Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

The Super Bore, and whatever happend to "Swell"

It came to my attention last evening that this is Super Bore Weekend. That was disturbing because until now I had not written my annual Super Bore blog. I have no idea what teams are playing because the blurb I saw on TV was about a commercial being banned. I believe that originally a football game was the feature but in recent years it has been TV commercials and halftime shows. So be bored if you so desire. I'll settle back with a good book.
No one ever says swell anymore and I think that's a shame. Back in the day just about everything was swell. A swell guy, a swell girl, a swell dinner, a swell movie, a swell car. "That's swell" was a popular comment. If you heard bad news or didn't like something you'd say, "Isn't that swell" or "That's just swell," meaning it wasn't swell. It was all in the emphasis, the tone, the inflection.
In talking to your buddies about the previous night's date you'd say, "It was swell." That could be taken to mean a variety of things. I'm not certain if girls said their dates were swell, but they probably did.
I once heard a TV host say his son had been watching movies from the 1930s and the World War II years and was amazed by how often people said swell. Of course we did. Those were swell times, although money was a little tight. People wonder if the situation today is as bad as it was back then. Not even close, at least not yet. By comparison, everything today is swell.
Jackie was a little peeved with me when we got back from having stitches taken out of my hand today. All I did was stop by the hamster cage and say, "Are you in there, Sophie, or did the hawk get you?"
Jackie bristled at that. "You'll frighten her. She's just a baby."
As up 'til now Sophie has ignored everything I've said to her except when I ask if she'd like a treat, it seems doubtful that she was too upset. To be on the safe side, both with Sophie and Jackie, from here on I'll just say, "Is everything swell in there?"

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The IQ Test

We barely had time to pick out a bunk after arriving at Camp Polk in 1952 before the subject of intelligence came up. Those who believe intelligence cannot be found in an infantry rifle company are mistaken. True, seven of the more than 90 men who had made the trip from Akron were illiterate. They were sent to what the Army in its sensitivity called Blockhead School.
The rest of us were told that in a week we would take an IQ test. This set off an argument between Fleming and Goulding. Both had been in college when our National Guard division was federalized. Fleming claimed he would finish first, Goulding said he would. Bets were placed, money was laid down. Day after day it continued while I listened and smiled, knowing I was good at taking tests.
Attaining a high score does not necessarily mean you know anything other than how to take tests. First, you skim quickly over it, marking the answers you know. Math problems are ignored. Then you go over it again, picking the most logical answer on all multiple choice questions. Eventually you get around to the math, still looking for logic or falling back on guessing. Just make sure every question is answered. This way, when the time limit is up you have used the minutes to their peak advantage.
I had first taken an IQ test at Camp Wheeler in 1943. My score was 137, not remarkable but enough to make them think something was wrong, considering who I was. I took it again and improved to 138. This, I decided, proved only one thing, I had figured out how to take tests.
So we took our tests at Polk and the running argument between Fleming and Goulding continued. A week or two went by, then after a day out in the field someone came into the barracks and said the IQ scores were posted on the company bulletin board. Fleming and Goulding dashed out to see who had finished first. I followed at a more leisurely pace, arriving at the board in time to see them staring at each other in disbelief and both saying, "Stodghill!" as if they were announcing a mistake had been made and Germany actually was the winner of World War II.
They repeated my name several more times while I checked the list and saw that one of them was second, the other third. Both had finished well above 130 but I led the way at 139. It seemed I was continuing to grow more intelligent.
Knowing I was a conniver, a guy who worked every angle and when I ran out of them made up a few new ones, neither Fleming nor Goulding ever trusted me again. With good reason, as the passing of time would reveal.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Priests - Mysterious People

