Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Friend Edelbert

I was eight years old and I was confused, which was not an uncommon circumstance for me at that age, or even at this age for that matter. But why was she calling him that?


She did it again. The shout was coming from a window on the third floor of the old brick building that towered a short distance from my grandparents backyard. My brother and I had been dropped off at my grandparents for our usual three or four day summer visit, a visit I once believed my parents had intended as a vacation for us but grew to discover that it actually was a vacation from us.

During one of our stays we had met a neighborhood kid, became friends and generally hung around with him during our visits. He was a likable sort and his name was Eddie. The clearest memory I have of Eddie is the time he opened his wallet to show us the card he had just received in the mail. He said it was an official Archie Press Pass, and I couldn't disagree, because right there on the card it said PRESS, and next to the word was a picture of the red-headed cartoon character himself. You can't get more proof than that.

Eddie explained this was no ordinary card, but it came with privileges that I myself would probably never have, or even begin to comprehend. For example, all my friend Eddie had to do was flash his shiny new press pass and he could walk into any police station in the country. Wow! I can admit now to being supremely impressed with the card, and perhaps even just a bit jealous. It wasn't until many years later that I realized that anybody can walk into any police station in the country, and that walking out of a police station, at least in my experience, is often the more difficult part.

But what I could never understand was why, when his mother wanted him to come home, she'd lean out the window and bellow in a voice that could be heard all over the neighborhood, and probably throughout a good part of the tri-state area,


Once I even asked my friend why his mother called him by this strange sounding name, when everybody else with half a brain knew that his name was Eddie. I don't remember his reply, because I think there really wasn't much of one, just a mumble or two, and the subject was dropped. One thing I'm sure he didn't say was, "Because Edelbert is my real name."

And it took an embarrassing number of years for me to figure out what was going on. I actually spent a period of time thinking that Eddie's mother must be some kind of major league moron, seeing as she didn't even seem to know her own son's name. She wasn't dumb, of course, but rather a German immigrant with roots still buried deep in the soil of the old country. Eddie, however, was pure American, and as such a steady supply of Archie comics and never again having to hear the dreaded foreign-sounding name was all he needed to be happy.

Today I did some research and discovered that Edelbert is actually a grand old Germanic name that means "nobly bright." And from what I remember of my old pal Eddie I think that fits him just fine. So wherever you are, Edelbert my friend, thanks for the memories and I'll see you at the police station.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Yes, yes, we all remember that due to my recent unpleasantness with the folks at Virgin Mobile I found myself without a cell phone. I’m not going to rehash the ugly events of that day. I am, as you know, a highly evolved person, and as such am not in the habit of holding a grudge or taking cheap shots. In fact, I’m going to let bygones be bygones and not even mention Virgin Mobile again, thieving moose-fuckers though they may be.

The truth is I need a cell phone for one reason only: to keep in my car in case I run out of gas or drive off a cliff into the Pacific. And since I’ve rarely done the former, and have not yet managed the latter, I hardly use a cell phone at all. Oh, maybe I’ll send one text every other week to tell my friend that I’m going swimming, as if he gives a damn.

They had a good selection at Target, and it was a little confusing at first. Eventually, though, my eyes adjusted and I found my section. My heart skipped a beat when I noticed that there were phones with prices of $25, $20 and even $15. At last, I was home.

And then I saw it, and I knew it had to be mine. I’m not sure who makes the phone, or even everything it does, but the price caught my eye like a stripper in church. The phone was, if you believe it, $5. I picked it up and looked at it. At one point I thought I saw a halo glowing around it and heard a heavenly choir, but I might have imagined that.

A cursory examination of the phone and I was off to the counter before Target realized their error. The clerk was wise enough to avoid having me laugh in his face by not offering an extended warranty. I paid for the phone—cash don’t you know—and practically floated out of the store. I had just bought a brand new cell phone for about the same price as a Crappuccino at Starbucks.

And so what if it wasn’t the latest thing in wireless communication? Listen, I’m not the only person in America who still uses a flip phone. Why, there must be dozens of us. And when I got home I really had a nice surprise. The five dollar phone had…a camera! A camera alone for five dollars would have been a steal. This thing takes pictures and makes phone calls, too. What a country!

Oh sure, the whole buying minutes concept was a bit confusing at first, but I figured it out. The thing is, with, uh, that other company I paid $6.99 a month, and then ten cents a minute. And since I used on average about two minutes a month, it was quite cheap. Just like me.

