Archive » March 2020 » Columns

Number one, this is not a report on a breakfast gathering. As most know, the restaurants are closed except for those that can do takeouts. The Old Men of the Mountain by definition are in the category, “You better watch your tush, fellow, because the nasty germ let loose in China is hunting you down.”

This scribe can fill pages of the OMOTM’s discussions from weeks’ gone by with notes (that have not been used) in the weekly reports from the scribe’s little notebook.  When the scribe gets home and goes to use this notebook, half of the scribble the scribe can’t read.

It is just like trying to decipher a prescription written by the doctor. Part of the medical studies a doctor should go through is a 10-week course on penmanship run by a parochial-school nun.

This scribe has received a few calls from the OMOTM to see how we are going to continue after this is over. What this scribe assumes is that the OMOTM should start where we left off (that is, if the restaurant is still in business) and that would be the “Your Way Café.”

None of us being fortune tellers can tell, but this scribe thinks that would be a good plan. Those spoken to thought so too.

The few OMOTM talked to thought this virus is similar to other events the OFs have been through. A few mentioned the Great Depression, then World War II, the big Recession, scarlet fever, polio, and AIDs.

One member of our group carries the scars of this now-eliminated disease: polio. These were also some scary times, similar to this virus.

One OMOTM asked, “Why in the world didn’t Eve leave that apple on the tree?”

Those members of the OMOTM whom this scribe spoke to are going to hunker down, and the OFs are good at hunkering.

This is going to be tough for a while but hunkering down, and people-to-people contact kept to a minimum is the best protection available.

Remember, conversations are not canceled. There is always the phone, the internet for those who have it, and some have these really new-fangled things called Alexa or Echo.

This scribe has Alexa (which we have to call Karen), which clicks on whenever its name is said, and quite often wherever it is said, and starts spying on us.

No names to report and right now that is a good thing.


The Old Men of the Mountain met Tuesday, March 10, at the Country Café in Schoharie. The OMOTM were a grumbling group Tuesday morning because of the time change.

Some of the OFs are still using 2019 half the time; now we have the time change to Daylight Savings Time which makes us drive in the dark again. Now there are two things to get used to.

Then, in the fall, the time will change again; then, in January, the date will change again. The year-change, the OFs say, we can do nothing about, but at least leave the time-change alone.

The main topic of conversation was about the coronavirus. Like most conversations in large groups, the talk was varied and this time 90 percent of it seemed to be conjecture, personal opinions, and rumors.

Many agreed the press was on the verge of causing panic. From the time the breakfast was held on Tuesday, and this column is in the paper, much more dialogue will have transpired.

Suffice it to say, the situation was discussed but no conclusion was reached. But at our ages, to err on the side of caution, as they say, is the best course of action.

Lilacs alive

To quote Monty Python: “Now for something completely different.” This scribe’s next note is about blossoms on the trees, especially in the valley. The shrubs that really show signs of life are the lilacs — some even have a green cast, and it is only mid-March.

A few of the OFs think winter is on its way out, while a few others think we are in for some surprises, maybe not bitter cold but snow. The waiting game for the other shoe to drop is not fun when it comes to the winter weather.

As the discussion on the weather continued, it drifted into a discussion on our locales versus that of moving or being a snowbird in warmer climates, or leaving and staying. This led to what creeps and crawls in the south and the west.

The OFs did not want to encounter alligators in their backyards, or some of the nasty snakes that creep hither and yon in either direction, south or west. One OF said he is not a fan of scorpions either; just the word makes him uneasy.

Another OF said he heard of snakes falling out of trees. Most of the OFs have heard stories like that but some are not too sure about the facts in these tales.

One OF said we have our share of snakes up here that are not so nice.

“Yeah,” another OF said, “but at least up here you can see them and hear them; down there, (meaning southern states) these snakes are small as well as nasty. And there are the spiders — those black widows.” 

The other OF said, “We have our nasty spiders here too!”

So the OFs started swapping stories about alligators, snakes, and spiders and this scribe could fill up the whole paper on spiders and snakes, and the virus. One OF said, if taxes get any higher in this state, he will put up with the spiders, snakes, scorpions, and alligators, just to get someplace where he can keep at least some of his money for himself.

One thing these few really warm days (in the waning days of winter) prompted was a few of the OFs who have motorcycles got them out, polished them up, and got ready for the season. A few even got the lawn tractors out and started them up, changed the oil, and they, too, got ready for the season.

Then going back to the earlier discussion on the weather, a few of the realists commented again that winter isn’t over, but one OF said at least we are ready when it is over.

Celebrity turtle

Then the OFs mixed conversations together, talking about critters again, only this time it was about a local snapping turtle that is huge and is old. The OFs said he hasn’t been around lately.

Those OFs who knew this reptile said they haven’t seen him or her around either. This turtle has been watched for at least 15 years or so about the same place and about the same time twice a year.

The turtle is not hard to spot because of its size and the OFs say it also has moss growing on the top of its shell. One OF said, “I hope no one has messed with him because the turtle is kind of a celebrity.”

Feeling of home

There is a phrase “ontogeny-recapitulates-phylogeny” and the OFs discuss this quite often, without even knowing it. Well, so thinks this scribe anyhow, by traveling back to when they were really young, and then fairly young, and then family guys, into what they are now.

The OFs, and this scribe included, discuss what they did when they were traveling through time to where they are now. They muse over how the past shaped their future and how what they did then will probably wind up on their tombstone instead of what they do now. (This does not always happen but most of the time it does.)

Tuesday morning, some of that was mixed in with the spiders and snakes, and old friends. These were good friends. However, once the OFs reached 80 years, many were gone.

One OF said all his good friends are gone and he did not really cultivate new ones while the old ones were still around. Now that they are all gone, he has friends, but not like those who have passed away. What keeps him here now is the feeling of home, because most of his family is spread not only all over the country, but the world, so spiders and snakes will not keep him here, but home does.

