From Lyle Lofgren's journals, 1991 - 2011

[There may be a theme or two here, but I haven't found it/them yet.]

February 1, 1991:
A company memo stating that the mail department will no longer sell stamps ends with, "We do not have to want to start dealing in pennies."

The lady who wrote the memo isn't the only person who has trouble with desire versus require, but the expression on her face reminds me of an acquaintance who used to habitually complain to Liz about loss of sleep due to the performance of "wifely duties." She solved the wifely duty problem by getting a night job as a waitress in an open-all-night restaurant. She found that, after work, she could get paid for performing wifely duties for the restaurant clientele. She decided the duties were OK if someone paid for them. Finally, she left her husband for a better paying job. If he had had any sense, he would have left $10 on her pillow every morning, and she would have been satisfied.

April 9, 1991:
From the label of a bottle of Kong Yen Sauce, made in Taiwan:
This is manufactured in pursuant with the Western Seasoning Throries and to meet with Chinese Flavors.
I've been cooking for quite a few years, and I've yet to understand Western Seasoning Throries.

January 13, 1992
The Weekly World News showed a photograph of Elvis Presley, now in his late 50s, shopping for Christmas gifts in a mall. Who were the gifts for? He's in deep hiding, after all. They've also published photos of a white-haired John Kennedy, in a wheelchair, visiting his own grave. What sad secular Christs are resurrected these days. The account says that Mr. Presley had planned to go public on New Years Day with a comeback concert to end all comeback concerts, presumably in Las Vegas, but he decided to remain in hiding because he's been receiving death threats. If Mr. Presley had a better education, he would know about Dylan Thomas's solace, after the first death, there is no other.

The WWN also reported a resurrection to warm the hearts of animal rights advocates. A mink coat (made of whole mink skins with claws, teeth, and tails intact) mysteriously came alive and bit its owner to death. The reanimated skins then ran off, leaving only the coat lining to cover the corpse. They presumably went to join the Giant Killer Shrews, who plan to begin their conquest of the world by attacking Graceland Mansion, where both Elvis and JFK are in hiding, along with Marilyn Monroe, now grown pudgy, and Jayne Mansfield, who scares you at first, because she has no head.

March 24, 1992:
I just came across a company memo, dated 1978, that's a model for how to handle the problem of being behind in your work. Back in those pre-PC days, we had to use a central computer for all computations, and any changes had to be made by a group of High Priests, identified in this memo as "Systems." The memo was written by their boss:

Attached you will find a copy of the new Standard Administrative Procedure for Computer Systems Change Requests. With the publication of this new procedure we would like to make a fresh start. This means that all requests received prior to this date and not started by Systems have been discarded. If anyone feels that they have an outstanding request they should submit it through the new system. Please pass this along to anyone on your staff who would be in a position to initiate a request.

(This guy was obviously overqualified for his job, and soon moved on to bigger things. If he had stayed longer, he probably would have re-sent the memo out every three months.)

April 6, 1992:
It's less than two weeks to Passover, so I'll tell everything I knew about Jews when I was young:

Our only source of cash on the farm, other than milk, was to ship surplus calves to the South St. Paul stockyards. If we had one that was plump and healthy and ready to ship, the conversation with the cattle trucker while loading would be whether it would "go as a Koocher Calf." A Koocher Calf would bring more money than even the trading range reported by Larry Haig, direct from South St. Paul, on Cedric Adams's Noontime News on WCCO. The phrase had to be pretty local, and I think it was based on a linguistic coincidence: In Swedish, the letter o is pronounced oo, so, when read from printed text, Kosher would become Koosher. In addition, cow in Swedish is Ko, pronounced koo. That explains everything except the hard ch as in itch.

Of course, the phrase had no extrinsic meaning to me, and I didn't figure out its origin until I got away from home to Minneapolis. So my only experience with Jews was hearing about Boolah the Jew Peddler, who actually no longer came around within my memory. He always walked, carrying a large pack, and arrived twice a year, usually at suppertime. If you had a fiddle (which we did), he would play it, and in trade for a bed for the night and food, would offer a discount on Silkety Stockings. Somehow, the men of the household would agree to buy fancy stockings for the women only when accosted in their own home. They'd never buy them in town. If we had butchered a hog recently, Mom would fix Boolah his favorite breakfast: blood pancakes. I think it was some sort of Christian subversion on her part, since she never told him they were made from pig's blood.

I've often wondered what Boolah's real name was. I can't think of any Eastern European name that's close enough to be garbled into that word, even by a Swede.

Liz's mother, Ella, once recounted the excitement when she was a girl in Mars Hill, Maine. Word spread through the town that there was a Jew in the drugstore, so all the town kids ran down and peeked in the window. He was more than just a Jew, he was a Rabbi, and had come to bless the starch at the new Potato Starch factory. There was no premium for Kosher Potato Starch; you had to have the imprimatur to even sell it on the East Coast. After he came a few times, the kids no longer ran down to gawk at him. Apparently this Rabbi was the great-grandfather of the workman who drowned at Calvert Cliffs Power Plant, because one day he fell into a vat of starch, and was completely white when they fished him out. He approved the batch as kosher, nonetheless; or maybe it was especially blessed, having been in intimate contact with a Holy Man.

April 10, 1992:
Elmer, my father, sincerely hated Daylight Saving Time, which he always associated with the decadence of Franklin Roosevelt. He was convinced that the only reason for DST was to allow city slickers to play golf after they were done with their office jobs for the day. Since he was a farmer and a Republican, the office-job golfers must be Democrats. I think one reason he was miffed was that, on Standard Time, you could determine noon (and therefore dinner-time) because your shadow points straight north at noon in any season. All the roads and fences were in the cardinal directions, so you could easily find noon as long as the sun was shining. But judging 15 degrees off north is a little trickier, and finding by your shadow that it's 1:00 PM when you wanted to be home by noon was of no use whatever.

Also, he had some favorite radio programs, like Elmer Davis' World News at 5 minutes to 8 in the evening on WCCO. There was, after all, a World War going on. In the summertime, we wouldn't be done with chores even by 8:00 Standard Time, but it rankled him to miss the news by two hours. After all, he wanted us to be, above all, prompt. That was why he set the clocks ahead a half-hour, and, in addition, nudged the little lever on the back towards "F", so the clocks would gain some time every day. Then, even if we dawdled, we'd surely get to church, or be waiting for the school bus on time.

I naturally thought of him when I went through the house last Sunday, resetting twelve clocks of various types to read an hour fast. Some of them, like the thermostat clock or the VCR clock, directly affect one's comfort or convenience. I remembered reading about schemes for the computer operated house, where your PC turns on the percolator in the morning so you can wake up and smell the coffee; turns up and down the thermostat; runs the security system; and, when you're away at night, turns lights on and off in various rooms like a demented insomniac with a shotgun (sure to keep burglars away). So I went to the PC to reset it to DST, only to find out that it thought the time was 5:30 PM, which was close to Local Time in London. Computers use pulses that must be precise to millionths of a second, so I could only conclude that Elmer's ghost must have infested my PC and pushed the little lever towards "F." I guess I have to give up the dream of a PC-run house if the damn computer gains 5 minutes a day.

May 1, 1992
Today's example of the bureaucratic mind hard at work defining the Nature of Reality is a verbatim copy of a handwritten tag that was included with a defective unit returned from a Nuclear Power Plant:

The inside volume of the bag contained within this box constitutes a Safety Related Hold Area (Level B) until such time as this box and its contents are shipped or removed, at which time the bag becomes an ordinary empty bag.

July 13, 1992:
A colleague has just returned from a 2-week trip through England and Ireland, his ancestral homeland. He had sampled draft Guinness Stout in an Irish bar in St. Paul, but was told that it wasn't very good, because "stout doesn't travel." When he got to London, he had some Guinness in a pub, and it tasted a lot better than in St. Paul, but he was told by someone else in the pub that it was a lot better in Dublin, because stout doesn't travel. So when he got to Dublin, he found it was indeed good, except that you have to wait 5 minutes for a glass, because it takes that long to draw it and get the head properly removed. It tasted great, and he ordered it whenever possible in Dublin. Then he went to Cork, only about 120 miles from Dublin, went into a pub, and ordered a Guinness. The publican said, "You want Cork Stout, not Guinness. Stout doesn't travel."

He took the train from Dublin to Glasgow, which involves going through Belfast. From the train window, the city looked fairly normal, except for some barbed wire. Otherwise, kids were playing in the streets, citizens were shopping. Then some British soldiers appeared, driving a Jeep. The Jeep was clearly visible against the city buildings, because it was painted with that funny jungle camouflage paint.

Incidentally, the total number of people killed due to the troubles in Northern Ireland so far this year is 52. Those Irish are pikers compared to murderers in, say, Washington DC. Or compared to our motorists: The paper says that 10 Minnesotans were killed in traffic accidents over just the last weekend.

July 15, 1992:
The New York Times Book Review of 7/12/92 had a story about California Housing, where you never make progress on paying off your loan, just getting more expensive housing for $2000 per month. It reminded me that the only advice my father ever gave me was: Don't Get Into Debt. He certainly followed that advice; he inherited the farm, so I'm sure he never owed any amount for anything. In 1958, I got a $200/month Teaching Assistantship at the University of Minnesota about the same time I got interested in old-time Appalachian music, so I went to the State Capitol Credit Union and took out a $300 loan to buy a Tandberg tape recorder. I can testify that I felt a lot more sinful signing that loan agreement than I had ever felt in any romantic relationship. Maybe that's because Dad never gave me any advice about sex, pro or con.

Over the years, I've sublimated the advice about debt into a modified principle: don't engage in complicated financial transactions. California Housing is one such example. My principle states that, if you take out a 30-year mortgage at age 55, you better damn well plan on living in the same house until age 85, when it will be paid off.

Unfortunately, I don't always follow that principle. We are just now cashing in a note from Hadson Petroleum, the final episode of an Oil-and-Gas Drilling Partnership that we bought in 1981, because Liz's broker convinced her it was a great tax shelter. We're getting $640, which is all the money we ever got back out of our $5000 investment, and it will probably cost about half that amount to pay an accountant to figure out where it goes on the income tax form. It seems to me that an investment where you lose all your money is not an efficient tax shelter.

July 20, 1992:
A friend was coerced by her aged parents to go with them to an Indian casino in Hinckley, MN. She commented in an e-mail about the expressions on the faces of the people there:

The workers looked bored, and the players did not have the engrossed expressions of people you see who are involved with what they are doing (like people looking at the pictures at the Baseball Hall of Fame, or at the pigs at the state fair), nor, except for a 20-yr old guy who seemed to have won a bunch of quarters on his first try and was laughing, did they seem to be enjoying themselves. They were all just looking almost grimly at these video screens, almost like zombies. Kind of drugged.

We haven't been to any of the Minnesota casinos yet, although we have gambled in Lake Tahoe, St. Kitts, and Las Vegas, all sprees of the $20 variety. I find it amusing that the Indians have found a way to get back at the European Culture that inundated them. The Ojibwe name for Reservation translates as the left-over place. That hopefully will become an ironic term as Indians buy Left-Over Places such as Canterbury Downs and Mall of America when they fail, and turn them into reservations, and, incidentally, gambling casinos.

The old slot machines with the handles were perfect for the Industrial Age:
drop coin; pull lever; drop coin; pull lever; drop coin; pull lever ...
Conversely, I suppose, the video poker machines are just right for the Information Age, where you push buttons, and collect Credits instead of Coins: like an Auto-Deposit Paycheck instead of Friday afternoon cash in a pay envelope.

