Saturday, December 30, 2006


Signing off for the year. Posting begins around January 2, 2007, if I feel up to it. Aught-seven, who would have thought we'd get so far?

The death of Gerald Ford, along with plumbing issues, distracted me from writing about some of our Christmas presents. I want to return to it before the subject gets too stale, especially because it involves writing about Mr. Potato Head.

Which is how it's styled on the box, meaning that his last name is Head. Maybe he has some less-famous siblings such as Mandrake Head or Nightshade Head (like Gummo Marx or Roy Krispy, brother of Snap, Krackle and Pop), but in any case a few days before Christmas I went to a nearby grocery store, and its toy aisle turned out to be a bonanza of small gifts. Among other things, I got a couple of Slinkies there, plus a rubber chicken for Lilly -- no home is complete without a rubber chicken, and we've been lacking one for too long now -- and a Mr. Potato Head for Ann.

I never had one myself. I never asked for one, and if you'd asked my childish opinion of it, I probably would have regarded it a lame toy, though I wouldn't have used that word. My newly revised, more mature opinion is that Mr. Potato Head is a fine toy, and Ann seems to think so too. Since Christmas she's been re-arranging his face according to whim, calling him "Tato-Head."

The basic Mr. Potato Head, made in China, comes with a potato body, pair of shoes, two arms, pair of eyes, two ears, nose, tongue, set of teeth, moustache, hat and pair of glasses. Years ago, he came with a pipe, but at some point Mr. Potato Head gave up smoking, even though tobacco is a black-sheep family member of his (as part of the Solanaceae family, you see).

How do I know about the pipe? Same way I know that plastic bodies started coming with the sets in the mid-60s, to take the place of the real potatoes that kids used to use for their early Mr. Potato Heads. I looked him up on the Internet, of course, and it turns out there's an insane amount of information here about the world's favorite plastic spud.

Naturally, Hasbro sells variations on the Mr. Potato Head theme, including Firefighter Spud, Space Spud, Construction Worker Spud, Glamour Spud, Safari Spud, and Birthday Spud. There could be hundreds more, I think. Just off the top of my head I thought of Attila the Spud, Tranny Spud (interesting removable parts) and -- to go with Construction Worker Spud -- add Indian Chief Spud, Motorcycle Cop Spud, et al. to form the Village Taters.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bum Plumbing & More Ford & Elvis Too, But Not the One You Think

Much excitement here at the house today. Not the kind of excitement I like, but it did keep me busy for a while. Early in the morning, I took a shower, and the drain quit draining. Suspecting a gross agglomeration of hair, I poked around for that, but that didn’t seem to be it. I applied a plunger, and pretty soon water started seeping from the base of the nearby toilet. The should have tipped me off that something serious was lurking out of sight in the pipes, but I mopped up the leakage with some towels, and threw them in the washing machine – which is in the laundry room next to the small bathroom with the leak – and set them to wash.

A few minutes later water was leaking out from the base of the toilet, up from shower drain, and in from under the washing machine. I shut off all the water to the house, and I needed nearly all of the rest of the dry towels in the house, plus some floor mats, to soak up the new leaks. Time to call a plumber.

A plumbing duo came in mid-afternoon. They removed the toilet from the floor and rodded the sewer line, a noisy process involving a variety of cool-looking pro plumbing tools. Lilly was astonished that a toilet could actually be removed from the floor. Admittedly, it isn’t something you see every day, or would want to. For a time, the boss plumber said, they had trouble rodding the necessary length of pipe, and he speculated that digging might be necessary to fix the problem. A prospect of serious money loss loomed over me for a time.

But the duo got through to the blockage, and restored water flow out of the house. (Whatever flows in must flow out.) The $235 I paid seemed entirely worth it, compared with how bad it could have been. What caused the blockage? The boss plumber said he wasn’t entirely sure, just that it was unblocked.

