Friday, December 06, 2013

Time for a Blogging Break

The geezer is taking a  vacation from posting new items here. I plan to return sometime in 2014.

Best wishes to your and yours for a joyous holiday season and a happy new year!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanks for Londyn

Our Thanksgiving celebration this year is tempered by tragedy. Our little next-door neighbor, 23-month-old Londyn, died in an auto accident last weekend.

We mere humans aren't privileged to understand many great mysteries, including why innocents leave this world early and those apparently far less deserving often live long and prosper. But while we mourn losing Londyn, we are thankful for the days she was with us.

We are thankful for the joy she brought to our neighborhood with her sparkling eyes and timid smile. We are thankful she learned to give us “fist bumps” and  “high fives” and to wave hello and goodbye. Most of all we are thankful for the many hugs she generously bestowed on Sandy and me.

Rest in peace, beautiful girl.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cheered by an Outage

“Look on the bright side,” Mom used to say when things seemed particularly bleak. Sometimes that positive ray can be hard to find.

Sunday at 6:30 p.m., electricity vanished at more than 300,000 homes, including ours, in southwestern Michigan.  A huge storm with 70 m.p.h. winds was the cause. The power company estimated service restoration in five or six days. The weather forecast said low temperatures likely would be below freezing the next night. 


--Kalamazoo Gazette Photo                                                                            

We started our gas log fireplace, but without an electric fan to circulate the warmed air it wasn't a big help. Our son performed a partial rescue with a small portable generator. He hooked it up to our refrigerator and freezer to save several hundred dollars worth of food.

Monday was unpleasant at our place. No computing. No reading early in the morning or when evening darkness fell. No television. No hot meals. Barely adequate warmth. It is amazing how much we've come to depend upon electricity.

Then I remembered Mom’s advice and thought about a bright side. One appeared. The power went out half way through the Packers’ televised football game. The few players not on the injured list were being crushed by yet another mediocre team. True Packers fans never leave a game until the bitter end. I was saved from another hour or two of intense suffering when the power went off.

Almost as positive as the early end of the Green Bay game for me was  the cautious restoration estimate by our electric company. Our power came on one day after it went out, not five or six. However, several thousand others remain without electricity today. Probably only a few are hoping to stay in the dark until Sunday night so they can miss another Packers defeat. Most people around here are Lions fans.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"With It" Decision Making

Right there in big, bold type, a reporter informed us that a University of Michigan football player “made a conscious decision not to get rattled anymore.” The coach must have been pleased to know one of his charges was thinking while determining his future conduct.

A few days later, we learned the gunman who terrorized the Los Angeles airport said in a handwritten letter he “made a conscious decision to try to kill multiple TSA officers.” Surely, the disaster would have been even greater had the shooter been blazing away while unconscious.

Now on full alert, the geezer made a “conscious effort” to watch for reports of “conscious decisions.” Sure enough, all sorts of people were making decisions while conscious about matters ranging from the mundane to the monumental. At the rate the new form of decision making is sweeping the nation, a majority will be forced to get aboard the conscious decision bandwagon “sooner rather than later.”

Apparently, no longer is it fashionable to simply do something soon even when one was conscious while deciding to do it.

It now is possible to demonstrate I am “with it” by merging my latest two language pet peeves with two previous ones into one glorious sentence: “Most importantly and hopefully, we now sooner rather than later will be making conscious decisions.”

It has a certain ring to it, doesn't it?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

They, Too, Were Heroes

With Veterans Day approaching, many stories in the media tell us about the actions of heroic military personnel who were crippled or killed facing enemy fire. Some interesting tales are repeated year after year and circulated widely. But others emerge only long after the event when an enterprising historian publishes a previously untold tale.

Lieutenant Charles J. Searl, a World War II pilot, bore a family name familiar to most residents of my hometown of Tomahawk, Wisconsin.  Bronsted-Searl Post 93, American Legion, has been active in veteran’s affairs and community service work since shortly after Armistice Day (now Veterans Day in the U.S.) ended World War I. My father was an active member of the post for more than 40 years. I played baseball for two seasons on a team sponsored by the post. One of my most treasured possessions is a trophy awarded by the Legionnaires for achievements in high school.

Yet all I knew about the post name was that “Bronsted” was killed in World War I , and “Searl” died in World War II.  I knew that because my father told me. I believe some Tomahawk natives with fewer ties to the local American Legion group had no inkling about the origins of the name.

Just a few weeks ago, Lt. Searl’s story appeared on the internet, posted by a Tomahawk resident on Facebook. The Tomahawk Leader carried a similar story this week. The story didn’t originate in Tomahawk, or Wisconsin, or anywhere else in the U.S. An Englishman, Ronald M. Setter, compiled “B-17 ‘Tomahawk Warrior’ A Tribute to Charles J. Searl and Crew.”  Mr. Setter made the story very personal, including ages and home states of all the crew members and some speculation about how they might have spent their off-duty time in the village of Royston, near the airfield where they were based.
Lt. Searl (top row, third from left) and the other crew members with "The Tomahawk Warrior"

Exercising a pilot’s privilege, Lt. Searl named the B-17 heavy bomber he flew after his hometown. “The Tomahawk Warrior,” with its original crew of 10, flew 24 missions to France and Germany, including one on D-Day, after it arrived at the Nuthampstead airbase in March 1944. On August 12, the plane took off for the 25th mission, one it did not complete.

A 25th mission might convey the idea to some that the crew of “The Tomahawk Warrior” would be safe permanently when they returned, but that probably was not the case, and Mr. Setter does not make that claim. American bomber crews suffered horrendous losses early in their participation in mainland European bombing raids. During the first three months (1941) the typical crew completed only 8 to 12 missions before their plane was shot down or disabled.

Apparently to boost flyer morale, the Eighth U.S. Army Air Force decreed that finishing 25 missions in a heavy bomber constituted a “completed tour of duty” and the crew could stand down. I know that happened sometimes, because a Tomahawk resident who lived on our street was sent back to state-side duty after his bomber safely completed 25 missions. However, histories tell us the “25 mission rule” was extended to 30, 35, or more depending on circumstances. By the time “The Tomahawk Warrior” arrived fairly late in the aerial campaign, fighter plane cover was much improved and German resistance was diminished. So, claiming that the “Warrior” crew might have been on its last mission on August 12 would add drama to the story, but probably would not be true.

