Thursday, March 23, 2017

March Madness



“I’m not a big fan of patterns.  I like the unexpected.”---James Purefoy


Predictability in life is essential.  A man has to know what to expect from his wife, his family, his job, the traffic lights on his way to work.  Society cannot function without a high degree of day-to-day predictability.  The train cannot show up at nine a.m. one day and ten a.m. the next, except in Mexico, where they’ve learned to cope.  We get a hearty sample of what would happen in an unpredictable society a few times each year when horrendous weather conditions ground thousands of airplanes, leaving hordes of people and countless businesses in a state of temporary turmoil.  But predictability can be carried too far.  Daily schedules become entrenched.  Deviations are cause for fretting.  Life becomes rote, a circular pathway to boredom and depression.  We need to shake it up now and then, which is why somebody invented weekends.  At five o’clock each Friday afternoon, the Green Flag is waved from the tower and everyone races off to get crazy for awhile.  Some of them turn to sports.

One of the things we like about sports is their unpredictability.  Despite all logic, impossible results sometimes occur.  Once every five years, Alabama will lose a football game or Tom Brady will be intercepted.  And the champion of all upset possibilities is the annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, aka “March Madness,” occurring now at an arena near you.  This multi-faceted affair starts out with almost six dozen college teams contending for glory and winding up with one eventual winner.  In the process of funnelling, unforeseen and unlikely things can happen.  Things like these:

In 1966, the University of Kentucky basketball team was ascendant under legendary coach Adolph Rupp.  Rupp could spot the most talented players in the country a mile away and he cajoled many of them into joining him for tea and crumpets in Lexington.  Well, the white ones, anyway.  Rupp was an admitted racist who, for all his roundball acumen, could not discern the future and he paid a price for his failings.  Don Haskins,  the future Hall of Fame coach at little Texas Western (now the University of Texas at El Paso) had no such inhibitions.  His all-black starting five, heavy underdogs to “Rupp’s Runts,” saw the Confererate flags all over Cole Field House at the University of Maryland where the championship game was played, but they just snickered.  Texas Western, 72-65.

In 1983, North Carolina State had lost 10 regular season games and nobody expected them to reach the Elite Eight, let alone the championship game.  But there they were, under star-crossed coach Jim Valvano, winners of the prestigious ACC Tournament and now advancing in the NCAA past Pepperdine, Virginia and Georgia in tight games.

The top-ranked Houston Cougars—known as Phi Slamma Jamma to their friends---were cocky, and with good reason.  They were led by dunkmeister Akeem Olajuwon, who predicted “The team with the most dunks will win.”  They almost did.  NC State had to overcome a 17-2 Houston run at the start of the second half to tie the game at 52 with two minutes left.  It looked like overtime when the Wolfpack’s Dereck Whittenburg fired up the last shot of regulation and saw it falling far short of the rim, but Lorenzo Charles went up, grabbed the ball and slammed it in with one second left.  North Carolina State 54, Houston 52.  When Valvano, riddled with cancer, made his famous “Don’t ever give up” speech several years later, people listened.  He had walked the walk.

In 1985, Georgetown whacked St. John’s in the Big East Championship game, 92-80, the Hoyas’ second straight league tournament championship.  Villanova, the lowly eight seed in the Southeast Regional, had never cracked the top 20 all year and lost to Georgetown twice in the process.  GT was coached by the legendary John Thompson and led on the court by future NBA superstar Patrick Ewing.  Made no difference.  The Wildcats, playing on April Fool’s Day, led 29-28 at the half and Georgetown kept waiting for the joke to end.  In the second half, Villanova missed only ONE shot from the floor for an unheard-of shooting percent of 78, and this against the best defensive team in the nation.  Some days are diamonds, some days are stones.  Villanova, 66-64.

In 1991, the University of Nevada Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels were considered unbeatable, even in the briar patch called the NCAA Tournament.  The defending champions had not lost all season and were rarely challenged.  In the semifinals, they were facing Duke, a team they had mortared by 30 points in the previous year’s final, scoring a giddy 103 in the bargain.  The Blue Devils decided to slow the game down.  Good idea.  UNLV was frustrated and unused to close games.  Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley played brilliantly for Duke and UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian admitted his team had noone who could handle Laettner inside.  “In last year’s game, we were intimidated,” said Duke’s Thomas Hill.  “This year, we knew what we were facing and we were determined not to back down.”  Duke 79-77.  The following year, Duke repeated.  The Devils’ 104-103 win over Kentucky in the semis is still considered by many to be the greatest college game of all time, Laettner hitting a long jump shot as time expired.

In 1993, the 15th-seeded Santa Clara Broncos, described by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as “a motley jumble of eggheads, surfers and imports,” were 20-point underdogs against Arizona in the first round of the West Regional in Salt Lake City.  The Broncos, who survived almost being evicted from their hotel were unranked with a 19-11 record.  Unfortunately for Arizona, one of their surfer eggheads was Steve Nash, who later enjoyed great prominence in the National Basketball Association and coaches there still.  Santa Clara 64-61.




Meanwhile, Back in 2017….

It’s been a quiet year for upsets in this year’s tournament, but there have been a few.  On Saturday, the lightly-regarded South Carolina Gamecocks overcame a big first-half lead by Duke, slipping by the Devils, 88-81 before a screaming, jubilant home crowd in Greenville, South Carolina, less than 100 miles from their Columbia campus.  That sounds odd.  Generally, the higher-ranked teams enjoy the comforts of home during the first weekend, so what happened here?

Well, HB2 happened in North Carolina, that’s what.  The so-called “bathroom bill,” which Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has called “stupid—I’d get rid of it” prompted the NCAA to move a regional slated for Greensboro, North Carolina, out of the state.  The change of venue almost certainly cost Duke the game and came close to taking the University of North Carolina down with it.  The Tarheels barely got by Arkansas with a strong finish in an earlier game.

The television game announcers were not shy about discussing the situation, claiming “what’s important is that everyone feels welcome here.  EVERYONE feels welcome here.”

Maybe basketball fans in North Carolina who can abide losing venues will feel a little differently about being swallowed up by underdogs in the NCAA Tournament.





The music business has its “crossover hits,” tunes so gigantically popular they jump the boundaries of their genre and grab the attention of the rest of the world, which is probably the only reason I ever heard of Tone Loc and The Funky Cold Medina.  This happens in sports, too, with football’s Super Bowl, horseracing’s Kentucky Derby and bicycling’s Tour de France.  For basketball, it’s the NCAA Tournament and The Filling Out of The Brackets.

The sixty-eight tournament teams arrive either by virtue of winning their regular-season league titles, their conference tournaments or selection by an elite committee of basketball afficionados.  There are four “play-in” games in which marginal teams battle for the right to be dismembered by Number One seeds, and then the real fun starts.  The sixty-four remaining teams are pared to sixteen the first weekend, then four the next.  The Final Four butt heads for supremacy a week later.  At the outset of the tournament, the brackets appear—giant diagrams which list all the matches, dates and times of the games and where they will be played.  The mission for those who choose to accept it is to select the winners of every game.  This, of course, has never been done in all the history of Bracketology, nor has anyone ever come close.  This does not stop millions of people from trying, for there are prizes to be won from the likes of ESPN, other television entities, sports radio and even your local BarBQ ranch.  If you are an employee of Warren Buffet, he will award you a hunk of money just for getting the final “Sweet Sixteen” correct.  The exact odds of a perfect score are one in 9.2 quintillion, if you were wondering.  You are more likely to suffer an excruciating bout of yaws, become the next Dalai Lama, find the occupants of a UFO wandering around in your back yard or die from incorrectly using products made for left-handed people than you are to fill out a perfect bracket.

