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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An Acre of Sand

It’s as heart-rending a task as you’ll ever do, going through your parents’ belongings as you empty out their house. There are photos of Dad in shoulder pads, looking young and lean and outrageously happy with his high school teammates. And Mom, stylishly dressed in her classic forties outfit and a smile, both of which say, I’m ready to take on the world. And yet no photo, no faded bit of clothing or shiny piece of jewelry brought me closer to tears than the deed to that acre of sand.

Throughout the house I found articles that were purchased because of some attraction that the buyer had felt, yes, but also with the unspoken hope that sometime in the future these items might increase, perhaps even skyrocket, in value. There are the Hummels and the Lladro and that Norman Rockwell collector plate, a plate that was purchased in 1981 and now, three decades later, sells on eBay for about four bucks.

It was quite out of character, and to this day I can’t explain it. It was 1972 and my parents saw an ad in the newspaper advertising land for sale in New Mexico. Nobody in our family had ever been to New Mexico, nor did any of us have any intention of going there. Still, my parents not only sent in a check for $300 for a half acre of land somewhere near a town called Deming, but soon changed their minds, adding an additional $300 and thus purchasing a full acre.

It must have been a time when the financial crush had finally eased a bit, and my parents decided they should put something away for the future. Why they chose land over the traditional bank account I’ll never know, but I have no doubt they thought that this non-liquid asset might be something of value to leave to their children, when the time came.

And inevitably the time did come this year. I went online and was able to find the tract of land that included my parents’ long-ago purchase. One website estimated that the value of the half-acre lots was now about $600 each. And as anybody can tell you, simply doubling in value over forty-plus years is a piss-poor return on any investment, and that seems especially true for real estate. But that’s not the entire story.

You see, my parents had acquired the land in 1972 dollars, and their $600 purchase was actually the equivalent of about $3300 today. So, when you adjust for inflation, over the last four decades the land had actually lost about two-thirds of its value. And this is what made me so remarkably sad.

It wasn’t because the land that I now owned was basically worthless. It was the thought of those two people, still in their forties, trying to win a game in which they never stood a chance. Who knows what kind of sleazebags originally concocted the scheme to unload their worthless lots on unsuspecting and unsophisticated working people thousands of miles away. Whoever they were, the numbers say the sales worked out for them just fine.

But that’s seldom the case for the ordinary, blue collar people like my parents, who were just hoping to finally get a little bit ahead, and maybe even make something of a score for once in their lives. And yet in the end my parents did win the game. They left me with a priceless trove of happy memories and fond looks back. And if they also left a worthless acre of sand somewhere on the outskirts of Deming, New Mexico, well, it turns out that really doesn’t matter much at all.   

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Notes From First Class

I’ve only seen it once before. A few years back I was checking in for my flight when the computer asked if I’d like to upgrade to First Class. If I remember correctly it was only about a hundred dollars, and that seemed like quite a bargain to me. In fact, it seemed like such a great deal that before committing to anything I felt the need to confirm it with the airline employee behind the counter.

“I can fly First Class for a hundred dollars?” I asked politely.
“Is that what it says?” snapped the employee. Did you ever notice how some people will leave a lasting impression?

And so when I checked in over the computer last week I again saw the offer to fly First Class. Now admittedly the price was a little higher than the last time I had splurged, but it still seemed like a bargain. Besides, I told myself, I had just spent two hellish months in Florida doing the most unappealing of chores. Who deserved a reward more than I? Nobody, that’s who. And so I bought the ticket.

* * *

When you get on a plane and file through the First Class section on the way to your cheap seats in Coach, do you quickly scan the faces of those sitting there to see if there might be anybody famous? Yeah, me too. And even though I’ve been flying for decades, I have yet to see a familiar face. I’m not stopping this practice, though. Hey, if I get within a few feet of, say, Neil Young or Jerry Seinfeld I want to know about it. And I’ll probably let them know about it, too.

