Thursday, October 30, 2014

Here’s Johnnys!: A Quiz

Nicknames are funny things. I’ve mentioned before how confused I am by any grown man who allows himself to go by the name of “Dick.” It seems to me Richard is a perfectly fine name, as are the diminutives of Rich and Rick. Why would anybody purposely skip over those more-than-acceptable options and choose to be addressed as one of the most common slang words for the male genitalia? I’ll never understand it.

John is a very common first name. In fact, in the U.S. it is the second most popular given name for males. Do you know what’s first? I do. Nicknames for John include Johnny and, curiously, Jack. Do you know how the name “Jack” was derived from John? I do. Why not look it up when you’re researching the most popular male name in the U.S? Don’t be so lazy.

The thing is, when it comes to famous people, there are clearly Johns, Jacks and Johnnys. Sure, you might have heard one of the Beatles refer to John Lennon as “Johnny,” but trust me, if you ever tell someone that your favorite singer is Johnny Lennon, or that your favorite actor is John Nicholson, well, you’re going to sound like an asshole. Yes, even more than you usually do.

So for today, let’s just deal with the famous Johnnys out there. There are more of them than you might think!

1. He was inducted in the Country Music, Rock and Roll and Gospel Music Halls of Fame.

2. He was named People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 2003 and 2009.

3. His characters included Art Fern, Floyd R. Turbo and Aunt Blabby.

4. He wrote the lyrics to over 1500 songs and co-founded Capitol Records.

5. His 350 million records sold makes him the third most successful singer of the 20th century.

6. Albino blues guitarist named as one of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarist of All Time.”

7. Known as the French Elvis, his real name is Jean-Philippe Smet.

8. This American nurseryman was born on September 26, 1774 and became a legend in his own time.

9. ESPN has called him the greatest catcher in baseball history.

10. Has played the love interest to Sara Gilbert on Roseanne, The Big Bang Theory and in real life.

11. This stunt performer was born Philip John Clapp, Jr. in, of course, Tennessee.

12. This singers hits include, “Secret Agent Man” and “Poor Side of Town.”

13. He is best remembered as Jody on the sitcom Family Affair.

14. He started out as a Mousketeer and became famous as The Rifleman’s son.

15. Lead singer of the Sex Pistols who got his name from the condition of his teeth.

1. Johnny Cash
2. Johnny Depp
3. Johnny Carson
4. Johnny Mercer
5. Johnny Mathis
6. Johnny Winter
7. Johnny Hallyday
8. Johnny Appleseed
9. Johnny Bench
10. Johnny Galecki
11. Johnny Knoxville
12. Johnny Rivers
13. Johnny Whitaker
14. Johnny Crawford
15. Johnny Rotten

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Damn Long Does It Take to Carve a Mountain Into an Indian?

It’s the summer of 1971, I’m eighteen years old and I and my two equally non-svelte brothers are all jammed in the back seat of the family’s 1962 Chevy Bel-Air. It’s cramped back there and we’re fighting for space, as we will continue to do for the next four thousand miles. We are on a family vacation to South Dakota. We’re on our way to see Mt. Rushmore.

And, of course, points along the way. There is a sense of adventure in the air; an opportunity for new experience. And the new experiences begin at the Illinois State Fair. Now up until that point my only knowledge of a state fair was through some blurry photos in a school textbook about alien cultures, such as Illinois, and that corny old movie starring Pat Boone. (I’m too young to remember the really old one with Dick Haymes.) And now I myself was at my first state fair, complete with cows, sheep and pigs. It was exotic beyond words.

After we had arrived in South Dakota, many uncomfortable miles later, and viewed Mt. Rushmore we learned of another mountain that was being carved right at that very moment. How lucky for us to have arrived during the actual creation of the Crazy Horse monument, even if we had almost no idea who Crazy Horse might have been or why somebody would want to carve his image into a stone mountain.

After seeing Mt. Rushmore the Crazy Horse monument was something of a disappointment. Actually it would have been a disappointment after seeing just about anything. From the viewing platform we looked off in the distance to see a flat rock with a hole cut through it. A mural on a wall told us that the flat part of the rock would be Crazy’s extended arm and the hole would be, well, his armpit I suppose. The entire experience reminded me of the episode of The Flintstones when they go to see the Grand Canyon and discover only a trickling stream. “They expect it to be a big deal some day,” says Fred.

