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.
Contact Tom Walton via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Life As We Know It: September 29, 2014
A COUPLE years ago, my email inbox brought news of a stunning oddity that promised to enrich me monetarily. The month of July that year contained five Fridays, five Saturdays, and five Sundays. That only happens, I was informed by my correspondent, once every 823 years.
Once every 823 years? C’mon. It happens all the time. Not just once that year, but three times, in January, July, and October.Read more
- Life As We Know It: September 22, 2014
SOMETIMES all we know of war half a world away is what the commanders choose to tell us. What we hear far less about is a mother’s worry for her son’s safety on the front lines. It is a fear that an American-born Israeli, a teacher at the American International School near Tel Aviv, knows intimately.
What follows is an email sent from Rebecca Kimelman to Mari Davies, a friend in Toledo, describing that emotional journey in the context of a one-day furlough of her army son, a 20-year-old sergeant, from the fighting at the Gaza front. It is shared here with both women’s permission.Read more
- Life As We Know It: September 15, 2014
NOW THAT the baseball season is winding down, it’s time to disclose that I led a double life this summer. Not only did I PLAY baseball, I became an umpire for the first time. You might say I went over to the dark side. I turned blue.
For those who look at an umpire and only see red, “Blue” is the generic name given to all baseball and softball umpires.Read more
- Life As We Know It: September 8, 2014
FROM ACADIA to Yosemite, our national parks are beautiful but dangerous places. Lured by the stunning beauty of the natural wonders that surround them, people take absurd chances and some pay the ultimate price.
Yosemite National Park is one of the world’s most beautiful places – and one of its most treacherous if disrespected. Every year people die by ignoring the dangers of the steep trails and the roaring waterfalls.Read more
- Life As We Know It: September 1, 2014
All politics, they say, is local. “Is” local? “Are” local? It sounds awkward either way. Technically, politics is a collective singular noun, so “is” is correct. Maybe Bill Clinton was right. It all depends on what your definition of “is” is.
But my point today is not to unburden myself of another grammatical harangue. Lord knows, if you listen to these short essays frequently enough, you’ve heard enough of that. Or is it “enough of those”?Read more
- Life As We Know It: August 25, 2014
You might assume that Patrick Reynolds is furious these days. After all, R.J. Reynolds was his grandfather, and the giant tobacco company just got socked last month with a $23.6 billion judgment by a Florida jury determined to send a strong message about the evils perpetrated by the cigarette industry.
Message received, but grandson Patrick couldn’t be happier.Read more
- Life As We Know It: August 18, 2014
Sometimes I wonder if Ohio’s laws regarding traffic lights say “Green means go on through. Yellow means hurry up. Red means floor it!” That’s how it seems when you’re sitting at a Toledo intersection, waiting for the light to change, and somebody in a hurry races through on his “red.”
So we shouldn’t be surprised that so many people resent red-light cameras at major intersections, in Toledo and elsewhere. Government intrusion at its worst, they say.Read more
- Life As We Know It: August 11, 2014
Remember the quiz? If one train leaves New York at 8 a.m., traveling west at 50 miles per hour, and another train leaves Los Angeles at 9:30 a.m., traveling east at 60 miles per hour, how many apples will Johnny have left if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Maybe I don’t have that quite right, but those achievement tests we took as kids always reminded me that I fell a little short as an achiever, especially when the tests involved numbers.Read more
- Life As We Know It: August 4, 2014
What if I told you there is an airport in Ohio which offers fares that match or beat those offered at the major international airport just up the road?
What if I mentioned that five commercial airlines there offer daily departures to 11 destinations, despite the fact that the much larger airport is just 40 miles away?Read more
- Life As We Know It: July 28, 2014
I’ll say this for readers of The Blade. Give them a challenge and they run with it.
Some time ago I asked Blade readers to compose their best opening paragraph for the novel that they wish they had time to write. Several dozen responded, many with eloquence, all with passion. For a few it was indeed a dark and stormy night.Read more
- Life As We Know It: July 21, 2014
People who perform in stage plays have my great admiration. Memorizing all that stuff and delivering it in front of all those people? It’s something I could never do. In fact, I should probably write “TGIF” on my shoes just as a reminder: Toes Go In First.
So I’ll never forget my one stage experience as a child. I was about 9 years old, and I was given the role of a physician in our elementary school operetta. I don’t know if there are still called operettas, but that’s what they were called then, probably because we not only had to sing but act. That’s a lot to ask when you’re 9.Read more
- Life As We Know It: July 14, 2014
Over the years I have collected baseball books – lots of them. When Mark McGwire stonewalled Congress, when Roger Clemens denied everything, when Alex Rodriguez turned out to be a user, when Manny Ramirez blamed his doctor, I retreated to the books. No doubt there are a lot of people like me, folks who are fed up with pampered superstars and overbearing owners and $8 cups of beer. So I thought I’d offer up a list of my favorite baseball books, in no particular order.
“A Day in the Bleachers,” by Arnold Hano. This book came to me from an unexpected source: John Robinson Block, co-publisher of The Blade. The book recounts the first game of the 1954 World Series, the game in which Willie Mays made his great catch at the Polo Grounds off the bat of the Cleveland Indians’ Vic Wertz. The New York Giants won the Series in four straight. Though it was a painful moment in my childhood, reading Mr. Hano’s account helped me realize something important: I’m over it.Read more
- Life As We Know It: July 7, 2014
It isn’t often that a four-star general’s order is trumped by an enlisted man’s popularity, but even George Patton answered to a higher authority – a guy with five stars named Dwight Eisenhower.
