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.

          By the end of the course, he had mastered “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and “Taps.” Yes, “Taps,” one of the few things I can play on the harmonica. That was about it for Sam’s repertoire.

          On graduation day – how should I put this? – he was not the class valedictorian. The other eight students in Sam’s class got certificates of achievement, no doubt suitable for framing. Sam, on the other hand, got his money back.

          And he kept the guitar. The instructor said Sam had damaged it so badly it was no longer of any use to him.

          Sam never played it again. Many years later, he was cleaning out the attic of his parents’ house and found the guitar. He took it home to his kids and told them the story. A few days later he found the guitar floating in the lake behind his house.

          “I quizzed the kids on how it got there,” Sam writes. “They said it made a pretty good canoe paddle.”

          Sometimes your toughest critics live under the same roof you do.

          *******

          This has got to qualify as cruel and unusual punishment: The state motto on the New Hampshire license plates is “Live Free or Die.” The plates are made by inmates at the state prison in Concord.

          *******

          Somebody asked me recently who is the smartest person I know. It has to be my 98-year-old uncle in Upper Sandusky. He’s wise beyond his years.

          *******

          So wireless have we become that I occasionally take a peek behind my television, where a thicket of cables and wires of all colors still defy human penetration or untangling, just as they did a generation ago, and I am oddly comforted.

          *******

          Do I think the legislature will ever get around to outlawing cell-phone use in cars? No, because legislators are among the primary offenders. So forget about a ban. You’ll sooner spot Sylvester Stallone in Capri pants. Not gonna happen.

          ******

          My daughter was driving down the interstate when our 7-year-old grandson blurted out from the backseat: “That’s the dumbest name for a bookstore I’ve ever seen.”

          She looked up to see the billboard he was pointing out. It was for a placed called “Adult Bookstore.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

          *******

          And finally, did you ever stop to think how the course of history might have been changed if Hitler’s first name had been Bruce?

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