I was not an unromantic kid (all that came later) and as I stood there I looked forward to the day when I would return to see the completed sculpture. In my young mind I estimated that it would probably take about four, and maybe as many as five, years to get the job done. After all, we had read that the guy who was doing the carving was now being assisted by his sons, so I figured that with the whole clan chipping away they’d knock the thing out in no time.

Over the years a photo of the monument under construction would occasionally appear in a newspaper or magazine, and invariably I’d clip the article and send it to my parents or they’d clip it and send it to me. And the only constant in these photos was that Crazy Horse seemed to look exactly the same as he had back in 1971, armpit hole and all. I was sure that there was progress being made, but I’d be damned if I could see it.

And now we are in the computer age and it is a simple matter to keep track of the memorial’s progress. A quick trip to Wikipedia reveals a picture of Crazy Horse as he looks today, and damned if he still isn’t a big rock with an armpit. OK, to be fair, Crazy Horse now has a face. In fact a dedication ceremony was conducted about ten years ago. For the face.

And no doubt there was at least one teenager at that ceremony who looked up at the giant rock with the armpit and made a silent vow: One day soon he would return to see the finished product. Keep dreaming, kid.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mamunia on Honeymoon Island

I’ve often said , witty fellow that I am, that I’m glad I spend time in Florida, because when I die Hell won’t seem quite so bad. During the first month of my recent stay I’m not sure if we had a single day where the temperature didn’t climb into the 90’s. And if we did, it was 89.

Now I’ll let you in on a little secret. And if you tell anyone about it I’ll deny it. There are some things that I do enjoy about Florida. Sure, under most circumstances I’m done enjoying these things after about a week, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

I enjoy the tropical “feel” to the place, which is why I usually visit in August. Yes, I know, if I plan a trip to Florida in August I have no right to complain about the heat. Sue me. You see, I live on the northern California coast, where the high temperature for all of last July was…68 degrees. And I love it. But I also like the dramatic change I experience with a summer visit to Florida. God no, I wouldn’t want to live there, but visiting for a week is tolerable, and even enjoyable.

I always visit Honeymoon Island when I’m in Florida. It’s a state park about two miles from where I stay. It’s everything my California beach is not. It has white sand beaches, swimmable water, endless seashells, even more endless bugs and the air temperature of a blast furnace.  On this most recent stay I went to Honeymoon Island three days in a row. The first day was glorious, and by the third day I was done. Burned, itchy and done.

On my second day on Honeymoon Island  I was walking along the shore, heading away from the parking lot and the crowds, when I looked up to see eight or nine people moving quickly towards me.  Most of them were in their bathing suits, including one stocky middle-aged lady. I later found out she was Russian (that’s a story for another day) and as she came jiggling towards me I thought that she kind of looked like Khrushchev in a bikini. And yet I found her curiously attractive.

The scene of the people running, or at least moving fast, reminded me of something out of a 1950’s horror movie. I continued my walk, perhaps a little more hesitant now, wondering if I was about to see a fifty-foot iguana emerging from the next curve of the beach. As the people got closer I was going to ask what the hurry was, but the answer came before I could, in the form of giant raindrops. I smiled at several of the people as they went by, including the Russian in the tiny bikini.

And then they were gone, making their last ditch run to the relative comfort of their dry and air-conditioned cars. I laughed to myself. Hadn’t they just been swimming? And weren’t these people in their bathing suits? Why all the panic over a little rain? And so I continued my walk down the beach, and as I did the skies, as the cliché says, opened up.

A minute later I took off my shirt. It was as wet as if I had just worn it into the Gulf. I looked up at the sky, stretched out my arms as the deluge continued. I think I even laughed out loud, as I had a moment of realization. This moment, where I was walking in the torrential rain, against all reason, heading in the opposite direction as everyone else, seemed to be a near perfect metaphor for how I’ve lived my life so far. And so what? I just knew that it felt good.

In fact I was tempted to remove my bathing suit as well, but then I remembered this was Florida, and Florida had rules. Had I been in California it would have been no problem, except, of course, the rain would have been cold enough on my naked self to make my teeth to chatter like a junk-sick hophead.

