Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Equal protection under the law 1, Sonia Sotomayor 0

Read this.

And if you can’t get enough of the law or you are a real glutton for punishment, read this. (I’m not recommending that you do, but it is an interesting artifact if you have never seen what a Supreme Court decision looks like.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

All God’s children got a 1957 Nash Rambler Metropolitan

Mrs. RWP and I, along with E. and N. (two of our descendants) and also the dog, just to make things complicated, have jetsetted off in our ten-year-old Toyota sedan for sunny, rainy, sunny, rainy, sunny Tampa Bay in Florida. The purpose of this particular 500-mile trip was to return E. and N. to their rightful owners after a fun-filled month in north Georgia.

I don’t know how much blogging or comment-replying I will be doing for the next week or so. In fact, this may be it, as laptops are at a premium hereabouts. One has to take a number, stand in line, and wait for one’s number to be called.

A comment by Pat -- an Arkansas stamper -- on my last post, in which she confessed to backing her father’s car into a willow tree when she was ten years old, brought one of my own memories up from the deep.

Let me set the scene.

As I mentioned, my parents didn’t own a car. But a few months after my mother died, a co-worker of my dad’s wanted him to meet his widowed sister-in-law (and by his I mean the co-worker’s sister-in-law, of course; my dad already knew his own sister-in-law). So my dad borrowed a little red-and-white Nash Metropolitan -- yes, Virginia, there was a Nash Metropolitan -- from the guy who had delivered the 25-lb. blocks of ice for our ice box before we finally got a refrigerator, and one Saturday in March 1958 we drove 30 miles to Coppell, where the two finally met, my father and my future stepmother, or as I have often thought of them, the irresistible force and the immovable object.

Mildred had been a widow for about a year; her husband of more than 20 years, Clarence, had died of a heart attack the preceding April. She was the mother of four. Her oldest son drove a turquoise 1958 Thunderbird and owned an actual boat. Interesting, but irrelevant. Best of all, to my way of thinking that day, was that her house had indoor plumbing.

So the die was cast. Dad and Mildred fell head over heels for each other. He was 51; she was 43. They knew almost immediately that they wanted to be married to each other. They decided to wait a couple of months, though, until I graduated from high school.

My dad went out that very week and bought a 1952 Dodge or Plymouth (I really can’t remember) for a couple of hundred bucks. It was midnight blue. He wanted a vehicle of his own during the ensuing courting period so that he wouldn’t have to rely on the nice iceman’s miniscule red-and-white Nash Metropolitan, seating capacity: 2. Plus he was a smart man and probably figured out rather quickly that it would be difficult to court anyone in a Nash Metropolitan.

After the second of what became regular Saturday trips to Coppell, Old Blue sat in our driveway unused during the week. On Monday through Friday, Dad rode in the car pool, as usual, to his job at the aircraft factory in Fort Worth. He left our house at 5:45 a.m. every morning. I had just turned 17 and had never driven a car. But I had watched carefully as I sat beside my father on those two trips to Coppell.

I was getting ready for school one morning and thought to myself, “Driving a car looks pretty easy. I bet I could drive that car to school and return it to the exact spot this afternoon and Dad would never even know I took it.”

At the place where our oval driveway joined the dirt road that passed our house stood a big oak tree. Driving turned out to be a little more complicated than I had envisioned. After an initial sudden lurch forward, I guess I froze. I know I didn’t brake; I know I didn’t steer. But I definitely accelerated.

Ka-BOOM! I drove Old Blue right into the oak tree. The tree was not harmed in the least, but the entire right front quarter of the car had met its Waterloo, had rendezvoused with its own immovable object, had been damaged beyond repair.

That day was one of the worst days of my life. I knew my dad was going to kill me, or worse, when he got home. He had a quick hand and a wide belt and I knew I was doomed. If it had been possible, I would have died a thousand deaths that day.

At 5:00 p.m., my dad came sauntering up the dirt road from where his carpool dropped him off at the paved road. He, of course, was very surprised to see what he saw at the end of our driveway.

As it turned out, Dad was philosophical and I wasn’t punished. He even laughed, I think. He said he thought my living in fear all day long was punishment enough. He went out the next day and bought a baby-blue, 1953 Chevrolet and continued courting my stepmother on the weekends. As far as he was concerned, Old Blue was just a means to an end, and one means was as good as another.

Love saved the day. Not his love for me. His love for my stepmother.

That accident and its aftermath put the fear of God into me. No wonder I waited five more years to learn to drive a car, and then only because I imagined the ridicule I would face if my bride had driven us away from the church.

