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 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?