It didn’t seem possible, but the rain came down even harder, and for a moment I questioned my decision not to run to the parking lot, as my fellow humans had. But the rain still felt wonderful, and I was reminded of the words to an old McCartney song:

So lay down your umbrella
Strip off your plastic mac
You’ve never felt the rain my friend
Till you’ve felt it running down you back

And just like that the rain stopped, the clouds turned white and fluffy and the sun returned. And even though I was only a visitor to Florida I knew this was going to happen. This is what rain always does in Florida.  I later discovered that at least some of those people who went running to their cars were locals. I wonder why they didn’t know?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Scraps: A Happy New Year

This is one of my favorite scraps in the pile, not just because it is nearly the oldest but also because it includes not only the date but the name of the newspaper as well. It was clipped by a person unknown from the The Sun, which was published in New York, and is dated January 1, 1864.

Or more specifically, “Jan’y 1, 1864." Below the date is a headline proclaiming “A Happy New Year,” followed by a column of copy that expresses more optimism than you might expect during a time when the country was suffering through what remains to this day its bloodiest war.

The article claims that, “Never before have the New Year chimes awakened brighter anticipations” and “The gloomy clouds of war seem about to drift away, and bright Peace appear…” Whether there was real cause for this optimism or it was simply wishful thinking is hard to say from our comfortable perch one hundred and fifty years in the future, but we do know for sure that on the day these sentences were written the surrender at Appomattox was still well over a year away.

On the flip side of the scrap, under the heading The Year 1863 is list of “important and other events” for that year. Topping that list are several paragraphs from January 1st, the day when President Lincoln issued what we now refer to as the Emancipation Proclamation. In the article it is referred to as a Proclamation of – and it is from here that a thumb-sized piece of the ancient newspaper is missing, taking the historic word with it.

Below this are two charts: one lists the number of slaves in certain “states and parts of states” that have been liberated by Lincoln’s proclamation. The other names the states where the “institution of slavery” is not disturbed. Included here are Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and others, leaving a total of 830,000 slaves “still in bondage.” (Just in case you thought the Emancipation Proclamation freed all the slaves.)

Other events recalled from 1863 include a riot in Detroit that began with “a negro outraging a little white girl,” and a lecture by reformer Henry Ward Beecher that was “disturbed by a mob.”   Beecher, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe and who supported abolition and women’s suffrage, would later stand trial for adultery. Also in 1863, General Ambrose Burnside took over the command of the Department of the West, although today he is better remembered for his facial hair, and for lending his name to what we now call “sideburns.”

Incidentally, a copy of The Sun cost a penny in 1864, which is the equivalent of only fifteen cents today. This seems like quite a bargain. After all, can you find a newspaper for fifteen cents? Can you find a newspaper at all? 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Campbell’s “Pork” & Beans

Mom was alright. Even though she wanted it for herself, if you happened to be in the kitchen when she poured that can of Campbell’s Pork and Beans into the saucepan, and if you were the first to find it, she’d let you eat that tiny piece of pork that was always hidden somewhere among the beans. Like I said, Mom was alright.

Did I say pork? What it was, and continues to be, is more a bit of fat, the sole purpose of which, it seems to me, is to protect the Campbell's folks from having to have only the word “beans” on their red and white label. I got a little nostalgic the other day when I opened a can, and you know, I never even found that tiny scrap of fat. It must have been an oversight on my part; I'm certain that Campbell’s is unfailingly vigilant about putting that tiny glob in each can. It’s like some glutinous, artery-clogging Crackerjack prize.

What I don’t understand is how they get away with calling it Pork & Beans in the first place. Oh, I suspect that a hundred or so years ago when flatulent cowboys sat around the campfire, it truly was pork and beans, with big hunks of glistening pig floating around in there with all them beans. Why, if the cook had even once dared to serve beans with just a single, dime-sized morsel of fat, well, I have no doubt he would have been lassoed, tied to his own chuck wagon and dragged around the cactus-strewn prairie for a few miles. And deservedly so.

Originally I thought that they are legally compelled to call it Beans and Pork, as beans, being the major (and practically the only) ingredient, should be listed first. Then I realized that this is only required on the list of ingredients, not in the name of the product itself. (The three main ingredients, incidentally, are water, beans and, of course, America’s national beverage: high fructose corn syrup.)

Still, if you bought a can of, say, Lobster and Wild Rice, and got home to find only a can of rice with but a tiny speck of lobster not large enough to fill a molar, well, I bet you’d be plenty peeved. And yet we’ve been putting up with this Pork and Beans scam since I was a kid, and probably a lot longer than that.

