Life As We Know It with Tom Walton
Mondays at 5:44 p.m. during "All Things Considered" on FM 91
WGTE presents “Life As We Know It,” a weekly series of four-minute essays from commentator Tom Walton. Covering an array of topics, from the intricacies of the English language to the inspiration found within the geometry of a baseball diamond, Tom offers warm and unique insights into the world around us.
About Tom Walton
Thomas Walton is the retired Editor and Vice President of The Blade. He began his Blade career in 1965 after his graduation from Bowling Green State University. He spent several years as a reporter on the State Desk and City Desk before becoming chief of The Blade’s Columbus Bureau in 1972.
In 1975 he was named assistant managing editor of the Monterey, California, Peninsula Herald, at the time a Block-owned newspaper. During his 14 years in Monterey he was appointed Managing Editor and later Editor. He returned to Toledo in 1988 to become Editor of The Blade. He was named vice president of the company in 1995.
Tom hosted a weekly public affairs television show called The Editors for 19 years, until his retirement in 2007. In retirement, he has written a regular commentary column for The Blade. It appears every other Monday on the Pages of Opinion.
He received a number of awards for his writing from the Associated Press Society of Ohio, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, and the Inland Press Association, and his editorials on the Coingate scandal were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
He lives in Bowling Green with his wife Dianne. They have two grown children and six grandchildren. His passion is baseball, and he still plays adult baseball every summer at Ned Skeldon Stadium in Maumee.
- Life As We Know It: May 13, 2013
Somebody sent me a report on studies which show that if a cat falls off the seventh floor of a building, it might not survive, but if it falls off the 20th floor, it probably will.
Apparently the researchers concluded that it takes several floors, somewhere between five and eight, for the cat to comprehend what is happening, relax its body, and correct itself for a safe landing.Read more
- Life As We Know It: May 6, 2013
Good afternoon, sports fans. We’re well into another baseball season, and for a foreign visitor -- or any individual who is unfamiliar with the sport -- the game can be terribly confusing.
With that in mind, I happily share the following condensed version of the rules of baseball, source unknown. Even if you already know the game, consider this a refresher course. Now pay attention.Read more
- Life As We Know It: April 29, 2013
Apparently our commentary on the over-use of clichés stirred up quite a hornet’s nest, if you’ll pardon the expression. Not only were a couple dozen people motivated to share their own frustrations, several also offered clichés I overlooked.
What can I say? Sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees. I barely scratched the surface on the tip of the iceberg. Most folks got into the spirit of the word play by stringing together their own favorites. So let’s cut to the chase.Read more
- Life As We Know It: April 22, 2013
Cliches have always been, well, the bane of my existence. I’m not going to sugar-coat it. They stick in my craw like a bad penny. Not that a good penny would be a walk in the park if it’s stuck in your craw.
But going toe to toe with clichés, something I thought would be a slam dunk, has left me tilting at windmills and grasping at straws – on a slippery slope, no less. Am I left to lick my wounds and bite the bullet, difficult as that would be to do simultaneously?Read more
Perhaps I’m missing the boat. Maybe that ship has sailed. Hey, any port in a storm.
- Life As We Know It: April 15, 2013
Today is Tax Day in America. That means you have just hours to complete and postmark your income tax return, and you late filers are feeling the pressure.
So I herewith offer up a more user-friendly interpretation of the basic IRS 1040 instruction booklet. Here is what I think it says:Read more
“Dear Taxpayer (actually, what it says is “Yo, Fool,” but I’m trying to ascribe a softer, gentler approach to the IRS):
- Life As We Know It: April 8, 2013
I confess that when it comes to the card game of bridge, I know nothing. I had no idea, for example, that when your partner makes a dumb move, homicide is an acceptable remedy.
I don’t usually read the bridge column in The Blade but I sat right up and took notice when a recent column began with this: “J. Bennett was shot to death in 1931 after failing to make four spades.”Read more
- Life As We Know It: April 1, 2013
I HAVE something that belongs to Bernie Madoff, the Wall Street crook whose investment fraud bilked thousands of people out of billions of dollars. At least it belonged to Madoff a long time ago.
We were strolling through an antique mall north of Findlay when I spotted a bin full of old stock certificates. One right on top caught my eye. It was a certificate for 100 shares of Pan American World Airways, Inc., sold in October, 1976, in New York City to Bernard L. Madoff.
Madoff’s name is printed on the front. The back is stamped and signed by the principals in the transaction and bears Madoff’s personal signature.Read more
- Life As We Know It; March 25, 2013
Several years ago comedian Norm Crosby was the master of ceremonies at a beauty pageant. As he introduced one contestant and read her bio, he stopped abruptly. “My God,” he said, “She’s 16 years old. I’ve got shirts older than her.”