The Sweepstakes Envelope says YOU MAY ALREADY BE A WINNER! and I throw it away unopened because I'm already a winner -- a winner in a Roulette game where the odds were incalculable: jillions to one against me. My ancestors, with their chance encounters, torrid amours, cold marriages of convenience, broken hearts and snot-nosed babies, all somehow survived long enough to reproduce. Each baby the result of a one-in-a-billion gametical accident. All these uncountable umbilical strands wove together to produce me, and, through some miracle, I survived until now. And every day (knock on wood) I draw interest on my Sweepstakes Win. I marvel at that quite a lot, so I find I'm not too impressed by the hubub, the flashing lights, and the whirr-kachunk of Ozma or any other place where the odds are only slightly against you.

I'm curious about the gamblers at the Hinckley Casino who do not seem to be involved in what they're doing. This year at the State Fair, I'm going to pay close attention to the people watching the pigs (since Liz drags me to the barns every year, I might as well do some Scientific Research) to see if I can discern the difference between them and the gamblers. Experiments with pigeons and chimps show that a steady food reward in response to a correct input will cause the animal to perform at a certain frequency of stimulus, depending on hunger. But what will really get them pecking the targets or pulling the levers is random response to the input. When you do the trick your handlers want you to do, you never know if a reward is going to come down the chute. I always assumed that the reason was that the animal was somehow more interested in the outcome when it wasn't completely predictable. The observation of gambler detachment, though, makes me think that maybe the random-reward animals become obsessive; that they think they have figured out the system: peck harder every fifth time, and you're sure to get the food pellet. But even following a system, counting cards or some such superstition, should be absorbing. I now want to see a video of the experimental chimps, to see if they look bored, also. I do believe that the detached look is a symptom of a spiritual disease of some sort, though, and one that will probably do a lot more damage to the gamblers than just the transfer of money from their pockets to those of the casino operators.

July 21, 1992:
An article, from the 7/2/92 Chanhassen, Minnesota, Villager newspaper:

M. T., a 1984 graduate of Eden Prairie High School, was arrested last month after employees of the Chanhassen Mall's Animal Fair outlet observed that it appeared someone had been living in a storeroom adjacent to the business. Sheriff's investigators called to the scene discovered several unusual items in the room, including a mattress, a table, several eating utensils, some styrofoam plates, two loaves of bread, jars of peanut butter and jelly, an ice-cream pail containing barbecue beef, some cold-sliced ham, salad dressing, salt and sugar, croutons, a garbage bag full of popped popcorn, and a bowling pin.

Now, George H.W. Bush, who doesn't know about laser bar-code checkout counters in grocery stores, might regard a styrofoam plate as unusual. Also, I admit I don't know very many people who are both fond of croutons and also keep popped popcorn in garbage-bag quantities. But, unlike the Sheriff's investigators, I would classify the rest of the articles as tediously usual. I've even been in a 1950's-style rec. room that had a bowling pin.

If you had taken the previous list of the unusual contents of that Chanhassen storeroom, added an eclectic collection of folk music records; two dozen empty coke bottles; a pinup picture with Jackie Kennedy's face pasted on a Playboy centerfold body; and then subtracted the croutons, you would have a pretty good inventory of a friend's room back before he got married. And if you had subtracted almost all of the items, you would have an inventory of my possessions as an undergraduate, when I lived in a small storage closet at the end of a hall on the 3rd floor above the old New Rainbow Cafe at Hennepin and Lake in Minneapolis. Our rooms had two characteristics that were desirable for low-income people: they were substandard, and therefore cheap. His old rooming house is torn down, as is the house at 27th & Humboldt Ave. S., where I lived in the attic as a graduate student. Both are replaced by sterile apartment houses that meet Housing Codes, but charge high rents. The entire 3rd floor at the Hennepin & Lake building has been converted to offices. One of Liz's photography instructors from her last year's sojourn to the University of Minnesota's Split Rock summer arts program has a studio on University Ave. in St. Paul. He can't afford both studio space and a home, so he sleeps in his studio. He has to be as secretive about this as M. T. at the Chanhassen storeroom, however, because it's against the law for him to live in that building. It's not zoned residential.

Homelessness in the Twin Cities is a direct result of a conscious decision by the cities to destroy slum housing. They assumed that the poor would simply find somewhere else to go. The homeless in our cities found that there was no place else. We can't just build more sub-standard housing; that requires age, like fine wine. We could, however, allow them to wander the streets all day, and put them up for the night in our factories. There's no one using my cubicle at night, and it's about the size of my undergraduate living quarters. They can store their belongings in a box under my table. There are at least 500 such cubicles in the building where I work. If they get bored, or can't sleep, they can try answering some of the memos that are piling up around here: it would give them more room. First thing you know, like with the Shoemaker Elves, I'd come in in the morning and find all the work done. The University also has lots of space that's not used at night, and they could open their doors to the homeless, too. It's obviously a problem caused only by us and our attitudes.

Meanwhile, M. T. is homeless no more. He's being held in jail until such time as there is an opening at St. Peter Hospital, when he will be evaluated to see if he's mentally ill. I think they suspect he's crazy because he made himself a home in an upscale suburb without paying the ridiculous rents. If he had been sleeping under a bridge in downtown Minneapolis, he wouldn't be getting all this care. So he's lucky.

Aug. 11, 1992:
You'd think we would know quite a bit about oaks after almost 30 years of living on an oak hill. But it wasn't until last year, when we moved to the back of the house, that we learned about the acorn rain. It turns out that all the bur oaks in the neighborhood drop their acorns within one or two weeks, and they are quite noisy: the falling acorns hit the ground (plop), roofs (clunk) or cars (boing). The din is especially noticeable at night, when the airplanes and cars have mostly quit. It sounds like a gentle, though loud, rain.

The acorn rain started in earnest this week, and in addition to marvelling at the synchronicity of the oaks, I got to thinking about the quantity of acorns implied by the continuous hail. So this morning, I surveyed a square foot of ground under our backyard oak, and counted 20 acorns. The crown of the tree has a radius of about 30 feet, so that single oak produced over 56,000 acorns this year. That amounts to about 4 million acorns over a 70 year productive life, resulting in, on the average, only one surviving oak to replace the parent. The rest goes to feed the squirrels, who do their part by burying the acorns. It's hard to see where efficiency or economy, as we understand it, fits into this picture. It's as if Nature were more profligate than the worst Yuppie or gambler that ever existed. And yet, nothing is wasted. A puzzlement.

Big numbers are always stupefying, but even understanding them doesn't mean that one can understand anything about meaning. Each person has approximately as many brain cells as there are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy: 100 billion. Is that a coincidence, or does it hide some deeper meaning? Why so many acorns, or seed of any sort, for that matter? Why is everyone so emotional about the loss of a foetus here or there, when there are so many more where they came from? It's all stupefying, if you ask me.

[Note added 2010:Over the years since then, I've observed that some years the oaks drop lots of acorns, while other years produce almost none. The large yield even has a term: the oaks are "masting." I still don't know what's going on when they do that, though, and I'm still stupefied by large numbers.]

Aug. 21, 1992:
We once spent an hour or so on the shore of Bolinas Bay, north of San Francisco, watching this guy, dressed in a black wetsuit, crawl into a raft-like contraption he had built that held a rounded pile of sticks and brush. It was supposed to imitate a beaver house. He had a camera with a telephoto lens the size of a bazooka, and he intended to get photos of the ducks in the bay. Unfortunately for him, the ducks did not care to be pursued by a floating beaver house; they weren't fooled, and he couldn't get within 1000 feet of them.

Many years earlier, on a beautiful summer Sunday when I was at loose ends, I drove out to the Lawrence Access of the Minnesota River Trail (between Shakopee and Jordan) to look at the bluebirds. When I got there, I was delighted to realize that I had subconsciously donned a blue jacket, open at the front to reveal an orange tee-shirt.

Sept. 4, 1992:
I've been thinking about unobservant people. When they arrived in America, Europeans mis-identified the woodchuck and the robin. There are more such examples. The moose (an Algonquian name) also lives in Sweden, where it is called an Elg. So, of course, some dumb Swede named the American Elk, even though it does not remotely resemble a moose, and there was a perfectly good Indian name (Wapiti) for it. As you no doubt remember, in Britain, Buteos are called Buzzards, so it was natural to give that name to the Turkey Vulture, unless you have a decent pair of eyes. Worst of all is the deer, which comes from German Tier, meaning animal. That's about as generic as you can get. In addition to Indian names, there already was a perfectly good European name (Hart) for it.

In comparing my Swedish relatives with my American ones, I concluded long ago that the best and the brightest did not emigrate to America. Even then, I'm appalled by my memory of how unobservant I was as a youth. It was almost as if I had to get a college education in order to open my eyes. Of course, almost everyone I knew was unobservant also, although my mother pointed out some birds identifiable by the naked eye (such as bluebirds and cedar waxwings) and some types of plants and insects to me. Mostly, though, my relatives, if they were interested in the natural world at all, were like the maiden aunt described by one of the NPR All Things Considered commentators who acknowledged only two kinds of birds: a Robin Redbreast and a Jenny Wren. She called a Cardinal a Red Robin Redbreast, while a Bluejay was a Blue Robin Redbreast, a goldfinch was a Yellow Jenny Wren, etc.

Oct. 7, 1992:
In the middle of August, we attended a wedding ceremony at the nearby Lake Harriet Rock Garden. Due to religious reasons, the ceremony had to be conducted after sundown. That turned out to be 7:30. "Goodness," someone said, "the days are getting shorter already." I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and give her a good shake. "Two months after the summer solstice and you haven't noticed the shortening of the days until now?"

In the 1940's and '50s, anthropologists had a favorite myth about "primitive" peoples: that they had no knowledge whatever of the movements of the sun, moon or stars, and dependend on "priests" to tell them when to plant crops, hunt, etc. The priest fantasy, which I think was somehow based on the control Catholic priests used to have on their supplicants, envisaged an immensely powerful bureaucracy involved with mainly predicting eclipses and using mumbo-jumbo on the ignorant rabble. The usual reason for telling the myth was to contrast the aborigine with Modern Man: knowledgable, rational, scientifically in control of Nature and Emotion.

But, as I remember from my childhood, you don't have to spend much time outdoors before you begin to notice the astronomical changes, even beyond the moon's phases. And my father, who taught me how to predict short term weather from cloud formations, also commented often on where in the west the sun was setting at different times of the year. And, of course, we would have missed out on our noonday meal if we didn't know that the sun is directly south at noon, no matter where you are in the annual astronomical cycle.

Lake Harriet Rock Garden

So the real facts are that the aborigine, by nature and necessity, had lots of knowledge about astronomy. The Modern, who can easily turn on the lights when it gets dark, who has street lights to obliterate the night sky, who can go to the store and therefore does not need to know when to plant, is the ignorant one. As to being dependent on priests of one sort or the other, just look at the good money that doctors, lawyers, and MBA's make because they supposedly have superior knowledge over mysterious matters. I don't suppose Sandy Wood, who broadcasts a daily short radio piece on NPR called Star Date, gets paid much, but we do pay astronomers to argue about what happened in the first one-billionth of a second after the universe was created. And that doesn't even help us to know when to plant our crops.