I remember the 1953 Chevrolet, because we had it for several years. So successfully have I suppressed the memory of the few days we owned Old Blue that I cannot remember whether he or she or it was a 1952 Dodge or a 1952 Plymouth. But I will never forget what started it all, that borrowed red-and-white Nash Rambler Metropolitan Coupe, seating capacity: 2.

(Eventually a photograph will go here)

(This looks just like the one Dad borrowed, but according to the internet it is owned by Dale Carrington of Puyallup, Washington.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

See the USA in your Chevrolet -- NOT!

My blogger friend Reamus (aka Michael Burns of Carlsbad, California) took his trusty RV steed, La Coachasita, out onto the open road again a few weeks ago for yet another look at America and Canada, and thus far on this particular trip he has logged over 8500 miles.

In his most recent post, he happened to mention the Platte River in Casper, Wyoming, and I remembered that I learned to drive a car at the other end of the Platte River, where it empties into the wide Missouri near the little town of Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Descriptive name, don’t you think? Rather like looking around New Orleans and deciding to call it Mississippismouth, Louisiana. But I digress. Let me begin at the beginning.

Some of my friends in Texas began driving around their parents’ farms when they were 12 or 13, and not only did all of them obtain their driver’s licenses as soon as they legally could but also owned their own vehicles at 16. Compared to these societal norms, our family was distinctly underprivileged. Both of my parents knew how to drive, but they did not own a car. My dad rode in a carpool with several other men to his job at an aircraft factory 34 miles away in Fort Worth. Neighbors picked me up and took me to Sunday School. I rode to school with a teacher who lived nearby and happened to be going in that direction herself. My mother bought groceries by picking up the telephone and ordering what she needed from one of the grocery stores in town; the owner pushed the cart up and down the aisles and filled the order herself, then had it delivered by panel truck to our house. We did not have indoor plumbing, so we had no home washing machine; Mama rode with a neighbor into town each week to do the family laundry at the local washateria, an early version of the modern-day laundromat that was fitted out with wringer washers and tubs. Our house was a regular stop on the routes of the milk truck and the bread truck and, dare I say it, the ice man, who delivered 25-pound chunks of ice for our ice box twice a week.

I know. It was a different world.

My mother’s favorite joke was the one about the country wife who committed suicide, and when her husband was asked whether he knew of anything that might have led her to do it, anything about which his wife might have been depressed, he said, “Nothing that I can think of. Why, she hasn’t been off the farm in fourteen years.”

So 16 came and went. And 17, and 18. At 19, after a couple of years in college, I got a job for a few months at Santa Fe Railroad in Fort Worth (I rode the bus) and then joined the Air Force. At 20, I was sent to Florida, where I met the future Mrs. RWP. Fast forward about a year and a half. I was now stationed at SAC Headquarters in Bellevue, Nebraska. She was still in Orlando. We were engaged to be married. Because you never really miss what you never had, I still did not own a car. The future Mrs. RWP, however, owned a 1961 Ford Falcon.

One day in March 1963 I was sitting at my desk in the underground command post at Offutt Air Force Base when this thought formed itself in my brain: “It certainly is going to look awfully strange for the bride to drive away from the church.” So I asked Captain David Means, a co-worker and church friend, if he would teach me to drive so that I could get a driver’s license before my wedding in May. He agreed to, but because he felt that Bellevue was too busy a place to learn how to drive on the streets, we went south a few miles to the smaller town of Plattsmouth on several successive Saturdays. In a few short weeks, during which Captain Means’s hair turned noticeably grayer, I learned enough on the hills of Plattsmouth about driving to obtain a Learner’s Permit from the great cornhusker State of Nebraska. Armed with that, I flew to Orlando, married Mrs. RWP, and drove all the way back to Nebraska with the required licensed driver in the passenger seat.

Only later did I learn they meant a licensed Nebraska driver.

Unlike the green monster above, our own trusty steed was cream-colored.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The long, hot summer approaches

If memory serves, I have blogged about the equinoxes but never about the solstice. Another solstice is right around the corner, too, on Sunday, June 21, at 05:45 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), which is what GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) has been called since January 1, 1972. So says the Wikipedia article on Solstice.

Read the article to your heart’s content. Enjoy all the drawings and illustrations. You will probably encounter a lot of information you didn’t know.

But I would bet dollars (remember them?) to doughnuts that you will still be confused.

