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: July 18, 2016
IT’S THE biggest thing up there in the night sky, which helps explain why most of us are mesmerized our entire lives by the moon. Countless songs have been written about it. Moon River. Bad Moon Rising. How High the Moon. Moon Over Miami. Moonlight Sonata. Movies have featured the moon since there have been movies. Coyotes howl at it.
I remember as a youngster being taught in school about the phases of the moon: the new moon, then the waxing crescent phase, then the first quarter, the waxing gibbous, the full moon, and the waning gibbous.Read more
- Life As We Know It: July 11, 2016
MOST VETERAN politicians share a common skill that serves them, if not necessarily the rest of us, well. They can say a lot while saying nothing. It’s political double-speak.
Asked to comment about a foreign trade bill, a Congressman might say “well, this is a complex issue and one which will require a lot of study. Make no mistake. Trade is important.”Read more
- Life As We Know It: July 4, 2016
THE OLDEST of our six grandchildren graduated from high school a few weeks ago, and her proud grandparents were delighted to make the trip from Ohio down to Alabama to see it. So large was her graduating class that the event was not held at the high school. It was held at the University of Alabama-Birmingham basketball arena, known as Bartow Arena, named for the UAB Blazers’ longtime coach.
We were excited to be there for all the obvious reasons. But our excitement had already been lifted by something we never saw coming, and I hope you’ll indulge me while I share that story with you.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 27, 2016
SOMEBODY sent me a battered magazine clipping offering a number of helpful tips for living a good life. The magazine isn’t identified and there’s no byline attached. It’s just a list.
I think it’s worth sharing excerpts of it because these are excellent suggestions. Here are a few of them.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 20, 2016
THE NEWS is pretty crummy these days. Wars rage on. So does the presidential campaign. Tension in the Middle East never goes away. Tornados, earthquakes, and floods remind us of the fragile nature of life.
If my e-mails are any indication, people are suffering from illness and fatigue. They are sick and tired of it. They look for anything that will cheer them up.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 13, 2016
SOMEONE once noted that journalists are like blackbirds on a utility wire. When one takes off, they all take off. When one lands, they all land.
Point being, of course, that we tend to travel in a pack and swoop and circle around an issue or topic and peck away at it until there’s nothing left.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 6, 2016
MASS MARKETING fascinates and irritates me. I’m amazed how often I'm sucked in by it, even though I know what's coming and even though I realize its sole purpose is to separate me from what limited financial resources I have.
You know the TV ads I'm talking about, the ones that go something like this:Read more
- Life As We Know It: May 30, 2016
I HAVE little use for clichés, but I wish I had come to appreciate the wisdom of the old expression, “get off the beaten path,” a little sooner in life. For me, when traveling, the beaten path had always meant the interstate highway system.
For millions of Americans, especially men I suppose, interstate highways have always been a blessing, the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B.Read more
- Life As We Know It: May 23, 2016
LOUD applause, please, for Kansas City. And for Kansas City too.
Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., which sit across the Missouri and Kansas Rivers from one another, have simultaneously made a strong statement on behalf of their children's health. Both cities, acting on the same day, made it illegal to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.Read more
- Life As We Know It: May 16, 2016
PERHAPS you have noticed that O.J. Simpson has been back in the news a lot lately.
The LMN Network recently did a documentary on the so-called “secret” tapes of Simpson’s deposition in the 1996 civil case against him for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.Read more
- Life As We Know It: May 9, 2016
IT WAS my good fortune recently to be asked to speak to a Lucas County Retired Teachers Association luncheon, and one of the organizers of the event, Rhea Halloran, was kind enough to let me decide what I'd talk about.
These were teachers, so that made it easy. I talked about writing. I talked about rampant abuse of our language. I talked about the insidious encroachment of bad grammar into our daily lives.Read more
- Life As We Know It: May 2, 2016
NEWSPAPER JOURNALISM has been described as the first draft of history. For the people Mark Zaborney writes about, the obituary pages are the last draft.
Mr. Zaborney has been writing obituaries for The Blade for 32 years now, and while he also handles other assignments, it is his bylined obituaries for which he is best known by Blade readers.Read more
- Life As We Know It: April 25, 2016
SOMEHOW, describing it as “a life well lived” doesn’t quite sum it up. Besides, he’s still living it. My only remaining uncle just turned 101 years old yesterday, and while he needs to rest after all the cake and ice cream, he’s good to go for 102.
Claude Walton lives in a nursing home in Upper Sandusky these days, but only because his body finally told him two years ago he could not keep his own bachelor pad any more.Read more
- Life As We Know It: April 18, 2016
“I NOTICE,” a Blade reader wrote, “that you recently suggested using a little elbow grease to resolve a problem. I’ve looked and looked, but I can’t find this product. Where can I buy elbow grease?”
It was a presumably earnest inquiry, and it arrived in our office many years ago when I was a young reporter assigned to help produce a regular feature in The Blade called “ZIP Line.”Read more
- Life As We Know It: April 11, 2016
TRANSLATOR and guide Dalibor Kesic had been escorting American Ben Marsh around Bosnia-Herzegovina for weeks and had become frustrated by his visitor’s use of unfamiliar and often baffling expressions.
Mr. Marsh, who passed away in 2014, is well remembered in Lucas County as one of Maumee’s most prominent public servants – the city’s solicitor for 30 years, a one-time congressional candidate, and former Lucas County Republican Party chairman.Read more
- Life As We Know It: March 28, 2016
YOU DON’T have to tell Joe Napoli what a great job he has. The boss of the Toledo Mud Hens and the Toledo Walleye works in the sports/entertainment business he loves in a city he can’t imagine leaving.
Fifth Third Field, although it is already 14 years old, is still one of the best minor league ballparks anywhere, and the Walleye, thriving at nearby Huntington Center, are among the East Coast Hockey League leaders in attendance.Read more
- Life As We Know It: March 21, 2016
FUNNY THING about the word “awesome.” It’s been in the dictionary ever since there have been dictionaries, but over the course of the last generation or so, we have managed to debase it and dilute it to the point of irrelevance. What’s worse, we don’t have names any more. We’re all just “Dude.”
Seriously, Dude.Read more
- Life As We Know It: March 14, 2016
HIGH SCHOOL basketball, as we have been reminded again this winter, is an exciting game to watch. This is especially the case when two longtime rivals are battling each other. So tension filled the little gymnasium in Oneida, Tennessee back on Jan. 4, 1946, when the game between Oneida and rival Stearns, from across the border in southern Kentucky, entered its final minute.
After all, Stearns had defeated Oneida in their first matchup that season, 38-25, in a game at Stearns. So Oneida was pumped for the rematch at their own gym and out for revenge.Read more
- Life As We Know It: March 7, 2016
OKAY, LET’S say you’re on a trip and you’re rolling down the interstate near Des Moines, Iowa. You’re approaching one of those lighted overhead message boards that tell you how many minutes away you are from a major exit. Except this one doesn’t say that at all.
This one has a much different message. “Get your head out of your apps,” it boldly and bluntly warns. In other words, put the cell phone down and concentrate on something that could keep you alive, like safe driving.
Iowa has 80 digital message boards scattered around the state, and every Monday clever messages are displayed that collectively have just one purpose – to save lives.
“Not buckled? Seriously?” one of them says.
“Does your blinker not work or what?” asks another.
How about: “Teenagers drive like their parents.”
While there is no empirical evidence yet to show that the signs and their edgy messages are having the desired effect, they are at least getting the attention of Iowa drivers.
This is a marvelous idea which I think the Ohio Department of Transportation should adopt. In the spirit of good citizenship, I’ve drafted a number of digital messages myself, and ODOT is welcome to use them. Here’s my list:
“The signpost up ahead – next stop, the Radar Zone.”
“Hiding something in your trunk? Don’t make us come back there!”
“Hey Leadfoot. Your village called. They want their idiot back.”
“Slow down. We know where you live.”
“A free donut with every speeding ticket.”
“Your GPS lady wants out – NOW!”
“How did you get a license anyway?”
“Whatcha gonna do when we come for you, Bad Boy?”
“Would you mind finding an alternate route?”
“Your mom wants to know if you’re wearing clean underwear.”
“Stop speeding and we’ll stop hiding.”
“What’s that? You swear to drunk you’re not God?”
C’mon ODOT. What could it hurt? Iowa displays its messages on Mondays, but here in Ohio we could abandon our bureaucratic stuffiness on another day, say Friday, at the start of the weekend – just so it doesn’t look like we’re copying.
Or we could just blatantly rip off New Mexico, the “Land of Enchantment,” which has outdone even the Hawkeye State.
New Mexico has retooled a stretch of legendary “Old Route 66” so that the highway actually sings to you – provided you’re not humming along over the speed limit. The singing highway is located west of Tijeras, outside Albuquerque. To get the road to sing, the driver must reduce his speed to 45 miles per hour and drive along a rumble strip embedded in the pavement.
Hit it just right and Old Route 66 begins playing “America the Beautiful.” Drive too fast and you get the equivalent of “Johnny One Note.” Is this a great country or what?
Again, I see opportunity. What could be lovelier than a chorus or two of “Beautiful Ohio” emanating from the asphalt somewhere between Findlay and Lima on I-75, where there’s not much else to keep you awake?
A little self-deprecating humor might be fun too. Signs at the state line could read: “Welcome to Ohio. We hope you brought something to do.”
Does all this have a certain “Big Brother” aspect to it? Perhaps, but it’s good to know that, at least in Iowa and New Mexico, Big Brother has a sense of humor.
ODOT? Guys, try to keep up.
- Life As We Know It: February 29, 2016
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
It’s a rhyme of sorts that has endured in one form or another for centuries, and the lesson it preaches is obvious: little problems left untended can become insurmountable. Put another way: hindsight is always 20/20.
General Dwight Eisenhower could relate. Where’s a thumb tack when you need it? Let me explain.