Oct. 12, 1992:
A friend, who's a college professor, told me that she's hired a painter with a college degree who is painting her house for less than the cost of attending an academic conference she'd been considering. She discovered an important principle of Macroeconomics: disaster is pretty nice if your ox isn't gored. She is able to take advantage of the surplus in skilled labor caused by the fact that jobs available in our "Service" economy are mostly at MacDonald's. Therefore, she can afford to hire others for boring jobs like painting. Twenty years ago, house painters made about twice as much as professors, and she wouldn't have been able to pay them. Trickle-down does not apply to wealth, but it does apply to unemployment, as the highly-paid-but-out-of-work auto workers take up painting and plumbing, thus forcing everyone else to compete for the available home remodeling jobs.

Her painter certainly is an example of something I've noticed for quite a while: that colleges have been trying to talk out of both sides of their mouths at once. The idealistic propaganda has always been that a college education improves your life by improving your mind, exposing you to our cultural heritage, and (sub rosa) allowing you to socialize with other members of your economic class. The idealistic view was also the traditional view from the days when only those who wouldn't ever need to earn a living could get into college.

While still purveying that view at commencement addresses, the Universities also let it be known that there were good jobs in industry waiting for graduates of Engineering, Journalism, Business, etc., colleges; or, if your taste ran to English or Philosophy, you could always get a job after graduation teaching it to others. So college became a way for hoi-polloi to give their children a boost up the economic ladder: your kid should get a college education in order to get a good job in the cities. And it certainly was true in the 1950s, when I went to college.

At some point, though, and I'm not sure when it happened, the good-job-in-the-cities market became saturated with college graduates, and now all many graduates have to show for the college diploma is the consolation of the idealistic reason for education. I can't blame them for feeling cheated, because the colleges have not publicized the fact that education is not an investment with the same kind of payback that, say, a mutual fund would have. And, of course, if you define yourself in terms of your job, and your job is a house painter, you don't have much to show for your sheepskin. I hope her painter is doing something extra, such as writing a novel.

On the other hand, there are those who maintain that there are already too many novels to read, and the house painter should only occupy himself, and make a living. Good advice. Still, I meet lots of people whose self-esteem is inextricably bound with their profession, and who describe themselves as only a house painter or only a cabbie. (I think the only a housewife person is extinct). George H.W. Bush probably doesn't think of himself as only a president, although that might be closer to the truth. The trouble occurs when one is fired or retired, at which time you become only a nothing. And as to education's other concealed purpose (to keep young people out of the job market), that is a useful, if cynical, task, and something has to do it. It doesn't seem right, though, that the colleges should charge high tuition for offering you the privilege of being out of the job market.

I suppose the Only an X syndrome has been around as long as Americans have believed in the dream of social mobility. If any boy can grow up to be President, it must be your fault somehow if you don't grow up to be President. Of course, it was never even alleged that any girl could grow up to be President. Even then, in the good old days, if you were born a serf, you had to remain a serf, and the failure to escape serfhood was not a cause for shame.

                          JAMES STOCKDALE

H. Ross Perot's running mate for the presidency, Admiral James Stockdale, opened a speech by asking:
Who am I and why am I here?
That's a terrific quote; not enough people ask that, and, in all fairness, Stockdale didn't have a good answer to his own rhetorical question.  It's as if Stockdale were a student of French Existentialists rather than Greek Philosophers. That's why I believe everybody should be thinking big thoughts in their spare time. Still, I couldn't help but thinking, while watching and listening to him, that someone had hit him a little too hard on the side of the head. His face was not very symmetrical.

Oct. 19, 1992:
On Friday afternoon, we refinanced our mortgage from 10% to 8-1/4%, thus saving about $3000/yr in payments. It also cost us about $3000 to do so, even though our old mortgage was only two years old (and, like all young mortgages, has not gotten any smaller yet). I asked the closer how much of their business was refinancing, and she said, "about 90%". That's a perfect example of some of the trouble with this country. Ninety percent of the financial transactions are economically pointless in the sense that they do not increase capital investment in factories or anything that will create meaningful jobs. Instead, we have all these white-collar financial types making a living by moving money from one exotic place to another. In our case, the money was moved from Barclays America Mortgage Co. in North Carolina to Norwest Mortgage Co. in Iowa.

Last week's picture in the Engagement Calendar on my desk (French Impressionists) showed a painting titled Large Autumn Trees, by Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927), who is not familiar to me. The blurb below the picture says:

Guillaumin worked at various times as a linen draper, railroad laborer, painter of window blinds, and administrator in the highway department. The artist's familiarity with the nation's transportation systems was reflected in his landscapes, which often depicted railroad bridges, newly constructed roads, and other effects of industrialization on the French countryside. In 1891, Guillaumin won a large sum in the Paris lottery, enabling him to travel and paint full time.

So, the question is, if you received a large windfall, would you quit your day job? Although I have years of backlog of little things that I would like to do, I don't have plans for anything as coherent as the equivalent of a job, or that would get me out in a society of any sort. So I probably wouldn't quit my job if I won the lottery. Of course, I haven't bought a ticket yet, so my chances are pretty slim. But the same question is lurking out there, in the form of what to do after retirement. Travel and paint full time? But I enjoy staying at home thinking about stuff, and have absolutely no visual artistic talent.

Oct. 20, 1992:
For many years now, I've spent about an hour a day driving freeways, as well as regular highways and streets during rush hour. This gives me an opportunity to look in the rear view mirror quite a bit to see who's tailgating me (I usually try to drive the speed limit). It's quite often someone who does not have either hand on the steering wheel. For example, quite a number of people with cellular phones hold them with one hand and gesticulate with the other, as if they were Italians. Women, who have always tended to apply lipstick in the morning while driving, now must sleep later, because I've seen a number of them applying mascara while looking in a tilted rear view mirror; others rubber-band their pony tails. I assume they must be steering with their knees. At least, I hope so. To make things worse, these working women, who used to drive slowly to let the Type-A Personality men tailgate, are now tailgating me just as aggressively, as if the way through the Glass Ceiling was through my trunk. And, in keeping with the unisexing of the workplace, I noticed the other morning that a man driving behind me was brushing his teeth. I didn't see where he spit the foam. Maybe into a coffee can?

Nov. 2, 1992:
I read in the paper today that Ross Perot rides Tennessee Walking Horses. That Does It! I'm not voting for him. Tennessee Walkers, to start with, are the world's ugliest horses. Then the trainers put weights on their hooves to get them to step high. An old Tennessee Walker tradition was to "sore" the legs before a show: rubbing an irritant such as turpentine on the pasterns to get more leg action. Another was "gingering", or rubbing ginger on the horse's anus before going into the ring (no, I'm not making this up) to increase the impulsion. Both practices are now illegal, but you know how show people are if they think no one's looking.

Since the Tennessee Walker was bred as a slave owner's horse, to be used for riding up and down the rows, whipping slaves, it attracts a certain kind of person who likes to have a drink or too many, dress up in petit bourgeois horse outfits (pancake makeup, even on men; a pin-striped suit with a derby), and ride their poor overloaded horses around the show ring.

The stable where Liz keeps her horses was once a Walking Horse stable, so I had lots of opportunity to observe these people. If Perot wins, all the trendies will get Walking Horses, and they'll all be falling over themselves to see who can be the most cruel. It will make other grotesqueries, such as the Reagan Junk Bond Dealer craze, seem like innocent fun.

[Note added 2010: Evidently the cult of the Tennessee Walker hasn't changed since 1992. See this article  for what it's like as of 2009.]

                          Jacinto Monument

Nov. 3, 1992:
My friend, the professor, told me she's going to Houston for a conference at Rice University. I've only met one Rice alumnus in my days, and he was a prototype Texan. He worked for our field office in Houston, and, on some free time, showed me the Rice campus, Buffalo Bayou, Downtown, a Fiesta Supermarket with large displays of every conceivable kind of pepper, and the San Jacinto Battlefield Memorial. Sam Houston and his troops attacked General Santa Ana during siesta time, when the Mexicans traditionally spent some quiet time with the hookers who followed their encampment, and literally caught them with their pants down. Santa Ana was killed, and Texas gained its independence. According to my Texas friend, the Battlefield Monument Plans, which for some reason had to be approved by Washington DC, called for the Monument to be 6 feet shorter than the Washington Monument, but, when they built it, it ended up being 6 feet taller. Typical Texas. From the top of the monument, you get a good view of the Galveston Ship Channel, completely lined with chemical plants and refineries. Texans brag that it is the most polluted stretch of water in the world.


On another trip, with Liz, I noticed that Houston, in a certain light and from a certain distance, looks like a city made up of cardboard cutout buildings. The absolute lowest form of architecture that I saw in Houston was the Museum of Contemporary Art, which looks like a sheet-metal pole barn. The most surprising thing, though, and the one thing I would visit again if I ever returned, is the Rothko Chapel, a small building in a park near the Art Museums. I don't know if any religious groups use it, but it is an eerily Holy Site. It contains about a dozen monster Mark Rothko paintings which have even greater mystical impact on me than the roomful of Rothkos at MOMA in NYC. Rothko was, to me, the most spiritual and contemplative of the Abstract Guys. I walk right through most of the contemporary paintings at Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, with hardly a glance. But Liz & I spent about half an hour at the Rothko Chapel, just soaking up the paint that surrounded us.

Nov. 13, 1992:
About 3 AM the other morning, I looked out the window because there was an intense white light in the yard of the neighbor in back and one lot to the left (hereafter identified as the kitty-corner neighbor). The light source was from the outside of the garage, and, since it looked like Klieg lights, I thought someone was making a made-for-TV movie. That happens fairly often in our neighborhood, although there are usually lots of people and equipment, and moving vans sitting around under such conditions. No one was in sight here. I solved the Klieg light mystery at about 6:00 this morning, while doing stretching exercises and idly looking out the window. The neighbor directly in back of us let his dog out into the back yard, and the Klieg light went on next door. The kitty-corner neighbor, poor paranoid fool, has installed a motion detector that turns the lights on when anything moves! There should be some kind of moratorium declared on TV reporting of street crime.

Mar. 17, 1993:
Sometimes (but not often), God speaks to me when I wake up in the morning. He/She usually says something stupid, but this morning, the Message From God was a commentary on the news that was coming over the radio about the Wacky cult at Waco. I helped Him/Her out a little with the patter lines, and herewith present the following authentic Gilbert & Sullivan parody:

I am a clever, well-respected cult theologian,
I can recognize a trailer with a horse that might be Trojan;
I sing in modes Ionian and sometimes Mixolydian,
I am the very model of a modern Branch Davidian.

I have a host of bold young men, so many you can't count 'em,
And when I'm feeling amorous, I take their wives and mount 'em;
God and I talk daily, but our talks are not quotidian,
I am the very model of a modern Branch Davidian.

The FBI are Satan's angels, waiting at the wall,
They think negotiations soon will bring about our fall;
But we've got God and we've got guns with which we'll soon be rid of 'em,
I am the very model of a modern Branch Davidian.

[Note added 2010: I wrote the above before the denoument that resulted in the cult members burning to death. If I had known that would happen, I might have been hesitant about writing a patter song. But -- when God sends a message, who am I to ignore it?]


April 19, 1993:
My American Impressionists desk calendar for this week shows a painting by Frederick Frieseke (1874 - 1939) of a backlit lady with pink dress and parasol stepping on the threshold of a door between a profuse garden and a dark living room. The title is Good Morning, and, indeed, the garden in the background is suffused with springy, morning light, sort of the way it was this past weekend. The blurb says:

Frieseke's central preoccupation in painting was the female figure at leisure. Whether indoors or out, his models are invariably caressed by warm sunlight -- be it direct, reflected, or filtered through a summer parasol.

