Category Archives: Nostalgic

Nostalgic Stories

Secrets of a White Shoe Law firm – the man who gets his hands dirty so the lawyers stay clean

I once worked for the most prestigious “White Shoe” law firm in New York, learning parts of the business the lawyers wanted to pretend didn’t exist. To even be considered “White Shoe”, a law firm must be at least 100 years old and only hire from the top 1% of the class of the top law schools. Partners deal directly with world leaders in business and politics on a daily basis. The lawyers work on all the esoteric legal issues of billion dollar business deals. But behind the scenes, was a man names Robert “B”who handled everything non-legal, so that the lawyers never got their white shoes scuffed. Robert came from a long line of New York City cops and physically and emotionally was as tough as iron. Here is just a small list of the issues Robert took care of:

No one actually wears white shoes at a White Shoe law firm
No one actually wears white shoes at a White Shoe law firm

Throwing out the under-performing lawyers.  The lawyers who got hired at my White Shoe firm have never failed at anything. They were the top of the class in their high school, and went to the top colleges where they were also top of their classes. They got into the best law schools and made Law Review. Then they got hired for a New York firm at a starting salary that is more than most people will earn in a lifetime. Then they fail and get fired. You see, every year, my firm would hire 60 new lawyers (Associates) and over a 10 year career path only 3 would eventually  be asked to become Partners. The other 57 have to get fired along the way to make room for the next classes being hired. Some of them simply can’t take the news. These are people who are used to getting awards, not pink slips.

Throwing out lawyers who don't bring in enough money for the firm
Throwing out lawyers who don’t bring in enough money for the firm

The fired Associate is privately told the news by the Managing Partner, but once and a while the Associate freaks out, starts screaming and even turns violent. That’s why Robert  always arranged to have three very large “maintenance” men working in the Managing Partner’s office when an associate was being fired. They would pretend to be fixing the thermostat, or adjusting a leg on the couch, or even dusting.

If the firing went well, the maintenance men did nothing. However, the second an Associate raised his voice to the partner, the Associate would be grabbed by 6 very large hands and hustled out of the office. If the Associate did not immediately quiet down, the maintenance men continued to move the Associate all the way through the building, right to the street. The Managing Partner pretended not to notice any of this.

Now you may object that I previously said the firing was “private”. You have to realize that in prestigious New York law firms, the non-legal “support staff” is invisible. It is like being a servant in England in the 1800s. Support staff at my firm only spoke to lawyers when spoken to. All lawyers were addressed by support staff as “Mr.” or “Ms.” while lawyers called all support staff workers by their first names even if the support person was 20 years older than the lawyer.  

My firm once published its own vanity book claiming it detailed “everyone” who had ever worked for the firm, with a short biography of each. Even lawyers who had only worked for the firm for 6 months 80 years ago were listed. No support staff, not even Robert, were mentioned in the book. Some of the support staff had worked for the law firm for 30 years and were very hurt by the publication. The book was just one more way of the lawyers reminding the support staff of the true social order.

Our White Shoe Law firm had a drug dealer working for it
Our White Shoe Law firm had a drug dealer working for it

Robert made sure bad stories never sullied the firm’s reputation. The toughest problem Robert ever faced was when one of the law firm’s data entry people got killed in Brooklyn. The story that hit the New York  news stations  was all about the tragedy of this innocent professional woman who was killed in the crossfire between two rival drug gangs. That’s not what happened. The real story is that she was in one of the drug gangs and the deal went bad. The last thing in the world the law firm wanted was for the news outlets to start publishing that a member of their firm had belonged to a drug gang.

 Robert made lot of phone calls to his friends and relatives in the police, to get the official police report written the right way.  No cash exchanged hands, but after that, many of the job openings in the support staff of the law firm just happened to get filled by the sons and daughters of the Brooklyn police officers who had responded to the drug gang shoot-out. It turned out to be a win-win. The police officers’ kids all were great workers.

The law can be flexible
The law can be flexible

Robert was always handy with a   “cash envelope” on construction projects Business was good and the law firm was expanding its offices. In downtown New York, trying to do construction in an occupied office building is a nightmare. It is almost impossible to get the material and equipment to the top floors. (All good law firms are on the top floors). There are lots of passenger elevators, but only a few freight elevators. You have to compete for the freight elevators with every other company doing work in the building.

An envelope of cash is always welcome
An envelope of cash is always welcome

Most buildings don’t have elevator operators any more, but every major New York Office building has a person in charge of setting all the elevators. If you try to just throw your construction material into one of the passenger elevators, that minor bureaucrat will make sure the landlord adds a huge fine to your next month’s rent. 

However, slip an envelope full of cash to this Elevator Tzar and suddenly 2 or 3 passenger elevators will magically be transformed into freight elevators for your project’s personal use. This may not sound like it is cost effective, but the envelope of cash is much less expensive than keeping 50 construction workers waiting for their material.

The Managing Partner wanted this flushed down the toilets every day
The Managing Partner wanted this flushed down the toilets every day

Protecting lawyers from their own stupid ideas – Once and a while a high ranking lawyer would try to get involved in the non-legal aspects of the business, with near disastrous results. Robert was there to politely put an end to such forays into his territory. One example of this was the time that the Managing Partner of the firm had watched an old documentary on T.V. about how the Iranians had reassembled shredded secret documents after taking over the American embassy in Tehran. The Managing Partner was convinced that someone was going to steal the mountains full of shredded documents the firm produced each day and then paste them back together like the Iranians had.

The Managing Partner told us that he had woken up at 3AM worried about this and had come up with his own brilliant solution. He wanted the law firm to purchase a giant machine that would pulverize the documents into fine white powder. He then proceeded to say the machine would pay for itself since we would no longer have to pay outside shredding firms or a garbage company. This was because the Managing Partner wanted us to take all this shredded powdered material and flush it down the toilets each day. Thousands and thousands of old legal documents a day first ground into a fine powder and then teams of office workers flushing them down toilets continually.

When the Managing partner announced his “powder and flush” idea to the non-legal staff, we all were very careful not to look at each other. We knew that if a single person so much as cracked a smile, we would all have burst out in uncontrollable laughter.

Then Robert did something amazing. With a serious tone and a perfectly straight face, he thanked the Managing Partner for his “well thought-out plan”. Robert then went on to say we would be researching types of machines, permits required and sewer regulations and would report back to the partner on the progress. Of course, we never did any of that. Any time the partner asked about the project, Robert confidently told him that the “research was progressing”. Eventually the Managing Partner got immersed in some very complex legal cases and forgot all about flushing shredded documents down the toilets.

Associates at law firms are just machines to be kept working at all times
Associates at law firms are just machines to be kept working at all times

Treating Associate Lawyers as Machines – Law firms are basically just factories and the Associates are just very expensive machines. Associates are all the lawyers striving to make Partner. They do the actual legal work and the firm bills out their time to clients. The Associates get paid a flat (very high) salary no matter how many hours they work. Therefore, billable hours less Associates salaries equals profit that goes to the Partners. The more time Associates spend at their desks doing legal work, the more profit for the Partners. If you are an Associate at a White Shoe law firm and you expect to stay employed you better have a minimum of 12 billable hours per day.

The key job of the non-legal staff is to make sure that the Associates never leave their desks. Associates are machines that need to be kept running at all times. Associates don’t go to lunch or dinner. Someone gets sandwiches and brings them to their desks. People pick up their laundry, take their spouses to the airport, buy birthday gifts for their kids and even wait for the cable guy to come to the apartment. In other words, Robert and his team do everything so that the Associates never leave their desks except to use the bathroom, and go home to sleep.

Sometimes Associates crack from this arrangement. At first it seems nice to have other people do everything for you can concentrate on work. Then Associates slowly begin to realize that they don’t actually have what most people would call “a life”.  They never see their spouses, kids or friends. Never go out to lunch, to shop or to just walk around the city. They are getting paid a huge amount of money to be a machine, but sometimes the machines break. Of course, if an Associate machine does break, Robert had some maintenance men who will quickly hustle it out of the building.

Old Partners at law firms still hold tremendous power.
Old Partners at law firms still hold tremendous power.

The Care & Feeding of Old Partners – The special few who do become partners are set for life, and that does mean life. When I was at the firm, one partner was 90 years old and he still came in every day. He lived in Manhattan and a car picked him up at his building each morning. One day, the regular driver was out sick, so Robert personally drove the car. Robert asked the old partner where they should go. The old partner decided it was such a beautiful day that instead of going to the office they should just drive around Central Park. The old Partner and Robert spent the morning touring the City and eventually the partner treated Robert to lunch at an outdoor café. The Partner told fascinating stories about his days as a young man in New York, and left a huge tip for the waitress. Robert told us that it was the best day of work he had ever had working anywhere.

The old partner did a lot more than just tell stories, which is why he was still at the firm at 90. He knew every judge in New York, and every politician that mattered. Whenever the firm really needed a  favor, it was the old Partner who called just the right judge or politician, and knew exactly what to say. He may have become a partner by working 16 hours a day 7 days a week as an Associate, but it was his natural charm that made him a success as a Partner.

This particular White Shoe law firm is still considered the best in the world and Associates still slave away fantasizing that they will be one of the chosen few to make Partner. Robert is still working behind the scenes taking care of all the unspoken problems. There is probably someone like Robert at every major law firm in the world, taking care of business and keeping secrets while the lawyers keep their white shoes clean.

When Phone Numbers Had Names like “MUrray Hill” or FIreside”

When I was a kid, all phone numbers began with names like MUrray Hill, FIreside or DAvis. This was a holdover from the very earliest days of telephones. The phone company executives (and there was only 1 phone company) thought that people would not be able to memorize large strings of numbers.

Lucy's phone number was MUrray Hill 5-9975
Lucy’s phone number was MUrray Hill 5-9975

Consequently, the first 2 numbers of every phone number were expressed in words. MUrray Hill meant the first 2 numbers were 6-8. DAvis meant the first 2 numbers were 3-2. That’s why the first two letters of the exchanges were capitalized.

Glen Miller used to call his fiance from PEnnsylvania 6-5000
Glen Miller used to call his fiance from PEnnsylvania 6-5000

But there is a natural human tendency to believe that all names must mean something. Consequently, people had ridiculous discussions about which phone names (exchanges) were “better”. My phone number as a kid was DAvis-4-2427, while the Brett’s who lived right next door had a phone number that began with FIreside. Frankie Brett insisted that their phone number was “better” than ours since FIreside sounded so much cooler than DAvis.

Butterfield 8 was the exchange for the Upper East Side of Manhattan
Butterfield 8 was the exchange for the Upper East Side of Manhattan

The funny part is that having phone numbers begin with names really did help people remember them better. In fact, some of those old phone numbers remain a part of American culture. Here are just a few examples:

PEnnsylvania 6-5000 was the title of a famous Glen Miller song. It was the phone number of a pay phone from which Glen Miller used to call his fiancee when he was on the road. Somehow the song would just not be as good if it was called 73-65000.

MUrray Hill 5-9975 was the phone number for Lucy & Ricky Ricardo. To this day, some people remember that number but cannot remember the number of their own cell phone.

BUtterfield -8 was the title of a classic 1960 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor. The significance of the BUtterfield-8 – exchange is that it was limited to the wealthy Upper East Side of Manhattan

The phone number MUrray Hill 7-0700 was burned into my brain by Saturday morning T.V.
The phone number MUrray Hill 7-0700 was burned into my brain by Saturday morning T.V.

MUrray Hill 7-0700 was the phone number for the furniture reupholstering department of Macy’s. When I was kid, Macy’s had a local television commercial that repeated this number at least 15 time. You could not watch Saturday Morning T.V. without hearing the words “MUrray Hill 7-0700” over and over and over. This phone number has been permanently burned into my long term memory, even though I have never gotten a piece of furniture reupholstered.

Having a 212 area code is like having "Old Money"
Having a 212 area code is like having “Old Money”

Now that phone numbers don’t have names, each individual number or exchange no longer seems that important. Of course, there are 2 exceptions to this.

You are not a real New Yorker unless your phone number begins with 212
You are not a real New Yorker unless your phone number begins with 212

212- is the coveted “original” area code for Manhattan. To have a 212 area code signifies that not only are you in Manhattan, but that you have been there for a long time. People with 212 area codes look down on other Manhattan dwellers who only have a 646 or a 332 area code. This is very similar to the way families with Old Money used to look down on the Noveau Riche. If your phone number does not begin with 212 you will never be accepted as a real New Yorker.

Never mention the phone number 867-5309 to a woman named Jenny
Never mention the phone number 867-5309 to a woman named Jenny

867-5309 is the phone number that all women named Jenny have learned to hate. The song Jenny was written by Alex Call and Jim Keller and performed by Tommy Tutone. The song is about a woman with a “certain reputation” who is so popular that her phone number is scribbled on bathroom walls. If you ever date a woman named Jenny, never make the mistake of mentioning this song or phone number.

Be sure to read all our Nostalgic Stories



The Day I made Carol Channing Laugh

Years ago, I shared a laugh with Carol Channing in New York. I was walking down 56th Street towards 5th Avenue. As I turned the corner I almost bumped into Carol Channing coming out of Harry Winston, which is one of the premier jewelry stores in the world. Even then, Carol Channing looked ancient. She was holding onto the arm of a large muscular man who was obviously a chauffeur walking her to the car. It was also obvious that she was so frail she would have fallen over if she was not holding onto the chauffeur’s arm.

Despite this, Carol Channing was “dressed to the nines”, wearing full makeup, and a huge amount of jewelry. When we almost ran into each other I found myself face to face with Carol Channing no more than 1 foot away. Somehow, instead of just saying “excuse me” I decided to take a chance. I looked at Carol Channing and said,

“Visiting your best friends Ms Channing?”

Carol Channing on stage in Hello Dolly
Carol Channing on stage in Hello Dolly

Other celebrities might have been annoyed at having a fan dare to speak to them directly, but not Carol Channing.  She laughed, and her whole countenance changed. Her face lit up in a smile and she stood up straighter.

Carol Channing reached out and gently touched me on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for remembering sweetie.”

Then, without another word, Caron Channing and the chauffeur moved down the block, and I went on to my appointment on 5th avenue.

Carol Channing, of course, was the original singer of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend. This was before Marilyn Monroe performed the song. It was decades before Madonna paid a tribute to the song with the video and song Material Girl. That’s why it was perfect to see this icon visiting a jewelry store. Where else would one expect to find Carol Channing?

Marilyn Monroe performing "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend".
Marilyn Monroe performing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”.

Carol Channing never had the beauty of a Marilyn Monroe or the voice of Madonna, but there was something that drew audiences to her. The sheer vibrant enthusiasm of Carol Channing made every performance an event. Audiences loved Carol Channing, especially in New York.

Madonna performing "Material Girl"
Madonna performing “Material Girl”

In addition to movie and Television appearances, Carol Channing performed in literally thousands of stage musicals and comedies. Hello Dolly was perhaps her best known and best loved. Carol Channing continued to perform late into her life. In one of her final Hello Dolly performances, Carol Channing had to do the entire musical while onstage in a wheelchair. Her performance was still terrific and the audience gave her a standing ovation.

Unlike many other celebrities Carol Channing never let her success go to her head and was always willing to make fun of herself. She once performed a duet of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend with Miss Piggy on The Muppets.

Carol Channing performs "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" with Miss Piggy on The Muppets
Carol Channing performs “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” with Miss Piggy on The Muppets

Carol Channing died on January 15, 2019, just shy of her 98th birthday. Thousands of fans throughout the world remember her for her movie and stage work. However, I will always remember Carol Channing for the smile and laugh she shared just with me.

I always found it odd that Carol Channing said , “thanks for remembering”, like somehow the word had forgotten her. There is no chance that fans will ever forget the vibrant unique talent of Carol Channing.

Be sure to read The Real Dick Clark

read Whitney Houston Gave Me A Private Concert

My Mother was A World War II Codebreaker


My mother was a naval counterintelligence officer during World War II, something no one would have suspected of this tiny woman with bright dyed-blond hair. (Her whole life she insisted that the hair color was natural). 

America was in World War II when Elsie White graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University. She immediately joined the Navy and after a 3 month training course was commissioned an Ensign. Regular Navy officers derisively called these new Ensigns the “90 day wonders”.

Elsie White marries Jack Farrell during World War II
Elsie White marries Jack Farrell during World War II

Elsie did not start her military career with an exciting assignment. Like most women who joined up, she was relegated to back-office work. Elsie worked in New York City processing Navy payroll. That’s when she noticed something odd about a certain Admiral’s paycheck. It looked to her like the Navy was paying the Admiral the wrong amount. Her supervisors were not interested, but Elsie worked on her own time to research the back reports. Sure enough, Elsie was able to prove that the Navy had been under-paying the Admiral for years. The Navy owed the Admiral thousands of dollars, and Elsie saw to it that he was reimbursed in his next paycheck.

No one would ever suspect that the 1950s house wife was once a secret code-breaker during World War II
No one would ever suspect that the 1950s house wife was once a secret code-breaker during World War II

The Admiral took the time to find out who had discovered the error and gotten him his money. About a month later Elise received a formal invitation to join the Admiral and his officers for lunch aboard the Admiral’s ship.  It was a thrilling experience for Elise, but she never thought anything would come of it. The next day she was back at work in the payroll office.

But the Admiral had not forgotten about the tiny Ensign. The Admiral realized that someone as intelligent, detail oriented and persistent as Elsie would be perfect in the counterintelligence branch of the Navy.

A blurry old photo of Elsie White's commission as a United States Navy Ensign September 21, 1943
A blurry old photo of Elsie White’s commission as a United States Navy Ensign September 21, 1943

Soon Elsie was ensconced deep in the sub-basement of a building on Church Street in New York City. She was the newly appointed officer in charge of a team of Navy code breakers. Just to get to work was no small task. Two Marine guards checked ID’s at the entrance of the building. Two more Marines guarded the elevator to the sub-basement. In the sub-basement itself, 4 fully armed Marines stood ready

During one inspection, Elsie was given a formal reprimand for not wearing a fully loaded .45 caliber side-arm per regulations. She did not want to admit that she could barely lift the weapon, much less hold it out straight to aim at anyone.

Elsie may not have been proficient at combat, but she was good at solving puzzles, which is how she approached codes. While the British were busy cracking the German code and its Enigma machine, the Japanese codes presented a much different problem to the Americans. Instead of having 1 code, the Japanese had numerous codes which they changed continuously. Teams of Americans in the Pacific and in the U.S. were given stacks of Japanese codes to crack.

Elsie’s New York code breaking group was an odd assortment of misfits. Most were quiet introverts and a few were alcoholics who smuggled flask bottles of gin into the underground lair. The Navy tolerated all these oddballs, as long and they broke codes. And break codes they did.

Elsie recalled one mousy woman who worked at a back desk and had never spoken to anyone in the unit. One night the mousy woman came up to Elsie and whispered in an respectful tone, “I am sorry to disturb you Ensign, but I think I just broke this code.” It turned out that the little mouse had, in fact, broken the code.

No one knew of Elsie’s wartime adventures until 20 years after World War II had ended. That’s how long all Navy officers in code breaking units were required to keep silent about their duties. As far as most people knew, she had been processing payrolls her whole time in the Navy.