I sometimes wonder what it is about the priesthood that has led at least three wearers of the collar to write mysteries. One of them, Andrew Greeley, cranks out a book nearly as often as I change socks. He divides his time between churches in Chicago and Arizona but I can't help feeling that his priestly duties consume very little of that time.
Then there is Ralph McInerney, a priest at Notre Dame and a prolific writer of mysteries himself. Quite naturally, the protagonist of a long-running series is a priest, Father Dowling. Greeley frequently writes about a priest known to his friends as Blackie.
I met McInerney, although briefly, at some mystery writers affair twenty odd years ago. The late Joe Hensley, a good friend but not a priest, introduced us. After a quick handshake I hurried away to chase the late Rosemary Gatenby down a hall.
It seems "the late" applies to most people when you reach my age. However, I should explain that I am not and never have been in the habit of chasing ladies down halls although it is possible it happened sometime long ago. I was chasing Rosemary because in her younger days she lived in Muncie, the city where I worked as a newspaper reporter. I had just read her most recent book and wanted to say, "It was set in Tipton."
She was taken aback. "How did you know? I wanted it to be a secret."
"Because I lived in Tipton for a couple of months and know the layout of Indiana."
Back to priests, or in the case of the late William X. Kienzle, an ex-priest. Bill and I got to know each other not long after his first book, The Rosary Murders, became a bestseller. His protagonist was, not surprisingly, a priest named Father Koesler. Bill had the book nearly finished but couldn't come up with an ending. He was lying on the couch one night while the TV set was on when suddenly the subject of the program, incest, provided the ending he had been searching for.
Years later I was in need of a climax for a short story, Nightmare on North Hill. For no particular reason, Bill Kienzle came to mind and the perfect ending hit me. Not his ending, but close.
Sad to say, Andrew Greeley was seriously injured while getting out of a cab last November. Hopefully it did not put an end to his writing career after 120 books. He is 80, and we octogenarians don't take kindly to accidents.
There has to be a moral to this story. Just what it might be escapes me.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Mother, the School Nurse

I've often wondered how much Mary Lynch, my mother, knew about the people she associated with on her job as a school nurse in Chicago. She often said she was interested only in the children, not their parents and family friends.
It was the early 1920s and Prohibition had created gang wars and organized crime throughout the country. Nowhere did the wars rage more fiercely than in Chicago. The south side was controlled by Al Capone and Johnny Torrio, the west side by the Terrible Genna Brothers. On the north side was the gang of Irishmen, Jews and Italians led by Dion O'Banion.
Mary, a registered nurse, was assigned to the school at the Holy Name Cathedral in an area known as Little Hell on the near north side of the city. Having been raised in a Catholic family, she worked comfortably with the nuns and priests.
When her brother Joe, a law student at Northwestern, heard where it was she was working he telegraphed their father, "You have to get Mary out of there." She paid no heed to either of them.
One of her duties was making house calls at the homes of sick children. These were all at block-long row houses, each connected with its neighbors. At one she was examined through a peephole before being admitted by a man who led her down a long hallway to a solid steel door with another peephole. Beyond that was a room with several tables where men in shirtsleeves were seated playing cards. As the men saw her, each rose to his feet and put on his suitcoat the way men did when a woman entered a room. Not, however, before she noticed guns protruding from the shoulder holsters worn by every man. They were exceedingly polite and quite concerned about the condition of the sick child.
She found two or three other house just like it, but Mary always claimed she didn't pay any attention. Nowhere, she said, did she ever meet more polite, friendly men. The guns? Men sitting around playing cards during working hours? "Oh, I never thought a thing of it. All of them, not just the fathers, were worried about the children."
Did she never hear the nicknames of some of those men - "Schemer" Drucci, "Three-Gun" Alterie, "Nails" Morton, "Handsome Dan" McCarthy and O'Banion's chief lieutenants, "Bugs" Moran and Hymie "The Polack" Weiss? It was Weiss who coined a phrase that became part of the American vernacular: We'll take him for a ride. A one-way ride.
Mary was an intelligent woman, a reader of newspapers. She had to have been aware of what was going on. She was stubborn and just wouldn't admit it.
One day she was walking along the sidewalk across from Holy Name Cathedral when a man lounging in the doorway of Schofield's Flower Shop said, "Nursie, wait a minute." He went inside and quickly returned to pin a gardenia on her uniform. "I hear you're good with the children."
And so she met Dion O'Banion, the leader of the gang, the lover of flowers, the man who reportedly killed or ordered the killing of 25 men.
Mary loved her job but hated the Chicago winters so she was working as a school nurse in New Orleans when she read of O'Banion being gunned down in his flower shop. The funeral was attended by 15,000 people and the procession to the cemetery was a mile long. His casket cost $10,000 in 1924 dollars.
They were exciting times, the Roaring Twenties. Mary never liked to talk about them except to say the men she knew loved the children.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Abe Lincoln - Mystery Writer