The Old Men of the Mountain who made it to the Country Café in Schoharie to be with friends and have a cup of coffee and a breakfast, shoot the breeze for a little while, and even make plans for the rest of the day, or in the future, were: Miner Stevens, Roger Chapman, George Washburn, Robie Osterman, Bill Lichliter, Rich LaGrange, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, John Rossmann, Glenn Patterson, Joe Rack, Otis Lawyer, Mark Traver, Jake Herzog, Karl Remmers, Rev. Jay Francis, Herb Bahrmann, Gerry Irwin, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Jamey Dairah, Marty Herzog, Ted Feurer, Jake Lederman, Warren Willsey, Mike Willsey, Russ Pokorny, Elwood Vanderbilt, Fred Crounse, Bob Donnelly, Harold Grippen, and me.


— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, dedicated in 1872, was located on Guilderland Center’s Main Street. Several times a year, it was the scene of the dinner where a radio broadcast was the draw to bring in a large crowd. Today the church is Centre Point Church.

— Radio World Magazine, 1922

From a 1922 advertisement for Freed-Eisemann radios, an American family listens to a crystal radio. Since Crystal sets work off the power received from radio waves, they are not strong enough to power loudspeakers. Therefore the family members each wear earphones, the mother and father sharing a pair. 

Radio first became a reality for the general public in November 1920 when Westinghouse station KDKA in Pittsburgh went on the air; its first broadcast was the news of Warren G. Harding’s electoral victory in that year’s presidential race.

General Electric in conjunction with the Radio Corporation of America launched Schenectady’s WGY in February 1922. Bitter competition existed between the two corporations, each intent on cornering the radio market to sell equipment to the millions of people eager to listen to this exciting new form of entertainment

Eventually GE and RCA made an agreement with Westinghouse to take over Westinghouse’s superior wireless patents in return for General Electric stock.

Having a powerful radio station nearby was the incentive for Guilderland residents to join in the national craze for radio. The Altamont Enterprise, recognizing local interest in the novelty, quickly added WGY’s weekly schedule to its pages.

Soon after, when the editor queried readers on the schedule’s value, he got a quick positive response, making it clear they appreciated knowing what was on the air that week. One Altamont listener felt, “It’s worth the price of The Enterprise to have this feature every week.”

The Guilderland Center columnist noted, “So many have installed radio outfits in their homes, and are glad indeed of the convenience of the weekly program. This is indeed an attractive feature of The Enterprise. Thank you, Mr. Editor.”

The popularity of radio spread so rapidly across the country that, by the end of 1922, WGY was one of almost 350 stations. Americans spent $60 million on radios and radio parts in 1922 and, by 1924, sales reached $358 million.

Radio purchasers were sometimes mentioned in local columns. Guilderland Center’s John J. Mann and Earl House, Altamont’s Walter Gaige, Guilderland’s Charles DeCoursey, or Dunnsville’s Charles Crounse and Jacob Becker, all installed radios along with the many others who were nameless.

The women of Altamont’s Colony Club devoted one of their sessions to the “up-to-date” topic of radio with presentation of talks on the history of radio and the topic “forecasts on broadcasts.” Entrepreneurs jumped on the bandwagon and began selling radios and radio parts and accessories, often advertising in The Enterprise.

The Enterprise also installed radio equipment to enable the newspaper to keep the community informed of important breaking events. The 1922 World Series could be heard at the Enterprise office as well as at the Altamont Pharmacy.

The Enterprise “Village and Town” column explained that the sporting editor of the New York Herald would be at the Polo Grounds reporting the games by Western Union wire to WGY’s wireless station in Schenectady, which then would be broadcasting the action to its listeners.

At Christmas that year, The Enterprise planned to use the apparatus to tune into the Santa Claus talks scheduled to begin on WGY on Dec. 18.

Generous Dr. Cullen

Dr. Archie I. Cullen, Altamont’s family doctor for many years, was a serious radio buff affluent enough to indulge in his passion. “Village Notes” told of his wireless apparatus being damaged by gale winds, when six feet of one of his 60-foot masts blew off. The doctor assured folks it was easy to repair since the mast was constructed to be raised and lowered.

Generous with his equipment and expertise, Dr. Cullen several times provided radio entertainment for others. The big attraction at Guilderland Center’s St. Mark’s Lutheran Church’s 1922 Memorial Day dinner was not the chicken, but the opportunity to hear a WGY radio concert broadcast with Dr. Cullen’s equipment and loud speaking horn.

Three hundred and fifty people turned out including a big crowd from Altamont. A short article the next week titled “Radio Entertainment” describing the evening commented, “This is the first entertainment of the kind the church has ever given and the first of the kind that most people have ever had the privilege of listening to.”

On another occasion, Dr. Cullen and another man spent hours setting up his radio outfit to allow Sunday School youth from Altamont’s Reformed Church to hear a program of music and vocal selections and a talk. That same spring, the Altamont Alumni Banquet attendees ate their dinner to music thanks to Dr. Cullen’s “receiving outfit.”

Altamont’s Leo E. Westfall and Stanley Barton were among 300 radio enthusiasts who drove to Union College where they attended the Capital District Radio Convention and banquet. Included in the program was a trip through GE’s radio department. Lester Sharp of Parkers Corners went to work in GE’s radio department early in 1923.

Two types of early radios

Actually, how did early radios work? There were two types, neither of which needed an outside power source.

 In 1922, the United States Bureau of Standards released a publication called “Construction and Operation of a Simple Homemade Radio Receiving Outfit” detailing how any handy person could put together an inexpensive crystal set from materials easily obtainable, allowing even those of relatively modest means to join listeners across the country. Less than $10 bought all the components.