And now as I sat in my cushy First Class seat waiting for the common folk to trudge to their tiny, cloth-covered perches in the rear, I noticed not a single person looked in my direction to see if I might be somebody famous. Okay, so most famous people probably wouldn’t have four days of beard growth on their face, a Supercuts-style coif and be sporting an aged and not completely hole-less pullover. But they might. Hey, have you ever taken a good look at Neil Young's wardrobe?

* * *

When she had been strutting through the Tampa airport an hour earlier, that lady in the row ahead of me had been looking quite stylish with her cowboy hat, cowboy boots and tight jeans. But now she was on an airplane, and even in First Class there seemed to be no place to put the hat. If she put it on the floor in front of her it would probably be stepped on. If she put it in an overhead bin it would surely be crushed. And wearing it was out of the question. And so she placed it in her lap, and there she would be forced to hold it for the next three hours. Perhaps to her the inconvenience was a small price to pay in exchange for her proud parade through the airport, but as for me I just didn’t get it.

* * *

The seats in First Class, as you might expect, are quite comfortable. And I, well, I was exhausted from my two month ordeal. And still, I desperately fought any urge I had to nod off for a bit. You see, I was flying First Class and I didn’t want to miss a thing. In the end, while the flight was pleasant and I decided the upgrade was money well spent, I wouldn’t have missed very much if I had nodded off. Oh, the hot hand towels were nice and the food was good. But I was looking for the First Class experience I had seen on that episode of Seinfeld. You know, with the giant chocolate chip cookies, the ice cream sundae (with the fudge on the bottom for more even distribution) and the gorgeous fashion model sitting next to me. Still, the hot towel was rather refreshing.

* * *

I did actually come close to falling asleep at one point during the flight. I only remember this because I woke up with a vague but definite sense of indignation. While the thought was by no means fully coalesced, I recall being annoyed, almost outraged, by the mild turbulence that had disturbed me. I was thinking that I shouldn’t have to tolerate such a thing, being in First Class and all. Then my head cleared a bit and I came to my senses. It sure doesn’t take much to create an attitude, does it?

* * *

The TSA really puts you through the wringer when you go through Security, don’t they? You have to show your boarding pass and your identification I don’t know how many times. You have to take off your shoes, put your belongings through an x-ray machine and subject your own body to a scan that apparently can see through clothing. Ah, but these are troubled times, and it seems a small price to pay for that sense of safety and well-being you feel when your disheveled self emerges out the other side of their humiliating gauntlet.

And so I board the plane and place my now-pampered fanny into the upgraded seat. I relax through the take-off and the climb to our cruising altitude. Eventually we are served lunch, which begins with a rolled-up real cloth napkin placed in front of each of us. I unroll the napkin and take a minute to decide how I feel about what I find inside. Inside the crisp, white napkin is a set of silverware, and I don’t mean the cheap plastic crap the poor saps in the back are getting. No, what I’m looking at is a shiny metal fork, spoon and knife.

At the very least I find it a bit incongruous to suffer the ordeal of going through security only to be handed not one, but three potential weapons once I’m already on the plane. And sure, it’s probably too short a flight from Tampa to Denver to grind down the spoon in to a shiv, as we used to say in the Big House. And yes, a fork has limited potential as a weapon. But Jesus, I can’t even bring my bottle of contact lens solution or a disposable plastic razor onto the airplane, but then they hand me a metal knife? Those maniacs took down the towers with nothing more than box cutters, for God’s sake!

And then I relax. The security people are professionals, and know what they’re doing. After all, it’s very unlikely that some lower-class, underprivileged terrorist could ever afford to fly with we upper-crusters in First Class. Unless, of course, they had offered him a cheap upgrade.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Please Beer With Me

There were six bottles of beer in the refrigerator. How long they had been there, I had no way of knowing. I was in the third week of cleaning out my father’s house, and I guess you could say the beer was part of my inheritance.

I never much cared for beer. I never liked the taste, right from that very first illicit sip from Dad’s bottle when I was a kid. I used to attend “beer blasts” in college, where for the admission price of a single dollar you could drink all the beer you wanted, all night long. More often than not you would have found me sipping a cup of water. The only time I ever drank beer on somewhat of a regular basis was when I lived in a warm-weather climate, and even then I would have much preferred a chocolate milkshake from McDonald’s.