The enlisted man? Bill Mauldin. The late Mr. Mauldin, who died in 2003, was the Army grunt whose cartoons portraying the poignant and often ugly realities of World War II endeared him to his fellow soldiers.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 30, 2014
Four years ago Time Magazine called it “The Decade From Hell.” Time’s grim analysis that perhaps no decade in our nation’s history can match 2001 to 2010 for tragedy, human misery, horrifying behavior, and financial calamity remains difficult to refute. Looking just at the decades of my own lifetime, I can’t dispute Time’s point about the 2000s. Maybe calling them the “oughts,” as in zero, would be more fitting.
The 1940s? Hitler’s vision for the master race and the spread of his Nazi evil across much of Europe, and the horrors of Pearl Harbor – 73 years ago – made for frightening times for our parents and grandparents. The ’40s showed mankind at its worst.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 23, 2014
I’ve met a lot of politicians and public servants over the years, and I’ve never met one like Carty Finkbeiner. I like the guy. I’ve always liked him – even when he was mad at me, which was probably more often than I realize.
He wore his passion on his sleeve. Sometimes his heart overruled his head. No great revelation there. However, I never sensed that his intensity – unlike that of some of his contemporaries in public service – was anything but genuine and well intended. I remember the great line often attributed to the late George Burns, who said “Once you learn to fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.” Carty never faked it.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 16, 2014
Occasionally I see a bumper sticker on another car – it’s almost always an SUV – that says “Ask Me About My Grandchildren.” I never do. But now that my wife and I have six grandchildren of our own, I understand. OK, since you asked…..try to picture this photo album.
Here’s a photo of our daughter’s oldest, Kelley. She’s about to turn 16. She’s driving now. She’s first-chair flute in her high school band in Birmingham, Ala., and like our daughter and my wife before her, she’s really in to Girl Scouting. Yes, our freezer, perhaps like yours, is full of cookies, mostly Thin Mints and Tagalongs. She’s gorgeous. The camera loves her.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 9, 2014
Much was made over the weekend of yet another failure of the sport of kings to find a Triple Crown winner. California Chrome’s fourth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes means horse racing has not had a horse win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont since Affirmed did it in 1978.
This time was supposed to be different. A sport which desperately needs a star had finally found one. But ever since Affirmed’s triumph, horses which won the Derby and the Preakness were beaten down by the punishing 1-½ mile run at Belmont – and by fresher horses held out of the earlier two races.Read more
- Views: 2 Life As We Know It: June 2, 2014
During his lifetime I was a fan of the work of the late and great journalist, Carl Rowan. I valued his perspective as an African-American columnist as much as I did his talent as a journalist and writer. But I came to appreciate him even more when I saw a video of an appearance he made before the National Press Club in Washington several years ago.
Mr. Rowan was relating an exchange he’d had with a white reader who disagreed sharply with something he’d written.
“My dear Mr. Rowan,” she wrote, “ what an unfair burden your life must surely be. To be not only black but stupid.”
Mr. Rowan wrote her back, as was his custom, he explained, “for my more reasonable mail.”
“Madam,” he said, “what a joyful life yours must surely be. To bear only half the burdens I carry.”
It was one of the cleverest and most stinging rejoinders I’ve ever heard.
* * *
Our newest nominees for the best T-shirt message:
“It’s 4 o’clock somewhere. Why wait?”
“Some people have a way with words. Others not way.”
And this one: “Just because it comes in your size doesn’t mean you should wear it.”
* * *
A homicide detective’s worst nightmare: a murder at a butler’s convention.
* * *
Just wondering if the military has ever had soldiers named General Store, Colonel Korn, Major Payne, Captain Marvel, Corporal Punishment, or dare I say it, Private Partz. If so, I imagine those folks worked hard to get promoted as fast as possible.
* * *
I was sitting at the computer a few days ago when I encountered a problem. A little box popped up on the screen and here is what it said:
“Server error. Object reference not set to an instance of an object.” So THAT’S it.
* * *
I read somewhere that it is against the law in Allentown, Pa., for a man to become aroused in public. This is a stupid law. By the time the guy gets his day in court, the judge is just going to throw the case out for lack of evidence.
* * *
Every now and then I’m reminded of the Serenity Prayer, which my grandmother kept in a frame on her kitchen wall: “Lord,” it said, “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The prayer is often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous, though it was not written for AA, and no, my grandmother did not have a drinking problem. She just liked the sentiment expressed.
I thought of it the other day as I was recalling my years laboring in the journalism vineyards. I certainly tried to change the things I could, though I was not especially serene about accepting those I could not. I wish I had been wiser about recognizing the difference.
Reciting the prayer again provides a dose of humility, something that we can all use from time to time. I once overheard a guy talking to an acquaintance who was getting a little full of himself: “You may think you’re hot stuff,” he said, “but the size of the crowd at your funeral is still going to depend on the weather.”
- Life As We Know It: May 26, 2014
Nobody I know has a more abiding love for the great outdoors than my daughter.
Sheila, now living in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband and two beautiful children, practically grew up in Yosemite National Park. No temple made with human hands, John Muir once wrote, can compare with Yosemite.
Sheila loves the place, regardless of the time of year. The roaring waterfalls of spring and early summer, the brilliant colors of Yosemite Valley in the fall, and the quiet stillness of a snowy winter give each season a special beauty.
Towering over us on every visit was Half Dome, a massive mountain of granite left behind after glaciers carved out the magnificent valley. We were aware that people climbed the thing on its rounded back side, with the help of cables at the very top, But it was never anything I figured we would actually try to do. I figured wrong.