After posting last night, a few more bits of significa about President Ford occurred to me. For instance, I noticed that by dying on December 26, Ford did so on the same date as Harry Truman, who passed away in 1972 at 88. The only other president to die in December was George Washington, who was a few weeks short of living to see 1800, dying on December 14, 1799, at Mt. Vernon. Cause of death was pneumonia, though I’ve long understood that medical bleeding didn’t do him any good in his last days.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams famously died on the same day, July 4, 1826, an exceeding patriotic gesture, if you asked me. Less well known is that James Monroe also picked Independence Day to check out, though five years later, in 1831.

Longevity has also earned Ford the number-two spot when it comes to length of survival after a presidential term of office has ended. Ford left office on January 20, 1977, almost 30 years ago. Herbert Hoover lived quite a long time after being ejected from office, 31 years and 231 days, longer than any other president so far, and long enough, I hope, to outlive most of the unfair blame he got for the Depression. John Adams lived 25 years and 125 days after leaving office, but lately Jimmy Carter passed him and will be out off office 26 years next month, thus holding the number-three spot.

Argh, tempus fugit. I remember January 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, fairly well. Saw part of the event on a TV in the lobby of a dorm; that night, I saw Elvis Costello and Squeeze in concert at one of the Vanderbilt’s acoustically crummy venues.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

That ’70s President

The passing of President Ford, only the third former president to die since I became an adult, naturally sends me to the well of presidential facts and figures. The various items I read about him today invariably mentioned his non-elected status, though of course that happened entirely within the rules set down by the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution. Also mentioned (sometimes) was the fact that he lived longer than any other person who has held that office, besting old intramural rival Ronald Reagan only about six weeks ago. Ford also was the third-oldest vice president, a topic I took up on November 16.

I didn’t see any discussion of Ford as a member of that informal club, presidential short-timers. In fact, among all holders of the office, he was president for less time than all but four others: William Henry Harrison, whose famously abbreviated term lasted about a month in 1841; the unlucky James Garfield, who died that the spoils system might end, after 199 days as president in 1881; Zachary Taylor (one year, 128 days), who withstood bad army food much of his adult life but not bad cherries on the Fourth of July, 1850; and Warren Harding, who shocked the nation in 1923 by dropping dead before the enfeebled former President Wilson, serving only two years and 151 days.

Gerald Ford was president a little longer than Harding, two years and 164 days, and among presidents who survived their time in office, his was the shortest service. Millard Fillmore, who lived on after his presidency to be the first citizen of Buffalo and a Know-Nothing besides, was in office a little longer than Ford, occupying the White House for two years and 236 days.

Short time is actually fairly common in the rough-and-tumble of the US presidency. Among the 41 individuals who were president in the past – not counting the current officeholder, since history isn’t done with him yet, and counting Grover Cleveland only once for this purpose – only 11 have held the office eight years or longer (FDR being the obvious “or longer” in this category), 12 if you count George Washington. The time between Washington’s inauguration on April 30, 1789, and the end of his presidency on March 4, 1797, was only seven years and 308 days, but the government was new and things couldn’t be ready in time for an on-time swearing in, so I’m inclined to credit him the full eight years. Another seven men held the office for less than eight but more than four years; a dozen held office exactly four years; and ten didn’t even get a full term.

Eight years or more (in order, including Washington): Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Grant, Cleveland, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton.

Between four and eight years: Lincoln, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon.

Four years exactly: John Adams, John Q. Adams, Van Buren, Polk, Pierce, Buchanan, Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, Taft, Hoover, Carter, George H.W. Bush.

Less than four years: William Henry Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Garfield, Arthur, Harding, Kennedy, Ford.

