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, February 27, 2009

Time to SHUT UP!

You would think that by the time a man gets to be my age he would have learned when to open his mouth and when to keep his lips clamped together. Keeping quiet would be the smart thing to do 90 per cent of the time.
The problem with that statement is the word "man." For some unexplainable reason, most men feel a compulsion to sound off when remaining mute would be the smart thing to do.
This came to mind because of a cookie. Jackie offered one to me as we finished lunch today. I took it, as nearly all men would do, but instead of just saying thanks I said, "I'm kind of tired of cookies."
Jackie said that's why she hasn't baked any recently. That was the time to let the subject die a quiet death. Instead I had to be clever and say, "Cookies are like wives. It's nice to get away from them for a month or so now and then."
"Go ahead," said Jackie. "Just don't expect to get back in the door again."
I realized that diplomacy was now called for. "I like it here. I like you." Glancing toward the cage where little hamster Sophie was sound asleep I added, "I like Sophie. If I left for a month, I'd miss Sophie."
Yes, a man my age should have learned when to put a zipper on his lips.
At certain moments I feel a deep-down desire to douse someone with a bucket of muddy water. My current target is a congressman, John Boehner from the opposite end of Ohio. For some reason a lot of wimpy politicians come from that area. When Boehner shows up on the TV news, which happens far too often, his coal-black hair looks like it has been painted on his scalp. Not a single strand is ever out of place. The impression is given that if caught dead center in a vicious tornado that ripped off his clothes and deposited him in the next county, not one hair would be disturbed.
No head of hair should be that perfect. No person should be that perfect. A man should look like Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. Here in the old Industrial Valley our politicians look a little rumpled. Take Sherrod Brown, our gravel-voiced senator, for example. I'll bet there are times when he feels like dousing someone with a bucket of muddy water. I wouldn't be surprised if he feels that way when he sees John Boehner.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Names You Won't Forget

Naming characters occupies quite a bit of time for anyone who writes fiction. Making them fit the person can be a challenge. At that Charles Dickens had few peers. Names should be distinctive and if they are memorable, that makes them all the better. They should not be preposterous, of course, unless they belong to a living, breathing individual.
A group of people in England with too much time on their hands has made a list of ridiculous names found on that pleasant but sometimes cantankerous island. I believe the parents could have been innocent of possessing twisted senses of humor when they named Barb Dwyer. They probably christened her Barbara. It is harder to be forgiving for the mom and dad of Mary Christmas. Can there be any doubt that old dad was chuckling when he insisted his son be named Justin Case?
There were others, including Hazel Nutt, Chris Cross and Paige Turner. The latter may have had a writer for a parent. But it took a pair of fiendish parents to name a kid Terry Bull. That was terrible.
This business of a writer naming characters not only is challenging, it can be risky. Since Google came along I have used it to check out names I have dreamed up. Doing so has taught me that it's unlikely there is a single possible name that somewhere in the world hasn't been taken by an actual person.
I made what I now consider an embarrassing mistake in a story written a year ago. It is scheduled to appear in an upcoming issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. For a really nasty individual, a through and through rotter, I chose the name Wally Shanks. I did so quite innocently, forgetting that Rob Lopresti has a series character called Shanks. Compounding this blunder, the latest story about Shanks appears in the issue one month before my evil Shanks shows up. My apologies, Rob.
Twenty years ago I was selecting a name for the protagonist of a series still running. In fact he is the man who got the best of Wally Shanks. I wanted the name to be short and rhythmical and I did not want the last name to be that of anyone I knew or had even heard of. I chose Jack Eddy. About the time the first story appeared in print I remembered a Ball State professor of my acquaintance named Diane Eddy. Then I recalled that Manton Eddy was a well known general during World War II. Soon after that, Eddy's Bike Shop in nearby Stow came to mind. Earlier this week we had lunch at Eddy's Deli & Restaurant. Where was Google when I needed it? Well, it's here now and I have discovered there are real people named Jack Eddy walking around somewhere.
Maybe I should have followed the lead of Bill Pronzini. For thirty years he has been writing books about a character and never has gotten around to giving him a name.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Politics - No Laughing Matter