Not long ago Sheila issued a challenge to her dad. “I’m going to climb Half Dome,” she said. “And so are you.”
So there we were, Sheila and her husband Kevin, both 41, and me, somewhat older, standing at the Happy Isles trail head at 5:30 a.m., ready for our assault on Yosemite’s most iconic landmark.
We were looking at a 16-mile round trip, roughly 7-½ miles up, most of it on the Mist Trail, and 8-½ miles back down on the John Muir Trail. Along the way we would experience almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain, and we were trekking on what would be Yosemite’s hottest day of the summer -- 96 degrees.
At times the steep grade was almost more than my old legs could bear,. Early in the trek we had to climb 700 rocky steps up to and past Vernal Falls. Occasionally we rested, usually to refill our water bottles from the Merced River or a small stream near the trail, purifying before drinking.
The round trip should take 10 to 12 hours, our guide book said, in order to be back in the valley by nightfall. A couple of hours in, we were behind the recommended pace.
By mid-morning, my son-in-law, hauling a heavy backpack, was wearing down. Eventually he decided, wisely, that he would stop. I pressed on with my daughter.
Finally, what’s known as the “sub dome” appeared, a smaller version of Half Dome which must be traversed to reach the infamous cables. Traversing the sub dome means climbing another 800 steps of varying heights cut into the granite. There are no handrails and the steps are so narrow they require single-file passage. One good bump from a passing backpack and somebody in Toledo would be writing my obituary.
After seven miles of climbing, my legs had turned to jelly. I made a decision to stop. Sheila, physically fit and with the strong legs of a skier, did not. We hugged, and I watched her head up the sub dome’s endless switchbacks.
It was her dream of a lifetime -- her Mt. Everest -- to reach the top. At the cables, which are anchored in the granite, she pulled herself up -- at a 45-degree angle -- the last 500 feet to the summit.
Then we started back down, another eight miles downhill, which was just as tough as the climb up.
What should have taken us 10 hours took 14, but we have a shared experience we will never forget.
I learned something important about myself that day. I pushed my body beyond any physical barrier I could ever have imagined confronting at my age. More importantly, watching Sheila’s triumph taught me something about a father’s love. Her success meant that I had not failed. We had both climbed the mountain.
- Life As We Know It: May 19, 2014
Living in a college town, I see the very best and occasionally the worst of student behavior. I watch in admiration as they dance for 32 hours straight to raise money for charity. I cheer them on as they undertake an annual blood drive. I marvel at the achievement of the most motivated among them in the classroom and the laboratory.
But I shudder when I drive by another rented house where a drinking party has spilled on to the lawn and young adults freed from parental influence demonstrate just how little regard they have for the responsibilities that come with independence.
So it’s hardly surprising that student drinking is a source of tension on most campuses in communities where “town and gown” issues are never far away.
I say, it’s time to stop glorifying drunken behavior.
It’s time to stop printing T-shirts proudly listing the watering holes visited on escapades almost poetically described as “pub crawls.”
It’s time to understand that binge drinking can be fatal.
It’s time for red watchband.org.
The Red Watch Band program was launched in 2008 at Stony Brook State University of New York on Long Island after a faculty member’s son, a young freshman at Northwestern University, died of acute alcohol poisoning.
Working with health care professionals, Stony Brook students and officials at the university’s Center for Prevention and Outreach developed techniques for dealing with alcohol emergencies.
They learned, and then taught others, the swift action that must be taken to rescue a passed-out student from a drinking death. Because every second counts, each student completing the course receives a red watch, identifying him or her as a potential rescuer.
It all sounds so simple, and so right. Collegiate binge drinking kills and injures in scary numbers. According to the Annual Review of Public Health, more than 1,700 college students 18 to 24 die each year of alcohol-related causes, and another 30,000 require medical treatment after toxic drinking.
Perhaps the most chilling number of all: the prevalence of binge drinking among all Americans 18 to 24 is more than 27 percent, according to a morbidity and mortality report not long ago. That’s more than one in four. Peer pressure can sometimes be overwhelming. If I still had a kid in college, I’d be very afraid.
Despite the statistics, there no doubt are those who believe this is just so much social feel-good stuff, the kind of thing they think liberals do to feel better about themselves. But if just one son or daughter of a total stranger is spared, I don’t care what the critics think. It sounds to me like neither does Stony Brook.
- Life As We Know It: May 12, 2014
Cell phones are so much a part of our lives that it is difficult to remember what life was like before them. But, so far, at our house, we remain ridiculously behind the curve. My wife and I each own a cell phone, but they’re those cheap models available at the supermarket. They do just two things. They make phone calls. They receive phone calls. We buy pre-paid cards. No contracts. No continuing obligation.
We bought them for one reason: emergencies. It’s good to know that if my wife has a car problem somewhere, she can summon me, although given my shortcomings in the field of auto repair, she understands she should call Triple-A first, then me.
The phones also come in handy if she’s at one end of the amll and I’m at the other. We can relocate each other.
That’s about it. We don’t have them glued to our ears around the clock. Our phones don’t permit us to text message and we wouldn’t want to anyway. Why tap out a message with your thumbs when you could call the person and hear his or her voice?
There’s something else to consider, and it relates to privacy: the ability of cell phone companies -- and law enforcement -- to track your whereabouts without a warrant. Big Brother can find not only who you’re calling but where you are when you call.
So my wife and I happily remain in cell-phone kindergarten while everyone around us has a PhD in “app” technology.
Smart phones are the genie that can’t be put back in the bottle. People who get rid of their land lines have their reasons.
However, it’s annoying when movie-goers or concert patrons ignore instructions to turn their cell phones off during the performance. If it isn’t the beeping, it’s the glowing.