So Campbell’s, why don’t we do this: Let’s just drop the whole charade, do away with that piece of “pork,” and just call your product Beans. Or better yet, Barbeque Beans. It certainly would be more honest, and there would be other benefits besides. For example, based on the quantity in each can, I would estimate that you barely use one whole pig per half a million cans, or so. So admittedly, even if you eliminated the pork from your product you’d probably save only one pig’s life a year. It doesn’t seem like much to you, I know, but I’m sure he’d appreciate it. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Can of Corn: A Baseball Slang Quiz

It looked like it might be a laugher for the hometown team. The visitors seemed to be on the ropes, when suddenly their clean-up man hit a Texas Leaguer, and then the next batter got plunked. The home team brought in their fireman, but to no avail. On the very next pitch the visitors' money player launched a four-bagger into the bleachers, instantly turning the contest into a real nail-biter. And suddenly those insurance runs seemed crucial for the home team.

Now, if you’re a baseball fan, and perhaps even if you’re not, you probably understood what was going on in the action described above. True, the paragraph is crammed with more baseball expressions than you’re likely to hear from even the most cliché-dependent of announcers, but still, you get the general idea.

There is, however, a long list of baseball terms that even you, Mr. Baseball himself, might not be familiar with. F’rinstance, do you know what an Annie Oakley is? How about a “Bugs Bunny” or a “butcher boy”?  No, I didn’t think you did.

And that’s okay. Baseball has been around for a century and a half, and has over that time, not surprisingly, acquired its own language. Sure, you know what a blooper and a circus catch are, but how about these? How many of these slang baseball terms do you know?

1. What is a fifty-five footer?
a. a hit ball that stops rolling in the infield
b. a homerun that hits the flagpole
c. a pitch that bounces before it reaches home plate
d. a tall, lanky pitcher

2. What is a banjo hitter?
a. a batter who can hit to all parts of the field
b. a batter without much power
c. a large baseball bat
d. a player from the Deep South.

3. A player might be called “rabbit ears” if he…?
a. listens to what the fans or opposing players say
b. is speedy on the base paths
c. can pick up a catcher’s signals
d. has big ears

4. What is the Mendoza Line?
a. over 400 feet from home plate
b. the odds of a given pitcher winning that day
c. people waiting for Standing Room Only tickets
d. a .200 batting average

5. “Ash” is an old-timey term for what?
a. a baseball bat
b. a fastball
c. a pitcher removed from the game
d. the dirt part of a field

6. When will a pitcher be called a batter’s “cousin”?
a. when he hits the batter with a pitch
b. when the batter finds him easy to hit
c. when they have recently played on the same team
d. when the batter charges the mound

7. What is a “duck fart”?
a. a breeze that affects the path of a fly ball
b. a softly hit ball that makes it over the infielders
c. a foul tip
d. an airplane that flies over the game

8. A player is said to be “window shopping” when he…?
a. wants to be traded
b. eyes pretty women in the stands
c. gets caught looking at a third strike
d. not in the starting line-up

9. What does it mean when a player “jakes” a play?
a. he made a half-hearted attempt
b. he made an error
c. he made a great catch or throw
d. he covered a different position

10. When is a player said to have had “a cup of coffee”?
a. when he is taken out of a game
b. when he has spent only a short time in the minors
c. when he doesn’t show up for batting practice
d. when he gets angry at the umpire


1. A fifty-five footer is A PITCH THAT BOUNCES BEFORE IT REACHES HOME PLATE. The distance from the mound to home is sixty feet, six inches, so anything less would come up a little short. A lot of ceremonial first pitches turn out to be fifty-five footers. Or less!
2. A banjo hitter is A BATTER WITHOUT MUCH POWER. He’s much more likely to hit bloop singles or infield hits than homeruns. The term is believed to come from the twanging sound the bat supposedly makes on these hits.
3. If a player LISTENS TO WHAT THE FANS OR OPPOSING PLAYERS SAY, and allows this to affect his game, he might be said to have rabbit ears. Often umpires who seem to have the ability to hear certain uncomplimentary comments from the dugout are sometimes given the same moniker.
4. Mario Mendoza played shortstop in the majors for nine years, despite the fact that he was an anemic hitter. When a player is batting over A .200 BATTING AVERAGE, he is said to be hitting above the Mendoza Line. Mendoza himself had a .215 lifetime batting average, which put even him above his own line!
5. A BASEBALL BAT is generally made from the wood of the ash tree, and was once referred to as an ash.
6. WHEN THE BATTER FINDS HIM EASY TO HIT, a pitcher may be referred to as a particular batter’s cousin. I suppose he may also be called a cousin when the two actually are related. I have no doubt this has happened many times in baseball, but if you want the specific statistics I’m afraid you’re going to have to look them up for yourself!
7. A SOFTLY HIT BALL THAT MAKES IT OVER THE INFIELDERS used to be called a duck fart. Eventually the name was changed by television announcers to the considerably less offensive “duck snort.”
8. When a batter GETS CAUGHT LOOKING AT A THIRD STRIKE he may be unkindly referred to as having been window shopping.
9. When a player jakes a play he is being lazy, or HE MADE A HALF-HEARTED ATTEMPT. I remember in little league this kid Charlie was taken out as pitcher and put in the outfield. When a ball got past him, he casually walked out to retrieve it. Our manager was not amused.
10. A player is said to have had a cup of coffee when HE HAS SPENT ONLY A SHORT TIME IN THE MINORS. In other words, he was there only long enough to have a cup of coffee before he was brought to the majors!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Scraps: Be the First One on Your Block