Lest we forget, Ford owed his presidency not so much to Richard Nixon, or even the leaders in Congress who advised Nixon that Ford would be easy to confirm in the Senate, as to a formerly obscure yet crooked ex-governor of Maryland, Spiro Agnew, who suddenly and unexpectedly made way for Ford. In some alternative universe Agnew either didn’t get caught, or didn’t commit any crimes, and somewhere in an alternate Maryland is an Agnew Presidential Library.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boxing Day Comes But Once a Year

Christmas has come and gone, and Boxing Day is nearly gone as well. Once again, I’ll take the opportunity to ask the federal government and the several states to make Boxing Day a holiday: December 26 usually, or December 27 if Christmas is on a Saturday. C’mon, it’s my birthright as a speaker of the English language.

No one’s listening in the halls of Congress or the legislatures, unfortunately. Maybe we need to come up with a name whose origins aren't lost in the mists of time, something more American. But I can't think what that would be.

A goodly number of presents ended up under the Christmas tree this year. Ann’s heard of Santa, of course, knows his name and visage, but hasn’t mastered the lore – that I expect by next year. (Or quite mastered the timing. This morning she was under the impression, briefly, that Santa was coming back, and soon.)

Not long after Christmas last year, only a few days in fact, Lilly asked me, “Santa isn’t real, is he?” in such a way that I knew she’d figured it out. Probably she’d been suspicious for quite a while, but didn’t want to come out and say anything before Christmas, just in case he turned out to be real after all. So we talked about the notion of a fictional character, and the Santa variety.

About two weeks ago, she wanted me to confirm that Santa was fictional, and I assured her that he was. Seems that not everyone in the third grade has made the leap from literal to figurative Santa, and she’d heard them talking about him. I would have thought they had made the leap by now, but actually I don’t know that many third graders. Lilly has access to current opinion in her class much more than I do.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

And a Tip-Top Tet

Had some technical issues with my wheezing, Model T iMac yesterday. I could have posted, using my more up-to-date machine, but I don’t have Word installed on it yet, and I’m not hep on the notepad program on whatever it’s called. I will use it if I have to, but I prefer Word and its dozens of typefaces and format functions. Besides, I had a fair amount of other things to do.

Fixed the issues, more or less, by rebuilding the desktop. But it took a while to realize I hadn’t done that in months. Soon that will be the equivalent of changing the ribbon on the typewriter; something that only the old-timers remember. Of course, I remember changing ribbons, too, sometimes just black and sometimes black and red and the zzzzzzzzing sound the spool made if you moved it with your finger.

Meanwhile, the Internet continues to amaze. I wanted to use a Krusty and Klown quote to sign off for a few days ahead of Christmas, and I remembered seeing him, years ago, offer seasonal wishes to his viewers, but all I could remember from it was a “tip-top Tet.” So I put that into Google. A moment later, I had the full quote.

I’ll pick up again around Boxing Day. Till then, Krusty says:

So, have a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a kwaazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, and a solemn, dignified, Ramadan. And now a word from my god, our sponsors!

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Tireless Mort

It’s the holiday season, but that tireless worker Death takes no holidays, vacations, days off, personal days, mental health days, long lunches, or even coffee breaks. Well, maybe a cigarette break or two. I can picture Death out in the alley lighting up.

First, death at some distance. I did not know Richard Carlson, author of self-help books. I didn’t buy or read any of his books – not my genre. I’d seen some of the titles at bookstores. Nevertheless, I read his obituary with some interest, for one reason. He was 45.

I do not like to hear about such a passing, no indeed. It seems that he boarded a flight to New York without realizing that his destination was actually the Great Beyond, a victim of mid-flight cardiac arrest. That is, his heart just stopped. Further investigation revealed that he was about three weeks older than I am. By coincidence (I’m sure) born on the same day as a girl I knew in high school.

Next, death closer to home. A letter came in the mail recently. It started, “It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we inform you that Dr. Marvin Goldman passed away, suddenly, December 1, 2006…” Dr. Goldman was Lilly and Ann’s pediatrician, actually one of two in a practice. I didn’t know him well, but considered him a good doctor. He was older than 45, but still not that old – no more than 60 would be my guess. RIP, Dr. Goldman.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Saturday Night Lights

We drove through to a neighborhood we know on Saturday night to see decorated houses. It’s a good neighborhood for that. A lot of houses with a lot of lights, plus other electronic displays, but not too many inflatables.

