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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Sunday, March 29, 2009

What Price Glory?

Some would say this is a bittersweet story. Few could say it is a happy one.
My old Army outfit, the 4th Infantry Division, has pretty much completed its return from a 15-month tour in Iraq, the third it has made to that war torn country. As one 200-member unit from the 1st Brigade Combat Team stood at attention on a Fort Hood, Texas field, family members waited nearby to greet husbands, sons, brothers and sweethearts.
Then came the command: "Sgt. Rosa! Rejoin your formation!"
To do so he needed the help of a friend who assisted him from a wheelchair. Sergeant Luis Rosa-Valentin had returned to the States earlier than his friends. Or part of him had. He left both legs and part of his left arm behind in Iraq. He had lost his hearing and his vision was impaired. The Army fitted him with artificial limbs but they couldn't make him hear again or do much to make him see a little better.
When he awoke from a coma in a Maryland hospital more than a year ago he made one thing clear: He wanted to be there when his unit returned home. The Army flew him to Fort Hood for the occasion.
You don't hear too much about the Sgt. Rosas. People don't want to know about things like that. They'd rather hear the bands play and see the flags wave. In every war and every country it has been that way down through the ages.
A reporter for the Killleen Daily Herald, Amanda Kim Stairett, wrote about Staff Sgt. Rosa. Bob Babcock, who has supplied details of the Ivy Division's three trips to Iraq several times each week, passed it along. The networks and the news channels and the wire services apparently didn't feel it was worth repeating. Not surprising since it doesn't do much for the average person's image of war. Hard to find the part about glory in this account. Difficult for those who weren't there, but like to say what "we" did, to pick out something to boast about.
Sergeant Rosa will never stand on his own two feet again. He will never pick something up with both hands. He will never hear the sound of music. His wife and children will be a blur when he looks at them. Many return from every war like that.
An old song says it all, "Johnny, we hardly knew ya." Some call it unpatriotic.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Writers Are Always Misunderstood

Memories came rushing back this morning as I read Deborah Elliott-Upton's weekly column on She was working on a freelance job from a newspaper editor that, along with having lunch in a plush restaurant, meant reading a book. When her spouse asked what she was doing she told him she was working. Her husband, the clod, said, "It looks like you're reading a book," in a way, I'm sure, that implied she should be down on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor or doing some other little wifely chore.
This reminded me of my years covering Cincinnati Reds baseball games. Anyone who has spent a summer day in Cincinnati knows that any minister's threat of burning in Hell falls on deaf ears. Before one game, for example, the temperature at field level was 116 degrees. Then there was the time I strolled through the Pittsburgh clubhouse between games of a doubleheader. A Pirate outfielder, Ed Kirkpatrick, appeared to be on the verge of collapse so I made a timely comment like, "Hot enough out there for you?" He answered by raising both of his bare feet so I could see the burn marks from the rivets holding his spikes in place on his shoes. I refrained from saying, "Oh well, just one more game to go."
So one day after a free lunch in the press dining room there was time before the game to go down and see how Jackie was doing. She had a season ticket so I knew where to find her. She had just returned from the concession stand and was finishing her dinner, a hot dog. With no air to breath, talking was difficult and yet I managed to complain that the air conditioning was set a little high in the pressbox and for the second time in a month the entree in the dining room was lasagna, her favorite.
While usually even-tempered and pleasant, I could see murder in her eye. I beat a hasty retreat back to the pressbox elevator. I mean you wouldn't expect the writers to climb stairs all the way up there, would you? It's a tough life, but someone has to do the job.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Got Those New Computer Blues