The other day I walked by the office building on Church Street in New York which had once been the site of the secret Navy code breaking unit. Nothing from its outward appearance would every lead anyone to guess its secret past. Much in the same way, no one would ever have guessed that Elsie White Farrell, the tiny blonde mom in her blue Buick station wagon had once worked in the sub-basement serving her country during war.

Be sure to read all our Nostalgic Stories.

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Stanley Kubrick Predicted why the Boeing 737 Max kills people.

The crashes of the Boeing 737 Max jet were predicted in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. In the film, HAL the computer comes to believe that the humans on board are a danger to the mission, and begins killing them. Unlike HAL, The computer system on the Boeing 737 Max is not purposely killing people, but it does believe that human beings are dangerous to the success of the mission. Consequently, the automatic pilot on the Boeing 737 Max ignores the commands of the pilots and even overrides them.

Aftermath of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
Aftermath of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

The Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes both took place when the computer system of the Boeing 737 Max forced the plane to dive into the ground while the pilots were desperately using all their strength to try to get the plane to climb. The computer ignored the climb commands and people died.

Dave shutting down HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey
Dave shutting down HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Boeing initially stated there was no problem with the 737 Max, and later came out and admitted that a “slight software fix” might be requited. This understatement reminds us of what HAL the computer said in 2001: A Space Odyssey after it killed all but 1 person on the spaceship.

“I know everything hasn’t been quite right with me, but I can assure you now, very confidently, that it’s going to be all right again. I feel much better now. I really do.”

Somehow we can picture the automatic pilot system of the Boeing 737 Max making the same statement.

The cockpit of a Boeing 737 Max
The cockpit of a Boeing 737 Max

Poor Pilot Training is another issue that Boeing management has blamed for the crash. They are partially right about that. We previously pointed out the lack of pilot training in our post 8 Reasons You Should Be Afraid To Fly. However, the biggest problem with the automatic pilot system on the Boeing 737 Max is that it is a hugely complex procedure just to turn the thing off.

The Ethiopian Airlines pilot only had a total of 200 flying hours.
The Ethiopian Airlines pilot only had a total of 200 flying hours.

Any factory manager knows that one of the keys to safety is to have a highly visible and easy -to-use Kill Switch located next to any machine that might malfunction. There is no Kill Switch to turn off a malfunctioning autopilot on the Boeing 737 Max. Pilots must execute a complex set of computer commands to turn the system off, even if the autopilot is flying the plane into the ground. If the pilots are not experts in these programming steps, there is no way for them to take back control of the aircraft.

Airplane designers know less than they think they do.
Airplane designers know less than they think they do.

The fact that you should never turn human control 100% over to computers has been a standard warning in science fiction books and films for decades. The Terminator, War Games, I Robot and countless others have focused on the unintended consequences of ceding control to machines. Yet Boeing, Airbus and other jet manufactures are working to steadily make pilots unnecessary. Some airlines have been pushing the FAA for rules to take the first step by eliminating rules requiring a copilot.

Would you feel comfortable in traffic next to a driverless 80,000 pound truck?
Would you feel comfortable in traffic next to a driverless 80,000 pound truck?

On the ground things are no better. Google is working on developing a driver-less tractor trailer. Imagine an 80,000 pound tractor trailer loaded with dangerous chemicals roaring down the highway with no driver. What could possibly go wrong?

When 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968 speculation about malfunctioning computers causing human deaths was an interesting futuristic speculation. Now is is all too real.

Read our article. 8 Reasons You Should Be Afraid to Fly

Read The Chemical 9/11

Read Dusty Cars – a 9/11 Story

Modern Farmer- What Baby Boomers watched before cartoons

Modern Farmer is the T.V. show that taught Baby Boomers from the cities and suburbs all they ever learned about farming. Modern Farmer was on at 6:30 am Saturday mornings and the cartoons did not begin until 7AM. Kids sat through Modern Farmer because they did not want to take a chance of missing even a second of the precious Saturday cartoons.

Baby Boomers watched Modern Farmer every Saturday before cartoons started.
Baby Boomers watched Modern Farmer every Saturday before cartoons started.

When Baby Boomers were kids there was no way to instantly get a cartoon. No “on demand” channels, no VCRs or DVDs. Not even an internet. If you missed a cartoon you wanted to see, you had missed it forever.

Therefore, Baby Boomers got up extra early every Saturday and watched Modern Farmer while waiting for the cartoons. Modern Farmer was not a cartoon, and was not even a kids’ show. It was a public service documentary designed to instruct farmers about all the most recent technological advances in American Farming. Modern Farming showed how harvesters and combines worked. It demonstrated the importance of rotating crops, and the most efficient methods of irrigation. It had films of real American farms producing the vast supply of food that is one of the country’s greatest strengths.

Modern Farmer showed Baby Boomers the complex world of where food comes from
Modern Farmer showed Baby Boomers the complex world of where food comes from

Modern Farming was not designed to be a show to teach kids, but teach kids it did. Children have amazing absorbent minds, and millions of children throughout the United States learned about farming while waiting for cartoons.

Ironically, I remember a lot more about Modern Farming than I do about the Saturday cartoons. To this day, I have a tremendous respect for American farmers and the complexity of their profession, all thanks to Modern Farmer.

The impact of Modern Farmer should have lessons for today’s T.V. producers. Children are much smarter than producer think, and kids have an amazing capacity to learn. Teaching them something worthwhile is up to us.

So what ever happened to Modern Farmer? It actually never went away. Various versions of the show are popular throughout the world. German Farmer, Japanese Farmer and Korean Farmer have all been made.

Farm Sim is a popular computer game where you try to run your own farm without going bankrupt.
Farm Sim is a popular computer game where you try to run your own farm without going bankrupt.

There are even many video farming games where kids can get a feel for how hard it is to run a farm.

Very few Baby Boomers ever became real farmers. Food production in the United States is so efficient that the number of farmers has been decreasing for decades. However, Modern Farmer did teach a whole generation of kids that food does not just magically appear on the table. It gave them an appreciation for a complex and fascinating world just a few miles away from the cities and suburbs.

Be sure to read all our Nostalgic stories.

The Book of Answers – Information before Google.

Before Google existed, the fastest way to get an answer was to call the New York Public Library Telephone Reference Service. It has been operating 9 hours a day 6 days a week since 1968. The Book of Answers is a fascinating summary of the most interesting answers and questions fielded by the service.

The Book of Answers
The Book of Answers

Unlike Google or Wikipedia, the NY Public Library goes to great lengths to make sure that the answers they give are accurate. The Library’s answers are not influenced by what most people “think” the answer should be. What goes into Google or Wikipedia is not the truth, but rather what Stephen Colbert refers to as truthiness. That is, something that people think is true because it sounds true.

What percentage is each color in a bag of M&Ms?
What percentage is each color in a bag of M&Ms?

The Book of Answers has a section devoted to correcting misconceptions people have on a number if items. These include items such as:

  • Despite what most people believe Poinsettias are not poisonous.  Despite this fact every Christmas season every local T.V. station runs at least one story warning people about poisonous Poinsettias.
  • Panama Hats are not made in Panama. They are and have always been made in Ecuador.
  • Abraham Lincoln was not the first President born in a log cabin. Andrew Jackson was actually the first.
The New York Public Library's main Reading Room.
The New York Public Library’s main Reading Room.

There are also some fascinating but lesser known facts about a huge variety of subjects.

  • New Zealand was the first nation to give women the vote in 1893. Switzerland did not allow women to vote until 1971.
  • The most common color candy in a bag of M&Ms is Brown composing 30% of the candies. Red, Yellow are 20% each and Green, Orange & Tan are 10% each.
  • The covering on the end of a shoelace is an “aglet”.
  • The metal hoop that supports a lampshade is a “harp.”

The Book of Answers was written by Barbara Berliner with Melinda Corey and George Ochoa. The Book of Answers was published in 1990 at which time Barbara Berliner was the head of the New York Public Library’s Telephone Reference Service.  It is nice to know that despite Google and Wikipedia, this service still exists.  

Women did not get the vote in Switzerland until 1971.
Women did not get the vote in Switzerland until 1971.

There strict rules the Reference librarians must follow before they can answer any questions. There are:

  • Librarians are not allowed to guess about any answers. They must have a verified source for the answer or else truthfully state that the answer is “We don’t know”. In that case the library will try to find the answer and call you back at a later time.
  • Librarians will not give you the answers to any contest that is still open. In other words, you can’t use them to cheat on a quiz show or radio contest.
  • They won’t give you the answer to the impossible questions such as “what is the meaning of life?” or “why does anyone watch The Kardashians?

You can still find this little gem of a book on Amazon, and it is a lot of fun to browse through. After all, in this confusing world don’t we all really need to have “The Book of Answers?”

Be sure to rad What’s New On The Blog.

See all our Book Reviews

The Green Book – a feel-good movie but a complete lie

The Green Book is a “feel good” movie that also happens to be a complete lie about race relations in America. It is supposedly the true story of pianist Don Shirley’s 1962 tour of the Deep South where he played for all-White audiences. Fearing for his safety, Don Shirley recruited tough guy Tony “Lip” Vallelonga to be his chauffeur.  Though completely opposite personalities, they come to understand and respect each other, leading to a life-long friendship.

Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali in "The Green Book"
Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali in “The Green Book”

Mahershala Ali is perfect as Don Shirley, as is Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip. The action is exciting and well filmed, and audiences leave the theater feeling uplifted. However, The Green Book has been widely criticized by African Americans, especially Spike Lee, because Hollywood’s portrayal of the 1962 tour does not match what really happened. Here is a list of the major flaws with The Green Book.

The Negro Motorist Green Book was distributed by Esso gas stations.
The Negro Motorist Green Book was distributed by Esso gas stations.

Don Shirley was not playing for White Audiences in the South. It was a tour of historically African American colleges in the South and the audiences were African American. The whole scene of Shirley playing for rich White folks in a private home and then being told he could not use the bathroom never happened. It was a pivotal plot point in The Green Book but was a complete Hollywood fabrication.

Don Shirley
Don Shirley

Don Shirley was not estranged from his family. He had a close relationship with his siblings, nephews and nieces his entire life. Writers Nick Vallelonga (Tony’s son), Peter Farrelly and Brian Currie are all White. They did not contact Shirley’s family while making The Green Book. Nick Vallelonga has openly admitted that he did not even know that any of Don Shirley’s family still existed. Instead, The Green Book portrays Don Shirley as a lonely, isolated man who is “saved” by being invited to dinner with the Vallelonga family. In fact, some members of Don Shirley’s family actually attended many of his concerts in the South.

Spike Lee does not think The Green Book should have won Best Picture.
Spike Lee does not think The Green Book should have won Best Picture.

The Green Book pretends that racial profiling by police officers only happens in the South. The Green Book has several scenes where Don and Tony are roughed up by Southern policemen who seem to automatically hate all African Americans or Italians. Then when they are returning home, as soon as they cross the Mason-Dixon Line the police become friendly helpers. A police officer points out that their rear tire is flat, and then stays with them to direct traffic around the car in a raging blizzard. Following the logic of The Green Book, relations between the police and the African American community in the Northern city of Chicago must be excellent.

Nick Vallelonga
Nick Vallelonga

The Green Book gives the impression that racial tensions are somehow relegated to the past. After all, the Deep South no longer has legalized segregation and even the police forces are now integrated. Most people today don’t even realize that there actually was something called The Negro Motorist Green Book, which was a guide to what hotels and dining establishments African American’s were allowed to use in the South. The fact that this legalized racism no longer exists makes audiences feel good about how much progress has been made.  Spike Lee has stated that The Green Book gives a false sense of progress, and is a feel-good movie on race relations designed for an old audience. Spike Lee may have a point. At the theater where we saw The Green Book, the average age of the audience was about 67.

Linda Cardellini & Viggo Mortensen in "The Green Book"
Linda Cardellini & Viggo Mortensen in “The Green Book”

The Green Book is a “White Savior” Story. Tony Lip has to teach Don Shirley how to stand up for himself and be tough. Time after time in The Green Book, Tony saves Don from problems brought about by Don’s timid nature, or his own stupidity of going places without bringing Tony along to protect him. This is repeated so often in the film that you begin to wonder how Don Shirley actually survived in the world before he met his White Protector. Hollywood has a long history of making “White Savior” films. These include The Blind Side, Dangerous Minds, and even To Kill a Mockingbird. The mark of a White Savior movie is that its focus is about how heroic the White person is to be helping the unfortunate African American who would be lost without the savior. The main star is the White character, with the African Americans playing only supporting roles.

This may be a little bit of a hard judgment for The Green Book. After all, Don Shirley is portrayed as being immensely more talented, educated and literate than Tony Lip. In fact, the most amusing parts of The Green Book are when Don Shirley helps the almost illiterate Tony write beautiful love letters to Tony’s wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini). Don Shirley’s letters are so elaborate and romantic that Dolores begins reading them to her jealous friends.

Tony "Lip" Vallelonga
Tony “Lip” Vallelonga

Overall, The Green Book is an enjoyable film to watch, but don’t fool yourself into believing that you are seeing an actual portrayal of history. We can’t help thinking that it would have been so much better if the writers had taken the time to fully research the events and get input from Don Shirley’s family. It is true that despite their different backgrounds Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga did become lifelong friends. It would be fascinating to know what really happened when the toured the Deep South 57 years ago.

The Thin Man movies – when drunks were funny

In 1934,  a “B” movie titled The Thin Man premiered. Audiences loved it so much, it spawned 5 Thin Man sequels which were given top  “A” billing. The Thin Man movies are still fun to watch, but the first thing modern viewers notice  is how much public attitudes towards alcohol changed, even during the course of the series.

William Powell & Myrna Loy in "The Thin Man"

William Powell & Myrna Loy in “The Thin Man”

William Powell stars as the heavy drinking private detective Nick Charles. He is helped in all his capers by his beautiful upper class wife Nora (Myrna Loy).  As The Thin Man series progresses, we learn that Nora fell in love with Nick partly because she found his world of crime and adventure so much more exciting than her sterile existence as a wealthy socialite.

The beautiful Myrna Loy

The beautiful Myrna Loy

Having people from different social classes fall in love was a popular theme in the 1930s. Most people today do not realize that Blondie was originally a showgirl (which is why she is so well-endowed). Dagwood came from a wealthy family, and it was considered shocking that he would actually marry such a “loose woman”. The Blondie comic strip first appeared in 1930 and Dagwood was disowned by his family when he married Blondie. He was forced to get a job for the first time in his life. That is why Dagwood is such an inept employee.

Blondie was a showgirl and Dagwood from a wealthy family.

Blondie was a showgirl and Dagwood from a wealthy family.

 In The Thin Man movies, Nora is beautiful, intelligent and madly in love with Nick. They were a very modern couple for the 1930s. They treated each other as equals, solved crimes together and were never jealous.

Then there was the drinking. Nick is shown drinking in almost every scene of the original The Thin Man. It is considered an amusing quirk of his personality.

Blondie in French 1931-1931. The mismatched couple was popular world wide

Blondie in French 1931-1931. The mismatched couple was popular world wide

The 6 Thin Man movies went from 1934-1947, with Nick drinking less alcohol in each film until he eventually gives up drinking completely. Being a drunk was no longer socially acceptable in American society.

Still, The Thin Man movies are fun to watch and are very cleverly written. The finale of every Thin Man Movie is when Nick and Nora gather all the murder suspects into a single room and reveal exactly who the murderer is. This format has been followed in countless movies and T.V. shows ever since.

So for for some fun, watch The Thin Man movies and see a modern lovely couple solve crimes 84 years ago. And what the heck, have a few drinks while you watch.

 

 

The “Endless Summer” Movie – Beauty and Innocence in 1966

In 1966, the documentary Endless Summer premiered, and America fell in love with surfing. What strikes us most about Endless Summer is the pure innocence of the film. Two surfers travel around the world looking for the perfect wave, yet there were no security concerns. No hours in  long lines at airports, no sub-machine gun carrying guards in public spaces. Has the world really changed that much since 1966, or were the surfers living in a fantasy world even then?

In 1966 America fell in love with Endless Summer

In 1966 America fell in love with Endless Summer

Endless Summer stars surfers Michael Hynson and Robert August, and is filmed and narrated by Bruce Brown. It was a low budget documentary, but it still holds up as a beautiful film. Bruce Brown was able to get some incredible surfing footage, especially considering that he was working with a hand-held camera. Much of the time, Bruce Brown is on a surfboard himself while he is filming Mike and Robert.

Michale Hyson in 1966 - Everybody wanted to be that cool.

Michale Hyson in 1966 – Everybody wanted to be that cool.

The 3 young men literally travel the world looking for the perfect wave. They visit Africa, Tahiti, California and Hawaii. They do, in fact, find the perfect wave in South Africa. They find a deserted beach, that had medium sized waves that come in at a perfect angle for long rides. Mike and Robert are able to surf on a single wave for over 45 minutes. And every wave at this South African beach is exactly like the one before.

Only 1 of the Beach Boys actually knew how to surf.

Only 1 of the Beach Boys actually knew how to surf.

Teenagers throughout the world wanted to be cool, and in 1966 nothing was cooler than an American surfer. The Beach Boys had released the album Surfin’ Safari in 1962 and it was a smash hit. Their publicity agents hid the fact that only 1 of the Beach Boys actually knew how to surf.

Robert Hynson & Robert August in Endless Summer

Michael Hynson & Robert August in Endless Summer

Endless Summer in 1966  was pure escapism.  Dreaming about spending your life searching for the perfect wave was a way for people to forget about what was really going on in the world.  President Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963, American troops were in Vietnam, the Soviet Union was at the height of its power and racial tensions were growing.

Bruce Brown - a pioneer in the art of filming surfers

Bruce Brown – a pioneer in the art of filming surfers

In fact, in South Africa Nelson Mandela was in prison at the same time the surfers were riding the Perfect Wave not many miles away. Mandel would remain in prison for another 25 years after the surfers left South Africa.

Only a handful of surfers in the world are qualified to ride the big waves

Only a handful of surfers in the world are qualified to ride the big waves

So take a look at Endless Summer and see it for the beautiful film it is. However don’t get overtaken by nostalgia and believe that was the way the World was in 1966. Rather, Endless Summer is a glimpse into how everyone wanted the world to be. Beautiful people riding perfect waves on clean empty beaches. A never-ending paradise in a world that is always sunny and full of love and adventure.

Old people “Mall Walkers” – America’s Greatest Athletes

America’s greatest athletes are those old people that walk in the malls at 7am every morning. You can see them in every mall in the United States, walking fast in their brightly colored track suits and spotlessly clean jogging shoes. Some of them even build up enough of a sweat that they have to remove the warm-up jacket, revealing the sleeveless muscle shirt underneath.

Old "mall walkers" stretch before their daily work out.

Old “mall walkers” stretch before their daily work out.

Of course, we are conditioned to admire 20 year old Olympic athletes and professional sports stars, but there is a lot to be said for those old mall walkers. They have to overcome obstacles  and traps that no professional sports figure has to face. They must walk by the delicious aroma from the  Cinnabon booth at the food court and resist the temptation to stop the workout and instead eat a 2,000 calorie breakfast.