The late Everett Rau shared his memories of owning and operating a crystal set in his boyhood. Many years before, scientists had discovered that a crystalline mineral such as galena could pick up radio waves.

Everett recalled that the crystal was the size of a kidney bean. He said that you placed it in a conductive container with a wire connected to it and a circular object — oatmeal containers were very popular for this — around which you wrapped anywhere from 100 to 300 feet of insulated copper wire.

An antenna was needed as well. Everett mentioned his brother ran a wire out of the house and put it up a tree, but he found his metal bed springs served the purpose just as well.

In order to actually hear the broadcasts, you had to listen through a set of earphones with a wire that ran to a pin in the crystal. In most cases, a crystal set was capable of picking up broadcasts only 25 to 30 miles away, but on occasion was able to bring in a station from quite a distance.

Those who were more affluent could purchase and have installed more expensive radios that operated on battery power. Headphones were required, but it was possible to purchase loudspeaker horns that projected the sound into a room.

The Albany Radio Corporation advertised, “We have sets for every purse and every purpose from $5 to $1,000.”

Recharging batteries was a necessity, which a Clarksville garage advertised it could do. Probably other local garages did as well. One reference said radio batteries were interchangeable with car batteries and could be recharged by switching batteries, but that couldn’t be confirmed.

A 1927 Sears catalog offered a variety of radios with one price cash and a higher one if bought on installment. One example was $59.95, or $9 monthly for $65.95. Perhaps the craze for radios was one of the earliest examples of American consumerism.

Programs varied: Music, news, drama

Tuning into WGY brought a variety of programs. Music was extremely popular, introducing many people to classical music not only locally, but all over the United States.

One WGY piano concert featured works by Chopin, Brahms, and Liszt. WGY had its own orchestra and sometimes broadcast concerts from outside its studio.

One in 1922 originated from Union College and another came from Chancellor’s Hall in Albany where a huge chorus sang to an audience including Governor Al Smith. Vocal music was performed by sopranos, baritones, and tenors.

One night there was popular music, a program of old favorites, including ”On the Sidewalks of New York” and  “In the Gold Old Summertime” while the orchestra played “Turkey in the Straw” and “When You and I Were Young, Maggie.”

Drama was another important phase of programming with either the WGY Players performing or sometimes a local dramatic society was brought in. One evening, a troupe of Troy’s Masque Community Theatre put on “The Wolf.” The first year on the air, the WGY Players acted in 43 plays with titles like “The Traveling Salesman” and “The Great Divide.”

Local talent was also featured. Altamont pianist Miss Margaret Waterman made two appearances, generating letters of praise from states as far away as Kentucky, Iowa, and Montana. Magdalene Merritt, poet of the Helderbergs, read a children’s story she had written called “The Gnome of the Evil Eye.”

Educational specials brought intellectual topics to many people who had never gone beyond eighth grade or read a book. One week in January 1923, for example, there was exposure to Japan in an evening of travelogues and music, and another where a full-blooded Quiche Indian would speak in his native tongue. His spoken language had aided archeologists in interpreting Mayan hieroglyphics and the program included a talk about Mayan civilization.

Health reports, special programs for housewives, weather reports and crop prices for farmers, correct time and church services were all presented on the air. Protestant church services prevailed, but there was also a concert of Catholic Church music sung by a 75-member choir originating from Our Lady of Angels Church in Albany and a New Year’s service from Temple Beth Emeth.

One man wrote to WGY from Trumansburg, a small town near Ithaca, that the Sunday service from Trinity Lutheran Church in Albany had been a comfort to his dying father. WGY generated regular press releases like this, sending them out to local newspapers with the hope they would be reprinted.

Public service

Service to the public was another feature that stations wanted to promote.

WGY was in the middle of a news story that made national headlines in 1923 when the 6-year-old son of Dr. Alexanderson, GE’s famous engineer working the field of radio and later TV, was kidnapped.

With no clues or leads, police were stymied until a man living in a tiny town outside of Watertown in Jefferson County picked up a WGY broadcast on his crystal set discussing the case. He remembered renting a camp to a couple with a young boy. Becoming suspicious, he took his boat out to the camp  and managed to get a look at the boy.

Seeing a photograph of the lad in the Syracuse paper, he knew that boy was the kidnapped child. He called the sheriff, the boy was rescued, and his kidnappers were under arrest.

The coming of radio broadcasting changed Guilderland and America by broadening the horizons of millions of people and creating a national audience. Because a crystal set was so inexpensive and listening in was free, lack of wealth was little handicap. The intelligent programming of radio’s very early days gave way to soap operas and Amos ’N’ Andy, but that was another decade.


— United States National Archives

The March on Washington in 1963 brought 250,000 people to the National Mall and is famous for Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “I Have a Dream.”

Fearing he would soon die, the great American writer John Steinbeck packed his poodle Charley into a souped-up camper-truck — named Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse — and started out to, as the Paul Simon song goes, “look for America.” It was 1960 and Steinbeck was 58.

Two years later, Viking came out with “Travels with Charley: In Search of America” in which Steinbeck shared with America the nation he and Charley saw. It became a best-seller; America was looking for a mirror to see herself in.

I like to believe Steinbeck’s trip was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” which appeared three years before. Kerouac said he had been engaged in the same kind of activity; he too was looking for America.

In that truly American classic, Kerouac says he and traveling companion Dean Moriarity (Neal Cassady in real life), “embarked on a journey through post-Whitman America to FIND that America and FIND the inherent goodness in American man.”

They were looking for the America of dreams, the America in which neighbor offered succor to neighbor, mutual-aid-America, payment an insult.

In terms of genres, “On the Road” is part of the Beat literature generation, a movement that began two years earlier when Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” blew through America like a whirlwind.

His jeremiad begins: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,/ dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,/ angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.”