Since last Friday, blogging has held as much appeal as leaping into a pit of vipers. That was the day we took my computer in for a tuneup. We got it back on Monday and that meant hooking everything up again plus all the other annoyances that go with the job.
Then on Tuesday we went back to the same place and bought a new computer for Jackie. After experiencing the joys of hooking up yet another computer came the job of transferring a few thousand files from CDs to it. These were the files transferred from her old computer to the CDs in question.
Jackie took one look at the finished product and didn't like it. The background wasn't pleasing, she said. So I changed it to the basic blue background. She said the blue was too dark. I explained that Microsoft did not offer much of an assortment of blues. Take it or leave it, that's pretty much the way it goes.
Now when the Internet is called up the display doesn't fill the screen. I spent a couple of hours trying to fix that problem but all that happened was I somehow lost the toolbar and haven't been able to get it back.
The owner of the shop is going to stop by and see what he can do. Jackie is feeling nostalgic about her old computer even though it was about as fast as a 1929 Essex sedan running in this year's Indianapolis 500.
Blogging again? When my life returns to its dull, undramatic routine. If that ever happens. Right now I'm not placing any bets.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Men Running Around in Their B.V.D.s

This is blog number 400 so in honor of that event I will return to a popular topic, men's underwear. I can't be certain, but I believe my interest in this subject dates back to writing a book on that old musical group the Hoosier Hot Shots. One of the boys' most popular hits was "From the Indies to the Andies in His Undies." They explained that this was "a very, very daring thing to do." Well, I should think so.
But today I am writing about the brand B.V.D. When I was a kid back in the late 1920s and during the joyous years of the Great Depression, B.V.D. apparently was a very popular brand of men's shorts. I know this because people were always talking about someone running around in his B.V.D.s. Why this was a popular topic of conversation, I have no idea. It was, though, so I grew up thinking it was a word: beeveedees. You didn't pull up your shorts, you hiked up your beeveedees.
The name seemed to have been a victim of World War II so I had all but forgotten it until I was well into my sixties. Then, while shopping for shorts, I came upon packets labeled B.V.D. I bought one, of course, and once again was able to run around in my beeveedees.
So today I looked it up and I'm right back to where I left off a few days ago: Fruit of the Loom. They bought the brand in 1976. Before that, an outfit in Piqua, Ohio bought out Bradley, Voorhees & Day early in the 1930s. That will be the subject of another blog someday because while visiting the town I have discovered that many of its residents are confused about the pronunciation of Piqua. Adding to the problem is an Ohio county, Pickaway. It's nowhere near Piqua.
Then to further complicate the situation there are the people who own cows, which also have B.V.D. but not as an undergarment. To them, the people, it means Bovine Virus Diarrhea. Not nearly as pleasant a subject as men's shorts.
So I hope this has been informative and clears up any confusion about men running around in their beeveedees. I'm not completely clear as to why that was such a commonplace thing to do in the 1930s unless the Depression left many men without pants.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Women - The Fairer Sex?

After returning from using my rollator to take a few laps up and down the outer hallway I gave Jackie a short quiz. "Choose from the following three: do you think I am handsome, very handsome, or extremely handsome?"
She clutched her heart and sighed. "Oh, extremely handsome, of course."
Instead of stopping there she added, "I've never been able to stand handsome men. They're arrogant, self-centered, uninformed and stupid."
Now I'm in a quandary. What am I to make of this?
Women - who can understand them? Back in 1922, Ring Lardner was asked by the editor of The American Magazine to write a story about wives. This was because a woman had written a scurrilous attack on husbands. It was titled Say It with Bricks. Lardner, being a wise man, knew this was a hopeless task. He wrote: ". . . a man defending husbands vs. wives, or men vs. women, has got about as much chance as a traffic policeman trying to stop a mad dog by blowing 2 whistles."
He pointed out that down through the years only two writers, Francis Bacon and Rudyard Kipling, had the nerve to come right out and say that it isn't true that behind every successful man is a woman. Bacon said, "he that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune, for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief."
Kipling was more blunt. Among other things about the fairer sex he wrote, "A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke."
Then there was this ending to The Ladies: "So be warned by my lot (which I know you will not), an learn about women from me!"
But Rudyard was just getting warmed up. In The Vampire he wrote this:
A fool there was and he made his prayer (Even as you and I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care),
But the fool he called her his lady fair (Even as you and I!)

I could be wrong, but I'll bet Mrs. Kipling didn't feel that was hubby's best piece of work.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why aren't all my boxer shorts the same size?