There are not a whole lot of nice things that can be said about big shot politicians other than they usually are good for a laugh. The sad part is that most of us are the butt of the
Take the Democrats. No sooner do they berate the auto executives and Wall Street high rollers for expensive travel than Nancy Pelosi and a few others hop aboard a government
jet bound for Rome. Then she turns up in Afghanistan. John Kerry was in Syria at the same time and it's hard to tell where the rest of them might be. Makes you wonder if Hillary is appreciative of all the help she is getting on her Secretary of State job.
Or take the Republicans. After eight years of monumental spending while George W. was at the helm, they suddenly have started worrying about money. It wasn't too long ago that John McCain suspended his campaign for the presidency to rush back to Washington to lead the charge to hand the high rollers on Wall Street about $700 billion to save them from embarrassment. Then he turned to leading another charge, this one against laying out cash to help average people.
It sometimes seems that everyone in the country has an understanding of fiscal
conservatism except the fiscal conservatives. Now four governors say the only part of that stimulus money they want is the part that won't help poor people.
Looking on from a distance it seems the biggest benefit of being a member of Congress is that it provides little wear and tear on the thought processes. All you need to know is that if you are a Republican you vote against everything proposed by Democrats and if you are a Democrat you return the favor when Republicans come up with a rare idea.
So over time there are no winners or losers inside what they like to call the Beltway. All the losers live elsewhere. Is there any hope for what we laughingly call our form of government? It seems less likely all the time. Maybe we should just turn the whole thing over to the know-it-alls such as Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh and all the other idiots like ... well, there's just too many to name. It's enough to make you wonder if some of the madmen running rogue nations don't have the right idea.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Purple Gang and Me

While living in Detroit when I was four and five I learned all about the Purple Gang from older and wiser boys of ten and twelve. The Purple Gang, as all lovers of crime are aware, was the dominate player in Detroit's Prohibition Era mob warfare. However, those older and wiser boys swore the gang consisted of a bunch of pansies.
Later, when I was ten or twelve myself, I realized that most wise talk from me came from things I overheard said by adults. That, I suspect, was true of those who disparaged the Purple Gang. Perhaps it came from parents perturbed by the price of beer or bathtub gin and blamed this on the Purples. There is one other possibility, the tendency of women who had been around the block more than a few times to favor clothing of that color.
Whatever the reason, the second-favorite pastime of boys in the neighborhood was playing cops and robbers. Only wandering down to Navin Field a few blocks away when the Detroit Tigers were playing at home topped that activity. At the end of the seventh inning, usually about 4 p.m., the gatekeepers quit manning the gates and that meant we could get in free to see the Tigers whip some contemptible bunch of losers from St. Louis or Philadelphia.
Anyway, I was considered too little to be allowed to play in those cops and robbers games except on days when there was a shortage of boys. Girls, being inferior in every possible way, were never allowed to play. The younger, weaker and dumber boys were forced to be the Purple Gang. Those who were older and wiser were the fearless cops who would gun down the Purples one by one by pointing an index finger and crying, "Bang, bang, you're dead!"
This sort of thing led me to believe that if the entire membership of the Purple Gang were to show up some day all I would have to do is yell, "Boo!" and they'd flee for their lives.
I'm sure I had learned this was not true long years before reading Whiskey River by Loren D. Estleman, a wonderful fictionalized account of Detroit during the years when alcoholic beverages were outlawed and at times a man might have to walk an entire block before finding a speakeasy or blind tiger. Estleman is impeccable in conducting research so Whiskey River is an excellent source of information. The name comes from the practice of mobsters bringing whiskey into the country from across the river in Canada or even driving it in caravans across the ice when the lake was frozen over. A favorite trick of the Purple Gang, whose members were smarter than I realized at the age of five, was to hijack shipments of liquor after someone else went to the trouble of crossing the river or the ice.
I did notice one thing back in 1929 and 1930: The boys who scoffed at the Purple Gang as a bunch of sissies on a sunny afternoon were not quite so mouthy after darkness fell.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Differences and Similarities - 1930-2009