Ginsberg said his poem was “a lament for the Lamb in America,” the tender-hearted lambs America was feeding on like an angry Moloch. Like an Old Testament prophet, he said America needed to retrieve her tender heart, she needed to retrieve the tongue she was born with.

You can see why the Beats ruffled America’s feathers. They kept reminding America she was more or less than who she was but not who she was. As Paul Simon says, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

The great American poet William Carlos Williams became, shall I say, obsessed with America too. He wanted to find America’s tongue, her idiom, he wanted to hear how she spoke, he wanted to see how her tongue was connected to her heart.

A small-town doctor for 40 years, Williams listened intently to his patients as they told about their pains and joys and daily peccadillos. Were they speaking American?

In 1950, New Directions came out with “In the American Grain” a book of essays where Williams described the lives of Daniel Boone, George Washington, Edgar Allan Poe, Abraham Lincoln, and others. wondering if each spoke American.

Williams wanted his work to serve as a mirror in which America could look at herself from time to time and assess whether she was being true to her dreams.

Some people have a hard time grasping the concept of an “American tongue”; they’re more familiar with Democrat-ese, Republican-ese, Socialist-ese, and all the other ese’s that are not American.

Some think the American tongue means the way New Englanders talk or families along the Bayou, not seeing that those are regional idiomatic linguistic patois derivatives, not the American tongue.

Some cynics say why worry about the American tongue, America is dead; you can’t hear someone who doesn’t exist.

The poets say there is something out there, something that looks like America but she — as Ginsberg would say — is howling because her tongue has been severed from her heart, a symptom of breakdown.

In 1831, the French government sent 26-year-old Alexis de Tocqueville to the United States to study American prisons with penologist Gustave de Beaumont; the pair took notes on the assigned institutions but de Tocqueville, like a socio-cardiologist, kept tapping into the American tongue.

He published his notes in a grand two-volume ethnography, “Democracy in America,” which he gifted to America as a mirror for her to look into.

At the very beginning of the work, de Tocqueville says, “Amongst the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of conditions among the people.”

General equality of conditions. I assume that means equality was at the heart of the American tongue. He said it was having a “prodigious influence ... on the whole course of society.”

He added, “There is no class of persons who do not exercise the elective franchise, and who do not indirectly contribute to make the laws” except, he admitted, those called “slaves, servants, and paupers in the receipt of relief from the townships.”

A generation later, America sought to right those wrongs. Some still say the wrong wrongs were righted or not righted at all. Former United States attorney Joseph diGenova says we need a second civil war to finish the job.

“The suggestion that there’s ever going to be civil discourse in this country for the foreseeable future in this country” he said on a radio show, “is over. It’s not going to be. It’s going to be total war. And as I say to my friends, I do two things — I vote and I buy guns.”

In an essay on the ways people are connected in real life, the great British psychoanalyst Joan Riviere said we all have a tendency to view each other in “isolation.” It’s a “convenient fiction.”

She said, when one of her patients came to see her in “the analytic room; in two minutes we find that he has brought his world in with him.” She added, “There is no such thing as a single human being, pure and simple, unmixed with other human beings.”

Riviere said, from the day we’re born, we’re all “formed and built up ... out of countless never-ending influences and exchanges between ourselves and others.” Personality appears to be nothing more than an osmotic piece of skin because “other persons are in fact ... parts of ourselves … . We are members one of another.”

A few days ago, as reports of the spread of the coronavirus came in, the President of the United States took $37 million from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program — a safety net to help those in need pay their heating bills — to help pay to contain the viral epidemic.

He stole the money because the budget he created had cut funds designed to deal with such medical crises. And the temperature in Sinclair, Maine last night was forecast to drop down to 11. A mockery of the “general equality of conditions.”

In July 1854, the 12th President of the United States reasoned to the nation, “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves — in their separate, and individual capacities.”

Abraham Lincoln was speaking the American tongue long before Riviere discovered that her patients spoke similarly. The president was saying that Americans are “formed and built up since the day of our birth out of countless never-ending influences and exchanges between ourselves and others ... We are members one of another.”

The American idiom says, “Crown thy good with brotherhood/From sea to shining sea.”


Jeffrey Allen Herchenroder, a longtime stringed-instrument and orchestra teacher for the Guilderland schools and a bassist for the Albany Symphony Orchestra, died on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.

Jeff Herchenroder, who passed away unexpectedly, was a mainstay in the Guilderland school music education program for a long time. I first met him when he taught my daughter Heather the viola when she was in high school.

The thing I always liked about him was he had that special gleam in his eye. The gleam of someone who is very smart and talented but doesn’t take himself too seriously. Those are far and away my favorite kind of people, and Jeff will be missed by all who knew him.

As a sendoff to this fine musician and dedicated husband, father, and friend, a memorial service was held on Friday, Feb. 28, at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady. My daughter so loved her former teacher that she drove all the way in from Boston to join many of her classmates, along with plenty of friends, family, and what looked like the entire Guilderland music faculty (along with many from the Niskayuna school music program where Jeff worked as well).

Jeff taught music, the love of his life, with passion and enthusiasm for a long time, and was loved and admired by many for the sheer joy and competence he exuded. The turnout he got on a frigid winter night showed just that. The large, ornate church was packed full.

Lately, there have been more of these memorial services as opposed to the more traditional funeral services. While funerals have their place — a quiet time to reflect on a loved one’s passing in the company of friends and family — the memorial service is so much more. It truly is a Celebration of Life.

Jeff Herchenroder’s memorial service was such an event. If you were there, you know what I’m talking about. I’ve never seen and heard such touching, heartfelt musical performances at a celebration of this type before. Jeff would so, so have loved it.

After a few kind words from Rev. Daniel Carlson, the program started with a recording of “Evensong” by Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser. Jeff had specifically asked for this to be played at his service.