At first $299.95 would seem like a hefty price tag for a television in 1953. And I suppose it was. Additionally, when you adjust for inflation it turns out that price is the rough equivalent of $2600 today. It’s a lot, to be sure, but it’s not outrageous.

After all, people pay more than that for their flat-screens every day. Of course, the picture on today’s models is somewhat larger than what we see featured in the newspaper scrap above, not to mention a lot clearer. Oh, and you probably won’t be needing any rabbit ears on that new plasma you just lugged out of Best Buy.

And so to believe that in 1953 only the well-heeled could afford a television would be a mistake. While it’s true that only five years earlier, in 1948, only about half a percent of American households had a TV, this number had, by 1953, exploded to over 55%.

Let’s say you’re doing pretty well for yourself in Eisenhower’s America. After all, most people were. So you drive your new Studebaker down to Towne Television, (which, incidentally was in Norwalk, Connecticut) and select your TV from the many types, styles and finishes shown in the advertisement. You pluck down your $299.95, or perhaps take advantage of their “budget terms,” and just like that you have a brand new television set. And one with “Rotomatic Tuning” no less! So then, what are you going to watch?

Classics, that’s what! Many of the programs that aired in 1953 remain familiar to us today, and several of them are still on the air, including Meet the Press, Candid Camera and The Today Show. Other shows from that year that are gone but not forgotten, as least not by me, are Howdy Doody, The Ed Sullivan Show, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, The Jack Benny Show, Dragnet, I Love Lucy, American Bandstand, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Truth or Consequences, Adventures of Superman and Dragnet. Imagine, gathering with your family in the living room each night to watch these great shows, and so many more, all for only $2.31 a week.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Scraps: Nuts to You

In this scrap, Charles A. Thayer is claiming that the prices on his fruits and nuts are the lowest in Kings County. At least I assume we can include fruits, as only the letter “s” is remaining from that word. Below, in addition to the nuts, we can see the prices of raisins, prunes and lemons and so can safely assume the word was indeed “fruits.”

It’s interesting to see the phrase, “Kings County” used. Many of you have heard of the area of New York known as Queens, but have not often heard of its neighbor Kings, or Kings County. In truth you may well be familiar with this section on the western tip of Long Island, but you know it better as Brooklyn.

And so to the nuts! Almonds seem to be the big ticket item here, and many a housewife must have complained at the price of 22 cents a pound. Brazils, Filberts and Peacans fare a little better, at only 15 cents a pound. And while my spell check has underlined, in shocking red, that spelling of pecan, at the same time I hear the voices of those from long ago as they whine, “That’s how we spelled it back then!” 

And perhaps they did. Still, doubt remains, as in the ad the word “department” is misspelled with an “h” in the position where the second “e” should be. This is clearly a result of poor 
proofreading, as we can safely say that at no time in history, today or in 1884, was the word ever spelled like that. I wonder if some poor guy got in trouble, or fired, for the error.

Hey, good catch. How do I know that this scrap of paper is from 1884? You can see there is no dateline on the top of the page. Ah, but a look on the other side of the scrap shows three columns of news under the heading “News of the Day,” and on the very edge of the fourth column there is a bit of a calendar displaying just a part of the first three months of the year, along with the year itself, which is 1884. My birthday was on a Sunday that year, even though my first birthday was actually still seventy years away.