There was one inflated oddity worth noting, however. I don’t think it was meant to be odd. It was a sleigh with an inflatable Santa and reindeer aboard. Leaving aside the question of why the reindeer was inside the sleigh at all, the truly strange thing was that the two were facing each other, almost grappling with each other, and the wind was blowing the setup hard enough to make the sleigh list pretty heavily.

Probably the wind had contorted the figures too. Still, I actually stopped the car to look closely at it, rather than just creep along. The more I looked, the more I thought the two were fighting hand-to-hoof, man-to-beast. My theory was that a jihadist reindeer was trying to highjack Santa’s sleigh to crash it into some hated symbol of the West -- its momentum would surely cause some serious damage, considering how fast Santa has to go to make his rounds.

This line of thought did not go over well with other members of my household, no better than when I suggested to Lilly a few days ago that there was an episode of the PBS cartoon Caillou concerning the boy’s uncle, who was in prison for passing bad checks.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Night Notes

Almost all of the big snow of December 1 is gone, melted over the course of this week. That suits me. Snow, of course, is our friend, but its cousin ice reminds that I probably shouldn’t stay in the North into my dotage, if I get any dotage. I’d prefer my obit not to read “died from complications of a fall.”

Browsing in my newish road atlas – a pleasure I have so little time for – I noticed that the Delaware River doesn’t quite separate Delaware and New Jersey; there’s a slice on the New Jersey side near Finn’s Point National Cemetery, and a tip of a peninsula south of there, that belong to Delaware. Information on this geographic oddity is scarce (though I only spent about five minutes looking), but from what I found, my best guess is that in places Delaware got all the river in a separation that’s quite old, perhaps dating back to Colonial times, and that the river has shifted over time, to Delaware’s benefit. Like when the Mississippi moves around to leave river-shaped borders on dry land between various states.

There’s a lot more information about Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River than the Delaware exclaves. Untold sorrow lurks in its Civil War sobriquet “Andersonville of the North.”

In September, as noted in the papers, Iva Toguri passed away. Not long after we moved back to Chicago in 1996, we visited her gift shop on Belmont Ave. not far from the Belmont El station, Ann Sather’s restaurant and other spots. I knew at the time that “Tokyo Rose” owned the shop, but otherwise it wasn’t particularly impressive. An import shop specializing in Oriental kitsch from the time when imports were rarities, long bypassed by other retail, even 10 years ago. But probably it didn’t need updating. My guess would be that there was no mortgage on the place, and that volume business wasn’t a priority.

From reading her death notices, I came away with a conclusion about Walter Winchell, who effectively hounded Toguri, an innocent woman, into prison: what a bastard. Someone who deserves his increasing obscurity.

Dilbert has been unfunny for quite a while now, but Thursday’s strip was incomprehensible, a sign of not only jumping the shark, but getting in the ocean with the sharks. In panel one, Alice (I think that’s her name) says, “And the point of my presentation is that these titanium tubes will…” She’s standing in front of a meeting table at which a male colleague is seated. In front of him is a rectangle with some musical notes emitting from it. I guess that’s supposed to be an iPod or something, but the drawing is so primitive that it’s hard to know.

In the middle panel, Alice viciously smashes the rectangle with her titanium tube. BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM!!! (Five times, three exclamation points.) In the final panel, she hands the tube to the visibly frightened colleague. Something is dangling from the tube. Maybe the electronic guts of the iPod, but who knows. She says to the man, “It’s for you.”