A true mall walking athlete never uses the escalator.

A true mall walking athlete never uses the escalator.

They climb up and down the mall stairs while the empty escalators are just begging the old folks to use them.

Stopping at the Cinnabon booth is just one of the many temptations faced by mall walkers

Stopping at the Cinnabon booth is just one of the many temptations faced by mall walkers

As the young workers arrive at the mall, the old mall walkers must weave in an out of these groups of slow-moving “young people”, and put up with the smirks and not so hidden laughter directed at the old mall walkers.

A 2,000 calorie breakfast can quickly destroy the benefits of the mall walk.

A 2,000 calorie breakfast can quickly destroy the benefits of the mall walk.

Yes, the old mall walkers get neither fame nor fortune, but I respect  them. They have had to swallow their pride and admit that their ancient bodies can no longer tolerate jogging in the outdoor winter cold or broiling summer heat. So they have moved indoors to the constant temperature of the malls, and slowed their once-rapid running pace to a more reasonable walk.

lasting friendships are formed between mall walkers

lasting friendships are formed between mall walkers

Despite this compromise with Old Man Time their daily mall workout is their way of snubbing their nosed at Old Age and telling the rest of the World, “we’re still here, and don’t you forget it. Now get out of the way!”

Mall walking can help turn back time.

Mall walking can help turn back time.

Mall walkers are living proof of the old saying that, “you can’t turn back the clock, but nothing says you can’t wind it up again.”

Mall walkers enjoying the journey.

Mall walkers enjoying the journey.

These old folks are not trying to win a race, or get a medal or impress anyone.  That is why you see them laughing and joking with friends while they circle the same mall at the same time every day. They have reached a stage in life where they realize that enjoying the journey and cherishing the moment is more important than the actual destination. We could all learn something from these great athletes.

There Is No Such Thing As a Free Lunch – My Day as Milton Friedman’s Bodyguard

I  once spent a day as a bodyguard for Professor Milton Friedman, the Economist best known for saying “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. I was a young Economics major at Duke University. I was assigned with some other Economics majors to escort Milton Friedman when he came to Duke to give a speech.  In theory, we were there to show Milton Friedman around campus, but the reality was that we were acting as his bodyguards.

The 'dangerous radical", Economist Milton Friedman

The “dangerous radical”, Economist Milton Friedman

The Duke crowd was very hostile towards Milton Friedman. Students who were not Economics majors  thought of Friedman as a horrible person who hated poor people and wanted to keep the poor from getting the “free” services they deserved. When Milton Friedman  gave his speech, more than one student attempted to jump onto the stage to disrupt the proceedings, and had to be carried out by Security.

Milton Friedman's best selling book of essays.

Milton Friedman’s best selling book of essays.

Milton Friedman handled all this commotion with charm, politeness and a bemused attitude towards his detractors. He patiently explained that he was not against anyone. He was for “precision of language” and “personal freedom”. He had come to national attention by telling government officials to stop calling subsidized lunch programs “free.” Hence the phrase, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Dr. Friedman repeatedly pointed out that the lunch was not free, but was actually being paid for by people other than the people who were eating the lunch. The government was actually taking money from some people in the form of higher taxes, and giving it to other people in the form of food.

Milton Friedman was against all tariffs

Milton Friedman was against all tariffs

Friedman went on to explain was that he was not necessarily against these subsidized lunches. Citizens may decide that it actually benefits society as a whole to make sure that poor children have enough to eat. This could help these children do better in their classes which will lead them to be more productive members of society later in life. Such a decision may be the right thing to do. Just don’t pretend that it has no cost.

However, don’t dare call Milton Friedman a Conservative. He thought that marijuana should be legal nation-wide. Friedman considered  America’s “War On Drugs” a huge waste of money that was actually a “War On Freedom”. He also thought there should be zero tariffs world-wide

Milton Friedman thought America's "War On Drugs" was idiotic.

Milton Friedman thought America’s “War On Drugs” was idiotic.

This type of Libertarian  Economic analysis is heard often today, but at the time, many considered his pronouncements radical and even dangerous. In person, Milton Friedman was about the least radical looking person you would ever see. When I met him, he was a small, soft spoken middle-aged man, who needed to stand on a box to see over the podium when he gave  his “radical” speech.

Milton Friedman was against corporations giving any money to charity

Milton Friedman was against corporations giving any money to charity

Milton Friedman had a lot of ideas that most people still have trouble accepting. For example, he believed that corporations should not give any money to charity. He felt that companies have no right to give away money that actually belongs to the stockholders. If a company has extra cash and cannot come up with a good investment, then the company should return that money to the stockholders as a dividend. When the stockholders receive the money then they can decide how to spend their own money. They may want to give it to charity or they may not want to. In any case, the shareholders should have the personal freedom to decide what to do with their money.

At the end of a long day, we all escorted Milton Friedman back to the tiny Economics building at Duke. (Minuscule compared to the enormous facilities Duke provided for Chemistry, Law and Medicine.  In those days, most Duke students looked down on the pursuits  of Business or Economics ).

In the 1970s a lot of Duke University students were hostile towards Business & Economics.

In the 1970s a lot of Duke University students were hostile towards Business & Economics.

The Economics building had a coffee room where Milton Friedman graciously spent time chatting with the Economics students while he waited for the car which would take him to the airport.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is free coffee.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is free coffee.

By the big coffee pot in the Economics building, there was a jar where people were supposed to put in 25 cents whenever they had cup of coffee. (Obviously there has been a lot of inflation since then).  Over the pot one of the Economics Professors had put up a large typed sign. It reminded people to put in 25 cents, and complained that the majority of people were taking coffee and depositing nothing. The sign stated, “As Milton Friedman says there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Underneath the typed sign, someone had scrawled in magic marker, “But there is free coffee!” Milton Friedman laughed at the graffiti as he took his cup of coffee. I don’t remember if he put 25 cents in the jar, but I don’t think he did.

When Cars Were Beautiful and Had Giant Fins

When I was a boy, cars were beautiful pieces of rolling sculpture, with giant fins, gleaming chrome and massive engines. Even the wheels were works of art. Huge whitewall tires framed bright metallic hubcaps, that were intricate wire spokes, tiny wings or other imaginative designs.

Mustang Sally

Mustang Sally

Cars were not just machines enabling people to get around. They were expressions of who people were. Americans loved their cars and even wrote songs about them. Songs like Little GTO, Mustang Sally, Hot Rod Lincoln, Hey Little Cobra and Little Deuce Coupe. Even songs that did not have car names in the titles, revolved around cars. The Beach Boys, Fun Fun Fun is a song most people remember for the lyrics (Till her Daddy Takes the T-Bird Away).

1956 Ford Thunderbird

1956 Ford Thunderbird

Of course, these cars were death traps. Despite the incredibly powerful engines, there were no air bags, no padded dashboards, and for a long time not even any seat belts. When seat belts did become standard equipment, they were simple lap belts and most people did not buckle them.

No one is ever going to write a song about a Toyota Prius.

No one is ever going to write a song about a Toyota Prius.

Cars today are much safer, but along the way have lost all sense or personality and individuality. No one is ever going to write a song about a Ford Focus or a Toyota Prius. And for the most part, colors have disappeared. Today 57% of all cars in America are either White, Black or Grey.

Classic Pink Cadillac

Classic Pink Cadillac

People need to get back their sense of adventure and style. Don’t be afraid to show some color and individuality and get that muscle car you know you actually want.  If you are of a “certain age”, maybe you think people will be saying you are having a mid-life crisis.  Don’t worry about what those boring folks say. You won’t be able to hear them anyway over the roar of your engine.

When Men Wore Business Suits to Cut the Grass

When I was a boy in Stamford Connecticut, it was common to see old men mowing their lawns and doing other outdoor work, while wearing tattered business suits, white dress shirts and black wing-tipped business shoes. These men had grown up during the Great Depression, and to them wasting anything was considered an actual sin.

Adults wore old suits and white shirts to work in the yard. Kids could be more casual

Adults wore old suits and white shirts to work in the yard. Kids could be more casual

People dressed very formally to go to work. There was no such thing as “business casual”; not even the occasional “casual Friday.” When people’s formal business clothing got too worn and frayed to wear to work, the suits did not get thrown out. These old suits, shirts, and dress shoes, became the outfits men would wear while working in the yard, painting their house or fixing the gutters.

Even the Three Stooges wore suits and ties while working as plumbers

Even the Three Stooges wore suits and ties while working as plumbers

As children, we used to secretly laugh at these old guys toiling in the Summer Sun wearing white dress shirts, black socks and black wing tips. If it got too hot, some of the old guys would doff an old formal business hat, the kind you see in Humphrey Bogart movies.

Of course, we kids could not even imagine what the pain and hunger of the Great Depression had been like. The idea of not have enough food in America was beyond our  comprehension.

People who lived through the Great Depression never forgot the hardships

People who lived through the Great Depression never forgot the hardships

All of the old men had come out of poverty many decades before and the United States was prospering as never before. The old guys all could have afforded to simply throw out the old suits. They could afford to hire other people to mow the laws, paint houses or rake the leaves, but they did not. It was a matter of pride for people of that generation to never pay someone else to do something you could do yourself.

leftover rice became rice pudding

leftover rice became rice pudding

The women who grew up in the Great Depression had the same mindset. My Grandmother was a fantastic cook, yet she never threw anything out.  If she made rice one day, the extra rice never went in the garbage. It became rice stuffing or part of chicken and rice soup, or even rice pudding. Not a single grain was wasted.

Before the days of Business Casual"

Before the days of Business Casual”

Almost all of the Great Depression generation is gone now. Frugality has given away to conspicuous consumption. In my Grandparents day, people were taught to never show off how much money they had. In fact, to the people of that generation one of the rudest things someone could do was to ask someone else how much money they made. If you did that, the immediate response would be, “none of your business.”

As a kid, I made fun of these old folks. Now, looking back, I realize that their way of life had real value. Never wasting anything and never buying more than you need might be a happier way to live. The 2008 housing crash and subsequent financial crisis would not have happened if people had not bought homes that were many times more than they could actually afford. People of my Grandparents generation would never have done that. There is also real value in never showing off how much money you have and never asking anyone else about their financial situation. Living like that you learn to view people based on their core values, not their relative wealth.

The company where I work went to business casual long ago, and yet I still have a closet full of suits. Some are good enough to wear out to dinner or parties. Quite a few are rather worn and tattered but I have never gotten around to throwing them out.  I just can’t put the old suits in the garbage without thinking about how upset that would have made my Grandparents. This time of year, my yard is full of sticks and leaves that need raking. It seems to me that one of my old suits would be the perfect outfit for that. Perhaps with a pair of worn-out black leather shoes.

The 4 Best Thanksgiving Movies & T.V. Episodes

Here is our list of the 4 Best Movies & T.V. Episodes with Thanksgiving Themes.

Planes Train and Automobiles. This 1987 movie starring Steve Martin and John Candy continues to hold up as one of the funniest and most moving Thanksgiving films ever made. Steve Martin is Neal Page, a Chicago executive willing to do anything to get back home to Chicago in time for his family Thanksgiving. That is, Neal is willing to do anything except actually be nice to the people around him and notice that he is not the only person in America trying to get home. His nasty attitude makes him his own worst enemy and constantly sabotages his chances of getting home for Thanksgiving. Neal is helped by the happy, optimistic and somewhat crazy salesman Del Griffith, perfectly played by John Candy.

Steve Martin & John Candy in "Planes Trains and Automobiles"

Steve Martin & John Candy in “Planes Trains and Automobiles”

Del makes friends wherever he goes, and never gets angry or lashes out when things go wrong. One the other hand, Neil is so self-centered that he never once stops to wonder why Del is spending so much effort to help a stranger make it home. When Del’s secret is finally revealed it still brings tears to our eyes. John Candy’s performance in this scene is incredibly moving.

Unfortunately, John Candy died in 1994 at the age of 43. His performance in Planes Trains and Automobiles demonstrates that he had the talent to become a truly great dramatic actor. The word lost this talented Canadian far too soon.

Frank Bonner and Gordon Jump in "WKRP in Cincinnati" "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly"

Frank Bonner and Gordon Jump in “WKRP in Cincinnati” “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly”

WKRP in Cincinnati Turkey Bombs Episode 1978, has been replayed on T.V. every Thanksgiving for the past 39 years, but is still funny. It is hard to believe there is anyone in America who has not seen it. The WKRP sales manager Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) and station owner Mr. Carlson (Gordon Jump) hatch a plot to give a Thanksgiving surprise to the people of Cincinnati. What they don’t tell anyone is that the surprise consists of the release of live turkeys from a blimp over a crowd of unsuspecting Cincinnati citizens. While wild turkeys are beautiful in flight, domestic farm turkeys are too fat to ever get off the ground. Herb and Mr. Carlson release 100 farm turkeys from the blimp expecting them to soar though the sky. Instead they plummet to the ground like 20 pound bombs, smashing windshields, and causing the waiting crowd to run for cover.

Richard Sanders in "WKRP in Cincinnati"

Richard Sanders in “WKRP in Cincinnati”

The funniest part of the episode is Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) reporting the event on the radio exactly like it is the 1937 Hindenburg disaster in Lakehurst New Jersey. Richard Sanders does a perfect impression of radio reporter Herbert Morrison, who broke down on air while reporting the Hindenburg crash.

BEWITCHED - "Samantha's Thanksgiving to Remember" - Airdate: November 23, 1967. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY;DICK YORK

BEWITCHED – “Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember” – Airdate: November 23, 1967. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY;DICK YORK

Bewitched – Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember (1967), where the entire family is transported back to the original Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving through a magic spell. Darin (Dick York) is so worried that the Pilgrims will figure out that Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) is a witch that he fails to pay attention his own behavior. Darin’s use of modern language and slang quickly gets him branded as a witch. Bewitched was a silly, fun show with an ensemble cast of actors that truly enjoyed with each other. Dick York eventually had to leave the show; unable to work due to severe back problems. Actors in those days did not get paid the enormous sums they make today, and Dick York had real financial problems later in life. Despite his health and financial problems he never complained, and spent huge amount of time working tirelessly to help the homeless.

Rocky – Most people do not think of Rocky as a Thanksgiving movie, but Rocky is a film that shows the dark side of Thanksgiving. Rocky is not really a boxing film. Rocky  is a movie about lonely people trying desperately to prove  that they actually matter in the world. When Paulie (Burt Young) ruins Thanksgiving dinner, Adrian (Talia Shire) tells Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) how upset that made her. Rocky, responds, “to you its Thanksgiving. To me its Thursday.”

To many people Thanksgiving is the worst day of the year. People who are alone and desperate see television and movies over and over emphasize that everyone else in America is spending the day with loving friends and family. No wonder that Thanksgiving has one of the highest suicide rates of the year.

Talia Shire and Sylvester Stallone in Rocky

Talia Shire and Sylvester Stallone in Rocky

Rocky is not about winning a boxing match. Rocky is about Rocky, Adrian, and Micky (Burgess Meredith) all winning their self respect. Paulie never does quite get his self respect, but he does have Adrian and Rocky continue to  stand by him, despite his faults.

You may notice that we don’t have any new shows on this list. Perhaps it is just nostalgia, but we really fell that these old shows captured the true spirit of the holiday.

We at East Coast Stories wish our readers a happy Thanksgiving. If like , Rocky you find that the day is not Thanksgiving but just another Thursday, don’t despair. There are thousands of people who feel just like you. Things will get better.

9 Duke University Rumors, Truths & Embarrassments

Here are  9 Duke University Rumors, Truths and Embarrassments. We will leave it to you to figure out which is which.

James B. Duke actually wanted to donate his money to Princeton University, but Princeton refused to rename itself “Duke”. However, Durham North Carolina’s Trinity College was happy to accept the endowment and rename itself Duke University.  The “official” version is that James B. Duke donated the funds without strings attached, and that the board of trustees “insisted” that Trinity be renamed Duke.

Duke University, which is designed to look like Princeton

Duke University, which is designed to look like Princeton

Duke was built to try to look as old as the Ivy League colleges. This included making the steps out of soft sandstone so that they would wear down quickly and look like they had been there for a hundred years or more.  However, the steps wore down so quickly that many had to be replaced by hard cement, which certainly did not look Ivy League.

Princeton University, which refused to change its name to Duke

Princeton University, which refused to change its name to Duke

Duke continues to have an inferiority complex against the Ivy League schools. Duke is often referred to as “the Harvard of the South”. Anyone from Duke hates that expression and does not consider it a compliment. If you use that expression a Duke person will immediately say, “Duke is NOT the Harvard of the South. Harvard is the Duke of the North.” When movies are shown on Duke’s  campus, if Harvard University happens to appear in a film, Duke students will boo and hiss.

Duke fans yell as Clemson's K.J. McDaniels inbounds the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Durham.

Duke fans yell as Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels inbounds the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Durham.

Basketball was not invented at Duke but outrageously crazy basketball fan behavior was. There was a time in the distant past when basketball fans observed a certain etiquette, such as remaining silent when a player from an opposing team had a foul shot. Duke fans at Cameron Stadium ended all that. It was Duke fans that began the practice of screaming and waving banners to distract the opposing players during foul shots. Duke basketball fans also go to the trouble of finding out as much embarrassing personal information about the opposing players as possible. At one game, the opposing team had a player who had once been arrested for stealing a car.  Each time that player had a foul shot, every Duke fan in Cameron Stadium took out car keys and jingled them. That player missed every shot.

UNC fans express their feelings towards Duke

UNC fans express their feelings towards Duke

The “Four Q” cheer was invented at Duke. The cheerleaders repeat four times, “Give me a Q.” Then the cheerleaders ask, “what does it spell?”. The Duke crowd screams “FOUR Q!”. (Say it real fast and see what it sounds like.).

The gorgeous Doris Duke

The gorgeous Doris Duke

There is a stone wall around Duke’s “women’s campus” that is three feet above ground and 9 feet underground. At the time it was built the East Campus was for women only and the men were on the West Campus. An old alumnus donated a large amount of money, with the proviso that some of it had to be used to build a 12 foot wall around the women’s campus in order to keep the men and women separate. Duke took the money and built the 12 foot wall. Nine feet of it is underground, while above ground is an artistically lovely stone wall that looks like it belongs in New England.

American Tobacco Company gave free packs of cigarettes to immigrants arriving at Ellis Island

American Tobacco Company gave free packs of cigarettes to immigrants arriving at Ellis Island

James B. Duke hugely increased the sales of the American Tobacco company by having the company hand out free cigarettes packs to immigrants on Ellis Island. It was a stroke of marketing genius. Cigarette smokers are notoriously fickle and usually change brands many times over the course of a lifetime. Duke stationed men exactly where immigrants came out after having been cleared at Ellis Island. The American Tobacco men would give the immigrants a warm greeting and say “welcome to America”, and give each one a free pack of cigarettes. Later marketing studies showed that the immigrants were so impressed with getting something for free on the first day in America that almost 100% of them never switched to another cigarette brand. It is unclear if the immigrant children were given free cigarette packs as well as the adults. However, we have a strong feeling they were.