In the news we are told that a great disaster occurred near Ontario, Canada, where there was a collision between two trains. It says, “What had before been a car full of strong, hearty men became in an instant a sickening death trap filled with mangled, bleeding humanity.” Now that’s some evocative writing!

In other news…”five men dead and two dying is the result of a lynching case in McDade, Texas.” Now, I have no idea what is being said here, although I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not fully understanding this 19th century English, or the writer is being vague on purpose. I suspect the latter.

Another story tells us that a woman in Illinois invited a man to her house. The man had allegedly “made aspersions on her character,” and when he admitted to the woman that he had, she shot him. Dead. Also, an intoxicated couple died when they drove their wagon over an embankment and were “smothered in the snow.” You know, I can’t help but think that people from 130 years ago would have really enjoyed television. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Scraps: Introduction

Even though I hadn’t opened the trunk in over fifty years, I knew at least some of the items I would find there. In fact, I remember when we had put them in. First, of course, would be the Kennedy newspapers, carefully placed into what would be their home for the next half century a mere two days after the events in Dallas. It made me laugh to think how, when Mom and I had put them away, we couldn’t even have begun to imagine the year 2014, much less that these papers would be worth only about fifty dollars in that distant time. And that would be if they were in good condition, which I soon saw that these weren’t.

There were other newspapers in there, too. There were copies published nearly six years later, declaring that “Man Walks on Moon.” I remembered the headline but forgot that the front page date on that historic day had been cleverly written as “Moonday, July 21st 1969.” And there was another paper from 1969, The Daily News, that announced what might not have been considered a tragedy on par with some of the other world events of that time, but try to convince a kid who was a big baseball fan of that. “I just can’t hit anymore,” said the quote, and with that Mickey Mantle had announced his retirement.

There were other items in the trunk, which we had actually referred to as the “cedar chest” because, well, that’s what it was. The saddest of them all for me, even sadder that the headlines of assassinations and the retirement of sports heroes, was my mother’s wedding dress. Unless my mother had tried it on somewhere along the way, and I don’t think she did, the last time the dress had been worn was in 1950, when my mom was a twenty-two year old girl. Along with the wedding dress were two faded wedding favors, still filled with the traditional candied almonds.

Also in the cedar chest were several late 19th century bibles, a discovery that might have excited me years ago, before I realized that books from that era were quite common, and as such had little value. Still, I enjoyed, as always, carefully flipping to the copyright page and finding the date of publication. Even more poignant were the occasional names handwritten into the books, sometimes accompanied by an inscription, always written in that elegant 19th century style. “For William, Christmas 1883, from Father James,” said one.

And there were the scraps. Not complete newspapers by any stretch of the imagination, but simply browned, crumbly bits of paper that had been piled together for fifty years, and perhaps much longer. A cursory examination of the decaying papers gave me no clues as to who might have saved these relics, or why. There was no common thread that I could decipher, and the topics were as varied as much as the time periods the papers had spanned. Advertising, sports, classifieds and news were all there, although no major world events that I was familiar with were represented.

And yet to me the fragile fragments, breaking up more and more with each of my touches, were no less interesting because of their lack of momentous historic headlines. In fact, most of the pages were utterly fascinating. And at that moment I knew that I would return to examine the artifacts at a later date, when I could spend more time, and be more methodical.

And so, as gently as I could,  I returned the stack of scraps to the dark place where they had lay hidden undisturbed for over five decades, careful not to let any of the desiccated brown flecks flutter down onto my mother’s faded white wedding dress. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Good Doctor: A Hunter S. Thompson Quiz

I’m still not sure how I was able to catch it. All I know is that Hunter Thompson, seated behind the table in preparation for his book signing, had reached into his glass of who knows what, pulled out an ice cube, and flung it at me as I waited in line to meet him. My reflexes took over and I snatched it right out of the air, earning a nod of approval from the good doctor. How I had managed to catch it, I’ll never know. Why had he thrown it at me in the first place? Well, he was Hunter S. Thompson.

It takes a lot to get me into a major city, but when I read that Hunter S. Thompson would be in San Francisco to sign his new book, I knew I had to be there. I arrived about five hours before the published time of the event, and was, of course, first in line. I soon realized that I was absurdly early and left the bookstore to wander around Golden Gate Park. I returned nearly two hours later and once again stood in front of the bookstore. I was still first in line.