What on Earth does that mean? What’s the gag? Or even the point? Alice smashes a coworker’s iPod, haw haw. Who listens to an iPod during a business meeting? Not even in his ear, but on the table like a transistor radio. This isn’t the first time that he strip has made me think, Huh? Ah well, most days I know better than to even read it.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Somewhere, There's a Blog Devoted to Found Text

This isn't it. But nothing like a bit of interesting copywriting to brighten your day, a little. The following was printed on both sides of a cup carrier provided to me recently by Burger Czar, home of the Whopper. Which I never order: the Rodeo Cheeseburger is much more to my taste.


"A lot of people wonder why it was decided upon [a curiously formal bit of phrasing] to make a two cup-carrier [sic] as opposed to say, a one-cup carrier or a three-cup carrier. Well, a one-cup carrier is just called a cup. So that was pretty much out. And a three-cup carrier would have to be shaped into some strange triangle, and balancing that contraption would be more trouble that it's worth. So we settled on two. Hopefully it serves you well."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Essence of Jollity

I have a can of Green Giant corn in front of me, never mind why, and it occurs to me that Jolly Green Giant also says, “Ho Ho Ho,” just like a certain seasonal character many of whose modern attributes were created by Thomas Nast. This, of course, leads to other idle questions: Did Nast also come up with that line? He visualized the jolly, rotund fellow we know, but I don’t ever recall hearing about the origin of St. Nick’s laugh-line. Maybe it’s just a folk attribution. Ho ho ho = jollity

It isn’t in “A Visit From St. Nicolas,” though that poem has many other interesting details. I wonder if, in readings of it these days, the following lines are sometimes omitted: “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth/And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.” Not only is Santa a smoker, he exposes children to second-hand smoke, which would make his activities illegal in California and a lot of other places.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Gee, Chancellor Gee

Got an e-mail today from Gordon Gee, the aptly named Chancellor of Vanderbilt, for under his expert leadership (I’ve read) the university’s endowment has ballooned to the point at which people say, “Gee, that’s some big endowment you got.” My alma mater, you might say, is well endowed.

Anyway, Chancellor Gee says:

Dear Vanderbilt Friends:

“In this season, we are reminded by the holidays and our observances of an increasing amount of light in the world. We at Vanderbilt have our own lights to add to the gathering glow. This fall semester, now in its closing moments, has yielded a veritable power surge of accomplishment and honor within our University community! …”

Glad to know that the Chancellor still believes in progress, or at least illumination. I’m not sure a “power surge” is a good thing, since they’re often associated with equipment failure, but I’ll give him the benefit of the linguistic doubt. He doesn’t explicitly ask for money in this letter, by the way, but I suspect it’s on his mind.

As an example of recent accomplishment, he goes on to say: “Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Kenneth Catania was awarded a $500,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation [a genius grant]. Professor Catania, who studies insectivorous mammals such as star-nosed moles, water shrews and naked mole rats, will continue to research these animals who, through their own unusual styles of perception, reveal insights into the response of the mind, through sense, to stimulus."

I wish Professor Catania well, I really do, and someone probably should study star-nosed moles, water shrews and naked mole rats, if only because who would think of studying such creatures? But the idea of genius grants annoys me because there’s no such thing as a “pretty bright person grant.” It wouldn’t have to be on the scale of the genius grant – pretty bright isn’t genius, after all – say $50,000 instead of half a million. That way, you could reward 10 times as many pretty bright people as geniuses, and let the effects ripple outward from each recipient.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Netting a Christmas Tree

Our Christmas-tree acquisition had a surprise change of venue this year. For three years now, since we moved to the northwest suburbs, we’ve bought Christmas trees from a temporary lot at the corner of two fairly busy Schaumburg streets. I drive by this intersection fairly often, but such is the power of habit that I didn’t notice that this year the spot is merely a remote section of a parking lot that serves a grocery-anchored retail property. No trees waiting to be jammed in minivans, no afterthoughish wreath material lying around, no John Belushi look-alikes to take your money.

After I made the discovery, I didn’t have to go far to find another place that sells trees. This year, then, we got our Douglas fir at an actual commercial establishment, complete with greenhouse and stacks of firewood. During the warm months it sells various plants meant to survive once you’ve taken them home. In December, it sells already doomed trees.