Abraham Lincoln's name has been bandied about quite freely of late, thanks to Barack Obama. While most literate people throughout the world know that Honest Abe had few if any peers when it comes to writing speeches, only a handful are aware that he was a mystery writer. Abe, a great admirer of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, entered the field in 1846 when the Trailor Murder Mystery was first published. In 1952 it was reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and again in 1977 in Murder Ink.
The story began: In the year 1841, there resided at different points in the State of Illinois, three brothers by the name of Trailor. Their Christian names were William, Henry and Archibald. Archibald resided at Springfield, then as now the seat of government of the State. He was a sober, retiring, and industrious man, of about thirty years of age; a carpenter by trade, and a bachelor, boarding with his partner in business - a Mr. Myers.
Now far be it from me, being the kindly, uncritical gentleman that I am, to criticize the work of another writer, but that is not the most scintillating beginning to a mystery I have ever read. I feel quite safe in saying that had it been submitted to Ellery Queen as having been written by Joe Blow from Kokomo it would have quickly moved from the slush pile to an envelope marked return to sender. That would have been true even had the editors not discovered that despite the title there actually was no murder involved. The final paragraphs revealed that the supposed victim had gone nuts and was found aimlessly wandering about.
Another of the great presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was an avid reader of mysteries, so he too tried his hand at writing them. He couldn't come up with an ending so he sent the manuscript to six prominent writers of the day. Each wrote an ending and the result was published in 1939 in Liberty magazine. Twenty-eight years later it was published in book form with yet another ending by Earle Stanley Gardner.
The moral of the story is that presidents should stick to presidenting and let mystery writers do the writing. The field is crowded enough as it is.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Raw Fish? Forget it!

Had lunch at the Chinese restaurant down the street today and my fortune cookie sure hit the nail on the head. I read it aloud, of course: You modesty will shame those with lesser knowledge.
This resulted in hysterical laughter from Jackie. Along with being unseemly behavior in public, this was an annoying lack of acceptance of the obvious. Far be it from me to toot my own horn, but how can anyone argue with a fortune cookie?
One aggravating thing about the Chinese restaurant, which also is a Japanese restaurant, is the Sushi bar. Every seat is always taken and I find it hard to believe that so many people willingly eat raw fish. Jackie pointed out that they also serve gin, beer and Irish whiskey so it is no different than any other bar. I explained why she was wrong about that: The taverns I have patronized all my life place bowls of pretzels or potato chips on the bar, not raw fish. At Frosty Miller's or the Town Club that could have resulted in a riot.
Also aggravating are the placemats in the restaurant. They show pictures of all the different kinds of raw fish you can get at the Sushi bar. Someone should tell the proprietors that no one wants to look at that stuff while trying to enjoy their chop suey or egg foo yung. Along with the colorful pictures of disgusting items is an inscription: "Art you can eat."
Art? Pictures of nauseating raw fish qualify as art? If so, I'm just glad I've never been an artsy-fartsy, namby-pamby type of guy. As Archie Bunker once said, "Give me some red-blooded American food like pizza."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


There was nothing wrong with him and it wasn't that anyone disliked him. Aside, perhaps, from the sergeant, who seemed to dislike us all. He was just there doing the same things we did, a young fellow of 18 from some little town in some obscure state. In the barracks he’d lie on his corner bunk and laugh at the horseplay taking place, or whenever someone told a joke. For some reason, though, he never was included in the horseplay, although no one would have been displeased had he joined in. When a group was leaving for a few hours in town, no one ever thought to invite him to go along. He never asked if it would be OK. The same was true when some of the fellows headed down to the PX for a beer or two.
The half-mile long road leading to the company area was lined by rocks on each side. He was ordered to paint the rocks white. That meant a full mile of rocks. No one knew why he was given the job, no one ever thought to ask if he’d like some help.
He managed to survive the first weeks of combat in Normandy. When the fighting reached the port city of Cherbourg, we blasted holes in walls with a bazooka to keep from going out on the street. There were cross streets, and that meant sprinting in the open to the other side. At one of them the first man was cut down by bullets from a machine gun, a slow-firing American gun. It was easy to distinguish them from the rapid bursts from a German gun.
He said he would go around the corner to tell the gunners of their mistake. The squad leader said to wait three minutes until two of us had time to climb to the third floor of the building, see if there was a window from where the gun was visible. There was, but we reached it just as the young guy from somewhere started out. We could see two men rise slightly above a barricade. They wore German helmets. It was a captured gun they were firing.
Disposing of it with a grenade wasn’t a problem, but that was a little late to help the volunteer. I’d call him by name, but long years ago I forgot what it was. He was just there, the fellow on the corner bunk, that was all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We've come a long way, but the journey isn't over