David Brown of Port Clinton shares a story told to him by a former junior high school teacher of his, now deceased, who served as a young enlisted man in World War II on Gen. Eisenhower’s headquarters staff in England during the preparations and run-up to the invasion of Normandy.
The young man was a private first class – basically the lowest of the low – someone to run errands and make coffee for all the higher-ups who surrounded him. He was assigned to the headquarters staff because he was familiar with London and its customs and could even decipher sometimes perplexing London addresses.
Though he was an American, his parents had worked in Europe and he had spent part of his teenage years living with them in London.
Planning a military invasion of such scale and complexity involved a lot of people studying a lot of maps spread out on a lot of tables. Somebody decided the task would be simpler if the maps were affixed to the wall instead. So the search began for thumb tacks.
Desk drawers were opened and checked. Nope. The store of office supplies yielded nothing. Nobody had thought to bring any from home in the States.
It was not exactly a crisis but it was becoming an irritation.
Up stepped the young PFC. Wise in the ways of London, he boldly told his bosses: “I can fix this. Let me go downtown.”
He returned about an hour later with several boxes of thumb tacks.
“Where did you find these?” his astonished supervisors asked.
“At the stationer,” he replied.
“But we asked there several times. They said they don’t carry thumb tacks.”
Quite right, the young soldier explained. In England they are called “drawing pins.”
Properly equipped with drawing pins, Ike and his grand plan to free France and indeed Europe from the Nazis’ grip was back on track. For that, Mr. Brown says, we can thank a private first class “who spoke both American and British.”
Perhaps a great quote, variously attributed in slightly different words over the years to George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and Winston Churchill, says it best:
“We are two great nations separated by a common language.”
- Life As We Know It: February 22, 2016
TOLEDO Rotarian Hunt Sears loves boating and is a member of the IYFR, a group of boating enthusiasts in Rotary. He was wearing an IYFR lapel ribbon when an acquaintance asked him what the letters meant.
Without missing a beat, Mr. Sears replied “International Yodelers From Rossford.”
I’m pretty sure that’s not it. (If you won’t be able to sleep until you know, it’s the International Yachting Fellowship of Rotarians.) I’m sure they enjoy their passion for a day on the water, but I think yodeling Rotarians would really be a fun bunch of wild and crazy guys.
As long as I’m talking about Toledo Rotarians, let me tell you about Doug Neckers of Perrysburg and his two puzzling encounters with the U.S. Postal Service.
He mailed 21 letters at the post office. Their contents were identical in every way, but seven of them came back marked “Postage Due, seven cents.” The other 14 apparently sailed through.
Even stranger was a letter that arrived in the mail informing him of an important informational meeting for new members of the downtown Rotary.
As a soon-to-be-member, he was expected to be there. Just one problem: the letter was postmarked July 25, 2009. It showed up in his mailbox on April 29, 2013. Apparently his absence from the meeting was not a deal-breaker. He’s a member of the club.
Even so, maybe the post office really does need Saturdays off.
Well, my brother George, who lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, listened to our commentary about the colorful quotes of professional athletes and coaches and passed along his favorite.
Baseball great Ralph Kiner finished the 1947 season with 51 home runs. He thought he deserved a pay raise so he went to team owner John Galbreath and asked for one. Mr. Galbreath, so the story goes, reminded Kiner that his team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, finished in last place.
“Where do you think we would have finished without your 51 home runs?” he asked Kiner.
End of discussion.
Finally today, often when I speak to a group I’m asked to supply a brief bio to help with the introduction. It’s been my experience that introductions run too long and most people aren’t interested in the details of my life anyway. So I’m thinking about supplying the following version in the future:
Thomas Walton was born a long time ago, although he’s not sure where. His earliest memories are of the family of trolls who raised him beneath a bridge in Seneca County.
After a hard-scrabble childhood and two unsuccessful attempts to earn his GED, he won a “hardship” admission to Harriet’s School of Interior Design, where he lettered in basketball, playing in one of the most tastefully appointed gymnasiums in America.
Today he lives in a lean-to on the outskirts of Risingsun, Ohio, with a pet boa constrictor named Tickle Me Elmo and several cats of questionable breeding.
His hobbies include rooting about for coins in loose soil, growing his own furniture, and standing in the background in a fright wig at news events.
He has no idea what his topic will be today. But he is planning for plenty of questions after. So be ready with your answers.
- Life As We Know It: February 15, 2016
REACTION TO our commentary on Ohio’s embarrassingly bland “Ohio Pride” license plates was diverse and surprising – not unlike the Buckeye State.
Several people agreed with my assessment, while a couple said they consider the new plate an improvement over the “Beautiful Ohio” plate it replaces. Eye of the beholder, I guess.
My favorite response came from a man in Akron named Don Ostapowicz, who said he considers the Ohio Pride design a slight improvement over the Beautiful Ohio plate but still a disappointment. He says that the inverted red triangle at the top of the new plate is supposed to signify the side view of an airplane wing. Okay, Don.
Mr. Ostapowicz sent me three proposed designs he came up with himself.
One has a cardinal, the state bird, in the center, superimposed over a gray outline of the state of Ohio, with numbers on either side. The word “OHIO” appears at the top, with “Buckeye State” at the bottom. A second design replaces the cardinal with the distinctive Ohio state flag. Either one would be excellent and a great improvement over the Ohio Pride plate we apparently are stuck with.
However, Mr. Ostapowicz’ creativity truly shines in his third proposed design. Gone are the cardinal and the flag, replaced by an orange barrel and the words “The Construction State” at the bottom. That pretty much captures the “heart of it all,” don’t you think?
Alas, inasmuch as Mr. Ostapowicz’ idea isn’t likely to go anywhere, and given our ongoing effort to make your life easier, let me offer a way to make Ohio license plates fun again. When traveling by car, do you take note of how many other states’ license plates you spot? Here’s a variation on the game, and it’s playable right here in Ohio. In fact, it’s especially playable here in Ohio.
Most Ohio plates have a combination of three letters followed by four numbers. See if you can come up with two words that contain all three letters – one word that starts with the first letter and one word that does not. All three letters must appear in correct order, although they do not need to appear adjacent to each other.
Example: CIT. You can make “city” and “explicit.” But “receipt” also counts. For FCT you could choose “fact” and “artifact.”
Sometimes it’s easy to come up with one word but not the other. Take FSC. I get “fiscal,” but I’m stumped for a word that doesn’t start with “F”? Wait. Of course. “Obfuscate.” Occasionally the three letters form their own word, as in DOE. Of course, you still have to come up with a word that doesn’t start with D – like “adore.”
Ohio has several three-letter combinations on license plates that are almost impossible. Take FWX. Please. What do you do with that? The Q, J, X, and Z plates bring their own degree of difficulty.
It’s alright to put “un” or “in” in front of a word if the result is a legitimate word. From ATN you could form both “action” or “inaction.” But don’t push it. “UNLITERAL” for LTA is, well, unimpressive, although “unilateral” is good.
By the way, you could ask your smartphone to find one of those internet sites that help Scrabble players cheat, but not only would you have to bear the shame of your deceit, you’d be endangering yourself and others if you’re the driver. Don’t do that.
All of this is intended to make those dreadful “Ohio Pride” license plates useful for something. So there you go – a new way to pass time at those long red lights and construction delays. It sure beats counting orange barrels.
- Life As We Know It: February 8, 2016
A RECENT video making the rounds on the Internet featured a group of youngsters confronted with a machine most of them had never seen before -- a typewriter. Their reactions to this strange contraption ranged from surprise and delight to total befuddlement.
Here’s a sample of their comments.
“It’s a computer that doesn’t waste electricity.”
“Why is this so complicated?”
“Make a copy? How long is that gonna take? Like a month or so.”
“Please tell me there’s a copy-and-paste button.”
One 6-year-old said he felt sad for earlier generations that only had typewriters and not computers: “They can’t do Face Time. They can’t do messages. They can’t play games,” he said.
Another couldn’t figure out where the paper goes and wondered if something so mechanical was worth the effort: “I think it would be simpler just to write.” she said.
Hey, there’s a thought. Actual handwriting? Cursive? What a concept.
The video reminded me of my own resistance to the evolution of the keyboard during my newspaper career, from the beat-up old Underwood I started on at The Blade in 1965 to the sophisticated computers we all rely on so much today.
I felt quite proprietary about my office typewriter. Every time something new came along, I resisted. First the newsroom replaced the old stand-bys with electric typewriters, which I hated.
If I so much as exhaled in the general direction of the keyboard, the thing leapt to life, leaving a trail of letters, numbers, and symbols no code-breaker could ever have deciphered. Shouting at it didn’t help, other than provide some therapeutic relief. Over time, I adjusted.
Then came the first newsroom computer. It was called a “Beehive,” and it inflicted as much pain as poking a real hive with a stick.
Hit the wrong key or enter the wrong command and an hour’s worth of work would disappear – gone forever. I had just become accustomed to the electric keyboard, and suddenly I was working in an electronic minefield.
Eventually my reluctance to move on to the next generation of machines faded, but the typewriter was always my favorite.
I loved typewriter noise as a young reporter. To me, when a couple dozen reporters were clacking away on deadline, it wasn’t noise, it was a symphony. With the police radio squawking a few feet away, and the urgency of the task leaving no room for delay, there was no place I’d rather have been.
Banging out a story at deadline on a standard typewriter was a satisfying, tactile pleasure. We weren’t just writing something; we were making something. Finishing a line and slamming the cylinder to the right to begin another was exciting, though there was no time to enjoy the thrill of the chase with a nervous City Editor hovering over my shoulder and demanding copy.
Not long ago I found an old Remington Noiseless from the 1930s at a garage sale for just $2. Two bucks? Are you kidding me? It works just fine. I have a collection of old typewriters now, and occasionally I roll a sheet of paper into one, pound out something inane, and release a little aggression. I doubt if my grandchildren’s generation will one day feel as nostalgic about their smart phones and their tablets.