Actor Hugh Jackman stopped his performance in a stage play to embarrass the holder of a ringing cell phone in the audience. New York Times critic Ben Brantley even has a name for these people. He calls them TPCs -- Theater Phone Criminals. Of course, what they’re doing is not really a crime, although it should be. They at least deserve the equivalent of a parking ticket as they leave.
Folks at the Toledo Symphony Orchestra still tell the story about the evening back in 1980 or so when an early-generation wireless phone -- one of those big hand-held clunkers -- went off in the audience during a performance of a piece by Haydn. Conductor Ole Schmidt paused, turned to the audience, put his thumb and pinkie to his face, and said in a voice loud enough for all to hear:
“Hello? Mr. Haydn? You’re pleased with the performance? Wonderful! Thank you!”
Far more serious -- and just as tolerated -- is the use of a hand-held cell phone while driving. Why such a dangerous distraction is still legal anywhere is one of the great mysteries of our time.
Only six states have outlawed the practice. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia prohibit novice drivers under 18 from using cell phones of any kind. And only 19 states plus D.C. ban text messaging while driving. Amazing.
Some legislators, and the Governors Highway Safety Association, say there is no evidence that hand-held cell phones are any more dangerous or any more of a distraction than hands-free phones. I disagree, but evidently that’s just me.
The city of Bowling Green put a ban on hand-held cell phones on the ballot a few years ago and you could almost hear the voters’ collective snort of derision as they rejected it. If you can explain that to me, please do.
Just don’t call me when I’m behind the wheel. I won’t answer.
- Life As We Know It: May 5, 2014
Life. It happens every day. Several cases in point:
We were fortunate not long ago to cruise aboard the Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship. It was a magnificent experience, but they were still working out the glitches here and there.
The daily bulletin listed the time and place for a “towel-folding” class, which sounded like fun because our cabin attendant was so skilled at folding a towel into the shape of an animal -- a dog one night, an elephant the next, a turtle after that.
We arrived at the designated place at the designated time, no easy task on a ship so large. We were greeted at the door by a priest in full vestments. “Are you folks here for the mass or the towel-folding,” he asked.
“Forgive me, Father,” I said, “for I have sinned. We’re here for the towel folding.”
He said a mistake had been made in the bulletin and he didn’t know where the towel-folding class was. Mea culpa. Mea culpa.
* * *
Speaking of folding things, why is it that no matter how many times I try, I can never fold a fitted sheet just right?
* * *
Did you know that “stewardesses” is the longest word that can be typed with just the left hand on a standard keyboard. I’d like to tell you I figured that out after months of trial and error at the computer, but that would be a lie.
Also, the only 15-letter word that can be spelled without repeating a letter is “uncopyrightable.” However, except in the most technical sense, I’m not sure that’s even a legitimate word. If you have to attach a prefix and a suffix to invent a new word and make a point, is it really a word?
* * *
Child abuse, spousal abuse, animal abuse -- all are terrible things, but all have organizations devoted to fighting them. What about language abuse. Am I the only one worried about it?
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, once President Obama’s minister, was lamenting the shoddy treatment he said he got from the President, quote, “When Obama threw me under the bus, he threw me under the bus literally” unquote.
Really? I’m happy the reverend survived such a horrifying act, but where was the public outcry calling for the President’s indictment?
* * *
Here’s one more, an actual quote from a professional baseball player reacting to the trade of a teammate:
Quote: “I got a text from a teammate, and he was like, ’What are we doing?’ And I was like, ’Didn’t we get Halladay?’ And he was like, ’Yeah. But we traded Lee.’ And my mouth dropped like, ’That wasn’t part of the deal.’”
Wow. My mouth is, like, dropping too. And I don’t, like, like it.
* * *
Finally, here’s one more sign we’re all doomed. A 29-year-old man down in Newark, Ohio, was arrested for drunk driving after crashing his motorized bar stool. Apparently these things are popular. You can order a kit on the internet and build your own. They even race them, although I imagine they’d be awfully top-heavy even when you’re sober.
The guy claimed his stool will tool along at 40 miles per hour but insisted he was only going 20 when he wrecked it. Authorities confiscated it and auctioned it off on eBay to help cut into a shortfall in his child support payments of some $37,000. Mr. Leadfoot also did his three days in jail.
Do you suppose there’s a drive-through lane at his favorite tavern?
Have a good Cinco de Mayo, everyone, and if you’re celebrating on a bar stool, please don’t drive it anywhere.
- Life As We Know It: March 31, 2014
ONE OF the great things about being a baseball fan is the ability to see so clearly what is wrong with the game. The owners, the players, and of course, the umpires, all have blurred vision. But those of us in the stands are blessed with 20-20.
Fans know the game is too long. Fans understand that players are spoiled and paid obscene salaries, and that money rules everything. Somehow this awareness seems to evaporate when fans become baseball executives or worse, the Arbiter of All That Matters, the Commissioner.Read more
- Life As We Know It: March 24, 2014
TODAY WE take note of the approaching fifth anniversary of the death of the last great straight man, Ed McMahon.
Let’s first define “straight man” for those whose minds turn in a different direction when they hear the term. A straight man in comedy has nothing to do with sexual preference and everything to do with making somebody else look good.Read more
- Life As We Know It: March 17, 2014
WELCOME TO March Madness. Or more specifically, welcome to Mad as Hell Monday. First there was Freaky Friday, the day college basketball leagues across the country moved into the final phases of picking their champions. Then came Scary Saturday and the semi-finals or championship finals. At last it was Selection Sunday, time for very tall persons to gather in TV lounges on campuses from Tallahassee to Tacoma and await their fate. For the chosen ones, the news was good. For those not so anointed, it was time to kick the sofa.