The female figure at leisure. Talk about an outdated concept. Yet, I counted up the pictures (mostly turn-of-the-century) in my calendar, and 18 out of 55 (32.7%) have as their main subject adult females sitting down: watching the ocean, having tea with other females, sitting in a garden. The most strenuous exercise any of these women get is to be sewing in a couple of the paintings. A 1923 painting by William Paxton (1869-1941) is indeed of a waitress holding a tray of fruit, but she doesn't look like there's really any irate customer wondering what's taking so long. She is the most langorous waitress I ever saw. I wonder if anyone nowadays is doing a painting of lady basketball players?

May 7, 1993:
Liz's horse, Charlie, came down with a bad case of the hives last fall, and it didn't disappear even after the first frost (a bad sign, according to the veterinarian). Liz ground up 30 human-size tablets of Prednisone at a time for treatment (if you ever need an expensive drug, consider buying it from a veterinarian; in the case of Prednisone, it was obviously the same pill, but sold at about 1% of the drugstore cost). After a couple months, the condition disappeared of its own volition, but you know how allergies are: they might come back. So the vet took a blood test and sent it into the lab. The results were that he's allergic to oats, alfalfa, timothy, and horseflies.The only trouble with that theory is that he isn't. The vet explained that the field of Horse Allergies is in its infancy, and we should try a skin patch test. So yesterday, she shaved an area of Charlie's hide and subcutaneously injected 32 different allergens, then observed the lumps. The calibration injections were water and histamine. She explained that this was going to be scientific, because it was a double-blind test. I assume she meant by this that neither she nor the horse knew prospectively what allergen was in each ampule. Having been around the pumphouse myself a few times, I could imagine an even more scientific experiment: a triple-blind test, where the manufacturer also doesn't know what's in any of the samples.

May 13, 1993:
I keep track of what's happening in Suburbia by reading the Carver County Police Report in the weekly Chanhassen, Minnesota, Villager. Chanhassen is trying very hard to attract the gentry. Only a couple years ago, it was a sleepy little farming village; now the fields are rank with ranks of Executive Townhomes. Like all these crummy little places, main street has been de-straightened; all the old stores have been replaced with little malls; and the city council is trying to close Pauly's Bar, the only interesting place in town, because it attracts Undesirables. No, not The Hoodlums From The City, as my father used to call them, but the remnants of the old blue collar laborer/farmer community, who come here to get drunk and start fights.

In addition to stopping fistfights at Pauly's (no one is ever knifed there), the Sheriff's department is kept busy investigating mailboxes that have been hit by Pauly's customers driving home; or (in one case), answering a 911 call about a charbroiler fire on a backyard deck: the policeman put it out with a bucket of water.

To quote some more examples:

4/18: A mother / son domestic argument over the son's learning to drive a stick shift occurred on West Village Road near Chanhassen.

4/21: A 17-year-old boy has been charged with assault after a fight with his mother over not being able to use the car. The incident occurred in Chanhassen.

4/22: On Shadowmere (note the proliferation of stupid suburban street names) in Chanhassen, a residence was decorated with toilet paper.

But most alarming of all, during the week there were 13 reports of suspected sex abuse, physical abuse or neglect of children! I think the reason for the new fad of seeing child abuse everywhere is because, subconsciously, we know that we're neglecting all our children: the need for two incomes per family means that no one who cares is caring for them; we use rotten TV for babysitting; and we don't care enough about our future to give them even a minimal education, although they'll be responsible for supporting us someday. And since there's no point in reporting all that to the police, we call up with the suspicion that it's only our neighbor, and not our entire community, who's doing awful things to his kids. And the police have to investigate. I'm glad I'm not in Law Enforcement.

June 25, 1993:
I read in the paper that the US Navy has issued a new set of sexual harassment guidelines, categorized by analogy with traffic signals: that seems pretty simple-minded to me: I was always under the impression that Navy recruits were taught to read communications systems as sophisticated as the semaphore flags they use on shipboard. The newspaper gave examples, which I don't remember, so I made these up:

GREEN: Hi, how are you? Did you have a nice weekend?

YELLOW: Unwanted poetry, or a personal questions, such as:
Are you still hanging around with that fagoon boyfriend?

RED: Let's take off our clothes and goof around.

What really impressed me was the Unwanted Poetry part. You can tell by the frequency of poetry reviews (almost nonexistent) in the New York Times Book Review that all poetry, at least of the printed variety, is unwanted. Therefore, any of us who ever set pen to paper or touch the keys of our word processor to create text that doesn't go all the way to the right hand side are in the Yellow Light region of the navy sexual harassment guidelines.

Hey, baby, wanna hear a limerick:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz ...

[Note: I sent this message to a friend, who was confused as to why Howl would be a yellow light. My response:

Well, it was the US Navy's viewpoint that unwanted poems were a yellow light, and I tried to think of the most unwanted poem I know, and came up with Allen Ginsburg's Howl (That's the first 5 lines of what must be 300 lines that go on and on and on, like Walt Whitman when he had too much to drink). Anyway, I was amused by the idea of Ginsburg, who came out of the homosexual closet before it was even called a closet, accosting a lady to read her an unwanted poem, and identifying a very long, rhymeless, rhythmless poem as a limerick. At least, it seemed funny at the time. But, of course, the First Law of Humor is: if you have to explain it, it isn't funny.]

June 30, 1993:
Everyone knows that engineers are illiterate. Less well known is that Marketing people, who often like to use big words, don't do too well with them, either. But where an engineer might send a garbled memo to only a couple of others, marketeers send copies of theirs to everyone in the company, thus inviting jeers. Several years ago, one such person sent around a memo about how to establish repoire with the customer. Being somewhat cruel, I sent it on its circulation route with an attached note stating that the author was really being very clever: knowing that poire is French for pear, he was obviously using great linguistic sophistication to tell us that he wanted to visit the customer to repear our image.

Of course, I didn't realize at the time that the marketeer was the harbinger for a whole generation of professionals, who, having never read anything, also have no idea how to spell words. Now that everyone has a computerized spelling checker, words like repoire will no longer appear. But in this morning's mail, I received a missive from Marketing that begins:
The last few communications have eluded to continued improvement in product availability ...

Correct spelling continues to be an allusive goal.

September 3, 1993:
My cousin Marina took us out to a little Vietnamese restaurant for dinner last night, as a belated birthday gift for Liz. The fortune cookie, when it arrived, read:

Natural progression: school tablet, aspirin tablet, stone tablet.

Maybe the Hegelian dielectic could be expressed as:

Oct. 18, 1993:
On this morning's Minnesota Public Radio 5-minute news, we had the following informative news report:

NEWSCASTER: Yesterday, the downed pilot, speaking from his hospital bed, thanked the American people for their fabulous support.

DOWNED PILOT: I'd, uh, like to thank the American People for their, um, fabulous support.

I don't know where they get the newscasters and technical crew for MPR's News & Information Division. Their malaprops, like the one I heard the other day about chloroform bacteria, are often hilarious. And they've broadcast some grotesque tape miscues. One day, the reporter was talking about some gruesome butcher-type murder, and led into the taped report from the police investigator in charge. What came over the air, though, was some expert who was reassuring us about the quality of health care. Since he didn't mention his topic, it sounded as if he was being inappropriately sanguine about the plight of the murder victim and her family. He said things like:
in the vast majority of cases, surgical operations like this are very successful,
by and large, we should be very pleased that the situation is improved.

November 19, 1993:
One of Liz's friends called to say that she's getting married to the most wonderful man she's ever met. She told Liz that she had dated 38 men since divorcing her last husband, using all sorts of techniques, like video dating services, singles bars, beach pickups, and others too numerous to mention. It just goes to demonstrate the chaff-to-wheat ratio among men when they get to our age and are unattached.

The fact that her sample size was in the 30's is interesting, because it relates to sampling theory in statistics. Suppose you were trying to determine the percentage of defects in a large lot of bolts or some such product. You obviously could not examine them all, but a very small sample might not include the same defective percentage as in the general population. It turns out that, for typical defect rates, the correlation between percent defects in the sample and percent defect in the general population increases rapidly with larger sample sizes until sample size reaches about 30. After that, the correlation grows much more slowly. In the case of mate searching, the situation is reversed: instead of looking for defects in a sample of ordinary objects, you are looking for a gem among a sample of mostly defective objects. Still, the same principles should apply, which would mean that, if you were searching for a mate and had not found one after many more than 30, 40, or maybe 50 samples, it might mean that a suitable mate does not exist anywhere.

[Update: Alas, the marriage did not last long. That's the trouble with probability theory. You can't rely on it with much confidence unless you use a ridiculously large sample size. Or maybe my conclusion was correct, after all.]

January 21, 1994:
Yesterday's Minneapolis Strib had an engagement announcement that caught my eye. Two young people in a conventional engagement picture pose: she is a vacuous looking blonde, the kind they tell blonde jokes about -- he's pretty ordinary-looking, too, except he's grinning and there's a tooth blacked out. "Wow!" I said to myself. "What courage to do a country-clown joke on an engagement picture: it's worthy of Minnie Pearl."

Then, when I read the text, I found the prospective groom is a member of the Dallas Stars hockey team, which is, as the announcement said, "formally the Minnesota North Stars." Well, I guess that's appropriate for a formal announcement, but I was disappointed to find out that his tooth was really missing.

February 3, 1994:
I've been thinking about earthquakes lately, for no good reason. Richter, Germanic and coldly scientific, developed a scale meaningful for seismographs. You have to consult an expert to find out how bad it is. But Mercalli, Italian, realized that earthquakes only mean something if they're happening to you, so his subjective scale, while it varies with location, requires no scientific instruments. It's useful for estimating the severity of earthquakes that occurred before modern seismographs were invented, thus providing a longer history for estimating, on the average, how long a time there is between the "Big Ones." I'm attracted to it because, by eliminating the need for an expert, it's an anti-modern idea.

Also, it's interesting that, while the middle scales tend to have a lot of description, there's not much to say about earthquakes at either the low or the high end. Being Italian, it's expressed with Roman numerals:

I. Not felt.

II. Felt by persons at rest, on upper floors, or otherwise favorably placed to sense tremors.

III. Felt indoors. Hanging objects swing. Vibrations like passing of light trucks.

IV. Vibration like passing of heavy trucks, or sensation of a heavy ball striking the walls. Standing motorcars rock. Windows, dishes, doors rattle. Glases clink. Crockery clashes. In the upper range of IV, wooden walls and frames creak.

V. Felt outdoors; direction may be estimated. Sleepers wakened. Liquids disturbed, some spilled. Small objects displaced or upset. Doors swing, open, close. Pendulum clocks stop, start, change rate.

VI. Felt by all; many frightened and run outdoors. Persons walk unsteadily. Pictures fall off walls. Furniture moved or overturned. Weak plaster and masonry cracked. Small church bells ring. Trees, bushes shaken.

VII. Difficult to stand. Noticed by drivers of motorcars. Hanging objects quiver. Furniture broken. Damage to weak masonry. Weak chimneys broken at roof line. Fall of plaster, loose bricks, stones, tiles, cornices. Waves on ponds; water turbid with mud. Small slides and caving along sand or gravel banks. Large bells ring. Concrete irrigation ditches damaged.