Two years ago I wrote the blog that follows. We've come a long way since the 1952 bus ride in Georgia. Today proves it.
Twenty years ago I was the speaker at a Martin Luther King Day ceremony at a church with a nearly all-black congregation. This was because I was a reporter who always remained objective and in the black community enjoyed the reputation of being fair. I mingled with the ministers and the church goers and the young men that followed a circular route that took them to and from prison and back again. I listened to them, wrote about them, sometimes sympathized with them and sometimes gave them hell. But I always worked at remaining objective, at being fair.My talk concerned a 1952 bus ride in Georgia.
It had been a rough week of infantry training at Fort Benning so I slipped away early on a Friday afternoon, hitched a ride into Columbus and boarded a Trailways bus headed for Atlanta. A couple of nights in a good hotel, a meal or two at a nice restaurant, that's what I had in mind.
I took a seat about halfway back on the right side of the bus and then sat back and relaxed, not paying much attention to anything other than the scenery outside the window. We made stops in the dusty little town of La Grange and a few other places. People got on the bus, others got off. None of the comings and goings aroused my interest.
Then out in the middle of nowhere we pulled to a stop beside the road. Looking ahead I could see a black woman and two kids, a boy and girl about eight and ten, that had flagged down the bus. They stood there for a minute or so rather than climbing aboard and then out of the corner of my eye I saw the driver standing beside me. He said, "You wanna move forward so those people can get on the bus?"
For the first time I looked around me. There were plenty of empty seats ahead but all those to the rear were filled, every one of them occupied by a black person. I looked back to the driver and said, "There's a lot of empty seats."
"Look," he replied, "either you move up front or they don't get on the bus."
So there it was. Stick to my principles and leave the woman and her children standing in the blazing Georgia sun or get up and move forward.
Back at Benning the man in the next bunk was a black sergeant who had a car. At the end of the day he often gave me a ride into town, but asked me to slump down in my seat when we reached the outskirts of Columbus so there wouldn't be any problem. I did so, although it seemed so hypocritical that we shouldn't be seen riding side by side when in a couple of months either or both of us might find ourselves being shot at in Korea.
And now there was this.I got up and moved as far forward as possible, seething inside at the stupidity of it all. Did I have any choice other than to change seats? Not really. Not unless I wanted to make a real ass of myself. But it was wrong, so very wrong.
All that began to change in a few more years. Not without turmoil and strife - grown men spitting on little girls trying to go to their newly-integrated school, displays of ignorance like that.Today I could board a bus in Columbus, ride north through LaGrange and Newnan and sit anywhere I damn well pleased. That's better. Not perfect, but better. Integration, unfortunately, has brought a whole new set of problems. Maybe sometime in the future people will be smart enough to solve them all. Or maybe not.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Murder Unintentionally Committed

This is the time of year when a group of politicians must confirm other politicians for jobs of some importance. As politician and crook are synonymous, it is amusing that the interrogators invariably uncover a dark secret in the interrogatee's past.
As much of my life has been spent in the company of politicians, lawyers, armed robbers and murderers I am aware that armed robbers and murderers live by a higher standard and are far more open about their past than politicians and lawyers.
Take my friend Jimmy Hendrix, for example. He always introduced himself by saying, "My name is Jimmy Hendrix and I spent 20 years in prison for a murder unintentionally committed." Right away you knew of the darkest deed in Jimmy's past. You also knew that if he killed you it would be unintentional.
One of my favorite murderers was the woman of 55 or so who decided her husband had given her a vicious beating for the last time. She had never fired a gun, but that didn't stop her from picking up a rifle with a bent barrel and firing a shot in the general direction of the brute, who was about 25 yards away. The best marksman in the world couldn't have done it with that weapon, yet she plugged him right in the head and he dropped to the ground, dead on arrival.
Another favorite was Marvin Sexton. He arrived home one evening to find the baby quite ill and his wife off at a bar with some other man picked at random. Marvin went to the nearby bar aptly named the Oar House, sat down in the booth with his wife and some stranger and begged her to come home because the baby was sick and alone. She laughed and threw her drink in Marvin's face. He left, then returned a short time later with his knife. His wife was on her way to the restroom with Marvin close behind. A moment later her head was attached to her neck by a mere thread of flesh.
A lawyer the wife had consulted a few days earlier amused everyone by saying he had advised her to "Remain calm and don't lose your head."
Marvin lived under a dark cloud. On a day when a schoolyard was packed with children, lightning singled out his daughter and killed her. He had been in prison, where they fried his brain with electric shock treatments, but was back working in the kitchen at the county jail when I first met him. He had a large butcher knife in hand at the time. That was of no concern because Marvin was truly a mild and gentle man. That's just the way life is sometimes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Has Israel gone too far?