On Saturday, August 12, 1944, without one crew member who was left behind for unknown reasons, “The Tomahawk Warrior” took off for a bombing run to Versailles, France. Less than an hour later one engine caught fire, and Searl turned over the town of High Wycombe to return to base. Another engine was observed to be on fire.

Mr. Setter wrote, “It has always been accepted that the pilot was trying to find open ground to attempt a landing when he had no chance of reaching his base or even Bovingdon airfield, which was only ten miles away to the north. He would have seen the populated area he was flying over and realized the devastation the plane would cause if it crashed there. It skimmed over the farmhouse of Lude Farm and crashed into open fields opposite. ‘Tomahawk Warrior’ and its crew of nine young men ended life in a massive explosion and fire. No one had bailed out of the stricken plane and no distress signal was ever traced. They stayed together, comrades now for all eternity. . . A short entry in official records at their base read: Takeoff 0618 hours, 0720 no return.”

To my knowledge, no special ceremonies have been held in the U.S. to mark the end of “The Tomahawk Warrior” and its crew. However, the remarkable part of their story is that the Brits in the area (Penn) where Lt. Searl apparently made every effort to avoid terrible crash damage have never forgotten.

Each Armistice Day, a special service at Penn Church honors the American flyers. Their names are read along with men from the village who gave their lives. Usually, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is sung during the service. Small American flags, each with the name of a crew member, are placed with British flags along the path to the church door. The Book of Remembrance in Penn Church has the American as well as the British military names inscribed in memory of their sacrifice.
At Penn Church, the crew of "The Tomahawk Warrior" are not forgotten

Mr. Setter concludes his story: “To all who read this tribute, remember . . . they gave their lives just as bravely and in sacrifice for peace, just as those who were lost on and over the battlefields of Europe.”

Charles J. Searl, age 23, left behind a wife and two small daughters. None of the other crew members was married. Their ages ranged from 20 to 27. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boo

My beautiful wife dressed to greet callers.  Oh, horrors!


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Singing from Memory

As a youth, hymn singing was the only thing I liked about the church services I was strongly urged to attend. Given the chance to join in a rousing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers” or “Amazing Grace,” I could belt it out with the best of them.

Nowadays, advancing age and COPD have reduced my vocal offerings to something perhaps best described as croaking. Also, I've been attending People’s Church, a Unitarian-Universalist congregation, for only a couple of years—only long enough to learn a few words of  hymns featured there. So when I visit People’s, my musical contribution is minimal to say the least.

Last Sunday, a mature man I’d never seen before took the vacant seat beside me. He sang all three hymns perfectly. He knew every word. He knew each melody. I was amazed.

When the service was over, I told him how impressed I was with his singing. Then we introduced ourselves. Harold Beu said, “Those hymns are easy for me. I’m a retired UU minister.”

We had a nice chat. I’m convinced Rev. Beu could teach me a lot about belief systems. I’m equally certain he could never teach me how to sing hymns the way he does.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Battling Baseball Boredom

Some time ago my love affair with baseball began a long slide that ended just short of complete indifference.

Most of the boys in my northern Wisconsin hometown participated in “America’s pastime” as players, dedicated fans, or both. A major league franchise didn’t arrive in Milwaukee until we were teenagers, so we supported various teams. We had ties to Chicago through tourism, thus Cubs fans probably were in the majority. Quite a few St. Louis Cardinals backers lived in my neighborhood. I bucked the trends by supporting the White Sox, after briefly being enamored with the Detroit Tigers.

We didn’t have Little League baseball, but a summer sports program offered early organized playing opportunities. I started as a catcher at age 11 on the team that competed against nines from other cities. Later, I donned “the tools of ignorance” (face mask, shin guards, chest protector) for high school, American Legion, and county league teams.

When the Braves franchise moved from Boston to Milwaukee, Wisconsin went baseball crazy. Normal business activity ground to a halt in Brewtown when the local heroes took the field. Every adult was in the ballpark or glued to a radio listening to the action. Interest was only slightly less elsewhere in the state. I joined the crowd as a rabid fan.

I'm catching some baseball once again
My passion began to wane during college days. My agenda became filled with more interesting activities than two- to three-hour sessions beside a radio or in front of a television set when half the time consisted of lulls between pitches and innings.

Later, following baseball became more of a chore than an entertainment. I was forced to watch lots of games. As a weekly newspaper editor, it was necessary to report on local contests. However, it was possible to avoid some of those time-consuming tasks by writing stories using scorebooks supplied by team managers. I became quite adept at creating descriptions of games I never saw.

But as sports editor of The Daily Tribune in Wisconsin Rapids I had no way to avoid baseball overkill. Rapids had a Minnesota Twins farm team in the Midwest League. Interest was high in the games played by the young professionals. I was required to attend nearly every home game (a reporter would fill in for me in extreme emergencies). There were 62 home games each season, almost all of them night games.

Covering minor league ball had interesting moments. It also forced me to watch some error-filled contests that lasted far into the night. Often it was midnight when I got to the office to compile the statistics and write my story for the next day’s paper.
My regular work hours started at 7 a.m. or earlier, six days a week.  My enthusiasm about baseball soon began its long slide downward. Later, other things pushed it further out of my life.

Business and family matters became much more important than following what I had come to view as dull athletic contests. Pro football began to replace baseball as the national pastime. It seized the American sports imagination, including mine. In retirement, I caught the golf bug. Had I still cared about baseball, time to follow it was seldom available.

Just as I my interest in baseball was nearing zero, we moved to Michigan. Since our arrival, pro football excitement waned-- the Detroit Lions seldom won a game. The Tigers won lots of games, and their fan base expanded. This year, home attendance topped 3 million. Anyone who follows news as I do had trouble avoiding stories about the Tigers. To learn directly what it was all about, I tuned into a few games on the tube. Unfortunately, I usually lost interest and moved on to something else well before the contests ended.

Now the Tigers are deep into the playoffs. The team features two of the best pitchers in the game and some powerful hitters. Not watching games right now causes people to be left out of a lot of conversations. I don’t like to be lonesome, so I’ve been watching the playoffs on television.

Unfortunately, even the playoff games strike me as less than thrilling. A few descriptions of strategies developed since my days as a player and fan have been interesting, but nothing has changed about the boredom fostered by the same old frequent periods of nothing much happening. I was close to ending my brief stint as a resurrected Tigers enthusiast.