VIII. Steering of motorcars affected. Damage to masonry; partial collapse. Some damage to reinforced masonry; none to reinforced masonry designed to resist lateral forces. fall of stucco and some masonry walls. Twisting, fall of chimneys, factory stacks, monuments, towers, elevated tanks. Frame houses moved on foundations if not bolted down; loose panel walls thrown out. Decayed piling broken off. Branches broken from trees. Changes in flow or temperature of springs and wells. Cracks in wet ground and on steep slopes.

IX. General panic. Everyone runs outdoors. Weak masonry destroyed; ordinary masonry heavily damaged, sometimes with complete collapse; reinforced masonry seriously damaged. Serious damage to reservoirs. Underground pipes broken. conspicuous cracks in ground. In alluvial areas, sand and mud ejected, earthquake fountains, sand craters.

X. Most masonry and frame structures destroyed with their foundations. Some well-built wooden structures and bridges destroyed. Serious damage to dams, dikes, embankments. Large landslides. Water thrown on banks of canals, rivers, lakes, etc. Sand and mud shifted horizontally on beaches and flat land. Railway rails bent slightly.

XI. Rails bent greatly. Underground pipelines completely out of service.

XII. Damage nearly total. Large rock masses displaced. Lines of sight and level distorted. Objects thrown into air.

February 7, 1994:
The Sunday Minneapolis Strib had a story about a flim-flam man who claimed to be an Italian businessman with unlimited money available, wore a cape, used two cellular phones at once (that's the secret you've got to learn), hired limousines wherever he went, and convinced a bunch of dupes to give him lots of money to obtain financing for a horse show arena with all the trimmings on the St. Paul waterfront. It turns out he was really from Fargo, and is wanted in lots of cities for running scams. He also left behind bills in the tens of thousands for the Ordway Suite at the St. Paul Hotel and for a limousine service.

February 28, 1994:
Last night at Lund's (our local upscale grocery store), it wasn't real busy in the checkout lane, so two high-school-age carryout boys were talking to each other. "I'm gonna work out this summer, because I'm gonna become a Seal," said one.

"Me too," said the other. "Only, I'm gonna become a pilot. And if I can't be a pilot, I'm gonna be a Seal. And if I can't be that, I'm gonna be a Green Beret. And if I can't be that, I'm gonna be a Ranger."

I noticed a distinct absence of teachers, scientists, or social workers. Also, if the news is accurate, the new military requires you to pass proficiency tests in more than just physical fitness. For example, there's Westmoreland Math: Out of an enemy force of 50, G.I. Joe kills 10 of them and Pete kills 5. How many are left? (answer: 55).

Yet, most likely, even if they can pass the entrance exams to get into the military, they're going to end up as part of a peacekeeping force situated between two groups of lunatics. That's a new kind of social work, requiring new skills, and I have a feeling the present high-school generation isn't studying for it.

March 3, 1994:
This morning, I was telling Liz about a story in the Minneapolis Strib, a sad story, of a woman who was keeping her husband's ashes in a box in front of a makeshift shrine in the living room. He had wanted to have them shot from a cannon, but she hadn't yet got around to arranging the funeral service. Then some thieves broke in and took the box, along with a VCR and a walkabout phone. I said she was feeling bad because insurance couldn't cover the loss of her husband's ashes.

"I don't know why not," said Liz. "After all, it was a household possession."

Later, she said, "I think the woman should be happy. Her husband's off on a new adventure."

March 7, 1994:
This morning's Minneapolis Strib gave the reason why, on Sunday, the Penn State Women's Basketball team huddled together and chanted, "We Are Penn State!" The Penn State coach explained to a reporter that she wants her team to "not be afraid of who we are."

Well, Minnesota has nothing to lose, and I'm suggesting that the team should start to huddle and do some chants, maybe something like:

We're the gophers, we're not sheep,
Our turnovers won't be cheap!


Winning games will be our habit;
If we're near the ball, we'll grab it!


We're the women that got class,
C'mon, team, let's kick some ass!

March 21, 1994:
My desk calendar this year is titled Twentieth Century Folk Art, and every week's picture is a delight to the eye. This week, though, is special because I also enjoyed the blurb underneath it. The picture, an oil-on-masonite painting, shows a woman in a bare room with blue walls. She is ironing at an ironing board, but has stopped to look up into the corner of the room, where there is a white angel with a beard. He is outlined in yellow, and his wings and body are covered with short, thin black lines: he sort of looks like a pincushion.

The title is The Angel's Request (1954) by Theora Hamblett (1895-1977).

After teaching at rural schools from 1915 to 1936, Hamblett finally quit, admitting to daydreaming so much so that she could not concentrate on teaching. She bought a mansion and rented out rooms to make a living. Once she started painting, she began to move the tenants out, filling the house with art arranged according to subject matter, much of which represents dreams and visions.

Maybe that's why Plato thought artists were so dangerous to the proper operation of a society: they're too prolific.

April 29, 1994:
I recently read a critique (now lost) of a poem that reminded me of the old argument as to whether the Good Old Archetypal Savage Mind could distinguish between "subjective" and "objective". As I remember, the definitive conclusion of the argument came when someone pointed out that nobody, not even (or maybe especially) ultra-modernists, could distinguish between the two. What I found interesting was that the author of the theme apparently has no way to distinguish fact from fancy. The received truth about poetry used to be that all poetry was fiction: that T.S. Eliot was producing cold-blooded art that had nothing to do with his life. After the Lowell/Berryman Generation showed that it was possible to write Confessional Poetry, a new generation of critics has now decided that all poetry must be autobiographical: they've had a field day going back to dig up all the dirt on Eliot, and show where each line he ever wrote fit into his scummy little life. I'm afraid I liked his poetry better back when I didn't know the details about the raw material that went into it. I fervently hope no one ever finds Emily Dickenson's secret diaries. I also prefer oil paintings when I don't have to smell the turpentine: it gives me a headache.

In my sparse career as a poet, I've written at least two poems that are absolutely pure fiction, that have nothing autobiographical in them. One, written in 1980, is narrated by a werewolf; the other, which I just finished while on vacation, is narrated by Mary Shelly's monster in his old age. I guess it's a good thing that neither of them will be published. I'd hate to have graduate students poking through my life looking for the anti-social Jack-The-Ripper that must be hiding there.

I take the anti-autobiographical position even one step further: I maintain that my dreams do not represent any deep autobiographical truth about my waking life, even the subconscious aspects. They may represent some truths about my dreaming self -- no one has ever solved the subjective/objective dilemma raised by Master Chuang with his morning dream of the butterfly -- but my dream self won't affect anything in the daytime world unless I take up sleepwalking, or I lose the ability to distinguish between my dreaming self and waking self. Even Master Chuang knew that the choice was between a man dreaming he was a butterfly and a butterfly dreaming it was a man; he assumed --perhaps incorrectly -- that it wasn't both at once. Therefore, I am not embarrassed to relate my dreams, even my recurring ones, because I'm convinced that there's nothing embarrassing there to hide.

August 15, 1994:
There was a news article in the paper a few days back about the heat and drought they're having in Europe. It seems most farmers are not doing well, what with crops being damaged. A happy group, however, are the German wine growers, who specialize in too-sweet wines anyway. The hot dry weather is adding lots of sugar to the grapes, and they'll be harvesting early. One German vintner was quoted as saying:

This will be the vintage of the century, just like 1971.

Reminiscent of the storm of the century, which we get every 10 years or so.

Nov. 28, 1994

When travelling in a foreign land, you run across lots of stuff that's counter-intuitive. So I've devised a counter-intuitive geography quiz:

1. What's the name of the oldest still-occupied city in Russia?

2. Geology is the fastest-changing field I keep up with, so I'll word the question this way: as of about 10 years ago, what was the oldest river on the eastern part of the continental U.S.?

3. What's the easternmost point of the continental U.S.?

4. What states of the U.S. contain the northernmost, southernmost, westernmost and easternmost points?

1. Novgorod, which is Russian for "New City". It's been inhabited at least since 900 AD.

2. New River, which is in Va. and W. Va.

3. West Quoddy Lighthouse, near Lubec, Maine. This just goes to illustrate one of the fascinating aspects of a globe: everything is west of something.

4. You've probably heard this one before, but it's not cheating to have memorized the answer. Alaska, Hawaii, Alaska, and Alaska. Alaska gets honors for furthest west and furthest east because the Aleutian Islands cross the International Date Line, which someone once decided is the division between east and west. I dunno, maybe it was Sir Henry Greenwich, inventor of longitude and mean time, as in "Greenwich Mean Time" or "in the mean time".

Give yourself 5 points for each correct answer and 2 points for partial credit for each question you tried to answer but got wrong. Give yourself 5 points for any other counter-intuitive question you know the answer to. Subtract 10 points for any of these that involve football. The meaning of your score is:

0 - 5 points: You're really dull at parties, because you can't think of anything to talk about.

10-15 points: You're pretty interesting at parties, because you know a few counter-intuitive facts, enough to get other people talking about the amusing stuff they know about.

20 points and above: You're really dull at parties, because you dominate the conversation with counter-intuitive facts.

January 19, 1995:
And, now, a colorful male joke:

Male Patient: Doc! Please help me! My penis has turned orange!
Doctor: Why so it has! What did you do just before this happened?
Patient: Oh, nothing much. I went to the convenience store and bought a Playboy and some Cheese Curls.

March 1, 1995:
Driving to work this morning, I saw a truck belonging to Olfisco, which is the new high-tech name for the Olsen Fish Company. Who, after all, could resist investing in a company with a progressive name like that? For all I know, the mutual fund handling my IRA may be buying up a controlling interest in it right now. The paint on the truck also admits that Olfisco provides quality pickled herring and "white" lutefisk.

Mainly, though, the truck reminded me of a story Judy Larson (Minneapolis blues singer) told at a party years ago, how she had been designated by her local food co-op to pick up some items at Olsen Fish Co., and they had offered her a tour of the facilities, which she accepted. She saw the lutefisk pickling barrels and all those other gross things. Then her tour guide took her to a room filled with old scandanavian women working at long tables. "This is the pickled herring packing room," said the guide. "This is the nerve center of the whole operation."

[Addendum: Aug. 15, 1995]:
The hot news item in the paper this morning is that Noon Hour, Inc., the owners of Olfisco, have decided to change the name of the organization back to Olsen Fish Company. I, for one, am relieved -- I never could imagine what they were thinking of to give a high-tech sounding name like Olfisco to a Lutefisk-and-Pickled Herring company. According to the paper, it took them 35 years to realize that old names are the best. Now, if only Mobil would change its name back to Socony-Vacuum; RCA back to Victor Talking Machine Company; Xerox back to The Haloid Company; and Exxon back to Esso back to Humble back to Standard Oil of New Jersey, I think we could get the country back on track towards prosperity and the kind of high morality we had in the good old 1950's.

March 8, 1995:
This memo, from our company maintenance department manager, was just posted:

I am sure by now all of you are aware that on certain days the skylights leak due to condensation buildup, thus causing a potential problem with employees slipping and also water dripping on equipment and desks. This problem has come up during safety audits as well. I just wanted to send a quick note to everyone to highlight what is being done to solve this problem. I have contracted a sheetmetal company to build and install water traps around all of the skylights. This trap should catch any condensation which may build up and possibly drip down. There are 82 skylights in this facility and because of the access problem to some of these, we have decided to remove the domes from the outside in order to easily install the traps. You may notice a slight change in temperature inside the facility during that time, but we will try to keep it to a minimum. Also during this installation period I ask that you instruct your employees not to stand and look up at the contractors to see what is going on and thus possibly having loose debris fall on them. Thank you in advance for your patience in this matter."

