cycle club, but a male social club as well.

At the last meeting of 1894, members were treated to an oyster supper, followed by “soft drinks” and cigars, all this hosted for the 25 men present by the club’s president I.K. Stafford and Altamont bicycle dealer Fred Keenholts.

Another dinner the next year mentions an “elaborate spread, merriment and good cheer.” Another type of social function were “smokers” where the men entertained themselves with reminiscences of the past season’s cycling “through columns of smoke.”

“Bicycle Notes,” a sporadic column appearing in The Enterprise, related the latest bicycle chatter from around town, including the names of those who had recently purchased a new or used bicycle. Abe Tygert got a high-grade Niagara while Andrew Ostrander purchased a 22-pound Relay — those were just two of the many proud owners identified over the decade.

If used, the previous owner’s name was also listed: “Lucius Frederick is the possessor of a wheel, having purchased the one ridden by Aaron Oliver last season, and Chas. Stevell who now rides the wheel which J. Van Benscoten rode during 1894.”

Ladies, too

Appearance and manners were topics once touched on in “Bicycle Notes” when the writer, pleased that more riders were sitting upright, described any rider as “silly” to “hump” himself over the handlebars unless racing. And ladies should always sit upright so as not to “stoop in the slightest degree.”

Noting that pedestrians had the right of way, cyclists were to respect them and, in addition, to avoid running down children and old people. His parting comment was, “There are all sorts of road hogs in the world and it is regretted some of them ride bicycles … Young boys and fresh young men are the greatest offenders.”

A rumor appeared in “Bicycle Notes” that some of the ladies were learning to ride and soon their names began to show up in print. Miss Blanche Warner’s wheel was a “handsome new Remington,” while Miss J. Libbie Osborn chose an Erie. Herbert Winne finally bought a used bike to enable him to accompany his wife, the experienced rider of the family. Unlike the men, women were never mentioned riding any distance from home.

Risky business

Racing appealed greatly to younger, athletic riders and quickly became a popular local spectator sport with the racetrack at the fairgrounds the perfect venue for competition. Independence Day, the Altamont Hose Company’s Field Day and Clam Bake, and the Altamont Fair itself all became occasions for bicycle races.

Prizes were given in cash, objects such as a $5 clock or certificates for merchandise at Albany stores. Often local wheelmen traveled out of town to participate in races. Pity Lew Hart who lost count of the number of laps in a Cobleskill race and missed being one of the winners.

Being a wheelman was a risky business due to inadequate brakes; locally hilly, rutted roads; and in some cases the riders’ own inexperience. One time at the fairgrounds, three entrants tangled during a race resulting in bruises and badly mangled bicycles. During another race, Elias Stafford had his ego rather than his body bruised after a spill at the race track when the paper commented the next week, “The spectacle was too ludicrous for anything.”

Guilderland Center resident John Stewart took a bad spill on the curvy hill at Frenchs Hollow, but the most tragic accident befell an Albany man out riding with James Keenholts near Altamont. He was seriously injured after losing control as he turned his wheel, going down off a bridge near Altamont onto some rocks below.

After Dr. Barton tended to his obvious injuries, he was helped to board the evening train heading to Albany. “It is feared he is hurt internally” was the comment in the next week’s Enterprise.

L.A.W. and order

The League of American Wheelmen, an organization promoting cycling and good roads, had been formed in the 1880s. So many Americans were swept up in the bicycle craze that by 1898 membership in L.A.W. topped 102,000 including some of the Altamont Wheelmen. I.K. Stafford, one of the founders and president of the Altamont Wheelmen, became sanctioned by L.A.W. to officiate bicycle races, which he did at the Altamont Fair for many, many years.

Long before automobiles were traveling the nation’s highways, L.A.W. began to press for improved roads for cyclists, preferably paved. Locally, there was a call for cycle paths, at that time more commonly called sidepaths.

By 1898, pressure from wheelmen forced the Albany County Board of Supervisors to create a County Sidepath Commission. Routes out of Albany were being considered and of course, a route to Altamont through Guilderland Hamlet and Guilderland Center was hoped for by residents here.

A sidepath went out as far as Albany Country Club (now the University at Albany campus) east of McKownville with William Witbeck extending it west as far as his tavern (site of present day Burger King), but it never went beyond that, although sidepaths were laid out from Albany to Schenectady and from Albany to Slingerlands.

The Enterprise reported the discovery that, not only did the cyclists like the sidepaths, but pedestrians found “that it makes a very desirable walk.” In 1902, it was reported the Albany County Sidepath Commission had spent $5,000 building new paths and repairing old ones. License badges — “same price as last year” — had to be attached to bicycles.