I have six grandchildren and every one of them cannot wait for the next big thing. I can.
- Life As We Know It: February 1, 2016
THE STORY is told of an agronomical miracle in ancient Rome. It came to pass that a poor peasant gardener, blessed with the most fertile soil in all of Italy, was building a reputation as a master grower of fruits and vegetables.
From celeriac and romanesco to peaches as warm as the Tuscan sun, Claudius Flavius Vitalis was the best there was. He sold his produce to strangers for a few coins, just enough to eke out a living.
What the strangers did not buy, Claudius would deliver to his neighbors. Generous and God-fearing, he collected no compensation from them even though these were not the best of times for Claudius, who had to provide for his elderly mother Ginger, his younger brother Doofus, and their shaggy dog Sampson. Doofus had sought employment as a court jester, but unfortunately, he was nobody’s fool.
One day Claudius realized that among all the creations in his garden, his strawberries did the best in the rich soil – one strawberry in particular.
Within two days of blossoming, it measured seven inches across and weighed a pound. Within a week it had grown to a foot in diameter. Its own weight dragged it to the ground. Talk about low hanging fruit. A month passed. The giant strawberry weighed 46 pounds and measured eight feet around.
Although a modest man, Claudius began speaking of his achievement to his friends. They came. They saw. They concurred. “You must share this with the world,” they told him.
People began coming from as far away as Livorno – which was sort of like Perrysburg but in pastels – to pay the peasant a fee and gaze upon his magnificent fruit.
Suddenly life was good. Money was abundant. So was attention from stout ladies not yet referred to as Rubenesque.
But this was emperor Augustus’ Rome, not Claudius’. Augustus was Roman Numeral Uno. He summoned two of his soldiers and gave them a special assignment.
“You are to destroy the giant strawberry,” he told them, “and put this publicity-seeking opportunist out of business.” Actually, if we wish to be historically accurate, what Augustus really told his henchmen was “shut this yahoo down!”
Given their marching orders, the soldiers took Via Viagra (hey, Rome was ahead of its time) to Via Con Dios, hung a left to So Via Loren, and finally located Via Claudius, recently renamed by the neighborhood in their beloved gardener’s honor. Just ahead, three houses down, the sign was impossible to miss.
“Claudius’ Giant Strawberry,” it said. The soldiers rapped the tips of their spears on the heavy wooden door. The door swung open and the peasant greeted them.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I appreciate your interest in our exhibit and I proudly honor those who serve in our military, but you have journeyed from your barracks for naught. As you can see from my Rolex sundial, it is a few minutes past our closing time of 5 o’clock. You will have to return tomorrow.”
Clearly, Claudius had become a little too full of himself. He began to close the door, but one of the soldiers blocked its path with his spear.
“No, peasant,” the soldier said sternly, “you don’t understand. We have come to seize your berry, not to praise it.”
So, what is the point of sharing this tale of early Roman entrepreneurship? Well, there was not one mention of ISIS, Lake Erie algae, or potholes.
- Life As We Know It: January 25, 2016
IT WAS the middle of winter and David Brown was going stir crazy at his home in Port Clinton. His mind wandered to a favorite topic of his: the fate of the RMS Titanic. And he had an epiphany: it was a furnace stoker named Frederick Barrett who unwittingly sealed Titanic’s fate.
Mr. Brown, with his stout build and salt-and-pepper beard, looks like a sea captain, which he is. Capt. Brown is also an instructor at the Maritime Academy of Toledo and the author of two books on the mysteries and myths surrounding the most famous shipwreck in the history of the planet.
Snowbound and bored, he went back to his voluminous research – re-reading, rehashing, recalculating, looking yet again for something he might have missed, something that might further separate fact from Hollywood’s notions of Titanic.
Poring over his charts and deck plans, painstakingly recreating the timeline of events that awful night of April 14, 1912, he saw it.
Stoker Barrett, one of the strong-backed grunts in the belly of the Titanic, had consigned the great ship to its place in history when he opened a 10-inch bilge valve. He had been sent to do it to reconfigure the bilge pumps, but the valve instantly began filling the boiler room with water and further aggravated the bow’s downward tilt.
Striking the ice, Mr. Brown is convinced, was not of itself catastrophic enough to send the Titanic 2-½ miles to the bottom of the Atlantic. He debunks the notion that the iceberg’s gash in Titanic’s hull doomed the ship. Water did not rise over any bulkheads, he believes, until human error intervened.
“If (Barrett) had been an American, he might have questioned the order and closed the valve again right away,” Mr. Brown says. “But being a Brit, he followed his orders.” No counter-order came, and the massive gush of water continued.
Until the moment the valve was opened, Mr. Brown says, the Titanic was not sinking. Had that singular act not occurred, the great ship could have stayed afloat until help arrived, saving most or all of the 1,500 souls who died when Titanic foundered.
His explanation of what doomed Titanic is complex and laced with the jargon of men who went to sea in those days and steered their ships by the stars. But his beliefs are rooted in mathematics and modern thought, and one thing they do is upgrade the tarnished reputation of the ship’s master, Capt. Edward J. Smith.
Rather than ignore the iceberg peril of the North Atlantic, the captain was quite mindful of it. He instructed his officers to be especially vigilant that night. He carefully plotted ice warnings coming in from other ships and made at least two course adjustments. In Capt. Brown’s view, myth once again overtook factr and Capt. Smith, who went down with the ship, became the victim of a storyline that has often made him out to be a fool.
Capt. Brown is convinced that had the accident occurred, say, seven years later, on April 14, 1919, the lessons learned from the premature abandonment of warships in World War I would have saved the Titanic. Lusitania. Same thing. Brittanic. Same thing. Knowledge gained would have kept them afloat, he believes.
SLOW FINALE, IF TIME…..Maybe Capt. Brown is right about Titanic; maybe not. I do agree with him on one point. There have always been two Titanics, the real ship and the mythical one that still sails in our imaginations.
- Life As We Know It: January 18, 2016
EVERYBODY has a story to tell. Shortly after my retirement from The Blade, Clyde Scoles, director of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, asked if I’d be interested in hosting a new library program called Sight and Sound. We’d sit down every so often with a prominent Toledoan and let him or her talk about a life well lived while the library videotaped our interview for posterity. The completed DVDs would go into the library’s vast collection and would be available for checkout like any book or other material.
It was a marriage of mutual interests. For years The Blade and the library system, one of the nation’s best, had partnered on literacy projects and other endeavors, and the Sight and Sound Video Archives series was a natural.
Our guests are people you might call Toledo’s movers and shakers. I prefer another term: do-ers and givers.
Here are some of the folks we’ve recorded so far:
Richard Anderson. Chairman of The Andersons. If we’re talking about do-ers and givers, he has to be on the list. Few among us have not been touched by the generosity and philanthropy of Mr. Anderson and his family. It’s a nice arrangement – we all buy what we need at their stores and they share their time, talent, and treasure with the community.
Frank Gilhooley. I’m grateful that we captured that voice and all those stories before we lost him. The late sports broadcaster and
co-announcer for the Toledo Mud Hens was one of the most genuinely kind individuals I’ve ever met. And how about this? As a toddler, he once had Babe Ruth as a babysitter.
Marcy Kaptur. Maybe the closest thing to a sure bet on Capitol Hill, the veteran member of Congress is Washington’s Energizer Bunny. She just keeps going and going….
Crystal Ellis. The former superintendent of Toledo Public Schools was the first African-American to play basketball at Bowling Green State University.
The lateTom McGlauchlin. A skilled artist of national renown and a pioneer in what came to be known as the studio glass movement. He passed away shortly after our interview.
Jamie Farr. A true Hollywood star and part of the M*A*S*H television phenomenon, he never forgot his hometown. His annual golf tournament poured huge sums of money into local charities.
The late Sam Szor. Mr. Music in Toledo for more than half a century, the Music Under the Stars concert series at the Toledo Zoo made him a beloved maestro.
Carty Finkbeiner. Nobody ever loved being mayor of Toledo more than Carty. Resolutely demanding, occasionally controversial, and always passionate, he remains one of a kind.
Marie Vogt. The face and heart of ballet in Toledo, Muh-DAHM Vogt taught dance to thousands of young Toledoans. Her Toledo Ballet’s “Nutcracker” remains a holiday tradition, the longest running Nutcracker in the nation.
Baldemar Velasquez. As a young Blade labor reporter 40 years ago, I watched “Baldie” put himself in harm’s way to win bargaining rights for migrant workers.
Andy Devine. Lucas County’s first juvenile court judge, he continues, in his early 90s, to champion strong families and effective parenting.
Robert Savage and Sara Jane Dehoff. Business and civic leaders with service to Toledo few can match.
The late Bob Nichols, legendary University of Toledo basketball coach.
Donna Owens, Toledo’s first female mayor.
Susan Reams, a benefactor and patron of the arts.
It’s an impressive list. What a treat it has been to spend so much time with these remarkable people as an appreciative listener. I commend their stories to you.
- Life As We Know It: January 11, 2016
IT’S THE middle of January and no doubt you could use a reminder that warmer days are ahead, even if you have to go to Florida to find them.
Last January I was in Florida playing baseball at an annual tournament known as Bob Wagner's Wooden Bat Classic in Ft. Myers.
Our team was known as the Sunset Cowboys, a salute to our advancing age and diminishing skills. We still fancied ourselves as ballplayers with an attitude, hence the name Cowboys, but we also understood that in the corral we play in, it’s no longer high noon.
The shadows, like the distance from home plate to first, are getting longer. At the end a doubleheader, the saddle sores are a little slower to heal.
Most of our guys were in their 50s and 60s. The tournament has two divisions. The Red Oldham division for those of us who are "well seasoned" and the Cy Young division for those slightly less traveled.