Office pools across the country expect no such miracles.  They grade on the curve and the payoff goes either to the entrant who selects the winner of the most games or who earns the highest number of points, more points being awarded progressively for the later games.  Overall, 40 million Americans will fill out a bracket, which even includes the president.  Well, usually.  This year’s president balked when he was told he would have to use a pen and not a pencil with a big eraser.  Most contestants fill out two brackets, the average bet being $29.  All this business got started in 1977 at a neighborhood beer joint called Jody’s Club Forest in New York’s Staten IslandThe first year, 80 people participated in a $10-an-entry, winner-take-all format.  By 2006, Jody’s had 150,000 entries and the pot reached $1.5 million.  One of the winners had the bad form to report his good fortune on his income tax papers and the IRS went ballistic, racing in to threaten the bar’s owner with prison for tax evasion.  Only a deathbed request by a former Staten Island district attorney kept the beleaguered Jody Haggerty out of jail.  The bar is still around but nobody over there wants to talk about NCAA brackets any more.



Druid Priest Oscar Brock, Master of Predicting the Future.  We think.


The Scientific Approach

If all this hodgepodge of teams and games is too much for your tiny brain to decipher but you feel an obligation to your office pool, take heart.  Druid priest Oscar D. Brock of New Orleans offers an Alternate Plan.  He casts ogham sticks to receive the stars’ reading on each of the games.  This usually takes about 2 1/2 hours, but what’s another 2 1/2 hours in meshugenah Jackson Square?

In this ancient practice, Brock holds 24 ogham sticks to his chest with his right hand before tossing them onto a card table.  After landing, the sticks (which are a little larger than toothpicks and include carved Gaelic letters and inscriptions) are observed, with the pile’s left side given prominence.  For each reading, Brock takes the names of the various schools competing and pairs a numeric value to a team’s name and the letters present on the sticks.  The team with the best total wins that game, or so says Oscar.  He admits it’s not an exact science but it is, he assures us, one of the most ancient sciences known to man.  It is only fair to report that Oscar lives in a modest residence and there are no Lamborghinis in his driveway.

Some people use ouija boards, bet the team with the most syllables in its name, choose the better mascot or the school with the happier colors.  This sort of stuff might work for your Aunt Rosie at the race track, where there are only ten or twelve horses in each race, but it stumbles in this cacophony of 68 teams.  Maybe we should go with Jonathan Templin, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Kansas, where they know a little bit about basketball.  Templin has used his statistical expertise to come up with a model for predicting winners based on a wealth of data accumulated throughout the BB season.  “In statistics,” says the prof, “we’re not just interested in the prediction but how accurate the prediction is.  This model takes uncertainty and predicts how far off it is from the average with the same factors that predict the score.”  In KU’s final game of the regular season against Oklahoma State, Templin’s model predicted a final score of 87-85, Kansas.  The Jayhawks won the game, 90-85.

“The way it works is, essentially, when a team plays at home they get the advantage of scoring a few more points and giving up a few less than their opponents.  Each team has its own version of the home effect.”  Well, that’s just dandy, Professor, but most of the NCAA Tournament games are on neutral ground.  What do we do now?  We use Standard Deviations, says the man.  Poor teams can be as many as 2.23 standard deviations worse than average teams.  Florida was top-rated at the end of the season, followed by Kansas, Gonzaga, Villanova, Maryland, UCLA, Saint Mary’s, Arizona, Louisville and Notre Dame.  That doesn’t mean that they are necessarily the best teams but rather that they are the best at consistently matching their positive offensive and defensive outputs.  In essence, the model blends team strengths with team consistency.  Templin’s method seems to have arrived at most of the best teams and could probably be used with a reasonable degree of success.  When push comes to shove, however, we’re going with those ogham sticks.  As all of us Irishmen know, it never pays to ignore Gaelic inscriptions.


Cataract Ranch

The gongs are clanging and that means we’re drawing down to the Big Day when Bill gets his cataract surgery.  The right eye gets sliced into on March 30th, the left at a time to be determined.  The 30th being a Thursday, The Flying Pie will appear on Wednesday next week, always assuming I can still see by then.  The overwhelming variety and schedule of eyedrops may leave me blind by that time or uncomfortably goggle-eyed.  If I have to write with the left eye only, I’m afraid the column could turn out excessively socialistic, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Anyway, there’s Good News to report.  Dr. Hunt tells me I will absolutely require a shiny new eyepatch to protect the right eye during the night, but just to be on the safe side I might wear it in the daytime, too.  I’m practicing my pirate lingo and looking through eBay’s offerings for a used peg leg (the new ones cost a fortune).  I’m a little concerned that the other pirates won’t take me seriously with a brand new eyepatch so I’m looking for ways to rough it up a little bit, sorta like the tweeners do with their new jeans.  I mean, nobody wants to be the butt of pirate jokes.  So I’ll see you all next Wednesday, figuratively, if not literally.  I’m looking forward to finally being able to read the small print.  Who knows what I’ve gotten myself into over the past few years?



That’s all, folks….   



Thursday, March 16, 2017




“Dreams, if they’re any good, are always a little bit crazy.”—Ray Charles


“I had a dream about you last night.  You were holding a pine cone and introducing him as Gerald.”—Nicole McKay


Dreams, what are we to make of them, these convoluted stories and impossible images which stir our minds while we sleep?  Sigmund Freud told us they are windows into our subconscious, revealing unconscious desires, a way for people to satisfy urges unacceptable to society.  Psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed that dreams are a natural expression of our imagination and use the most straightforward language at our disposal: mythic narratives.  Jung did not believe that dreams require interpretation to perform their function, suggesting that dreams are doing the work of integrating our conscious and subconscious lives, a process he called individuation.

In ancient societies, Egypt and Greece among others, dreaming was considered a supernatural communication or a means of divine intervention whose messages could be explained by mystics.  The current society pays more attention to people like Harvard University psychiatrists John Hobson and Robert McCarley, who have delivered what they call the Activation-synthesis hypothesis.  Hobson describes activation as “the awareness that is normal to an auto-activated brain-mind.”  In other words, our dreams occur when there is a stimulation in the brain—specifically in the brain stem—that brings thoughts to our awareness.  Synthesis occurs in the forebrain.  Hobson and McCarley used synthesis to refer to the brain’s attempt to interpret the random activity and make sense of it.  The authors argue that their theory is strong in its ability to account for the bizarre nature of dreams, claiming the random activation of neurons describes how dreams can seem irrelevant and nonsensical.  The selective activation of neural circuits leaves out structures such as areas in the prefrontal cortex associated with high-level reasoning, which lets us ignore their craziness and experience them as real.

Whatever dreams are, they are apparently necessary.  Several studies have shown the importance of dreams to our health and wellbeing.  In one of them, researchers woke subjects just as they were drifting off into REM sleep.  Those who were not allowed to dream experienced increased tension, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, lack of coordination, weight gain and a tendency to hallucinate.  In other studies, people who went to sleep with a problem and dreamed often woke up with a solution.  Writers so regularly discover breakthroughs in their dreams they keep notebooks or tape recorders at their bedsides to transcribe the phenomenon before it’s forgotten by the light of day.  This is all well and good but how do we explain why Bill keeps getting stranded in the same airport in Mumbai or losing his car for the 756th time?  It’s beginning to get a little annoying.




The Meaning Of Dreams

If we are to believe the psychologists and sleep scientists, dreams have little meaning, they are just tools to help us cope.  I think I would cope just as well if I could just once make that flight from India to The States.  I reckon I’ve missed the damn thing about fifty times now despite setting all kinds of Dreamland alarm clocks and even checking in at the Mumbai Airport Hilton, just a hop, skip and jump from the actual tarmac.  Something always happens.  On the rare occasions when I am not late, there are ticketing irregularities.  Or my flightmate mysteriously disappears.  Or volcanic ash suddenly appears, grounding all planes.  Or the holiday of Diwali has arrived and all 98,566 Mumbai taxi drivers are sleeping it off at their local opium dens.  Maybe next time I should be looking at a nice boat trip. 