Happily, I accidentally discovered a way to enjoy watching baseball on the tube. I was reading an intriguing book when a Tigers’ playoff game started. Feeling a bit lazy, rather than switch activities completely, I just stayed where I was and switched on the TV. I saw every bit of the baseball action and finished 70 pages of a good book during the dead times in the game. Chances of running out of interesting books are low; I’m staying on board as a Tigers fan, although not exactly a full-time one.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Dishonorable Honorable

Some years ago I worked with a manager who earned a reputation for lying frequently, although there seemed to be no reason for most of the fabrications. One subordinate observed that his leader even lied when it would have been much easier to tell the truth. Is it possible that some folks have a mysterious built-in compulsion to choose deceit over honesty?

My congressman, Fred Upton, may fit that mold. He has done a good job lately of tossing aside big chunks of his integrity.

In August, Upton said, “I know some of my colleagues have suggested that they will not support (a continuing resolution to fund government) unless the Affordable Care Act is defunded. I think this would be a lousy idea and certainly harm the most vulnerable.”

Early this month, Upton voted to shut down the federal government unless President Obama agreed to stop implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

A few hours after the shutdown went into effect, Upton said, “The Affordable Care Act is not ready for prime time, but shutting down the federal government is not the solution.”

Upton chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He supported the relicensing of the accident-prone Palisades nuclear plant, and has long proclaimed the safety of nuclear plants.  However, this summer when radioactive material leaked into Lake Michigan from Palisades Upton visited the plant and termed the leak “unacceptable.”

Early this year, Upton requested more funding for the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up a large area of chemically polluted soil in the Kalamazoo. But on March 21 he voted to drastically reduce the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency then said it didn’t have enough funds to clean up the Kalamazoo disaster area.

It is customary to refer to Members of Congress as “The Honorable” John or Jane Doe. Upton has demonstrated that he no longer deserves that salutation. If you live in southwest Michigan and are looking for a rascal to turn out, one is close at hand.


Thursday, October 03, 2013

More Than a Mess

Several observers termed the shutdown that separated 800,000 federal workers from their jobs on Tuesday a “mess.” A few called it a “debacle.” I think stronger language might be in order to describe what a small group of Tea Party demagogues in Congress has foisted on our country.

In addition to ruining the lives of a lot of innocent people, many already suffering financially from the effects of a funding sequester, what the ultra-right wingers have done will waste vast amounts of our tax money and could be downright dangerous for many of us.

The government shut down briefly several times during my quarter century of employment with the U.S. Forest Service. In addition, a major unit merger advertised as a cost-saving measure seriously affected my work and the work of those around me. It ought to be obvious that when employees are engaged in making contingency plans for big changes in their organization, or carrying them out, they have little time to do the normal work they are paid to do. That work has to be done some time. Often, catching up after order is restored involves hiring additional employees or paying contractors. Each day the current shutdown continues will cost us billions of scarce tax dollars to be paid in the future.

Others have thoroughly discussed the huge negative impact on our still-fragile economy of abruptly canceling the wages of 800,000 people and suspending contract work that pumps mega dollars into private firms. Tying up federal funds also has a ripple-down effect that damages important state and local government activities

YOU are nonessential. (well, maybe)
Far scarier than economic consequences are risks to public health and safety inherent in the shutdown. Despite congressional exemptions to keep military and some other categories of employees on the job, there are risks in the present situation. Some result from the complexities of deciding precisely which employees are essential. Even when that exercise seems straightforward, it often is not.

For example, the Forest Service contingency plan for the shutdown, issued on September 20, said, “This plan assumes some Agency activities will continue that are essential to protect life and property. . ."

The first activity listed is “Fire Suppression including fire fighters and all necessary equipment costs . . .”

Sounds like an easy plan to carry out. But what seems a no brainer is not--a whole lot of difficult judgments are involved. They have to do with the nature of the fire suppression organization.

The firefighting organization is a combination of a small number of full-time professionals, a larger number of Forest Service people who have other full-time jobs and who work on fire problems only as needed, and an even larger number of contractors and part-time employees. Exactly who is essential can be a bit mysterious.

Consider this possibility. A relatively new full-time employee, let’s call her Josephine, works at a low-level purchasing job in a small unit. Prioritizing the unit’s work indicates the best course of action is to furlough Josephine as “nonessential.” Remaining employees with more experience could carry out the most important unit activities.

However, Josephine has completed some special procurement training and done satisfactory work when called to help handle logistics on a major forest fire. As a qualified fire support person, she could be called away from her normal job for fire duty, but it is impossible to predict when that might happen, or if it might happen over a period of weeks or months, or possibly even years.

Is Josephine “nonessential” because of her primary job, or “essential” because of fire assignments that may, or may not, materialize? How that seemingly small decision is made could be a factor in putting lives or property at risk.

In another agency, reports of shutdown effects say “routine food inspections have been suspended.” Sounds somewhat innocent, but think about it. Do you want chances taken with the quality of the food you eat? What god-like person decides which food inspections are routine, and which are “essential"?

And yesterday, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, told a Senate committee that he could not guarantee our national safety because 70 percent of our intelligence community has been furloughed. Clapper pointed out that spies who are poorly paid, or paid not at all, tend to switch sides in the world of espionage. Imagine that. Apparently the Tea Party crowd in Congress could not.

The federal government shutdown is shaping up to be much more than a mess or a debacle. It’s looking a lot like a full-blown disaster.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Don't Play Games with St. Vincent

Near the end of my days as sports editor of The Daily Tribune, football fans in Wisconsin Rapids and everywhere else in the state were shocked when their hero Vince Lombardi left the Packers and went to the Washington Redskins as coach and general manager.

The biggest fans at the newspaper were the boys in the backroom—the printers who came to work as early as I did.  I was very busy early every morning, and the back shop crew had strict orders from the publisher not to bother me by asking for reports on the latest scores and happenings. When I had processed that information, however, they read every word before turning the paper accounts into type.

The printers were a pretty jolly crew, and we exchanged a lot of good-natured banter at times when deadline pressure was absent.  I decided to play a little trick on them one afternoon after most of them had gone home and things were slow at the sports desk.
A legend not to be trifled with

I snitched some blank teletype paper from the wire editor's desk and wrote a story with an Associated Press dateline saying Lombardi had decided to return to the Packers.  He once again would take over the coaching reins as well as the general manager duties.  And he guaranteed a Super Bowl victory at his press conference announcing the change.

I wrote a headline, specified a modest type size for it, and indicated it should appear only in a single-column format.  It was Tuesday afternoon.  I clearly marked the story "Hold for Thursday" and dropped it in a box where we placed material that didn't have a pressing time element.