So yes, we can call today Mad As Hell Monday. Teams which believed it was their destiny to ride a magical lightning bolt all the way to Arlington, Texas, today are screaming they were robbed by the NCAA selection committee. Somewhere in this great land a school is aggrieved by the oversight.Read more
- Life As We Know It: March 10, 2014
AS I sat at home confronting another WGTE deadline, I was looking at a can of Diet Coke, a small dish of M&Ms, and this morning’s Blade, and it hit me. I’m guilty of product placement. How ironic. The very thing I’m talking about -- the blatant placement of well known products in movies and on television, I’m doing myself in a radio commentary.
And I don’t get a nickel from those guys for going out of my way to tout their wares. However, nearly everybody else does. You can’t watch a TV drama or sit-com these days, or watch a flick at the multiplex -- without spotting familiar products placed where you can’t miss them. Why use a plain can marked “soda” when you can sell that spot on the table to Pepsi or Mountain Dew?Read more
- Life As We Know It: March 3, 2014
THE WINTER Olympic Games are over, but I can’t get the Canadian national anthem out of my head. While my granddaughter was saying Grace at dinner the other night, I was silently humming “O Canada.”
I realize this may be the equivalent of poking a badger with a sharp stick, but I have to say it: when it comes to national anthems, Canada wins the gold and the United States might not make the podium.Read more
- Life As We Know It: February 24, 2014
A NEW President of the United States will be elected in two and a half years. Between now and then political campaign managers will live in dread of the unknown, the unforeseen, the embarrassing disclosure, an indiscretion from the past – anything with the potential to bring down their candidate. It even has a name: the October surprise.
Sometimes the surprises are a little overblown. Consider 2008. The surprises arrived early for the Republican ticket not long after presidential candidate John McCain announced his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.Read more
- Life As We Know It: February 17, 2014
Many years ago, when Uncle Sam was desperate enough to want me for a soldier, the old Penta County vocational school on Oregon Road in northern Wood County was a second home. After my active duty ended (and I’m proud to say not one ounce of gold was stolen from Fort Knox while I was there), my Army Reserve unit, the 983rd Engineering Battalion, often trained at Penta. Though the 983rd was based then at the University of Toledo, we also took classes at Penta and used the facility as a staging area when forming up convoys for our annual two weeks of summer training in upstate New York.
Penta was a dreary place in those days, especially in the pre-dawn chill. Climbing into the back of a deuce and a half – Army lingo for a 2.5-ton truck – for the long drive to Camp Drum in Watertown, N.Y., I was not where I wanted to be.Read more
- Life As We Know It: February 10, 2014
Last week I explained why I would be uncomfortable blindly embracing the policies of the Democratic Party. Today, I take on the rigid doctrines of the Republican Party, which would expect me to bear allegiance to the following:
I AM a Republican. Here is what I am told to believe, and therefore I do.Read more
- LIfe As We Know It: February 3, 2014
I don’t like political labels. I like to think independently of any political party’s platform or indoctrination. If I were a Democrat, for example, the Democratic Party would insist I swear allegiance to the following:
I am a Democrat. Here is what I am told to believe, and therefore I do:Read more
- Life As We Know It: January 27, 2014
It’s customary for folks of a certain age to remember their childhoods and early adulthoods with fondness and lament the loss of the “good old days.” Any list of the way things were usually includes doors that never had to be locked, neighbors that kept an eye not only on their kids but your own, and corner grocers who extended credit and didn’t ask for a credit card because there weren’t any. No doubt you’ve got a few examples you could add to the list.
It’s easy to recall all of that as an “Age of Innocence,” a period that for me extended roughly from the end of World War II into perhaps the mid-1960s. Perhaps it seems curious to describe those years as innocent, what with Korea and the Cold War.Read more
- Life As We Know It: January 20, 2014
Historians are sometimes accused of rewriting history to suit their own agenda. Updated textbooks and online encyclopedias to which virtually anyone can contribute invite such abuse. Sometimes when we look back, we see things as we wish they had been, not as they were. Who hasn’t reminisced about the “good old days” through rose-colored glasses?
The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library has found a way around all that. Record history while it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds, especially in the words of those who lived it. So was born the Sight and Sound Project, a program undertaken by the library to create video archives of prominent local citizens of achievement.Read more
- Life As We Know It: January 13, 2014
The news is pretty crummy these days. No great revelation there. Tensions continue in the Middle East. Our war in Afghanistan drags on. Washington seems forever paralyzed by partisan and petty bickering, and the news media are obligated to report lots of stuff that does nothing to moderate winter’s chill.
If my e-mail is any indication, people are suffering from illness and fatigue. They are sick and tired of it all. They look for anything that will cheer them up.Read more
- Life As We Know It: January 6, 2014
The psychology of fund-raising has always intrigued me. Just not enough to do it. Persuading people to part with something they’ve worked hard to accumulate is part science, part art _ a profession that some folks are drawn to. Others, like me, want no part of it. I’m not being critical of those who raise money for a living. Quite the contrary, I admire their skills. In the realities of today’s world, they are indispensable.
Of course, we don’t call it fundraising any more, we call it development, and whether it’s the University of Toledo, the Toledo Symphony, the Old Newsboys, the Hospice of Northwest Ohio, or here at WGTE, dependence on public generosity is a fact of life. There’s never enough money to do the good things that need to be done.Read more
- Life As We Know It: December 30, 2013
I remember taking a spelling test in high school a long time ago that included the word “meteorology.” I botched it badly, and the teacher took great delight in telling the class “that’s the worst spell of weather I’ve ever seen.” Obviously he’d been hoping somebody would mess up so he could drop his joke on us. I never misspelled it again.