Every team in the Oldham division has to have at least one player 68 or older, so I figured I was the token old guy required by the rules. For sure I thought I’d be the oldest guy on the team.
Then I met our catcher. He was 80. Still squatting behind the plate on every pitch. Still chasing after every foul popup. Still hustling.
I played a lot of second base, which made me feel like an important part of the team. I also played some right field, which kept me humble and made me feel like the pudgy kid in junior high who was sent to right field because that’s where he could do the least damage defensively.
At the Wooden Bat, it didn’t matter where I played as long as I saw my name in the lineup.
The Wooden Bat is baseball, not softball. The pitchers throw hard, or try to. They also throw curveballs and the occasional knuckler. I could not hit a curveball in high school and still can’t.
You would think that decades of knowing the curve is coming had leveled the playing field, but in my case, you would be incorrect. The opposing team’s catcher could cheerfully announce “here comes the big bender” and I’d still miss it.
You might think this is information I should keep to myself rather than share with potential opponents from Arizona or California or Florida who might accidentally see The Blade or hear WGTE on-line. But that ship has sailed. They already know.
Rookies at the Wooden Bat Classic get a special treat: a wooden bat with the perfect name: “Old Hickory.” Most of the newbies were so awestruck by their gleaming new bat they didn't use it during the tournament. I'll bet, like me, they took it home and hung it on the wall in pristine condition, scuff-free.
Over the years at tournaments such as the Wooden Bat and the Legends of Baseball tournaments in Cooperstown, N.Y., a fraternity of ballplayers has grown and endured, including former pros like Red Sox pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee.
Typically we see many of the same faces and the same competitors at every event. It may only be once or twice a year, but the bond is permanent. The trash talk is automatic but unfailingly polite. We are genuinely happy to see each other again, considering the alternative.
The 2016 Wooden Bat Classic begins next Saturday. Circumstances conspired to keep me away from the tournament this year, but Old Hickory still hangs on the wall, and I have this crazy notion I may have to take it back to Florida next year, step into the batter's box, and get it scuffed up a little.
Assuming, of course, I can lay off the curve ball.
- Life As We Know It: January 4, 2016
IT’S JANUARY, and for now, Lake Erie is frigid and algae-free. You don’t have to be a sailor or a fisherman to appreciate the importance of the Great Lakes – economically, recreationally, historically, and even emotionally.
As someone who once worked on the lakes, I’ve never for a moment doubted their importance. Somebody else who gets it is Paul La Marre, the man whose sketch on a restaurant napkin eight years ago started a journey that has delivered Toledo’s coolest new attraction, the National Museum of the Great Lakes, on the east bank of the Maumee River.Read more
- Life As We Know It: December 28, 2015
OVER THE last few years cruise lines have had their share of problems. Sick passengers. Accidents. Maybe the problems are a predictable result of the exploding popularity of deep-sea cruising. You put 4,000 or more people shoulder-to-shoulder on a boat for a week and even hosing them down with Purell might not help.
You see sick people. I see marketing opportunities. I think the cruise lines should get to work, turn these negatives into positives, and even generate a little revenue, like the airlines.Read more
- Life As We Know It: December 21, 2015
THREE YEARS ago I played the harmonica with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra on amateur night. But Kathleen Carroll, chief executive officer of the symphony, wasn’t finished with me. This time Ms. Carroll asked me to sing with more than a thousand kids from high school choirs all over the area at a massive community concert at the Huntington Center.
Apparently my earlier experience on the stage with TSO failed to satisfy my lust for self-embarrassment. So I said yes – again.Read more
- Life As We Know It: December 14, 2015
WITH AGE, it is said, comes wisdom. Not always, of course – a lot of old people are sent to prison. But I think the point has merit, something that was underscored for me when I was asked recently to help put together a college fraternity reunion.
My first reaction was natural and predictable: would I know any of them and would any of them know me? It has been 50 years since I last saw most of my fraternity brothers, and I’m wise enough to know that half a century is a long time, something I’m reminded of every time I look at photographs of me from the 1960s.Read more
- Life As We Know It: December 7, 2015
SOMETIMES ALL we know of war half a world away is what the news media report. What we hear far less about is the personal anguish of those who live with fear every day because there is no escaping it.
On this anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it is a fear that an American-born Israeli, a teacher at the American International School in Even Yehuda, not far from Tel Aviv, knows intimately.Read more
- Life As We Know It: November 30, 2015
YOU MIGHT assume that Patrick Reynolds is furious these days. After all, R.J. Reynolds was his grandfather, and the giant tobacco company was socked last year with a $23 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: November 23, 2015
Thursday is Thanksgiving, so please allow me to give thanks for six special children in my life. Occasionally I see a bumper sticker that says “Ask Me About My Grandchildren.” I never do. For one thing, I’m usually in a hurry to get somewhere, and second, it would be dangerous in traffic to roll down the window and yell at the lady in the next car, “How many you got?”
But now that my wife and I have six of our own, I get it. Wanna see my brag book?
Since you asked, this is a picture of our daughter’s oldest, Kelley. She’s gorgeous. The camera loves her. She’s 17. She’s driving now. She’s head drum major of her high school band in Alabama, and she’s really in to Girl Scouting. Our freezer, perhaps like yours, is full of cookies, mostly Thin Mints and Tagalongs.Read more
- Life As We Know It: November 16, 2015
WHY IN the world, my friends asked me, would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Well, this was not a perfectly good airplane, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I had been itching to skydive from altitude – as opposed, I guess, to skydiving from a park bench. I had jumped once before about 15 years ago, but that was a static-line jump, meaning I was tethered to the plane. The plane, in effect, opened my chute for me when I exited. And I was jumping from just 3,200 feet up. It was great fun, and exciting, but I’ve always wanted to jump with the big boys.
Somebody told me about Skydive Tecumseh, based in Tecumseh, Mich., about 40 miles northwest of Toledo. They offer tandem jumping, which means the paying customer is strapped to an instructor who does all the work. The best part (or worst part, depending on your perspective): you say good-by to your pilot at 14,000 feet, nearly three miles up.
I tried to recruit somebody to jump with me. My wife. Former co-workers. Baseball teammates. Strangers on the street. They all looked at me like I’m the last lobster in the tank and the waiter is rolling up his sleeve. Then they ran.
I signed up anyway and paid $225 for my weekday jump. I figured this would be my first and last skydive from 14,000 feet, so I also bought the full video/photo package. If something went wrong, I wanted it documented. Not that it would have helped. Ten pages of legalese protected the rights of everybody at Skydive Tecumseh and stripped away all mine. I decided that’s a battle my heirs can fight – I’m jumpin’.
I was assigned to an instructor named Rob. I caught a break. Though half my age, he already has more than 2,200 sky dives to his credit. It helped knowing Rob had my back – literally.
Rob and I were the last to crawl in to the plane, which meant we would be the first out when we got to altitude. It seemed to take forever to get to 14,000 feet. The plane’s interior appeared to make liberal use of industrial-grade duct tape.
Then the exit door slid up. Rob instructed me to scoot to the opening, dangle my legs over the side, and wait for him to push us out from behind. Easy for him to say. It was time to sit or get off the spot. The videographer who would accompany us down began counting, “three, two, one….go!” We tumbled forward and suddenly the plane was far above us, rising quickly into the heavens.
We went into about 60 seconds of freefall. Even though we were plummeting earthward at 120 miles per hour, there was no sensation of falling – only flying. We did some rolls, some spins, some spread-eagle glides. I did a feeble “O-H-I-O” for the video, a decision I instantly regretted.
What if Rob is a Michigan man, I wondered. When I viewed it later on video it looked more like a prayer for deliverance, especially the “I” part.
As we sliced through the sky, I could feel my face rippling in the hurricane-force winds. Rob opened our chute at about 5,000 feet, and all the noise and flapping cheeks subsided. We drifted in gentle turns and swirls the rest of the way down. The vistas – the geometry and geography of the earth below – were spectacular. I asked Rob during our descent if he ever tires of the thrill of human flight. His emphatic response: “Never!”
We glided to a soft landing in a grassy area next to the runway, and all I could think to say was “Can we go again?”
I can finally cross skydiving off my bucket list, but here’s the irony: now I’m not sure I want to.
- Life As We Know It: November 9, 2015
A FEW minutes past 7 o'clock on Nov. 10, 1975, on a bitter and brutal night on Lake Superior, Capt. Ernie McSorley and his crewmates on the Edmund Fitzgerald were in a fight for their lives in a storm more violent than anything they had ever encountered.
The great ship was in peril, and the end came with such suddenness and ferocity there was no time for an SOS, no time for anything but a few seconds of desperation and terror as the fastest, grandest ship on the Great Lakes slipped into the depths and into history.Read more
- Life As We Know It: November 2, 2015
JEFF CONDON may or may not be an environmentalist. I don’t know. But I’ll say this for him: he went green a long time ago.
Green and white actually. Mr. Condon, who lives in Perrysburg, is a proud 1985 graduate of Ohio University in Athens, and when I say proud, I mean proud as in “a bit over the top.”Read more
- Life As We Know It: October 26, 2015
A COUPLE years ago we had some fun with a piece that lamented how clichés abuse and degrade our language. Today I’m here to tell you that the news media are frequent offenders. We in the news biz have a tendency to rely on the trite, the unimaginative. Verbal crutches, in other words.
Needless to say, you’ll hear many of them right here. It’s not like they’re shrouded in secrecy.Read more
- Life As We Know It: October 19, 2015
RACIAL bigotry. Age discrimination. Cruelty to animals. Sexual exploitation. Crude personal habits. Foul language. Homophobia. Religious intolerance. Limitless greed. Yes, what’s not to like about Mel Brooks’ controversial cinematic achievement, “Blazing Saddles,” which was released back in 1974.