My memory turns out to be wrong; I have blogged about the solstice before, right here, last year (oh, look, I made a little rhyme). It’s all coming back to me now. When I blogged last year about the June solstice I subsequently learned that Pat of Arkansas had actually visited both Stonehenge and Machu Picchu, which I erroneously called Macchu Pichu.

I hope the Inca can find it in their hearts to forgive me.

I have it on good authority from old-time comedian Jimmy Durante that the Inka Dinka do.


Some may say I have already been out in the sun too long, but this post makes perfect sense to me.

And good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

Friday, June 19, 2009

My linguistic good deed for the week

Words are important because they have meanings, and we humans are the only ones who use them with understanding. Jabbering parrots and mynahs and the like are only imitating what they hear, without comprehending any of it. Trust me, the occasional canine on America's Funniest Videos who actually seems to be saying “I love you” knows not what it is doing.

It is with ’bated breath, therefore, that your humble correspondent wishes to point out a pair of words that I hear misused more and more frequently. Even the supposedly erudite (not to mention bold and fresh) Bill O'Reilly of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel (the one President Obama dislikes so much) chose the wrong one a few nights ago.

I am speaking, ladies and gentlemen, about the confusion that exists in America regarding the words ancestor and descendant. I rather doubt that any such confusion exists in England, the place where English was invented.

An ancestor, according to the dictionary I checked, is a person from whom one is descended; a forebear; a progenitor. A descendant, on the other hand, is a person or animal that is descended from a specific ancestor; an offspring. You will have to ask the editors of that particular dictionary why an ancestor is a person but a descendant can be either a person or an animal. Curious.

It’s very simple, really. An ancestor, friends, is the earlier party in the relationship. A descendant is the later party. Your grandfather is your ancestor. You are his descendant. Your grandchildren are not your ancestors. Your grandchildren are your descendants. You, on the other hand, are their ancestor.

Got it? All righty, then. Mind how you speak in the future.

Oh, and go forth and multiply. Otherwise, although you are undoubtedly someone’s descendant, you won’t ever be anyone’s ancestor.

Here is a picture of what can happen when you go forth and multiply.

We are off to Alabamistan this weekend with a few descendants of our own.

Perhaps next we will discuss the difference between a first cousin once removed and a second cousin. Or not.

Happy Birthday to Jethro!

Our spoiled rotten Havanese crown prince is five years old today. If he doesn’t look that old, it’s because this photo was taken two years ago, when he was, um, er, three.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Okay, I finally got it

No, not the swine flu. What some of the comments on my last two posts have been about. These:

I may be a little slow on the uptake at times, but I finally got it. It’s not about rhinos. It’s about RINOs. I should probably watch television a little more or read more weekly news magazines or pay attention to the general goings-on a little more closely.

RINO is a political term that people like this man call this man because he (the latter) voted for this man instead of for this man.

Republican In Name Only.

But does that tidbit from the great stew of American political minutiae have anything to do with my post about the 2008 Democratic primary in Florida? No, it does not.

So thank you, Dr. John. You had flurrious and Carolina in Nederland and Rosezilla and a few others thinking I’m writing a book about rhinoceroses. Rhinoceri. Any of several large, thick-skinned, perissodactyl mammals of the family Rhinocerotidae, of Africa and India, having one or two upright horns on the snout. Whatever. For the record, I’m not. Not now. Not ever.

Wait. Maybe Dr. John meant something else. I guess I’m still confused.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Let me try that again

I hate to disappoint Pat - An Arkansas Stamper and Carolina in Nederland and a few others of you who, judging from your comments to my last post, thought I was giving you a sneak peek at the beginning of a new book. I wasn’t.

What my last post was supposed to do was announce the end of an attempt to begin a new book. It was all right there in the title. Twice. First, “From the round file,” the round file being a well-known (or so I thought) euphemism for a wastebasket. Second, “Not every idea is a good idea” was supposed to be completely self-explanatory after you had read the body of the post.

Let’s just say that Fannie Flagg Is Alive And Well And Living In Santa Barbara, California will never see the light of day.

I never was any good at subtlety.

Monday, June 15, 2009

From the round file, or Not every idea is a good idea


For the past two weeks I have been planning to start writing my novel, because if that idiot Billy Ray Barnwell can write one then it should be a snap for me. I even had the title all picked out, Finding Your Inner Fannie Flagg, but then I got to thinking how it is just wrong, wrong, wrong to choose a title before writing one single word of one’s novel. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. Now that I have actually started writing, I’m thinking of calling my book Fannie Flagg Is Alive And Well And Living In Santa Barbara, California.