We got a fairly thick tree, not much of a flat side, but we can live with that. Cost: $40.99, plus tax, only a little more than the price for a tree from Belushi. But we got an additional service that was worth the extra dosh. They had a device that enclosed the tree in plastic netting for easier transport – it looked like a small hoop, and the tree attendant pulled the whole tree through it. The tree then emerged all netted up.

After I got it home, cutting the net off took a few minutes, but it was worth it for ease of cartage. Lilly was the main decorator this year. She’s finally old enough for everything but the lights, the top-branch ornaments, and the star on top. That last one’s going to be my job until either I expire or I’m too feeble to do it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

More on Grocery Stores

All too easy to be blasé about the various technologies that permeate even modestly equipped modern lives, but I reserve the right to be in awe of them, if the mood strikes. Yesterday I picked up my telephone, entered a fairly short series of numbers, and then had a half-hour conversation with a man near the shores of the Mediterranean, in Israel. It’s the most pedestrian thing in our world, making a phone call. I’ve bounced my voice up to various telstars before, sending it across the even larger Pacific. Still, I had a flash of awe the moment I hung up. But it doesn’t last.

The conversation was interesting, too. This far removed from Israel, we’re used hearing a steady patter about the politics of that part of the worth (and its continuation by other means, war) and not much else. I had the pleasure of hearing about grocery stores in Israel from my interview subject, a man who’s been in that business for years. An American by birth, as it happened, and in fact from Chicago, he also sounded a little glad to talk to someone who doesn’t think “Al Capone” at the mention of the city’s name.

I’ve never been to Israel, though (of course) I wouldn’t mind going, with so much to see in a nicely compact, New Hampshire-sized place. People fret about the dangers there, but I figure for a tourist there’s more danger, say, in Mombasa in a barroom drinkin’ gin, or – and this is more likely to apply to me – more danger from traffic than scattered acts of violence.

And I would be sure to go into at least one grocery store. Not because of what I heard yesterday, but because of my own personal adage, Ye Shall Know Them By Their Grocery Stores.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Gog & Magog at the Grocery Store

Short postings, since I need to finish a couple of articles soon, one about the office market in Calgary, the other about retail in Israel. I might not get out much, but I sure do roam around in pursuit of real estate news (well, I did make it to Calgary this year, but mainly I was looking for a good meal).

Not long ago I visited the nearest Dominick’s Finer Foods, a unit of Safeway, and when leaving, I took a look at the pamphlets available free on the wall, as I sometimes do – Get Your Associates Degree in Dental Hygiene, Buy an Second-String Encyclopaedia on Time, that kind of thing. Not the bottom-of-the-barrel in terms of printed material, but maybe the publishing equivalent of the light blue properties (Oriental, Vermont and Connecticut avenues). I’m not looking for anything in particular, just trying to notice the details around me.

LEARN THE ASTONISHING TRUTH! one pamphlet promised. I’m a sucker for astonishing truths, so I read further: “Why are the United States and the British Empire seemingly ignored in Bible prophecy while small nations are mentioned often? Learn the astounding answer to this mystery!”

By golly, that is a compelling question. Why indeed do places such as Liechtenstein and Andorra, which I understand the latest in end-of-days thinking posits as Gog and Magog, get so much attention, while the great English-speaking nations hardly rate a howdy? I could mail in the card to The Good News and receive a free subscription plus a 48-page booklet called The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy, but I’m afraid someone will eventually come asking for donations if I do that. I’ll just have to puzzle out the question myself.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Mask of Maxentius

Still a frozen white outside my window, except for the various paths cleared off for cars to drive and people to walk. Some meltage is predicted for the weekend, but I’m not betting on it.

Got a message from Kevin D. the other day, who has a nose for news that would make the basis of a screenplay of yore.

[To Dees]: Thought you might find this story interesting.