It’s true that “Blazing Saddles” could never be made today, flooded as it is from the opening scene to the closing credits with enough political incorrectness to fill the fictional town of Rock Ridge. That’s the thing about Mel Brooks. You don’t think he’s going to go there, and then he does.Read more
- Life As We Know It: October 12, 2015
IF I correctly understand the concept of a bucket list, the idea is to compose a list of things you’d like to do or see before you die. I don’t think the point is to die doing them. Still, I press on.
I climbed the trail to Half Dome in magnificent Yosemite National Park a few years ago, a risky trek at any age, much less mine. I’ve skydived twice, once strapped to an instructor and once solo. What was I thinking, right?Read more
- Life As We Know It: October 5, 2015
I COMMENTED a while back that commercial flying was no longer fun and had become an ordeal. Will the romance ever come back, I asked. Then I observed cynically: “I think you’ll see the New England Journal of Medicine swimsuit issue before that happens.”
Point being, of course, that there is no New England Journal of Medicine swimsuit issue.Read more
- Life As We Know It: September 14, 2015
WHEN I was first exposed to the old Penta County Vocational School, it was located on Oregon Road in northern Wood County and I was a young soldier in the Army Reserve. We often trained there.
Penta was a dreary place in those days. Trust me, it is dreary no more. It‘s not even in the same location and no longer has the same name. The beautiful new campus at Buck and Lime City Roads in Perrysburg is hardly your grandfather‘s Penta. It‘s now known as the Penta Career Center, a reflection of the changing nature of what we used to call vocational education.Read more
- Life As We Know It: September 7, 2015
EIGHT YEARS ago when I retired from the newspaper business, I was asked if I would ever consider running for public office. My answer was an emphatic no.
I’ve changed my mind. I hereby declare, just as so many have done before me, that I too am a candidate for mayor of the City of Toledo.Read more
- Life As We Know It: August 31, 2015
MORE THAN 300 photos sit out of sight and out of mind in my smart phone, which isn’t very smart of me at all. Some of them have been there so long I forget when and where I took them. A few include total strangers, people I encountered somewhere and for whatever reason felt compelled to photograph.
I blame this whole digital and social media world we live in. Facebook is in my face, and Myspace is in my space. My phone, I’m told, is smarter than the computers that guided the Apollo astronauts to the moon. But perhaps it is the camera within the phone that underscores just how much my life has changed since I went “social.”
I have always considered myself an amateur photographer, a hobbyist with no particular skill but with an ongoing enthusiasm for the challenge of composing a good shot.
It was exciting to shoot a roll of film, take it to the store for developing, and return some time later to pick up my prints. Every pack of pictures would yield some keepers, just as every pack would yield some stinkers – somebody’s eyes were closed, a friend had a previously unnoticed flagpole sticking out of his head, or I jiggled the camera and blurred the shot.
That’s how I learned. It’s how I tried to improve. The best fringe benefit of all: the pictures went into a shoebox for future reference. So now, any time I want, I can pull the 1986 shoebox out of the closet and look at the pictures I took as a proud dad at my daughter’s high school track meet in California. Or I can take the 1980 box off the shelf and relive my son’s graduation from pre-school. He was so cute in that cap and gown.
Reluctantly I made the switch from film to digital and discovered the joy of instant gratification and the immediate rejection of a mistake. But the downside quickly became evident: the shoeboxes stopped when digital started.
I now have thousands of digital pictures stored in my computer or cellphone but no actual photos. I’ve backed them all up, and some of them are even up there in the sky, floating around in something called the “Cloud.” If the good Lord is looking after my pictures, fine, but if it’s an alien technician in a parallel universe, I’m going to be a little upset.
A friend confided that she finally went to a self-serve kiosk at Wal-Mart and paid $80 to print out hundreds of pictures dating back to 2006. Her grandchildren grew up on her memory card.
I can relate. My granddaughter wrote out a full page of instructions, in long-hand no less, on how to take and post a picture on Instagram. I’m still working my way through it. I guess Instagram involves instantly sharing pictures of whatever it is I’m doing – in other words, Facebook in living color.
Don’t get me started on Facebook.
My modest Facebook page is already full of irrelevance like a distant cousin’s search for a parking place at the mall – an adventure shared with me in real time – or a former work associate’s indecision about whether it’s time to buy a new toothbrush.
This is not stuff I need to know, but not a day passes I don’t see first-person accounts of out-of-kilter sleep habits, the boredom of sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, or bodily functions gone awry after a night on the town. But if Facebook floats your boat, good for you.
As for me, I’d still rather look at photos in a shoe box.
- Life As We Know It: August 24, 2015
IT’S LATE August, and I have just one question: Are you ready for some football?
I’m not sure when football became a summertime pursuit. I’ve always associated football with wind and snow and bitter cold, like Cleveland in April. But the pros are already playing, the colleges and high schools will be butting heads shortly, and we’re not even to Labor Day.
So time is short for you to brush up on the game. I’m here to help.
Football is a game played with 11 men – or 11 really sturdy women – to a side.
Each wears the padded equivalent of a suit of armor on his body and a bucket on his head. They all run around chaotically, one squad in light-colored suits and the other in dark, trying to knock each other down. Though football is an American game, this would explain why Canadians enjoy it. Hockey without the skates. What fun.
Football is not complicated. Each side is assigned a rectangular piece of playing field which it must defend at all cost. These two sacred rectangles are separated by 100 yards of grass, which can be either real or fake. The idea is for one group of 11 to push the other group of 11 backwards until the group doing the pushing invades the rectangle of the group doing the shoving.
Whichever group invades the other’s rectangle the most is declared the winner. Then everybody goes out for refreshments.
Although an invasion of the opponents’ rectangle requires the ultimate in teamwork, not all players are considered equal. The foot soldiers up front, leading the way, are called linemen. They are extremely large individuals who eat pretty much everything placed in front of them, including old shoes, tree stumps, and discarded tires.
Their job is to protect the player called the “quarterback,” the best looking player on the team. His teeth are perfectly aligned, and they gleam in the sunshine, unlike the linemen, whose teeth have generally been misplaced. This makes football the ultimate class struggle – the soldiers and the prince.
The trophy they prize is called “the ball.” They are expected to guard it as though it’s their next meal. Pigskin – it’s what’s for dinner.
Ah, yes, the ball. Was this thing designed by committee? It’s not even round. It’s fat in the middle and comes to a point on both ends. When it bounces nobody has a clue which way it will go. This seems unnecessarily cruel.
There are three ways to earn points: running the ball into the sacred rectangle, throwing it into the rectangle and hoping one of your own players catches it, and kicking the ball through a giant tuning fork. A team can also score by playing dirty. They do this by taking the ball away from an opponent, either by grabbing it right out of his grasp or by catching a thrown ball intended for somebody else. Bullies, that’s what they are.
Alongside the 100 yards of grass dozens of other soldiers await their chance to enter the fray. Many of these bystanders have failed in the past and thus are discouraged from further participation. They are called “third-stringers” or “bench-warmers.”
Just behind the bench you will see a row of lovely lasses whose job it is to incite the onlookers into raucous enthusiasm for the combatants. Like the grass, they too can be real or fake. These young ladies may even be tougher than the goliaths they adore – especially in November and December – considering how little clothing they have been issued.
You will also notice several men in striped shirts whose only function is to annoy all involved, especially patrons who have surrendered a week’s pay to see eyes gouged and legs bitten.
I share all of this with you because football gets a lot more technical on The Blade sports pages. Keep this simple guide in mind when Dave Hackenberg and his colleagues go all “X’s and O’s” on you.
- Life As We Know It: August 17, 2015
TEN STICKS of dynamite. Four dead little girls. It was the darkest day in the history of civil rights in America, and it is still known as “Birmingham Sunday,” a name and a memory that decades later make the good people of Birmingham, Alabama cringe.
Birmingham and much of the South have come a long way since the awful events of Sept. 15, 1963, when bombs planted by racists filled with hate killed four young black girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church. By that evening two other African-American children were killed, one shot by police and another gunned down by a white youth.
My wife and I visited the 16th Street Baptist Church recently with our daughter, who lives in Birmingham, and toured the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute just across the street. We informally hooked up with a class of 18 eighth-grade students from a private school in Beverly, Mass., all of them with notebooks and pens – and all of them white.
I struck up a conversation with their teacher, James Watras, who explained that the children were exploring some of the most significant sites in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, including stops in Selma and Montgomery. I asked if his students would forward their impressions of what they learned to me after they got home.
I posed two questions to the kids from Massachusetts:
“How did your trip reinforce or change your feelings about race relations in America? What did you learn about yourself and your country.”
Not surprisingly, their experience was a revelation for most of them, as the candor of their responses was for me.
Consider the comments of Benedikt: “I had never actually talked to a black person before,” he acknowledged, but the trip helped him realize, he said, that “skin color is just like hair color or eye color. It doesn’t change who you are.”
Carly noted that eliminating racism is an ongoing struggle because America doesn’t like to change. “It’s easy to say now that I would have done the right thing,” she said, “that I would not have been racist, but if I had been born and raised in a household that believed in racism, how do I know?”
Stefan reflected on the economic realities of racism. “White people,” he said, “still have better jobs and homes. It’s not the equal country people think it is.”
Holly said her trip awakened her to the “unintentional” diversity surrounding her life back home in New England, “which is worse than doing it consciously. If you do something out of choice, you notice it. If you do something out of habit and tradition,” she said, “you don’t.”
Sasha said her experiences in Alabama opened her eyes to the real world in ways that her classroom studies had not.
It was the same for Louis. “Running my hand over the martyrs’ names on the civil rights memorial,” he said, “is enough to change anyone’s point of view.” Sammy admitted that he had believed racism in America was ancient history. “It’s more recent than I thought.” he said.
Grace was especially insightful for an eighth grader. Because the fight for civil rights was most visibly fought in the South, she said, it is the South that has made the greatest strides toward equality. “It is much more integrated than many places in the North,” she observed, something a lot of folks here in the North will have a difficult time accepting.