And what about my disappearing cars?  How do Hobson and McCarley explain those?  In 76 years of wakefulness, I never just misplaced a vehicle.  The only one ever stolen was immediately found.  Once, at a Florida Turnpike oasis, I will admit to walking out of the men’s room to the parking lot and being astonished to discover my car had vanished.  When I rushed inside to report this to the very large lady security guard, she reacted with a minimum of concern.  “Try the South side,” she suggested, as if this sort of thing happened all the time.  There it was.  But if that’s my only indiscretion, why are my dreams holding it against me?  Is it fair that night after night I have to trudge through parking lots and turn endless street corners looking for my vehicle?  Could I be allowed to find it just once?  Apparently not.  Does anyone know if they have appeals courts in Dreamland?

Some people claim to be experts in the interpretation of dreams.  Maybe I should enlist one.  Lauri Loewenberg, “Dream Expert and Author” offers her internet assistance.  Lauri, who wants you to know she has 9,265 Twitter followers, makes it easy—you merely have to provide a brief description of your troublesome dream.  I just did this and Lauri promptly wrote back.  “If your car is stolen,” she advised, “then you may be feeling directionless in your life or you may be having a difficult time making a decision, feeling unsure what direction to take.”  Lauri, much as I appreciate the fast reply, I think you may be a little off base here.  I’m 76 years old.  How many directions are there left to go in?  I can’t go much further South and I’m scared to death to go East and run the risk of winding up in Mumbai again.  But I do appreciate you trying.

Psychotherapist Jeffrey Sumber thinks it’s important we learn to analyze our own dreams.  Jeffrey is no babe in the woods at this business, having studied Global Dream Mythology at Harvard University and Jungian Dream Interpretation at the Jung Institute in Zurich.  I might have gone to Harvard if I knew they offered this kind of stuff.

Sumber says “Dreaming is non-essential when it comes to survival as a body but IS essential with regard to our development and evolution as metaphysical beings.”  Dreams, he assures us, let us play out painful or puzzling emotions or experiences in a safe place (like the Mumbai airport).  “Dreams are the bridge that allows movement back and forth between what we know and what we think we know.  Dream analysis is a key component in the process of becoming whole as a person.  Dreams reveal our deepest desires and deepest wounds.”  Ergo, analyzing your dreams helps you gain a deeper understanding of yourself.  For instance, Bill understands he is never ever going to India.




How Do We Do It?

Sumber says there are several guidelines that can help you in understanding your dreams.  The first and most important is “taking notes, even a few sentences that encapsulate the dream, literally drawing the content of the unconscious out into the realm of the concrete.”

So, first keep a journal by your bed.  If you think you don’t dream or can’t remember your dreams, just write “no dream to record” every morning.  Jeffrey assures us that within two weeks of this process, everyone will begin to remember their dreams.  “In fact, you might open the floodgates.”

Next, ask yourself if you were scared, angry, remorseful, etc.  Were those feelings still present the morning after?  How comfortable were you with those feelings?  Jung referred to dreams as a “feeling-toned complex of ideas.”  In other words, according to Sumber, “We are always being called by our unconscious selves to feel into our ideas, thoughts and actions so as to gain a deeper sense of who we are and where we are going in our lives.”

Sumber says to put down the dream dictionaries that offer specific meanings for objects.  “While there may be a trace of collective meaning for universal symbols that do have some bearing on our internal analysis and growth, I am far more interested in where the dreamer goes with the symbol and what the dreamer connects to as a result of the dream.  I believe we are all unique and carry very personal histories that impact the symbols, objects, tastes and smells that we associate with a particular dream story or event.”  In other words, he doesn’t know why I can’t find my car either.

Here are some questions Jeffrey Sumber would like you to ask yourself: “Am I alone with my oatmeal?  Am I inside or on a veranda?  Are the oats organic?  Overcooked?  Is there a horse nearby?  How do I feel about the oats?  What do oats typically symbolize for me?  Are there any memories that I can tie to eating oatmeal?  When was the first time I remember eating oatmeal for breakfast?  How did my mother make oatmeal and do I make it the same way as an adult.”

Wait a minute.  Is there a horse nearby?




The Wearin’ O’ The Green

We’ve arrived at Saint Patrick’s Day once more, 24 hours when everyone is Irish, when the big parade follows the green line down Fifth Avenue and the Chicago River endures 45 pounds of green vegetable dye, coloring the water between Columbus and Wacker drives.  It’s a merry old time as festive Harps reach into the recesses of their closets for long-abandoned green apparel and march to the pubs for a taste of Jameson Irish Whiskey.  Not that Irishmen don’t expect it, but that Jameson Whiskey will get you in a lot of trouble.

St. Patty’s Day was Drinking Day at the Subterranean Circus.  I have never been much of a sot but I’ll have to admit to being an enthusiastic participant in this annual merrymaking.  On one particular SPD evening in the early 1980s, employees Rose Coward, Ricky Childs and myself were minding the store and downing the grog when three twentyish girls came bouncing in.  One of them, an average looking lassie with jet-black short hair, several tatoos and a lip ring nodded as she passed by.  “She looks dangerous,” testified the often-fretful Ricky.  “I think I’ll let YOU wait on her.”

I discovered her name was Carly.  If she’d been born a boy, her biker-father would have named her Harley, she said, and Carly was a close as he could get.  Carly was not beautiful but she was attractive in a menacing sort of way.  The whiskey was having its way with me and it was not long before I was complimenting Carly’s many assets with my usual Irish charm.  Rose rolled her eyes and Ricky watched with great anticipation.  If this was not love at first sight, it would have to do.  Before long, we unlocked the doors to the now-closed Silver City and passed on over to the other side.  In more ways than one.  The next thing I remember is Carly saying, “Wow, I needed that!” and returning to the Circus, where Ricky was pacing back and forth like one of those ducks at the shooting gallery.  Rose, elbow on the counter, head in hand, looked pained.  If the expression “Get a room” had been invented by then, she’d have beaten me over the head with it.  Later, Rose simply said, “She’ll be back, you know.”

And Carly was, a few days later, replete with a come-hither look and a smile.  Rose grinned her evil grin at me and Ricky fled to the bathroom.  I made polite conversation and she eventually left.  The second time she returned, I warmly took her aside and explained the unfortunate consequences often wrought by Jameson’s Irish Whiskey and apologized for my boorish behavior, which Carly didn’t seem to consider all that wretched.  Now let me say at this point that dismissing women out of hand is not an implement to be found in my toolbox.  Rather than hurt a girl’s feelings, I’d prefer to take a rocket ship to Mars and toil in the grunion fields for twenty years.  If girlfriends didn’t leave of their own volition, they’d be piled high in my backyard, but fortunately for everybody they have more sense than I do.

On a subsequent St. Patrick’s Day episode, Rose, lofty on the sauce, finally came to an important life decision.  “I’m going to get a boob job,” she decided.  “And I won’t be cute about it like some people who pretend they grew giant tits overnight.  I’m going to put an announcement in tomorrow’s newspaper.” 

Small-breasted or not, Rose was an attractive girl, bright, lean and brassy.  She had been in an ultimately unproductive 8-year relationship and now was looking to get married, have kids.  I suggested a moderate size increase would best suit her body.  “I’m getting the biggest honkers that they can hang on there,” she said, unconvinced, taking another belt of Jameson’s.  “Guys like Clyde (her current target) want the big girls.”  I pointed out that Clyde was basically a dope.  “Look at Patty Bert (another Circus girl)—small breasts, big smile, nice long hair.  Graceful as a deer when she runs and throws a baseball like a center-fielder.  What more could a guy want?”  Rose advised that Clyde was a fisherman rather than a baseball fan.  I had to admit I had no idea what kind of girls fishermen preferred, though I imagined patience and a predilection for sunscreen might be involved.  Rose got the XL implants, married Clyde, had kids and motored on.  The marriage was ultimately unsuccessful, but she tried again and did better the second time with a non-fisherman.  Last I heard, she was off the sauce.  On the day of the bigger bust decision, I got a little oversaturated and went home early, immediately falling asleep.  Sometime after midnight, I got a call from Rose.  “I just want to tell you I’m home safely and I’m sick as a dog,” she wailed.  “But I’m still getting giant tits.  Oh yeah---  and I’m never working with you on Saint Patrick’s Day again!”