I’d never heard it before but I was taken aback by it’s serene, haunting beauty. It features a lilting melody played on a fiddle and perfectly set the tone for the evening. Amazing that Jeff would pick out such a singular piece of music as this.

Next, Jeff’s nephew Ian Herchenroder played a Grateful Dead tune called “Bird Song.” Ian sang while playing an electric guitar. Let me tell you this about Ian’s performance — as far as I’m concerned, he could be playing at Caffe Lena or anyplace accomplished musicians play.

He put such heart and soul into this piece it was all I could do to keep from shouting at the top of my lungs. What a way to honor one’s uncle. As an aspiring guitar player myself, I was just blown away. I only hope Jeff got to hear Ian play this piece at some point.

Jeff’s wife, Linda; his brother Keith; and his children Janna and Jesse then spoke, telling wonderfully funny stories about the many quirky aspects of Jeff’s personality. Listening to their tales of him fixing cars, doing house projects, and of course his love of music and the outdoors really made me wish I’d gotten to know him as a friend and not just my daughter’s viola teacher.

He liked the same things I like, and he was just off the wall enough (like me) that I know we would have gotten along swimmingly. Those stories were really great and we all laughed heartily as we heard them.

At that point, a gentleman named Lucas Sconzo performed a piece on solo electric guitar that he had written for Jeff called, appropriately, “Song for Jeff.” Can you imagine being so inspired by someone that you write and then perform a beautiful piece at their memorial service? Such a wonderful expression of love and respect. A truly virtuoso guitar performance as well.

Jeff had been active with a fiddlers’ group, and two of them, Peter Davis and George Wilson, played a piano-and-fiddle duet called “Shetland Fiddle Air.” Not only was the performance amazing, but they spoke about how they so enjoyed working with Jeff, and about how he was not only an excellent musician but had become a true friend as well.

That Jeff touched a lot of lives in such a profound way was obvious to all of us who got to enjoy this service.

Cathy Hackert, representing the Albany Symphony Orchestra, spoke about what an amazing friend and performer Jeff had been for many years with the symphony. As Cathy spoke, I stared at Jeff’s beautiful double bass, which was up on the altar with a flower on it.

I imagined Jeff playing that bass for so many fantastic concerts. I hope it goes to someone who will treasure it and play it as perfectly as he did.

Two of Jeff’s former students, Liz Silver on violin and Erica Pickhardt on cello, played an absolutely beautiful duet for their dear departed teacher and mentor. Sometimes less is more, and to hear these two instruments played with such passion and feeling was heavenly. I hate to repeat myself, but Jeff would have just loved it.

The final musical performance featured many of Jeff’s former students, including my daughter. The piece they played was called “Mairi’s Wedding,” and the entire front of the church was filled with violins, violas, and cellos in a melodious and jubilant final tribute to their dear departed friend and mentor.

It was the perfect way to end a truly wonderful memorial service. After some parting words from Rev. Daniel Carlson, we left there feeling like, though the world is less because of the loss of such a brilliant man, his legacy will live on.

On the back of the memorial service program was this poem, called “Separation,” by W. S. Merwin:

Your absence has gone through me

Like a thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

Yeah. What he said.

Folks, it’s not about how much money you make, or how many cars or houses you have. It’s about the mark you leave on this world when you leave it.

Jeff Herchenroder gave the gift of music to so many people his light will live on forever. I know that, from now on, whenever I hear the Grateful Dead or some fiddle piece I’ll think of him. Rest in peace, Mr. Herchenroder. You did very well for yourself, indeed.


At breakfast this past Wednesday morning, this scribe, just in conversation, said to his wife, “I guess I’d better go up and write the Old Men Column.”

The wife said, with an exclamatory voice, “Is it Wednesday already? Wasn’t it just Wednesday? Where did a whole week go?”

This scribe just shrugged his shoulders and said, “You are right because I haven’t a clue where it went — the week just seems to be gone.” Anyway —

On Tuesday, March 3, the Old Men of the Mountain met at Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh. Mrs. K’s is in the middle of town and, at the time the OMOTM show up, parking is not a problem this time of year. 

When the OMOTM arrive, the sun is just coming up. But when the OMOTM leave, there are cars whizzing all over the place and it is a good idea to be careful when pulling out from the curb onto the street from their parking spots.

A couple of the OFs were talking about cats, not just cats, but cats and mice. According to these OFs, it seems most cats are like Garfield when it comes to mice. The cats and mice seem to get along.

As far as the cats are concerned, mice are tolerated. To the cat, it isn’t worth the effort to even catch them. One OF said his cat is named Nuisance, but it should have been named Useless.

The other OF said he is considering getting a few snakes to take care of his mice problem. He opined that, as far as his cat is concerned, snakes would be a lot better. The snake is quiet, clean, and effective.

Snakes would be much better if it weren’t for their reputation. The OF said he never heard of a litter box for a snake.

Another discussion was on snakes and this time an OF said that he and his wife took a little excursion on the “Old Erie Canal.” This trip was on a canal boat pulled by two mules.

The OF said that, as the boat was pulled along, oftentimes the rope would become slack and drag through the grass along the banks and snakes would “hop” to use his expression, over the rope as it pulled the boat. This scribe did not know snakes hopped, but this scribe could imagine them slithering over the rope.

This OF said they were not the black snake or garter snake that anyone would have around to catch mice but the nasty kind. The OF mentioned diamondbacks, and water moccasins and another nasty one common to the area.

The scribe does not know if the tour guide mentioned what type of snakes they were or if the OF was able to spot them. This scribe might be able to spot moccasins because they are not that long, and they are big around and ugly.

The others from a distance would be tough to identify. It would be an interesting scenario if one of those things latched onto the rope and crawled its way to the boat.The OF who was relating this incident told an interesting and riveting story of their trip to Rome, New York.