Having spent a lot of time on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, I have to agree with Grace, at least anecdotally.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute doesn’t hide the ugly past of the South. It lays it out in shameful black and white.
Ten sticks. Four little girls. It still hurts.
- Life As We Know It: August 10, 2015
THE AUCTION of Mildred Benson memorabilia a while back touched me and stirred some wonderful memories of one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever met.
Mildred Wirt Benson was known to her work family at The Blade as simply Millie, and it was only relatively late in her life that a hidden side of her became public knowledge: as writer Carolyn Keene she was the author of the first 23 Nancy Drew mystery books, marvelous stories that have inspired generations of young women to believe and achieve.
For much of her life, what nobody knew and she couldn’t say was that her connection with Nancy Drew was a secret mandated by her agreement with her book publisher.
When that veil was finally lifted, the recognition that had been denied her for so many years burst forth. She wasn’t always comfortable with it, but she accepted the applause with grace, no doubt aware that her fans needed to thank her for the Nancy Drew mysteries as much as she needed to write them.
Let me share some of those special memories of Millie. A few years before Millie died in 2002, at age 96, my wife and I visited a bookstore in Charleston, S.C., and found a copy of one of her many Nancy Drew books, “The Bungalow Mystery.”
Aware of Millie’s unhappiness with reprints of her originals, reprints that sometimes “modernized” her stories, I decided to call her to see if this book was the real deal. She asked about the flyleaf and the illustrations. It was indeed an authentic first edition. We bought it for six bucks.
After our return I took it to her, and true to her word, she inscribed it to my wife. “To Dianne,” she wrote, “from Mildred Wirt Benson, who wrote this book under the pen name Carolyn Keene.” Had it been one of the many reprints from later years, she would not have signed it, and she told me so. Dianne wrote her a beautiful and touching letter of thanks in return, explaining what the Nancy Drew books had meant to her as a young girl growing up in a man’s world. It was a letter I’m sure millions of other American women would have written given the chance.
Our copy of “The Bungalow Mystery” is not in the best of shape. I hope that means that a lot of people, mostly young women, have read our book and enjoyed it. Its condition probably means it would not bring top dollar among collectors. On the other hand, it’s signed by Millie, so we wouldn’t sell it anyway. My favorite Millie memory is her selection to the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in the 1990s. The Blade nominated her, she was chosen, and it was my honor to accompany her to Columbus for the ceremony. Hundreds of people, mostly women, crowded into the Statehouse atrium to salute the winners.
When then-Gov. George Voinovich began outlining Millie’s long and distinguished journalism career, the crowd was respectful and quiet. But when he explained that she was also the original Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew books, the place erupted in enthusiastic cheers and a standing ovation that lasted several minutes.
Millie Benson was a woman of great achievement, not all of it crafted at a typewriter. She was a pilot for many years. She was an accomplished swimmer and diver in her youth.
Millie’s eyesight began to fail her late in her life, but she still came to work every day. In fact, she wrote her last column the day she died.
There was a lot of the fictional Nancy Drew in the real life Millie Benson. And vice versa. Nancy could do anything. So could Millie. I’m lucky I got to know them both.
- Life As We Know It: August 3, 2015
EVERY DAY Mark Wasylyshyn has roughly 150 guests for dinner. It’s an uneasy relationship – they wish they didn’t have to come and he’d rather they not be there, but he insists they stay over.
He’s the Wood County Sheriff, and well, it’s the law. His guests are inmates at the Wood County Jail, and among other things, the law requires that he feed them three nutritious meals a day.
Running a county jail has changed a lot over the years. Retired Wood County Sheriff Matt Brichta remembers taking office 25 years ago and discovering that meal planning was a rather unsophisticated enterprise: a couple deputies would go to the old Foodtown and bring back baloney and bread and other stuff.
He and his successors, including Sheriff Wasylyshyn, have had to adapt to changing times and changing needs. How do you feed that many people and stay within your food budget?
The sheriff’s got it figured out. Saving taxpayer money is pretty much his mantra. Today his kitchen staff plans menus for a week at a time. The menu doesn’t vary a whole lot. Last Friday’s dinner will also be next Friday’s dinner. Tomorrow’s will look a lot like last Tuesday’s.
The sheriff hit upon the idea when visiting an ailing friend in the hospital, which had a one-week rotation of meals that repeated itself. “I figured if they can do that and save money, we can do that at the jail.“ So the jail’s menu went from a rotation of 30 different daily menus each month to just seven. Nutrition meets thrift.
Jails such as Wood County’s have had to adjust in other ways, too, including accommodating the religious beliefs and medical needs of the inmates. A special diabetic menu is provided to the insulin dependent.
Outside the jail, in a courtyard surrounded by tall fences topped with razor wire, inmates tend a seasonal fruit and vegetable garden that produces tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, watermelons, radishes, cucumbers, squash, and onions for the kitchen.
What isn’t consumed is diced, bagged, and frozen for later use when the garden is dormant for the winter.
No doubt many of the inmates are eating better in jail than they do on the outside. But don’t get the idea that the sheriff is running a country club.
He gets complaints about the food. Years ago the jail would prepare special meals on holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas, for example – but no more. Thanksgiving means the Thursday menu, which means chicken and rice at dinner. Not a pumpkin pie in sight.
Beef has virtually disappeared from the jail, replaced by “turkey products.” A hot breakfast also is a thing of the past. “We were serving three hot meals a day. Even I don’t eat three hot meals a day,” the sheriff says. “We’re not required to do it, so we saved the money.”
He also determined that coffee has no nutritional value so he eliminated it in 2005, saving $12,500 a year by his calculation. No cakes, no cookies, no ice cream either. The cost per meal is about $1.14. You can’t get a kid’s Happy Meal for that at McDonald’s.
The sheriff uses inmate labor as much as possible. A dozen inmates work in the kitchen. The complete facility is cleaned by its temporary residents.
Sheriff Wasylyshyn carries a seemingly difficult burden for an elected official: a name that’s hard to say, much less spell. He has a politician’s remedy. When you hear his name, just think “watch” and “listen,” he says, which is pretty good advice even if you’re not in Block Watch.
As for his guests and any dissatisfaction with the food, he has a simple response: “We tell them if they don’t like the food, don’t come back.”
- Life As We Know It: July 27, 2015
AS A sports fan, I appreciate the talent and skills that separate the best athletes, the professionals at the top of their game, from the rest of us, including those of us who try to play their game anyway as fumbling, bumbling amateurs.
But my admiration has its limits, especially when I hear a professional jock compare himself to the bravest among us – our fighting men and women.
I’m not speaking of any particular athlete here, and this is just a paraphrased quote, but I’m sure you’ve heard it yourself: “I love these guys. We’ve been through so much adversity. We go to war together every day.”
Well, I play on two amateur baseball teams, and while I have genuine affection for my teammates, none of us would contend that we go to war together when we step on the field.
I just want to grab these pampered pros by the shoulders and say “No, you do not go to war every day. You play a children’s game with a ball and a stick, and you are rewarded with riches you never imagined as a kid.”
The average salary in major league baseball last season was $3.2 million. The average! Even the minimum salary is $480,000. That’s more than a lot of Americans see in their lifetimes, and that’s the low end.
At the high end of the MLB pay scale, an athlete who plays especially well can earn absurd amounts. The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez is the poster boy – and the whipping boy – in any discussion of athletes’ pay, and why not? He makes $29 million a year. He continues to draw his pay after dishonoring the game and himself with a scandal of his own making.
What does a soldier make who does his job especially well? A corporal with two years of service gets $2,081 a month.
Alex Rodriguez makes more during a massage from the Yankees’ trainer than a soldier in constant danger in a war zone gets in a month. Does something seem a little out of whack here?
Team sports borrow from military terminology all the time. Baseball managers “platoon” a right-handed hitter and a left-handed hitter. After a few tough losses in a row, they might stress the need to “soldier on.” Football coaches speak of the importance of the “squad” and maintaining “tight discipline.”
I care a lot more about a platoon of American soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq than athletes who are grossly overpaid to entertain me.
If you want to talk about tight discipline, consider the courage it takes to drive a Humvee down a dusty road and wonder if this is the day your vehicle hits an IED buried in the dirt beneath you.
A ballplayer who loses focus and makes an error might face the wrath of an angry coach. A Marine whose concentration wavers might lose his life.
A player who pulls a hamstring might end up on the disabled list for two weeks. A soldier who takes a bullet might end up on the disabled list for the rest of his life – if he survives.
Wars are fought and one day wars end, presumably even in Afghanistan. And for what? We failed in Vietnam and lost more than 58,000 of our countrymen, nearly all of them contemporaries of mine. I’m proud of my Army service, but I still feel a measure of guilt that friends of mine died while my deployment was safe and secure here in the States.
I’m sure most professional athletes truly do appreciate and admire our fighting forces. However, I can also imagine hearing one of them say “Hey, they volunteered for what they’re doing. Nobody put a gun to their heads.”
Exactly. Nobody had to.
- Life As We Know It: July 20, 2015
CRIKEY, MATES! Toledo has a new friend in Australia, a friend who looks a lot like us. Toledo also has one determined Aussie right here at home who wants to see the friendship blossom into something serious -- sister cities maybe.
Lindsay Smith is a retired career diplomat from Australia who married a Toledo girl he met in Denmark. He makes his home here now. He absolutely loves Toledo and is mystified when folks who've lived here all their lives don't always share his enthusiasm.
We agreed to meet for lunch. My "G'die Mite” seemed to impress him. I don't speak much Australian; Mr. Smith insists he doesn't speak much American. Somehow, employing a sophisticated series of grunts and wheezes, we were able to communicate while someone in the kitchen threw another snag on the barbie.
Mr. Smith, who serves on the board of Toledo Sister Cities International, wanted to talk about a glaring omission from Toledo's list of sister-city relationships. There's none in Australia. Apparently the people of Geelong, an industrial and manufacturing city southwest of Melbourne, are willing to discuss changing that.