One of the advantages, or perhaps disadvantages, of being able to remember back to 1930 and the years that followed is being able to compare then and now without having to consult a history book. To illustrate the point, consider a quarter.
A man with nothing in his pocket but a dirty handkerchief and a comb missing a few teeth doesn't find it a whole lot easier coming up with two bits today than he would have in 1930. That's the similarity. The difference is that the fellow who did have a quarter back then could walk into any corner grocery store and come out with a quart of milk and a pound of hamburger. The family would eat. Today the same man could go into a supermarket and discover the quarter won't even buy a candy bar.
If conditions continue to get worse, the absence of those corner grocery stores may make a huge difference. The old-time grocer knew his customers by name, knew the man and his wife and all their kids. When a family hit rock bottom the grocer would write the last name on a little tan-colored booklet like the receipt books used by waitresses. In some stores you would find a dozen of those booklets, in others fifty or more.
It usually was the wife who asked the grocer to open a book for her family by explaining that money was non-existent but the need for food hadn't changed. He'd handle it like any cash transaction by taking a pencil from the top of one ear and totalling up her "purchases" on the brown paper sack that then would hold them. After that he'd enter the total in the booklet. From then on it usually was one of the kids who would pick up the day's necessities. That figure, too, would be entered into the book.
When the breadwinner came up with a few dollars or even a little change he would stop by the store and pay a little on the tab. The grocer would know that this was difficult for the man, a blow to his pride, so he would make out like running a tab was just the normal way of doing business. When the man found a job he would walk in with a spring in his step and settle the account.
The owner of the corner grocery was a part of the neighborhood. He knew the people, was aware of their problems, saw to it that no one starved and even slipped the kids a piece of penny candy now and then.
It was a way of life in the 1930s. Don't hold much hope of finding it like that at the supermarket any time in the future.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How to Write a Story

I've been doing a lot of reading about how to write a story the past few months. That can be a dangerous mistake. It's like the conversation while I was drying the dishes after lunch. I said something and Jackie said, "That's a man's outlook," so I said, "What other kind is there?"
Obviously that was a mistake. One bordering on the dangerous.
Danger also lurks in reading about writing. Most of that has been on a great online site, Seven leading writers of short mysteries each has a day to post whatever he or she chooses. Last week it was about writing titles and this week about beginning a story. Just about everyone agreed you should not begin at the beginning. Today there were a couple of quotes from an old friend, Lawrence Block, a leader in the field. At one time or another he said, "A story must have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order." He also said, "Begin when the first brick is thrown."
Makes sense so I agree. Trouble is, it doesn't work for me. I blame that on all the years spent as a reporter for evening newspapers. Worst of all were the years spent covering the criminal courts. As the 12:15 p.m. deadline approached I would tell myself there was time to hear one more witness testify. Then maybe one more after that. Eventually it was necessary to rush out of the courtroom and double-time back to the newsroom. Along the way I would compose the lead in my head, at the same time trying to avoid being hit by cars or knocking other pedestrians to the ground.
When I reached my desk, having already noticed that city editor Jack Richman glanced at me and then the big clock on the wall, I banged out the lead on my typewriter, both fingers flying over the keys. From there on it was done by rote with the help of the reporter's guardian angel. In other words I had no idea what I was writing. When a copy boy dropped a paper still warm from the press on my desk, only then would I find out what I had written. It nearly always was satisfactory.
So I'm stuck with beginning a story at the beginning. Too many leads were composed on the dead run for me to do it any other way. Unfortunately, that reporter's guardian angel no longer comes around to help out with the rest of the story.
Now that I know I've been doing it wrong all these years, should I try to start doing it right? No, it's true that old dogs shy away from new tricks. I'm just going to muddle along as I've been doing and one of these days one or two of those great leads - called "hooks" in fiction - stored on my computer may actually end up as a complete story.
Even before discovering I learned a few things from people I worked with. There was Evan Owens, a pixie-like man who for years had the desk next to mine. Evan covered city court and wrote a column twice a week that as often as not was on a specific subject for one or two graphs and then would go off on a tangent and stay there. By the time you drew near the end of the column you had forgotten the original topic, then he would tie the two together in great fashion at the very last moment. I learned to do that by reading Evan's columns when I wasn't busy with one of the Horatio Alger books he kept on his desk and insisted I read.
There were others I learned from, of course. Not because any of them tried to teach me something. They did it in the best manner of all, by writing in a unique way. Bob Barnet, for example. He was sports editor of the rival paper in town from 1929 until well into the 1980s. He wrote beautifully on any subject and he had no peers in describing a basketball game. Reading his story, you could see the action unfold before your eyes. You even know the color of the uniforms the teams were wearing because Bob would slip in something about the purple-clad team or the team in red and blue. Many a night we sat side by side at a press table covering a game and I'd soak up every word he said. He had offers of a job from many papers in larger cities but he preferred to stay in the old hometown. One day in Florida he called me over to the table where he was having lunch with a slim, quiet man and introduced us, enabling me to meet my favorite national columnist, Jim Murray, writer of some of the funniest lines ever put on paper.
There were other teachers, among them another sports editor, Jim Schlemmer. He told me, "If it isn't your own name and it happened more than an hour ago, look it up." How often those words have saved me from trouble.
So I guess I'd better get busy. There's the beginning of a story stirring around in my head. Maybe I can put it in the middle or somewhere near the end.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Doc Knows His Stuff