Southerners do not consider Duke a real Southern School, since most of the professors and students are actually Northerners. In fact UNC students have bumper stickers making fun of “Dook”, which is a dig at the way Northerners pronounce Duke. A real Southerner pronounces it “Duue_uke”, somehow stretching it out to a two syllable word.

Duke Rice diet participants

Duke Rice diet participants

In the 1970’s the Duke Medical Center was best known for the Rice Diet. Morbidly obese people from all over the country flocked to Duke for Doctor Walter Kempner’s rice diet. They would stuff themselves with huge amounts of white rice, thinking that this would somehow make them lose weight. Apparently none of them ever saw a Sumo Wrestler.  Comedian Buddy Hackett came to Duke for 2 weeks every year. When he was not  at the Duke Medical Center, Buddy Hackett was usually at the Dope Shop (the basement hamburger stand) wolfing down hamburgers, and buying food for crowds of students. So the Duke Medical Center, which is now famous for heart transplants and other amazing procedures, was once just home of a fad diet

Buddy Hackett, who never lost an ounce on the Duke Rice Diet

Buddy Hackett, who never lost an ounce on the Duke Rice Diet

Some of these are true and some are just rumors. How much to you really know about Duke University?

The Naked Sun- Isaac Asimov’s Erotic Sci-Fi Mystery

The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov was the first Science Fiction book I ever bought . It had a beautiful naked woman on the cover, which was why I bought it.  I was in middle school, and the library was having a used book sale. I could not believe the school had an erotic book for sale. I grabbed it and quickly paid, half expecting the ancient librarian to snatch it out of my hand and slap my face. Instead, she simply took my money and moved on to the next customer.

The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov - the original erotic cover

The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov – the original erotic cover

Of course, the woman on the cover of The Naked Sun was not completely nude. A couple of key parts were strategically covered by stars. However, to a  a boy in middle school in those days, this was still incredibly exciting, even with the stars.

The Naked Sun author Isaac Asimov

The Naked Sun author Isaac Asimov

The Naked Sun was not the smutty sex book I was expecting. However, it did turn out to be a terrific story, and turned me on to the wonderful universe of Science Fiction writing. Of course, Isaac Asimov was one of the best science fiction writers of all time. Although The Naked Sun was released in 1957, its story still resonates today.

People on the internet, completely ignoring the real people next to them

People on the internet, completely ignoring the real people next to them

The Naked Sun is a murder mystery that takes place on the planet Solaria, and the investigating detective is from Earth. The main suspect is Gladia, the beautiful widow of the murder victim. On Solaria, the main form of communication is “Viewing” where people contact each other through devices allowing them to see and hear each other remotely. Remember that The Naked Sun was written decades before the internet or Skype.

Twilight Zone to get social commentary past T.V. censors

Rod Serling used The Twilight Zone to get social commentary past T.V. censors

Asimov’s predictions of how such viewing devices would change human behavior were amazingly accurate. In The Naked Sun, people prefer Viewing to any actual face -to-face meetings. People will be very open and even intimate while viewing, yet feel awkward and shy in real physical meetings. This prediction came true. Take a look at any Starbucks, and you will see people having “relationships” on their cell phones or laptops, while completely ignoring the real humans  sitting right next to them.

Star Wars was actually about the religious awaking of Luke Skywalker

Star Wars was actually about the religious awaking of Luke Skywalker

There is actual nudity in The Naked Sun. The detective Elijah first interviews Gladia on the viewing device, and she is completely relaxed about changing clothing while speaking with him. He is shocked to find that she does not consider it at all inappropriate for a stranger to see her naked. However, later when they actually meet in person, she is covered head to toe, including long gloves. The Naked Sun accurately predicted our strange modern world where people act completely different on the internet than they do in “real life”. In some ways in The Naked Sun, Earth is 1957, while Solarnia is Earth of The Future.

Science Fiction has never gotten the respect given to other genres. In some ways this has been its greatest strength. Censors never took science fiction seriously and consequently did not pay that much attention to it. Rod Serling was able to use the The Twilight Zone to explore social and moral issues that television censors would have banned in “serious” dramas. Star Wars was actually about a religious awaking in Luke Skywalker, who comes to believe in an invisible  “force” which connects all living entities in the universe. In  Half A Life, Soviet author Kirill Bulychev was able to criticize the Soviet Union, without getting himself thrown into a gulag.

So take a look at the classics of science fiction, even if the last time you read science fiction stories was when you were a kid. You may find that now that you are an adult you find a new and deeper meaning to these adventures. The Naked Sun is a good book to start with. By the way, even after these years, the woman on the cover of The Naked Sun Still looks great.

A Stupid and Futile Gesture – The Rise and Fall of National Lampoon

A Stupid and Futile Gesture on Netflix is the fascinating story of the meteoric rise and tragic crash of National Lampoon; the magazine that changed American humor and culture forever.  National Lampoon created Animal House, Caddyshack, the Chevy Chase Vacation movies, and of course, one of the best humor magazines ever published. Saturday Night Live was started by people who were lured away from National Lampoon. Lorne Michaels still gets credit for being a creative genius, but all he did was take the actors and writers of The National Lampoon Radio Hour and offer them more money to come to NBC and start Saturday Night Live.

The Dog Killer National Lampoon Cover

The Dog Killer National Lampoon Cover

Will Forte plays Doug Kenney, and Domhnall Gleeson plays Henry Beard, the two co-founders of National Lampoon. Doug and Henry ran the Harvard Lampoon, and did not want the fun to stop when they graduated.  Henry Beard had been accepted to Columbia Law School, but somehow Doug Kenney was able to convince him to forego law school and join Doug’s quest to start National Lampoon. It was a ridiculous idea.  They had no money, no business experience, and had never managed anything other than a college magazine. Every publisher turned them down, except a company whose only “major” publication was Weight Watcher’s Magazine.

Will Forte & Domhnall Gleeson in "A Stupid & Futile Gesture"

Will Forte & Domhnall Gleeson in “A Stupid & Futile Gesture”

A Stupid and Futile Gesture captures the wild 1970’s. National Lampoon Magazine was based in New York City and was able to attract a group of hugely talented, somewhat insane  writers, artists and actors. They were fueled by caffeine, cocaine, alcohol and creative genius.

Doug Kenney & Henry Beard

Doug Kenney & Henry Beard

National Lampoon Magazine spoofed American culture. The magazine started at a perfect time, since to many it appeared that “traditional” America had gone crazy. The Vietnam War was a disaster, there was social and racial unrest, crime rates were rising and drug use was skyrocketing. In the true tradition of comedy, National Lampoon made fun of it all.

National Lampoon's High School Yearbook Parody- its best selling issue ever.

National Lampoon’s High School Yearbook Parody- its best selling issue ever.

Nothing was sacred to National Lampoon. Perhaps its most famous cover was the one where a nice but worried looking dog has a gun held to its head. In bold letters, the cover says, “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog.”

National Lampoon had nudity, dirty jokes, political satire and very dark humor. In one issue there was an advertisement that was a spoof of the Save The Children Foundation.  The advertisement was for Lieutenant William Calley’s Kill The Children Foundation. Of course, Lieutenant Calley was the man whose unit murdered 22 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai Massacre.

National Lampoon's Nixon cover

National Lampoon’s Nixon cover

Doug Kenney and Henry Beard were ready for anything, except the tremendous success of National Lampoon. As National Lampoon grew, so did the hours and the pressure. They went from being a couple of guys having fun at a college magazine, to being men who had to run a major national publication, a radio show and various movie ventures. Doug tried to cope by using more and more drugs. Henry just wanted out.

The publication company was contractually obligated to offer Doug and Henry a payout based on the magazine’s profits. The profits were by then so large that the bonuses would be a major cash drain on the company, to the point of actually threatening the survival of National Lampoon. Doug and Henry insisted on taking the payout in a lump sum, instead of spreading it out over a number of years like the publication company wanted.

What happened next is accurately portrayed in A Stupid and Futile Gesture, although many viewers will probably assume it was an exaggeration for the movie. Henry Beard took his payout check and immediacy cleaned out his desk.  He then stood in the main room of the magazine and said to the writers and artists, “Goodbye and F*** You.”. Henry Beard then left National Lampoon and never came back.

Doug Kenney stayed on and tried to run everything himself. Neither Doug nor Henry every shared a penny of their bonuses with any of the writers, artists, actors or anyone else who had helped create National Lampoon.

People continue to copy National Lampoon

People continue to copy National Lampoon

Doug Kenney could not run it all alone. Even when Henry had been there, Doug had never been very steady, sometimes disappearing for months at a time. Eventually he just had to get away and he took off to Hawaii.  What happened next is still a mystery. Did he get clean of drugs in Hawaii, or did he fall further into drug dependence? All we know for sure is that he went out for a hike one day, went off a tall cliff and died. To this day, people argue about whether he committed suicide or simply fell.

Henry Beard is often asked whether Doug jumped from the cliff or fell.  Henry always give the same dark humorous answer. Henry says, “Doug probably fell off the cliff while looking for a place to jump.” Some people might find that a sick joke, but it is exactly the type of humor Doug Kenney would have laughed at.

Boston-New York Hatred, the Sexy New York Mistress and Babe Ruth

The people of Boston and New York City have hated each other since the founding of The United States. In fact, Boston and New York hate each other because of the founding of the United States. The people of Boston wanted independence from the British, whereas most of the people of New York did not. The City of New York has always revolved around business and trade. This makes sense. It was founded as New Amsterdam by the Dutch, a culture that thrives on trade even today.

British General William Howe. The man who lost the Revolutionary War to the Americans

British General William Howe. The man who lost the Revolutionary War to the Americans

In 1776 New Yorkers had no interest in joining Bostonians in a revolt against America’s largest trading partner. The idea of losing lucrative export-import contracts horrified New York business tycoons. That is why New Yorkers welcomed with open arms the British Red Coats who arrived in the thousands to put down the upstart American Colonies.

One of the most welcoming New Yorkers was the beautiful, 25 year old  Mrs. Elizabeth Lloyd Loring.  She quickly became the mistress of British General Howe, the commander of all British forces in American. People in Boston spoke about Elizabeth Loring in terms too obscene to be printed here. However, in retrospect the American Patriots should have praised the sexual skills of Mrs. Loring. She is possibly the single individual most directly responsible for the British losing the American Revolution. Sadly there is no painting of Mrs. Loring.

Make no mistake about it. The Americans did not win the revolution, the British lost it. The British had superior land and naval forces, better training, better weapons, and plenty of money to buy food supplies, horses and anything else they required.

However, unlike the Americans, General William Howe took a gentleman’s approach to war. If not for that, the Americans would have lost the revolution in the first year. The first winter of the American Revolution, George Washington’s forces were totally defeated. They were nothing more than a disheveled mob of starving, cold men marching through New Jersey trying to get to Pennsylvania where they could hide.

General Howe’s officers begged him to lead a winter attack on Washington’s troops and wipe out the last of the American Army. Historians have no doubt that such an attack would have been successful and the American Revolution would have ended up as nothing more than a footnote in British history book.

However, General Howe had no intention of leaving the warm New York bed of Elisabeth Loring, in order to tramp through the frozen wilderness of New Jersey. Howe informed his shocked officers to return with their men to spend the winter in New York City. The pursuit of Washington could wait until Spring.

William Howe had no intention of ending the war too quickly. It never even occurred to him that it was possible to lose. He knew that he could crush the Americans whenever he desired. However, what he desired that Winter was to continue to be entertained day and night by the New York Loyalists, who patriotically supported the British king. General Howe controlled the money of an entire army, and could use it for whatever purchases he thought the army needed. New York business families fawned over Howe constantly, trying to win his favor for lucrative army contracts. Business families entertained Howe all day and Elizabeth Loring entertained him all night. While all this was going on, the people of Boston were having trouble enough  getting supplies and food due to the British blockade. No wonder the Bostonians hated the New Yorkers.

As the war dragged on, the American Patriot Francis Hopkinson (one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence) could not resist turning the Howe-Loring affair into what for the day was a scandalous poem. The author, Francis Hopkinson was the representative from New Jersey at the Continental Congress.

               “Sir William he, snug s a flea,

               Lay all this time a snoring,

               Nor dreamed of harm, as he lay warm,

               In bed with Mr. Loring.”

 You would think that when the American Patriots won the revolution after many years of fighting that Boston would finally have its revenge on New York. However, this was not to be.

When the Americans won the revolution, there was one final event that sealed forever the hatred of Bostonians towards New York. When the United States Constitution was finally ratified, the Capital of The United States became New York City (in 1789). Boston was not even considered.

Babe Ruth was a Boston Red Sox player until being traded to the New York Yankees in 1920

Babe Ruth was a Boston Red Sox player until being traded to the New York Yankees in 1920

This was not the last time New York City was to take something from Boston. In 1920, Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Babe Ruth, of course, went on to become the greatest baseball player of a generation, and the Yankees won World Series after World Series. Not only did Harry Frazee trade Babe Ruth to New York, the trade took place because of New York. You see, Harry Frazee had no interest in baseball. His goal in life was to have a successful Broadway play. He was in love with the New York theater, Broadway and all the temptations of New York’s nightlife.

Boston Red Sox fans show what they think of the New York Yankees

Boston Red Sox fans show what they think of the New York Yankees

Harry Frazee thought of The Boston Red Sox as nothing more than a piggy bank to finance his Broadway musicals. Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000 plus $300,000 in loans. This was was a incredible amount of money in 1920. Frazee spent all the money trying to come up with a hit Broadway show. Despite many attempts, Frazee never had a successful play in New York. The Boston Red Sox went 86 years after the Babe Ruth trade before Boston won a World Series. In that same period, The New York Yankees won 26 World Series.

So if you are ever in Boston and are stupid enough to wear a New York Yankees T-shirt, you may find some Southie screaming obscenities at you. Don’t take it personally. This is just part of a long American tradition.

 

French Fry Fun Facts for July 4th

Here are some fun facts about French Fries. What could be more American on July 4th?

  • The average American eats 14 pounds of French Fries per year. So if you are not eating that much someone else is eating more.

The Average American eats 14 pounds of French Fries per year

The Average American eats 14 pounds of French Fries per year

Thomas Jefferson once served French Fries at a White House diplomatic dinner.

Thomas Jefferson served French Fries at the White House.

Thomas Jefferson served French Fries at the White House.

  • Until 1930 Americans all referred to the food as “French Fried Potatoes”. Then people just started calling them “French Fries. No one knows why.

In the UK & Ireland, French Fries are Chips and Potato Chips are Crisps

In the UK & Ireland, French Fries are Chips and Potato Chips are Crisps

  • In many parts of the world French Fries are known as American Fries. Of course, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, people call them Chips. This continues to confuse American tourists who think people are talking about potato chips.  (Potato Chips are called Crisps).

1 of every 5 meals in American restaurants comes with French Fries

1 of every 5 meals in American restaurants comes with French Fries

  • One out of every 5 meals served in American restaurants has French Fries as a side dish.
  • French Fries come in varieties with and without the potato skins. The French Fries with the potato skins still on are actually better for you; since taking off the potato skin loses important vitamins. (Of course, if you think French Fries are a health food, you need to study up on nutrition.)
  • There are over 10,000 different varieties of potatoes, but almost all French Fries are made from the Russet Potato.

So enjoy America’s independence with some French Fries. If anyone criticizes your culinary choice, just tell them you are following in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson.

9 Top Songs About Death, Killers & Suicide

Most songs are about Love, but the topics of Death, Murderer and Suicide  are also surprisingly popular. Here are the Top 9 Death, Murder & Suicide Songs

Ring Around the Rosie was first sung in Europe in 1350 and is about the Bubonic Plague that killed over 25% of the population. The words describe the symptoms and eventual death of someone with the Bubonic Plague (Black Death). A red rash (Rosie Ring) appears around the neck of the plague victim. Then the person has uncontrollable sneezing (Achoo Achoo). Then the person falls down dead.   Posies are bunches of flowers that were put in the pockets of the dead to try to keep the corpses from stinking too much. Put this all together and we get the charming children song that kids still sing today.

          “Ring Around the Rosie, A Pocked Full of Posie, Achoo Achoo, We all fall down.”

(Often today, the words have been changes from “Achoo, Achoo” to Ashes, Ashes”)

The Kids' song Ring Around The Roise is really about the Bubonic Plague

The Kids’ song Ring Around The Roise is really about the Bubonic Plague

Fire and Rain written by James Taylor in 1970 is about a man grieving for his lover (Suzanne) who died in a plane crash. Fire and Rain took on a whole new meaning after the 9/11 terrorist attack when James Taylor sang it to the families of fallen police and firefighters.

James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" took on a who new meaning after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” took on a who new meaning after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer released by The Beatles in 1969 is a catchy, darkly comic tune about a serial killer bashing people’s heads in with a silver hammer. Maxwell is a medical student who never seems to get caught for his crimes. Perhaps he is still practicing medicine in some British Hospital even today.

George Harrison & John Lennon joking around

George Harrison & John Lennon joking around

Riders On The Storm released by The Doors in 1971 is about a hitchhiker, who murders anyone who foolish enough to pick him up. Jim Morrison was totally obsessed with death and to this day people argue about whether Morrison died of an accidental overdose or if he committed suicide. Riders On The Storm is about the real hitchhiker serial killer Billy Cook who murdered 6 people between 1950 and 1951.

Riders on the Storm was just one of The Doors songs about death

Riders on the Storm was just one of The Doors songs about death

Last Kiss is a heart wrenching song about a girl killed in a car crash while her boyfriend is driving. The singer is the boyfriend who holds his dying girlfriend in his arms while the rain pours down on the accident scene. Most people today know the 1999 version released by Pearl Jam. However Last Kiss was written by Wayne Cochran who released it in 1961. He was never able to have a hit with his own version, but J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers made it to the number 2 song in the country in 1964.

Last Kiss is about a young woman who dies in a car wreck

Last Kiss is about a young woman who dies in a car wreck

I’ll Be Missing You released by Puff Daddy & Faith Evans in 1997 as a tribute to the murdered rapper Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace). I’ll Be Missing You uses the melody from Sting’s Every Breath You Take. Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997 in a drive-by shooting. His murder has never been solved. It is generally assumed that the Notorious B.I.G. murder was part of the ongoing East Coast/West Coast hip hop/rapper war. Many in the African-American community are furious that this murder and other murders of the East Coast/West Coast war remain unsolved. They argue that if the people being murdered were middle class white businessmen the police response would have been much more extensive.

Notorious B.I.G. whose murder was never solved. Some say the police did not try very hard to find the killer.

Notorious B.I.G. whose murder was never solved. Some say the police did not try very hard to find the killer.

Psycho Killer – performed by Talking Heads in 1975 and has a very catchy beat despite being about a killer. However, unlike Maxwell’s Silver Hammer there is nothing comic about the song. Talking Heads denies it was about the Son Of Sam killer but it has eerie similarities.

Talking Heads made "Psycho Killer" a hit.

Talking Heads made “Psycho Killer” a hit.