Sign of spring?

Each year, the OFs mention the red-winged blackbird and this year it is no different. At least three of the OGs said they have seen the bird. A couple of OFs said the flocks they saw were small while one OF said he saw a large flock.

In our area, the return of the red-winged blackbird is considered a good sign of spring. However, the bird does not go that far away from us in the winter. Some make a short trip only to Pennsylvania or Ohio but it is encouraging to see them in the spring. But this is early.

“Alligator Alley”

Tuesday seemed to be a morning to talk about nature. Many of the OFs have been to the state of Florida, and some have traveled the old “Alligator Alley” when it was only two lanes. The OFs talked about the speeds traveled on that perfectly straight highway.

There are signs posted on the road about alligators crossing and the big cats that roam the Everglades that also cross the road, especially at night. The OFs said hitting one of these animals at high speed can cause the driver to lose all control of the car.

The OFs talked about driving accidents and hitting animals in this area, especially deer and raccoons. One OF said he hit a large raccoon and it was like hitting a wall, and he did lose control of the car, then he somehow managed to regain control, but not until after serious damage was done.

One OF commented on how he is able to tell if a driver is from the Hilltowns or not. If a guy is going 50 or 60 miles an hour and it is dusk, in the spring, he has no clue about what can jump out in front of him in the Hilltowns.

The OF went on, “If the car is going 45 or so on the secondary roads up ‘here’ it is a good guess he is familiar with what can happen and he is ready for whatever decides to cross the road. At rut time, the deer are not thinking about looking out for traffic.”

The OFs had some advice for each other and this came from experience: If anyone is planning a trip they should do it when they are young because when age creeps up on you and walking becomes an effort, all that can be done is to think about it.

The Old Men of the Mountain who made it to Mrs. K’s in Middleburgh, and to some that is a trip, were: Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Roger Chapman, Roger Shafer, John Rossmann, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Bill Lichliter, Paul Whitbeck, Rick LaGrange, Chuck Aelesio, Richard Frank, Glenn Patterson, Joe Rack, Mark Traver, Jim Heiser, Mace Porter, Lou Schenck, Ken Parks, Elwood Vanderbilt, Fred Crounse, Ed Tiaeger, Bob Donnelly, Allen DeFazzo,  Russ Pokorny, Mike Willsey, John Dabrvalskes, Harold Grippen, and me.


By now, you’re probably aware that later this year, we’ll be having a national election that will decide who occupies the White House, who controls the Senate and House, and who gets to address our current issues (world strife, huge deficits, climate change, political polarization, domestic terrorism, racism, financial inequality, healthcare reform, educational funding, the war on women).

But, you ask, what does that have to do with me and my desire to remain sane and not rip my ears off and tear out my eyeballs? Glad you asked.

The current 24/7 news cycle makes it very difficult to stay informed in an even-handed way while maintaining sanity. When I was young and first in the news business, the idea of 24-hour news was just getting started with CNN.

In those days, you got a morning or afternoon daily newspaper, listened to news on the radio or watched the six o’clock news after work, or caught up at 11 p.m. as you were nodding off. Most news was fairly even-keeled and objectivity was in fashion for most news professionals.

What that really meant was that you were not bombarded constantly with information of dubious quality, by hyper-partisan sources with agendas that had nothing to do with objective journalism. So how do you manage to stay informed with today’s spewing fire-hose of daily media insanity? Well, it’s possible with a couple of simple steps.

Step one: Decide if you’re interested in actual facts or you just want your current world view reinforced.

Step two: Choose a news source or sources that, by the standards of most sane people, achieve that goal. If you’re happy with the world as it is, stay tuned to Fox News (an oxymoron for a foreign-owned propaganda organization). If you’re upset or frankly scared poopless, then go for CNN, BBC, CBC, NPR, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, CBS, or maybe The Altamont Enterprise.

If you notice that I included two foreign news sources, you’re paying attention. The reason is that both organizations are historically pretty objective and also have no vested interest in skewing news about the United States, which to them is a foreign country.

Step three: Take small doses. Read no more than a story or two at a time or view no more than 30 to 40 minutes of a broadcast. Afterwards, think quietly about what you just learned and take many deep breaths.

Ask questions. If you’re still in the dark on an issue, try researching it on the internet, but again, watch your sources and don’t spend more than 30 to 40 minutes at a time online; it can rot your brain pretty fast.

Step four (final step): Form a tentative opinion based on what you learned. But, be prepared to possibly modify that opinion, as things do tend to change as stories develop and issues become more fully explored.

Congratulations. You have now gathered information, thought about it, and formed an opinion. This is what people did in the old days before people shouted at them 24 hours a day and told them what to think.

This set of steps, repeated over the coming months will allow you to remain reasonably sane (though medication might also be in order for some). By the time the actual election comes, it will allow you to vote in an informed and conscious manner. A few other tips are in order though.

First, ignore all campaign advertising, even from candidates you think you might want to support at the voting booth or, Goddess forgive, financially. All campaign rhetoric is suspect as it is meant to further ambition, not truth.

The problem is that there is no such thing as an honest politician. No matter their party affiliation, sex, orientation, color or flavor, they are interested in winning at any cost.

I realize that’s a harsh and cynical stance, but I’ve been in the journalism business in one way or another since the 1980s and can honestly say no politician I have studied, has ever been truly honest. Many have been decent people (Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, FDR, Ike, Ted Kennedy to name a few) but even they had many flaws and faults, and made lots of mistakes. Sadly, all politicians share a common trait: They’re human.

Next tip. If a story comes out, or a photo or video surfaces that is just startling, shocking, or hard to believe, chances are it’s been faked or taken out of context. Examples of these stories (look into the term “deep fakes”) and images, are already popping up and being debunked on a daily basis.