I guess it's a pipe dream, thinking someone can solve the major problems facing the world when two manufacturers can't agree on what constitutes large in men's boxer shorts. While I can't do much about fixing up the world, I suppose my personal problem could be solved by giving up on Hanes and Fruit of the Loom and buying one of those designer brands. Spending the few extra buck wouldn't make or break me but it seems kind of foolish when I seldom would start a conversation by saying, "I'm wearing Calvin Klein shorts."
Then again, it might be fun seeing the expressions on the faces of those who received this information. I'm sure "senility" would be said in whispers.
Anyway, all this came up when we drove over to Target this morning. That was my second mistake. The first was agreeing to go out at all. So after walking a couple of miles we arrived at the place where hundreds of shorts were hanging on metal racks. Two of them were packets of large size Hanes. Two lousy packets and I didn't like either of them. Each packet contains three pairs and not even one of the six pleased me. I may not do much talking about the shorts I'm wearing but I'm particular about the design.
So even though every pair at home was Hanes, I checked out Fruit of the Loom.
Both firms consider 38-40 to be large. That's where agreement ends. I found that out after buying two packs of the Loom and opening them at home. A pair of large size Hanes shorts is what you might expect for a man my size. A pair of large Fruit of the Loom shorts could do double duty as a sideshow tent for Ringling Brothers.
So this goes down as the third day this week when little writing will get done, and it's only Wednesday. I am well equipped with shorts, however. As for the problems of the world? Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn. Clark Gable said that when he was living in an Akron boardinghouse and spending his days building tires in a rubber factory. Or maybe it was a few years after that, I forget. I'm sure he said it, though, and probably more than once. He totally destroyed the undershirt business in this country by not wearing one. Where he stood on shorts, I don't know.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An Irish Letter on St. Patrick's Day

My grandfather, James Thomas Lynch (pictured), was a generous man with everyone other than members of his immediate family. Among those who received checks from him on a regular basis was Nora Hanley, one of his numerous cousins. She was a resident of Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan. The largest town in the immediate area, Ballyjamesduff was a short distance from tiny Mt. Prospect, the home of Peter Lynch before he emigrated to America in 1853 at the age of 18. Peter was my great-grandfather.
In response to his generosity, James received regular letters of thanks from Cousin Nora. He kept them. Following is one written shortly before Ireland gained its independence. The guard referred to was either a policeman appointed to his job by the British occupiers or, more likely, one of Winston Churchill's murderous Black & Tans.
Here is the letter. Read it and weep - or laugh.

Dear Cousin James,

Your welcome letter received and me and your aunt Bridget thank you kindly for the money you sent. We had seven masses said for your mother and father. God rest their souls.
You have gone to high places in America. God bless you. I hope you'll not be putting on airs and forget your father's native land.
Your cousin Paddy Hanley was hung in Ballyshannon last week for killing a guard. May God rest his soul, and may God's curse be on Mickey O'Grady, the informer. May his soul burn in Hell. God forgive me.
Times are not as bad as they might be. The herring is back and nearly everyone that has a boat is making ends meet and the price of fish is good - thanks be to God.
We had a fine time at Paddy Muldoon's wake. He was an old blatherskite and it looked good to see him stretched out with his big mouth closed. He's better off dead and he'll burn in Hell til the damn place freezes over. He had too many friends among the Orangemen. God's curse be on the lot of them.
Pon my soul, I almost forgot to tell you about your Uncle Dinny. He took a pot shot at a turncoat yesterday from in back of the hedge, but he had too much drink in him and missed. God's curse on the dirty drink.
I hope this letter finds you in good health. God bless you all and may God keep reminding you to keep on sending the money.
The Hanleys sure are one hundred percent strong around here since the best of them stopped going to America. They have kids running all over the county. Thanks be to God.
Father O'Flaherty who baptized your Cousin Matt Welch and is now feeble-minded sends his blessing. May God take care of the lot of you and keep you from sudden death.
Things look bright again. Every police barrack and Protestant Church has been burned down in County Cavan. Thanks be to God.
Your devoted cousin,