And now each day I found myself throwing away contents from Dad’s refrigerator, and was surprised to find that the six bottles of beer continued to make the cut. Tossed were those dozen or so bottles of Boost that Dad would never need to drink, two or three containers of fruit juice of indeterminate age and a half gallon of milk that had only just bumped up against its expiration date. And still the beer remained.

And then one night, the day’s chores completed and the television calling my name, I pulled one of the beers out of the refrigerator and we headed together to the waiting couch. I suppose I looked at it as a well-deserved reward at the end of any busy day, which was odd considering how I had felt about the beverage my entire life.

Before I even got the bottle to my lips the aroma hit me, and I was surprised to find it to be quite pleasant. I took my first sip of a beer in probably a year or two, and found that to be pleasant as well. And so I eased back into the couch and spent the next half hour enjoying both my television show and my beer.

The next night I repeated the ritual with another beer from the refrigerator, and again found it to be an enjoyable way to pass some time. And then everything changed. I opened a third beer on the following night and noticed right away that the now familiar aroma just wasn’t there. The beer itself seemed almost flavorless, reminding me more of a harsh seltzer water than the flavorsome beverages I had enjoyed on the two previous evenings. What was going on here?

It didn’t take long to figure it out. The six bottles in the refrigerator were made up of two different brands, three of each kind in fact. Now I knew that we are living in the age of micro-brews, a time when people who once might have been dismissed as basic alcoholics have now been elevated as some sort of esteemed taste-masters, and that the best of them can pontificate on the subtle differences between dozens, or even hundreds, of brands of beer.

For me, though, it was a revelation that I, with basically no history of beer consumption, much less any knowledge of the ubiquitous brew, could tell the difference between these two quite common brands. I wondered if I actually was noticing a true distinction, and actually identifying the superior product, or if instead I was, as in so many other aspects of my life, completely full of shit.

Someday I’d like to talk to a true beer connoisseur or, failing that, even just an enthusiastic beer aficionado. I would tell him that there was a noticeable difference between the two beers and I, even with my obvious lack of a palette, had much preferred one over the other. I’d go on to tell him the names of the beers, which were Beck’s and Heineken, and then see which he thought I had identified as the superior product. I can’t help but wonder what a true lover of beer would say. What would you say?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Elvis’s Tombstone

I was reading an old comic strip the other day, Doonesbury to be specific, when I noticed it. In the strip Boopsie is at Graceland, standing before Elvis Presley’s grave. She is quite humbled by the experience, and reverently reads the inscription on the tombstone. Boopsie apparently glossed over one of the lines, but it definitely caught my eye. It says, “He became a living legend in his own time.”

I know, I know. With the current state of the world, with droughts presaging the coming water wars and a nasty and ever-spreading pestilence nibbling its way to our shores, why am I so concerned with such picayune details as a few poorly written words on the tomb of a long-dead singer? Aren’t there more perilous and urgent things for me to worry about?

And yes, of course there are. And so I now confess to you what must already be obvious to even the most casual reader; that I am a quibbler, a pettifogger and a top-drawer picker of nits. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of you this very day wrote to me and said, Leonard, your the biggest fusspot I have ever seen! To which, of course, I’d hastily reply, It should be ‘you’re,’ not ‘your.’

Or perhaps, God help you, you’re much like me. Perhaps the line on old Elvis’s gravestone bothers you, too, because you know that while someone can be a living legend, or a legend in his own time, to say that someone was “a living legend in his own time,” is grammatically incorrect.

Or, at the very least, it’s horribly redundant. The only time, in fact, that a person can be a living legend is in his own time. Once he’s not living, then he’s no longer in his own time, right? And so, although I don’t have very high hopes for this, I think the inscription should be changed. Think of all the impressionable school children who visit Graceland each year.

And don’t even get me started on the correct spelling of the poor guy’s middle name. 

Friday, August 08, 2014

Have You Joined 


Time to Load Up Those Kindles!
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