Very early the next morning, a printer timidly approached my desk clutching the story.  "I know I'm not supposed to bother you," he said, "but are you absolutely sure we shouldn't run this Lombardi story today?  This is a fantastic thing."

I said I thought it was just a routine announcement, and we were pretty far from Green Bay.  There wasn't any rush about running it, and my space was really limited that day. I told him to put the story back in the hold box.  I figured I would go to the back room as soon as my deadlines were met and have a good laugh with the boys about the fake article.

Before that could happen, the head of the printing plant entered Editor Carl Otto's office with the story.  I was summoned almost immediately.  Otto thought the story was page one material, and I had lost my mind.

When I explained the hoax, Otto failed to find any humor in the situation.  He questioned my ancestry as well as my intellect, and he could be very forceful.  I never tried another stunt like that again—anytime, anywhere.

(This story was first published in “Days with the Dads: Recollections of a Small-Time Journalist”)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Have It Some Way


There’s no doubt people can be conditioned by training or repetition to occasionally ask a ludicrous question. The geezer has for years conducted an unscientific, but comprehensive, survey aimed at proving the point.

I almost always order black coffee in fast-food or chain restaurants with breakfast or lunch. About nine times out of ten, this happens:

The server takes the complete order, and then asks, “Do you want cream with your coffee?”

To that standard question, I have a standard reply, “Thanks, but I never use cream in my black coffee.”

After thinking about the gaffe, the server and I, and anyone else within earshot, usually share a few chuckles. A long-time employee at my favorite fast-food place has made a game of it. If she sees a newer server taking my order, she runs over and yells, “Do NOT ask him if he wants cream!” My friend thus heads off any possibility of a sarcastic response.

Recently in another fast-food place, a rookie server’s question left me speechless. He asked, “Do you want cheese on that cheeseburger?” 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Painful Religion

Three hours in a dentist’s chair with a jaw full of pain killers and a mouthful of various drills, saws, probes, cotton balls, mirrors, and fingers gave me plenty of time to entertain a few thoughts. The primary one was how I might gracefully get out of there. I couldn't come up with an honorable way to flee,  so I concentrated on contemplating how I got there.

I concluded that religion got me there.


So there is no misunderstanding, my mother was a wonderful woman I dearly loved. She served her family and community as conscientiously as anyone I've known.  A big part of her service was some 20 years as First Reader for the Christian Science Society in my hometown (A First Reader, elected by the congregation, is a lay person  considered by many to be the leader of the local church organization).

My mother never once directly hurt me. But I believe her faith caused me considerable pain over many years.

Like most mainstream Christian Scientists, Mom did not reject seeking “skilled hands” to help with physical problems. According to her philosophy, it was OK to get checkups by dentists and medical doctors and to use their services to deal with some problems. It was not all right, however, to accept treatments that injected “foreign substances” into ones body unless that was absolutely necessary.

Thus, for most of the first 16 years of my life in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, I visited Archie Houns, DDS, regularly for dental checkups and any necessary repairs. Mom instructed Dr. Houns never to use any pain-deadening chemicals, even when drilling deeply to remove decay. Dr. Houns was not gentle.  I had quite a few cavities. I experienced a world of hurt.

During my earliest visits to Dr. Houns, Mom stayed by my side and held my hand to help me endure the waves of pain caused by his work. When motherly hand-holding became taboo as I developed into a macho male, I built up my forearm strength considerably by clutching the arms of the dentist’s chair in a stranglehold when probing or drilling struck a nerve, which was most of the time.

I developed a lifelong terror of visiting dentists. So after I left home and Mom’s complete control at age 17, I discontinued regular dental checkups and requested every pain killer in the arsenal when advanced tooth decay demanded I get extractions or fillings. Avoiding regular checkups resulted in a high number of serious dental problems. My finances suffered mightily also, as I doled out big bucks for root canals, crowns, and bridges.

Today, my tooth line features many empty spaces. Others areas are populated by artificial structures, with only a few often-filled natural teeth holding things more-or-less together. What once might have been  routine visits to the dentist now can blossom into surgery, as my most recent experiences did.

Many people who use their faith to guide them to right living do a great deal of good in our world. However, many others seem dedicated to perverting the best religious values, and great evil can result.

Students of history have no problem describing instances when people killed, maimed, and tortured fellow humans in the name of religion. We need only tune into the daily news to learn of new atrocities committed by religious fanatics.

In comparison, the pain a religious belief brought to me directly and as collateral damage was minor. But it has been very real, and like other damage caused by adherence to questionable religious dogma there was no good reason for the suffering.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

They Went Bananas

What’s the strangest vehicle seen recently traveling through your neighborhood?  At our place it was a banana on wheels created by a couple of wild and crazy guys.

We were chatting with neighbors on Labor Day when the “Big Banana Car” drove by. Passengers waved and shouted, and we returned the recognition. The banana passed us another three times within a half hour. Promoter Tom Brown, the driver, apparently was selling rides to families looking for a unique holiday experience.

According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, Brown and friend Steve Braithwaite had the ideas for the mobile banana during a brainstorming session in which they were trying to come up with a novel project. Braithwaite, from Oxford, England, is a
The Big Banana Car gets attention wherever it goes
hot rod mechanic. He used a 1953 Ford F-150 truck frame and power train, fiberglass, foam, and other materials to build The Big Banana, which has been traveling area highways and byways for the past four years.

The car is 22 feet long and seats three passengers. It’s by no means a “green banana,” getting only 8 miles per gallon of gas, but it can travel long distances. Its zany creators have a goal of driving it around the world, however visa and other problems have interfered with that dream. The banana has visited Houston, Texas, where it won first place in an art car show. It has carried advertising messages by Del Monte, Chiquita, and Planet Smoothie, and Brown constantly solicits new business.

Aside from money-making goals, Brown says The Big Banana was built to “make people laugh, have a good time, and put smiles on their faces.” It surely met that goal for us last weekend.

What’s next for Brown and Braithwaite? If The Big Banana has enough commercial success to provide funding, they will build another vehicle. At the moment, the leading idea is to construct a Submarine Sandwich Car. We can hardly wait.

If you’re fascinated by nuttiness, you can get more info and view many photos at www.bigbananacar.com. Among other useful things you can learn there is that the official name of The Big Banana is “The Braithwaite, Cavendish, Four Seat, Velos-a-Nana.” Wonder what they’ll name the submarine sandwich creation?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syria. And Then What?