I picked today, September 29, 2008, to begin my novel because it has been exactly nine months since the Republicans held their primary down in Florida to select delegates to their national convention this past summer, and the Democrats held their primary that day too although no delegates were involved because Florida was a bad boy or girl as the case may be and did something the national Democrats didn’t like at all so the big, bad, national Democrats turned Florida over their knee, figuratively speaking, and administered a good spanking, whap, whap, whap, whap, whap, to Florida’s behind, the Democratic portion at least, with a wooden hairbrush or leather slipper or razor strop if there is still such a thing as a razor strop, now there’s a picture, but Florida Democrats went ahead and had their little primary anyway even though it didn’t matter in the least because any delegates they chose were not going to be seated at the national convention this past summer, except, of course, the national Democrats rethought the issue and decided that maybe a state with more than 20,000,000 people ought to be able to get to participate in choosing a presidential candidate after all, and then all was forgiven and the delegates were seated and life went on as though nothing happened, in other words, politics as usual in the Democratic party. I swear, sometimes the national Democratic party gets itself confused with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I don’t even want to think about politics just now because for one thing it makes my head hurt and for another the world will one day forget all about Mitt Romney and John McCain and Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee and John Edwards and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to say nothing of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, because other truly world-shaking events will eventually occur that will push the American elections right off the front pages, I mean, what if an undersea earthquake had occurred somewhere off the coast of Africa and had caused a big tsunami to come along and wipe out Florida the day before the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries? I mean, we can never really know what’s going to happen, can we? I mean, the world has already forgotten all about Dennis Kucinich and Fred Thompson and Sam Brownback, and there wasn’t even an earthquake or a tsunami. I mean, can you remember what you were doing a week before September 11th, 2001? Neither can I, so let me jump right into my novel without further ado because, as cartoonist Al Capp used to make L’il Abner or Mammy Yokum or some other character of his say, time’s a-wastin’.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Teacher let the mules out

Now that school’s out (SCHOOL’S OUT!) and there are no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks, two of our grandsons hitched a ride with some family friends and came to Georgia for a few weeks, giving their mom and dad a breather. Old people go to Florida in the winter time, so it’s only fair that young people leave Florida in the summer time. The great cosmic balance remains intact.

The boys are not staying with us. We would love to have them, but I’m pretty sure our house would be much too boring. Instead, they’re making the rounds of old friends they used to play with before they moved to Florida last year.

Tuesday evening we rescued them from their current hosts (or perhaps it was the hosts that we rescued) and took the boys out for supper. I suggested the haute cuisine of Arby’s, Steak and Shake (because I had coupons for both Arby’s and Steak and Shake), or Cici’s Pizza. I knew in my gut which one they would choose, and I was right. They chose CiCi’s. After all, CiCi’s has a feature those other establishments do not offer: a game room. A penny arcade, if you will, except that penny arcade games now cost a quarter to fifty cents each, thanks to runaway inflation and the passage of time. I took along several extra dollars, knowing from past experience that the boys would need lots of them to put in the change machines to get enough quarters to operate the game machines.

And they did.

There was one nice surprise, though. I was expecting the all-you-can-eat buffet to cost $4.99, same as always, but CiCi’s had put up a big sign that said, “All-you-can-eat Buffet $3.99 (Recession Prices)” and I rejoiced. I didn’t save any money, though. It all went into the game machines. But our tummies were full.

Today the boys will be coming over to swim in our subdivision’s pool and spend a couple of nights with us, dear old Nana and Grandpa, and of course Jethro. Especially Jethro. Tomorrow, Mrs. RWP is planning to make lasagna, and the boys’ cousins who live an hour away will be coming over for the day also. Sunday afternoon we will deliver our charges to their next destination. After a few more weeks of this non-stop, whirlwind existence, and perhaps after a side trip to Alabamistan with them, we will be taking what I hope will be a couple of very tired but very happy boys back to their parents in Florida.

We have been informed by reliable sources that we are still much too young to go to Florida in the winter time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I should never have invented that contest

No sooner had I dubbed Sam Gerhardstein’s post, the one chock full of zingers from Hollywood Squares (I’m referring to the jokes, not the participants), as the Funniest Post Of The Past Week And Perhaps Of The Entire Year when what to my wondering eyes should appear but the gol-darnedest knee-slapper of a blog (if you overlook the occasional four-letter words) that I have come across to date.

No offense to you, Sam. Your post is still right up there with the best of them.