That Hunter Thompson was a major influence on my writing is no secret. I’ve admired his masterful use of humor, and especially his brilliance in always choosing the exact right word, since I first read one of his books in high school. I was also bright enough to recognize early in my writing career that I would not be another Hunter Thompson, and so I shouldn’t try to imitate him, as so many others had. Besides, I didn’t really like alcohol very much, never fired a gun of any kind and used illicit drugs only with great caution. No, the world already had its Hunter Thompson, and we are all the better for it.

1. In which military branch did Thompson serve?
a. Army
b. Navy
c. Air Force
d. Marines

2. Who was Thompson brutally beaten by in 1966?
a. Student protesters
b. Hell’s Angels
c. A group of Marines
d. His drug dealer

3. Where was Hunter Thompson born?
a. Fort Walton Beach, Florida
b. Glen Ellen, California
c. Louisville, Kentucky
d. San Juan, Puerto Rico

4. Which Thompson book has the subtitle, “A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.”
a. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
b. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72
c. The Curse of Lono
d. Generation of Swine

5. Which article is considered the first example of “Gonzo” journalism?
a. “The Great Shark Hunt”
b. “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”
c. “Freak Power in the Rockies”
d. “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan”

6. Who played the Hunter Thompson character in the film, Where the Buffalo Roam?
a. Bill Murray
b. Dan Aykroyd
c. Johnny Depp
d. Thompson played himself.

7. Finish the Thompson quote: “Buy the ticket;  ______   ______   ______”
a. Take the ride
b. Get a refund
c. Do your best
d. Sell the story

8. After his death, a piece of paper was found in Thompson’s typewriter with which word on it?
a. Hemingway
b. Silence
c. Counselor
d. Loathing

9. What exactly was Hunter Thompson a “doctor” of?
a. Journalism
b. Political science
c. He received an honorary degree from the University of Kentucky
d. None of the above

10. Who is Raoul Duke?
a. Thompson’s frequent illustrator
b. Thompson’s literary alter ego
c. Victim of an accidental Thompson shooting
d. Thompson’s convicted drug dealer


1. Thompson served in the AIR FORCE, where he got his first professional writing job, as a sports editor. He was recommended for an early discharge by his commanding officer, who wrote, “This airman, though talented, will not be guided by policy.”
2. In 1965 Thompson wrote an article about the HELL’S ANGELS, and received several offers to write a book. He rode with the gang for about a year, but the Angels began to suspect that Thompson was using them for his own gain. They demanded a share of his earnings, and Thompson’s subsequent “stomping” was used an effective marketing tool for the book.
3. In the Air Force Thompson was stationed near Fort Walton, and lived at times in both Glen Ellen and San Juan. He was, however, born in LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY.
4. FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS began as an assignment from Sports Illustrated to write a 250 word caption for a photo. It was later published as a book-length article in Rolling Stone.
5. In 1970 a magazine called Scanlan’s Monthly would publish an article by Thompson called, “THE KENTUCKY DERBY IS DECADENT AND DEPRAVED.” Its manic style and incorporation of the writer as a character in the story would mark it as the first example of what would later be called Gonzo Journalism. The term, incidentally, was first used to describe Thompson’s writing by Bill Cardoso, editor of the Boston Globe, who in a letter to Thompson praised his Kentucky Derby piece as, “pure gonzo.”
6. In 1980 the movie, Where the Buffalo Roam was released, based on the writings of Hunter Thompson. Thompson was played by BILL MURRAY. The two became close friends, although Thompson hated the film, as did most critics. Johnny Depp played Thompson years later in 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
7. Buy the ticket, TAKE THE RIDE. This is also the title of a 2006 documentary about Thompson.
8. The police report of Thompson’s suicide stated that a piece of paper was fund in his typewriter. On it was written the date, February 22, 2005, and the single word COUNSELOR.
9. Thompson, who did not graduate high school, neither earned a doctorate nor did he ever receive an honorary degree. He simply referred to himself as “doctor” in some of his writing and it stuck. He did however, purchase a doctorate from the Universal Life Church in the 1960’s.
10. Raoul Duke is a character who appears in much of Thompson’s writing, and THOMPSON’S LITERARY ALTER EGO.  He is a hedonist who consumes remarkable amounts of whatever drugs happens to be available. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was first published with Raoul Duke named as the author, although the first mention of him appeared a few years earlier in Hell’s Angels. The Doonesbury comic strip character Uncle Duke is based on Hunter Thompson.
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