The A Team by Ed Sheeran in 2011 is about a crack-addicted prostitute slowly dying from malnutrition, cold and drugs. There is debate about whether or not the woman actually dies at the end of the song. Some say “it’s too cold out for angels to fly” means she is dead but it’s too cold for the angels to come for her soul. Other people argue the verse just means it’s too cold for the woman go outside and turn another trick.  However, the three last words of the song are “Angels to die.” An amazing number of people who love this song think it is just a nice-sounding ballad and have no idea what it is about. One of the strangest experiences we ever had was being at a Taylor Swift concert in New Jersey where Ed Sheeran was the warm-up act. When Ed Sheeran sang The A Team; crowds of 13 year old girls happily cheered and smiled and sang along knowing all the words. Did the girls or their parents understand the song is about a dying crack-whore? The title The A Team stands for the fact that the amount of drugs the woman has constitutes a Class A Felony.

"The A Team" by Ed Sheeran is a about a dying crack whore yet little girls sing along to it

“The A Team” by Ed Sheeran is a about a dying crack whore yet little girls sing along to it

Angel by Sarah McLachlan. Most people incorrectly think the title of this 1991 song is In The Arms Of The Angel. It is about the heroin overdose death of Jonathan Melvoin of Smashing Pumpkins. Sarah McLachlan’s  hauntingly beautiful voice makes the listener hope that perhaps Jonathan Melvoin  really did find peace at last. The last words of Angel are, “You’re in the arms of the angel; may you find some comfort here.”

Sarah McLachlan the beautiful angel who sings "Angel"

Sarah McLachlan the beautiful angel who sings “Angel”

So that is the list of the top death, murder & suicide songs that have made it into popular culture. In researching the list we found that these subjects are, in fact, hugely covered in popular music and have been for centuries. There were many more than we could put into one article. They range from Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife about a mob hit man to the western ballad The Streets of  Laredo, about a cowboy killed in a gun fight. There is even the hit Leader Of The Pack with death by motorcycle accident.

Yes, Love still has the most number of songs, but Death has also inspired some very fine music itself.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor – a beautiful film about the life of Mister Rogers

Won’t You  Be My Neighbor is a beautiful documentary about Fred Rogers, from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, who had a completely new vision for children’s television. Fred Rogers was disgusted with fact that commercial television’s children’s shows were violent or stupid and treated kids as idiots. Mister Rogers wanted a show that would actually communicate with children and talk to them about important issues in their lives.

"Won't You Be My Neighbor" - a must-see movie

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” – a must-see movie

Despite having no training in T.V.  Fred Rogers was able to get a show on Pittsburgh Public Television. It was low budget, slow moving and kids loved it. The station did not realize how popular it was until one day they ran a promotion allowing kids and parents to come in and meet Fred Rogers personally. Lines of kids and parents stretched down the block like it was a Hollywood premier. Mister Rogers became the first Public Television star.

Mister Rogers believed in actively working t make the world a better place.

Mister Rogers believed in actively working t make the world a better place.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor has some amazing footage of Fred Rogers. In 1969, President Nixon wanted to get rid of all government funding to Public Television and instead use the money for the Vietnam War. Senator John Pastore held public hearings about the cut, which Senator Pastore was very much in favor of. Won’t You Be My Neighbor shows Fred Rogers appearing before a very hostile, rude and confrontational Senate panel. Instead of responding with anger, Mister Rogers calmly discusses the importance of treating children with love and respect, and Mister Rogers even reads the words of one of the songs he sings on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers’ words deeply move Senator Pastore who says, “that was beautiful” and the Senator recommends granting $20 Million to Public television.

Children loved Mr. Rogers

Children loved Mr. Rogers

Despite its appearance,  Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a very structured show and actors had to stick strictly to the script. Fred Rogers had very specific ideas he wanted to teach to children. Most importantly he wanted to make sure kids understood the difference between fantasy and reality. Part of each show, the Magic Trolley would travel into the Land Of Make Believe.  That fantasy world was full of puppets and other special characters, but Mister Rogers himself never appeared in the Land Of Make Believe. Fred Rogers was very upset about reports of kids jumping out of windows thinking they could fly like Superman. He wanted to use Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to teach kids about what is real and what is not.

Mister Rogers also spoke directly on the show to children about very difficult subjects. After the Robert Kennedy assassination,  Mister Rogers  Neighborhood discussed death. There were shows about divorce and acceptance of other people. Mister Rogers was retired when the 9/11 attacks occurred. Fred Rogers came out of retirement and did a special show to help sooth the fears of children throughout the country.

There is really no one on the air like Fred Rogers today. As the country and the World become more polarized, his message of love and understanding can easily get lost amid the shouting and hatred. Fred Rogers died on February 27, 2003. He is survived by his wife and children. At his memorial service protestors showed up across the street carrying signs that read “God Hates Fags”. One of the mourners walked across the street and asked if they were claiming Fred Rogers was gay. (He was not.) The protestor replied that they did not think Mister Rogers was gay, but that they hated him because he tolerated gays.

Protesters at Mister Rogers Funeral

Protesters at Mister Rogers Funeral

Fred Rogers was a profoundly religious man whose view of Christianity was diametrically opposed to that of the protestors. Fred Rogers believed in a God of love and acceptance. Mister Rogers believed that the good people of the World can persevere and win against hatred, violence and stupidity. Fred Rogers believed that the real message of God is and has always been a message of Love.

The Silence Of The Soup – My True Crime Confession

I hereby confess that I committed a crime  in New York with a can of French Onion Soup. I don’t feel badly about my crime. In fact, it makes me smile every time I think of it.  I was sound asleep in my apartment with no thoughts of committing a crime, when at 3AM I was jolted awake by the sound of throbbing music shaking the whole building.  The pounding of the base went on and  on and it was impossible to sleep.

New York Windows

New York Windows

I got up, got dressed and left my apartment to search for the sound. As soon as I went into the hallway, I was immediately accosted by a large muscular  tenant demanding to know if that was my music.  I let him listen at my door to prove the sound was not emanating from my apartment. Satisfied, the large man stormed off searching every floor of the building to try to find the sound.  But unlike the large tenant, I soon came to realize that the sound was coming from outside the building.  The back stairwell of my building had frosted windows, which the landlord had illegally nailed shut. Through these windows I could clearly hear the throbbing sounds  from outside.I went back to my apartment, got a hammer, and returned to the back stairs. I used the hammer to pull out the nails and open one of the windows.

No one is impressed by the size of your speakers

No one is impressed by the size of your speakers

In another building across the street, almost a block away, I saw an amazing site.  In an upper story apartment  there were two 5 foot tall stereo speakers , facing outward. They were sitting  in an open window, blasting their sounds to the entire neighborhood.  From other apartment windows up and down the block, people were screaming obscenities and yelling for the music to be turned off. There was a man in the apartment with the speakers and he seemed completely oblivious to the screams of his neighbors. The man was standing looking out the window while drinking tea (or maybe coffee) from a porcelain cup.  He had a smile on his face, like all the world was enjoying his music. I could see all this clearly, since every light in his apartment was on, and he had no curtains.

Throbbing base music at 3am

Throbbing base music at 3am

No one, including me, called the police.  Crime in New York was very high in those days, and everyone knew the police were not going to respond to a call about loud music. I decided it was time for direct action. I returned to my apartment and got a carton of eggs. Perhaps if I could throw an egg and hit one of the speakers the smiling man would get the hint that 3AM was not the time to share your tunes with the world.

Man arrested for soup can crime

Man arrested for soup can crime

I stood in the window of the back stairwell and tossed one egg after another with no luck. No matter what I did, I could not throw one far enough to hit the other building. One by one the eggs fell onto the empty street below.

I returned to my apartment defeated. The throbbing music continued and sleep remained impossible. Then, on the shelf over the stove, I saw the solution. A can of French Onion soup. Unlike an egg, a can of soup would have enough weight for me to throw it an entire block. If I could toss the can in a wide arc, it may just be able to knock a speaker off the windowsill, and back into the smiling man’s apartment. That would surely convince him that it was time to turn off the music.

French onion soup - the perfect stealth weapon

French onion soup – the perfect stealth weapon

Throwing a can of soup to an upper window a city block away is quite an athletic feat. Doing that while hitting a target the side of a stereo speaker required the accuracy of a major league baseball pitcher.

Broken window quiets a noisy neighbor

Broken window quiets a noisy neighbor

I took a running start and threw the French Onion soup can with all my might. It  went in a high fast arc, right to the apartment. It almost hit the speaker, but it was sailing too far to the left.  It missed the speakers, but did hit the window just left of the speakers.  The soup can was moving  with  such force that it shattered the glass and flew into the smiling man’s apartment.  Shocked at this turn of events, I ran out of the stairwell and back to my apartment before the smiling man could turn and get a glimpse of me. Less than a minute after I returned to my apartment, the throbbing music stopped, never to return.

Does this story have a moral? That’s hard to say. Is it about vigilante justice, annoying neighbors, or simply the impulsive passions of youth? This incident took place may years ago and I don’t think I could make that shot with the can again if I tried a hundred times.

Today I  am much more mature. I would not throw a can of of soup. I might call the police hoping they would take action. More likely, I would probably  just put up with the noise trying to turn the other cheek and not let the rudeness of others bother  me.  These are the mature adult things to do.

But back then I was not a mature adult. I was young and strong and there was no middle ground to any of my feelings. I either passionately  loved or hated whatever was around. I hated the smiling man with the teacup  and his  loud music.  I felt that justice had been served when his window  got smashed. Today that kind of fury and passion seems as far away as the forgotten sound from the smiling man’s speakers.  Today there is just the silence of the soup. Life is a lot easier without that type of instant anger. Still, there are times I miss the instant strength, clarity and sense of purpose that once could be summoned on a moments notice.

Perhaps the best moral of the story is quote from  Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw who in 1931 said, “youth is the most beautiful thing in this world – and what a pity it has to be wasted on children.”

Marlo Thomas in “That Girl” – The First Feminist on T.V.

Marlo Thomas was the first T.V. feminist in the 1966 show That Girl on ABC. That Girl was a revolutionary show since it was about a single young career woman (Ann Marie) alone in New York. This was 4 years before the appearance of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on CBS. Marlo Thomas had to fight the ABC executives every step of the way to keep the main character in That Girl on track as a career woman. Until That Girl every woman on television was a wife and mother or maybe some main male character’s girlfriend.

Marlo Thomas in "That Girl"

Marlo Thomas in “That Girl”

That Girl is about Anne Marie (Marlo Thomas), who moves to New York City with the goal of being a professional actress. Her goal is not to find a man, or to be an actress until she gets married. Her goal is to be an actress.

Ted Bessell as Donald Hollinger in "That Girl"

Ted Bessell as Donald Hollinger in “That Girl”

However, the T.V. executives insisted that the main character in That Girl must have a boyfriend. They simply refused to make the show without that. Therefore, Ted Bessell was cast as Ann Marie’s boyfriend Donald Hollinger. Although Ted Bessell is a good actor, it is obvious that his character was forced into the That Girl plots. There is simply no on-screen romantic chemistry between Marlo Thomas and Ted Bessell. In his appearances on That Girl he seems more like a family friend or an order brother than a boyfriend.

Ted Bessell & Marlo Thomas in "That Girl"

Ted Bessell & Marlo Thomas in “That Girl”

From the very beginning Marlo Thomas said That Girl would never have a marriage episode. Marlo Thomas told the writers that she would quit the show if they ever handed her a That Girl with a wedding scene. The final episode of That Girl does have Ann Marie getting engaged. Marlo Thomas is still angry about that.  She thinks it would have been much more poignant to have her character break up with the boyfriend and remain in New York completely alone. However when the final episode aired in 1971, ABC was not quite ready for that.

Ruth Buzzi & Marlo Thomas in "That Girl"

Ruth Buzzi & Marlo Thomas in “That Girl”

That girl had a terrific group of supporting actors, such as Bernie Kopell and Ruth Buzzi who would go on to huge television success.

Ted Bessell, Marlo Thomas and Bernie Kopell in "That Girl"

Ted Bessell, Marlo Thomas and Bernie Kopell in “That Girl”

So, if you get a chance, take a look at  That Girl. While by today’s standards That Girl may just seem like a silly T.V. sitcom, it was actually the beginning of a feminist revolution.

7 Best Baby Boomer Toys

As kids, Baby Boomers had the best toys of all time. Here are the top 7 Baby Boomer Toys:

  • Jame Bond’s 007 Briefcase. This was a toy replica of the attache case used by Sean Connery in From Russia With Love. It came complete with a toy gun, dagger,  gold coins, code book and many other spy essentials. It was a huge seller and every Baby Boomer had one. The toy 007 briefcase was one of the first toys directly connected to a movie, and showed Hollywood the tremendous potential of merchandising tie-ins. To this day it is a sore subject with Sean Connery. Merchandising was unheard of, so there was nothing in Sean Connery’s contract giving him any of the profits. Sean Connery did not make a penny from the toy James Bond briefcase. He has unsuccessfully sued many times for a cut of the profits. Friends of Sean Connery have learned never to mention the subject since it will set Sean off on a 25 minute rant.

The James Bond 007 toy briefcase - everything a young spy needs

The James Bond 007 toy briefcase – everything a young spy needs

  • Barbie Doll – A lot of modern women hate this doll, saying that it gave girls an unrealistic and physically impossible view of female beauty. Despite this, Barbie is the best selling doll in history. Over 1 Billion Barbie dolls have been sold since its debut by Mattel in 1959. Of course Barbie is unrealistic. If Barbie was “life sized” she would be 5 feet 9 inches tall, have a 39 inch bust, a 16 inch waist and 33 inch hips. Her shoe size would be 3.  It seems impossible that a real life Barbie would even be able to walk without falling forward. None of this mattered to little girls. For them, Barbie was just a fun toy and they loved her. Barbie also was an independent woman who always had tons of money, nice things and knew how to enjoy life.

Barbie - over 1 billion sold and still selling

Barbie – over 1 billion sold and still selling

  • Green Army Men – These guys don’t get much respect, but every Baby Boomer had hundreds and  sometimes thousands of these guys scattered around the house. For one dollar you could get a huge plastic bag filled with Green Army Men. They weren’t all the same either. Some of the Army men had rifles, some had radios others were throwing hand-grenades. There were soldiers shooting from all different positions. Whoever designed Green Army Men went into tremendous detail on the way the soldiers looked, right down to the details of the uniforms. Green Army Men, played a key roll in the film Toy Story, where they heroically fulfilled any dangerous task assigned to them without question or complaint. Remember that the parents of the Baby Boomers were the ones who had won World War II. In a way the toy Green Army Men were a tribute to those thousands of real soldiers who anonymously fought for freedom before the Baby Boomers were born.

Green Army Men - classic and inexpensive

Green Army Men – classic and inexpensive

  • Easy Bake Oven – This Hasbro invention  was a toy oven that could actually bake cakes, cookies and muffins, using a 100 watt light bulb as the heat source. Unlike a lot of toys, you don’t pretend to do something, you actually do it. You don’t pretend to bake a cake, you really bake one. Some people say that, like many Baby Boomer toys, the Easy Bake Oven reinforced sexual stereotypes. Little girls were given dolls and ovens, while little boys were given toy guns and Army men. This ignores the fact that boys loved the Easy Bake Oven as much as girls.  Parents may have given the Easy Bake Ovens to their daughters, but their sons soon discovered it as well. Many Baby Boomer boys actually learned how to cook by helping their sisters make desserts with an Easy Bake Oven.

Easy Bake Oven - cooking for real with a 100 watt light bulb

Easy Bake Oven – cooking for real with a 100 watt light bulb

  • Astro Base – a decade before people actually landed on the moon, the toy Astro Base accurately predicted what a lunar landing module would look like. In fact, it was even better than the real lunar landing module, since the Astro Base was bright red, and had a crane to gently lower the astronaut to the surface.

Astro Base - the first Lunar Landing Module

Astro Base – the first Lunar Landing Module

  • Mr. Machine – was a toy robot introduced by Ideal in 1960. It was made of see-through plastic and had a wind up spring. It was a very interactive toy since you could take it apart and re-assemble it. Boys and girls were fascinated to see how all the gears interconnected to create a moving walking robot. Many Baby Boomer boys and girls who went on to become engineers say that their first introduction to mechanical interactions started with Mr. Machine.

Mr. Machine - fascinating future engineers

Mr. Machine – fascinating future engineers

  • Etch A Sketch – is one of the most frustrating toys of all time. The T.V. commercials showed people creating masterpieces of art on this little box with 2 knobs. Every kid wanted one, and in 1960 the Ohio Art Company made sure that most kids in the United States got an Etch A Sketch.  However, kids soon discovered that there was no way they would ever be able to draw much more than rectangles and squares. Trying to  draw a curved line requires moving both knobs simultaneously, with the precision of a heart surgeon.  However, the best part of Etch A Sketch is that no matter how badly you mess things up you can simply shake the toy and all your mistakes are wiped clean forever. Then once again you can give it a try, knowing that this time for sure you will be successful.  If only real life worked that way.

Etch A Sketch showing a picture no kid will ever be able to draw

Etch A Sketch showing a picture no kid will ever be able to draw

Baby Boomers had the best toys because the toys stimulated the imagination. You could be an astronaut, a fashion model, an Engineer, a great chef, a brave soldier, a spy or a world class artist. Unlike today’s video games, you had to make the story yourself – it was not supplied to you.These toys allowed thousands of children to enter a world where anything was possible and all their dreams could come true.

Cablevision drops Starz and Encore and Cheats Its Customers

Cablevision just dropped the Starz and Encore networks, without any drop in price to Cablevision customers. In fact, this was just one month after Cablevision had actually raised its prices. Less service for a higher price. Starz has some of our favorite shows, including, Outlander, Power and Ash vs Evil Dead, all of which we have reviewed on this blog.

Cablevision abruptly dropped Starz, but did not lower the fees to Cablevision customers

Cablevision abruptly dropped Starz, but did not lower the fees to Cablevision customers

This move by Cablevision  is typical of the way that all cable providers continue to behave as if they still have a monopoly and can treat customers any way they want. In fact, cable companies should be bending over backwards to be giving more service to customers and lowering their prices. People no longer need cable companies to get access to shows. Many people are going “unplugged “and getting access through the internet or satellite with no payments to any cable provider.

Outlander is gone from Cablevision

Outlander is gone from Cablevision

The behavior of Cablevision and other cable providers is reminiscent of the way that Blockbuster once treated its customers. Blockbuster not only charged a lot to rent movies, it also hit up  their customers with ridiculous late fees. You had to physically return a video before the due date, but the system was rigged to maximize the late fees.

Will Cablevision one day go the way of Blockbuster?

Will Cablevision one day go the way of Blockbuster?

Most people rented movies on Saturday or Sunday, since it was hard to get to Blockbuster during the work week. However, if you rented on a Saturday, the movie was due by Wednesday. If you returned it the next Saturday, you owed as much on late fees as you had paid to rent the movie. In the early days of Blockbuster, they even charged a 50 cent “rewind fee” on tapes. (Remember the days before DVDs when you had to rewind tapes?)

Power is no longer available on Cablevision

Power is no longer available on Cablevision

While Blockbuster was squeezing their customers for every nickle, Netflix was busy reinventing the business. With Nexflix, customers could get videos at home and keep them as long as they wanted with no late fees. Blockbuster could have beaten Netflix, if Blockbuster had reacted quickly. In the early days, Blockbuster actually had many more titles available than Netflix.