But that’s the trouble with trying to designate a “winner”...there’s always something else coming into view. You erect the Sears Tower in Chicago, somebody builds something twice as tall (I’m exaggerating) in Kuala Lumpur or Dubai. You run a mile in a fraction of a second less than four minutes, and somebody else soon runs one in 3:57. You produce a reality show about a woman with sextuplets and two older children, along comes a woman with octuplets and six older children. As soon as you win seven gold medals in swimming at the Olympics, someone else wins eight gold medals in swimming at the Olympics. Okay, so it was 36 years between Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps, but you get my point. I could also mention Babe Ruth and Roger Maris and Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds but I won’t because that would border on overkill. The meaning of this paragraph is clear: Even when you win, you can’t win.

The new (at least to me) blog that has had me giggling and guffawing and holding my sides and spraying nasal mucus all over the computer monitor and chortling and losing my breath until I think I might die (I think Pat of Arkansas calls this “a Pond spell”) is -- ta-DAH! -- FLURRIOUS!

Go check it out for yourself, including reading the comments and flurrious’s comments about the comments. Leave a comment of your own, and then come back here and tell me if I was right. I have read every one of her posts back through April, and each one is funnier than the last.

In pointing you to la blog de flurrieuse, I have done my good deed for the day as a Boy Scout. All is well. Any old ladies trying to cross streets will just have to fend for themselves.

One other thing. The FPOTPWAPOTEY contest is now officially retired. Defunct. Dead. Kaput forever. Unless, of course, something funnier comes along.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On a more serious note...

Don’t get your hopes up too high yet, but it may be that the United States actually has, as the U.S. Constitution indicates, three co-equal branches of government.

I will explain. On Monday afternoon, the “Top Story” on Yahoo’s Finance page shouted the following:

Justice Ginsburg delays Chrysler sale to Fiat

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has temporarily delayed Chrysler’s sale to Fiat.

Ginsburg says in an order Monday that the sale is “stayed pending further order.”

The action indicates that the delay may only be temporary.

Chrysler has said a delay could scuttle the deal.

A federal appeals court in New York had earlier approved the sale, but gave opponents until 4 p.m. EDT Monday to try to get the Supreme Court to intervene.

Ginsburg issued her order just before 4 p.m., when Chrysler would have been free to complete the sale of most of its assets to Fiat.

Ginsburg could decide on her own whether to extend the delay or ask the full court to decide. It is unclear when she or the court will act.”

This excites me. Do you know why? Are you aware of what it’s all about?

Of all people, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, liberal justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, is actually telling the Obama administration to back off in their plan to nationalize, among other things, the auto industry. At least temporarily.

Breitbart.com had this story, which is worth reading to get the lay of the land. But notice that the article doesn’t even mention until the tenth paragraph that the suit challenges the constitutionality of using money from TARP, which was hurriedly passed to bail out the banking industry, to bail out the auto industry.

And here’s an interesting story from Bloomberg.com called “Obama Tells Some American Businesses To Drop Dead.”

And, need it be said, the whole current climate is helped along by the adoring media.

But here are three telling paragraphs from an Associated Press story on Sunday, June 7:

“The Indiana State Police Pension Fund, the Indiana Teacher’s Retirement Fund and the state’s Major Moves Construction Fund claim the deal unfairly favors the interests of the company’s unsecured stakeholders ahead of those of secured debtholders such as themselves.

“The funds also challenged the constitutionality of the Treasury Department’s use of Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, funds to supply Chrysler's bankruptcy protection financing. They say the Treasury did so without congressional authority.

“The government-sponsored reorganization of the U.S. auto industry, including the Chrysler bankruptcy proceedings, ‘is a matter of incredibly high profile and importance,’ the funds said in their request to the high court. ‘The public is watching and needs to see that, particularly when the system is under stress, the rule of law will be honored and an independent judiciary will properly scrutinize the actions of the massively powerful executive branch.’”

What those paragraphs refer to as unfair favors also just happens to be, they neglected to say, against existing U.S. contract law. In a bankruptcy, secured debtholders like the Indiana funds are supposed to get paid ahead of unsecured stakeholders like the United Auto Workers union. A little thing like following the law doesn’t seem to matter to some of Obama’s henchmen appointees, though.

Hence, the suit.

Only time will tell if the United States still has three fully functioning, co-equal branches of government or if the Legislative and Judicial Branches will just continue to roll over and play dead before a stunningly swift power grab by the Executive Branch that is being played out in front of a public much more interested in date night in Paris than in adhering to the U.S. Constitution.

Stay tuned. Perhaps we do have the rule of law after all.

Oh, and thank you, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Perhaps there’s hope for the old girl yet. I’m speaking of the United States of America. What did you think I meant?