Ah, faith and begorrah!  There’s nothin’ quite like a feisty semi-Irish lass!



That’s all, you Irishmen for a day…. 


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hold Back The Night



“I say it is impossible that so sensible a people as the citizens of Paris should have lived so long by the smoky, unwholesome and enormously expensive light of candles if they had really known that they might have had as much pure light of the sun for nothing.”---Benjamin Franklin


Daylight Saving Time finally returns to us this Sunday, and not a moment too soon.  If there’s one thing this country needs, it’s more sunshine, more light, more optimism during the critical hours.  And if you happen to be one of those cranky old farts who disagrees with me on the subject, consider this: the State of Texas is giving serious consideration to eliminating Daylight Saving Time entirely.  During my 76 years of trekking the Earth, I have not known the State of Texas to be right about one single thing and doing the opposite of whatever Texas suggests will probably lead to prosperity.  Benjamin Franklin agrees with me.  Who are you going to listen to, Ben and me or a bunch of spot-tailed earless lizards spawned in the Lone Star State, progenitor of the likes of balloon-head Rick Perry, the current Secretary of No Energy and Smilin’ Ted Cruz, the face of High-Vacuum Grease?  Yeah, I thought so.

If a few grouchy and misdirected geezers frown on DST, young people love it.  When we were kids, we couldn’t wait for the sudden expansion of play time, which ended apruptly when the streetlights came on.  If you weren’t home five minutes after curfew, grandma was bellowing dire threats from her upstairs porch and contemplating severe punishments like no pie for dessert.  Oh, the inhumanity!

For us in New England, Daylight Saving Time was the high sign to shovel off the baselines and knock the old horsehide around.  We did this until the soggy cover fell off, then added a half-inch of electrical tape to the surface of the ball and continued unabated.  Other kids played Ringolevio in the streets, a savage game which takes prisoners who can only be released by determined invading forces.  Bruises are inevitable and torn clothes are a distinct possibility.  Ringolevio often exceeds even baseball in length, thus making the extra hour of DST invaluable.  The girls played the quixotic Red Rover, chanting demands for a particular player to run at the human chain of hand-holding lasses, attempting to break through.  Otherwise unathletic girls of hefty composition were highly valued in Red Rover and sprained fingers were the principal collateral damage.  This curious business, as far as I was able to discern, could only be curtailed by darkness, gale winds or a national emergency, thus made good use of the extra hour.

Daylight Saving Time provided Delusions of Summer.  As soon as the clocks changed, someone invariably thought that March would be a good time to visit the beach, meander across the sand, maybe stick a wary toe in the frigid Atlantic.  Howling winds and freezing temperatures were little discouragement to the Promise of Summer, not as long as you had a good heater in your car.  You’re only young once, or so we’re told, so make sure you don’t miss experiencing a semblance of nitwit behavior.

For our parents, DST meant Spring Cleaning, a mammoth undertaking involving the beating of rugs, the flipping of mattresses, the inspection of chimneys and the insertion of screens on every window in the house.  The men were called into service to move refrigerators, clean rain gutters, inspect and repair furnaces.  This was a dangerous time for kids, who, if noticed, might be called upon to render aid.  It was a perfect occasion to make sure you had to go over to Marty’s house or help slow-witted Gloria with her homework.  The unfortunate child caught unaware and recruited into this Super Bowl of Drudgery never forgot it and immediately swore a blood oath to be better prepared next time.




A Brief History Of Daylight Saving Time

While Benjamin Franklin had lightly broached the subject eons before, DST was not implemented by an entire country until April 20, 1916 in Germany.  The rationale was to minimize the use of artificial lighting in order to save fuel for the war effort during World War I.  The United Kingdom quickly followed, then France and most of the rest of Europe.  After the war, most countries reverted to standard time.  It wasn’t until World War II that DST returned to most of Europe.  Some cities in Canada, however, decided it might be a good idea even before that.  In July, 1908, Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay, Ontario), became the first Canadian city to incorporate Daylight Saving Time.  Regina, Saskatchewan, followed in April of 1914.  DST became so popular in Regina that it was legalized.

In the United States, so-called “Fast Time” was first introduced in 1918 when President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law to support the war effort during WWI.  Only seven months later, it was repealed, though Pittsburgh, Boston and New York continued to use it.  In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted year-round DST in the U.S.  After the war, from 1945 to 1966, there were no uniform rules for Saving Time in the United States, leaving the states to sort it out.  The Uniform Time Act of 1966 was established by Congress to relieve confusion, but states still had the ability to opt out by passing ordinances of exemption.

Daylight Saving Time is now in use in over 70 countries worldwide and affects over a billion people every year.  The beginning and end dates vary with the country.  In 1996, the European Union standardized an EU-wide DST schedule which runs from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.




Disa And Data

A man born just after 12:00 a.m. DST circumvented the Vietnam War draft by using a Daylight Saving Time loophole.  He argued that standard time, not DST, was the official time for recording births in the state of Delaware in the year of his birth.  Under official standard time, he was actually born on the previous day and that day had a much higher draft lottery number, allowing him to avoid the draft.  Ring another one up for DST if you will, kind sir.

In September, 1999, the West Bank was on Daylight Saving Time while Israel had just switched back to standard time.  West Bank terrorists prepared time bombs and smuggled them to their Israeli counterparts, who misunderstood the time on the bombs.  As the bombs were being planted, they exploded one hour too early, killing three terrorists rather than the two busloads of intended victims.  How about that, you Texans?  DST is an anti-terrorist aid!

Patrons of bars that stay open past two a.m. lose one hour of drinking time on the day when Daylight Saving Time springs forward one hour.  This has led to annual problems in numerous locations and sometimes even to riots.  At a so-called “time disturbance” in Athens, Ohio, over 1000 Ohio University students and other late night partiers protested the early bar closings with chants of “Freedom!” as they pelted riot police with flying liquor bottles.  Okay, so sometimes in life, there are reversals of form.

To keep to their published timetables, trains cannot leave a station before the scheduled hour.  Thus, when the clocks fall back one hour in October, all Amtrak trains in the U.S. that are running on time schedules stop at 2:00 a.m. and wait one hour before resuming.  Overnight passengers are often surprised to find their trains at a dead stop and their travel time one hour longer than anticipated.  At the Spring Daylight Saving Time interval, the trains just keep on going and try to make up the time.

A study by the U.S. Law Enforcement Assistance Administration found that crime was consistently less during periods of Daylight Saving Time than during comparable standard time periods.  Data showed violent crime down 10 to 13 percent.  Clearly, for most crimes where darkness is a factor, there are many more incidents after dusk than before dawn.  Ring the gong one more time for DST, Mr. Moto.

While twins born at 11:55 p.m. and 12:05 may have different birthdays, Daylight Saving Time can actually change the birth order.  On paper, at least.  During the time change in the Fall, one baby could be born at 1:55 a.m and the sibling ten minutes later, at 1:05 a.m.  In the Spring, there is a gap where no babies are born at all between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m.

In November of 2007, Laura Cirioli of North Carolina gave birth to Peter at 1:32 a.m. and Allison 34 minutes later.  However, because Daylight Saving Time reverted to standard time at 2:00 a.m., Allison was born at 1:06 a.m.  Is this beginning to sound like “I’m My Own Grandpa?” 




The Villages Revisited

We got a lot of interest in last week’s column featuring life in The Villages, the Tea Party snake pit just south of here, which seems preoccupied with eldersex.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  It just seems so….so….unRepublican.  People from all over wrote to ask a covey of questions.  Charlie from Reno wants to know how long is the line of applicants waiting to get in?  We’re not sure about that, Charlie, but The Villages is now the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the United States, so they’re building like wild men to make room for you.  Apparently, sex still sells.  Trudy from Schenectady would like to know how Peggy was belly-bumping a 49-year-old guy when the minimum Villages age requirement is 50.   Well, Trudy, by U.S. precepts, only 80% of homes in a senior living community can be restricted to people 55 and up, so Peggy’s boy toy was fair game.  Athena, from Troy, N.Y.—and yes, we know it should be Helen—wants to know if there are any Democrat communities like The Villages.  Not that we know of, Athena.  We hate to tell you this, but the two cities with the highest percent of Democrats are Detroit and Gary, Indiana, and there is no sex going on in either one of them.  Try Berkeley, the third highest, or its neighbor, Oakland, the fifth, or cross the bridge to San Francisco, the ninth.  There’s all sorts of kinky business going on out there.  If you’d prefer to stick to the more restrained missionary-position type sex, there’s always Prince George’s County, Maryland.  Boston has an extremely large plurality of Democratic Party voters but there is, of course, no sex allowed during Red Sox games.