It's a good time to write about my doctor and I apologize to the late Ring Lardner for borrowing his style of doing so:
I went to old Doctor Mac who likes to be called Hugh yesterday for my monthly shot of pep juice and it is a good thing I did cause waiting a week would of meant chasing him down up at the Arctic Circle where he'll be snowmobileing with his wife which he likes to do when snows on the ground. At a time like that if he rode his Harley he might fall off and break his ankle like he done oncet before.
I would rather catch him at his office where you never know what to expect. It might be a patriotic occasion so he would be dressed up in his red white and blue outfit that would knock your eyes out or he might be sporting Harley-Davidson stuff of which he has a trunk full. I like it best when he wears his electric shirt and horns that light up so you can't miss seeing him when he walks in the room.
When I told somebody about him they said he sounds more like a nut case than a doctor and I said that could be as they say most geniuses are that way and he must be one because he started up this family practice and now has something like 10 other doctors working for him not to mention a whole gaggle of nurses, lab technostics and office help. He has two big waiting rooms and three if you count the one acrost the street just for the fairer sex and as offen as not they are full of folks eager to see one of them many sawbones, which is not a term you say right to a doc's face lest you might come acrost as defensive.
I see the head man himself as you might expect from somebody such as me who likes to go right to the top. You would be correct to say we understand each other and have what they call a good working relationship. To prove that is true one day back a spell I told him about a little problem that had been bothering me so he said, "I could tell you what to do but you wouldn't do it anway" and you got to admire a man that honest and who has a real understanding of the situation.
So I guess that pretty well tells the hole story and if you should happen to be around these parts and feel a desire for a little medical attention I will be more then glad to set it up for you to see the good doctor himself and if you happen to be in luck you might catch him at a time when he is wearing his horns as that way you would not mistake him for some guy who just wandered in off the street. No need to get sick just on my account of course.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Valentine Box at School

In the sixth, seventh and eighth grades at the decrepit old school on the hill overlooking Goodyear Plant One and the Mohawk rubber factory we always had a Valentine Box. This box wrapped in silver foil with red hearts and cupids here and there never changed in appearance so I suspected it followed us from room to room as the years slipped by.
For a week the pupils (no one qualified as a student) could drop valentines that popped up to create all sort of images into the box. When the big day arrived the teacher opened the box, picked up one valentine at a time and called a name. That person would walk to the front of the room, accept the valentine and return to his or her seat. Usually her seat because few boys received one. When this did happen, as the unfortunate fellow walked head-down to retrieve his token of affection he would be accompanied by hoots and catcalls.
On the other hand, the pretty and popular girls would barely be back at their desk before their name was called again. For a boy it was a badge of honor to not receive a valentine. A girl who failed to receive even a single one could only pretend that she did not care. She would work at doing better next year.
Then there were the comic valentines printed on 8x11 sheets of paper and found on drug store counters. For a penny or two you could present someone with a colorfully illustrated and highly insulting missive. To do so meant sorting through the stack until you found one that was appropriate. For me that meant finding one for a salesman who couldn't sell ice at the equator. The more vile and uncouth the better, and this I would give to my father. In turn he would hand me one meant for an oafish lout.
Times have changed since those late years of the Great Depression. Most valentines are nothing more than conventional greeting cards that don't pop up or do a thing but lie there. Comic valentines are not found on drug store counters. Most schools don't even have valentine boxes because someones tender feelings might be hurt. There isn't as much laughter in this era of political correctness and few backbones are stiffened on Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bands, Parades & Nifty Women