Update. Well, folks, it lasted all of one day. On Tuesday afternoon, June 9, the Supreme Court cleared the way for Chrysler LLC’s sale to Fiat.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I’ll take Totie Fields to block, Peter

Mr. Sam Gerhardstein of Columbus, Ohio, is the winner, hands down, of the Funniest Post Of The Past Week And Perhaps Of The Entire Year contest. In case you were wondering, I created the FPOTPWAPOTEY contest just after discovering Mr. Gerhardstein’s post, and in the interest of full disclosure, it can now be revealed that I was the sole judge of the contest, which I declared closed to other potential contestants immediately thereafter to avoid the sort of embarrassing finale experienced by Carrie Prejean (Miss California USA 2009 and the first-runner-up in the recent Miss USA 2009 contest), who either was treated extremely unfairly or had only herself to blame, depending on your set-in-concrete, pre-existing point of view, and, in any event, whose controversial answer was not nearly as entertaining as that of Miss Teen USA South Carolina 2007.

I seem to have digressed.

I won’t even try to compete with Sam. I will simply do the decent thing and provide a link to his winning blogpost so that you can laugh your way back to mental health.

Here it is:

Zingers from Hollywood Squares

Way to go, Sam!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tomorrow is an important anniversary

On June 6, 1944, D-Day went forward as planned, World War II eventually ended, and names like Eisenhower and Churchill made their way into the history books.

On June 6, 1958, in the early afternoon, on the soap opera As The World Turns, Claire finally married Dr. Doug Cassen. Claire was the mother of Ellen Lowell who was a friend of Penny Hughes who...it really is too complicated to explain.

I don’t remember the former event (I was only three) but I distinctly remember the latter because at seven in the evening on the same day, my dad and stepmother were married in one of the smallest churches I ever saw (Methodist, before they merged with the Evangelical United Brethren and started calling themselves United Methodists) in one of the smallest towns I ever saw (Coppell, Texas, population approximately 600). Dad was 52. Mildred was 43. I was 17. Two weeks earlier I had graduated from high school in a town 30 miles away. Two months before that my dad and stepmother had been introduced by one of her brothers-in-law who worked at the same aircraft plant as my dad. Five months before that, on October 4, 1957, the day the Russians launched Sputnik, my mother had died after an eight-year battle against cancer.

Suddenly I was no longer an only child living with a widowed father, I was the middle one of five children. Suddenly I had two new older siblings (Bob and Ed) and two new younger siblings (Patsy and Billy). Suddenly I had a new name to avoid confusion (Bob Jr.). Suddenly I was no longer two thousand miles away from any aunt, uncle, or cousin. I had four new aunts (Cleo, Margaret, Faye, and Sue) and their husbands (Romie, Fritz, Oliver, and Jack) and five new uncles (J.D., Russ Jr., Marvin, Billy, and Freddie) and their wives (Ovaline, Dorothy, Thelma, LaWanda, and Martha) and an endless supply of new cousins (Kenneth, Janice, Jerry, Jimmy Wayne, Mike, Gary, Helen, Carol, Libby, Danny, Larry, Daisy, Ray, Brenda, Connie, Cindy, Barry, Terry, Jeff, Paula, Russ, and a few I have probably left out). And even though both of my grandmothers had died before I was born and one grandfather whom I had never met died in Iowa when I was seven and my other grandfather whom I had seen only once when I was 14 lived far away in Pennsylvania, I had a brand new set of grandparents (Russ Sr. and Virginia). And every last one of these new relatives lived nearby, and they were used to getting together often. It felt a lot like this:

...only bigger. Don’t bother clicking; it’s futile.

My new ready-made family all absorbed my presence rather easily, probably, but for me it was a real culture shock at the time.

Eventually I adjusted and life went on. Sometimes my dad would call my stepmother Ruth by mistake and sometimes she would call him Clarence. My dad lived for nine years after that eventful day in June 1958. My stepmother eventually married again to a man named John and they were together for nearly thirty-five years, and I said all that to say this:

You can get used to just about anything if you put your mind to it.

Eventually I even had sisters-in-law (Linda, Judy, and Beverly) and a brother-in-law (Clyde) and lots of nieces and nephews -- Stacy, Sam, Donald Bruce, Pam, Penny (who is named, and I’m not kidding, after Penny Hughes from As the World Turns), William, and Sandra. And now there are even great-nieces and great-nephews.