With this phone there was no monthly fee, and I only had to buy minutes. The least I could get is sixty minutes for ten dollars, which is fine. Sixty minutes would get me right through to Christmas. Ah, but the minutes expire after a month. Now I know there are teens all over the internet giggling at me. “Why, I use sixty minutes before lunch,” they boast, as if that was some sort of accomplishment. You know what, Junior, how about reading a fucking book once in a while?

It’s okay though. At ten bucks a month and no per-minute charge it comes out to about the same as I paid with that, uh, other company. Oh, and for those of you chomping at the bit because I didn’t mention internet access or music apps or video capabilities, didn’t you read the part where I said I got the phone for five dollars?

Monday, April 21, 2014

With Five Popular Settings

Dammit, I must have thrown it out. Oh, hi there, didn’t hear you come in.  What you caught me squawking about is a box that I had saved—or thought I had saved—in my garage. I bought a new shower head a couple of weeks back and thought some of the description on the box might be amusing enough to share with you. And just a few minutes ago I find out that the box I saved was for my new telephone, not the shower head. Dammit.

I do remember the box had boasted that my new shower head came with “five popular settings.”  It made me laugh to think that I wasn’t getting just any old settings, but the popular ones. I was pretty happy that I hadn’t bought a shower head that came with any of those “unpopular” settings, and I wondered exactly what they could be. I suppose they might include the much feared Chinese torture drip setting, and perhaps even the dreaded flesh-ripping Extreme Stream setting. I’m sure glad I read the box first before I bought that shower head.

A friend advised that I could fix my old and clogged shower head by simply soaking it in vinegar. You know, if that worked on major purchases, like refrigerators or automobiles, I’d be soaking them in vinegar in a minute. But to go through all that for a shower head, instead of simply buying a new one, seemed excessively parsimonious, even for me. Go wild, I told myself. Spend the twenty bucks and shower like a king.  And that’s exactly what I did, and the improvement is dramatic. Besides, I believe I tried the vinegar trick on a shower head once before, with less than stellar results.

Years ago I was taking a shower in a hotel room in Nairobi. It was the first time I had used one of those “rain” shower heads.  I found the experience delightful, and vowed to get one when I got back home. I eventually did, but didn’t use it for very long. It had seemed quite exotic the first time, being as I was in a foreign land, in a room right next door to a rather boisterous gaggle of hookers. But back in everyday life it just wasn’t functional. You need that water pressure, man, unless you’re content to walk around all day with shampoo in your hair and a soapy film encasing your body.

And so now life is good, equipped as I am with both a new shower head and a new telephone.  The total cost for both of these conveniences, incidentally, came to less than forty dollars. And like the new shower head, the phone also seems to be functioning quite well, at least so far. And if it gets to the point where it doesn’t, well, maybe I’ll try soaking it in some vinegar.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mi Cocina

A few years back Spike casually mentioned that at some point she'd like to remodel the kitchen. This I thought was a strange request, coming as it was from a woman who for the last decade or so hasn't actually cooked much of anything except for perhaps the occasional grilled cheese sandwich. I, upon hearing the announcement, reacted in much the same way as I always do when even the slightest hint of an impending major expense unexpectedly appears on the horizon: I ran sobbing into the bedroom, slammed the door shut and screamed into a pillow until I finally passed out from oxygen deprivation..

Today, while strolling around Home Depot, Spike mentioned that she no longer cares if we re-do the kitchen. And the birds sang, the bells rung and the people's voices rose in a  joyous cheer. I mean, our kitchen works just fine. It's original to the house and gives it, I think, a nostalgic sort of warmth. (The house was built in 1959, which makes it older than just about anything in it.  Except for, of course, me.)

I like that the kitchen has a 1950's style to it. It reminds me of those long ago and wonderful days when only one sexual orientation was legal, black people had drinking fountains of their very own and just about everybody in the country walked around convinced that an atomic bomb was about to drop out of the sky and vaporize them. Good times. Why, sometimes in the glow of a quiet evening I'll gaze at our Eisenhower-era kitchen and imagine Robert Young casually passing through, puffing on his pipe and giving Princess a good-natured and highly inappropriate pat on the bottom.

And of course no kitchen today is worth remodeling unless you do it in slabs of granite. Granite! The very same stuff that's so slippery and so dangerous that Half Dome hikers are regularly sliding off it and plunging to their deaths! And you want me to surround myself with it?

Whenever I think of today's modern kitchen I always imagine those guys thirty, forty, fifty years in the future who, much like today's workmen who are daily ripping out tons of old Formica and tile, will surely be hired to tear's modern kitchen. What were those people at the beginning of the 21st century thinking? they'll ask themselves. Why on earth would they want their kitchens to be made out of rock? Who did they think they were, the fucking Flintstones?