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I'm Eatin' in the Rain

After writing about the magnificent latrine yesterday, somebody asked what came next. Actually no one asked but I decided to write the story anyway.
We had spent only a couple of days at the camp when the order came, "We're moving out in five minutes." A steady rain added to the excitement, anticipation and joy as we climbed aboard open trucks for the short ride to the Southampton docks.
Before reaching the ships waiting to take us across the channel to Normandy, we stopped at an open field where a chow line had been set up despite the typical English weather. It did not seem to occur to the men in charge that the truck ride had lasted a mere 15 minutes and back at camp was a warm and dry mess hall. No one complained because rather than the usual Army food we were served fried chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables, fruit cocktail and apple pie. This was dumped in our messkits as the same cold and steady rain continued to fall. Then at the end of the chow line each man was handed a Clark bar, a carton of cigarettes and ten clips of rifle ammunition, each clip containing eight rounds.
Only the Army could have expected men with a rifle slung over one shoulder and a blanket roll containing all his worldly possessions hanging from the other to somehow hold a full messkit in one hand and a candy bar, carton of cigarettes and ten clips of ammunition in the other.
We ate at picnic tables set up in the open field. Despite the soggy fried chicken, rain-soaked mashed potatoes and wet apple pie, everyone ate with gusto. Remarks were exchanged about the unusual quality of the food until Mike Spinelli, an 18-year-old rifleman from Cleveland, said, "They're fattening us up for the kill."
Who could argue?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Magnificent Sights

An old friend is on trial this week and that brought back the memory of the time when he was a running back on the football team at a large Indiana high school. His father was a gambling man who always bet against the point spread on his son's games.
One long-ago Friday night it was looking good for the old man. Only seconds remained to tick off on the clock before he'd be a big winner. With his son's team holding the ball deep in its own territory, victory seemed secure for the father, if not the son.
But then my old friend carried the ball, broke free and raced down the sideline with nothing but open space between him and the distant goal line. That in itself would have been a joy to see, but adding to the drama was the magnificent sight of the old man keeping pace on his side of the white line while shouting, "Fall down, damn you, fall down!"
During the months after returning home from the big war in Europe I was sometimes asked to name the most impressive sight I had seen. Was it the Cathedral of Notre Dame? The Eiffel Tower, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace?
It was none of these, I assured the listener. Instead it was the latrine at a British army camp just outside Southampton, our final stop before boarding ships bound for Normandy.
As you stood at the door of this long, low building, stretching out ahead of you were 75 toilets along one wall. Across an aisle ten feet wide were 75 more facing them. A 150-seater.
As awe-inspiring as this was, its true beauty could not be appreciated until the morning after our arrival when, following breakfast, every seat was occupied. Even so, several hundred men stood in line outside awaiting their turn. When I eventually reached the head of the line I was met with the never-to-be-forgotten sight of 150 men ensconced on stools.
To keep things moving, a corporal named Corrigan paced up and down the aisle calling out, "Let's cut it off short, men. Let's snap shit!"
When a man arose from a stool, Corrigan would race to it, dropping into a crouch and pointing to the available spot with one hand, to the next man in line with the other.
Adding to the poignancy was the realization that with battle looming ahead, these would be the last stools that many men would thrust their buttocks upon.
So while others might talk of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame or Westminster, those sights paled in comparison with that of the magnificent 150-seater latrine.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Need a Good Laugh?

If life has become tedious and every day seems like Monday, go to and read today's entry by Deborah Elliott-Upton. There you will find the most recent winning entries in the Bulwer-Lytton "It was a dark and stormy night" competition. This, if you don't know, is a contest to see who can write the worst beginning of a story.
Along with the laughs, you may feel a touch of sympathy for Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who took pen in hand and in all seriousness wrote those immortal words. You will even see a picture of him with pen in hand.
Why has "It was a dark and stormy night" become the standard of bad beginnings? I don't know the answer. Thousands of equally bad, if not worse, starts can be found in both novels and short stories. If Bulwer-Lytton were able to speak up today, perhaps he would say it was all for the best. Without that immortal opening, few people would remember, let alone care, that he ever picked up that pen. Immortality is best grabbed in any way possible.
I myself have written an occasional and totally unintended Bulwer-Lytton opening. How about "Edna was a detonator, Harry was a bomb." I had no intention of writing a comedy when I put those words on paper. Nor did I anticipate scathing comments from editors.
Then there was "He sat staring at her photograph, his eyes like open windows letting the sickness of his mind escape into the room." That beginning actually was published. Bulwer-Lytton would have been proud.
In thinking about it, I believe the poor guy was dealt a bum hand. The moral of the story is that you don't have to try to be bad in order to be that way. I'm sure that is true as the sickness of my mind escapes into the room.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How Much Different Are We?