Cataract Junction

After narrowly avoiding several very thin pedestrians wearing black clothing at night and missing a few interstate exit ramps due to the glare off those giant green signs, your old Uncle Bill has finally yielded to the need for The Knife.  Yep, it’s cataract surgery on March 30th, which, as we all know, is a Thursday.  The Flying Pie will be published on Wednesday that week and back on Thursday the next, even if I’m blind in one eye, which the opthalmic surgeon promises me has less than a 1% chance of happening.  Just in case, however, I have been practicing writing this column with one eye closed and I think I’m slowly improving and might pull it off as long as I don’t run out of Tylenol.  Anyway, I have opted for the outrageously expensive premium lenses and the doc tells me I will no longer have to wear glasses after the surgery since the giant price tag also includes astigmatism correction. 

I am fairly happy about this, not just for the sake of local bicyclists and small animals, but also because I will now be able to follow the flight of baseballs past the infield and better determine who the hell the quarterback is actually handing the ball off to.  I’m pretty sure I’ve been enjoying softball, with its outsized golden sphere, for its own sake and not for the size of its balls, but now we’ll find out for sure.  Anyway, light a candle for me.  Maybe the cosmic influences will recognize your tribute and take measures to keep my surgeon from drinking heavily the night of March 29.  I need all the help I can get.


That’s all, folks….     

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Sex In The Afternoon



“Sex without love its a meaningless experience.  But as meaningless experiences go, it’s a pretty damn good one.”---Woody Allen


“Usually, I’m on top to keep the guy from escaping.”---Lisa Lampanelli


Back at the dawn of time in 1995 and irked by a modest weight gain and a burgeoning waistline, I joined a gym.  Lifetime Fitness, it was called, a large hospital-owned facility smack in the middle of downtown Ocala.  I went there faithfully three times a week, jogging on the treadmills and tossing weights around with the amiable crew of fellow gaffers on hand.  Almost no one who worked out at Lifetime was under 50.  After I had been there about a year, I met Jackie.

Jackie was a brassy copper-haired woman from New York, sixtyish and on the make.  Her tight outfits accentuated the positive as well as the negative and didn’t mess with Mr. Inbetween.  She decided to make me her first point of interest.  I told her I was happily ensconced in a relationship of ten years which was unlikely to change.  Jackie, whose husband had cashed in his chips a year earlier and left his earnings to her, was not interested in the solitary life.  She found herself a 40-year-old redneck who liked to fish.  Jackie, eager to make a good first impression, bought him a boat.  She bounced into the gym with a big grin on her face and told me about it.  “Keep the papers,” I said, smiling back.

Jackie was not a devoted fisherwoman, but toughed it out.  After about a year, however, the fabric of her new relationship had frayed, her boyfriend becoming increasingly grouchy at her reticence to provide ongoing new toys.  Jackie mournfully recited her woes as we jogged along one unhappy morning.  “You still seeing that vet?” she asked.  I assured her it was sort of a permanent thing.  “Oh well,” she remarked in frustration, “I guess I’ll have to move to The Villages.  I wonder if they have a place to keep a boat.” 

If Jackie was looking for love in all the wrong places, The Villages was as good a place as any to start.  For those unbaptized, the place is a retirement community of 51,442 souls, all but 900 of them white Republicans (the rest are African-American or Hispanic Republicans) which sprawls over parts of three counties---Marion, Lake and Sumter---in central Florida.  The Villages is a hive of Tea Party activism and any serious GOP political candidate will sooner or later put in an appearance, begging for alms and votes.  Even Old Carrot-Top visited.  If he was in a grabbing mood, nobody told.




Sodom, Gomorrah Or Both?

Now, some people will tell you that in spite of their conservative political leanings, the population of The Villages is—how do we say it nicely—exceptionally frisky, which is what happens sometimes when a community boasts ten women for every man.  One of their number, Peggy Klemm, 68, refused to let a wheelchair-bound husband slow her down.  Peggy and her 49-year-old companion, David Bobilya—who probably qualifies for Boy Toy status under the circumstances—were spotted with their undies around their ankles over by the Bait Shack one night.  “They were still at it when the police arrived ten minutes later ,” reported a bartender at the nearby Red Sauce.  The two merrymakers were arrested for having drunken sex in public, which we were surprised to discover is actually a crime in The Villages.  We might feel worse for Peggy if this wasn’t her second local violation.  She was earlier cited and placed on probation for drunk driving in her golf cart four days earlier.  This qualifies as a virtual crime spree for Peggy, but it’s not all bad news.  The Red Sauce decided to honor her fun-loving attitude with a new cocktail (rum, coconut & cream with a cherry on top) called Sex On the Square.  The bar can barely keep up with the demand.

Although Peggy and Dave opted for the shrubbery, golf carts are usually the vehicle of choice for eldersex, beating out wheelchairs, 4-1.  All this revelry would not be possible, of course, without the able assistance of Viagra, which is available in The Villages from a guy who knows a guy.  Prices are high but not as elevated as drugstore Viagra.

Oh, and by the way, it’s not just the singles scene that’s hopping at the self-described Friendliest Place on Earth.  The married people are living it up with a thriving swingers’ scene.  A barman at a Villages restaurant claimed he was paid $100 for three hours work at a recent party.  “When I got the job, the two men who approached me warned me there might be things going on I’d rather not see.  They weren’t kidding.”  The bartender said he retained images etched forever in his psyche.  “It was a full-blown orgy.  I had to make it clear I wasn’t on the menu.  And I’m no easily-shocked prude.  At work, I get old women coming on to me all the time.  Some of them know no shame.  But that’s just Triple-A ball.  This was the Major Leagues.” 




Life In The Fast Lane

A typical night in The Villages, according to writer/observer Annette Witheridge, begins with music in the square between 6 and 9.  Elderly women troop in wearing the sexiest tops they can find as well as excessively short shorts.  They line dance together, hoping to attract the sordid interests of nearby single men hovering around the alcohol islands.  None of them are fat, or even chubby.

Even earlier (around 4 p.m.) Katie Belle’s Music Hall is cranking up, earning its reputation as the afternoon epicenter of bad behavior.  Happy hour, with its half-price cocktails, is everlasting.  You can get a Green Nipple until nine o’clock.  You can get a drink until then, as well.

The older residents, the Frogs (they come to The Villages to croak), have disappeared by ten.  Most of the liquor oases have closed.  A diehard crowd of gaffers ambles about the square nursing diminishing drinks in plastic cups, telling tales of Mr. Midnight, the penile appelation of a retired biology teacher who used to stalk the area.  His conquests were legendary until he slipped up, inviting author Andrew Blechman to join him on his nightly prowl.  Blechman’s book, Leisureville, exposed a side of The Villages the residents would prefer you (and their children) didn’t know about.  Oops.  The author described the place as “very Orwellian, Big Brother regularly booming out of the lampposts and the house newspaper only reporting the good news.”  Doctors told Blechman there were more cases of herpes in The Villages than in all of Miami and the rates for sexually-transmitted diseases were the highest in America.  “Every night is Saturday night in The Villages,” he reported.  “And hey—who’s going to get pregnant?”

As a matter of fact, that would be the wife of Phil Harper, at 50 one of The Villages younger studs.  Phil accidentally became a father a few years ago.  He’ll tell you about it.  “My daughter was conceived at the 19th hole of the golf course.  It was the last thing I expected.  Not to mention my wife, who’s five years older than me.  I’ve lived in New Orleans and Key West.  The Villages is wilder than either of them.  It’s Disneyland for adults.  The older women throw themselves at the men and sex in public happens a lot.  This place is just awesome.”