I can relate. So do I.
I tend to wear clothes until they either wear our or my wife gets so sick of them she tosses them in the trash when my attention is diverted.
There’s no point in trying to sell them in a garage sale. Been there. Done that. Nobody wanted them. Even Goodwill told us to stop calling.
I’ll bet a lot of folks are like me. Old clothes, like an old couch or an old recliner, are part of who we are. When I pull on a flannel shirt I wore the day one of my grandchildren was born 11 years ago, I’m in the zone. Comfort zone, that is.
Only recently did we toss out an old sport jacket I owned for 30 years, and only because it had what appeared to be tire tracks running up the back of it. The color had faded to something not quite brown and not quite yellow. My wife once held it up with her thumb and forefinger like a dirty diaper and coldly observed that “somewhere there’s a Yugo sedan without upholstery.”
I had to concede the point. If you had a sofa that looked like that, you’d put it out at the curb and pin a sign to it reading “Free.”
I also finally, and reluctantly, threw out an old lightweight suit that had provided moths with entertainment and nourishment for years. This thing put the “suck” in seersucker.
Occasionally I discover something hanging in the closet that I have no memory of buying, much less wearing. I found a pair of pants in there that still had S&H green stamps in the pocket.
If I’m typical, the average American man accumulates 672 T-shirts during his lifetime, and at any given moment he has roughly 500 of them still around somewhere. Fortunately, my wife has sewing skills that Martha Steward could only envy. She fashions the old shirts into quilts that neatly summarize my life so far.
My personal favorite: a T-shirt that proclaims, in large letters: “London, Rome, Paris, Toledo.” Not that I’ve been to all those places, but I can tell you that Toledo in the springtime is lovely.
Somebody should undertake a study to figure out why we hoard old clothes. If a research institute in England can study whether sheep recognize the faces of other sheep – which apparently is a matter of some urgency in British barnyards – then this one is no less necessary.
New clothes require a trial period of adjustment, aging like a bottle of merlot while the sediments settle. Okay, bad analogy.
A new sweater is likely to sit folded on a shelf for a while before I venture out in public in it. But a faded sweatshirt bearing the logo of a burger joint that closed 20 years ago? I’m a walking billboard for the place.
- Views: 1 Life As We Know It: March 18, 2013
You have to love the quotes attributed to athletes and coaches whose abilities off the field of play haven’t caught up with their physical talents.
I’m not talking about Yogi-Berra-isms, those wonderful lines that were part of his legend. Allegedly asked by his wife where he wanted to be buried, Yogi is said to have replied, “Surprise me.” I think old Yogi knew exactly what he was doing with his twisted half witticisms.Read more
- Views: 3 Life As We Know It: March 11, 2013
America’s commercial airlines continue to squeeze every last nickel out of their customers. In fact, they’re piling on. Spirit Airlines is charging passengers for the carry-on bag they bring aboard – as much as $40.
It’s true that passengers are stuffing everything they own into the overhead bins these days. But what choice do they have? Checking bags can add well over a hundred bucks to the cost of a trip.
What’s next? Twenty dollars for transporting the jacket on your back? I’ve got an idea for the airlines. Since they’ve pretty much discontinued complimentary meal service (not that that’s a bad thing), maybe they could start charging a $10 user fee for lowering the tray table. People are bringing their own food aboard now and they need someplace to put it.
So I took the liberty of calling the bean-counters at
East-West by South-Southeast Airlines to offer my assistance. Here is what I remember of our conversation:
“Hello, welcome to East-West by South-Southeast Airlines. If you are calling to make a reservation, press one. If you are calling to cancel a reservation, press two. If you are calling to apply for a job, you are delusionary. If you are calling to offer new and innovative ways we can separate our passengers from their money, your call is very important to us. Press three or stay on the line.”
How convenient. I press three. After seven minutes of listening to tinny music – I think it was “Shut Up and Get on the Plane” by the Drive-by Truckers – I hear a pleasant female voice.
Her: “East-West by South-Southeast Airlines. How can you help us today?”
Me: “Hello. I’m an occasional customer of yours and I don’t think you guys have given enough thought to this fee business. I have some suggestions that could really boost your revenues.”
Her: “I’m listening. In fact, so is everybody else. I just put you on speakerphone.”
Me: “All right. Listen up. First thing you do is strike a deal with McDonald’s. People are bringing those Big Macs aboard anyway and you’re not getting a penny of it. You’re also not making anything on those little bags of peanuts. Sell burgers at 30,000 feet for less than they cost in the terminal and it’s a license to print money.”