There are times when I look at little Sophie as she goes about doing the things she enjoys and I'm glad she doesn't know that like all hamsters she been allotted a maximum of a thousand days of life. Keeping clean and looking as nice as possible is important to a hamster so when I watch her taking one of her many daily baths or as she digs around in her cage hoping to find a tasty morsel she has overlooked, I know she thinks it will go on that way forever.
But hamsters suffer the same afflictions as people. Over the years, our sixteen have died of cancer, sudden heart attacks and anything else you can name. The worst fate of all awaited Joey, the most outgoing, fun-loving one of all. He was tiny even for a hamster, perhaps because he used up so much energy. Joey didn't believe that anyone or any thing could possibly want to hurt him. He liked it when someone would stroke his back and he was so trusting that while Jackie ran her fingers over him he would fall asleep while lying in the palm of her hand.
Joey loved to explore. He liked to climb up long tubes to see where they would lead and his favorite was the one in a play area that took him to a small tower room. The tube twisted and turned and had a steep area to climb, but Joey did it at full speed. He also enjoyed racing through a short, curved tube in his cage that ended up close to the place it started.
On nights when I had trouble sleeping and would come out and sit near him, Joey would wait by the short tube in a place where I could see only the top of his head, his eyes and his little Mickey Mouse ears sticking straight up in the air. He'd watch me until I said, "Go, go, go, Joey!" and then he'd race through the tube. Then he'd sit and stare at me until I said it again and off he'd go. He never tired of it so the game ended only when I went back to bed or dozed off in the chair.
When Joey was out rolling around in his plastic ball and wanted to go into the play area, he'd stop beside it and wait for one of us to take the lid off the ball. Once that happened, he'd hurry to the long tube and climb up to the tower room. Some days he' do it over and over again. If he grew tired, the room was a fine place for a nap.
Then one day I notice that his right back leg was dragging behind him as he ran happily about. It was the first indication that Joey had ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease. Life moves fast for a hamster so day after day it grew worse. He'd still manage to go up to the tower room, determined not to give up even though it got harder and harder for him. Finally he no longer could make it, and then just getting into the little house where he slept became too difficult. For two days he slept in the open near the cage's door, unable to move at all. Jackie would talk softly to him, stroking his back and helping him get a drink of water. It was tough for us to lose the little guy, yet it was good when he no longer was able to even draw a breath.
They say the DNA of one of those tiny creatures is 90 per cent the same as that of a human. Sometimes it seems more than that because they love life as much as any person and have nearly identical likes and dislikes, just on a smaller scale. And it is the same exact afflictions that bring their short lives to an end.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