Newt Gingrich is a disagreeable man in the worst sense of “disagreeable.” He set the stage that Carl Rove, an equally despicable political operative, exploited to create the current childish legislative stalemate in Washington, D.C.

As Speaker of the House, Gingrich was the first Republican leader to threaten to shut the government down if he didn’t get his way at budget time. Fortunately, President Clinton called the speaker’s bluff and he backed off. Later, Gingrich led the impeachment troops against Clinton in an effort to persuade people that lying about some casual sex acts constituted “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Even some of his closest allies couldn’t stomach going along with that line of nonsense.

The geezer agrees with a thoroughly disagreeable pol
The geezer has difficulty finding any area of agreement with Gingrich. But this week I found myself in complete agreement with no less than five public statements by the failed Congressman and presidential candidate. Gingrich does not want the U.S. to enter the Syrian civil war with military action. In interviews with reporters and on the internet, he said:

* The recent atrocities in Syria and those that have taken place over the past two years are deplorable and inhuman. Before bombing Syria over the regime’s latest crimes, however, we should stand back and ask, “And then what? I agree.

* A brief bombing campaign in Syria might make the U.S. and its allies feel like they are doing something, but it will prove nothing. It is unlikely to tip the scales in the civil war to favor the rebels. I agree.

* Both sides in Syria are bad. One is a brutal dictator, and the other includes radical Islamists and terrorists who are dangerous now and who would be brutal in power if given the chance. I agree.

* We will not be able to spend the time, money, and blood needed to create a desirable outcome in Syria. There is no victory to be had there. I agree.

* Conflicts in Syria, Egypt, and Libya are small threats compared with the disaster that could ensue and the lives that would be endangered if Iran succeeds in its drive for nuclear weapons. We should focus on the truly big threat instead of the headlines of the day or we will face much worse headlines in the future. I agree.

Haven’t we learned enough about the tremendous and unsustainable costs of removing minor despots in the Middle East? Mr. President, this is no time for an ego trip to show how tough you can be. Sit back and ask, “And then what?”  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Next for Big Ten Football--The Big Twenty?

“How many teams are in the Big Ten now,” she asked?

I had to think a minute before answering: “Fourteen.”

That bit of numerical craziness somehow seems fitting. The relative sanity that once prevailed in college football is vanishing rapidly as the almighty dollar lures institution officials to forsake the last remnants of tradition and stop pretending they are sponsoring amateur teams primarily to benefit students.

But then, Big Ten conference membership often has been a bit bizarre. After starting with seven schools in 1896, the conference quickly grew to include ten midwestern universities and gain the name that became official years later. However, Michigan was kicked out in 1907 for violating rules. So the Big Ten had only nine functioning members until the Wolverines returned from exile in 1917.

The University of Chicago, a powerhouse throughout the early days of college football, was a charter member of the conference. But the Maroons’ gridiron program fell on hard times in the 1930s, and the school dropped football in 1939.

Robert Hutchings, the Chicago president, said years later in an interview for Sports Illustrated, “The university believed that it should devote itself to education, research and scholarship.” What a novel thought! An educational institution should focus on academics.

The Big Ten numbered nine for the next ten years. Several attempts to add Notre Dame failed, although the school was a national football power whose South Bend, Indiana, location was smack in the midsection of the Midwest. Rumors had it that the Irish wanted in, but several rival schools kept them out. Instead, Big Ten schools voted to actually become ten again in 1949 by adding Michigan State to their ranks.

Perhaps in a “tit for tat” action, the Notre Dame trustees said no in 1999 when Big Ten officials tried to negotiate a deal to add the Irish to the lineup.

The tensome held for a long time, but ultimately the administrators just couldn’t resist making sense into nonsense. In 1993 they added Penn State to the conference. That not only again disrupted the namesake math, but it stretched the definition of “Midwest” beyond reason. In a feeble bow to tradition, conference commanders voted to keep the Big Ten name, but alter the logo to include a semi-hidden “11” in their emblem.  The “little 11” logo lasted only until 2011, when Nebraska became the 12th Big Ten member.

Ten that is eleven didn't last. Would The Big Something be appropriate? 
Conference officials didn’t bother to stick a little “12” into the logo. They knew bigger things lay ahead. Sure enough, next year the University of Maryland and Rutgers University will field Big Ten teams for the first time. Maryland’s location is self-evident, and the last time I looked Rutgers was in New Jersey, a midwestern state if there ever was one. But regional identity no longer is considered a virtue by the “Big Something.”

University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez recently said, “We’ve come up with a thinking that we want to be national, we want to have to play at least two bowl games in Florida, we want to play in Texas, we want to play in the desert (Arizona) and we want to play in California. Also New York—so we can spread our brand nationally.”

Sounds more like a corporate marketing exec than an educational institution official, doesn’t he? Alvarez is not alone.

Michigan State AD Mark Hollis said, “This (adding Maryland and Rutgers) creates new opportunities to be where our alums and donors are.” His comments came in a discussion about entering more television markets. The Big Ten now has its own network. After the 2012 season, the conference paid each school $25.7 million  as its share of television loot, most of it earned by selling ads through its own network.

The expansion frenzy is far from over. In public statements, Michigan AD Dave Brandon has strongly hinted at more growth. That probably will mean going to 16 teams in two eight-team divisions. It’s looking more like a professional league alignment all the time.

Sorry sports fans. I can still work up a little rah-rah spirit at the prospect of a traditional Wisconsin-Minnesota game or a Michigan-Ohio State contest, but Rutgers vs. Nebraska leaves me cold. Count me out. I’ll concentrate on backing the Green Bay Packers. At least they don’t deny being professionals who want to rake in more dollars by promoting their “brand.” 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Yes, Let's Debate Security vs. Freedom

Strident voices have been busy of late proclaiming Edward Snowden a heroic whistleblower for disclosing details of U.S. intelligence gathering. Less loud, but more thoughtful, commentators argue that he is a traitor whose systematic leaking of classified information has seriously damaged our security.

Honest disagreement is possible about which label Snowden deserves. However, it is hard to disagree with President Obama’s statement that it is time for a national discussion of how much personal freedom and privacy Americans should be willing to sacrifice in the interests of security. That discussion now is occurring—in the media, on the internet, and in gatherings of families and friends. 

Although I believe we must continue to combat terrorism, I think we have overreacted to 9/11 in ways large and small.