Her: “Whoa. Good one. We’ll get on it.”
Me: “Here’s one that will annoy everybody but it’s a sure moneymaker. Push a portable karaoke machine up and down the aisle and charge $5 a song. Then charge the other passengers a buck apiece to make the singer sit down and shut up.”
Her: “Wow. A win-win.”
Me: “Yes indeed. And you know that jump seat in the cockpit behind the pilot? Sell your passengers the right to sit there during the flight. Fifty bucks for 10 minutes. Who wouldn’t want that opportunity?”
Her: “What about the FAA?”
Me: “Tell ’em to get in line. Fifty bucks for 10 minutes.”
Her: “Any other bright ideas?”
Me: “Yes. Offer a deplaning lottery on every flight. Sell lottery tickets by rows. If your row comes up when you land, you get to gather your belongings and exit first.”
Her: “It’s genius. Anything else?”
Me: “Yes. Pay toilets. People will be begging you to break a twenty. They’ll probably tell you to keep the change.”
Her: “Sir, we can’t thank you enough. May we send you a voucher good for $10 off your next carry-on fee?”
- Views: 11 Life As We Know It: March 4, 2013
Be honest. I’m betting you’ve “googled” your own name just to see what’s out there on the worldwide web. When I did that, I discovered a bed and breakfast in North Carolina that intrigued me.
Its name: the Thomas Walton Manor.
I’m not sure who that other dude is, or was, but I thought it would be fun to spend a night there on one of our trips to see family in the South. So I inquired. No kids and no pets, they said. OK, our kids are grown and if I have to leave the boa constrictor at home, I’m alright with that.
Besides, I thought they’d get a kick out of having a namesake stay there; maybe we’d get a discount or something. Forget it. Not only do the rates run to $375 a night, you have to stay at least two nights.
I’d like to tell Thomas Walton what I think of his rules, but I suspect he’s not around anymore, and if he were, he’d probably look at the signature on my letter and figure it’s some kind of joke or scam.
Coincidentally, I got an email from a travel website which listed its choices as the top 10 luxury bed and breakfasts in America. Topping the list was a place that I’m vaguely familiar with, though not because I ever stayed there. It’s the Post Ranch Inn on the Big Sur coast of California, not far from where we used to live in Monterey.
The rates start at $895 – a night. Plus taxes. If you can afford $900 to get in the door, you can afford the taxes. Yes, the view of the Pacific is something to die for, if the bill doesn’t kill you.
But I can get an equally spectacular view of the ocean at nearby Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park for eight bucks, and Mother Nature throws in a waterfall that plunges to the beach.
Is it just me, or does it seem that bed and breakfasts have gotten away from their original concept – a reasonably priced place to sleep and a good breakfast the next morning before moving on? I’m just asking.
* * *
Why do the television stations feel compelled to run that list of cancelled events along the bottom of the screen every time there’s a significant winter storm? The alphabetized list takes forever to scroll from A through Z.
There’s a foot of snow out there, the wind is howling, the roads are skating rinks, and you have to chisel the dog off a fire hydrant. So I’m thinking we can pretty much assume the Knights of the Frozen North have cancelled their bingo game.
I don’t have any problem continuing to list school closings. What child hasn’t shrieked in delight to see on TV that his school is taking a snow day? It’s one of childhood’s grand moments, the kind of serendipitous good fortune that fortifies a kid’s faith in a greater power.
But all that other stuff? How about simply scrolling the following message across the screen all night: YOUR EVENT IS CANCELLED. STAY HOME.
* * *
Speaking of cold, I saw one of those “extreme sports” shows on TV and it occurred to me that just because the competitors are competing outdoors in frigid weather doesn’t make it extreme. I think they should ramp this thing up if they really want to go extreme.
How about beehive-tetherball? Now that would separate the contenders from the pretenders.
- Views: 11 Life As We Know It: February 25, 2013
An airline just for dogs? Pet Airways thinks it could work. People whose dogs are too big to fly in the cabin of the major airlines, or who don’t want to put their little friend in the cargo hold, now have another option, though it’s not cheap.
The fair is a rather stiff $250 to send man’s best friend coast to coast, pre-boarding walks and potty breaks included. For now Pet Airways serves just five major cities – New York, Washington, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles – using smaller, regional airports. The company has created a “Pet Lounge” at each of them so that the paying customers have a place to relax before flights.
The fare also includes play time and dinner on the longer flights. However, if history repeats itself, and the frills gradually disappear – just as they have done for those of us who walk upright – you have to wonder if dinner will gradually give way to a tiny bag of doggie treats that even a German Shepherd couldn’t open.