We Did it Again

Once again, just to add a bit more stress to our lives, we have changed our clocks. Back in the happy day before every gadget on earth became electronic, this was a simple matter. You merely pulled out the stem and ran the clock or watch an hour ahead in the spring, an hour back in the fall. Purists warned that it was best for the clock if we ran the hands forward until they had made a complete circuit. I have no way to verify this, but I'll bet most of us cheated and did it the easier and faster way.
In the electronic age it's not that simple. Every clock has its own way of being set, so from one time change to the next it is impossible to remember them all. What works on the first clock after considerable fooling around does not work on the second or all the others in line. So a person has two choices: keep fiddling with each clock or get out the directions. No right-thinking person would go to the latter extreme.
Why we do this to ourselves is beyond me. I've heard all the pro and con arguments, of course. Golfers have more time to make fools of themselves on the course with Daylight Saving Time. Yes, but kids have to start out for school in the dark. On and on it goes with dozens of convictions put forth.
During my many years in Indiana we did not have this problem. Back then the Hoosier State stayed on standard time year around. Except for the counties in the southeast and northwest, but nobody cared about them. This was great unless you decided to take a trip, mail a package or make a long-distance phone call. Then it required thought. Were we on the same time as Ohio, or an hour behind? The same with Illinois. It changed every six months.
The reason Indiana resisted DST for so long was that it would be upsetting to the cows. I had trouble believing that as it didn't seem to bother cows anywhere else. While not claiming to be an expert on bovines, I seriously doubt that a cow ever walked up to a farmhouse to peer in the window and check the time on the kitchen clock. Cows have their own way of figuring time. When being milked is called for, all that concerns them is that someone shows up to do it.
So I contend it's time to end this nonsense. Being on standard time has been cut to a mere four months. I'm sure life would go on if DST were observed during those months or if we had standard time for all twelve.
I have failed to mention British Double Summer Time. That involved setting clocks two hours ahead. It also meant it never seemed to get dark in the evening or light in the morning. Few people are aware, or even give a damn, that in Europe, World War II was fought on British Double Summer Time. This led to the Germans accusing both the British and Americans, particularly the Americans, of being lazy and too concerned about physical comfort and luxurious living as they did not want to commence attacking before 9 o'clock in the morning. I've never understood why the Germans were so anxious to get off to an early start. I'm also convinced they failed to realize that while the clock might read oh-nine-hundred hours our biological clocks told us it was 7 o'clock in the morning. Surely that should have been early enough to get serious about killing each other.
So you can see why this business of changing clocks is so upsetting to me. I'm cranky, too, because my biological clock got me up an hour early this morning. Clocks can say whatever they want, but the human body doesn't necessarily agree.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Kids - What Can Be Done About Them?

In an exchange of emails today with fellow mystery short story writer Leigh Lundin I mentioned something the high school kids at Muncie Central did back in the 1940s. When they made up book titles supposedly written by prominent figures in town it was not a project sanctioned by the school.
I recall a few of those titles. There was The Yellow Stream by I.P. Freely and The Open Kimona by Seymour Haires. If they heard about this, I don't suppose I.P. or Seymour were amused.
Then there was my favorite. The imagined author was judge of the Circuit Court and a member of the city's leading family, the Balls. In an unseemly and irreverant display of levity the kids came up with The Cat's Revenge by Claude Ball. Clearly a display of contempt of court.
When they weren't engaged in such immoral activity the kids sometimes went jitterbugging. This nasty style of dancing often saw the male toss his partner high in the air so that everyone in the hall saw her underpants. Assuming she was wearing any. So upset were they by this that some school officials cancelled scheduled dances.
This sort of behavior was shocking to parents, most of whom had grown up during the Roaring Twenties. Their own parents had been outraged when girls quit wearing ankle-length dresses and soon were not even wearing knee-length dresses. Along with these flimsy outfits, they rolled their stockings down and knotted them just above or below the knees. As if that weren't enough, many of them scorned the wearing of anything beneath the flimsy dresses. Then when their boyfriend would help them climb up on the back fender of a car in order to enter the rumble seat they sometimes would say, "You didn't see anything, did you?"
Her companion could honestly answer, "No." He hadn't seen anything, he had seen everything.
And the way they danced! The Black Bottom, the Charleston. Shocking.
In the 1950s a popular song asked this about kids: "Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way?" But time marches on. Parents and school officials today are stunned to learn what kids are texting and posting online. The type of dancing favored by kids, rather mild by past standards, is leading some school officials to cancel scheduled dances. Where have we heard that before?
It just seems hopeless, doesn't it?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Gullible's Travels Revisited