Finally, I have done the research, you know, and the evidence is conclusive. I checked with more than a few contractors and building supply stores and the results are unanimous. In every single situation it turns out that putting in a new kitchen is more expensive than not putting in a new kitchen. And if you doubt me I can show you the estimates. Numbers don't lie.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

National Lampoon’s Vacation: The Quiz

The last words of English actor Edmund Kean may or may not have been “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” Still, that doesn’t stop most actors from agreeing with the thought. Comedy is hard. And that is just as true for writers. There are so many of them out there who think they are funny, which only gets in the way of those of us who truly are.

National Lampoon’s Vacation is one of the funniest movies made in my lifetime. And although it was softened somewhat from John Hughes’s original short story, it still maintained both its edge and the laughs. The foundation of the film, and the reason for much of its success, was the brilliant comedic performance by Chevy Chase.

And yet when I mention that Chase was deserving of, at the very least, an Oscar nomination everybody scoffs. Ho, ho, we can’t give the Best Actor award to the lead in a (scoff-scoff) comedy. No, we have a long tradition of only recognizing hammy actors blubbering through some self-important weepfest. Still, as we all learned above, comedy is hard. And apparently getting Academy Award recognition for it is even harder.

Ah, what are you going do? You’re going to take this National Lampoon’s Vacation quiz, that’s what. No, getting recognition in this quiz is not the same as winning an Oscar or a Golden Globe, but at least it’s something. Right?

1. Who sang the movie’s featured song “Holiday Road”?
a. George Thorogood
b. Lindsey Buckingham
c. Rickie Lee Jones
d. The Beau Brummels

2. Which Your Show of Shows alumnus appeared in the film?
a. Sid Caesar
b. Carl Reiner
c. Imogene Coca
d. Howard Morris

3. What was the family’s last name in Vacation?
a. Griswold
b. Floyd
c. Abercrombie
d. Pacholski

4. Which super-model played “Girl in Red Ferrari”?
a. Cindy Crawford
b. Cheryl Tiegs
c. Claudia Schiffer
d. Christy Brinkley

5. Who played the security guard at Walley World?
a. Eugene Levy
b. John Candy
c. Billy Crystal
d. Richard Lewis

6. “Daddy says I’m the best at it.” The best at what?
a. mixing drinks
b. cow tipping
c. French kissing
d. shoplifting

7. Who directed Vacation”?
a. Harold Ramis
b. John Hughes
c. Gene Wilder
d. Rob Reiner

8. Who is the mascot of Walley World?
a. Barney Bunny
b. Dandy Duck
c. Marty Moose
d. Walter Wombat

9. To what song did the family fall asleep to in the car?
a. “Mister Blue”
b. “Come Softly to Me”
c. “Brahms’s “Lullaby”
d. “Can’t Help Falling in Love”

10. To get to Walley World the family drives from where to where?
a. Boston to Los Angeles
b. New York to Orlando
c. Philadelphia to Orlando
d. Chicago to Los Angeles


1. The catchy tune heard over the opening credits was written and sung by Fleetwood Mac band member LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM. The song reached #82 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1983.
2. Comedy legend IMOGENE COCA gave a hilariously memorable performance as the crotchety and doomed Aunt Edna. Coca was 74 at the time.
3. Clark, Ellen, Rusty and Audrey were known collectively as…The Griswolds!
4. Clark gets to go skinny-dipping in the motel pool with the girl in the red Ferrari, played by a 28 year old CHRISTIE BRINKLEY.
5. The security guard was played by JOHN CANDY. Don’t feel bad if you chose Eugene Levy. He also appeared in the movie, but as Ed, the slick car salesman. And no, you can’t have half credit.
6. FRENCH KISSING. These words were spoken by Cousin Vicki, who was played by a 14 year old Jane Krakowski, who later went on to find fame in starring roles in Ally McBeal and 30 Rock.
7. Vacation was co-written and directed by HAROLD RAMIS, who is also remembered for helming classic comedies such as Groundhog Day and Caddyshack.
8. Since Walley World is a barely disguised version of Disneyland, it should come as no surprise that its mascot, MARTY MOOSE, would have the same initials as a rather famous mouse.
9. The entire clan fell asleep in the car while the Fleetwood’s “Mister Blue” played on the radio. Incidentally, “Come Softly to Me” was also a hit for the Fleetwoods. Did you know that the original title of the song was simply “Come Softly,” but was changed because it sounded obscene?
10. On their quest for fun, the Griswold Family drives from CHICAGO TO LOS ANGELES.  And if you knew they did it in a Wagon Queen Family Truckster, well, you really know National Lampoon’s Vacation. But tell me, how did they get back home?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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It only lasted for a short patch of my junior high school career but at the time it seemed like it would go on forever. The sexual expression “69” had just become popular and was making the rounds, bouncing daily off the pale green walls of our school’s congested hallways. To this day I don’t know if the term itself was new or if it had simply found its way into our pubescent awareness.