The Israelis are losing friends, losing the sympathy of millions of people around the world. In the eyes of those of us who have supported the nation since its founding after World War II, that is most unfortunate.
But the slaughter of children in the Gaza Strip has gone too far. They are in a confined area with nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Some of the incidents during the Israeli offensive have been sickening.
Decent men, for example, do not use air strikes or artillery fire on a U.N. school merely because enemy combatants fired mortar shells there or in the vicinity. I know this from personal experience. During World War II I hated the terror bombing conducted by the United States and Great Britain. Killing women and children wasn't right then and it isn't right now. There are better ways to achieve a goal.
Saying that members of Hamas fired rockets into Israel is not an excuse for the overkill that has been taking place in Gaza. Firing on a U.N. convoy delivering medical and food supplies to people trapped by the fighting is the work of scoundrels and cowards, not decent men.
Like so many others worldwide, I have lost the respect I formally held for Israel. It is time for the United States to stop supporting that nation regardless of circumstances, time to quit always siding with the Israelis whether they are right or whether they are wrong. Saying they have a right to defend themselves does not say they have the right to indiscriminately kill women and children. Overkill is always wrong.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Justice for the Rich, Justice for the Poor

If there ever was any doubt that there are two kinds of justice in this country, one for the rich and one for the rest of us, it was removed today when that judge in New York ruled Bernard Madoff could go on living in his penthouse rather than heading off to jail.
This guy worked the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, bilking people who wanted something for nothing out of $50 billion or thereabouts. That makes him the biggest con man in history.
Closer to home, a 17-year-old was arrested for selling a pound of marijuana. He stayed in jail until convicted at his trial and then was immediately carted off to prison.
Another fellow, this one 15, broke into a home and stole a few things. He got 15 years. No delays, just a quick trip to the pen.
So are these two ghetto residents worse than Madoff, who made off with that $50 billion? Apparently so under the American system of justice.
Having spent a number of years covering the criminal courts, I had no illusions that one form of justice fits all. The Madoff case, however, is a blatant and striking example of the rich being immune to justice as it applies to the rest of us. Don't make the mistake of believing it isn't that way, that justice truly is blind.
In a song about the outlaw Pretty Boy Floyd, Woody Guthrie wrote this line: "Some men will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen."
When those two young fellows get out of prison - a real prison and not the country-club variety Madoff will go to if ever convicted - they now should know that the next time they had better use a fountain pen, or even a ballpoint. It's the American way.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Yesterday I wrote something about my late friend, Floyd Creech. Every so often I have an uncontrollable urge to re-write stories I have written about him in the past.
After deadline, Floyd and I often went out to lunch together. I discovered early on that he hated it when I changed my order to match his. From then on I did it at every opportunity. I'd order a hamburger, then he'd order a grilled cheese. I'd say, "That sounds good, change my order to what he's having." Floyd would see red. "Don't you have a mind of your own? Can't you think for yourself?" And on and on while I sat there grinning.
One day we went to the Mandarin Inn, a Chinese eatery. There was a new waitress, a recent arrival from Sweden. Floyd ordered a Spanish omelet but got a weird concoction as its filling. The owner walked by, took one look at and grabbed Floyd's plate. "That's our hot Mexican chili!" he said.
Floyd was angry, I was laughing. "Floyd, you're the only American who could go into a Chinese restaurant, order a Spanish omelet from a Swedish waitress and be served Mexican chili." He didn't find it amusing.
Another time we had lunch at the little restaurant a few doors down from the newspaper. Something about his order displeased Floyd so he jumped up and at the top of his voice shouted, "This would be a great place for somebody to open a restaurant!" As everyone turned to look and I started laughing, Floyd stalked down the aisle to the door and grabbed for it. The doorknob came off in his hand.
There weren't many dull moments working with Floyd. What he felt was my ill-timed laughter drove him wild, but he got his revenge when we worked together on a full-page feature blasting the city administration and the recreation department for the miserable condition of the baseball diamond in a park. He was supposed to go with me to cover a dinner meeting the night the story ran, but didn't show up. When I got to the table I found I was seated between the mayor and the recreation director.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Military is OK, but some of those in it . . .