Last evening while savoring a Turkish Delight, my thoughts drifted to a story I had read earlier in the day. Be nice to soldiers returning from distant places, it said, because when men came back from WWII they were greeted by brass bands, parades and women rushing to plant kisses on their lips.
So let's see. I was handed my papers late one afternoon at Camp Atterbury. When a clerk came to the last one he said, "This to to give to employers when you're trying to find a job, which you probably won't." It contained a single sentence so I read it on the spot: "Cared for and cleaned an M-1 rifle while living under adverse conditions and delivering direct fire upon the enemy."
After a second reading to make sure I hadn't missed something I said, "Dillinger's dead and Capone's in prison so who do I give this to?"
He uttered the stock answer given by all government clerks: "That's your problem."
Two bus rides covering a hundred miles took me to Muncie. It was 11 p.m. I shouldered a duffle bag containing all my worldly possessions and started walking to an uncle's house a mile away. For a number of blocks I walked north along Walnut Street, the main drag, and was surprised by the amount of traffic at that time of night.
Did someone stop and say, "Need a lift, soldier?" Yeah, sure.
Did a pretty dame come rushing up to plant a passionate kiss on my parched lips? In your dreams.
Weary to the bone, I arrived at Uncle Paul's dark house. After banging on the door for several minutes, a light came on. A cousin opened the door and said, "Oh, it's you."
Remember this the next time somebody mentions brass bands and parades.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Eggs are safe so spend all your money

It was bound to happen, of course. After decades of doing everything possible to make people fear the egg, the latest study now reveals that eating them is just fine because they have little if any effect on cholesterol.
Truth be told, it was just one of many ploys by the medical profession to frighten people so they will rush to a clinic or hospital for tests and checkups. Thirty years ago no one ever heard of cholesterol. Now it is a major industry.
The latest fad is the use of acronyms. You might have FRUMP so check it out with the doc. He'll write a prescription for you. If your FRUMP is okay, you may be suffering from PLOOP so take a test and then a pill. On and on it goes, a new one every month or so.
Fear itself has become a major American industry. The medical profession in cahoots with the pharmaceutical companies has made people afraid to eat, drink, smoke or even breath the air. Yet when writing of old friends who listened to the fear mongers, gave up nearly everything they enjoyed and began such things as jogging I nearly always have to precede their name with "the late . . ."
To paraphrase my friend, the late Ross Spencer, it is better to live one day without fear than ten years with it.
People spending money they didn't have and buying houses they couldn't afford helped create the financial mess the country is now in. So what is the latest advice to fix the problem? Spend all your money, don't save it. Even if you don't have money, spend it anyway. That's what Herbert Hoover told people to do in 1930 and 1931 and that sure worked out great. A few years ago I wrote about spending money you don't have and mentioned a popular song of those years that included the line "Mister Herbert Hoover says now's the time to buy, so let's have another cup of coffee and let's have another piece of pie." That was sarcasm.
Another friend, the late Art Ealy, used to say that what this country needs is another Great Depression. Well, Art, it may have begun. We aren't supposed to say that, though. It seems that if millions of people can't pay the rent, make the car payment or even feed the family there is nothing to worry about if we just don't say the D word. I guess that's one way of looking at it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Trouble in any language

I have long known that saying kind words in a foreign language can be dangerous business and the point was driven home to me during the past few days. Both Peter Puhl and Abe March have let me know that my morning greeting to Jackie was all wrong. This, of course, was something I had already discovered on my own.
Peter, who lives in far off Nordenham, told me I would have been better off saying, "Guten Morgen, mein schatz." So I tried it and Jackie's response was, "I don't like the sound of that." I believe it was being called schatz that she didn't care for so I explained that I had said, "Morning, sweetheart."
Seeing that I wasn't getting far, I followed Abe's advice and said, "Guten Morgen, meine gnadige frau." That seemed safe enough because gnadige frau means gracious lady, or something like that. I probably should have remembered it is "something like that" that gets you in trouble. I definitely should have remembered that uttering a sentence containing the word frau is like waving a red flag in front of a bull to any woman who is not German.
All this led to a decision that never again would I try to compliment someone in any language other than English. But then I recalled a popular song from the days of my youth, Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. Now according to the words sung by the Andrews Sisters and Carmen Lombardo back in the mid-1930s, Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen means that you're grand. It also means you are the fairest in the land, if you can trust those old singers.
So maybe I'll give it a try tomorrow. But can those singers really be trusted? It pays to be cautious in accepting such advice as I found out in 1945 over there in Nordenham. I was preparing to explain a situation I was in as soon as a particularly obnoxious officer arrived on the scene. A group of former German soldiers who were civilian guards where I was an MP told me to finish my statement by calling him a word ending in "head," but spoken in German rather than English. The first half of the word proved to be something nasty that began with the letter S in both languages. Then those old soldiers burst out laughing when I called the officer a "S...head."
You just never know who you can trust.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