Well, sometimes.  Other times, not so awesome.  Last summer, Stephanie Sparber filed for divorce from her loving husband Howard after he got a little tipsy and fired 33 rounds from a Sig Sauer 9 mm semi-automatic into the home of a female neighbor.  The neighbor told the Sheriff that Howie, 69, had been making sexual propositions toward her for the last eight months, leading to a restraining order.  Sparber was charged with firing a weapon into a dwelling, aggravated stalking and criminal mischief.  The story was not included in the sunshiny columns of the local newspaper.  

Then there was John Francis Bessette, 72, promptly booked for misdemeanor battery after dumping his live-in girlfriend out of the golf cart on the way home from dinner.  “We had a little argument,” protested John.  “Then I stopped and let her out nicely.  What kind of a cad do you think I am?”  Witnesses insisted the cart never stopped rolling, which was also true of Bessette’s girlfriend.

The husband of Stephanie Marie Buckley was much more genteel.  He simply drove home while she was in the Gator’s Dockside restroom.  “I needed to take a swim,” said hubby.  After marching over a mile back to their bungalow, Stephanie launched so many whacks and projectiles at her husband that he called 911.  The Lady Lake police department somewhat unfairly booked her on a charge of domestic battery, completely ignoring her abandonment issues.




Hanging From The Chandeliers

When people are young, many of them suffer from the notion that you reach a certain age, a gong rings, and you are forever exiled to the No Sex Room.  Natural acts which you have performed your entire life no longer hold any interest or seem inappropriate, even disgusting.  Nice people take up residence in their sitting rooms and read the newspaper or knit doilies.  If they only knew.  In England, The Longitudinal Study of Ageing reveals that 31% of British men between the ages of 80 and 90 still have sex.  And just under 60% of men between 70 and 80 are sexually active on a regular basis.  If this information leaks out to the women of The Villages, watch out for a mass exodus to London.  In this country, the Indiana University Center for Sexual Health Promotion has evidence that 43 percent of men and 22 percent of women over 70 engage in sexual intercourse.  And that’s in Indiana!  The National Commission on Aging contends that women find sex over 70 to be more physically satisfying than they did in their forties.  Jane Fonda remarked, “I’m 77.  If I never have sex again, it will be sad.”  (Note to Michael Hatcherson: it looks like you still have a chance.)

Used to be, your mother would remind you to always use a condom.  Now, you have to remind her.  One of the big problems with senior sex, along with broken ribs and the occasional myocardial infarction, is the elder set’s unwillingness to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases.  The Indiana study showed that condom use is lowest among people over sixty, presumably because pregnancy is no longer an issue, except, of course, for Phil Harper’s wife.  Starting in 2012, Medicare decided it might be a good idea to offer senior citizens free screenings for Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, and this is bound to succeed.  If there’s one thing we know about senior citizens, it’s that they will never fail to take advantage of anything free, even when it’s painful. 

With eldersex booming at The Villages and elsewhere, It’s only a matter of time until MGM comes down to Florida for another installment of Where The Girls Are.  Is Connie Francis still available?  George Hamilton is only 77 and still fully tanned.  It’s a natural.  We just have to change the song lyrics a little.  “Where the girls are, someone waits for me.  A smiling face, a warm embrace, two legs to clasp me tenderly.”  The theaters will be packed.  Some of the more intimate scenes, of course, will have to be filmed from a reasonable distance.  Wrinkly sex is okay in person but never acceptable on the Silver Screen.  With the great success of the movie, television will inevitably follow with a weekly dramedy.  Botox will sponsor.  TV shows about sexy old people will proliferate.  The Lone Ranger will return, this time with his faithful Indian companion, Stella.  I Love Lucy will be back with uproarious tales of your favorite swingers, the Arnazes and the Mertzes.  And sexual racist bungling will hit a high note when Archie Bunker is discovered in flagrante delicto with an African-American minister’s high-spirited wife.  Not to mention, you haven’t seen anything til you’ve seen elderpuppets at play.

It’s all good, and we’ve been led in the proper direction by those fabulous ladies of The Villages.  Let’s have a solid round of applause for their chutzpah, their refusal to go gently into that good night.  These ladies are champions, indefatigable in their lust for life and love, not one bit afraid to let their freak flags fly.  Though perhaps a little more cautious not to fly them too close to the Bait Shack.  Not everyone wants a cocktail named after their escapades.


That’s all, folks…

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Hail To The Chiefs




“My choice in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician.  To tell you the truth, there’s hardly any difference.”---Harry S. Truman


Ask any old gaffer, it wasn’t always like this.  There was no President’s Day, just Abe Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, followed by that of George Washington on the 22nd.  Troublemaker that he was, Abe did not even get a federal holiday but merely recognition in several states.  Then, in 1968, the Government Committee on Consolidation and Retrofitting decided to create as many long weekends as possible for bankers and government employees.  Adapting the same modus operandi as the Justice Department with its Witness Protection Program, they altered the identity of the holiday and moved it to a different place.  When the law first took effect in 1971, the new holiday was snugged into the third Monday of February and popularly called President’s Day in honor of both Washington and Lincoln.  Diehard supporters of short-lived President William Henry Harrison, also a son of February, applied for admission into the club but were denied.  Officially, the name was never changed from Washington’s Birthday.

When we were kids, we knew two absolute truths about the Father of Our Country---he had wooden teeth and couldn’t tell a lie.  Neither of these two things were even conceivable to your average child.  Did the teeth stay in all the time or did they come out for occasional painting?  And how could any self-respecting kid ever make it through childhood without manufacturing a whopper or two?  Then, there was the story about the cherry tree which young George admitted to chopping down.  What kind of parent gives their kid an axe?  And if they do, what do they expect him to do with it?  It’s an axe, right?

Abraham Lincoln was a notorious story-teller, a dog-lover as well, who at one time or another possessed almost every breed.  He was fond of incorporating man’s best friend into his tales, one of which involved Union generals with a penchant for exaggerating their bravery.

“Those generals,” claimed Lincoln, “remind me of the fellow who owned a dog which, he insisted, liked to fight wolves.  The owner would tell you the animal spent his entire day tracking down and killing wolves.  One day, a group of the dog owner’s friends decided to organize a hunting party and invited him and the wolf-killing dog to go with them.  The man seemed reluctant but was met with such scorn he was forced to go.  The dog, on the other hand, was excited to be out in the woods and the hunting party was soon on its way.

Wolves were in abundance in the area and it wasn’t long before a pack was discovered.  The dog saw the wolves, they spotted him and the chase was on.  Pretty soon, they were all out of sight, but the party followed the sounds of the chase, eventually coming upon a farmer who stood leaning on his gate.  ‘Did you see a wolf-dog and a pack of wolves run through here?’ they asked.  He nodded in the affirmative.  ‘How were they going?’ the hunters wanted to know.  Pretty fast, said the farmer.  ’And what was their position when you last saw them?’  The farmer chuckled.  ‘Wal,’ he said, ‘the wolf-dog was running just a bit ahead.’  

“And gentlemen,” chortled Lincoln, “that’s exactly where you’ll find most of those generals.”


The Rest Of The Stories

John Adams, the second president of the United States, would be the first chief executive to live in the White House, as yet unfinished.  Adams was so excited by the prospect, he moved in while the paint was still wet, but only after enduring several hours lost in the woods of southern Maryland searching for the Executive Mansion.  “It’s a large place,” he told the natives, looking for directions. “White.  Big flag on top.”

Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams, was the sixth president.  Every day, he would march down to the Potomac promptly at 5 p.m. for a nude swim.  Anne Royall, the first female journalist, had often begged Adams for an interview but he always refused, leaving her with but one option.  Anne went to the Potomac, took the president’s clothes from the river bank and refused to give them back.  She went down in history as the first female to get an interview with a president.  “He also had a small mole just below his….”