The huge mistakes are obvious. Invading Iraq on a pretext and hanging around for years in Afghanistan at tremendous costs in lives and dollars have done incalculable damage to the strength of our nation and our position in the world. We can’t undo those blunders, but at least we gradually are withdrawing from untenable positions in the Middle East.

I want to be there during searches
Personal experiences color my thoughts about overdoing security measures in smaller ways. Security people did it right the first time my luggage was searched in an airport after 9/11. I was allowed to stand next to the searcher and observe every move. And, my belongings were handled carefully and returned to my suitcases in a semblance of order. This was exactly how our luggage was searched several times after airline trips to Mexico before 9/11. I have no objection to that sort of procedure.

More recently, however, both I and beautiful wife Sandy had our luggage searched when we were not present. Apparently, the system had changed, and not for the better. When we opened bags after the trips, our belongings were in complete disarray.

Searching one’s property without a warrant or some reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing when the owner is not present to me is a clear violation of constitutional law. There have been documented cases of security personnel stealing items from luggage they were inspecting, another reason this practice should be stopped. If requiring that the person whose property is searched be present causes travel delays, so be it.

Several years after 9/11, Sandy was taken out of a line in the Kalamazoo airport for a strip search. Admittedly, she appears to fit the classic profile of a terrorist. On tip toes, she can stretch to a menacing 5 foot 2. The majority of her hair is gray. She is more than slightly beyond the age associated with optimum physical strength. Bottom line: Sandy is not a particularly threatening person.

It probably is necessary for security people to pick subjects at random for intensive searches to avoid charges of profiling, but what followed Sandy’s selection was uncalled for and served no purpose.

First, she was told to leave her purse, ticket, and boarding pass behind as she was led to a search booth. She refused. After some argument, the security types allowed her to take the items along.

A man entered the booth and instructed Sandy to remove her clothing. She demanded that he be replaced by a woman. After more argument, her demand was met. (I later advised her that the experience might have been enhanced had she stuck with the man, but stopped saying that when she obviously failed to admire my brilliant wit.)

Sandy refused bad treatment and made her refusal stick. How many others passively follow orders? We haven’t made trips by air in the last few years, so perhaps the offensive and probably illegal invasions of privacy have been modified. If not, they should be.

How much freedom and privacy should we be willing to give up in the interest of security? There’s a reasonable balance to be struck. Perfection isn't possible, but we need to discuss the issues and make necessary changes in the systems now in place.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Don't Need One, MUST Have One

Back in the 60s when materialism steamed full speed ahead on its way toward dominating (some think ruining) American life, I acquired my first real big boy toy. We bought a house with an electric garage door opener. The devices were just starting to become standard gear for homeowners. Now, even those with so much junk in their garages they can’t fit a car in have automated door openers.

What fun I had. A favorite amusement was seeing how far away from home I could be when the control button opened my door. As I recall, the record was a block-and-a-half. Opening a few neighbors’ doors along the way didn’t faze me. That happened often before opener technology improved.

Recently, our 23-year-old garage door opener died. An emergency trip to Home Depot was mandatory.
A weight-lifting exercise I can do without
I quickly secured a replacement with some new bells and whistles, including all kinds of automatic things, some of which I don’t fully understand and probably don’t need to.

“We’ll be around all week,” I told the service manager. “When can we get installation?”

“They’ll call you,” he said.

The voice on the phone sounded a bit subdued, “I’m sorry, but we’re really busy. We can schedule you three weeks from now.”

“What! Don’t we still have an unemployment problem here in Michigan? Are you sure three weeks is the best you can do?”

“Yes’” she said. “Maybe somebody is out of work around here, but our installers definitely are not.”

The first few days went badly. Ours is a double door, eight feet tall, with glass panels across the top. It is heavy.

Because modern garage doors have no outside handles, my first attempts at coping with opener-less life were to get out of the car, walk around to the front door, unlock it, walk through the house to the garage, lift the door using the handle on the inside, get back in the car, drive into the garage, get out, and pull the door shut.

Beautiful wife Sandy, as usual, found a better way. I was a little surprised when after observing me in action a couple of times and listening to my complaints  she said, “Let me do it,” after we pulled into the driveway.

She walked straight to the left corner of the door, bent down, got her fingers into a little gap under the door edge, and with a mighty heave lifted it up. That became our standard entry procedure. I could barely budge the damn thing off ground zero that way. But if a little lady could, what choice did I have?

After a week using the Simplified Sandy System, I began to ponder the “want vs. need” question. We now and then mutter about the need for more exercise. Getting in and out of the car a few extra times surely could help maintain or even develop agility. Raising that heavy door had to have some positive influence on the old upper and lower body muscles.

Perhaps, I thought, we could return the new toy to the Depot and live without an opener, as everyone did for years before clever advertising and our desire to “keep up with the Joneses” convinced us “we just had to have one.” Installing an outdoor handle and lock could be handled easily as a do-it-yourself project.

Without an unneeded opener, we would be healthier and a bit wealthier by enjoying some minor savings in electricity costs.

Then I thought about getting out of the car and wrestling with a heavy door during a typical Michigan driving rainstorm. Or, in the midst of a lake-effect blizzard. Or, when I was in a hurry to get inside to begin enjoying the cocktail hour.

I called the installation people and begged, “Can’t you possibly get to us sooner?”

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Art of Friendship--Numazu and Kalamazoo

You can fly from Detroit Metro to almost any major airport in the world in a single day, although sitting for 14 or 15 hours on a direct flight can make it feel like a very long day. Nowadays, it usually takes much more time to plan a trip overseas than to actually make the journey.

Our son Lee’s recent Japanese adventure took a lot longer to develop than most. Its genesis was a casual conversation four years ago between his mother, Sandy, and a fellow shopper in a Kalamazoo store. As proud parents often do, Sandy found an opportunity to mention that her son was a stained glass artist who produces beautiful creations.

Unknown to Sandy, the lady she chatted with was connected to the Kalamazoo-Numazu Sister City Committee. Committee members make a cultural exchange trip to Japan in odd-numbered years to stay with Numazu citizens and serve as hosts to sister city friends in even-numbered years.

Lee putting finishing touches on the gift from Kalamazoo to Numazu
Committee planners soon contacted Lee about the possibility of getting an original stained glass piece from him. Two years later, several representatives visited Lee’s studio near Plainwell. They needed something special to mark the 50th anniversary of the sister city association. They requested and approved a preliminary drawing. A few months ago, Lee was commissioned to create the work of art that would be carried to Numazu as the official gift from the City of Kalamazoo to recognize the long-time friendship.