I only know that the phrase seemed to be everywhere, and that I lived in a state of fear and embarrassment that the foul number would again raise its obscene head. And part of the reason for that embarrassment was no doubt because I, unlike apparently every other guy at school, had no idea what 69 meant.

There was one large and loud fellow named Steve who seemed to take particular delight in the number. In fact he appeared to live for the mention of it. He was like some coiled but chubby panther, patiently waiting for his next opportunity to pounce at the mention of the number. If the teacher said, “Please turn to page 69,” Steve was there to instantly bellow “Sixty-nine! Awright!”

It got to the point where I would scan ahead on the page we were reading, dreading that the offending digits would make an unwelcome appearance. I once innocently told Steve that my friend and I were in the midst of playing a tied curb-ball game that already was in the 62nd inning. “You’ll have to play seven more innings!” he said predictably and loudly. I became so embarrassed by the ubiquitous number that I even began to dread the approach of 1969, even though it was still over two years away.

I was on a school bus on the way to a field trip when I began to overhear the conversation of Larry and Kevin, the two kids in the seat in front of me. Apparently Kevin was like me in that he too had no idea what 69 meant; but he was unlike me in that he was willing to admit it. Larry, no older than we but somehow perceived as wiser in these matters, was about to answer all his questions. I leaned forward. This was an unexpected educational opportunity that I was not about to miss!

“69 means different things in different parts of the country,” began the school bus sage.  “In the South it means a blow-job” Now I knew instantly that this didn’t sound right. (I’ll not specifically describe the different sex terms that Larry enumerated because I don’t need my Mom to yell at me about this column again.) Maybe I didn’t know what 69 was exactly, but I knew that it was the same thing no matter where the hell you lived. Wise Old Larry, it seems, was nearly as much in the dark about this taboo term as the rest of us. I listened anyway.

The phase where Steve, and others, would yell out “69! Awright!” every time the number came up soon faded, joining other dusty and now fading memories from our school days. The term became so insignificant to me that I don’t even remember the first time I found out what 69 meant. Hell, I don’t even remember the first time I did it. And so instead of dwelling in the foggy past I’m going to conduct a little experiment using only my stopwatch and computer. Ready…go!

Amazing. Through the use of the Internet I was able to find the definition of 69 in 39.34 seconds. Man, having a computer even for just a minute back then would have saved me months of suffering in embarrassed agony. Believe me, Kids, it was a dark, dark time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Three Girls

“I can use it, because they’re not really identifiable, right?” I asked Spike.
“No, I don’t think you can,” she answered.

And while I still wasn’t convinced, I knew better than to go against Spike’s opinion. Her instincts were almost always dead-on, and I saw no reason why that should change in this instance. And so I decided not to post the photo I had taken of the three girls.

It wasn’t easy getting in and out of the car, especially that little clown car that I insist on driving. Still, I knew if my back was ever going to start feeling better it needed some gentle stretching, and a walk down by the harbor seemed like the perfect solution.

I had taken about a half mile stroll along the harbor, and now was heading back. Actually it had been more of a hobble than a stroll, but little by little I could feel my rickety old muscles trying to loosen up. I believe I heard the three girls before I saw them. In truth, everybody heard the three girls.

They were fairly far off in the distance, but I could make out that there were three of them playing in about a foot of water. As I got closer I could see that they were a little older than I had thought they were, and certainly a little older than they had sounded. And they seemed to be having the best time laughing and screaming and yelling while splashing around in the water. I never did get particularly close to them, but I got close enough to hear what they were saying.

“Oh my God! I thought that was an eel, but it was seaweed!” This statement was yelled in the most dramatic of teenaged girl fashion, and was accompanied by the screeches and screams of the other two.
“It’s a hole! I almost fell into a hole!” shrieked another.
“That’s a shark! Look out, that’s a baby shark!” squealed the third.

Keep in mind that all of this remarkable activity was happening to these girls in six inches to a foot of water. I continued on my walk, keeping an eye, and an ear, open to see what these girls might come up with next.

After walking a few more feet down the path I came even to a man about my own age who was resting on a bench. I had seen him hunching down a few minutes earlier, ostensibly to take a picture of the blooming wildflowers. Still, I had noticed that his camera had been pointed in the direction of the three girls.