But I still haven’t gotten used to being called Bob Jr.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Once upon a time...

there was this couple, Fran and Mario Cowan, who were 90 years old and had been married for 62 years. They had to go to the Mayo Clinic to have something or other checked or probed or looked into, and, as luck would have it, when they walked through the front door they noticed a piano just sitting there in the atrium doing nothing. What happened next will have you in stitches.

Fran and Mario at the Mayo Clinic

It gets better each time you watch it.

For those of you too young to remember, Fran and Mario are playing “Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet” (Words by Stanley Murphy, Music by Percy Wenrich, copyright 1919. Remick, NY). Here are the words to the chorus:

“Put on your old grey bonnet
With the blue ribbons on it,
While I hitch old Dobbin to the shay,
And through the fields of clover,
We’ll drive up to Dover
On our golden wedding day.”

Many thanks to my friend Lori Riggs for sending me the clip, along with a note saying now she knows what I’ll be doing when I'm in my nineties.

In three years, eleven months, and fifteen days, God willing, Mrs. RWP and I will celebrate the golden anniversary of our own wedding day. If Fran and Mario are still available, maybe we’ll book them to play at the party.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

And speaking of international perspective...

At About.com there is a section on Asian history, and in it there is an article by Kallie Szczepanski describing the events of June 3, 1989 (twenty years ago today) at Tianamen Square in Beijing, China. Let us just say that it is not the official Chinese version. Go and read it for yourself if you aren’t old enough to remember what happened when some students erected a statue and decided to call it the Goddess of Democracy. It looked very much like our Statue of Liberty, and that didn’t set too well with the Chinese leaders of the day.

Very few images of that time survive because China’s government tried to suppress or destroy them all. But an Associated Press photographer named Jeff Widener managed to smuggle out some stunning photographs. We have him to thank for knowing what one brave man was willing to do to stop the tanks of the People’s Liberation Army.

According to About.com, “In 1989 Chinese authorities violently clamped down on pro-democracy demonstrators that had filled Tiananmen Square. Today, the square is still a vital center of Beijing, but references to the deadly events of June 1989 are kept tightly under wraps by the Chinese government and draw swift retaliatory action.”

China says that 241 people were killed in the massacre, but according to Western sources 4000 is probably closer to the truth.

The article is three pages long but well worth the reading. Here’s the link:

Tianamen Square, 1989

Here’s the Goddess of Democracy.

Here’s the iconic photograph, taken with a telephoto lens from Jeff Widener’s hotel window, of the man referred to as “The Unknown Rebel” or “Tank Man.” The man was eventually hustled off by two other men; no one knows who he was or what happened to him.

And here, perhaps most interesting of all, is a recent interview with Jeff Widener by Kallie Szczepanski.

Me crossing the Wabash at Vincennes, Indiana

I’m just kidding.

According to Wikipedia, this painting depicts Washington cruzando el rio Delaware. No, really, this time I'm not kidding. Wikipedia actually says it in several languages:

English: Washington Crossing the Delaware
Български: Джордж Вашингтон прекосява р. Делауеър.
Español: Washington cruzando el rio Delaware.
Deutsch: 1776: Washington überquert mit seinen Truppen den Delaware River
Slovenščina: Washington prečka Delaware

The German title includes the date, not of the painting, but of the crossing, and also the fact that Washington was not just Truppen den Delaware River but that he was überquert mit seinen Truppen it. The phrase “the devil is in the details” suddenly and inexplicably comes to mind.

I don’t know why the German title includes the date, but another interesting date is 1851. That’s the year Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868) created this famous work of art. The original hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

I wonder whether Джордж Вашингтон became the father of his country before or after прекосява р. Делауеър.

The way I see it, an international perspective is good and a little culture never hurt anybody.

[Editor’s note: On June 4, Anonymous left the following comment:

As an expat in Germany for the last three years, I can help a bit on the German. ‘Truppen’ is not crossing, but troops. ‘überqueren’ is crossing. Therefore, the German literally reads:

“Washington is crossing with his troops the Delaware River”

Maybe that helps a bit. The German is not saying something else about his crossing, rather that those in the boat are his troops.

Thanks for the correction. Point taken. So much for my feeble attempt to be humorous. I should have said, “...the fact that Washington did not just überquert den Delaware River, but that he überquert mit seinen Truppen it.” Much funnier.

I would just add that “Washington is crossing with his troops the Delaware River” sounds a lot like “Throw Mama from the train a kiss” to me. Doesn’t roll trippingly off the tongue. Placement of those darned prepositional phrases will get you every time. --RWP]

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I beg to differ

I have before me a monthly magazine that shall remain nameless. Each issue is devoted to making every reader (and if the magazine subscription gurus play their cards right, that includes you and me) feel really bad about the food he or she chooses to put in his or her mouth.