Andrew Jackson was the first American president to survive an attempted assassination.  An unemployed house painter named Richard Lawrence approached Jackson as he left a congressional funeral and took one shot, then another, but his gun misfired.  Jackson ran over and bopped him on the head with his cane.

Jackson, a notorious prankster, liked to amuse himself by moving his outhouses around  so that needy people racing outside to use them would not find them in their usual spots.  The president also had a pet parrot with an extensive vocabulary learned from his owner.  When Poll (the parrot) was brought to his master’s funeral, he began spouting so many curse words he had to be quickly removed.

William Henry Harrison, our ninth president, was the only chief exec who had studied to be a doctor.  He goes down in history as having the longest inaugural speech at 105 minutes.  He also goes down in history as having the shortest term as president.  During his windy inaugural message, he caught pneumonia and died 32 days after he gave the speech. 

Rutherford B. Hayes was the 19th president of the United States, from 1877-1881.  He won the presidential election by ONE electoral vote.  Alexander Graham Bell personally installed the first telephone in the White House during Hayes’ tenure and the president never once forgot his number.  It was 1.



“When is someone going to invent the Secret Service?”---James Garfield


James Garfield, the 20th president, had to be one of our favorites.  The street we lived on as kids was named after him.  Garfield, a man of many talents, was a big hit at parties with his ability to write Latin with one hand and Greek with the other, though who’d know what the hell he was saying?  Alas and alack, Garfield was shot in 1882.  For some reason, doctors couldn’t find the bullet.  Alexander Graham Bell tried to find it with an electric probe he had invented, but no dice.  Doctors kept probing the wound with non-sterile hands until Garfield was infected and died a few weeks after he was shot.  Medical experts contend the president would have been just peachy if everyone had left him alone. 

Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd AND the 24th president.  How about that?  He was also the first president to be married in the White House and the first to have a child born there.  Cleveland is also the chief executive who dedicated the Statue of Liberty.  Despite all the hubbub the office demands, Cleveland insisted on answering the White House phone himself.  “Yes, this is Grover.  No, I am NOT kidding!  Really!  No, I do NOT know what one little moron said to the other little moron….”

Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president, was the first and only whose grandfather, William Henry Harrison, was also president.  His great grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence.  He was the first president to be present at a baseball game and the first to install electricity in the White House.  When Harrison was shocked by a jolt of electricity, no one in his family would touch the light switches any longer.  They all went to bed with the lights on all night rather than regress to oil lamps.



Rub-a-dub-dub.  Plus one.


William Howard Taft, the 27th president, was the first chief executive to own a car and the first to throw out the first pitch at a baseball game.  He was also the heaviest president, weighing over 330 pounds at 6-2.  He had to order a jumbo-sized bathtub after getting stuck in the original model.  The new tub was thought to be big enough for four average-sized men but the White House staff could never prove it, being unabe to find four guys interested in frisking together.

Warren Harding, a gambler who once bet the White House china and lost it, was the 29th president.  If you care, he had the biggest feet of all the presidents with a shoe size of 14.  His administration with filled with scandals and he died in office, some say of a heart attack.  However, rumors persist that his wife poisoned him for his (Hey Melania—Get this!) womanizing habits.

Calvin Coolidge was the 30th president of the United States and the first to light the National Christmas Tree.  Coolidge was a quiet guy, didn’t like to talk much, even refused to speak on the White House telephone.  Silent Cal, they called him.  Once, a dinner guest bet another member of the dining party that she could get Coolidge to say more than two words.  When she told the president about the bet, he said “You lose.”

Coolidge had an army of pets at the White House, including two white collies, an Airedale terrier, a Shetland sheepdog, 2 chows, a bulldog, a bird dog, two cats, several canaries, a mockingbird and a partridge in a prune tree.  He also had a raccoon named Rebecca who was walked on a leash, another raccoon named Horace, a donkey, a bobcat, lion cubs, a bear, a wallaby and a pigmy hippopotamus.  No….really….he did.  Okay, except for the partridge.



Harpo Marx with President Truman


We’re Just Wild About Harry

When President Harry S. Truman returned from his famous Wake Island meeting with General Douglas MacArthur, a new issue of Newsweek magazine contained a remark attributed to Groucho Marx: “We wouldn’t have this mess if Truman was alive,” it read.  Sounds like Groucho, right?  He denied making the remark and wrote to the president telling him so.  Truman wrote back thanking him for his correspondence.  Later, Groucho had lunch with Truman at the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City.  When Truman was operated on in 1954, Marx wrote to say “I don’t know if you will remember me but I am the chap with the black moustache, glasses and increasing baldness who, I hope, convulses you every Thursday night on television.”  He wished Truman a speedy recovery and invited him to visit him on the West Coast.  “I can put you up.  I have a swimming pool and a pool table.  I shoot very badly and if you are any good with the cue, you could possibly win enough to pay your expenses.”  Harry declined the invitation but assured Groucho he could never forget the Marx Brothers.

Truman is famous for his remark, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”  Groucho referred to this in a 1967 letter to HST.  Marx had sent Truman a copy of his book, The Groucho Letters, and Truman wrote back “I have been flipping through the book with a great deal of amusement.”  This was an unsatisfactory response for Groucho, who wrote back “You said that you have been flipping through the pages with a great deal of amusement.  Read it, Harry.  It’s full of wisdom and if you can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, read it in the living room.” 

Harry Truman had long been an advocate for Holocaust survivors and the displaced Jews of World War II, earning himself the Harry S. Truman Forest in Israel.  Groucho’s brother Harpo sent Truman a letter and photo of himself standing there in 1963. “There were several reasons for taking this photo---mostly my great pride in there being such a place as this forest and a man such as you.  My reason for sending it is simpler.  I thought you might like to know how tall and strong the trees have grown.”  Harpo died a year later, Truman died in 1972 and Groucho in 1977.

A lot of Americans took to Truman because in him they saw a fellow just like themselves.  But Harry was a sharp cookie.  Consider some of his remarks:

“All the president is, is a glorifed public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.”

“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”

“I never give them hell.  I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell.”

“It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours.”

“When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one gun salutes, all those things.  You have to remember it isn’t for you.  It’s for the Presidency.”

“The only things worth learning are the things you learn after you know it all.”

“Whenever you have an efficient government, you have a dictatorship.”

“May the sun never set on American baseball.”

And, of course, our favorite:

“Suppose you were an idiot.  And suppose you were a Republican.  But I repeat myself.”

Where have you gone, Harry Truman-o, the nation lifts its weary eyes to you….



That’s all, folks.





Thursday, February 16, 2017

On Making Love Stay

Old Marina Cedar Key Florida


“There is only one serious question.  And that is: Who knows how to make love stay?  Answer me that and I will tell you whether or not to kill yourself.”—Tom Robbins


In 1980, Tom Robbins published his third and best novel, Still Life With Woodpecker, which ostensibly and absurdly dealt with a love affair between an environmentalist princess and an outlaw, but whose actual purpose was to wrestle with the question of  “how to make love stay.”  Robbins poked at this ancient mystery from several angles and even posed an occasional suggestion:

“Tell love you are going to Junior’s Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if love stays, it can have half.  It will stay.”

If Albert Camus, from whom Robbins derived his one serious question, was an absurdist, Tom had him beat in spades.  For Robbins, a novel was like an electric trampoline.  It allowed him to spring to fantastic heights of preposterous storytelling, but there was always a lot of brilliance to be found between the lines.  I bought a dozen Woodpeckers and gave them out to friends.  Not because Robbins ever answered his question but because he asked it.

Long before Still Life With Woodpecker began stirring anyone’s consciousness, back in the mid-1960s, the hippies were dealing with the same question.  Many of them were the children of divorce or at least frozen marriages, loveless unions which continued for alleged pragmatic reasons despite the utter absence of affection, or worse.  The hippies decided that love should be free-flowing, not something you put in a box and hid in a cave.  Because you loved a person, you did not own him or her.  You could love others; so, in fact, could they.  This led sometimes to expanded families, where all shared the work and many shared one another.  Communes arose.  “Rainbow Families” appeared.  Maybe, under these different circumstances, love would stay.  Ah, but the best laid plans of mice and tie-dyed men often go awry.  Human Nature is a tough rival.  Jealousy never sleeps.  All lovers have their favorites and inevitably gravitate toward them.