Wheeling was difficult enough over the poor country roads, but the lack of signs made finding your way, once out of your own immediate area, maddening. By 1896, The Enterprise demanded that “sign boards should be erected at every crossroad in the town” for travelers and especially the many out-of-town cyclists who passed through.

Within a few months, it was announced that L.A.W. would begin placing in all parts of the state blue metal road signs with raised yellow lettering that would identify the village or hamlet and give the distance to the next one.

As is typical of developments in American technology, prices of wheels came down, the market became saturated, owning a bicycle was no longer so fashionable, and a new technology had arrived to take the bicycle’s place. If he felt there was nothing “to be compared with the exhilarating excitement in riding a light running and responsive wheel,” wait until the wheelman had his first automobile ride!

Within a few years membership fell so low that L.A.W. and the Altamont Wheelmen were disbanded and bicycles were relegated to children.


On Tuesday, July 3, The Old Men of the Mountain were crazy enough to venture outside and attend breakfast at the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh. The OFs thought nothing of it — they do make it to the breakfast in a blizzard, and, as one OF put it, “What’s the difference?”

The weather was the basic topic of conversation throughout the breakfast. One OF said he has a brother in Austin, Texas and gave him a call to let him know that we were getting some of his weather up here and told him the temperatures were in the mid- to high-90s. The brother answered him with, “Gee, it does get that cold here too.” That is a sharp reply.

Another OF received a call from a friend who lives in the hot area belt and the friend wanted to go know how the OF liked the good old southern heat. The OF said not much; it is why he doesn’t like the anything south of Pennsylvania. The OF said that when he leaves a store or a restaurant in the daytime, New York is beginning to smell like Florida outside. One OF mentioned the heat around the country must be the news of the day all over the United States.

Most of the OFs say they have hunkered down indoors, with fans and air-conditioners. One OF said, “We are going to have whopping power bills this month, with air-conditioners and dehumidifiers really cranking up.”

A second OF said, “Those of us who are supposed to drink two to three cups of coffee a day (instead of taking Flomax) take a second look at a cup of hot coffee when it is 93 degrees out.”

A third OF said, “You know, iced coffee should be the same thing.”

Another OF mentioned that the hot coffee has worked for him for years and he still doesn’t like the stuff, but as long as he is voiding OK it’s gonna be hot coffee for him, both ways outside and inside.

This brought the OFs that farmed back to farming when they were younger and no matter what the weather, they went out to the fields. They started with loose hay, next were the square bales, and now it is round or chopped or bales as big as garages.

Some farmers hired guys that went around with big stationary balers and the farmers would haul the loose hay to them and the guys with the big balers would bale it up. The crux of the matter is that this work was done if it was 65 degrees outside or 100. Everyone was doing the farm work this way and there were no summer panics.

One OF mentioned that, back in the old days, there wasn’t TV bellowing all the dangers of sunshine and fresh air. Another added that we were tougher then.

One more OF chimed in about taking salt tablets. They were sold all over the place and people did remind others who worked in hot conditions to take their salt tablets. Those things made you thirsty so drinking plenty of fluids was not a problem.

One OF talked about having cases of “Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer” in the milk cooler, and one other OF added theirs was the “Knickerbocker” beer from Albany. Scribe note: No one mentioned having Schaefer beer in stock. At one time that was a big brewery in Albany.

So much for the heat and how to take care of it; in the forties and fifties it was just as hot but we didn’t know it was a bad thing.

My goodness, the OFs made it through many a 90-degree summer and are still at the tables in the Middleburgh Diner, in Middleburgh.

Tuesday morning, the waitress had a helper who was just a little higher than the tables, so we will start off with little JJ (Joe) as the youngest number one of the OMOTM who made it to the breakfast, the rest are: Miner Stevens, Roger Chapman, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Dave Williams, Bill Lichliter, John Rossmann, Wally Guest, Harold Guest, Don Wood (who made 83 today), Ken Parks, Art Frament, Herb Sawotka, Ray Kennedy, Rich Donnelly, Mace Porter, Herb Bahrmann, Gerry Irwin, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Duncan Bellinger, Joe Ketzer, Elwood Vanderbilt, Mike Willsey, Gerry Chartier, Harold Grippen and me.


The drive to Kim’s West Wind Diner in Preston Hollow on Tuesday, June 26, made the whole day. The air was so clear the Old Men of the Mountain mentioned being able to see people across the valley on the Catskill Mountains up and about.

The view was from Route 358 outside of Rensselaerville heading south. Many OFs go over the mountain and comment on this view.

One OF mentioned having quite an experience while having a meal at the Maple on the Lake Restaurant on Warners Lake. While eating, a friend sitting at a table next to the OF pointed out the window and said, “Wow look at that!”