Also – the FAA is a stickler about this stuff – will the 50 or so canine passengers the airline hopes to carry on most flights be required to sit through the safety lecture like we do? I mean, can there be anybody left, including your dog, who still has to be shown how to buckle the seat belt?
Regardless, I can hear it now:
“Remember, Pugsy, disabling or tampering with the smoke detector in the lavatories is against the law.”
“Keep in mind, Fluffy, that the nearest emergency exit might be several cages behind you.”
And what about in-flight movies? “Benji”? “Lassie”? “The Shaggy Dog”? “Underdog”? “Turner and Hootch”? “101 Dalmations”? “Marley and Me”? “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”? Not bad options. “Cujo”? Scratch that one – too scary.
May I suggest an oldie but goodie, an obvious choice: “Old Yeller.” Not a dry eye in the cabin.
Hopefully, when the movie ends, a disembodied voice from the cockpit will lighten the mood for the canine passengers with a cheerful “Hello from the flight deck. This is your captain, Jack Russell…”
A good friend of mine writes a regular column for the Scripps Howard News Service. Like me, she lives in dread of every columnist’s worst nightmare: a factual error, or worse, misuse of the language. After she submitted a column to her editor about the misadventures she experienced changing the wallpaper in her house, including inadvertently pulling down chunks of plaster, she was obliged to send out a correction.
Here’s her correction:
“Please note. I have just been informed of an error in the column I sent you this morning. This may not surprise you, but apparently I do not know the definition of a ‘joist.’ According to my informant, a joist is a horizontal structure in a floor or ceiling; a vertical structure in a wall is called a ‘stud.’ Thus the sentence which read ‘As I stood there staring at the naked joists…’ could rightly be corrected to read “As I stood there staring at the naked studs...’ However, to avoid further confusion, my preference would be to say, ‘As I stood there staring at the gaping hole in the wall…’
I do apologize for the error.”
Sister, I feel your pain.
- Views: 21 Life as We Know It: February 18, 2013
Friends who know me well understand that my search for the perfect cheeseburger is a personal odyssey. A few times over the years I thought I had found it, but something wasn’t quite right. It might have been the meat; it could have been the bun, the sauce, or even the presentation. So the quest continued.
It can be a lonely journey, especially when everybody at the table is ordering something fancy like orange roughy or pasta primavera and I blurt out what they know is coming: “The cheeseburger please, a little past medium.”
You might as well ask two foxes and one chicken to vote on what’s for dinner. I mean, until recently I thought catsup was one of the four basic food groups.
Because I’m a Parrothead (that’s a Jimmy Buffett fan for those who have no idea where Margaritaville is), my crusade to find the perfect burger at least springs from noble intentions.
We’ve visited most of Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurants, from Las Vegas to Key West, from Orlando to New Orleans, from Phoenix to Negril, Jamaica. Given that one of Buffett’s signature songs is “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” we naturally assumed he had created the ultimate burger. But good as it is, it falls a little short of “heaven on earth with an onion slice,” as the song claims. If I can duplicate it at home, it is not the world’s perfect burger.
I’ve even traveled to places that claim to be the very spot where Buffett wrote “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” One of them is a little open-air joint on Cabbage Key just off Ft. Myers, Fla. The burger’s good but the boat ride over is better, especially when the dolphins are in a playful mood.
Another place that claims to have birthed the “Cheeseburger in Paradise” is Le Select, which unfortunately sits on the priciest island in the Caribbean, St. Bart’s. Buffett visits a lot, so maybe he did write it there. I can’t afford to go and check it out.
Still, I push on, looking for perfection. Despite the risk of clogged arteries, I figure the quest helps keep me alive. That, and the Lipitor.
After all, “healthy” is simply the slowest rate at which a person can die.
So my dream lives on. One day I will find the perfect burger, no doubt at a most unlikely place. When it happens, I know I will cry. It will be like stumbling across a Renoir at a flea market. Only better. You can’t eat a Renoir.
In the meantime, I’m reminded of an old song parody sung to the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Sing it with me. One verse goes like this:
“Somewhere, overweight people
Have a ball.
In a land where they never
Heard of cholesterol.
Is so divine.
If their waistline’s not bulging,
Why then oh why is mine?”
Amen, brother. And yes, I would like fries with that.
- Views: 32 Life As We Know It: February 11, 2013
An automotive expert for Consumer Reports was discussing the gas pedal problems that prompted Toyota to recall certain vehicles and shut down production of others. His advice to owners who experienced any such problems with their vehicle: “Don’t drive it anymore and take it to your dealership.”