I once encountered a sergeant named Sargent so he was Sergeant Sargent. Had his last name been Major he might have been Sergeant Major Major. If his first name had been Major, and some people do have that name, he could have been Private Major Sargent.
My reporter friend Floyd Creech and I used to spend a lot of time together. Our desks were only a few feet apart, we often ate lunch together and at times we worked together on an assignment. Floyd was a retired Navy fighter pilot and the only man I have known who survived a mid-air collision over the Pacific.
I have written several times about Floyd and his buddy without a first or middle name, just the initials R.B. In the military, those in his position had to put (only) after their initial. Harry S Truman (no period after the S) would have been Harry S (only) Truman.
I don't recall R.B.'s last name so let's say it was Jones. He signed his name properly with a couple of onlys added in parenthesis. Some clerk messed up, as clerks often do both in and out of the military, so when he was ready to sign the payroll and be handed his money he discovered he was listed as Ronly Bonly Jones.
Signing his name that way would likely have meant being stuck with it for his entire military career. Not signing it meant he wouldn't be paid. He decided being broke was better than forever being known as Ronly Bonly. However, once having told others about the error I'm sure he was often called that unless he was with an unusual group of men.
Floyd Creech had a raging temper that often was unleashed on those around him. One day after I had showed him a next-day story revealing a crooked act by an office holder he rolled his chair over close to my desk and warned me about not caving in and changing the story if pressured. Before I could say I had no intention of doing that, my phone rang. I said something like, "Sure, I'll be glad to. I'll make the change."
When I hung up, Floyd called me every derogatory name known to man. I just smiled until he finally ran out of steam, then said, "That was Warren Collier. He's not feeling well and asked if I could cover the Bearcats' football game up in Marion tonight. I told him I'd change the assignment sheet."
Floyd said, Oh," and rolled his chair back to his desk.

Friday, January 09, 2009

A Thoughtful Man Indeed

Hard as it is to believe, someone has suggested that I fall somewhat short of being a thoughtful husband. This cuts to the quick because I have always prided myself on thoughtfulness. A few examples leap to mind:
When we lived in Muncie, I bought Jackie a snowblower so she would not have to shovel the driveway and sidewalk by hand.
While living in upstate New Your I presented her with a power mower because our land was on the side of a hill and I could see that mowing on a slant with a push mower was a struggle for her.
As recently as the Christmas just past, I gave her a hand truck - a dolly, if you prefer - so she would have an easier time moving heavy stuff around the place.
I'm a little hazy on this, but it runs in my mind that I once bought her an aluminum ladder so it would be easy to move from place to place as she cleaned out the gutters and flushed the downspouts.
I definitely recall buying a packet of cloths made especially for the purpose of washing and polishing the car so it would be easier and faster for her.
At one time I even purchased a small, lightweight chain saw so she wouldn't have a difficult time felling the young trees on the hillside and cutting the trunks and branches into the proper size for our wood stove.
So you be the judge; are those acts the mark of a thoughtful husband or not?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Will the Joy Never Cease?