We had lunch out today and it brought to mind a story I recently read for the sixth or seventh time, Gullible's Travels by Ring Lardner. Lunch was at a place down the road called Eddy's. I am sorry to say it was not named for Jack Eddy, the protagonist of a series I've been writing for 20 years.
If you have not read Gullible's Travels I suggest you immediately find a copy. A man and his wife hoping to do a little social climbing travel from South Bend to Palm Beach and their adventures are hilarious. In one incident, Gullible watches a man order dinner and have every selection overruled by his spouse. That's what brought Lardner's story to mind while ordering my lunch today. With a few editorial liberties taken, it went like this:
"I'll have the fish sandwich special. "
"That comes with three choices of soup."
"Forget the soup."
"The sandwich has lettuce and tomato and -"
"No lettuce and tomato."
"And a slice of onion."
"Hold the onion."
"Also a wedge of dill pickle."
"No dill pickle."
"You get French fries with that."
"Forget the French fries."
"Do you want ketchup with the fries?"
"I don't want the fries. All I want is the damn fish sandwich."
"I forgot to mention the container of tartar sauce."
"Just bring me a glass of water. I've lost my appetite."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Kind of Stories I Write

Today on that excellent website,, Rob Lopresti raised the question of fair play in mysteries. In an Agatha Christie-style story, fair play is a vital necessity. You have to play fair with the reader. Red herrings are OK, but no missing or truly misleading clues allowed.
Being an average self-centered, egotistical person, I began thinking about the stories I write. They definitely are not Christie cozies where wealthy suspects gather at a country estate for a murderous weekend. Mine feature crude, coarse and often villainous people because I have spent a lifetime among such types. If I spent a weekend at a Rockefeller's estate I'd be one of the kitchen help, a guy never seen by the hoity-toity guests.
Politicians, cops, private eyes, reporters, armed robbers, murderers, those are the people I have associated with all my life. Crude, coarse, often villainous people, although each of those words would be redundant when preceded or followed by "politician." Or in many cases, cops.
In considering the kind of stories I write, let's examine one scheduled to appear in the June issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Two murders are committed by two different people for two different reasons. The narrator and others are aware of this, yet no one is arrested, charged and convicted. A private eye locates a man who has been missing for many years, but no explanation of how he did this is presented. The narrator takes liberties with his steady girlfriend that he has never taken before, yet what these liberties are is left to the imagination.
Or take a story scheduled for a later issue of AHMM. A murder is committed, but the chances of the man behind it ever being convicted are nil. A woman who helped stage the killing benefits to the tune of $25,ooo. The narrator arrives in town broke but leaves with close to a thousand bucks in his pocket.
Do either of these stories, both typical of the stuff I write, bear the slightest resemblance to a Christie cozy? Only to someone who believes a hamster resembles a gray wolf. Does either story fall under one of the accepted 13 sub-genres of mysteries? The second one is 1940s-style noir. The first falls under a category I invented myself earlier today in commenting on - "What the hell happened here?"
Does it really matter what type of story a person is writing? To some it does. Is it necessary to play fair? Absolutely. Does every little detail have to be explained in full? No, at least not in the stuff I write. What kind of writer am I? 1930s-40s pulp magazine writer. Proof of that can be found on the Thrilling Detective website where my stories are headed this way: WHO SAYS THEY DON'T WRITE THEM LIKE THEY USED TO. Some people wouldn't take that as a compliment. I do.
The moral of this piece, and this is the first time one has shown up, is simple: Don't Think, Just Write.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Complete Loss of Common Sense