Fine, but who’s going to help push it in?
It reminds me of a word game I play with my grandson, in which we try to come up with lines no human has ever spoken before. “Hand me that piano” is my favorite.
I had to laugh at an item in The Blade’s entertainment section a while back about a clairvoyant visiting Toledo as part of her “Message From Beyond” tour. That’s kind of funny right there, but the item said she would “appear” at 7:30 p.m. I hope her fans showed up on time because there was no mention when she disappears.
And what’s up with the expression “went missing”? I don’t remember encountering that one until recent years. Now I hear it all the time. If makes about as much sense as saying “he turned up missing.” Well, if he turned up, he isn’t missing.
Here’s one more indication we’re all doomed. A highway sign in Europe reads: “Emergency Services, 164 kilometers ahead.”
My advice: try to stop the bleeding and drive really fast.
By the way, how come a car has to have a muffler but a motorcycle can make all the noise it wants?
I noticed in the TV listings some time ago that a Billy Graham special was followed by a Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Shouldn’t it have been the other way around? You know, check out the babes and then get religion?
One more thing I never knew: law firms in China, unlike their American counterparts, can call themselves anything they choose. Here in the United States, law firms which list surnames in their titles generally have people by those names who work there or did before they retired or died.
But in China anything goes, which is why there’s a law firm called Bright and Right. There’s no Ms. Bright and no Mr. Right. The firm’s founding partner, Michael Liu, just liked the sound of Bright and Right better than his own name. So he went with Bright and Right in lieu of, well, Liu.
Bright is apparently a popular choice in China, which also has a Broad and Bright law firm, another called All Bright, and yet another called Ever Bright. One of China’s largest law firms is called King and Wood. The firm is Kingless and Woodless but the name does convey leadership and strength.
This got me thinking.
What if the legal profession in this country were allowed to operate under the same rules? If I’m going to sue somebody, I’m going to call “Smart, Swift, and Victory” before I dial up “Smith, Smith, and Jones.”
How long would it be before some law firm renamed itself “The Dream Team”? Hey, it worked for O.J. Simpson.
Of course, we must make mention of that venerable and presumably fictitious American law firm so ridiculed in the old joke: Dewey, Cheatum, and Howe. Just think, they could give Mr. Cheatum and Mr. Howe nice golden parachutes, nudge them out the door, and rename themselves Dewey, Fite, and Wynn.
Just a thought. But I bet their billable hours would go up.
- Tom Walton
- Views: 63 Life as We Know It: February 4, 2013
Many years ago I worked with a Blade copy editor whose command of the English language was an inspiration to the rest of us. But his inflexibility when it came to the rules of grammar was also an occasional aggravation.
One of his rigid rules concerned the word “hopefully.” Staff writers quickly learned that they were not to start a sentence with the word “hopefully,” as in “Hopefully good weather will return in a day or two.” Nor were they to misuse it within the sentence, as in “Good weather will hopefully return in a day or two.”Read more
His point was that the weather is incapable of hoping anything. The only acceptable way to say it, he believed, was to write: “It is to be hoped that good weather will return in a day or two.” That was a wordy non-starter for me, no matter what the rules of grammar might dictate.
It was a rule I rebelled against. I understood the grammarians’ point of view, but I also recognized that people do not talk that way. Why be wordier than necessary?
Of course, people in Ohio and the Midwest also say “I seen” instead of “I saw," which for me is the grammatical equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard. You hear it from educated people who should know better. A guy I know is a Certified Public Accountant, a whiz with numbers, but he can’t grasp the concept of “I saw.”
Jim Norman, an English teacher, supplies another aggravation: “anyways.” There is no such word in the language, he rightly points out. I’m with Jim on this one.
So when it comes to the language, I guess I am part modernist, part purist. Anyways, it is to be hoped that you are too.
As you’ve probably figured out from my frequent carping on the subject, I’m a big fan of the English language when used properly. A well crafted sentence is a beautiful thing.
You want short? “Jesus wept” pretty much says it all.
You want long? One sentence in William Faulkner’s Southern Gothic novel, “Absalom, Absalom!” is 1,288 words long, which pales in comparison to the 4,391-word sentence attributed to Molly Bloom in James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses.”
I can’t vouch for how well crafted either of these monsters is because I refuse to give either one a go without an oxygen tank and a nice chardonnay.
I once marveled at an 82-word sentence assembled by a former associate on The Blade’s editorial board. With careful uses of conjunctions and punctuation, thereby providing the reader a breath of air here and there, he constructed a word journey worth taking.
Even so, I still think it could have been boiled down to “The president is stupid.” Or “Jesus wept.”