But I remembered the incident recently when I was struck by how much misspelling, how many grammatical mistakes, how much dumbing down has compromised a beautiful language.Read more
- Life As We Know It: December 23, 2013
They’re almost as ubiquitous, and sometimes as annoying, as cell phones. Thank goodness, like fruitcakes and bad eggnog, they are only seasonal.
The holiday letters. You know the ones. The mass-produced messages of self-congratulation from friends and relatives that remind you how wonderful and busy and fulfilled they and their kids are, compared to you and yours, of course.Read more
- Life As We Know It: December 9, 2013
Live long enough and you’ll be amazed by how much stuff you accumulate. Like mail-order catalogs. There’s a pile of them three feet high in the garage. I don’t know why they come to us with such great frequency, but it’s a rare day when the mailbox doesn’t yield a couple, especially at Christmas time. My wife says the one-day record is 13. I believe it. I have a suggestion for most of these mail-order places: just put all your stuff on-line, at one website. You could call it Schlock.com.
But it’s the holiday season, I’m desperate for gift ideas, and I find myself leafing through these things anyway. I’m stunned by what I learn. I had no idea you could buy a book called “Bed Time Stories for Dogs,” featuring “The Three Little Pugs.” Isn’t that special? Or how about a nice set of electric-guitar figurines?Read more
- Life As We Know It: November 25, 2013
I met a new friend a few weeks ago – on the Ohio Turnpike of all places. It was a brief relationship. For that matter, we never really introduced ourselves. But for about 100 miles or so, we were a caravan of two vehicles, traveling in the center lane at exactly the same speed, and I found myself playing a now familiar game.
Who are those people, I wondered. What are their life stories? Where are they going? Are they off on vacation or returning from one? Did they travel out of state for a wedding? A funeral? Will they break off our “friendship” first by exiting the toll road or will we?Read more
It’s a strange phenomenon. I guess you’d have to call it the opposite of road rage, and it is comforting when it happens.
- Life As We Know It: November 18, 2013
On the back of our little RV, I have a bumper sticker that reads: “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Jimmy Buffett.” Everywhere we go we get appreciative thumbs up from fellow Parrotheads who look at the mess we’re in and no doubt ask themselves, “Hey, what could it hurt?”
Well, I am not here to nominate Jimmy Buffett for president. I’m here for the party.Read more
- Life As We Know It: November 11, 2013
If you are like me, your computer e-mail’s in-box gets loaded down with forwarded messages that have already been viewed by so many others you feel you’re the only person in America who hasn’t seen them. Sometimes it takes 10 minutes just to scroll down through all the forwards.
Cute pictures of sleeping babies. The travails of growing older. Jokes, good ones and bad ones. Puzzles that guess the animal you’re thinking of. Tricks that deceive or play with your mind. Someone’s monumental embarrassment shared via a YouTube link. That kind of stuff.Read more
- Life As We Know It: November 4, 2013
One of the things that occupy my mind in retirement, other than waking up and wondering what day of the week it happens to be, is recalling the memories, largely pleasant, of my years as host of “The Editors” on television.
TV has never been my natural medium, which is the case for most us whose veins course with printer’s ink. So it was with some nervousness and apprehension that we launched “The Editors” all the way back in 1989. I remember saying I’d stick with it as long as I learned something new each week. We didn’t stop until 2007, making it the longest running public affairs program in the state and probably the Midwest. I attribute that to the wonderful array of guests we coaxed and begged to appear. And yes, I learned something new from them every week.Read more
- Life As We Know It: October 28, 2013
“GOOD MORNING, ladies and gentlemen. This is your pilot speaking. Remember a few weeks back when that smart-aleck Tom Walton outlined his frustrations with the airlines and especially fellow air travelers and asked you to do the same? Well, it was a suggestion that really took off, so to speak. How am I supposed to make a living up here? I hate that guy.”
All right, Captain, enough venting from the cockpit. It’s time to vent from back here in coach, aka the Sardine Can, and boy, did people ever vent. I thought I had assembled a pretty impressive collection of incidents of bad behavior by the flying public, conduct by inconsiderate passengers that I had personally witnessed after years of flying commercial. Turns out you’ve seen a lot of behavior I missed, and for that I’m grateful.Read more
- Life As We Know It: October 21, 2013
Any discussion of Toledo’s “jewels” always includes the same predictable and certainly deserving gems. The Toledo Museum of Art. The Toledo Zoo. The Toledo Area Metroparks. The Toledo Mud Hens and Fifth Third Field. The Huntington Center.
Most of us add the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. There’s a good reason for that: It’s one of the country’s best.Read more
- Life As We Know It: October 14, 2013
All politics is local. One of Washington’s most skilled politicians, the late Thomas (Tip) O’Neill, is credited with coining the phrase. But Mr. O’Neill, long-time speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, acknowledged in his 1987 biography, “Man of the House,” that his father really deserved the credit for it.
The younger Mr. O’Neill lost only one election in his life, a race for a seat on the Cambridge, Mass., City Council. Analyzing the election returns later, his father pointed out the young man’s mistake. While he had piled up impressive vote totals in other parts of the city, he had taken his own neighborhood for granted.Read more
- Life As We Know It: October 7, 2013
Question: What is the most preventable cause of death and disease in America? Clue: It involves a lot of coughing and hacking and wheezing, and it smells really bad. It takes more lives than auto accidents, AIDS, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, suicide, and homicide combined. You buy the thing in packs of 20, set them on fire, and breathe deeply. What fun, huh?