Lee’s creation features two symbolic birds—a Japanese Crane and a Cardinal representing the U.S.—holding a banner proclaiming “Understanding, Friendship, Kalamazoo-Numazu 1963-2013.” The biggest part of his compensation was an all-expense-paid trip to Japan as part of the 41-person American delegation visiting their sister city. Lee gave a brief speech at an evening banquet where his work was presented to the Mayor of Numazu.  By all accounts, the mayor and the other Japanese friends loved the gift.
A banner at the Numazu City Hall entrance greeted the Kalamazoo delegation

Lee stayed with a Japanese couple in their home for eight days. Much of his time was spent on organized tours with the visiting group of area sites that represented ancient and modern Japanese activities. However, during times reserved for host family-visitor interactions, Lee’s “house father” and “house mother” liked to just stay in their home and talk. Lee said those discussions were highlights of his visit. The fact that his house mother is an English teacher was a big plus.

Lee found he liked traditional Japanese food, which in some cases surprised his hosts. They also were amazed to discover he was proficient with chopsticks. He acquired that skill years ago when his mother and I often took him to Asian restaurants in the U.S. As a little boy, Lee developed an exceptional ability to eat with chopsticks, much more advanced than ours.
Lee went traditional at a cultural fair sponsored by the Japanese committee


Lee had to cut his visit short because of a commitment to display his art at a show in Michigan. His house father provided a final kindness. The trip to the Tokyo area’s Narita Airport by train involved two transfers, a very difficult situation for a tourist who spoke no Japanese. The house father escorted Lee all the way. Although they got lost for a time in one of the world’s busiest airports, the host found the correct departure point. In parting, he offered a final bit of house fatherly advice: “Go home and continue to produce beautiful art.”

Thanks to the house father’s train route navigation talents and his quick thinking in the airport, Lee got on the plane just in time. His art will stay in Numazu, however, on permanent display in the city’s Cultural Center.

Lee’s creations now are owned by discerning people in Japan, Australia, Italy, and Germany as well as many states in the U.S.  If you want to take a look at representative pieces of his work, the easiest way is a quick visit to www.kladewerks.com. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Class Act: Wurl Plays Klade

Eli Wurl recreating history for Toma-Walk patrons

I wondered how he’d do it. Last weekend, Eli Wurl had a challenging job. He needed to portray me as a shoe shine boy 67 years ago without benefit of my original equipment. He did well.

As you can see (scroll down a bit to the July 11 post, “The Geezer Goes Historic”), Eli’s chair lacked the altitude of mine. But his attitude was just fine, as he indicates in the photo above of his portrayal during Toma-Walk activities. Pete Wurl, Eli’s dad, kindly sent the photo and observed that the young actor “really enjoyed” his experience. True to reality, Eli advertised “Shoe Shine 15 Cents, The Other Shoe Free” just as I did.

Eli greeted walkers in front of a “Main Street” building in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, constructed by my grandfather in 1911. That’s where my stand was, although I was positioned on the west side of the building entrance, not the east. Actually, Eli picked the better of the two locations. My stand was in the way when people wanted to use the door to the second floor stairway.

The building originally housed grandpa’s tailor shop and mens apparel store. At the time I worked in front of it, my father operated the tailor shop in the rear of the building and the main section housed Central Drug Store.

Several ladies who took a look at the photo of Eli as me commented on what a handsome lad the young actor is. They seemed to imply I came up a little short in the comparison.

Oh well, that probably is something historic figures played by the likes of Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Eli Wurl just have to put up with.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

. . . and Justice for . . .

“. . . with liberty and justice for all.”  In my time, school kids in America started the classroom day by reciting that description of the land we pledged allegiance to.

As we grew older, every thinking person came to know that this phrase could only be taken as a promise, not a fact of life in the U.S. In a broad sense, we all enjoyed liberty, but justice for all was a work in progress. My life began in a racially segregated society and one in which women were subservient to men. Progress toward social and economic equality has been dramatic, but much remains to be done.

Inequality and injustice go hand in hand. Who would dispute the fact that wealthy Americans who can
afford teams of top-notch lawyers often “beat the rap” in courtrooms? Who would argue that minorities always experience full justice when they encounter majority law enforcement and seldom face juries of their peers in our courts?

That does not mean Americans don’t try to be fair and impartial. I’ve served on several juries. Without exception, I thought everyone I served with sincerely tried to mete out justice. And I think we succeeded. But we did not face any racial or “rich man, poor man” issues in the cases we heard.

I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to the six jurors who found George Zimmerman innocent of murdering teenager Trayvon Martin. They apparently tried to be just. From the many accounts of the evidence presented in the trial, it appears they were correct in finding Zimmerman not guilty of murder. There was plenty of reasonable doubt about that charge.

But it also appears the jury should have convicted Zimmerman of manslaughter. Zimmerman admitted he killed Martin. There was no doubt about that. Is it plausible to believe that a big, strong man trained in martial arts had to shoot to kill an unarmed kid to defend himself?  Hardly.

If justice was not blind in this case, what can we learn from the experience?

For one thing, people who value justice need to be vigilant at every level. Florida’s self-defense law, for example, deserves careful scrutiny and perhaps changes now that we see how it can be misapplied. Concern about laws that foster injustice should not be confined to national laws and Supreme Court decisions. A much larger part of the justice system is local and state-wide. That’s where people of good will can get together and have a big impact in moving America forward in the quest for true justice for all.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Geezer Goes Historic

Today is the seventh anniversary of this blog. That’s not especially notable; many bloggers have been at it longer, and a whole lot produce more interesting posts and have many more followers.

Like my fellow bloggers and all the writers throughout the world, the geezer thrives on knowing someone out there reads the stuff he creates. So it is gratifying to learn from automatic counters
It's number 7 for Gabbygeezer
attached to this blog for most of the seven years that viewership has expanded more than ten-fold since the days when only a handful of neighbors and close friends checked out Gabbygeezer occasionally.

The best thing by far about the seven years has been the opportunity to find other bloggers who I now consider to be friends, even though we have never met. I've looked at hundreds of blogs over the years, and am pretty picky about deciding on a few to follow closely. So my group of “blogging buddies” is rather small. I place high value on what they write and any comments they make on my offerings.