“It’s good to be young and stupid,” I said to him as I walked by.
“Those were the days,” he answered without missing a beat. He knew exactly what I meant. 

Monday, April 14, 2014


I don’t know why the price shocked me, but it did. Somewhere along the way when I hadn’t been paying attention the price had gone up to fifty, sixty, even seventy dollars, depending on the brand. I couldn’t believe it.

“Is that how much a carton of cigarettes costs?” I asked the clerk behind the counter.
“No, we just hang those prices up there as a joke,” she was kind enough not to say.

And at this point I’m going to resist taking that high and mighty route that I find so annoying in others. I’m not going to say, Well, I wouldn’t know the cost, since I don’t smoke and never did. Why, saying something as superior sounding as that would put me right in the same category as those snobs who brag, Oh, I don’t even own a television. Well, your loss, asshole.

Side Note: Many years ago I had a friend who often bragged that she never watched television. One day we were discussing our favorite writers and she said one of hers was Henry Blake.

“You mean William Blake,” I corrected. “Henry Blake is on MASH.” It was satisfying back then, and, if I’m honest, it still sort of is today.

Several days after I found out the cost of a carton of cigarettes I received an e-mail from a childhood friend. I hadn’t heard from her for years, and so when she was bringing me up to date she mentioned that she and her husband were taking care of an old aunt.

“She smokes two cartons of cigarettes a week, at $120 a carton,” she wrote.

Now having just learned the cost of cigarettes I thought she must be mistaken, or prone to exaggeration. It was only when researching the cost of a pack of cigarettes that I learned that the price varies a great deal from state to state. New York, where my friend and her aunt live, has one of the highest cigarette taxes in the country. And so $120 for a carton of cigarettes is certainly not out of the question. Which means, and here again I find myself shocked, that the amount the old lady spends on cigarettes in a month is higher than my mortgage payment. Whoa.

Now I doubt that the clerk mentioned above had any interest at all in hearing about the way things used to be in the olden days, but you do, right? Sure you do. And so imagine a very young Leonard riding his bicycle up to Herman’s Deli to buy a pack of cigarettes for his mom. I remember doing this many times, and I also remember the price: twenty-six cents a pack. And yes, Herman would sell that pack to a ten year old kid, if he happened to have a note from his mother. It was a different time.

And so once again to the inflation calculator, where we find that twenty-six cents in 1963 is the rough equivalent of $1.95 today. Ah, but haven’t we just learned that a pack of cigarettes now costs anywhere from five to twelve dollars? My, they really are expensive, and I was right to be shocked. Luckily, I don’t smoke and never did. I do watch television, though. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Five Whole Dollars

I just read this story about an 83 year old man in Salt Lake City who was so “wracked with guilt” that he returned to the restaurant where he had skipped out on a meal when he was ten to make amends. And so what did he do? Well, the original meal had cost a dollar, but he gave the restaurant five bucks, to pay for the meal and seven decades of interest.  Such a heartwarming story, isn’t it?

Like hell it is, and here’s why. Look, let’s not crawl over each other in a rush to shake this geezer’s hand for his honesty. Where's the congratulatory pat on the back for those of us who never dashed out on a meal, who never shoplifted, who never stole anything except perhaps a young maiden’s heart? Nowhere, that’s where.

And even forgetting about the morality of this admittedly minor crime committed by a ten year old boy, let’s take a good hard look at the mathematics. First of all, the old coot ripped off that restaurant in 1941, basically stealing a 1941 dollar.  And yet when it comes time to make his reparations what does he do? He repays the restaurant with a modern-day dollar. Now a quick trip to my handy inflation calculator tells me that a dollar in 1941 was the equivalent of $15.61 today! Whoa, nice deal you cut for yourself there, Grandpa!

And don’t confuse inflation with interest.  The owner of this restaurant who had money stolen might very well have invested that dollar in the stock market, which has averaged roughly a ten percent annual return over the last seventy-plus years. Do you know how much that restaurant owner’s dollar would have grown to today? $1,051.15! But it didn’t…because that young punk stole it.

So there you have it. If that old man truly wanted to make amends he would have given that restaurant $1066.76, to cover both inflation and seventy-three years of interest. (And don’t even get me started on punitive damages for pain and suffering.) But no, he gave them five measly dollars. This is not some noble act of restitution, people, it’s just some codger trying to buy his way into Heaven, and as cheaply as possible. Well, I got news for you, Pops. God, too, has a calculator. And he knows how to use it.
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