Even a tobacco company executive would get the point, though he or she would try to convince you, and especially your adolescent children, hey, there’s nothing to worry about.Read more
- Life As We Know It: September 30, 2013
Air travel is a game of survival these days, too, and frankly, it’s a jungle up there. Not that you or I would engage if any bad behavior, of course. Well, at least YOU wouldn’t. But I know you’ve seen these folks in your travels.
The ordeal often begins in the boarding lounge. Why are people so reluctant to sit next to a stranger? A couple will take two seats and then claim the empty one next to them for their belongings. Or folks spread themselves out so that only single seats remain.Read more
- Life As We Know It: September 23, 2013
One of the great things about love is that it has no limits. You can love your spouse. You can love your kids. You can love your God. You can love your Mud Hens. Your Rockets. Your Falcons. Some of us even love our cars, our IPads, our cheeseburgers, and of course, our cell phones. But just when you think you can’t love any more than you do, your heart tells you otherwise.
A few years ago my heart was telling me it was broken. I read the stories in The Blade about a house in Stony Ridge and a case of animal neglect that absolutely staggered me. Responding to information about abuse, the Wood County Humane Society found 85 dogs, more than a dozen cats, and two doves – all in the same house. Out in the barn, another 20 dogs struggled to survive.Read more
- Life As We Know It: September 16, 2013
Back in the day, when I was dealing with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune -- in other words, Blade readers with a complaint -- an occasional bouquet would get through. Usually it went like this (I’m paraphrasing here):
“I wanted to let you know that we just returned from a long vacation and I have decided I like The Blade more than I thought I did. I tried to read the papers everywhere we went and there wasn’t anything in them. It was good to get home and see The Blade again.”Read more
- Life As We Know It: September 9, 2013
Laughter, the old proverb says, is the best medicine. While I’m still going to trust the family doctor with the big stuff, a joke or a one-liner here and there can sure make the little stuff feel better.
One of the worst afflictions of mankind, it seems to me, is the tendency to take ourselves too seriously. During 42 years in the newspaper business I learned that today’s crisis is usually gone by tomorrow, and tomorrow’s calamity will be equally temporary.Read more
- Life As We Know It: September 2, 2013
The good news is that millions of Americans visit their national parks every year. The bad news is that so few of the visitors are young. Our national treasures -- Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and all the rest, from Acadia to Zion -- remain extremely popular tourist destinations, prompting legitimate concerns that we’re loving our parks to death.
Those fears may soon subside, but for the wrong reason: younger Americans, meaning adolescents and children, don’t seem all that interested.Read more
- Life As We Know It: August 26, 2013
Our commentary a while back about newspaper headlines with unintended interpretations had the desire reaction. Several people sent along their own so-called “crash blossoms.”
Here’s a sample:
“Bernstein Eyeing AG Post.” The headline from the student newspaper at Wayne State University seems harmless enough. Trouble is, Mr. Bernstein has been blind since birth. This gem came from Jack Lessenberry, our Blade ombudsman.Read more
- Life As We Know It: August 19, 2013
Should the government run health care? You can make an argument either way and just about everyone has an opinion. Perhaps the CEO of the “Whole Foods” market chain wishes he had kept his to himself. John P. Mackey offered as how it would be a big mistake for the feds to take over health care. I’m not saying he’s right or wrong, but his strong stance didn’t sit well with the folks who, after family, should matter the most: his customer base.
Whole Foods has carved out a special niche in the grocery industry by going green -- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, says their website. They cater to people who search out organic figs and Buddha’s hand and edamame and other exotic things you might not find at Wal-Mart. Many if not most of those folks fit, shall we say, a liberal stereotype, which means they might be more receptive to a government-administered program.Read more
- Life As We Know It: August 12, 2013
I accepted an invitation to speak to a men’s discussion group recently because the topic interests me a great deal: the future of newspapers.
The group’s format is simple: they choose a book that they all read and discuss, and then they invite somebody in with a professional connection to share his perspective. The book they had assigned themselves is called “American Carnival, Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media,” by Neil Henry.Read more
- Life As We Know It: August 5, 2013
One of life’s little pleasures that retirement has afforded is the opportunity to indulge an old hobby: photography. It’s a passion that began a long time ago in college when I was introduced to what had long been a staple of the newspaper profession: the “Speed Graphic” and its enormous 4-by-5 inch negatives. The pictures those big negatives produced were crisp and sharp, never grainy. But the camera was bulky and cumbersome and it required carrying around a lot of heavy “plates” if you wanted to take more than a couple pictures.
We’ve come a long way.Read more
- Life As We Know It: July 29, 2013
Every medical school in America thinks I’m sick. Subscribe to one “wellness” newsletter and before you know it your name is on a mailing list that zips about the health-care universe at warp speed.
It all started three years ago when the Mayo Clinic, somehow aware that I had reached a certain age, convinced me to subscribe to its monthly “Mayo Clinic Health Letter.” I was advised that not only would it explain any ailments I might already have as an emerging old person, it would alert me to the warning signs of new ones.Read more
- Life As We Know It: July 15, 2013
Next Saturday will mark the 44th anniversary of the first lunar landing, but it will be the first anniversary of that stunning achievement for which Neil Armstrong is no longer with us.