The same thing happened with open marriages.  Since many unions foundered on the rocks of faithlessness, why not eliminate that possibility by allowing the pleasures of the flesh to one another?  If noone felt sexually deprived, maybe love would stay.  In theory, a reasonable notion.  In practice, not so much.  Human Nature pops in once again to suggest that one partner is having a much better time than the other, such a good time, in fact, that he may be bringing in a new pitcher from the bullpen.  Fear of abandonment rushes in.  Not only does love not stay, she barely comes over for tea anymore.

Robbins jumps in with another idea: “Tell love you want a memento of it and obtain a lock of its hair.  Burn the hair in a dime-store incense burner with yin/yang symbols on three sides.  Face southwest.  Talk fast over the burning hair in a convincingly exotic language.  Remove the ashes of the burnt hair and use them to paint a moustache on your face.  Find love.  Tell her you are someone new.  It will stay.”  Oh Tom, you old kidder!

The truth of the matter is there are no secret incantations, no magic amulets that will guarantee that love hangs around.  There are things which help, however.  Their names are Good Luck, Attention To Business and The Right Partner at The Right Time.  If you have all these, you’ve got a fighting chance.  If you don’t, you’re hamburger.


The Right Partner

For most of us, the Right Time is never directly out of high school no matter who the partner is.  The post-high school marriage is the mulligan allowed everyone, the perfectly understandable mistake made by inexperienced romantics, no hard feelings.  How do you know what you want, the logical question goes, if you have only experienced life with one person?  For every successful post-high school marriage, there are twenty failures and even the one-in-twenty miracles have plenty of tears, raised voices and chair-throwing.  Children often enter the picture early, restricting opportunities for adventure, limiting travel, denying career possibilities.  It’s a bad idea, even if it worked for you, and you probably know it.  Love should picket these weddings carrying a big sign which reads “SEE YOU LATER!”

If we are successful in avoiding high school nuptials, the coast is far from clear.  College just makes us think we are smarter, more experienced in the ways of love, when the truth is we are merely shallow boneheads on the subject, in desperate need of further experimentation.  When I was twenty-two, I met The Right Partner at The Wrong Time.  Marilyn Todd was beautiful, brilliant, spirited and faithful, deserving of a better fate than her eventual marriage to a philandering husband.  Like many my age, I was unsuited to the task, still looking around, living under the false assumption that Love would hang around.  Love knew better.  It moved with Marilyn to a successful second marriage in Austin, leaving me older and wiser.

I waited seven years and tried it again, this time with The Wrong Person, lovely as she was.  Harolyn Locklair was a fashion model from Miami, and she looked like it.  Once, crossing University Avenue in Gainesville wearing abbreviated shorts, she almost caused two cars to drive off the road, so engrossed were the wide-eyed male drivers.  She was also kind, intelligent and adventuresome.  Trouble is, men are inclined to award too many points for the bathing suit part of the contest and too little for everything else.  Things like compatability, social interests, life goals.  You can have a perfectly acceptable human being looking to head West while you are bent on going East, and the whole affair falls apart.  Love gets confused about how to cope and quickly leaves the room.

Fortunately for all of us, life does not proffer the one-time-only storied soulmate with whom absolute compatability is a given.  Life provides us with further options and experience hones our capacities for selection.  If Marge hates sex and you are The Heinie Monster, better move along.  If Siobhan loves her herd of goats and you like them best in barbecue, keep walking.  The trick is not to kid yourself, not to be so enchanted by Desiree that you fail to see she’s standing next to a trap door to the alligator pit.  Yep, that Lucretia is a knockout but Bingo seven nights a week might cast a pall.  Or Shirley over there—what a package—easy on the eyes, cooks a mean pot roast and is an absolute whiz with a bow and arrow.  Sad to report, alas, that Shirley erupts into jealousy at the drop of an eyelash and oh, did I mention, is an absolute whiz with the bow and arrow?  Hopefully, years of experience provide the learned hunter some clues to help him on his way.  One especially propitious rule to follow is Parse Carefully and Avoid Craig’slist.




Attention To Business


“The highest function of love is that it makes the loved one a unique and irreplaceable being.”---Tom Robbins


Once the final crop has been harvested, it is folly to assume the job is done.  As with all things, regular maintenance must be performed.  Too many men assume that a good marriage is merely a matter of keeping to a regular schedule, avoiding egregious blunders with regard to Other Women and always providing the answers she wants to hear.  This is wrong, wrong, WRONG!  Your job is to do things which enhance her life, otherwise she might as well be married to Larry, the lawn-care guy.  Life-enhancing things are not, by the way, dinners at Subway.  Think big.  Clues to unspoken interests are offered daily.  Listen to her when she speaks to her friends.  Investigate what she’s reading, what she posts on Facebook.  Create occasional surprises.  When traveling, consider balancing a night at Fenway Park with a trip to the botanical gardens.  It’s not that difficult.  It just requires a simple quality called Consideration.

The Best Women, the ones you want to saddle up with for that ride into the sunset, are not demanding, but neither are they doormats.  They insist on being equals, and why shouldn’t they?  Nobody wants to be given a list of instructions to blindly follow for the rest of their days and the exceptions to this rule are not the people you should be looking for.  Life is a Great Adventure, the planning and execution of which must be shared.  Fun for All and All for Fun.  And while we’re at it, let’s get on with it.  Celebrations deferred are Celebrations denied.  That hike down into the Grand Canyon is best performed on the good side of hip replacement.  Climbing to the top of Half Dome is never a walk in the park, but easier done before retirement age.  And if you’re already past the point of no return, there’s always the Aurora Borealis.

It’s hard work, this business of making love stay, and there are no guarantees.  But the road map above offers some guidance.  The older couples among us have figured most of this stuff out and that’s why they’re older couples.  The rest of you have your marching orders.  And while it’s critical to partner with The Right Person, it’s also wise to consider Tom Robbins’ parting words:

“We waste time looking for the perfect lover instead of creating the perfect love.” 




The Cedar Key Sojourn

It’s as predictable as death and taxes, but much more enjoyable.  If this is February 14th, Bill and Siobhan must be in Cedar Key for the champagne sunset and a following dinner at the Island Hotel.  There may be fancier restaurants around but none of them are on the Gulf of Mexico and only an hour away.  This Valentine’s Day business has been going on for countless years now and is in danger of becoming an institution.  Two years ago, after thirty years of Living in Sin, Bill tardily popped the question of marriage and Siobhan agreed, the nuptials being performed 16 months later in Las Vegas.  Our Gainesville pal, Barbara Chiarel, told this story to a lady friend ten years engaged and clamoring for a ceremony.  The friend backed off, went silent for a year and recently got her wedding.  This sort of thing is not recommended for everyone, of course, only the excessively patient.

Pictures of the proceedings are necessary, believe it or not, to prove the island city actually exists.  Some readers have had the audacity to think we’re perpetrating a fraud, not unlike the obviously phony moon landing.  Others, like Fontaine Maverick of San Marcos, Texas, just like to see the pictures.  Fontaine has been promising to come to Cedar Key for several years now but she hasn’t showed up yet.  Fortunately for her, if she doesn’t make it for another twenty annums, it will still be the same.

Assisting us this year with the picture-taking were Steven Marquez from San Diego and his future bride from Washington state, he just finished with a hitch in the military, she only recently out of college.  Wise beyond their years, they are traveling across the country from West coast to East, turning around in Tampa and returning via Colorado before settling down to unfortunate business like jobs and continued education.  It’s always encouraging to see young people who have already discovered the cookbook and cut out the recipe.  We wish them Good Fortune.  Maybe they’ll be two of the lucky ones.  Maybe they’ll even figure out how to Make Love Stay.




That’s all, folks….