Emperor Maxentius insignia found in Rome

By MARTA FALCONI, Associated Press Writer Sun Dec 3, 2:24 PM ET

Archaeologists have unearthed what they say are the only existing imperial insignia belonging to Emperor Maxentius -- precious objects that were buried to preserve them and keep them from enemies when he was defeated by his rival Constantine… [it goes on for a number of graphs, including a mention of Maxentius’ scepter].

[To Kevin]: That is interesting, and like the beginning of a Fu Manchu movie. The scepter, you see, has magical powers, and it's thought that whoever possesses it can achieve world dominion. Soon after it was put on display in Rome, it was stolen under mysterious circumstances...

[To Dees]: Didn’t know about the magical powers. Since Fu is now politically incorrect, it might be a case for Indiana Jones.

[To Kevin]: Well, I was thinking like any pulp writer, attributing magic to anything old and royal enough. If the insignia had powers, fat lot of good it did Maxentius. He is known to history as a loser.

Instead of Fu, maybe agents of Kim Jong-Il. Who needs Fu when you have him?

[To Dees]: Yep, in The Mask of Fu Manchu he is looking for the treasure of Genghis Khan and, if memory serves, a particular sword that will lead to world domination.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

My Kind of Sights

I ought to know better than to pick up a book like Michigan: Off the Beaten Path, but for 12.5¢ at a resale shop over the weekend, even the 1999 edition of this book was too good to pass up. Its age is hardly a problem, since it’s easy enough to check via the Internet if a site still exists. I own a copy of the Illinois book in the series (even a little older), which has pointed me to some interesting sites over the years, such as the Egyptian Theater just off Main Street in DeKalb, a rare surviving example – I don’t think there were many in the first place – of Egyptian revival architecture.

While visiting DeKalb one day a few years ago, I was going to content myself with checking out the exterior of the Egyptian, but noticed that a live theatre performance was finishing. So I took the opportunity to go in swimming against the current, as if I’d forgotten something, to peek at the interior. The only other place I’ve seen like it is the First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, an Egyptian revival design by William Strickland, who also did the Tennessee State Capitol.

A book like Off the Beaten Path, whatever the state, has the unfortunate effect making me want to see the places I happen across while browsing its pages. After all, who wouldn’t want to go to suburban Lansing to the Travelers Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum? Or, a little closer to where we live, ride the Saugatuck Chain Ferry across the Kalamazoo River, which has been in operation since 1838? Or see the very first roadside table in the nation (1929) in Ionia County?

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Snow Day

We were warned, and sure enough sometime after midnight on December 1, 2006, the clouds opened up, as if to tell us that today is the real beginning of winter, and don’t you forget it. First came sleet, then snow. It was still snowing at 6:30 in the morning when I got a call telling me that Lilly had no school. By about 10, it had stopped. We’d had about a foot of snow, judging by my unscientific eyeballing.

For Lilly and Ann, it meant snowballs and snow angels and half-hearted attempts at snowmen during three or four expeditions outside during the day, though Ann’s relative inexperience with snow usually meant she’d get her gloves or something wet, and cry to come inside because her hands were cold. The snowmen never really got anywhere because the snow wasn’t that heavy, and thus hard to agglomerate; because of inattention on the part of the girls; and because several times when a ball got of a certain size, Lilly would decide to throw it instead of making it bigger. Some of those masses were big enough to be snowman brains, I told them.

Ann made a snowball she liked so much that she brought it inside to play with, putting it on a plastic plate. For a while, it was in the refrigerator, but eventually it went the way of all snow.

Yuriko and I worked in shifts, shovelling the driveway, so that she was able to leave for her office at about 10 – late, but no one else was much earlier, since it had taken most of the morning for the smaller roads to get snowplow treatment. She reported seeing abandoned cars, run off some of the bigger roads at various angles. I like to think of these as the same sort of people who tailgate me in their hurry to get to the next red light, but I know that life on the road isn’t quite that fair.