Like most Americans of a certain age, I was saddened by Mr. Armstrong’s death last August. For my generation, there was no greater hero. But I wondered about younger Americans for whom the first man on the moon might as well have been science fiction. Would they look up from their I-pads or stop texting long enough to ponder this native Ohioan’s amazing achievement?Read more
- Life As We Know It: July 8, 2013
I found myself in a conversation not long ago with a person quite a few years younger than me. This was an intelligent young man with a lively curiosity.
Yet as we talked, I felt a sense of discomfort. Though he was not ignorant of history, he did not share my passion for the events that helped shape my life. I lived them; he did not.Read more
- Life As We Know It: July 1, 2013
The newspaper headline caught my eye: “Grandmother of 8 Makes Hole in One.” I am happy to report that the other seven children were unharmed. One of my hobbies is collecting newspaper headlines that sometimes convey an unintended second meaning. There’s even a name for them: crash blossoms.
The term originated with a group called Testy Copy Editors (a redundancy, I know).
Somebody in the group shared a headline he had seen that said “Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms.” The story related the growing professional success of a young Japanese musician whose father had been killed in a plane crash.
The group quickly embraced the term “crash blossoms” as a handy label for headlines that have an accidental and usually humorous second interpretation.
First, a word in defense of my Blade colleagues, testy or otherwise, who are charged with the task of putting a headline on an often lengthy and complex story. Usually they nail it, summarizing in eight or 10 words what the author of the piece – me, for example – might have failed to convey in 800.
But it’s because they almost always get it right that the few instances where they don’t are invariably funny and worth remembering, even if they can force the victimized copy editor to contemplate falling on his double-edged sword – figuratively of course.
Here are a few crash blossoms from my collection.
“Reagan Wins on Budget But More Lies Ahead.” This was the Great Communicator?
“Shot Off Woman’s Leg Saves Par.” Gruesome for sure, but first place was at stake.
“Gator Attacks Puzzle Experts.” That’s it. I’m swearing off Sudoku.
“Miners Refuse to Work After Death.” Hey, who can blame ’em?
Occasionally a headline can overstate the obvious
“War Dims Hopes for Peace.”
Or a word can be either a verb or an adjective:
“Court to try shooting defendant.” Cruel and unusual punishment, yes, but at least it’s justice swiftly applied.
Sometimes misplaced modifiers are the culprit.
“Meat head fights hike in minimum pay.” C’mon, you meat head. That’s just not right.
“Two Sisters Reunited After 18 Years at Checkout Counter.” And Kroger has the nerve to call it the Express Lane.
“Tuna Biting Off Washington Coast.” I guess we shouldn’t be alarmed until Seattle disappears.
“Firebombing Jury Takes Weekend Off.” No need to cancel that picnic at the park after all.
“Farmer Bill Dies in House.” I didn’t even know he was sick.
“Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case.” Sure it’ll be cramped, but he’s got his hip flask.
“Blind Woman Gets New Kidney From Dad She Hasn’t Seen in Years.” I’d say things are looking up.
And once in a while, the culprit is that eternal nemesis, the typographical error:
“Police Union To Seek Blinding Arbitration.”
Here’s a good one a friend sent me: “One-armed man applauds kindness of strangers.” I just hope he wasn’t a paper-hanger.
How about this one: “Teen pregnancy drops off after age 25.” As a matter of fact, I would guess it drops off to about zero.
- Life As We Know It: June 24, 2013
After hearing about my efforts to learn the harmonica, Sam Irmen, a retired executive with The Andersons, sent me an excerpt from a book he’s writing for his family called “The Older I Get, The Better I Was.”
He relates how his mother forced him as a 9-year-old to take lessons on the Hawaiian guitar. He didn’t want to do it, but she insisted. So every week for 36 weeks he rode the bus downtown to the old Tiedtke’s department store, gathered with fellow students in the “Hawaiian Music Conservatory” on an upper floor, paid a quarter for each lesson, and struggled with a guitar borrowed from the instructor.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 10, 2013
It was about three years ago that Madge came into my life. Initially, it was love at first sight. She knew how to push my buttons, and I quickly figured out how to push hers. And the best part? My wife had no objections.
Madge, lest you get the wrong idea, is the name we gave the woman who lives inside the Global Positioning Satellite receiver on the dashboard of our car. Madge is short for Magellan, our particular brand of GPS, although I imagine she’s pretty much generic for all these devices.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 3, 2013
One of the things I promised myself in retirement was to learn a musical instrument. My brothers have had their own band for years, but I’m the odd brother out. I don’t play. Occasionally I get up with them and try to sing “Margaritaville” or my personal anthem, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” but generally speaking I’m singing to a crowd that is pretty much oblivious to my efforts.
The band’s name is Bar Code, which effectively answers the question: Where do you guys play most of your gigs?Read more
- Life As We Know It: May 27, 2013
Not long ago I offered what I thought was an impassioned plea for the survival and return to glory of Toledo Express Airport. Express did not have to be the poor little brother to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, I argued, citing airports in Akron/Canton and Flint, Mich., as two which are thriving despite their proximity to major airports.
However, I’m beginning to wonder. I made a point of using Toledo Express on a recent trip, deliberately choosing the higher cost but undeniable convenience of our local airport over Metro. Even though Direct Air had suspended operations, I stuck with Express, and Allegiant, figuring I had no right to urge others to support the place if I didn’t.Read more
- Life As We Know It: May 20, 2013
It’s a shame that so many Europeans and many other foreigners say they are afraid to travel to America because they think we’re a cesspool of crime and mayhem. It’s true that some urban neighborhoods, including a few in Toledo, are not places where you’d want to take a long walk after dark.
But somebody needs to tell our overseas friends that we do not all live in fear for our lives. Most Americans go about their day freely and without undue worry about their personal safety.Read more
- 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.”