A Nickel

               When I was a little kid, soft drinks, (pop) in machines cost ten cents, then 15 cents, and then a quarter.  The bottles were 10 ounces or so, and made of glass.  Back then, my dad would tell me that when he was young pop was a nickel.  Since I was a kid, I mentally rolled my eyes at his old-ness.  Now, of course, I am frequently reflecting on such things.  I guess it comes with the old-ness territory.

               I enjoy watching the TV channels that have the old situation comedies and such.  They bring back memories.  Some I like more than others.  “The Brady Bunch” is NOT one of my favorites.  That being said, I recently saw part of an episode where Mrs. Brady had a fender-bender, and the other person involved demanded that the Brady’s pay his repair bill.

               First, you need to know that the antagonist was played by the guy who played Grandpa in “The Munsters.”  But, more to the point, he was trying to take advantage of the Bradys by gouging them for… wait for it… $265. 

               Can you imagine a body shop repair bill for $265?  Today it probably costs that much for a new gas cap.

               It reminded me of the first “Austin Powers” movie, where the bad guy, Dr. Evil, who had been frozen since 1969, attempts to hold the world ransom for “One million dollars!”  That was a lot of money in 1969.  Not so much these days.

               Some things’ prices really haven’t changed much.  When I was in college, it seems to me that a pair of jeans was around $18.  Thanks to the globalization of clothing manufacturing, you can sometimes find jeans for close to that price.  They’re made in Mexico, or someplace.  Some jeans are still made in the USA, but they are hard to find, and cost a bit more.  The All American Clothing Company (www.allamericanclothing.com) in Ohio sells jeans for three times $18.  I haven’t tried them yet, but I’m going to.  After all, $54 is pretty much what foreign-made Levi’s jeans cost.

               When we tell our kids that our first new car cost $3,000, and our first house $29,000, I know the mental eye-rolls are happening.  That’s okay.  Perspective is a good thing.

I only hope they know I’m passing-on a tradition, and that must be worth at least a nickel.




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The E of A

As an observer of people and language, and an expert in neither, I enjoy watching the changes that take place in how people identify things.  Over the years we’ve become much more comfortable with acronyms, and the proliferation of texting has made the increase in acronyms even greater.

Acronyms aren’t new, of course.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation has always been the FBI.  The importance of the NAACP’s acronym is so great that they keep the words “Colored People” in their name in order not to mess with those initials.

There has certainly been an “E” (evolution) of “A” (acronyms) over time, and sometimes it is hard to keep up with them.

Kids who are out of control used to be called “wild.”  Over the years that has changed to ADD or ADHD.  We could add a letter to that if a person was considered to be “Type A.”  ADHDA is unpronounceable, but maybe we can buy a vowel so it could be.

The area of sexuality has been in the news a lot over the past, oh, forever, but especially the past year or so.  At one time, people were thought of to be “normal” or homosexual.  Then, as society became more accepting, the term “Gay” became popular, with other people being “straight.”

When I was in college, the acronym “LGB” emerged, covering people who were lesbian, gay, or bisexual.  Sometime between then and now the transvestite community joined in, placing a “T” at the end.

Much more recently – a day I must not have been paying attention – the letter “Q” was added.  I understand that it means “Questioning.” If it were up to me, I’d have picked “U” for undecided, but it clearly wasn’t up to me.

In some respects I think Facebook got it right when they provided the “It’s complicated” option under the category of “relationships.”   The world of gender surely has become complicated.

So, with LGBTQ as the acronym for that “community,” I wonder if there are more letters to come.  There could be an “A” for androgynous, a “D” for disinterested, or an “R” for retired.

Honestly, I have no concern over what people do as individuals or what they decide to call it.  At this stage in my life the acronyms that most concern me are things like CD’s, SSA, IRA, FDIC, NASDAQ, and PSA (prostate specific antigen).

I’ll stay tuned for updates in the world of acronyms, though, so I can pretend to be knowledgeable and on top of things.

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Life Around Us

(From July)

Those of us who have the good fortune to live in rural areas sometimes take our environs for granted.  It’s very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day demands on our minds and our senses, leaving no room for the natural world’s influences.

We’re at a stage in our lives where we have more time to stop and smell the roses, and complain because the new varieties don’t have very much scent compared to the old ones.  Without kids to monitor it’s easier to make time for nature – even in small ways.