Evidently, it's better to get hit by loose debris that you don't see coming.

May 1, 1995:
We went up to Duluth Friday AM in order to spend a long weekend there. It was brilliant, because all the lake ice was gathered near the shore of Lake Superior, and the sun was out, so the brilliance of the ice was such that you couldn't look at it. It wasn't pack ice, exactly, because it was too thin to walk on, and the freighters had no trouble plunging through it on their way to and from the harbor. But we had a room with a lake view at the Park Inn, which is on the lake. I don't particularly recommend the Park Inn, because the bed mats get all bunched up (neither they nor the lower sheets are anchored -- now how much more would it have cost to get fitted sheets?), and the view isn't really as breathtaking as the Buena Vista, and at about 1:00 Sunday morning, there were about 50 drunks endlessly talking in the hallway -- well, maybe there weren't quite that many. Still, it was well worth the trip, just for the change of scenery. We saw one immature gull; all the rest were mature ring-billed gulls. Mating was the order of the day, a procedure which seemed to be mostly taking place on the ice floes. The female circles the male with a begging posture, and the male, should he accept the invitation, jumps on top of the female's back, who then patiently stands still while he gains his balance, flapping his wings slowly, and laughing like a complete goof. Eventually, if he's skillful enough, he works his way back far enough to allow cloacal connection, but its a dicey proposition, even for the experienced males. The female mainly looks bored. We saw one male who was obviously in his first year as an adult. He responded to the female's pleadings, but when he jumped on her back, he stood there sideways, trying to figure out what to do next. The female had little patience with him, and very quickly flew off, leaving him looking puzzled and a little morose. Well, I remembered some of my experiences as a youth, and I felt kinda sorry for him, and reflected that us male humans had to develop Patriarchy, if for no other reason than we needed to keep the women hanging around long enough for us to figure out exactly how this sex business works, anyway.

May 2, 1995:
Unfortunately, I'm a day too late for the Monday lunch special at Westrums Tavern. The 4/27/95 issue of the Minneapolis Strib had a small ad that listed their daily lunch specials, and the special for Monday was:

French Dip with aug juice & french fries.

I know how to make aug juice: just dissolve a beef bouillon cube in some hot water.

This is my new favorite menu item, replacing the old one, from a not-very-high-class cafe that tried to put on airs:

Roast Beef dipped in its own au juice.

Back in my college days, when I worked at a restaurant, the menu was standard high-class: Roast Prime Rib of Beef au jus, but the waitresses were definitely American: "Gimme a prime rib, medium rare, and put some aw juss on it."

May 4, 1995:
The Minneapolis Strib has nothing better to do with its excess newsprint than to yak about the details of homosexual encounters in the University of Minnesota toilets. I was surprised that, above and beyond the homophobes, a number of people were upset because these guys are messy. I guess that should finally discredit the old theory that gay men got that way because of cold, distant fathers and over-protective mothers. The very least an over-protective mother would do is to teach her son to clean up after himself, so he wouldn't get germs.

May 31, 1995:
I wouldn't have known about Grunting for Worms, except I happened on a Charles Kuralt report on TV years ago, about some Good Ol' Boys in Alabama who grunt for worms when they want to go fishing. You do this by driving a steel stake in the ground and dragging a coarse rasp across the top of the stake, producing a grunting sound. This drives the worms nuts, sort of like fingernails on a blackboard, and they get out of the ground as fast as they can. Well, on Monday, I decided to lift up a couple of stones out of our patio in order to add a little sand under them. Since they fit so close together, I had to get a pry bar to remove the first stone, and it rubbed against the rest of the stones as I prized it out. Immediately, five angleworms appeared out of nearby patio cracks. So I can testify that grunting for worms probably works. Since I don't have a fishing license, I had to finish the patio sandfill task, and let the worms return underground unmolested.

June 15, 1995:
Now here's an educational opportunity from the Business section of Monday's Minneapolis Strib, advertising a course for executives to learn the new Windows version, Windows 95 (which, last I heard, wasn't even due for release until August, but that's how you keep pushing the envelope to stay ahead of the Power Curve):

Its dramatically different user interface and new capabilities could have you pouring over manuals for days.

Those pore executives who don't no Windows 95 mite be sweating out of every pour to think they'd have to reed there manuals. Maybe it wood help too poor a glass of milk.

June 30, 1995:
Highway 5 through Eden Prairie, Minnesota, is now completely wallpapered with the usual suburban clutter, all the way out to Chanhassen, and that's about filled up, too. But once, about 15-20 years ago, it was all farmland, except for a monster factory with a large free-standing pink concrete lawn sign that said CHAR-LYN INDUSTRIES. The factory had already been there quite awhile, and the name was obviously formed from the first names of the founders, probably a husband-and-wife team named Charlie and Lynn. I never met either of them, but always assumed they were just an average Joe and Jill, the kind who go bowling on Friday nights, who, in the non-Horatio-Alger way that this country sometimes works, somehow managed to fill a niche in the great American Industrial Machine, probably growing to monster size without quite knowing what was happening. In addition to the pink concrete sign, there was another sign with changeable letters, like the signboard in front of a church. There was a different message every day, sometimes welcoming customers, such as


If no customers were expected, there would be a sensible adage with conventional wisdom, such as


I liked to think that Lynn herself kept busy by looking up these little gems in a well-thumbed paperback book devoted to such aphorisms, and so I assumed they would disappear when, some years ago, a giant conglomerate named Eaton bought out Char-Lyn and changed its name to Eaton Hydraulic Division. Sure enough, the pink concrete sign went, but the church sign stayed, and the sayings just kept coming. Maybe it was part of the buyout deal that Lynn would stay on to keep the advice tradition going.

This past year, though, there have been some dramatic changes. I no longer sense the sentimental guiding hand behind the proverbs. First there was an announcement that Larry, the guy who had faithfully put up the changeable letters for all those years, was retiring. His replacement is not as good at spelling, so, for example, we learn about the forthcoming LOIN'S CLUB PANCAKE BREAKFAST at Eden Prairie High School on Sunday morning. And, just in the past few weeks, the proverbs have been becoming cryptic, as if they'd hired Chancey the Gardener to put them up. Today's advice, for example, is:


I almost got in an accident driving by the sign, because I had to read it twice to make sure I got it right. As Adam Granger's song, Apropos, goes:

...it was apropos of nothin', but it was apropos just the same.

Aug. 25, 1995:
I recently ran across another rant about anthropomorphism, demonstrating the usual hypersensitivity about anthropomorphiating, in this case about an animal "becoming agitated." I don't see anything particularly anthroetcetera about becoming agitated. Bluejays do it. Bees do it when you disturb them. Waring blenders do it.

Also, when God expected Adam and Eve to behave, He was theomorphizing.

Aug. 30, 1995
In the There'll Always Be A China department, I heard on Minnesota Public Radio this morning that, for the women's conference being held there, the government has in place a trained cadre of some 50 policewomen, each outfitted with a bedsheet to throw over anyone who might choose to protest the condition of women by disrobing in public. The same news report said that many of the delegates were upset because they hadn't received confirmation of their hotel reservations. If the reporter or the delegates knew anything about China, they'd know that hotel reservations are never confirmed, mainly because they never get communicated to the hotel in the first place, or, if they do, they get ignored. This gives everyone who arrives the opportunity to experience China on a personal level. Bill Holm has an interesting book, titled Coming Home Crazy, about his experiences in China.

In the There'll Always Be American Academic department, I'm up to early June in my reading of the New York Times Book Review, which contains the following Author's Query:

For a book about the social history of American high school marching bands, I would appreciate any memoirs, photos, anecdotes, or other similar material.

Well, I don't know much about marching bands, but let me tell you some stories about restaurant work.

Sept. 27, 1995:
This morning, the announcer on Minnesota Public Radio, talking about the weather, said:

...and in the Airhead Region, highs will be in the mid-60's.

I wonder if he was talking about the Mall Of America or the University of Minnesota Athletic Department?

Oct. 19, 1995:
When I opened the door this morning, I was hit with a very strong odor of irredemably dead vegetation, and it made me feel good all over, much better than the very different (and to me intensly unpleasant) smell of new-mown hay in July. Today's smell signalled that all the hot, itchy, awful work of summer is over: the hay and oats harvesting, the corn with its heavy dose of ragweed pollen. It's odd that such a smell would give me such a lift, since it's been close to 45 years since I had to do anything about any of it.

Oct. 20, 1995:
A memo is circulating at work advising travellers that:

For travel within the U.S., the D.O.T. now requires all passengers 18 years or older to present photo identification upon initial check-in. The passenger's ID and the name on the ticket must match. In the absence of a government issue photo ID, two other ID's, one of which must be government issue, must be presented. An example of such an ID would be a Social Security card or birth certificate."

The memo then goes on at great length about not leaving your car parked in front of the airport, about being willing to open the trunk of your car, and about being "prepared to answer questions about your bags." So it's best to be on your toes, prepared for airport conversations such as:

"Is this a briefcase or a satchel?"

"Neither. It's an overnight-bag. No, maybe it's a valise."

[Note added 2010: Now I long for the good old days when all you had to do was have a photo ID and be prepared to answer questions about your luggage.]

November 8, 1995:
A quick glance at the Minneapolis Strib this morning told me that someone was planning a Quadriplegic Ice Rink, and I thought that might be a new source of amusement for spectators, until I looked a second time, and it said it was going to be a Quadruple Ice Rink, and no matter how long I stared at the headline, I couldn't get it to change back to the much more interesting first version.

February 6, 1996:
Page 1 of today's Minneapolis Strib Variety section described two ladies at the Vermeer exhibit discussing whether Jane Eyre wrote Sense and Sensibility:

Lady #1: I'd really like to see Sense and Sensibility. They say that Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay. I didn't know she was a writer.
Lady #2: Well, she didn't really write it. Jane Eyre did.
L#1: Oh, that's not possible.
L#2: Why not?
L#1: Because they didn't have movies in Jane Eyre's day.

June 17, 1996:
My most profound thought of the weekend:

Seawater is a sailing solution.

October 31, 1996:
The ultimate in athletic desperation: the Minnesota Daily (University of Minnesota student newspaper) ran an ad asking for walk-ons for the Gopher women's basketball team. Here's an ad they could use:

The history of humanity is full of stories of those who acheived early success, only to fail later and spend their declining years in poverty and despondency. Contrarily, there are even more cases where the character developed by early failure laid the groundwork for supreme successes later in life. Come join the Gopherettes and experience frustration and failure while you're still young enough to profit by it. We can't guarantee final success, but we can guarantee initial failure. Contact the coach at XXX-XXXX today!

We recently went to see a real team: the Gopher volleyball women. Skill and Spandex both. That's a combination that can't be beat.

November 25, 1996:
Years ago, I went into a toilet stall at a movie theater and spied someone's wallet floating in the toilet bowl. I could have:

1. Retrieved the wallet and looked for the owner.
2. Retrieved the wallet, taken it home and laundered the money inside.
3. Used the toilet anyway.
4. Quietly go to another stall.

I chose option #4. Thank goodness there are lots of unoccupied toilet stalls available in men's washrooms.

December 19, 1996:
During the last few days, the newspapers have been full of the scandal of a dentist; his blonde wife; an adult son who once played football when the professionals were on strike; and a  lawyer daughter who currently lives in Chicago. It seems this Poster Family, the pride of Republican Family Values, had fallen in with, and become steady customers of, a booster. (A booster is a shoplifter who's his own fence. He often takes orders for specific products). This professional booster could do unisex shoplifting, because he had started by shoplifting women's clothing. He would dress in drag, and could walk into the classiest department stores without raising anyone's eyebrows.