Tower records once seemed like a money making machine.

Tower records once seemed like a money making machine.

Blockbuster should have eliminated late fees, and started letting people order movies online and shipping them to people’s homes. At the time, Blockbuster had the financial might, the customer base and the video library to be able to wipe out Netflix. However, Blockbuster was so intent on trying to maximize short term profits, that it ignored the anger of its customers.

Towards  the end, Blockbuster finally realized the danger it was in, and did try  to fight back against Netflix. Blockbuster eliminated all late fees, lowered its rental charges and began using the internet. But it was too late. Angry customers had left Blockbuster in droves and they never came back.  Blockbuster went bankrupt and its outlets closed.

Cablevision thinks it can cheat its customers forever.

Cablevision thinks it can cheat its customers forever.

Will Cablevision and the other cable providers one day go the way of Blockbuster? They are certainly making the same mistakes as Blockbuster, by arrogantly ignoring competition from new technologies. Some day, perhaps sooner than expected, the idea of paying a company hundreds of dollars a month for video content will seem as as antiquated as dial up internet access.

So our message to Cablevision is simple. Ignore the best interests of you customers and soon they will ignore you. If you think you can last forever, just remember Yahoo, AOL, Tower Records and Blockbuster.

Editor’s note: Since the first  publication of this story, Optimum Online Cablevision has announced that it made a deal with Starz. The Starz Network will be returning to Cablevision, along with Encore. This is planned for the end of February 2018.  Of course, Cablevision is not planning any refund to Cablevision customers for the 2 months they did not have Starz or Encore. Congratulations to the thousands of Cablevision customers who called and emailed Cablevision to demand the return of Starz and Enclore. Customers need to continually remind the large cable companies that the ultimate power lies with the customer.

Who remembers Potato Guns? Who Wants one?

For some bizarre reason the Baby Boomer generation was obsessed with potatoes. Eating potatoes, dressing up potatoes as people, and even using potatoes as weapons. There was Mister Potato Head, Mrs. Potato Head, and the consumption of billions of french fries. The weapon, of course, was the Potato Gun, where the bullets were little pieces of potatoes. East Coast Stories recently found a whole case of perfect Potato Guns still in their boxes in the back of an old storeroom of a food company.

The Potato Gun

The Potato Gun

There is a historical reason for this potato obsession. American Baby Boomers were the first full generation in the history of the world that did not have to worry about getting enough to eat. In fact, Americans in the 1950s found that they actually had a surplus of food.

Care and Maintenance of The Potato Gun

Care and Maintenance of The Potato Gun

There was, after all, so much food that Baby Boomers could even play with it.  Food Fights became the rage in high schools and colleges. In what other country on Earth would people waste food by throwing it around?

Food Fight in Animal House

Food Fight in Animal House

Who could ever forget Jon Belushi and the Food Fight in Animal House?

The complete Potato Gun

The complete Potato Gun

The Potato Gun was a toy that a kid would stick into a potato and then load chunks of the potato as “bullets”. Kids would then shoot the potato bullets at each other. Baby Boomer  Bruce Willis actually references the potato gun in the movie Armageddon. Most of the younger viewers obviously had no idea what he was taking about.

Immigrants arriving in America. The land of Food

Immigrants arriving in America. The land of Food

Ironically, the potato was the reason many people even became Americans at all.  During the Irish Potato Famine the Irish immigrated to America by the thousands. Politicians like to talk about people coming to America for the freedom, but that is only partially true.

A shipload of immigrants arriving in America

A shipload of immigrants arriving in America

Many immigrants moved to The United States because their families were starving, literally starving, in the Old Country. The dream of thousands who came through Ellis Island was not of political freedom. The immigrants dream was that some day their children would have enough to eat.

French fried potatoes, the favorite American food

French fried potatoes, the favorite American food

So finding this case of Potato Guns was like turning a page back in history. What should we do with them? Kids have long since moved on  to more sophisticated computerized games. But possibly there are some curious readers  who would like one of these old-time toys. Dear readers, let us know what you think.

A working Potato Gun

A working Potato Gun

Would you be interested in a free Potato Gun?Just holding one may magically bring you back to a time when sons and daughters of starving immigrants fulfilled their ancestors dreams and had so much food it could even be turned into toys.

The Macho Days At Ford – Violence, Prostitutes, Alcohol and Bad Cars

I have to laugh at Google going berserk over one sexist memo. When I was at Ford Motor Company, it tolerated and often encouraged workplace violence,  drunkenness, and even prostitution. This was way back in the late 1970s in Dearborn Michigan. (Yes, I am that old.) I was one of a large group of MBAs and Engineers that Ford recruited from top schools all over the country. We were lured there by the fact that the whole Detroit region was promoting what was supposed to be the Detroit “Renascence” (which obviously did not work out as planned) Little did we know that while top management wanted to modernize the whole Ford culture,  Middle Management had no intention of letting go of its beloved macho lifestyle.

The Ford Pinto. The worst car of all time.

The Ford Pinto. The worst car of all time.

Our first clue that Ford was not as progressive as it claimed, was the fact that whole departments and even divisions  of the company had no women. None whatsoever.  This lead to a very “frat house” working environment, which was epitomized in the company sponsored events.

My first week on the job our department had a company sponsored trip to a Detroit Tigers game. The company even paid for a bus and all the tickets, food and drinks. However, the first stop of the bus was not at Tiger Stadium. No; the first stop was at a strip club where the entire department got lap dances, while getting thoroughly drunk. (Did I mention there were zero women in our department?)

Even the sexy girl can't make the Ford Fiesta a good car

Even the sexy girl can’t make the Ford Fiesta a good car

After several hours in the strip club, we got back on the bus, joined by one of the women from the strip club. She sidelined as a prostitute, and the department manager awarded  her “services” to the top worker in the department.  We only actually made it to the game for the last few innings. There was so much booze at the game and on the bus, I don’t think anyone even knew if the Tigers won or lost.

At the workplace itself, physical threats were common. The factories themselves were known as dangerous places, but threats were also common among white collar workers. I personally witnessed a division V.P. pick up a desktop computer and throw it at the head of an engineer who had not gotten his calculations completed on time for a key presentation.

Ford's River Rouge plant. Now closed

Ford’s River Rouge plant. Now closed

The division V.P. screamed a string of obscenities, the gist of which was that if the engineer could not get his work done, then there was no point in that engineer even having a computer. Then the V.P picked the heavy computer off the the engineer’s desk and threw it at the engineer’s head.  It missed the engineer’s head by about three inches, and smashed into the wall, destroying the computer. No one reported the incident to Human Resources. It would not have been macho to complain and if you did you would  be ostracized as a wimp.

The Ford Fiesta. One of the reasons Americans switched to cars from Japan.

The Ford Fiesta. One of the reasons Americans switched to cars from Japan.

While Ford’s top management seemed not to be aware of this environment, middle management actually considered it valuable part of the Ford culture, and thought that putting people under as much pressure as possible all the time was the best way to achieve the best results. They seemed not to notice that the effects were exactly the opposite.  In the 1970s Ford produced some of the worst cars ever made, inducing the piece of junk Ford Pinto and the Ford Fiesta. The East German Trabant has the reputation as the world’s worst car, but the Pinto was far worse. After all, there are still a large number of Trabants around, and even Trabant clubs. When was the last time you ever saw a Pinto?

Ford Security Thugs beating up a union organizer

Ford Security Thugs beating up a union organizer

No discussion of the old days at Ford would be complete without mentioning the hated Ford Security forces. They were not your normal corporate security guards. The Ford security guards were essentially a private police force, who treated the Ford employees as the enemy, rather than the people they were there to protect. This went back to the 1920’s when Henry Ford used Ford Security as goons to beat up union organizers. In the days of Henry Ford the first, the Ford Security “guards” were often also members of local organized crime gangs. Even decades later the basic attitude of Ford Security had not changed.

If you work late at most companies, when you leave the building the security people wave to you and say a cheery “good night!”. No so at Ford in the 1970s. If you worked late the guards  immediately suspected that you were really there to steal something. If you left by car it was like going through a checkpoint in Baghdad.

Two or more gun-toting goons would come up and shine a flashlight directly in your eyes. You would be made to step out of the vehicle, while the guards searched every part of the car and trunk to see if you were stealing anything. This was how Ford treated the “brightest and best” employees who they had recruited at great expense from all over the country.  Then Human Resources wondered why one by one these new recruits took jobs elsewhere, until after a few years not a single one was left at Ford.

One of the most hated aspects of the Ford Security force was the way it treated the Ford employee’s cars. Ironically, there were not enough parking spaces at the Ford buildings to accommodate all the employees. This forced many employees to park in non-designated spots, or on the grass etc. Instead of setting up remote parking with shuttle buses or some other solution, Ford punished its own employees for the company’s lack of planning.

Ford Security would “sticker” any employee’s car not parked in a designated spot. This sticker was a bright red 1 foot by 1 foot “no parking” placard which Security would glue directly on the driver’s side windshield of the employee’s car.  It was heavy, fast-drying glue. At the end of every working day, many employees would find these bring red placards glued to their windshield. It would take 10 or 15 minuted to scrape one of these stickers off with an ice scraper. Even after the placard was removed the glue left a sticky residue which made everything look blurry when you looked through the windshield. This residue took weeks to wear off.

Top Management was completely unaware of what was really happening at the company. They even thought Ford was making good cars. After all, Ford top management all drove Ford cars, and they loved them. Of course, Top Management was not really driving average Ford cars. All senior management got free top of the line Fords to drive (no Pintos or Fiestas for them), in return for filling out surveys on how the cars performed.

Ford's ironic motto was "Where Quality is Job 1"

Ford’s ironic motto was “Where Quality is Job 1”

Every day, senior management would drive these cars and park in their assigned spaces (no stickers on their windshields.) While these men were  working (all senior managers were men) a team of employees took care of the cars. The cars were washed, the insides cleaned, and the cars filled with gas. If the senior manager reported any problem with the vehicle, then the manager was given a brand new replacement car to drive home. Predictably, the senior managers all truthfully filled out the surveys reporting that all the Ford cars they drove were great.

When Senior Management would leave work, no matter how late the hour, Ford Security men would smile and wave and wish them “good night!”. No flashlights in the eyes, no car searches. Senior Managers drove home happy in the knowledge that they were running a company that made a great product, and all the employees were happy.

When Mr. Potato Head Was A Real Potato

Does anyone remember when Mr. Potato Head was made with a real potato? Today’s Mr. Potato Head is a large, clean plastic potato replica into which you stick plastic ears, eyes noses and lips.  But when I was a kid, Mr. Potato Head was a lot more crude. The Mr. Potato Head toy first came out in 1952, and  was just a little box with all the accessories and nothing else. You had to go out and find a real potato into which you would stick the eyes, ears, nose and anything else you could dig up. Maybe you even gave it hair made from some old lint ball found under the couch.

The original Mr. Potato Head from the 1950s

The original Mr. Potato Head from the 1950s

Kids loved the toy and it was an instant hit. Parents liked it too. It was inexpensive, kept kids busy for hours while stimulating kids’ imaginations. Of course using a real potato did have its drawbacks.

Today's modern Mr. Potato Head

Today’s modern Mr. Potato Head

Many a child would let out a terrified scream after finding a forgotten Mr. Potato Head in the back of a closet. After a few months alone, the Mr. Potato Head would be growing new appendages and sprouts and be covered in a fine lumpy mold.  This is probably why you don’t see any toys made from real food anymore.

Rest in Peace Mr. Potato Head

Rest in Peace Mr. Potato Head

The modern Mr. Potato Head is still a lot of fun. Of course unlike the original toy you can’t eat it when you are done playing.

“All Our Wrong Todays” – why don’t we live like The Jetsons?

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai is a Sci-Fi novel that explains why we don’t live like the Jetsons. Let’s face it, by this time we were supposed to have flying cars, world peace, Moon Colonies and teleportation machines. What happened to the future that the 1964 World’s Fair promised the Baby Boomers?

What happened to the future The Jetsons promised us?

What happened to the future The Jetsons promised us?

Tom Barren, the hero of All Our Wrong Todays is the man who ruined the future for all of us. It turns out that the utopian future really did happen.  Things were going smoothly right up to the point where time travel was invented. That’s when Tom travels to the past, and in a matter of seconds, unintentionally changes human history. When Tom returns to the “present” he finds it has become the messed up  world we live in today. Oh, by the way, his actions also destroyed the time machine, so there is no way he can go back and undo the damage he created.

The 1964 World's Fair promised us a perfect future

The 1964 World’s Fair promised us a perfect future

There have been many time-travel novels, but All Our Wrong Today’s is one of the best. Instead of getting hung up on technical jargon, Elan Mastai delves more into the psychological and ethical issues of experimenting with technology of unlimited power.

When Tom comes back from the past into our “wrong today”, at first all he sees is how technologically backward we are. Then he begins to realize that his  own life has improved. He has merged with the person he is in this new time line.

What really happened when the World's Fair ended

What really happened when the World’s Fair ended

In his own time, Tom was a screw-up only child. In our world, he is a rich and famous architect, with a wonderful sister. Tom also meets a woman and falls in love. Tom realizes   that the technology of his world had muted the senses of people. Our world may be harsh and often terrible, but it also allows people to truly feel every experience.  But is it right for Tom to continue in this false world that was created by accident? Shouldn’t he try to change time back? Is there any way he can get the best of both worlds and merge the two realities?

Elan Mastai author of All Our Wrong Todays

Elan Mastai author of All Our Wrong Todays

We don’t want to reveal too much of the plot for fear of ruining the exciting twists and turns of All Our Wrong Todays. Suffice it to say that Elan Mastai is a brilliant writer who brings all the characters of these fictional time-lines to life. We look forward to reading more by this gifted author.

Cool – The Most Dangerous Four Letter Word

Cool is the most dangerous four letter word in the English language. How many thousands of stupid decisions have people made in the never-ending quest to be considered “cool”?  People abuse drugs or alcohol, start smoking cigarettes or drive cars drunk partly so that they can be cool.

Smoking is so Cool

Smoking is so Cool

Somehow cool has maintained a hold over the American psyche, long after other slang words have lost their mystique and died an ignominious death. No one wants to be “groovy” or “boss” or “outta sight” or even “hep”.  In fact, anyone even using those expressions would most likely be laughed out of the room. Yet Cool remains the king.

That's right - I'm Cool!

That’s right – I’m Cool!

The worst part of trying to be cool is not what you do, but what you don’t do. The cool-seekers dissociate themselves from anyone considered un-cool. Loving family, good teachers and childhood friends are all abandoned when it becomes obvious that they are not cool.

At least he walked away

At least he walked away

Sometimes, years in the future, the cool-seekers realize that they have abandoned the best people in their lives. Of course, by that time, it it often too late. Those good friends and family  are gone forever.

What can we say?

What can we say?

So maybe it’s time for Cool to finally exit the stage and go the way of “groovy”. What will be left without people trying to be cool? Maybe a World where everyone can be happy with who they really are.

So Cool

So Cool

Don’t Bother To Knock – Marilyn Monroe shows her true acting skills

In the 1952 film   Don’t Bother To Knock, Marilyn Monroe showed the world that her acting skills deserved  better than the stupid ditzy blonde roles she was normally given. Don’t Bother To Knock is a thriller, in which Marilyn Monroe plays a mentally unstable woman who might kill an innocent child.

Knock" has Marilyn Monroe in a sexy outfit that was not in the movie.

The poster for “Don’t Bother To Knock” has Marilyn Monroe in a sexy outfit that was not in the movie.

Despite this tense  plot, Hollywood could just not resist promoting it as a sexy Marilyn Monroe movie rather than a thriller. The movie poster featured Marilyn Monroe in a skimpy outfit that was not part of the movie. The advertisements called her ” a wicked sensation as the lonely girl”.

Donna Corcoran & Marilyn Monroe in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Donna Corcoran & Marilyn Monroe in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

In Don’t Bother To Knock, Marilyn Monroe is Nell Forbes, whose pilot boyfriend has been killed in a plane crash. Unable to deal with her loss, Nell attempts suicide and spends time in a mental institution.  After being released, she goes to New York to live with her uncle Eddie (played by Elisha Cook Jr.)

Elisha Cook Jr. in "Don't Bother to Knock"

Elisha Cook Jr. in “Don’t Bother to Knock”

Eddie finds Nell a baby sitting job in the hotel where he is a elevator operator. Nell seems fine and gets along well with Bunny, the little girl (played by Donna Corcoran). However, Nell is actually quite unbalanced. When she meets Jed (Richard Widmark), a pilot staying at the hotel, she believes he is actually her dead boyfriend. In her mind,  Nell creates a fantasy world. When Jed rejects her, Nell thinks it is because he does not want the little girl Bunny keeping them apart. That is when Nell decides to take action against Bunny.

Richard Widmark & Anne Bancroft in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Richard Widmark & Anne Bancroft in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

Don’t Bother To Knock, is a fantastic movie, whose plot and tension still hold up today. It is also the debut film for a stunningly beautiful Anne Bancroft as Lyn Lesley, a lounge singer. This was 15 years before Anne Bancroft would gain international fame as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.

Richard Widmark & Marilyn Monroe in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Richard Widmark & Marilyn Monroe in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

Don’t Bother To Knock did well in the theaters and was a critical success. Although she was only 26 years old at the time of her brilliant performance, Marilyn Monroe never went on to a full career as  a true dramatic actor. Hollywood producers continued to  cast her in a series of very profitable “dumb blonde” movies. There were lots of actresses who could do drama, but directors knew that only Marilyn Monroe would be perfect for films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes  (1953)or Some Like It Hot (1959).

Anne Bancroft as a lounge singer in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Anne Bancroft as a lounge singer in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

Unfortunately, off-screen, Marilyn Monroe had much in common with the mentally troubled woman she played in Don’t Bother To Knock. Despite being a world-wide celebrity, Monroe was very unhappy, and  committed suicide in 1962 at the age of 36.  (Of course, rumors still swirl that The Kennedys actually killed Marilyn Monroe).

Riverdale – Archie Comics in an Alternate Universe

Baby Boomers who see Riverdale on the CW network will feel like they have entered into an alternate universe. Murder, intrigue and illicit sex have made their way into the Archie Comics town of Riverdale. Archie himself has been transformed from a goofy geek into a major hunk who shows off his six-pack abs every chance he gets.

Classic Archie joke

Classic Archie joke

Despite these changes, Riverdale is actually a good show with an interesting plot and excellent acting. We are just  not sure why the producers chose to base the show on a comic book that first came out in 1941.  The target audience for Riverdale is about 50 years younger than anyone who actually  remembers the classic Archie Comics.

KJ Apa as Archie, showing off his abs

KJ Apa as Archie, showing off his abs

KJ Apa is Archie, who like in the comics, is continually caught in the middle between Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes). Both Lili Reinhart and Camila Mendes really nail their characters. It is not easy to play a comic book character without going “over the top”, but both of these fine actors resist that temptation, and play the characters straight. Like in the comics, we always feel sorry for Betty, who despite being nice and beautiful is relegated to the “just friends” category by Archie.