Today we went to the VA clinic. This was after Jackie had already been to the bank and the grocery in first fog, then rain, then snow.
We live half a mile beyond the north city limit of Akron. The VA clinic is on the street that is the south city limit of Akron. Because of the hills and the valleys and the deep ravines and gorges, Akron has only one street that runs all the way north to south. It is Main Street that goes through the heart of downtown.
But, as I explained to Jackie, I had an appointment to get my toenails trimmed so we would have to go. Because my hand was miserably sore from having the skin cancer removed yesterday, she would have to drive.
We started out in sleet that soon turned to snow. When I made a comment or two about her driving she showed a remarkable lack of appreciation. She is a good driver, one never in danger of getting a ticket for speeding. As we crossed the longest Y bridge in the world, the one with a railing that comes up about as far as my knees to keep you from hurtling off into space and then to the ground 200 feet below, she stuck right to the 35 m.p.h. limit. Everyone else was going 65 or 70 so I kept a wary eye on the rear view mirror.
The clinic was crowded, just as it always. Old geezers puttering around, young ones hurrying them along. that sort of stuff. As my shoes have slick soles that are no good in snow or ice, Jackie had to keep me afloat until we were inside. There was only one empty seat so I flopped down on it.
The streets were covered when we left after Jackie picked me up at the front door. The traffic was heavy on the way home. She didn't say anything on the half hour ride, not even when I volunteered a few more driving instructions. I could see that her mind was working, though. I knew what she was thinking: "There were other men I could have married, you know. None of them veterans in need of having their toenails trimmed 15 miles from home on the worst day of the year."
Oh well, what can a man do to please a woman?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Stay Out of the Sun!

I'm hurting and nobody cares. Well, I care and Jackie probably cares because I'm as grumpy as a bear poked with a stick. The anesthetic has worn off after the doc dug out more of the skin cancer on the back of my left hand. Biopsies showed the first two times didn't get the job done so I hit the trifecta today. This time he dug so deep I was expecting the scalpel to come out on my palm.
Some people think skin cancer is no big deal. It is. I've had a couple of dozen of them and this ranks second on the discomfort list. So far. It may end up beating out the one that had me digging out stuff every day for six weeks before it finally healed. That was good because much more and the country might have run short on cue tips and peroxide, not to mention bandages and tape.
They tell you to stay out of the sun when you're young or you will eventually pay the price. But how do you do that? Sun blocker helps, or so they say, but I don't believe they even had it during my younger days. If they had, I seldom would have been in a position to apply it.
Those tanning beds - only a fool would get near one. They have done wonders for making dermatologists wealthy and making those who use them suffer in the long run.
So use the sun blocker. Better yet, look on the sun as an enemy because it is. Avoiding being out in it, no one seems to have an answer as to how that is accomplished. I can assure you of one thing, though, squamous cell carcinoma is no joke. Avoid it like the plague. I'd be in a better mood today if I had.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Why I Hated English Class

Most of my life has been spent writing. I've written about people and events for newspapers, I've written fiction for magazines, I've written stuff just for the helluva it. All this time there was a little fact hidden away in some dark recess of my mind: I know nothing about the English language.
That isn't quite true. I know a noun is a person, place or thing. That has a nice ring to it so it has stayed with me all these years. I know an adjective . . . well, it sort of describes something, that's the best I can do. If you say, "A big dog," big is an adjective and dog is a noun.
That's the extent of my knowledge. With that in mind I Googled prepositions. Then I Googled conjunctions. I even Googled adverbs. Regular verbs, the fact is I've never been certain about them so I Googled them too. I printed out lists of these things although I'm not sure why. Just something to do, I guess.
So now I've got all these lists and I still have no idea what purpose it would serve to understand this stuff. I'm not going to spend one second pondering whether or not I need to add a conjunction here or a preposition there.
Most of us were subjected to the ridiculous time-waster called diagramming sentences in school. English teachers never saw a sentence that didn't need diagramming so you'd draw a straight line and then little lines branching off from it and then more lines shooting off from the branches. I was pretty good at drawing all those lines, not so hot at putting words on them. I suppose there were some kind of rules that told you verbs go on this line and conjunctions go on that line but I must have been absent the day the rules were laid down.
So what difference does it make? Either you can write an understandable sentence or you cannot. I've always known that and it's a good thing because I just tossed my lists in the wastebasket.
I do wonder about one thing, though. Would I have been fired from newspaper jobs if editors were aware of my lack of knowledge concerning the language? Would all my stories have been deep-sixed by magazine editors? Might they have said, "My God, this man doesn't know his adverbs from his elbows."
We'll never know, will we? Somehow I doubt that would have happened.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Snakes and the U.S. Army