January 13, 1997:
Like cottage cheese kept in the refrigerator too long, technology has turned on me in the last few days. If this had happened when I was in high school, I would have gotten out my soldering iron and searched for loose wires, taken the vacuum tubes to the radio shop to test them (the repairman let me use his tube tester without supervision!), and would have found the problem breezily. Alas, I couldn't fix one of the following problems, which started on Sunday:

1. When I tried to turn on the PC, all I got was a lot of beeping sounds and a bright horizontal line on the monitor. Repeatedly turning it on and off didn't help. Our son Lee says it's a bad video card. Well, I've seen a lot of bad video on the TV, and none of it looked like a bright horizontal stripe. I guess I'll have to trust him. He's sending for a new card, because he says it's not worth the time required to find the bad chip on the old card.

2. I tried to copy a cassete using the rapid copy method on my new quasi-boom box with two cassette decks. The playback deck was really rapid (like fast forward), but the record deck went only at standard speed. It's now stuck in that condition, so I can't copy anything with it at any speed, although I can play back on the record deck. The Troubleshooting section of the manual tells me that, if I have any sort of trouble copying tapes, I should first check that the unit is plugged in (which is the suggestion given for any symptoms), and then I should try releasing the pause button. It's still under warranty, except I haven't yet got around to sending in the warranty postcard, and, even then, I have to send it to California to get it fixed.

3. I was not daunted, because I have two other cassette decks. I connected them together -- the easiest way to do that is through my equalizer, but I found my equalizer no longer works when copying tapes -- only when copying records or CD's or radio programs. So I had to tear apart lots of tangled cables to feed one cassette deck output directly into the other one.

4. But then, of course, I can't listen to the music while copying it, so I got out my headphones. There's an intermittent connection in the headset somewhere. I found I could occasionally get them to work by hitting the headphones sharply while wearing them. This hurt both my hand and the side of my head, but at least I could hear the music some of the time. I'd take them apart to look for the loose wire, but I can't find any screws -- evidently the plastic parts are glued together.

5. Yesterday, the portable telephone on the main floor stopped working. It's completely dead -- the "Low Battery" light doesn't even work. I doubt it's the battery anyway, given the sudden manner of its death. I took it apart and pushed on wires and chips to see if it was some kind of bad connection that would miraculously reliably reconnect itself. No help -- I didn't even have the heart to put it back together. It uses a Lithium battery, and must be disposed of as hazardous waste. The Troubleshooting section of the instruction manual suggests I should try plugging in the phone to see if that helps.

January 21, 1997:
I just came from a presentation about how some of our employees will be sent to China on a long-term basis to work on a joint venture. The accompanying slide referred to them as Ex-Patriots.

That might apply to Benedict Arnold, but these poor guys are just being transferred. Or maybe they once played football in New England???

January 23, 1997:
And, just in case you thought only non-professionals (like engineers and managers) write things they don't intend, this morning's Minneapolis Strib has a headline:


February 7, 1997:
My old buddy Dave Johnson died yesterday -- his heart went unstable on him while he was still in the hospital. Well, he was always against going to the hospital, on the grounds that so many people he had known had died there. He was only one year younger than me, which makes me realize how lucky I am.

I guess that means we'll never fulfill our plan of rafting down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, we hadn't discussed it in 20 years, back when we'd go out to Bursch's in Hopkins for 2-martini lunches.

March 14, 1997:
Between live coverage and the magic of videotape, I managed to catch much of yesterday's Minnesota Girls State High School Basketball Tounament coverage last night. I thought the freshman from Bloomington-Jefferson who looked like Meryl Streep would be a good prospect. The Miller Twins (Kelly and Coco) didn't look as good as I'd remembered them from last year, and, as Liz pointed out, once they get to Georgia, they might be surprised to be sentenced to the Weight Room for a year or so before they'll be allowed to play. They also might not get quite so far with saying to the coach, "I know I've got 3 fouls and it's still only the first half, but I'm going to stay in, anyway," as one of them did yesterday.

Still, most of the teams looked like they could give this season's Minnesota Women Gophers a run for their money, if for no other reason than they were able to pass to each other without losing the ball, and they dribbled the ball onto their feet only about as often. In other words, they looked as if they had played together before, and that someone had worked with them on the disadvantages of catching a ball with your fingers pointed towards it if you close your hands too soon. I believe that a good coach could make a formidable Big Ten team using only Minnesota players. I think it's possible that the pre-season injury that hurt Minnesota most actually happened several years ago, when (evidently) the coach accidentally got hit on the head with a 2 X 4, knocking all basketball sense out of her head.

[Note added 2010: The Minnesota Women's Basketball team has had coaching changes since I wrote this, and it's much improved. Unfortunately, the college teams in the rest of the country have improved even more. But us Minnesotans have come to appreciate St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes, so we still attend the women's basketball games.]

May 2, 1997:
Animal experiments during the last few years have indicated that many pesticides, such as DDT, can cause fertility problems because they mimic estrogens and foul up the female reproductive system. This week's Science News contains a brief article that says that a researcher has now discovered that the same pesticides can mimic androgens, as well, and cause feminization of male animals.

The researcher was quoted as saying, "I've decided that the pollution issue is a lot more serious than I'd thought."

Quiz question: Is the researcher a man or a woman? No extra credit for the correct answer.


May 27, 1997:
On the religious front:

Minnesota Monthly magazine had an article about Eckankar, the new age religion that has a temple out in Chanhassen. It's a shiny gold-colored pyramid that looks like it was designed for sharpening very large razor blades.

One of the Eckankarians, enthusing about soul travel, said,

"Man, when you get that out-of-body experience, it just knocks your socks off!"

No wonder the Heavens Gate folks had to keep their Nikes on.

June 2, 1997:
I've been having an infestation of Spring Peepers in my ears. Last night Liz said to me,
"It's all programmed! A woman takes photographs of authors at their deaths!"

I thought that was pretty dramatic, so I questioned her further about how this photographing takes place. It turns out what she said was,
"I saw a program about a woman who takes photographs of authors at their desks."

September 5, 1997:
I awoke this morning to a short piece on the radio about the football player Jerry Rice, and I composed the following masterpiece:

He was M.V.P.
Of the N.F.L.
Until he tore His A.C.L.
Whoever said
That Jocks can't spell?

There was a letter in this morning's Minneapolis Strib about how Princess Di's death could be a teaching experience for teenagers. The letter-writer wasn't specific, but I thought of the following lessons:

1. Don't get in a car with a drunken driver.
2. Don't speed.
3. Don't associate with Bad Companions.

I'm not sure Princess Di would want to be remembered as a bad example. Still, there should be a good song around here waiting to get out. We could write up some sentimental words to a tune like Logan County Jail; record it tomorrow morning; and hit the streets with it first thing Monday. Maybe we can call it Princess Di's Dying Words.

Speaking of Princess Di, a colleague who's fond of wordplay sent me the following by e-mail:
I heard over the radio that she was killed by Pavrotti. I knew he was a sicko when he sang a duet with John Denver.

September 9, 1997:
A newscaster for Minnesota Public Radio reported this morning:

The members of Mother Theresa's order are hoping that it will continue to grow under her predecessor.

September 24, 1997:
Despite having cut way back on magazine subscriptions, I still can't seem to get closer than a year behind on reading the New Yorker. But when the Love edition (Aug. 25 / Sept. 1) came in the mail, I was so attracted by Art Spiegelman's cover that I started reading in it right away, and I was pleasantly surprised -- almost a whole issue full of interesting, well-written articles.

I was especially amused by the article on pre-nuptual agreements. We were certainly lucky to get married before we had anything to hoard from the other partner. Just a few trashy musical instruments, some books that were already beginning to lose their bindings, some warped LP's, and maybe a junker car or two.

September 25, 1997:
A colleague collects old cars, such as Ford Model T's, preferably ones that are rusted out and don't run. He then spends uncountable hours rebuilding them to sell to others. I can't imagine doing that. Of course, it was I who once spent a half hour lying under our Chevy Suburban, struggling to remove the oil filter for an oil change, only to realize that, when I got on my back, I had somehow reversed my idea of counter-clockwise, and was tightening the filter rather than loosening it. The Rapid Oil Change folks, I think, got into business just for the likes of me.

November 19, 1997:
One of the male Minnesota Gopher basketball players who beat up a girlfriend was sentenced to do Community Service, but is restricted to performing some service he doesn't know how to do, because they don't want him to be a role model for impressionable youngsters. I guess the idea is he should put in some time as a volunteer Financial Planner, while the crooked brokers who call themselves Financial Planners and are convicted would teach basketball to inner cities kids. That gives a new meaning to the sports term "to fake." And what about this "Anger Counseling" stuff?? His whole BB career is based on an ability to be intimidating and aggressive, and they're going to counsel that out of him? Aggressiveness is situated way down in what Dan Quisenberry once called the Dinosaur Brain, and can't be turned on and off that easily. At the risk of sounding like a Male Chauvinist, if I were the judge, I would have also found his girlfriend guilty of not picking on someone her own size, and my sentence would be that, if she was going to continue to have relationships with 250-pound contact-sports type Jocks, she would have to undergo 40 hours of Obedience Counseling.

NB:Quisenberry's quote was in response to a question about the secret of success in being a 9th inning reliever who only gets to pitch if it's a close game, and you're often called in when you're already behind on the ball-strike count. He said:
You can't think too hard about it. All you have to do is let your dinosaur brain take over.

December 25, 1997:
The other night, the BBC (which is broadcast on the Minnesota Public Radio news station from midnight to 5 AM) had a brief item on the Jerusalem Syndrome. A number of tourists, usually American and always Protestant, become overcome when visiting Jerusalem. The tourist becomes convinced that he/she is a biblical character and begins acting out scenes from the bilbe. This happens to about 80 visitors a year. Christ is popular, as is John the Baptist, who can be recognized because he takes off his clothes. The snippet was maddeningly brief. What percentage are women, and who do they become? Does anyone take on the persona of Judas Iscariot? Even less helpful was an interview with a local psychiatrist. He said the visitors all recover in a short time, and that he thought the cause was a psychic short-circuit caused by the great distance between the victim's childhood, bible-implanted image of Jerusalem and the reality. I was taught that science seeks the most parsimonious explanation for a phenomenon, and this obviously isn't it. The simplest explanation is that, like the Loas in the Haitian Houdon religion, the founders of Christianity are still hanging around Jerusalem, looking for subjects to ride (see Maya Deren's book, Divine Horsemen). Certainly the Loas, when they possess their subjects, cause them to adopt recognizable traits. Baron Samedi, the Loa of  the cemetary, for example, dresses in black, sports a top hat, carries a cane, and smokes a cigar. The Haitians are not in an exotic (for them) environment, but they get ridden just the same.

Presumably John the Baptist takes his clothes off so he can baptize someone. The syndrome certainly gives the line from the old spiritual new meaning:
Gonna walk in Jerusalem, just like John.

January 16, 1998:
The Minnesota Public Radio news report warned me about use of something, but I don't remember what. I do remember that studies showed that:

... prolonged use for a long period of time results in ...

I'm sort of like the naive girl who keeps getting surprised when she gets seduced by men she meets in bars. Every new example of inanity on the part of news media people surprises me.