Lili Reinhart perfect as Betty

Lili Reinhart perfect as Betty

Archie himself is the biggest change from the comics. He is a bulked-up football star, who has an illicit sexual affair with a beautiful young teacher. What happened to the nerdy guy from the comics, who never quite got what was going on?  What made the original Archie great was that he was not cool.

Camila Mendes & Lili Reinhart

Camila Mendes & Lili Reinhart

Archie was the average high school guy that kids could identify with. Archie was not a star athlete, or brilliant student. He did have a car, but it was a rattling piece of junk (as opposed to rich Reggie’s sports car).

The real Archie definitely did not have the body of a hunk

The real Archie definitely did not have the body of a hunk

In Riverale, Archie and his friends investigate what might or might not be a murder. To say much more would be to give away the mystery. Riverdale is actually a good show and teenage viewers will like it. Older viewers of a “certain age” can also have fun taking a look, just to see how times have changed in the sleepy, likable town. Still, Baby Boomers may get a twinge of nostalgic sadness seeing Riverdale.

The original Riverdale in Archie comics was a fantasy even when it was created in 1941. It was a place where nothing bad ever happened. No one ever got hurt, got sick,  changed or grew older.  Kids could read these comics and retreat from the “real world” that was being forced onto them. The CW network’s Riverdale is an interesting place, but if given a choice, we would still choose to live in the original Riverdale from the Archie comics. Let’s face it; the real world is highly overrated.

Natalie Portman Is “Jackie”

In Jackie, Natalie Portman give an astoundingly accurate portrayal of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in the days just after President Kennedy’s assassination.  Jackie Kennedy was a quiet beauty with an inner strength and stubbornness that people continually underestimated.

Natalie Portman perfectly captures the stylized,  precise, almost-a-whisper  way in which Jackie Kennedy spoke . Director Pablo Larrain intersperses actual newsreel footage into the movie with incredible effect.

Jacqueline Kennedy & Natalie Portman

Jacqueline Kennedy & Natalie Portman

Despite being in a state of shock after the assasination, Jackie Kennedy fought to make sure that her husband’s place in history would always be remembered. While others wanted a small family funeral in Massachusetts, Jackie insisted on a grand state funeral, modeled on that of Abraham Lincoln.

Caroline, Jackie & "John John" Kennedy at President Kennedy's funeral

Caroline, Jackie & “John John” Kennedy at President Kennedy’s funeral

Jackie shows how Jacqueline Kennedy also managed the press after JFKs death to create the “Camelot” myth of the Kennedy years. Billy Crudup is perfect as LIFE Magazine  reporter Theodore H. White whose lengthy interview with Jackie was read by every person in America.

1964 Issue of Life magazine featuring Jackie Kennedy

1964 Issue of LIFE magazine featuring Jackie Kennedy

Much of the film is the interaction between the reporter and Jackie, and shows how she was able to manipulate the press in a way that no politician or celebrity would ever be able to do today.  Jackie essentially wrote and edited the LIFE story, including the references to Camelot. Amazingly, Mrs. Kennedy gave this lengthy interview only 1 week after her husband was gunned down in Dallas.

Peter Sarsgaard & Natalie Portman in "Jackie"

Peter Sarsgaard & Natalie Portman in “Jackie”

Peter Sarsgaard is Robert Kennedy who tries to protect Jackie and also unsuccessfully tries to control her.  As always, Peter Sarsgaard gives a masterful performance.

Caspar Phillipson as "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" and Natalie Portman as "Jackie Kennedy" in JACKIE.

Caspar Phillipson as “John Fitzgerald Kennedy” and Natalie Portman as “Jackie Kennedy” in JACKIE.

Casper Phillipson is Jack Kennedy, and accurately captures the smooth confidence  of JFK.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her wedding day

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her wedding day

The script by Noah Oppenheim and the acting of Natalie Portman bring Jackie Kennedy alive as a real person. Not as just a legend or a caricature, but as a actual woman, who despite her youth, was able to show dignity and strength when America needed it the most.

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office, with Jackie Kennedy still in a state of shock

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office, with Jackie Kennedy still in a state of shock

Many First ladies have come and gone without being remembered, but people will never forget Jackie Kennedy.

The Right Burgee – the book that shocked the Yacht Club set a half a century ago

The Right Burgee by Henry Lee was a novel published in 1965 which created an uproar in the Yacht Club crowd. It put in writing all the unspoken truths about yacht clubs, and the fact that they have nothing whatsoever to do with yachts. The East Coast yacht clubs in 1965 were a social class measuring tool.

You could not  just pay a membership fee and get in.  How much money you had was only one factor. You also had to be of the proper race, religion and ethnic background. How you made your money was also important. “Old money” was many times more valuable than “new money”. If you came from Old Money it meant your family had been part of the upper classes for generations.

How to display a burgee

How to display a burgee

The Right Burgee takes place in the fictional Housatonic Yacht Club. Of course, readers in the know realized it was actually the Stamford Connecticut Yacht Club, of which Henry Lee was a member. It is well written and the characters all come across as real people rather than stereotypes. 

The Right Burgee cleverly  shows the incredible stress on people and families when their main goal in life becomes trying to prove to the world that they belong as part of the chosen few. You see, just getting into a yacht club is not enough. It has to be the right yacht club.  A burgee is that little triangular flag that people fly on the front of their boats to show what yacht club they belong to.

Burgees of Yacht Clubs

Burgees of Yacht Clubs

Not all burgees are created equal. The top of the top in The United States was the New York Yacht Club, which in 1965 still proudly displayed the America’s Cup trophy in its clubhouse. In their hearts, the members of the Housatonic Yacht Club know that despite all their pretensions their burgee really ranks somewhere in the middle rather than closer to the top.

The main character in The Right Burgee is a man who in the beginning of the story has completely bought into the whole system. His goal in life is to become Commodore of the club, and wear the stripes on the sleeve of his yacht club blazer. He has no interest in boating, but keeps a small sailboat, since that is the only way to obtain “flag rank”.

The Stamford Connecticut Yacht Club emblem

The Stamford Connecticut Yacht Club emblem

However, along the way, he begins to question  the point of the whole  system. He sees the stress his wife is under to always be invited to the correct parties. He sees how his daughter is crushed if she does not get to go to the proper cotillion.   He eventually falls in love with a beautiful woman in New York. Getting a divorce and marring her would ruin him socially forever. Not because of the divorce, but because she is Jewish. He will have to choose between love and social standing.

The America sailing Yacht

The America sailing Yacht

The Right Burgee is hard to find, but there are still a few copies floating around on Amazon. It is worth getting, to see a glimpse into the social structure of a half a century ago. It may seem silly that grown men were willing to spend huge amounts of time, money and effort just to be able to wear a blue blazer with little gold stripes on the sleeve. But it wasn’t about the jacket. It was about the right to show the world that you were better than everyone else. The yacht clubs of those days were not about who got in. They were about who got kept out.

The America's Cup when it was on Display in The New York Yacht Club

The America’s Cup when it was on Display in The New York Yacht Club

Even in 1965, the whole yacht club structure was beginning to change. Irish-Americans had recently been admitted to some of the clubs, and there was even talk in some clubs of possibly letting in Italian-Americans. Traditional members argued that letting in the Irish-Americans was the beginning of the end for the whole system. Of course, they could still not even imagine a future where Jewish-Americans or African-Americans would ever be admitted to any club with a proper burgee.

The Right Burgee by Henry Lee (The image on the cover shows someone being "blackballed - refused membership to the club)The Right Burgee by Henry Lee

The Right Burgee by Henry Lee (The image on the cover shows someone being “blackballed” – refused membership to the club)

When I was  young, I met the author of The Right Burgee, Mr. Henry Lee. He was eating at the Stamford Yacht Club, and my mother introduced me to him. I had read the book and I was surprised that he was still a member of the club all those years after its publication. However, it was obvious that the other members of the yacht club had neither forgiven nor forgotten the theme of The Right Burgee. Henry Lee was in the main dining room, eating at a large table, completely alone. The dining room was packed, but Mr. Lee was being studiously  ignored by the other members of the club, while they happily chatted to each other. As you can guess, he never became Commodore of the yacht club.

Confessions Of A Bad Runner

Go to any running race in the tri-state area and you will see me there. Look for the 6 foot tall, thin guy running with a beautiful stride at the front of the race.  That’s not me. Look further back. No – much further.  That’s right, the boxy short guy with grey hair huffing and puffing at the back of the pack.

I never win. I never come close to winning and  never will. There was a time when I thought that I would start winning “age category” medals as I got older. I would keep myself in shape and eventually be able to outrun the old duffers who had let themselves go. This was a miscalculation. It turns out that there are one Hell of a lot of old guys who can still zip by me like I am standing still.

Pack runners

Pack runners

So why do I do it? It is because running races are one of the last true community events that actually bring people closer. Men,and women, teenagers, senior citizens and  kids all run together. They run at different speeds and tremendously different abilities, but they all encourage each other. There is no nastiness of body-shaming. The fact that you are trying is good enough.

The runners at the front of the pack are like beautiful Ferrari or Maserati sports cars gliding  along at top speed.  Those of us in the back are more like boxy little Jeeps bouncing and almost tipping over as we take the turns.

Usain Bolt the world's greatest sprinter

Usain Bolt the world’s greatest sprinter

The best part of any community running race is the finish. Not because it is over, but because the great runners at front who finished long ago wait for and congratulate every single finisher, no matter how long it takes.

I have never gotten a medal when I cross the finish line. I have gotten a lot of free Popsicles, and drinks of rubbery tasting hose water. Sometimes, there is even a free T-Shirt with a charity’s name on it.  Somehow, that’s enough.

The Nostalgic T.V. Show quiz – 4 quick questions

Think you know a lot about the old time T.V. shows? Take the East Coast Stories 4 quick questions quiz and test your knowledge.

Q. Why did the Skipper put up with anything from Gilligan and always forgive him?

The Skipper & Gilligan

The Skipper & Gilligan

A. Gilligan saved the Skipper’s life in World War II when they both served on a U.S. destroyer. A depth charge had broken loose on deck. It was about to roll into the Skipper and crush him, when Gillian raced across the deck and pushed the Skipper out of the way.

Q: Who was the most successful female impersonator ever on television?

Who was T.V's most famout female impersonator?

Who was T.V’s most famous female impersonator?

A: Lassie. That’s right. Although Lassie was a female Collie on the show, the actual dog was a male. Dog trainers claim that male dogs are easier to train. (No angry comments please. This is not our opinion but the opinion of Lassie’s trainers.)

Q: What type of cigarettes did Lucy smoke?

What cigarette did Lucy smoke?

What cigarette did Lucy smoke?

A: This is a trick question. Lucy Riccardo supposedly smoked Phillip Morris cigarettes since that was the show’s sponsor. You can clearly see the label on the pack. However, Lucille Ball preferred Chesterfields. In fact,  she always threw out the Phillip Morris cigarettes in the Phillip Morris pack and refilled the pack with Chesterfields. Therefore, Lucy Riccardo was actually smoking Chesterfields.

Q: How many times did Captain Kirk die on Star Trek?

Star Trek's transporter

Star Trek’s transporter

A: Most people will answer zero, but that Kirk faked his death at least once (when he fought Spock on Vulcan). However, the correct answer is that Kirk died every time he went into the transporter. The original people do not actually go through the transporter, any more than the original piece of paper goes through a fax machine. The originals are destroyed by the “transporter” and a copy of those people appear at the other end of the transporter. It is, in effect, a very long distance fax machine that also happens to destroy the original. This is why Doctor McCoy tried to go by shuttle instead of transporter whenever possible.

Squidward Tentacles from SpongeBob is a thief

Squidward Tentacles from the show SpongeBob is a thief.  He has been skimming from the cash register at the Krusty Krab for years. That is why he never quits, despite complaining about his position all day every day.  The show gives  clear indications that Squidward is an underwater white collar criminal. Lets take a look at the hints.

Squidward Tentacles. The world's worst fast food cashier

Squidward Tentacles. The world’s worst fast food cashier

Squidward’s house is more more expensive than a cashier could possibly  afford.  It is made of carved stone, has nice furnishings and even has an indoor elevator. You may argue that Patrick Star and SpongeBob Squarepants also have their own homes. However, Patrick Star’s house is nothing more than a rock he lives under and all his so-called furnishings are really just sand piles.

SpongeBob does have a actual house, but he grew it himself from a pineapple seed. On the other hand, Squidward’s house is a giant stone replica of the ancient carvings on Easter Island. Squidward also has a an boat-car. It is very seldom shown, but he does have one.

houses of Patrick Star, Squidward Tentacles and SpongeBon Squarepants

houses of Patrick Star, Squidward Tentacles and SpongeBob Squarepants

Squidward also has all the key characteristics of a white collar criminal.  Police have often noted that white collar criminals never think of themselves a thieves. They think of themselves as underpaid persecuted workers who are really just taking what the company should have been giving to them all along.

White collar criminals are often disgruntled employees and are very open about their hatred of the company and their boss.  Squidward is all of that.

Mr. Krabs and the Krusty Krab

Mr. Krabs and the Krusty Krab

Squidward  has the perfect opportunity to steal. Mr. Krabs never takes a turn behind the register and is usually locked away in his office. Although Krabs loves money, he does not seem to have any way to cross check the cash against the number of Krusty Burgers sold.

The Krusty Krab does accept any type of credit or debit card. This  all-cash environment makes it easy for Squidward to skim.

SpongeBob Squarepants

SpongeBob Squarepants

No matter how bad things get, Squidward continues to show up every day without talking vacation or sick days.  This is also a classic feature of white collar criminals. They never take time off, since that would risk someone cross-checking the books. If income went up dramatically whenever Squidward was on vacation, then Mr. Krabs would become suspicious of Squidward.

Squidward  only has 6 legs whereas a real squid has 8. Could this be  because two of Squidward’s legs were chopped off by prior employers that  he stole from? That may seem rather convoluted, but remember that a lot of the SpongeBob show is really geared towards adults rather than children. This is the same cartoon that once showed the grave of Diver Dan. Only a Baby Boomer would get that reference.

As SpongeBob enters what is rumored to be its final season, take a new look at good old Squidward. And if you ever go to the Krusty Krab remember to count your change.

The Lost Sounds Of Fall – a nostalgic look at bamboo rakes

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. The Sun is bright, the air is crisp and the leaves turn a wondrous range of colors. When I was a boy,  there were also the special sounds of Autumn.  As the weather turned colder, the last noises of lawn movers ceased and the world became quiet.

The whining of small engines was replaced by the unique soft sounds of bamboo rakes as people gathered the leaves into huge  piles. There were the delighted laughs of children when they ran full speed and jumped into the piles. Dogs barked as they chased each other through the leaves and searched for sticks as if they were hidden treasures of pirates gold.

People aren't the only ones who love leaf piles

People aren’t the only ones who love leaf piles

No one rushed at the task of raking. Adults spent a lot of time leaning on rake handles and chatting with neighbors about what they did over the Summer and asking each other how bad they thought the Winter was going to be. At the end of the day there would be the cracking sound as the piles of leaves were set on fire and we would warm our hands as the piles slowly melted into ash.

But somewhere along the way, the removing of leaves changed from being a slow, honored ritual, and became a noisy efficient task. Incredibly loud gasoline leaf blowers began appearing everywhere. They drowned  out all hope of civilized conversation. The people not actually operating the blowers retreated inside behind closed doors and windows to try to escape the noise. Leaves were blown to the curve, where giant vacuum trucks sucked them up and carried the leaves away. The delighted squeals of kids playing in the leaves were replaced the revving engines of two-ton diesel trucks.

Bamboo is superior to leaf blowers

Bamboo is superior to leaf blowers

The new way of getting rid of leaves is amazingly  efficient, and after the trucks move down the street not a single red oak leaf is left  behind. But in the race for speed, an American tradition has been lost forever.

The point of gathering leaves in Autumn was never to see how it could be done the fastest. The ritual for leaf gathering was a way for people to celebrate Life itself.  The older adults cherished  the last few days of  bright Sunshine with friends, knowing that soon they must face the inevitable dark Winter to come. There was solace in seeing that children and dogs forever live in the moment and take joy from the small pleasures.

A few years ago California had a voter referendum to try and ban leaf blowers. In our fast paced world, the referendum was soundly defeated. If I had lived in California I would have voted for the ban.   Give me a bamboo rake any day. It takes longer and is less efficient than a leaf blower. That’s the whole point.

Victims of 9/11 Tell Politicians to Shut Up

If the victims of 9/11 could speak from beyond the grave, it would probably be to tell the politicians to “Shut Up and leave Our Families Alone!” For 15 years we have been watching as American politicians of all political parties  have been jockeying to get close to the families of those who died on 9/11. Memorials and plaques and speeches and dedications seem designed to give the maximum boost to political careers rather than any real comfort to families. Maybe the best way to  honor families is to let them grieve  in private.  Yes, 9/11 impacted all Americans, but not all equally.

Flower wreath for a dead son

Flower wreath for a dead son

One of the strongest childhood memories  I have comes from a day when I was playing on a deserted beach, and a very old man and woman hobbled down to the water’s edge. They threw a handmade wreath of flowers into the ocean and stood still for a long time as the waves carried it out. Then they turned and slowly walked away without looking back.

When I asked my parents about them, I was told  that the old man and woman were honoring their son who was a Sailor killed in World War II. They did this every year on the anniversary of their son’s death. People in the area stayed away from that part of the beach each year on that day to give the old couple privacy. It was only by mistake that as a child I had witnessed this moment.

Those grieving parents did not want plaques or Fourth of July parades or even medals. What they wanted was to privately remember their son, and that is what the people of the town gave them. In the years that followed, I always remembered to stay away from the beach on the anniversary of that Sailor’s death. Even  as a child I knew that the best way I could help the parents on that day  was to leave them alone.

I know it is a lost cause, but I would still like to ask American politicians to show a little class on 9/11. The best thing the politicians could do on 9/11 is to stay home. It is a day for the families of the victims – not for you.

Ed Koch Murders Donald Trump

In 1995 former New York City Mayor Ed Koch murdered Donald Trump.  As much as Ed  Koch hated Trump, he could not kill Trump for real. So instead, Koch wrote a detective novel entitled Murder At City Hall, where the murder victim was Donald Trump.

Of course, Koch could not mention Trump by name, for fear of becoming the target of one of Trump’s hundreds of lawsuits. In Murder At City Hall, the murder victim is a real estate developer named Karl Kreig. This real estate developer is a despicable fellow who is hated by so many people that there are a large number of murder suspects.

Donald Trump & Marla Maples

Donald Trump & Marla Maples

The real estate developer also has a much younger wife who comes to parties in scandalously revealing outfits. This  real estate developer treats his wife as bait to allow him to get close to city officials that approve building contracts. He cheats on contracts and on every deal everyone but him loses money. He also cheats on his attractive wife, with a series of mistresses.  But of course, Koch insisted that this was not supposed to be Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, Ed Koch & Roy Cohn in 1983

Donald Trump, Ed Koch & Roy Cohn in 1983

Mayor Koch and Donald Trump started out as friends, but that did not last long. The problem was that even in a city as large as New York, there was only room enough for one of their gigantic egos. Koch and Trump both had an almost childlike need to be the center of attention for everyone,  all the time.