So Mr. Smith is earnestly building his case for sister-city ties between Toledo and his hometown of Geelong.
He shares an impressive list of similarities between the two cities.
Both are busy seaports. Both are or have been major automotive and glass manufacturing centers. Both are home to a little under 300,000 people. Both sit 50 miles or so from a major metropolitan area -- Detroit in our case, Melbourne in theirs.
An Australian journalist friend and former diplomatic colleague of Mr. Smith shares his old buddy's interest in a sister-city arrangement with Toledo.
Daryl McLure, a columnist for the Geelong Advertiser, notes similarities of his own between Geelong and Toledo. Both were founded in the 1830s, just a few years apart. Both have universities with a major health sciences component.
Establishing formal ties to Geelong would almost be worth it just to get a visit from Geelong's mayor, Darryn Lyons, a true political character who thumbs his nose at convention.
He occasionally paints his hair in multiple colors. He went with a spiked blue and white mohawk for his campaign poster. He lines the walls of his bathroom, floor to ceiling, with photos from his career years ago as a paparazzi. I'm not making this up.
More showman and promoter than politician, Mayor Lyons is all about enhancing Geelong's economic footprint. Having lived abroad for many years, he is now Geelong's number one cheerleader.
Mr. Smith can relate. Quote: "The people who have been here in Toledo all their lives seem to be the ones most critical of the city. The people who have come here from somewhere else have no trouble recognizing how wonderful this place is." End quote.
It's an old and familiar refrain and, unfortunately, Mr. Smith is right.
Will Geelong join Toledo's sisterhood? The former diplomat is diplomatically optimistic and pledges to keep pushing. For inspiration he falls back on his affection for the lyrics of Gilbert and Sullivan: "Faint heart never won fair lady."
The diminutive Mr. Smith is himself a poet. He had this to say several years ago upon leaving his diplomatic post in Sweden:
"It's not much fun
"When it's six feet deep
"And you're 5 feet 1."
No wonder Lindsay Smith feels right at home here in Toledo.
- Life As We Know It: July 13, 2015
WE'RE INTO the summer season and the occasional thunderstorm, which means we could lose our electricity at any time. Usually it’s not for very long, but the effect of an outage on our routines is profound, isn‘t it?.
I mean, everything goes dark and suddenly your comfortable home with all its amenities becomes the Little House on the Prairie. Life as we know it is put on hold while we cope with the realities of the frontier 200 years ago.
Television always seems to be at the heart of the inconvenience.
If I’m watching a ballgame on TV, invariably the screen goes black just after a hitter has smacked a base hit to the outfield and the go-ahead run is rounding third.
Or Castle and Beckett are about to explain who strangled the carnival worker and I won’t know if my own theory was right unless I catch the rerun.
Suddenly cut off from civilization, I feel a mix of anger and panic as I ponder the prospect that I haven't dropped enough bread crumbs to find my way back upstairs.
My wife and I have a little contest we play when the power goes out. We see which of us will be the first to walk into a room that’s way too dark and absent-mindedly flip the light switch. I always lose.
Usually I’m stumbling around looking for a flashlight and without thinking turn a lamp switch to make the search a little easier. It’s one of those stupid slap-of-the-forehead moments and it happens every time.
Power company crews who have to go out in terrible weather and fix a blown transformer or repair downed power lines are heroes.
They are right up there with emergency room doctors, mail carriers who brave winter ice and summer heat to bring all that stuff addressed to somebody at our house named “Occupant,” and the lady at the bakery who makes those red velvet cakes.
I am spoiled by electricity and I hate losing it. There’s a time and place for candles, and it isn’t during a baseball rally interrupted.
It's true that unlike Laura Ingalls all those years ago, we are well fortified against the sacrifices of an evening without power. Our refrigerator contains sufficient provisions to see us through, at least until morning, even though the ice cream's melting.
I also have a small fridge in the TV room in the basement, which I keep stocked with assorted beverages, some of the adult variety, and I'm comforted by the fact that if I don't die of a bad fall in the dark trying to reach it, I won't die of thirst either.
Of course, God forbid my wife catches me opening the refrigerator during a power outage. "Are you nuts?" she'll inquire sweetly. "You're letting all the cold out."
There is, of course, no arguing that kind of logic. It's like my mother used to say when I was a little slow to close the front door in the winter. "Were you born in a barn?" she'd ask.
"Well, Mom," I'd silently think to myself, "although we were both there at the time, you would have a better recollection than I."
Wherever it happened, the place was extremely well lit and I was getting slapped around, so you'd think I would welcome the dark. But no, I'm a rebel.
If we're two hours into a power failure, my patience is wearing thin. I know that when we finally get our electricity back, I'm going to have to reset all the digital clocks. As a card-carrying obsessive, I insist they all show the exact same time, so I have a physical challenge ahead of me, racing from room to room.
On those rare occasions when the power has not been restored by bed time, we call it a night and hope for better luck tomorrow.
"Good night, John Boy," my wife will say.
"Good night, Mary Ellen," I respond.
Maybe it's a little creepy, si
- Life As We Know It: June 29, 2015
NEW YORK CITY is a conundrum, a contradiction, a poem in free verse, soaring and dirty and in your face, a mad symphony of a thousand noises and quiet contemplation. A city where bigness is celebrated, yet greatness is encountered in the smallest of places: a hole-in-the-wall neighborhood tavern, a tiny Italian restaurant with eight tables one flight below street level, a firehouse barely the width of a two-car garage.
And it is a destination for millions of visitors every year. So much spectacle. So much history. World-class museums. Broadway shows. Carnegie Hall. The Empire State Building. Thirty Rock. Coney Island. And 13,000 yellow taxis, most of them too busy to stop.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 22, 2015
WHEN the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA chose Anthony Bennett with the first pick in the June 27 college player draft, the choice came after long hours of watching film and video, reviewing scouting reports, poring over statistics, and applying as much scientific analysis as possible.
Back in 1970, when the expansion Cavaliers were ready to make their first pick in the “dispersal draft,” which made certain veteran players available for acquisition from existing teams, it was a lot simpler. They sent Jim Lessig to buy bubble-gum cards.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 15, 2015
REACTION TO our commentary on Ohio’s new and embarrassingly bland “Ohio Pride” license plates was diverse and surprising – not unlike the Buckeye State, come to think of it.
Several people agreed with my assessment, while a couple said they consider the new plate an improvement over the “Beautiful Ohio” plate it replaces. Eye of the beholder, I guess.Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 8, 2015
WHEN THE Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles first introduced the “Beautiful Ohio” license plate five years ago, I was impressed. It was colorful, it was inspiring, and it effectively promoted the Buckeye State, at home and beyond our borders. Far less impressive is its replacement.
The blue letters and numbers are still there, with a grayish white background. But all I see is that unremarkable inverted triangle in red at the top. What’s up with that?Read more
- Life As We Know It: June 1, 2015
DRIVERLESS CARS are not only the future – they are already here. Three states, California, Nevada, and Florida, have passed laws allowing robotic cars. If you thought cars that can parallel park themselves are a revolutionary idea, how about this? Google (yes, Google) has been testing a small fleet of self-driving vehicles on California highways.
Apparently the Google cars have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles without an accident while under computer control. Having lived and driven in California, I find that hard to believe, especially if the cars are on the same roads as vehicles with actual people at the wheel, particularly people who are gabbing or texting on their cell phones.Read more
- Life As We Know It: May 25, 2015
GOOD NEWS out of the state of Hawaii. The Aloha State has just made history by becoming the first state in the nation to prohibit the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.
If the governor signs the bill, Hawaii will be a pioneer, becoming the first state to boldly go where the tobacco industry would rather it did not. Hawaii, however, would not be the first governmental entity to do so. At least 64 communities and counties in seven states have already done the same thing.Read more
- Life As We Know It: May 18, 2015
IT’S THE lusty month of May, as they say in Camelot, and you know what that means. No, not that. May means it’s time to go golfing.
It’s time to get the golf bag out of the basement, chase away the mice who’ve made the bag their winter home, put on our ugliest pants, and head off to the links where we can all once again make fools of ourselves.Read more
- Life As We Know It: May 11, 2015
SOMEHOW, describing it as “a life well lived” doesn’t quite sum it up. Besides, he’s still living it. My only remaining uncle just turned 100 years old last week, and while he needed a day or two to rest up after his big birthday party, he’s good to go for 101.
Claude Walton lives in a nursing home in Upper Sandusky these days, but only because his body finally told him several months ago he could not keep his own bachelor pad any more.Read more
- Life As We Know It: May 4, 2015
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 27, 2015
CLINT EASTWOOD is a friend of mine. How’s that for name-dropping? Actually, not a friend. More like an acquaintance. He probably wouldn’t take my calls any more, although he used to.
My relationship with Dirty Harry began in 1975, not long after The Blade sent me to the Monterey Peninsula Herald, at the time a Block Communications, Inc., newspaper on California’s beautiful Central Coast.Read more
- Life As We Know It: April 20, 2015
A COMEDIAN once joked that he was a peripheral visionary. He could see into the future, he said, but only to one side. I saw the future head-on a couple years ago, and I felt a lot better about it. I was asked to speak to Clay High School’s annual spring academic honors banquet, a salute to the top 10 percent scholastic achievers in each class, freshmen through seniors.
As a graduate of Clay a long time ago, I was excited to go back, although it can be a bit intimidating when surrounded by people who are smarter than I am. It was a crowd of about 325 people, 120 of them Clay students, the rest proud parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles.Read more
- Life As We Know It: April 6, 2015
A NEW baseball season has begun, and it’s sad to think that it begins without Lowell Hinkle. Mr. Hinkle, who deserves a spot in the Baseball Collectors Hall of Fame, if there is such a thing, passed away last month. Lowell and his wife Shirley shared a common passion, autographed baseballs. They’ve got a couple thousand of them.