Strange way to run a railroad.

More important, however, is the fact that I have caught the magazine telling an outright lie.

It says right here in black and white that the risk of dying is lowest in people who eat the least red meat (the equivalent of 1-1/2 Quarter Pounders* a week) or processed meat (the equivalent of 1 hot dog** every week or two.)

That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard read.

This is not to say that what we eat doesn’t affect our health or our clothing size or even our longevity, but the risk of dying is not lowest in people who eat the least red meat (the equivalent of 1-1/2 Quarter Pounders a week) or processed meat (the equivalent of 1 hot dog every week or two).

I beg to differ. Friends, the risk of dying is exactly the same in each and every person on the face of the earth, and it has very little -- okay, nothing -- to do with what anyone chooses to eat.

Don’t believe me? Stay with me for a few more sentences.

The last time I checked, the mortality rate was exactly the same as it has always been. The mortality rate, dear reader, for the entire human race is one death per person. If my math is correct, that works out to 100 per cent.

So if you are a person (and if you are reading this, I fervently hope you are), face it, you are going to die one day, unless your car has a bumper sticker that includes the word “Rapture” and even then the chances are still good. Perhaps not today and perhaps not tomorrow, but eventually. The when part remains uncertain and can definitely be delayed through good lifestyle choices, but the whether part, I regret to inform you, is not in question.

Not now. Not ever.

This has been another public service announcement from Rhymeswithplague Enterprises, Inc.

* If you live where McDonald’s have never erected their golden arches, Quarter Pounders are hamburgers. And if you don’t, they still are.

** Next they’ll be telling us that 1 hot dog = 3.14159 slices of bologna, but who really cares?

Monday, June 1, 2009

It has been awhile since I did some things...

It has been more than 50 years since I:

* Turned all the glasses in the kitchen cupboard upside down to keep scorpions out.

* Found a copperhead snake sleeping coiled up on top of a laundry basket full of clean clothes taken recently from the clothesline.

* Went skinny dipping in a neighbor’s pond.

* Lived in a house that didn’t have indoor plumbing.

* Owned a pig.

* Drove my Dad’s irresistible 1952 Plymouth into an immovable hundred-year-old oak tree.

* Had a lime phosphate at Mayfield’s Drug Store after school and then walked two miles home in the blazing sun.

* Fed chickens.

* Rode on the back of Spike Austin’s motor scooter to the bank and deposited money collected for Senior Class Rings.

* Made a valedictory address.

* Played a clarinet solo.

* Played an alto saxophone solo.

* Marched in a half-time show in the pouring rain at a high school football game.

* Sat in the end zone seats at Texas Christian University on Band Day with a band that played the national anthem in a different key from all the other bands.

* Cleaned white suede shoes after marching in a big-city rodeo parade behind many horses who heard Nature calling frequently.

* Danced on American Bandstand in Philadelphia and breathed the same air as Dick Clark.

* Filled a paper bag with bat guano at midnight in a limestone cave on a scavenger hunt just to make my fraternity brothers happy.

* Drove onto a small wooden pier to wait for a ferry to take me across the Wabash to Vincennes, Indiana, and discovered the pier was the ferry.

It has been more than 40 years since I:

* Shoveled snow off a sidewalk.

* Bought snow tires.

* Saw icicles more than eight feet long with my own eyes.

* Flew 1500 miles in the back seat of a very loud, four-passenger Cessna 180 from Omaha, Nebraska, to Orlando, Florida, with a refueling stop in Memphis, Tennessee.

* Climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty with two small children.

* Ate at a Chinese restaurant on W. 57th St. in New York City with Angie Dickinson and Burt Bacharach sitting at the next table.

It has been more than 30 years since I:

* Rode on Space Mountain at Walt Disney World.

* Visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

* Drove on Lombard Street in San Francisco.

It has been more than 20 years since I:

* Threw a snowball on the second of July at Mount Rainier.

* Saw eagles in the wild in British Columbia.

* Found someone with my surname on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

But I have:

* Held a grandchild in my arms.

* Watched a man install a satellite dish on my roof.

* Taken a dog to the vet.

* Walked along a beach and gathered seashells.

* Attended the launch of a Space Shuttle and felt the sound waves pass through my body.

* Shown a child Orion’s belt and the Big Dipper and the North Star.

How about you?

Test from phone

Now is the time for all good men to blah blah blah Well, what do you know! I did it! From my phone! For the first time! Live and learn,...