Many people make their yards bird habitats, with many feeders and plantings to attract birds.  We have an oriole feeder and a hummingbird feeder, and that’s about it.  However, humming birds and orioles are both beautiful and fun to watch, and the orioles, along with their cousins the robins and cardinals, fill the air with sound.

We put up some bluebird houses many years ago, and sometimes the sparrows take them, but this year we seem to have a nice number of bluebirds which, seen in the right light, are beautiful.

We’ve taken to driving an eight mile route a few nights a week.  It takes us down some less-traveled roads.  We go at sunset, and count deer.  Depending on the time of year, we may see five or six, or, on one extraordinary evening, 85.  But, we’ve also seen owls, an eagle’s nest, and recently, a family of foxes and a coyote stalking three deer.

  And, there are always cranes and geese and turkeys.  The male turkeys seem to think very highly of themselves as they do their grand displays for the females, who seem to ignore the show.

These rides have taught me a few things.  First, there is a difference between looking and REALLY looking.  It’s surprising what you can see if you give it your full attention.  I think we’ve both learned some things about deer behavior.  They may not always be very good at avoiding cars (or vice-versa), but given what they contend with (weather, insects, predators, scarcity of food) they are amazing survivors.

We visited my mother-in-law last weekend.  She has many more bird feeders than we do, and a nice wooded lot that my late father-in-law transformed from a farm field many years ago.  She had a female turkey eating up seeds under a feeder.  But, even more amazing was the peacock that showed up.  Amazing, because we don’t have wild peacocks in Wisconsin.

So, if you see somebody out looking for a lost peacock in the Kaukauna area, let me know.

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Real Life

There’s an old phrase: “Life imitates art.”  It can be interpreted various ways, but it is odd how sometimes things happen that seem unreal and fictional – or even fanciful.

I remember a Memorial Day weekend when we lived in Duluth.  We were planting our little garden when I noticed it was snowing.  I realized I was planting snow peas at the time.  Not an earthshaking coincidence, but still…

More recently, and far less happily, it was reported that an angry camel bit off a man’s head.  So for all those times when somebody who was being criticized said, “Don’t bite my head off,” we now know if can happen.

Back when we used to cut and bale our own hay, the expression “make hay while the sun shines” took on a literal meaning as storm clouds rolled in when we had another load to finish.  Making hay has other meetings, as does hitting the hay, or a roll in the hay.  None are enhanced by rain, though.

The expression “nothing is sure except for death and taxes” took on new meaning at the VFW fish fry in Stoughton last weekend when we noticed that the placemat had a mortuary and a tax preparation service listed.  For some reason that reminds me of the Archie’s Monuments location that used to be on Highway 26 north of Watertown which also featured miniature golf.  A very interesting combination business.  Watch out for the last hole!

Another tragic example of late: the man who attempted suicide by stripping naked and breaking in to the lions’ area at a zoo.  Throwing someone to the lions is supposed to be a metaphor.  It’s hard to imagine even the most jaded movie script including suicide by lion.

Life has imitated science fiction for many years, from rocket travel to artificial intelligence.  In fact George Orwell’s “1984” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” were, I guess, social-science fiction books that speak to thought control (Facebook?) and constant monitoring by the government (cameras everywhere in cities, cell phones being monitored…) 

Life imitates art in good ways too, of course.  It doesn’t often make the news, however. 

I don’t want to make too big a deal out of all this.  Rumor has it that there is a mole hill somewhere that might be made into a mountain, if we’re not careful.


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Old Faces Book

The new world of social media gives those of us who want it the opportunity to keep in touch, or get back in touch with people from earlier stages in our lives.  Locating people is fairly simple these days, compared to 30 years ago, when private investigators would be needed.

Some people use these new tools, like Facebook, to get together with old flames, which turns out not to be such a good idea much of the time, as Facebook was mentioned in 42% divorce proceedings a few years ago.

For me, it’s just interesting to see what old friends are up to.  I mostly find that I exchange one email with childhood or college buddies, and then just follow them on Facebook.

Monday was an interesting day in that regard.  Early in the day I learned that a college friend is about to move to a place in the country.  I think she lives in Washington State with her husband.  Her mother just died this year – she was in her mid-90’s.

Later in the day I learned that another college friend who had just one month ago moved to a new job in Washington, DC had resigned, and was returning to his previous job in Florida.   Tough month.

Then that night, I saw a shocking post from a woman I knew in college.  She had married a great guy who was in a lot of classes with me.  His name was Ted.  They were a really nice couple.  She wrote to report that he died of a massive heart attack at age 62.  My age.  I remember going to a Marx Brothers’ double feature with the two of them.  I was a third wheel, but didn’t feel like one.