I’ve been a writer, editor, or both for more than five decades, and think I've learned a thing or two about writers. Most important is the fact that writing is hard work. Attaching one’s bottom to a chair and engaging a sometimes reluctant brain for a period of solitary exercise is not fun. And it is an exercise that doesn't become much easier with repetition. I thoroughly disagree with those who maintain that they write because they enjoy the act.

Writers write because they enjoy the fruits of their labor, not the labor itself. Unless they are very good at it and earn scads of money, the reward comes through comments on their work. A favorable comment from a respected source can send a writer to cloud nine. That’s why people who developed huge social networks such as Facebook cleverly included a “like button” right from the start.

Even a negative jibe is better than silence. At least it shows someone cared enough to read the item. One of the small disappointments during my seven blogging years is that members of my little family, the people I care about most, rarely or never say anything about my posts, formally with a written comment or informally in conversations. Other bloggers say they have the same experience. None claim to understand why. The lack of family interaction is a minor matter, however, considering the many new acquaintances I've made throughout the U.S. and some countries overseas.

One small group I was not aware of before I started blogging consists of the folks who make the historical society in my hometown, Tomahawk, Wisconsin, a vibrant organization that sponsors some interesting activities. Several members of the society have been good about sending me material for posts over the years, and I appreciate their thoughtfulness. One of the society volunteers recently notified me that an early Gabbygeezer post will be a factor in a special event, a “Toma-Walk” to be held next week (on July 19 and 20).

During the walk, local historians and friends in period dress will be available throughout the old business district to tell visitors about the history and folklore of the buildings and businesses in the four-block “Main Street,” which really is part of Wisconsin Avenue. A young actor, Eli Wurl, will portray—believe it or not—me.

Eli will be telling visitors the story of the shoe shining business I conducted in 1946 on Main Street. I wanted to be there to see him in action, but family commitments prevent that. The young man should have a sufficient audience without me; Tomahawk is the hub of a summer vacation area and lots of tourists attend special events.

The story Eli will use for most of his material has been published in the Tomahawk newspaper and in two books after first appearing here. It was re-posted two years ago on the fifth Gabbygeezer anniversary. But for those who haven’t read the tale before, here it is once again:

A Very Small Business

As small businesses went in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, mine had to be one of the smallest. And as business owners went, at age 10, I was probably one of the youngest.

In the summer of 1946, Billy “Barrel” Schmidt and I were hanging around my dad’s tailor shop voicing the usual complaint of youth that there was nothing to do. Barrel’s uncle Louie, who ran the Central Drug Store in front of my dad’s shop, suggested we do something useful and start up a shoe shining business to make a little money.

We thought that was a pretty good idea. My dad found a shoeshine box somewhere, bought us a few supplies, and we were in business. The partnership lasted only a couple of weeks. Barrel decided going swimming at Crystal Lake and other typical Tomahawk summer activities beat heck out of work. He left me as the sole proprietor of the business.

One of the group of downtown businessmen who met every morning for coffee at Rouman’s Restaurant told my dad he thought the Hotel Tomahawk once had a shoeshine stand in the lobby. Sure enough, it was in storage at the hotel. Dad got it for me, and I hauled it out in front of Central Drug every morning, ready for business.

My only advertising was two cardboard signs attached to the arms of the chair. They read: “Shoe Shine 15 cents, other shoe free.”
This postcard provided a measure of fame
When business at the stand was slow, which was often, I toted the shine box to the local barber shops (I think there were three in those days) looking for customers. My recollection is that the only shop where I did much business was 
Charlie O’Rourke’s. That’s where I got my hair cut, and Mr. O’Rourke returned the favor by trying to gently persuade the men awaiting their turn in his chair to let me shine their shoes.

I think my dad suggested my other regular “house call.” If my mom had found out about it, the business would have ended right then and there. On Friday nights, Dad worked until 9 p.m. so Mom thought I was tending to business at my stand until we came home together. Actually, I was at Scorch’s Bar with my shine box. Business there was great, often netting me $2 or $3 for a couple of hours work—big money in those days for a little kid.

At 15 cents a customer, making that kind of cash depended on how much beer was flowing at Scorch’s (usually quite a lot) and some help from my friends.

My friends were two single ladies who worked at the A&P Store and always showed up at Scorch’s about 6:30 on Friday nights. They sort of adopted me, and since the males at the bar were trying to adopt them, they convinced a lot of drunks to get shoe shines—and woe to him who didn’t include a tip in the payment. One slightly absent-minded, or more likely very inebriated, guy paid me to shine his shoes twice in the span of 10 minutes!

I also did some “carry out” business. The best customers were Myron Veith and “Bev” Beverson, who owned The Gift Box across the street from my stand. On Saturday mornings, they left the door to their upstairs apartment unlocked and set out a half dozen pairs of shoes for me. I carried them across the street, shined them up, and took them back.

Another regular customer was Terry Small, who worked at the Quality Meat Market owned by his parents. Terry always dropped off two pairs of shoes for my attention, also on Saturdays. This was easy to recall because Terry was a very big man. His shoes were size 13 EEE. However, he always paid 25 cents a pair, so I didn’t complain about needing to use extra polish and elbow grease.

I worked all summer and occasionally in the fall after starting the seventh grade. Then work got a little old, and in the spring playing baseball was a lot more attractive than popping shoeshine rags and wielding brushes. I sold the stand and my supplies for $5 to Bob Gilley, an older man with some physical handicaps. Mr. Gilley shined shoes at the stand in the entryway of Nick’s Casket Factory on Wisconsin Avenue for quite a few years. He, however, was not known to solicit business in barbershops or bars.

Photographer Claude Venne gave my business a small measure of fame when he sneaked up on me one day when I was taking one of my frequent breaks, reading a comic book and eating a popsicle. Venne made his photo into postcards, which he sold at the Tomahawk Drug Store across the street with some other local scenes he had snapped. He had a note on the shoeshine card display that said something like, “Business is lousy, ain’t it?”

Business wasn’t too lousy. In addition to paying for popsicles, I saved nearly $100 from my summer’s work 60 years ago. I still had the money in the Bradley Bank seven years later to help pay for my first year at the University of Wisconsin. In those days, tuition for one semester at UW was $90.

                                               * * * * * * * * *

Eli, here’s hoping you “break a leg” in your youthful venture into show biz. And if you actually shine any shoes during “Toma-Walk” be sure you price the service a lot higher than the 15 cents I collected in 1946. And thanks, historical society members—you made my otherwise routine blogging anniversary something special.