If further proof is needed that common sense is going the way of the dinosaurs, consider sexting. That, if you don't know, is the trend among kids of 13, 14 and 15 to use their cell phones to take photos of themselves naked and send them to members of the opposite but interested sex.
Adults are horrified, of course. "We didn't do that when we were kids!" they cry in righteous outrage. True, but only because they didn't have cell phones that take pictures back then. What they don't say, or perhaps even admit to themselves, is that since the beginning of time kids that age have found other ways to satisfy the everlasting yearning to know.
A shocking example of sexting occurred recently in Greensburg, PA. A trio of girls of the aforementioned ages amused themselves by snapping cell phone photos of each other in the buff. One girl sent the pictures to three grateful boys. A police captain, shocked beyond words after also viewing the photos, had this to say: "They weren't just breasts. They showed female anatomy!"
Now there's mind-numbing information for you. Photos of nude girls showed female anatomy, if you can believe such a thing.
The real losers in Greensburg are the three boys who at first thought they were winners. They have been charged with possession of pornography. Elsewhere a boy of 13 received a naked photo of herself from a female classmate. The boy was charged with a felony and will have to register as a sex offender for the next ten years. Think about that for a moment or two.
So that's the way it goes in this land of ignorance where common sense once prevailed. Maybe the kids should be lectured on proper behavior and the pitfalls of thinking about such things, for all the good that would do. Charging those who send these in-the-raw pictures as being purveyors and the recipients as possessors is far, far over the top. One way or another, kids in their early teen years are, and always have been, very curious creatures about sex. Being shocked by discovering it is that way is . . . well, there must be a word for it but it just won't come to mind.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Television - Still a Wasteland

Strange, isn't it, that cable TV brings hundreds of channels into our homes but when you want to relax for a while and watch something there's nothing on? Oh, sure, all the channels are broadcasting. That doesn't mean there's anything worth seeing. So 60 years or thereabouts after television was called a vast wasteland it not only is still true but the wasteland has expanded from three channels to 300.
After spending most of the day working and then reading for a while, I sometimes like to lean back and see what's on the tube. There are a few shows I like and Turner Classic Movies often is a great source of relaxation. And there seems to be an endless parade of crime shows. Even to someone who approves of crime and writes about it, enough is enough.
I don't watch sports except for Indy car racing. Reality shows have no appeal although I occasionally watch Amazing Race because it amazes me that people willingly put themselves through such an ordeal. I like Bones, drama with comedy thrown in. I like The Office. We both watch House, a show featuring a great British comedian playing the role of a real bastard.
There's one show I rarely miss, American Idol. What? That's what people say, especially Jackie. I'm supposed to be too old. Too old to see real talent separated from no talent? Here again is real-life drama, and at times the judges unwittingly provide comedy. Some of what passes for music is atrocious, yet those performing it are not.
By watching American Idol I have seen a farm girl from Missouri rise from being a little unsure of herself at first to being the top country singer in the nation. I have seen two others become successful in the country field and a couple of others do the same in rock music. Rather than seeing a mostly fictional biographical movie in the future, I have seen the real thing first hand.
So TV is a wasteland, at least for the most part. Here and there, though, you get to watch something worthwhile. That may make it worthwhile.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Big Bird Territory

The blue herons returned here this morning. I have no idea where they've been since last fall but as of today they are back at the same old spot in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park that begins here in town.
These large, ungainly birds draw people from near and far to stare at the oversized nests they build in the trees along Bath Road. They also stare at the herons as they come in to land on or near the nests. In doing so they look for all the world like an out of control airplane about to crash land. So many viewers congregate that they had to build a strip where bird watchers could park as otherwise traffic would be at a standstill along the road.
Other, more people-oriented viewers, travel a little farther west on Bath Road to see where Jeffrey Dahmer grew up and conducted his early experiments in killing first wildlife and then humans. That, I believe, was a little before the blue herons decided this would be a great place to live. Perhaps they are smarter than we realize.
So now that the herons are back the next thing we have to look forward to is the return of the buzzards to Hinckley. Just what it is that attracts big birds to this section of the Western Reserve escapes me, but we also have eagles soaring over the valley.
The surprising thing about the buzzards is that they always return on the exact same day of the year. Without knowing that, one might easily believe that birds, buzzards in particular, never look at a calendar. Apparently they do because every year crowds gather on Buzzard Day and stare at the sky. Sure enough, without fail here they come, dozens of them. A day earlier the first scouts fly in to make sure everything is as it shoud be, but that has nothing to do with the fact that the main body of buzzards shows up on the same date every year.
Once the blue herons and buzzards are back there isn't a whole lot to anticipate except the woolyworm festival and that's well in the future.
Sophie the hamster and I share a common feeling about all this. Neither of us gives a damn. Dahmer really was a lot more interesting.