In Murder At City Hall (by Edward Koch with Herbert Resnicow), the Mayor’s giant ego comes through loud and clear. The main character of the book is Ed Koch himself, who is not only the Mayor, but also the detective solving the murder. He goes to lavish parties, meets beautiful women and is a better crime solver  than the police.

Murder At City Hall is interesting to read for its historical perspective, but is not a very well written detective novel. Ed Koch is no Agatha Christie. There is just way too much talking and description of Koch riding around the city, and not enough plot and character development.

Still, it is fun to note how much things have changed since 1995. The Mayor has assistants that are constantly running out and getting newspapers to check the latest goings on, and to see how the Mayor’s popularity is holding up.  Nowadays, you can do this instantly on the internet.

As the title indicates, the murder itself took place at New York’s City Hall. There were metal detectors in place, but there were not the hundreds of security cameras we now have in our post 9/11 world.  In fact, the police never even talk about checking the cameras. Nowadays if a murder happened at City Hall it would all be caught on camera.

Ed Koch may not have been a good detective novelist, but most New Yorkers believe that he was he was a good Mayor. (Of course, there  are those thought he was awful.) Whether you agreed with his political views or not, everyone agreed that Ed Koch loved being mayor and that he loved the City Of New York.

Ed Koch passed away in 2013. It is a shame he is not around today to comment on the current Presidential term. Koch was known for his quick wit and his ability to skewer his political opponents with his sharp wit and humor. Given today’s technology, the Twitter wars between Ed Koch and Donald Trump would be fun to see.

35 Year Wedding Anniversary – Susan Marasco & Gregory Farrell

On this day, 35 years ago, I married a beautiful young Italian-American woman named Susan Marasco. How I ever convinced her to marry me is still a mystery. You see, despite what many believe, I do understand my own failings.

Susan & Greg August 8, 1981

Susan & Greg August 8, 1981

How she has put up with me  is also a mystery. She must be a Saint. At least that is what she has told me several times a week for 35 years. (Just kidding!)

The wedding was part of  a full Catholic Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ardsley New York. The elaborate reception was at a country club and the groups were basically split between the Italians and the Irish, and everyone brought gifts. The gifts from the Irish side were nice, but the Italians brought cash. Big wonderful envelopes stuffed with Cash.

Susan’s wedding gown had a special sort of cape with a very large pouch sewed into the inside. I did not understand what it was for until the Italians began giving her the cash envelopes, which Susan quickly secreted into the magic pouch.

Later than night, (yes, our wedding night) Susan spread out all the unopened envelopes on the bed and took out a pad of paper and a pen . She would not allow me to just open the envelopes and dump out the cash on the bed like I wanted. You see, along with the cash, each envelope had a note inside telling us who it was from.

Susan carefully wrote down exactly who had given how much cash. When we returned from our honeymoon, Susan wrote all the thank-you notes to every guest. Each note was different. The larger the gift in comparison to the guest’s income, the more elaborate the thank you note.

Thirty five years has gone by on the blink of an eye.  Two children, three States, one book,  many stories and many jobs, cats and bunnies later we are still together.

We don’t look at the wedding album very often. Unfortunately, many  of the people in it have passed away. Our parents and relatives  came from that World War II  generation of heavy smokers and drinkers,  and consequently they  did not live very long.  One of the reasons I started this website was to keep the memories and stories of many of these wonderful people  alive. Somehow, the stories of how they lived seem much more real than the old pictures.

Susan herself is the subject of many of the websites’ stories,  and is known as The Gentle Woman in all the Bunny Stories.  Susan is also  The Girl in The Terrycloth Shorts.

Cat and Bunny on a hot day

Cat and Bunny on a hot day

Susan continues to be the love of my life, even though she is a stubborn as the day I met her.

Whatever does come next for my beautiful Italian bride and me, the Colombian singer Shakira expressed it best when she sang,

“Whenever, Wherever we’re meant to be together,

I’ll be  there and you’ll be near, and that’s the deal my dear.”

Happy anniversary Susan. Thank you for 35 years.

Remembering Doctor Jean Farrell

My aunt, Doctor Jean Farrell of Stamford Connecticut died on July 3, 1984. She was a well known Pediatrician at Stamford Hospital. Those of you who were her patients will now have children (perhaps even grandchildren) of your own and realize how important a good pediatrician is in your life.

Doctor Jean Farrell, 1947 Vassar College 1952 Georgetown Medical School

Doctor Jean Farrell,  Vassar College
1952 Georgetown Medical School

Jean was a big woman. She was big physically. She had a loud booming voice and a hearty laugh. If you were her friend she would do anything for you, and if you were her enemy, then God help you because nothing else would be able to.

Jean Farrell was also a a pioneering woman for her time. She went to Georgetown Medical School at a time when female doctors were still very unusual. She became a Board Certified Pediatrician and spearheaded  many new techniques that saved children’s lives.

She was only 56 when she died and since she was unmarried my father (Dr. John Farrell)  and I had to review the death certificate. If you have never seen a death certificate they are very cold and terse documents to sum up a person’s life.  I still remember the wording. It read:

“Occupation – Doctor, Unmarried, No Children”

It struck me how wrong that document was. Jean Farrell had hundreds of children. All of her patients were her children. If any of you read this, I would like you to know that despite her rough exterior Doctor Jean Farrell cared for each of you very much and as individuals. She knew all your names. You were her life.

When Jean died there were many large floral bouquets, but one tribute stood out from the rest. It was from a friend of Jean’s named Iris, who like, Jean was a devout Catholic.  There was a simple cut glass vase with a single red rose in it. (Jean’s hobby outside of work was growing roses.) Beside the rose was a card with the handwritten note:

“Until we meet again”

5 Reasons the Bob Newhart Show Was Revolutionary

Watching re-runs today, you may not realize that The Bob Newhart Show was revolutionary when it made its debut in 1972. Here are the 5 reasons why.

1. The characters all live in a city – The standard T.V. sitcom took place in the suburbs. Father Knows Best, The  Adventures of Ozzie & Harriett , and Leave It To Beaver all took place in the suburbs.  However, the characters in The New Hart show all lived in an apartment building in Chicago.

Cast of The Bob Newhart Show

Cast of The Bob Newhart Show

2. The female lead of the show had a job – Emily Hathaway (played by Suzanne Pleshette) was a full time public school teacher, and she was good it in. Up until then, almost 100% of T.V. shown portrayed women as stay at home moms.

The beautiful Suzanne Pleshette

The beautiful Suzanne Pleshette

3. Suzanne Pleshette was sexual. – It is hard to even image  Ozzie & Harriett Nelson or June & Ward Cleaver having sex. In fact, it is even disturbing to think about. In The Bob Newart Show, however, the beautiful Suzanne Pleshette was shown in a low cut nightgown sharing a king sized bed with her husband.

The Hartleys in Bed

The Hartleys in Bed

4. The married couple had no kids and did not plan to have any – The Newharts had a full life without children, and their friends were also all professional people with no kids.

Jack Riley as "Mr. Carlin"

Jack Riley as “Mr. Carlin”

5. The subject of mental illness was portrayed without hysteria.  Dr. Robert Hathaway (Bob Newhart) was a psychologist, and a large part of the show focused on his patients. They were not crazy or dangerous people, but likeable individuals who were struggling to face the pressures of everyday life. Of course, being a comedy the situations were portrayed with humor. The most memorable patient was “Mr. Carlin” (brilliantly played by Jack Riley). Mr. Carlin was a successful real estate developer who just cannot seem to be able to connect with people personally.  Actually broaching the taboo subject of mental illness is probably the biggest contribution of  The Bob Newhart Show .

So, if you happen to to be flipping through the channels and come across an old rerun of The Bob Newhart Show, you may want to view it with some respect. In its own way, it began to breakdown the T.V. stereotypes of what Americans were supposed to be and how we were supposed to act.

When Men Wore Hats – a poem of John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Men wore hats. Women’s dresses were  Bright,

Ties  narrow and black.  All shirts were white.

Cars had fins and gadgets galore.

America was Great. We had won the War.

The President was handsome. His wife a gem.

We never saw their likes again.

Was it real or were we fools?

Bullets and Time have been so cruel.

John F. Kennedy in business hat and white shirt

John F. Kennedy in business hat and white shirt

Ric Flair -“To Be The Man”

Ric Flair’s 2004 book, To Be The Man is a fascinating glimpse into the old days of professional wrestling. Even if you are not a professional wrestling fan it is an enjoyable nostalgic read.

Of course, professional wrestling is not a real athletic contest, but the people in it are superb athletes. Professional wrestling is basically a traveling circus. Like circuses, many of the performers are part of families that have been in the business for generations.

Young Ric Flair in his fancy robe

Young Ric Flair in his fancy robe

It is also a very nomadic life, especially for the lower level wrestlers. They perform in one city, then right after the show get in cars to drive to the next city to perform the following night. Unless you are one of the stars you probably  have to do  double duty by helping set up the ring and chairs in the arena.

But how do you get to be a professional wrestling champ in something that is not a real sport? Who actually decides the winners and losers? Ric Flair’s book shows how it is the fans that ultimately decide who will become great. The key to becoming a professional wrestling champion is to get the fans excited about you. You want the fans to love you or hate you, as long as they don’t ignore you.

Ric Flair uses models to promote himself

Ric Flair uses models to promote himself

Ric Flair made himself a wrestling star by inventing innovative ways to promote himself and get the fans and press to notice him. He used his own money to get publicity and start acting like a star long before the fans had ever heard of him. It is sort of what the Kardashians do today. He made himself famous by simply acting like he already was famous.

Ric Flair would get to a city the day before a wrestling match and go to a modeling agency. He would hire 3 or 4 beautiful models for the night of the match.  When it was his turn to wrestle, he would  walk down the ramp to the ring, with these beautiful women hanging on his arms and pretending to be his girlfriends.  He also spent a fortune on his wrestling costumes, with robes and boots costing thousands of dollars. The fans got a real show just seeing Ric Flair walk into the ring, before the match even started.  The fans loved his antics and  soon demanded to see more of “The Nature Boy”.

Ric Flair with Hulk Hogan. Flair thought Hogan was a terrible athlete since Hogan can wrestle for no more than 15 minutes without getting tired.

Ric Flair with Hulk Hogan. Flair thought Hogan was a terrible athlete since Hogan can wrestle for no more than 15 minutes without getting tired.

However, all of the promotion is just what got Ric Flair noticed. It was his athletic ability that made him great. The stamina and strength to be a professional wrestler is incredible.   Whenever they are  not in a match, wrestlers are working out. Ric Flair’s warm up routine before even starting his regular exercises was to do 300 sit-ups, 300 pushups and 300 squat thrusts.

Ric Flair showing that he still has the muscles

Ric Flair showing that he still has the muscles

If you can find a copy of To Be The Man, we recommend it as a fun summer read.

Free Books!

Libraries are doing something I never thought I would see in my lifetime. They are throwing out books. They are putting them on carts in front of the library and you can take as many as you want for free. If no one takes them, the library simply throws them out. Books are no longer needed in a modern library. They are being replaced by computers. No need to have stacks and stacks of books when they can be replaced by a few rows of computers that can access all the literature in the world instantly.

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I know it will make me sound very old and out of touch to say, but I find it almost sacrilegious to throw out a book .

The Library in my  home town of Basking Ridge New Jersey has  been giving away books for months now, and I have been gathering them up as if they are gems thrown in the garbage.

It is incredible what was being thrown out.  The Complete Works of Shakespeare, A Dictionary of Classical Mythology, a book with beautiful photographs of all the buildings ever designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. There were also mystery novels, books of poetry and erotic thrillers. All of these items are now proudly on my den shelves at home.  My wife thinks I am crazy, but I can not pass up an abandoned book any more than she can pass up an abandoned bunny.

But some of the books have sadder stories to tell than others. Many of the books have inscriptions in them. Some of the inscriptions show that the book was donated to the library in memory of a loved one. How could a library throw that out?

Other books have things inside them that people left as bookmarks and then forgot to take out when they returned the book to the library.  One was a letter in which a woman had written down all the phone numbers for support groups for Military Moms.  Her son was fighting in Iraq and she was worried sick about him.

She must have tried reading a book to take her mind off her worries. I don’t think it worked. The fact that the paper was still there as a bookmark meant that she had never finished the book. I pray that her son made it home safely.

I love physical books and old time libraries and dens filled with them. Throwing them out seems like when all the old Vinyl records were tossed. It was only after they were gone that people began to realize just how much them missed them.

When the last book from the last library is gone and there is nothing left but rows of computers; the libraries will be more efficient and cost effective.

But something will be gone forever.

Why the Dutch Tell Germans to “Bring Back Our Bicycles” at Football Matches

Whenever Dutch football (soccer) teams play German teams, the Dutch fans taunt the Germans with big  signs that say “Bring Back Our Bicycles “. The Dutch go to the trouble of writing out these signs in German so that their rivals will get the message.

The Dutch love the joke and think it is a great insult. The only  problem is that except for the very old people in the crowd , the Germans have no idea what the Dutch are talking about. The Germans know it is some sort of insult, but exactly what is it?

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Well it goes back to the end of World War II. The Germans, of course, had invaded The Netherlands at the very beginning of the war, and it  was one of the very last countries liberated by the Allied Forces.

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By that point in the war, the German army was completely defeated and the Germans were retreating full speed as the Allied Forces approached. The Germans were using everything they could to get out of the Netherlands. They took trucks, cars,  motorcycles and tractors. When no motorized vehicles were left, the remaining German soldiers stole every bicycle in The Netherlands and rode them back to Germany.

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These events were 70 years ago, but the Dutch have never forgotten. They never hold up signs asking to bring back the cars or trucks or tractors. It is the bicycles they remember.

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The Netherlands is a nation of bicyclists. Children, businessmen, old people and beautiful young women all ride the big sturdy Dutch bicycles. In the pouring rain they ride them to work, steering with one hand and holding an umbrella in the other.

As time goes by and World War II seems more and more distant, the people of Europe will forget many things.  But the Dutch will never forget or forgive the theft of their bicycles.

The Boy Scouts Nuclear War Song

They’re rioting in Africa,

They’re starving in Spain.

There’s hurricanes in Florida,

And Texas needs rain.

The whole World is sweltering with hate and mistrust.

And I don’t like anybody very much.

But we can be thankful and tranquil and proud,

we have not been hit by that mushroom-shaped cloud.

But all of us know that one lucky day,

Someone will set the spark off,

And we’ll all be blown away.

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Editor’s note – This was a popular song in the Connecticut Boy Scout camp Tokowam in the summer of 1965.It sounds funnier when you sing it by a campfire and you are too young to grasp the true meaning. Lucky for us the World has learned from its mistakes and the threat of nuclear war  anywhere in Earth is long gone.

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 Be sure to read all our Nostalgic Stories.

The Girl From Greiz and Her New Trabant by Gregory Farrell

When a beautiful, tall German girl by the name of Dagmar Juettmann was 21 years old, world-changing events were happening in Berlin. Relations between East and West Berlin were improving. Many travel restriction had been lifted and there were even rumors that the Berlin Wall itself would be torn down.

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But Dagmar didn’t live in Berlin. She was hundreds of kilometers away in the town of Greiz, deep in the heart of East Germany. Dagmar found the events in Berlin to be an annoying distraction. She was focused on two major events in her own life. The first was working hard to pass her Accounting exams. Good jobs were hard to come by in East Germany, and getting her degree was essential. Dagmar was furious that all the other students wanted to talk about was Berlin and The Wall. She needed to study.

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The second life-changing event Dagmar was anticipating was getting a brand new Trabant. It was the only car available to East Germans of her family’s economic status and there was a 5 year waiting list.

West Germans made fun of the Trabant. West Germans had the Porsche, the Mercedes and even the Volkswagen, and they ridiculed the poor little  Trabant.

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There was a lot to ridicule about the Trabant. The car has a 2 cylinder engine that only produces 26 horsepower. Safety features  are non-existent. Rumors were that the body of the Tarbant was made out of painted cardboard. This was not true, but the body was made of a flimsy material composed of resin and cotton.  To top everything off, the gas tank of the car was on top of the engine. It was as if the designers had been trying to design a car with the most possible potential of catching on fire.

Still, Dagmar wanted that car. A Trabant would mean freedom and independence. With her new Accounting degree, a job  and a Trabant she would finally become an independent woman – at least as independent as anyone in Greiz East Germany could hope to be.

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The week Dagmar passed her Accounting exams with high marks, World events came crashing down to ruin her life. The Berlin Wall was torn down and the people of East and West Germany rejoiced. Dagmar knew that this was theoretically wonderful news, but like many East Germans she was scared of what it would mean for her personally.  What would happen to the economy in East Germany? Would all the communist East German companies collapse, unable to compete with the West? Would there be any jobs for a person with high marks in Accounting from an East German college? Dagmar was despondent.

Just as she was worrying about her future, her father came into her room with a big smile.  “I heard from the factory!” he said. “Your brand-new Trabant is ready to pick up. It is my graduation gift to you. I waited for it for 5 years and now it’s ready!”

Dagmar didn’t want the car. She knew it would be worthless when people could get a West German car. She wanted to tell her father she didn’t want the gift, but she just could not disappoint him. He had waited 5 years to give her this gift and it would be cruel not to accept it.

When Dagmar and her father got the Trabant she was feeling a little better. After all, it was shiny and new. It was fun to drive and it did mean she could go where she wanted.

As soon as she dropped her father back home, Dagmar took off in the Trabant to show it to all her friends. Despite the tiny engine, she was determined to see just how fast she could go.

Dagmar had only been driving the Trabant for about 1 hour when she took a corner too fast and the tires slid. She scraped the side of the car into a stone wall, and a rock punched a hole through the side of the car.

Dagmar knew she couldn’t tell her father. She spent the rest of the day diving the car all around Greiz to every place that might possibly be able to fix the hole. But they all wanted a huge amount of money.

Finally towards the end of the day Dagmar found a garage mechanic who took pity on her. She explained in tears about the accident and how she wanted to hide it from her father. The mechanic said that the hole had not structurally damaged the car. It would still drive just fine. He said the hole didn’t really have to be fixed, it just had to look like it was fixed.

He took some sort tape, covered up the hole and painted over the tape. He was a real artist. When he was done the car look as good as new. Of course, if you were to touch that spot, your finger would have punched a hole in the tape.

When the paint dried, Dagmar drove home very slowly. She was still worried about what the changes in Germany would mean to her future,  but she felt that, like the problem with the Trabant, somehow things would work out.

Editors Note: – I met Dagmar after communism had fallen and Germany was reunited. Dagmar has a good job in the Finance department of the Dutch chemical company Akzo-Nobel in Dusseldorf. Whenever possible she hires other people from Greiz.

Dagmar kept the Trabant.  Once Trabants were no longer being produced, they became collectors items.  Car buffs from all over the world wanted to own what was considered to be the “worst car ever made”.  Dagmar eventually sold the Trabant for many times more than her father had paid for it. She never told her father about the hole in the car covered with painted tape.