Be prepared for a lot of propaganda from all sides and especially from sources that actually originate outside this country. Make no mistake, we have enemies in the world, and they are waging war on us via social media and regular media.

They did in 2016 and it has never stopped. So, as we approach the next major election, foreign influence will be a real issue and the current administration has done little to stop it, and some say, much to encourage it.

Final tip. Keep your eyes on the prize. Distraction is a major weapon of anyone who would keep people from the truth.

Don’t get distracted by the silly stories that always pop up about a candidate that have little or nothing to do with the current state of things. Be wary of stories that ignore real issues or that smell of a set-up.

Much of what was printed and broadcast in 2016 about Hilary Clinton was based on distraction. Here we are, four years later, and nothing she was accused of ever came out as true or real. Keep that in mind as this election moves forward.

The only truth I can give you is this: 2020 is going to be a truly historic election and a truly challenging one. Many forces are at play here; more than usual, and it will make our job as media consumers and more importantly, as voters, very tricky. Just stick to basics, sip at the media fire hose and for the sake of all that is still good in this world, do one thing: VOTE.

Editor's note: Michael Seinberg notes he is a trained journalist, award-winning columnist, ex-newspaper editor and photographer, and all-around professional cynic. He also votes. Every. Damn. Time.


Time travel has been a reliable staple of science-fiction books and movies for as long as I can remember. It’s easy to see why.

We can’t help but be intrigued at depictions of possible futures, be they utopian, dystopian, or somewhere in between. Similarly, depictions of the past, with period garb, language, and technology (or lack thereof) are also fascinating in many ways.

Alternate realities as depicted in time travel are just so much fun to contemplate. But is time travel even possible? Maybe it isn’t. But maybe it is.

According to the brilliant Albert Einstein, when you get close to the speed of light, weird things really do start happening. I’ve studied the theory of relativity quite a bit, and if you believe (and you should) that everything is indeed “relative,” there certainly can be periods when time speeds up or slows down, depending on your point of view.

Seek out any good physics course or teacher to expand on this. It truly is mind-blowing in many ways. Einstein really was a genius. While I’m not as smart as he was (not many of us are), I’ve actually discovered how to time travel, both to the past and to the future, and I do both on a fairly regular basis. I really do.

Let’s start with time travel to the past. Many years ago, when my oldest daughter was born, the home-video revolution was just beginning with the advent of VHS [Video Home System] tapes. Remember those?

Portable VHS video-cameras were very expensive at the time, yet I badly wanted to record my daughter’s one-year-old birthday party, so I rented one. Later, when prices came down, I bought my own. Though I’m not a very good videographer or even photographer, looking back at those old movies is indeed like going back in time.

Imagine popping in an optical disk and seeing yourself over 30 years ago. (I copied all the old VHS tapes to DVDs [Digital Versatile Discs] in the hope that they’ll last longer in that format.) In my case, that means I’m looking at a surprisingly handsome guy with thick, curly black hair and about 30 or more pounds less than I am now.

Seeing this lean, mean, carousing machine “back in the day” truly is mind-boggling. In all of human history, we baby boomers are the first ones who have this ability to go back in time and look at ourselves, our families, and the world like this. It really is amazing on so many levels.

When you are raising kids, you are so busy with the day-to-day business of just surviving with them it’s easy to forget what it was like. Thanks to these videos, my family and I can go back and watch many of our happiest moments, and some plain ordinary ones too.

I remember at the time many family members would give me grief when I pointed the camera at them, some more so than others. But now, when we have family get togethers, those same ones will beg me to put on the videos so we can all have a good laugh. They couldn’t stand it then but love it now. Isn’t that something.

The best part of watching the videos is just to see the changes in all of us over the years. My wife and I get a little older and a little grayer as the time flies by, while the kids grow up right before our eyes.

These videos, of often just normal events like going to the beach or opening Christmas presents, are so important now that, if the house were burning down, I think these are the first things I’d grab as I ran outside. To be able to time travel to the past by watching these videos — how could you ever replace that?

Now let’s talk about time travel to the future which, now that I’m aging, I do more and more of it seems.

As you get older, there are various tests, procedures, and even surgeries that you need from time to time. I consider myself to be in excellent health overall, yet I’ve had three surgeries in the past few years.

That’s when you find yourself in a hospital wearing one of those stupid gowns that opens in the back, constantly trying to not to give everyone a show. Soon you are lying on a gurney, talking to a pretty nurse, with an intravenous feed going into your veins.

As the anesthesiologist tells you what’s going to happen you nod and say yes — what else can you do — and then the nurse and the orderlies start wheeling you into the operating room. At these times, when you’re lying on your back captive like that, just staring at the ceiling, I often wonder how long it will be before they have ads up there like they do almost everywhere else, haha.

By the way, the nurses are always named Jessica, yet when I ask them if they’ve heard the classic rock anthem “Jessica” by the Allman Brothers Band they always look at me like I have two heads. How can you be named Jessica and not know that song? This is usually the last thought I have before it happens, “it” being time travel to the future.

Yes indeed, time travel to the future most certainly occurs in these moments: One minute you’re talking to Jessica the nurse, the next minute — which may be many hours later — you are in the recovery room, just like that.

When this happens, I can never believe it. I always tell myself I’m going to try to notice when I start to fade out, just to see if I can get some kind of control over the process. Good luck with that.

When you wake up in “the future,” you have no memory of anything they did to you. You could have been out for minutes, hours, or days and you would not know the difference. Now that really is time travel, if you ask me.

Imagine being able to buy the drugs that allow time travel like this. Say you know the weather is going to be bad for the next few days, or your relatives are coming to stay, or maybe you just can’t wait for a certain party or holiday. Pop a pill and, boom, you wake up in the future just like that.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way, and anesthesiologists go through plenty of schooling and certification to make sure each person gets just the right amount of the drug to keep you out for the right amount of time. What a fascinating thing, that they can do this as well as they can. I’ve had it done to me several times now and it never gets old.