How to Please a Woman

No, this is not an instruction manual. It is a plea for help. Why, I want to know, do women refuse to see certain little facts of life? Why won't they just accept the obvious? Why do they get all het up when a man utters a simple request?
For example, I sometimes point out to Jackie that men have it much tougher than women because they have to shave every day. More often than not she unleashes a tirade. This makes me wonder how she would like to drag sharp steel across her face and neck every morning.
This morning I greeted her for the first time, or at least the first time since eleven o'clock last night, by saying, "Guten morgen, mein hausfrau." Admittedly, I don't know if any German actually says that to his wife because I have never been present at such a moment. Most of the people I knew in Germany merely said, "Morgen." This struck me as odd as obviously it was morning and there was no need to point it out to me.
Whatever, Jackie got that look in her eye and warned me what would happen if ever again I called her a hausfrau, even though she is one. She said, " Why don't you go Germany? Don't you know somebody there who would take you in?"
"Abe March might. Or Peter Puhl in Nordenham."
"Good. Then you can talk in German all you want."
"But I like it here."
"Then speak American."
"Ya, mein Fuhrer." I didn't say that, I just thought it.
Another thing I don't understand about women is their reaction to a statement like, "If you'll take a break from scrubbing the kitchen floor, how about bringing me a cookie." Obviously that is an act of consideration. I could have just walked over the wet floor to get one for myself.
Or consider a minor burp to help a man's digestive system. Jackie's usual response is, "Thanks for saving that until you were right beside me. They probably heard it down on the first floor." We live on the sixth.
This just scratches the surface in explaining the ways in which women fail to understand and appreciate men. There are many more I could mention, but I think I'll quit now while I'm ahead.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Joyous Time of Life

Just about the time life seems to be pretty good, nature always rears its ugly head. They say nature abhors a vacuum and that, you will find when you reach your eighties, is true. If that vacuum concerns feeling good, meaning all your aches, pains and ailments have subsided, sometime between lunch and supper you can be sure nature will fill the void.
A few days ago, for example, I was feeling tip-top and had been that way for three or four hours. Forgotten was my semi-annual kidney infection. So nature did its dirty work and now . . . well, you get the idea.
They call my time of life the "Golden Years" and you can bet the guy who coined that phrase was about thirty years of age. Those who get this far soon discover the gold is really brass and it has turned your body green, something brass tends to do.
Not that life is always perfect even for callow youths. I was a contented kid only a month shy of a fourth birthday when the above picture was snapped on the Detroit Ferry. By the time the big boat reached Put-In-Bay, one of Lake Erie's many deadly storms had brewed.
In a downpour of rain my mother dragged me along a pier where small boats manned by professional crews were berthed. One captain after another told her that going out in such weather to complete our journey to Catawba Island would be tantamount to committing suicide. Finally, by questioning his manhood and just who his mother might have been, she found a captain willing to take the risk. A short time later a crewman whose face had turned a sickly green opened the door of the small cabin where we were seated and said, "Hold onto the kid, lady, we're going down." Fortunately he was wrong.
After a few days at my grandparents cabin on Catawba Island, which really isn't an island at all, my grandfather was outraged to learn I had never set foot inside a church since the day I was baptized. A devout Catholic, he decided to remedy that situation. We never made it. An auto accident caused by dear old granddad put me in a Toledo hospital for thirty days with a fractured skull, a concussion and a scalp hanging from my head by a small patch of skin. That finished me with church.
So if nothing else this proves that life at any age is seldom a piece of cake. It's true what they say, life is hard and then you die.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Ah, Mother Love