Lowell was a legend among sports memorabilia folks, as is Shirley. Their home is right here in the Toledo metropolitan area, and no, I’m not telling you where. That’s because the Hinkle house is a museum unlike any other, and the value of the items stored and displayed there could never truly be calculated.Read more
- Life As We Know It: March 30, 2015
OLDER TOLEDO City Hall veterans certainly remember the late John Burkhart, who served as the City of Toledo’s chief legal counsel from 1964 to 1980. A good lawyer and a good guy, Mr. Burkhart was something of a character in the Safety Building, which served as the city’s headquarters before Government Center was built.
He died last year but I think about him often. Over the years Mr. Burkhart’s wit was on display in frequent letters to friends and family. I covered City Hall, and occasionally Mr. Burkhart, for The Blade, as a young reporter in the late 1960s. Many years later he would send me letters to the editor for The Blade’s Readers Forum that were as funny as he was.Read more
- Life As We Know It: March 23, 2015
EVERYBODY has a story to tell. Shortly after my retirement, Clyde Scoles, director of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, asked if I’d be interested in hosting a new library project called Sight and Sound. We’d sit down every so often with a prominent Toledoan and let him or her talk about a life well lived while the library videotaped our interview for posterity. The completed discs go into the library’s vast collection, available for checkout or viewing online at the library’s website.
Our guests are people you might call Toledo’s movers and shakers. I prefer another term: do-ers and givers.Read more
- Life As We Know It: March 9, 2015
T.S. ELIOT considered April the cruelest month. I can only assume he wintered in the Caribbean. If you want to talk cruelty, February is pretty tough to beat, especially the February we just endured. Cold-temperature records fell like ice chunks breaking loose from my eaves troughs.
You may hear more about Eliot this year. This is the 50th anniversary of his death in 1965. I don’t mention him today to denigrate his stature as a great American poet but to quarrel with his apparent indifference to the sheer meanness of February.Read more
- Life As We Know It: March 2, 2015
THE OTHER day I received 33 emails in my home computer’s inbox, and only three were from friends or family. My Blade inbox received 27 more, and only two were from somebody I know or a Blade reader responding to something I’d written. That’s 60 emails, and 55 of them were irrelevant to me.
One email tells me that life in the fast lane is not good for my health and that help is close at hand if I’ll just get in touch. Well, judging from the frequency of my medical appointments since I retired, life in the slow lane isn’t doing much better.Read more
- Life As We Know It: February 23, 2015
The Hollywood Argyles to Celine Dion. Count Basie to Roy Orbison. James Taylor to Jimmy Buffett. DeBussy to Elvis. You name it. I’ve hummed it in the middle of the night.
It’s a fairly common and certainly annoying routine: Usually it’s like 3 o’clock in the morning and once again I’ve slipped into that strange world where I’m not really asleep and I’m not really awake. It’s a world where all the music ever written and recorded is kept in an enormous vault in which I’m trapped, and its sole purpose is to keep me sleep-deprived.Read more
- Life As We Know It: February 16, 2015
College kids like to drink. News flash? Hardly. But the extent to which “binge” drinking infects our college campuses should terrify you if you’re the parent of a student. While it may not be as common as the kids themselves perceive it to be, it is probably far worse than their parents suspect.
A Bowling Green State University communications professor, armed with 17 federal and state grants and a determination to change student behavior regarding alcohol, has been crunching the numbers for the past several years, and it’s not a pretty sight.Read more
- Life As We Know It: February 9, 2015
If you’re like me, you’re always losing things. But if you’re like me, you’re always finding things too. It’s one of life’s frustrations, isn’t it? You can’t locate something, let’s say it’s a nail clipper, and you know you just saw it yesterday -- somewhere.
Finally after searching all the places it could be, including -- for the tenth time -- the place it should be, you break down and buy a new one. Only then, of course, does the lost item finally show up, and usually in a place that provides a slap-of-the-forehead moment.Read more
- Life As We Know It: February 2, 2015
News Flash: The federal government announced today that purchasers of baseball bats and hammers must first undergo a background check and receive 20 hours of training on their proper use and handling.
Ah, there’s nothing like a good political joke. And that was nothing like a good political joke.Read more
- Life As We Know It: January 19, 2015
Maybe some day a hundred years from now, some future commentator will be curious about the world the way it was a century before -- like January 19, 2015. He or she will discover a world in conflict, a world battling a frightening virus, a world where vehicles were powered by a mysterious liquid called gasoline.
We can’t imagine what that person’s world will look like in January, 2115, but like that curious researcher, we can go back a hundred years ourselves, to January 19, 1915.Read more
- Life As We Know It: January 12, 2015
During the recent holiday season, when so many worthy charities were begging for our year-end support, I was reminded of a story that is told about automotive pioneer Henry Ford and his vacation visit to a small New England community many years ago. He and Mrs. Ford were hoping to enjoy a quiet stay, preferably unnoticed by the locals. But the word quickly got around that a celebrity was in town.
As it turned out, the community was in the midst of a fund drive to build a new wing for the hospital. So a delegation from the fundraising committee paid a visit to the Fords, who listened graciously to the little town’s pitch. Impressed by the locals’ earnestness and zeal, Mr. Ford wrote out a check on the spot for $10,000.Read more
- Life As We Know It: January 5, 2015
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: December 22, 2014
I was surprised a couple of Christmases back by reaction to a piece I did having some fun with holiday letters. So in appreciation to both of those folks who got in touch, and to honor their request, I’m happy to share Harriet and Harvey Fizblister’s 2014 holiday letter, bringing us up to date on the good, the bad, and mostly the ugly of the year about to end.
You may recall that what set the Fizblisters apart from most of those mass-produced holiday letters was their brutal honesty. While most such letters provide a nice candy-coated view of the past year, Harriet kept no secrets about her family’s misfortunes.Read more
- Life As We Know It: December 15, 2014
It’s a tradition in our family to exchange Christmas gift lists. We put down things we want or need and we trade lists. It makes shopping a whole lot easier when we understand that Uncle Bob actually wants those chartreuse golf slacks, and it’s nice to know that when cousin Margaret asks for cigars, she’s not just blowing smoke.
I put a lot of thought into my list this year. These are the things I’d really like to get. See what you think.Read more
- Life As We Know It: December 1, 2014
You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, according to the old Jim Croce song. You don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Dick Anderson. OK, maybe just a little bit.
The Rotary Club of Toledo messed around with Dick at an event that helped the club celebrate its 100th anniversary. Dick didn’t mind at all.Read more
- Life As We Know It: November 24, 2014
The death a few years ago of Gore Vidal silenced one of the most erudite and controversial commentators of our times, a man of letters with a regal bearing and a social critic with a cerebral and scathing disdain for the shortcomings of others. His passing also cost me any remaining hope of sitting down with the man for a very public conversation.
Six years ago Mr. Vidal had signed on to come to Toledo as part of the Authors! Authors! series sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. His appearance would come just 19 days before the 2008 presidential election.Read more
- Life As We Know It: November 17, 2014
IT WAS sad to learn of the demise of the printed student newspaper at Perrysburg High School, a publication quaintly called the “Somethin’.” It’s sad when any newspaper prints its last edition. It’s especially troubling when it’s an enterprise by and for young people.
Perrysburg students had written, edited, and assembled the Somethin’ for 90 years, going all the way back to 1922. But the “Somethin’” is no more.Read more
- Life As We Know It: November 10, 2014
Today is a sad day of remembrance for 29 families, many of them from right here in Lucas County and northwest Ohio. Today is the 39th anniversary of the sinking of the lake freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, a ship so grand and so majestic she was considered the Queen of the Great Lakes. Tragically she became the Titanic of the Great Lakes as well.
The Fitzgerald, built at the River Rouge shipyards in Detroit in 1958, was considered the biggest, fastest ship out there, setting tonnage records every shipping season.Read more
- Life As We Know It: November 3, 2014
How does any community define quality of life? A good place to start would be to make the arts and music obvious points of emphasis. Fortunately Toledo does. For that we should honor the memory of two people who enriched us all with their contributions.
Mary Wolfe and Sam Szor, who died several days ago within 24 hours of each other, were both givers, people who share their wealth or their expertise to enhance the greater good.Read more
- Life As We Know It: October 27, 2014
WITH AGE, it is said, comes wisdom. Not always, of course. A lot of old people are sent to prison. But I think the point has merit, something that was underscored for me when I was asked recently to help put together a college fraternity reunion.
My first reaction was a natural and predictable one: would I know any of them and would any of them know me? It has been 50 years since I last saw most of my fraternity brothers, and I’m wise enough to know that half a century is a long time, something I’m reminded of every time I look at photographs of me from the 1960s and photographs now.Read more
- Life As We Know It: October 20, 2014
IT WAS a sad day at our house when one of Toledo’s finest restaurants closed its doors for good a year or so ago. No more quick lunches in a nostalgic setting. No more dinners out with fellow aficionados of an excellent dining experience. In other words, no more White Castle.
When White Castle closed its only Toledo location – at Cherry and Bancroft streets – the news was about as welcome as a pimple on prom night for a teenager. My opinion of a friend and former co-worker dropped a notch or two when he learned that I was a fan of those square little hamburgers. “I suppose they’re okay,” he told me, “if you like eating cardboard.” But he’s a Michigan man, so I cut him some slack.Read more
- Life As We Know It: October 13, 2014
APPARENTLY YOUR closet is a lot like mine. Our commentary about old clothes, and how reluctant we are to throw them out, resonated with a lot of folks.
Carol Morelock said her husband looks so good in one old brown-striped shirt, she just can’t toss it. She also admitted pulling something out of her closet that she considered wearing again until she remembered she last wore it when she was employed at Toledo Edison, and she hasn’t worked there since 1993.Read more
- 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.