I haven’t seen Ted since 1976, so I can’t claim to have been his friend.  I still feel sorrow for his death, and for his wife’s loss.   A loss I wouldn’t have known about without Facebook.

Three college classmates: one moving to the country, one moving back to Florida, one moving to the afterlife.  There is probably a conclusion to be drawn, or a moral to the story, but I’m not sure what it is.  Maybe this: be sure to spend time and energy with your real-world friends in case they move along sometime soon.

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Another Ten

The Ten Commandments are quite famous, after all these years.  That doesn’t mean they are universally obeyed, by any stretch of the imagination, but at least most people have a pretty good idea of what they are, or at least can summarize them.

Other religions, too, have their lists of rules to follow, but we won’t go into those right now.

What I will do is put forth some thoughts about ten additional commandments for your consideration.  Of course I’m not putting myself on the same status as God, and in fact, commandments is the wrong word to use.  Suggestions might not be strong enough.  How about guidelines?

You probably have some of your own to submit.  But, for the sake of discussion, here are my “other ten:”

11.          While walking, thou shalt not look to the right while turning to the left.

12.          If talking on a phone or sending a text, thou shalt not engage in any retail transaction, lest the earth shall swallow you up for eternity.

13.          Woe be unto he who says “free prize.”  All prizes are free, lest they not be prizes.

14.          Thou shalt not travel in passenger aircraft while laden with intestinal gasses seeking their freedom.

15.          Use some common sense and common courtesy before it becomes extinct.

16.          Ye, I say unto you, weareth thine capris pants, for they look fine.  They just aren’t my favorites.

17.          It is written: the lid to the juice container must be put on properly, or woe be unto he who shaketh it, as it shall leak.

18.          If your name is Barbara, and you say you are calling from Google to update my account, I deny thee, and condemn thee to my rejected call list.

19.          If there is a burning bush, it is because you burnethed thine brush on a windy day.  Wait for calm, and have shovels and buckets of water handy.

20.          Lo, it is commanded, offer not to search for ticks unless you really think there might be ticks, and not just to start some hanky-panky.

So, those are my second ten guidelines by which to live.  Consider them a rough draft.  Very rough.   They certainly won’t help you find eternal life, but might come in handy on a day-to-day basis.

It probably wouldn’t hurt  to review the original commandments too, while you’re thinking of it.  There’s one about coveting your neighbor’s lawn tractor, I think.


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Who Trumps Who?

(From June)

As I may have mentioned, I’m not much of a game player, and especially cards. I know some of the terms, and that’s about it.  Trump, for example, denotes the suit or number that supersedes other cards in a game like bridge or pinochle, if I have that right.

It’s funny to have a presidential candidate with the name Trump who seems to be superseding the others.  But it depends on the game.  If we’re playing Uno, or Yahtzee, somebody else might be winning.  Or surely “go fish” would go to a more relaxed contestant.  Someone in favor of amnesty could win a poker game with a full house, or a socially conservative plumber might win with a straight flush.

Pro-business candidates might like running a campaign to the rules of monopoly, but one particular candidate may end up going directly to jail without collecting $200.  And one anti-business candidate might learn some things about how business works by playing monopoly, but will probably quit if he can’t bring a printing press to make more money, or get the other players to give their money to him for the greater good.

Maybe the most entertaining debate format would be a pajama party with a rousing game of truth or dare.  Or maybe, truth, dare, or with draw from the race.

I heard somebody talking on the radio the other day who made an interesting point, and some other incidents have happened since then that have supported his point.  He made the observation that this election isn’t about Republicans and Democrats, or even liberals and conservatives.  To paraphrase, it’s about common sense.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders actually HAVE common sense, but since the current president and congress don’t seem to, perhaps doing the opposite of what they’ve done will make sense.

I understand the sentiment, but not the logic, any more than I understood the logic of voting for someone because of their color, or voting for someone because of her gender, or voting against someone because he was a Mormon.  There are plenty of points of evaluation for each candidate, but none of the above make any rational sense to me.

I think a president should be tough, also dignified.  A president should be both forward thinking and conversant in traditions and international relationships.  Respect for other nations and for friends and foes in our own country is essential.

Being candid is a good thing, but not when it takes future negotiating options off the table.  Repeatedly and purposefully lying for political expediency is short-sighted and a character flaw.

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