I'm beginning to think that motherhood ain't what it used to be. There's that woman down in Florida with a mountain of evidence against her because it seems she killed her pretty young daughter. If what we hear is true, having a kid around was interfering with mom's social life.
Then yesterday that woman in Texas was convicted of killing her daughter, the one known as Baby Grace. The child, another pretty little girl, forgot to call her stepfather "sir" and committed one or two more breaches of etiquette. To show they knew all about good manners and how to behave, he and mom beat her to death and dumped her body in Galveston Bay.
Not to be outdone, we had a similar case in Cleveland, but the mother got off "by reason of insanity." A little voice told her "do it, do it" so she drowned her two young daughters in a bathtub. She told the judge she found religion in jail, a story we've heard a few times before. The judge spoke sternly to her.
Now I have nothing against murder, understand. It's something I write about all the time. I just think it should be confined to adults, not innocent little kids. Above all, it should not be mothers doing the killing.
At times I don't think much of humans in general. A couple of days ago a woman in nearby Massillon was arrested for beating people, including her spouse, with a pot, a stick and a sweeper. No one died and perhaps I shouldn't complain about it because the case provides me with a unique method of murder. Say a short mystery titled "Death by Eureka" or "She Hoovered Him," something like that.
Anyway, a few miles away in Navarre a man must have picked up on the idea because he was arrested for slamming his wife with a metal trash can. She survived, but there's another unique plot: "The Trash Can Murder." But this guy wasn't finished slamming. In the jail he slammed his head against a wall, knocking himself unconscious. He was taken to a hospital, from which he fled. From there he went home to get his car but surprise!, the cops were waiting.
People. The world might be better off without them.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Ping Pong for the boys at camp

It seems everyone had been behaving badly so we were restricted to the company area for the weekend. That meant nothing to do. There was a Day Room for the enjoyment of the men but all it contained was several folding chairs and a large table. Determined to beat this restriction, Fleming and I decided the table would be perfect for Ping Pong. We made the rounds asking for money to buy equipment. As it was near the end of the month, cash was scarce so some contributed a dime, some a quarter and one or two fifty cents.
With close to three dollars in hand, Fleming and I went to the orderly room and explained the situation to the first sergeant and company commander. A great idea, they agreed. So impressed were they by our thoughtfulness that each contributed a dime of their own money. The first soldier wrote out passes so we could go into town and buy the equipment.
The bus ride cost a dime apiece and we both kept an additional dime for the return trip. In Leesville we found three grades of Ping Pong sets, $2:50, $2:00 and $1:50. Low prices, but this was 1952.
“Nothing but the best for the boys,” I said.
“Absolutely.” Then, after a thoughtful pause: “You know, though, they’re a pretty rough bunch.”
“A good point. Maybe the two-dollar set would be best.”
“I agree. That way we could have a couple of beers at the bar next door.”
So we did. After further consideration we decided the one-fifty set would do fine for a bunch of beetle crushers, hard-nosed gravel agitators. That would allow for a couple of more rounds. Eventually it was agreed that Ping Pong was a wimpy game unsuited for infantrymen. That bunch of roughnecks back at Camp Polk would be hitting people with the paddles, stuff like that. So we stayed in the comfortable bar until the realization dawned that we were broke, had missed lunch and were hungry. By then it was after 5 p.m.
"Saturday is the night for USO dances,” said Fleming. “They have food, too.”
The USO had not opened when we arrived, but the door was unlocked. The large room was empty. We saw food already out on a table by the far wall. Dainty little sandwiches, things like that, so Fleming stuffed three or four in his mouth and I took a couple myself. Then several women came charging out of the kitchen and told us they were not open. One shoved Fleming and he staggered back against the table, tipping it over.
He has just regained his feet when the front door opened and two MPs entered. Fleming and I ran through the kitchen and out the back door. The MPs and several shouting women were close behind. We discovered that the backyards in that part of town were separated by wooden fences six feet high. We scaled the first and went on, aware that two dogfaces could climb fences and run across yards faster than MPs. Then Fleming started laughing. It was contagious. At least two dogs set up a howl.
Once free of our pursuers, we followed a circuitous route along residential streets until we could see the bus station. As expected, it was crawling with MPs. We continued on, eventually crossing several farm fields and then going out on the highway, We flagged a bus headed for camp, bypassed the orderly room and went on to the barracks. Men were furious, outraged, until they heard the story of the chase, then they were laughing in approval. We were admired, viewed as heroes.
In the morning an olive drab sedan containing an officer and two MPs stopped near the orderly room. The captain told them the company was restricted so none of his men were in town the previous evening.