Apparently the first thing the United States Army does when picking out a site for a new camp is make sure the area is infested with snakes. Oddly enough, during my six years in the service during two wars I rarely saw a snake. I have no regrets about that.
Only one unfortunate fellow in my company was ever bitten by a snake. The biter was a huge rattler down at Camp Polk. The man was bitten about 10 o’clock one night and was back standing reveille at six the next morning. Life is really rotten when you can’t get a day off for something like that.
One of my more interesting experience concerning snakes came the day my National Guard outfit arrived at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin for two weeks of summer camp. The squad leaders and platoon sergeants were ushered into a room and warned about the rattlesnakes that apparently were in every nook and cranny of the camp. This, like all Army lectures, went on and on until those with a brain were ready to scream out in protest and even those lacking a brain had received the message.
When the merciful end finally grew near we were told that all of us would be issued first aid equipment in case one of our men, or even – God forbid – one of us were actually bitten by a snake. The first aid equipment when it was handed to each man on the way out the door consisted of a single-edge razor blade.
During our fourteen days at McCoy I never saw a snake, nor did I hear about anyone else seeing one. A few of us did, however, see what must have been the granddaddy of all lizards. This fellow, who was close to three feet long, scurried across our area just after we had dug slit trenches in which we would spend the night. As we watched open-mouthed he leaped into the hole belonging to John Oliver. Fortunately Oliver was not in the hole at the time, but from a short distance away he cried, “Lizard, you just got yourself a home!”
Late that night a young soldier named Lester Gene Christy and I were standing guard in a deep foxhole dug especially for that purpose. Actually I was standing guard and Christy was sleeping. Before dark we had spread leaves far out from the hole in all directions in case an unwelcome visitor approached. Sure enough, something came slithering through the leaves. I jabbed Christy with the butt of my rifle and said, “Get up. Something’s coming this way.”
Never, even in months of infantry combat with Germans carrying cut-throat razors roaming around on patrol, have I ever seen anyone leap so high or take off running as fast as Christy did that night.
So what was slithering through the leaves? I have no idea because it turned tail and departed almost as fast as Christy.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Never Stop Trying

It always is a wise move to begin a new year on a positive note. It is well to remember that the pot of gold goes to the person who is persistent, who perseveres. That is why early in our school days we were taught that "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."
As we matured, we heard another school of thought on the subject. It contended, and still does contend, that "If at first you don't succeed, the hell with it."
Few among us let such a cynical way of looking at life deter us from our chosen path. Despite roadblocks and land mines I have kept trying, always trying. Jackie will attest to this because many times I have heard her say, "Dick is a very trying person."
This sort of determination can at times be a bit discouraging. Take dealing with squirrels, for example. Years of my life have been devoted to trying to outsmart them. I have devised complicated plans, have even taken hammer and nail in hand to construct devices that no squirrel could possibly get around. At times it has become aggravating in the extreme when after great effort a squirrel will stare at me with that look on its face that says, "You poor pathetic creature, is that the best you can do?"
There have, however, been moments of great triumph. There was the day I watched as a squirrel fell out of a tree. It was an old pine tree with numerous dead branches at its lower levels. It was somewhat like watching the ball in a pinball machine bounce off one obstacle after another as he hit each of those dead branches on the way down. When he reached the ground I shouted, "You call yourself a squirrel, yet you fall out of a tree!"
He gave me that haughty look that comes easily to the face of any squirrel, then jumped on the tree trunk and began climbing. He kept trying, and that was the lesson to be learned: never give up, always keep trying.
Remember that squirrel as you embark upon the route ahead in this new year. I do. Almost daily I think of him and all his cousins as I keep trying to find the one sure way to prove my superiority. Never surrender, never stop trying.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

We Ain't Hit Bottom Yet

Yeah, 2008 wasn't the greatest year, but if you realy want bad try 1930. Or 1931. Or 1932. Life hit rock bottom for the Stodghills when home became the back seat of a Model-T Ford with a canvas top but open on both sides. And no brakes. In Michigan - and Chicago - in winter.
Ah yes, those were the days. Breadlines, Hoovervilles, doctors and lawyers selling apples on street corners for a nickel, but few people had a nickel. First World War veterans being shot at because they wanted the bonuses they had been promished. Billy Durant, founder of General Motors, ending up frying hamburgers in a bowling alley.
Then there was the day I fell on my way home from the corner grocery and broke the glass bottle of milk. My mother's words have stuck with me all these years: "Oh, Dick, that was the last dime."
So I agree, times are tough, but we've still got a long way to go before hitting bottom. If Roosevelt hadn't taken the helm in 1933 . . . well, who knows? "Brother, can you spare a dime?" That was the watchword that became a song. Listen to it sometime:

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?