There are a couple of other ways to time travel. Married men especially will know about this one. Most wives have the superpower of being able to recall, in excruciatingly vivid detail, every misstatement, faux pas, mistake, and stupid thing you’ve ever said or done, even when these things happened decades and decades ago.

These incidents are recalled in such detail and with such regularity that it may as well be considered time travel. They say an elephant never forgets. I wonder if it’s all elephants or just the lady ones?

Another way to time travel is by writing something that will be read by others later. When I read books, especially the classics, it’s like going back in time in many ways.

A good writer — Shakespeare, Hemmingway, Joyce, Tolstoy, et. al. — can so thoroughly immerse you in the past it’s like time travel. That’s how powerful good writing is. In fact, if it’s 100 years from now and you’re reading this in your flying car, please keep your eyes on the sky ahead of you. You never know what’s behind that next cloud.

Time travel is a wonderful concept to contemplate and enjoy. The fact that we can do it ourselves in many ways makes it all the better.


Tuesday, Feb. 25, and already we can see the days getting longer, and the sun coming up a little earlier. This makes it easier to drive without those awful white lights in oncoming traffic making cars slow down, or even at times pull over.

An OF mentioned, “One of these mornings, I am going to run right into the back of one of these cars that slow down because they pull the maneuver so quickly.”

Even so, a whole gaggle of The Old Men of the Mountain (plus J.J., our favorite waitress’s helper) made it to the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh for an informative gathering over breakfast.

One of the first topics of conversation was the coronavirus disease. The strange part was not how it is spreading so fast, or the quarantines, or how hidden the disease is, but how it has affected the stock market.

Those in the market, according to the OFs, are taking a serious hit. One OF said he has been through so many of these unsettling events in his 58 years in the stock market, somehow things always seem to work out, and if you can hang in there you will come out on top.

Another OF claimed he does not like the “air” money; he wants to see it and touch it so he plays with gold, and another OF said he was always broke so he doesn’t give a hoot, because he doesn’t understand it anyway.

“When I was in school,” the OF said, “no one taught us about money. We learned we should work hard and be honest and life would treat you well. The closest we came to money management was through the FFA [Future Farmers of America], and how to manage the farm.”

The problem with this disease is not just about money but how about getting sick? The OFs didn’t talk much about that before they jumped to something else.

Lots of stink bugs

The something else was bugs and insects coming out as soon as the temperature rises a tad. Some OFs have had spring flies in the windows already; others have had stink bugs. These pests are like when the OFs went through the period of earwigs all over the place; now it is rare for the OFs to see an earwig.

Where did these stink bugs come from? One OF said, when he saw his first one, he had no idea what it was, so he squashed it!

That was a mistake! Now he knows why it has the name it does, and like the rest of us he gently catches them in a tissue and flushes them down the john.

The question still remains: Two years ago, there were none around; now they are all over the place like the earwig. A little research showed that the stink bug was introduced to the United States from Eastern Asia in the mid-1990s. 

Also, you can reduce the number of these pests by spraying entry points with essential oil. Peppermint oil (smells nice to humans) or garlic oil (rumored to also keep out vampires) are two oils that will work.

Eye for eagles

To follow along with that, the OFs started talking about birds and animals we have not seen in awhile but which seem to have returned. Bobcats are one, foxes are another, and one OF mentioned just yesterday seeing two bald eagles flying circles around each other in the sky over his house.

As we have mentioned before, the OFs are seeing eagles, and now it seems they are almost as prolific as vultures (one OF said turkeys) but the eagles still have a way to go before they match how many vultures are around.

This brought up another story by an OF. The OF said he and his wife along with two other couples were in a restaurant (Maple on The Lake) when they noticed an eagle flying low to the water at Warners Lake. The OF saw the eagle drop his leg and extend his talons, make a sharp right turn, and just in front of the restaurant’s dock scoop up a fish and fly back the same way it came, staying low to the water.

The OFs wondered how the eagle spotted the fish, adjusted for angle of reflection, and nailed that sucker on the fly. All those calculations had to be made in an instant.

Then one OF asked, “How do they do that from 200 hundred feet up or even higher? They come down at 100 miles an hour at the right angle and grab a fish swimming close enough to the surface that the bird doesn’t even get wet. It is amazing.”

Animal compassion

This brought up some stories firsthand of animals showing a lot of compassion to their fellow species. One OF said that, during the winter, some geese boarded down in front of his place on Warners Lake on open water, but during the night it became bitterly cold and the lake froze over with a skim of ice. (This happened in the same area of the lake as the eagle story.)

Most of the geese were in water that did not freeze completely and took off. However, one goose’s feet were frozen in the ice and it could not free itself.

The OF said the goose flapped its wings and honked and honked. Then he said two geese came back and started pecking the ice all around the goose frozen in the ice.

Finally, the OF said, the goose was able to break free of the ice and took off with the other two. The OFs were wondering how did they know to do that? How many times have the geese been in the same situation?

The animal world is funny in a way; some eat their own, while others will die to protect their young. Go figure.

The OFs who were wondering all this were still glad they walk upright, and use their opposable thumbs. That way, they could eat a nice breakfast at the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh and enjoy the rest of the day, and those Old Men of the Mountain were: Miner Stevens, John Rossmann, George Washburn, special guest JJ, Harold Guest, Roger Chapman, Robie Osterman, Wally Guest, Bill Lichliter, Rick LaGrange, Chuck Aelesio, Richard Frank, Marty Herzog, Joe Rack, Mark Traver, Glenn Patterson, Jake Herzog, Ken Parks, Otis Lawyer, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Mace Porter, Gerry Irwin, Herb Bahrmann, Mike Willsey, Warren Willsey, Russ Pokorny, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.