The OF and his wife turned and looked (along with other patrons) to the indicated area in the sky. There was a bald eagle flying in the sky about 100 feet up and cruising toward the restaurant.

Suddenly the eagle made a sharp left turn and dove toward the water. Just in front of the dock in front of the restaurant, out came his feet and the eagle snaked a fish out of the water. This happened about 40 yards from the restaurant. The eagle taking the fish in his talons flew toward the other shore not more than three to four feet above the water the whole distance.

After hearing about this amazing display, another OF said, “Yep, they do that all the time.”

This OF told how his camp is on the other shore and the eagle’s nest is just about in front of his camp. Many times, these birds eat their catch on his front lawn and it isn’t always fish — sometimes it is birds. The OF claims it is an awful mess because quite often the eagles don’t eat the whole victim and he has to go out and clean up his yard; otherwise, it stinks up the whole place.

The friend of the OF who spotted the eagle boats on Thompsons Lake and he said there are two pairs of eagles nesting on that lake. This is really wow time.

The OFs remembered many years ago when bald eagles were on the endangered list. They’re not on the list anymore. One OF mentioned how great it would be if this worked on all endangered species and if they could have that same satisfactory rebound. Sadly, life doesn’t seem to work that way.

Another OF mentioned that we do have some big birds in our neck of the woods. Thacher Park is loaded with turkey vultures, and part5 of the park now is the Nature Center and it has eagles. These birds are just like small planes.

The wing span on the eagle can approach seven feet and on the turkey vulture, six feet. The OF who lives in the camp on Warners Lake said it is fun to watch the little birds harass the eagles just like they do crows. This OF said they are dive-bombing them all the time and driving the eagles nuts trying to get away.

The OFs continued in the bird vein and started talking about talking birds and how many of them had friends who owned one or more of these birds. One OF said that, to him, it is necessary to concentrate and listen to make out what the birds are saying.

Another OF said a friend of his has a gray parrot that talks up a storm. The OF said the parrot can bark like a dog, and meow like a cat, and repeat words basically in the accent of the person who asked it to speak. This OF said his friend’s parrot mimics the sounds it hears and is able to repeat a man’s voice with the low tones of a man and vice-versa with a female.

One OF thought this must take a lot of patience to train a bird to do this. Another OF said that he had a friend that had a parakeet that he trained to talk. The OF said this friend was a Chevrolet dealer when dealers sold only one make of car or truck and to that dealer they were the best, and the dealers were loyal to the brand. Today one dealer sells everything and, if you don’t like the Chevy, he will just as soon sell you a Toyota.

The OF said the parakeet’s cage door was open and that bird flew all over the house. This OF’s friend taught the parakeet to say “p-h-o-r-d Ford piece of junk” only the last word wasn’t junk — and the bird flew all over house squawking that statement and his name.

The bird would also fly up to you and say, “Love you.” The OF said some of it was pretty clear but some of the bird’s chatter made it necessary to concentrate to make out what he was saying.

Hornet’s nest

Now for something completely different: The conversation at this scribe’s end of the table (which included about 14 OFs) was about Spectrum. What an uproar that caused.

One or more OF called Spectrum out-and-out criminals in their opinion. One OF told about getting so mad at Spectrum that he purchased a new 40-inch TV that is like a computer.  He then dropped Spectrum and went to streaming.

The OF with the new TV tried to explain how it worked to the rest of the OFs. Some grasped how to operate the TV while others did not quite get it.

Some OFs said, in their opinion, the company out-and-out lies on what it can do and its services rot. Others said you ask for help and get nothing or are sent to India where it is almost impossible to understand them.

The cry went up: Bring back Time Warner; as much as the OFs yapped about Time Warner, at least they were customer-oriented. If you needed help, Time Warner took care of it and the OF would be talking to somebody in Utica. Boy, did the simple comment about Spectrum stir up a hornet’s nest.  

Those Old Men of the Mountain who got up and out on a beautiful morning and made it to Kim’s West Wind Diner in Preston Hollow, were: Pete Whitbeck, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Bill Lichliter, Roger Chapman, John Rossmann, George Washburn, Robie Osterman, Ted Willsey, Dave Williams, Wayne Gaul, Ted Feurer, Jake Lederman, Don Wood, Russ Pokorny, Art Frament, Bob Benac, Joe Ketzer, Otis Lawyer, Joe Rack, Mark Traver, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Gerry Irwin, Herb Bahrmann, Mike Willsey, Gerry Chartier, Warren Willsey, Winnie Chartier, Elwood Vanderbilt, Richard Vanderbilt, Allen DeMis, Bob Donnelly, Harold Grippen, and me.