January 21, 1998:
There's a stereotype that law enforcement people are not very bright, but there was a counter-example in this morning's Minneapolis Strib, where a guardian of Law and Order was quoted as saying:

Any time we find a body in a trunk, we regard it as highly suspicious.

January 30, 1998:
News brought to you by the Spel Cheker:

The 1/24/98 issue of Science News has an article about exploration of caves that are frequently found under Mayan ruins, with the hypothesis that there's a connection between the caves as sacred sites and the locations of the cities. One sentence reads:

For four field seasons, a rotating group of speleologists spent hours at a time climbing and repelling into Des Pilas' dark muddy recesses.

As for me, I find cave exploration to be a rappelling activity.

February 9, 1998:
Heaven's been getting a big play in the news lately.

Last week there was a letter to Dear Ann or Dear Abby (I can never keep them straight) from a distraught woman whose husband's mother had died. The preacher, trying to comfort him,  said, "She's up in heaven watching you." Now he won't make love to his wife, for fear of Mother watching (that must be the ultimate in performance anxiety). I've forgotten whatsername's advice (it was stupid anyway), but maybe this guy should take a hint from Clinton, who evidently wasn't bothered by the thought that his Mother Virginia might be a heavenly Peeping Tom.

The other big thing in the newspaper was what the Texas Murderess that's going to be executed was going to do when she got to heaven; everyone agreed she's going there -- I guess they believe in redemption in Heaven, but not on earth. The murderee's brother opined that the murderess and the victim were going to meet in heaven, and, when they do, he said, "It won't be pretty." So God allows ugly things (a knock-down hair-pulling mud-wrassling match?) in Heaven. I'd rather have Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room, thank you.

April 15, 1998:
Today's Minneapolis Strib has an update of a dispute that took place once upon a time (1991) in South Dakota. A convenience store sold lottery tickets, and a customer wanted 5 $1 tickets, but the clerk punched out one $5 ticket by mistake, so that ticket was an orphan. A clerk at the store worked for minimum wage, supporting her husband, four children, and a small mobile home. When she opened the store in the morning, she saw the unsold ticket with the winning number, and bought it for $5, whistling I'd Give a Thousand Dollars To be a Millionaire. Incredibly, the Lottery Commission had no problem honoring the ticket, but the two store owners sued, claiming they owned the ticket at the time of the drawing. After lengthy lawyering and numerous writs of Habeus Moolahs and preliminary court appearances, they settled out of court. The two owners got $3 million each, and the clerk got $4 million. Now, 7 years later, one of the owners still works in construction and the other is still the school principal. As for the clerk, she bought a double-wide and got a few pigs and some cattle.

May 27, 1998:
Dr. Hazel Dickens recently received an honorary PhD from Shepherd's college. As I recall, Ralph Stanley is also an honorary PhD -- I forget his specialty or the title of his thesis topic. There must be something about spring that influences the madness of March Hares and stimulates academics to give degrees to non-academics. In Tampa, I witnessed the University of South Florida bestowing an honorary Doctor of Something degree on Oscar Arias Sanchez -- you'd think that was small peanuts after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, but, no, he thanked everyone profusely. And recently, Macalester College gave a Doctor of Something degree to Kofi Annan, even though he had stopped his Macalester education with a Bachelor's Degree. Hey, anyone out there! I'm willing to give a commencement address in return for an Honorary Degree. The title of my speech is Daily Denials, or The Importance of Responsibility Abdication in a Society that Honors the Economic Outlaw. I guarantee the address will be delivered with an unintelligible German accent, and I will use the term Semiotics at least twice. Halfway through the 1-hour address, I will begin a sentence with "Finally, ..."

May 29, 1998:
Maybe I was too hard on academics in my tirade the other day about honorary degrees. It's probably done in a spirit of generosity. Another example of that sort of spirit is the story about the University of Minnesota Vice President who generously wanted to make all the University Librarians honorary members of Central Administration, which, incidentally, would put them in a lower pay bracket. Always look gift horses in the mouth, I always say. Another thing I always say, or at least intend to, since I said it at a meeting for the first time yesterday, is "There's Madness to his Method". No one responded in any way, so I assume they'd never heard the original quote. Next time I'll try my humor on a more sophisticated audience.

Tonight we're going to hear Spalding Gray at the Guthrie. We attended his talk about The Monster in a Box last time he was in town, and found it quite entertaining. It's sort of like the My Dinner With Andre movie, but without anyone eating anything. The odd part of it is that, normally, I wouldn't waste time listening to people describing how they deal with their neurotic obsessions, but Spalding makes it entertaining, somehow. Maybe it's because he doesn't whine about it. Most people who want to talk about their anxieties are victims and losers and were molested as children. On the other hand, people with anxieties who don't talk about them are (traditionally) just buying ammunition and waiting for a chance to get even with everyone who's ever thought bad about them. So, if there are whackos around, the choice seems to be being bored to death or shot to death. Spalding usually can walk a middle line between the two.

I got a message announcing the second annual Clothing Optional Folk Festival. I suppose clothing is optional for the performers, also. I'd attend, but I don't know where to put my wallet so I can go to the refreshment stand. Also, in case they disapprove of alcoholic beverages, how can I be carrying something on the hip without everyone noticing? And if you want to jam afterwards, where do you keep the picks? I'm afraid it's just too complicated -- also, the fatter I get, the more I appreciate clothing.

June 2, 1998:
Big storm. We had power outage for 12 hours, but no damage of any sort -- very lucky. Two doors away, a large limb came off an elm tree and one of it's branches pierced the roof, driving a wooden stake into the bed of the master bedroom (which fortunately was not yet occupied by the master or the mistress).

July 8, 1998:
Someone forwarded to me the weekly e-mail report from a Joint Venture in China. I've snipped a few jargon words out that wouldn't mean anything to outsiders, but it's good to know that things haven't changed that much in the Mysterious East.

Hello All, With the resistors arrived, a lot of Work In Process were built to finished units. This situation will expend to next week. The scrap rate has been much lower than the last Period average level. As reported last week, one main work for engineers in this week was scrap analysis. The attached file is the result from engineering group. Here, I would like to summarise as below:

1. We did not "really" focus on the scrap analysis in the past time. Sometimes, we were only interested in the scrap rate number itself. If the number was lower, the first idea in the mind was "OK. Not bad!" in most of case.

2. Some cases of injustice happened on some scrap parts. That means some scrap reasons selected on the paper did not match with the real problems. The reason is assembler did not understand the each reason on the paper very well or not careful enough to operate this. Action: To be trained further on the scrap reasons;

3. Although every scrap parts were "confirmed" by engineer, sometimes this confirmation only happened on the paper--- engineer only sign their name on the paper and they even did not have a look on the parts. Action: Engineer must real confirm the parts and then sign name. Before being confirmed really by the engineer, the "scrap" parts will only be separated from the line. At least once per week that engineer should handle the parts. Engineer are encouraged to handle the parts with problem just in time.

July 16, 1998:
Inappropriate cliche of the week (on Minnesota Public Radio news, of course):

The lawyer for the guy found guilty of murdering Bill Cosby's son:

He's only 19, and facing life in prison. You don't have to be a Rocket Scientist to know how he feels.

Well, jeez -- I can testify that scientists don't deal with feelings, theirs or anyone else's. How about:

You don't have to be a Rocket Family Guidance Counselor ...

or, if that's too wordy, there's another cliche available:

You don't have to be a Brain Surgeon ...

August 21, 1998:
For no special reason, I thought about the 1940s Farm Market Report (direct from the stockyards at South Saint Paul) that featured Larry Haig at 12:15 daily on WCCO, right after Cedric Adams News. My recollection of the report is that it went something like this:

"Bulls are jumping, while heifers are standing firm."

And I'd silently smirk.

It didn't take much to amuse us in those good old pre-Monica Lewinsky days.

November 24, 1998:
We went downtown to close on our house once again (the 3rd refinancing since 1990), which is a pretty stupid procedure, what with signing all those redundant forms. Every refinancing results in a lower interest rate and lower monthly payments, but I can't help but thinking it must be a net waste for the economy to have so much activity to such little purpose.

The original mortgage was paid off long ago, but the 1990 remodeling amounted to big bucks, so the new mortgage was for 5 times what we originally paid for the house. The first mortgage was through National City Bank, but they just sell the mortgage to someone else, so it isn't exactly your neighborly banker thing. We ended up owing the money to a North Carolina branch of Barclay Banks. When interest rates went down from 10% to 8-1/2%, we refinanced it again through National City, but this time they needed $5000 for all kinds of things they'd done only a couple years earlier: title searches, appraisals, etc., etc. I figured it was a scam. They sold that mortgage too, to Norwest. Shoot -- if I wanted to deal with Norwest, I'd have a bank account with them, but I got mad at them back in the 1960's, when they somehow couldn't keep my checking account balanced. Fortunately, Norwest sold the mortgage to something called Homeside Lending. This time, I got a little smarter, and called Homeside directly, threatening to refinance. They offered us a new deal on the mortgage, a 7% rate with little red tape, no appraisals or title searches. Still, we had tons of papers to sign, including a certification that we did not live on a Flood Plain, and, that if we ever did live on a flood plain (presumably because the house slid downhill from its present location), that we'd get Flood Insurance.

August 24, 1999:
There was a report on Minnesota Public Radio's Morning Edition about the new Wall of Books they're installing at the University of Minnesota Alumni Center.

The whole idea of a Wall of Books seems a little pretentious, since the main attraction for Alumni seems to be a Wall of Jocks, which I assume they'll have in the Center.

Maybe what they have is a Wall assembled of books cut so only the spines show, and then have them all glued together in bookcases. I saw this in a pretentious restaurant once. Fortunately, they went out of business.

December 7, 1999:
I've given up the idea of ever catching up on old New Yorkers, since I've noticed that the back issues from 1994 seem really stale. It used to be that New Yorker issues never got old, except for the cartoons, which often are incomprehensible after a few years. Now, their efforts to be hip and current mean that entire issues are incomprehensible, particularly those with speculations about future political issues. Therefore, I just read a mid-Nov. 1999 issue which had an article reviewing various Joan Of Arc movies. In it, the author mentions that Joan was burned at the stake in Rouen, and I suddenly remembered that we'd seen a plaque about it when we were there. We parked in a parking ramp (Rouen has very little on-street parking), and the plaque said something about that the ramp had been built on the Market Square where Joan had been roasted. We then walked on the street (pedestrians only) of the Grand Horlogue, which is a medieval clock that keeps pretty good time, perhaps because it has only an hour hand. Right next to the Grand Horlogue is a MacDonalds, heavily frequented by young Frenchies, who no longer seem to be children of Marx, just of Coca-Cola. I would have forgotten about the whole day's journey, because I didn't get around to writing about it in my travel journal, if I hadn't run across the passing reference in the New Yorker article. The same article quoted some interesting stuff from Shaw's introduction to his Saint Joan, and I read that in 1958. I've forgotten all that, too. I hope I've forgotten some dull stuff as well, and not just the interesting things.

February 25, 2000:
On Minnesota Public Radio this morning, they were advertising a trip to Italy:
"Includes stops at the most romantic spots in Italy."

I would assume that all the romantic spots in Italy would be in Rome, and the rest of the spots would be Italianate.

August 9, 2011:
Google News today printed a headline from USA Today, which I read as:
Blood test detects fatal sex much earlier in pregnancy.
I didn't know they bothered with blood tests for either spawning salmon or black widow spiders. Unfortunately, I read it again, and it really says:
Blood test detects fetal sex much earlier in pregnancy.