April 30, 2010

The Beetle and the Chicken

I have just read that Volkswagen A.G. is coming out with a completely redesigned VW Beetle
for 2011. This design is intended to make the once very popular car appear more masculine.
Apparently, the Beetle has become too cute in its current look. It seems that the Beetle
is now viewed as a chick car and men are not buying.
I guess the flower vase and daisy thing on the dashboard is a little too much for guys. I know, I am intimidated by it.

 I guess, one can assume then, the new  manly VW will have so much testosterone that it will make its own  beer runs. 
Maybe  pick up some wings and ribs too.

Which brings me to my story.
I have had four Volkswagens. One was even a right hand drive made for Australia. These were the old beetles,
the ones made in the sixties and seventies; the hippie transport of choice. You bought them because

they were rugged, cheap, simple forms of  transportation. There was no gender confusion.
My first VW was a 1968 dark green beauty. I took it to college with me and drove it
back and forth between school and home during semester breaks, etc.
I would usually take  two passengers with me,  charging them $5 apiece for
the 400 mile ride: the going rate for gas money.
One colder than normal December, we were headed home and a heavy snow squall hit us as we passed though
the mountains of upstate NY. The going was slow on the snow-packed road, but the Volkswagen, 
famous for its ability in snow, keep chugging along.
Until, we came upon a tractor-trailer hauling a mobile home, up this hill. I could not believe it.
We slowed to a crawl with no break in sight. The highway looked clear, so I decided to pass
this long slow obstruction in front of me. I pulled out and began to pass. We were half way around the truck
when a ford sedan came out of a blind driveway and started heading towards us.
With no place to go but straight, I stood on the brakes. The ford tried to stop too. But, the road was
 too slick , so we collided with a crunch.
Everybody in my car was ok, so I jumped out and checked the other car. The women driving was ok too ,
but her car wasn’t.  It had a hole in the radiator. My VW’s fender was scraping my front tire.
I quickly pulled the fender away (you could do that with these cars) and we were ready to go again. 

But, by now a state trooper had arrived and said to me.
“I am going to have to cite you son. It was your fault, you were in the wrong lane”.
“Well, how much is the ticket?” I asked nervously, remembering I only had the $10 in my pocket.
“We’ll see what the judge says, follow me”.
So we followed the police car down this winding dirt road though a dense patch of trees
and to the back door of a little wooden farmhouse.
The trooper got out of his car and knocked on the door.

A woman’s voice from inside said , “Come  on in”
We went into the kitchen. where, in a flowery dress and  apron
a tall, sturdy woman was frying chicken.
“Afternoon Bill, What going on?”
“Your Honor”, the trooper said, “we need a ruling from you.”
Bill, the trooper then explained the situation and the accident.
The woman listened. She looked at me, then at Bill and then she turned back to her stove.
The room was filled with the delicious aroma and crackling sound of that frying chicken.
When the trooper was finished, the Judge, looked at me and said:
“How do you plead young man?”
I replied, “Well, your Honor, I was in the wrong lane, So I guess I am guilty”.
“I’m sorry son, but you are guilty.  
 The fine is  five dollars.
Pay the officer and get a receipt”
“Now, would anybody like some chicken?”

My two classmates, still in the car, looked in amazement (and envy) as I walked out of the
little house $5 dollars poorer, but with a crispy chicken leg in my hand.


2011 Volkswagen Beetle 


April 29, 2010


Every few years, we need to have the trim on the house painted. In the past, I would call Ed and then he and his guys would come over and do whatever needed to be done.

Usually it would take most of the season because of restrictions laid out the painter’s rule book. Now, I have never seen this book, but I know it exists. Just like you don’t see the air you breathe, but you know it’s there.

The rule book requires that no painting be done before its time. And that time is governed by moisture in the form of rain, the threat of rain, heavy dew on the grass, the appearance of a cloud in the sky or any other possibility of moisture from any source, at any time. It means we basically adopt Ed and Co.  for the summer.

The set up

Ed would first come by himself. He always wore his painter’s uniform, white shirt, with “Ed” written above his pocket. His off -white  baseball  cap was slightly stained, with a  Dutch Boy logo on it. His light canvas pants, with all different sized pockets were relatively stain free. And he had his rag. Painters don’t go anywhere without their rag.  It’s at rest position was in the back pocket, but, it  soon comes out to assist Ed in analyzing some wood surface, or wiping up some nameless grit or other required activity painters do. Occasionally, Ed would pull out his little screwdriver and poke at a board or two just as a chef would poke meat testing its doneness.

When all of this looking and figuring was over, Ed would write in the little spiral note book he kept in his pocket. Then he would tear out a page and give it to me. On the paper was written his estimate of the work to be done. Both Ed and I knew that this number, written in his shaky crooked style was not the final number. It was more or less a guide to get the ball rolling.

Ed and his team would show up a week later with their buckets, brushes, ladders and rags to get set up. It should be noted, the set up involves no painting!  

It is best described as a social event; something similar to what occurs before a baseball game, when the managers and umpires get together to exchange lineup cards and go over the ground rules.  There are discussions on placement of the ladders, the condition of the old paint (bad) and the amount of prep work to be done. Finally, Ed pulls out his Brod Dugan color wheel and a decision of the most appropriate color is made. With the preliminaries out of the way, Ed and the boys, cover up their equipment and leave. End day one.

Work begins

Two days later, Ed’s  truck returns and the boys get to work. Ladders are put up, drop cloths laid out, radios turned on. But no painting yet. Mostly, just a lot of talking and  joke telling by Jim. Jim was the most loquacious of Ed’s men. He would talk to Ed, Wade, any of us in the house, the neighbors, passersby. He would even talk to the cat and  the gerbil. If Jim could move his paint brush as much as he could move his lips, we’d be done in no time. 

Weeks went by with intervals of intense sanding, scraping, painting, wiping, talking and joke telling, interspersed by days and days of no work at all.

Rain delay

One morning Ed and Co. showed up and began their daily strategy meeting. Wanting to get an update on the progress, I took my coffee outside and joined the discussion.

Me: “So, Ed, what are we doing today? Close to being finished eh?”

Ed: “Oh, we can’t paint today”

Me:“Why not?’”

ED: “Too wet “

Me: “Too wet! , It hasn’t rained in weeks, There is not a cloud in the sky”

Ed: “Well, too hot then, that paint will just pop right off, if we paint today”

Desperate, I asked, “What will you do?”

“Go fishing”, Jim said as they got into the truck and drove off. I watched them go, looked at

the cloudless blue sky and just shook my head.

That afternoon, we had a thunderstorm.


A few weeks later, the job is completed. The windows and trim sparkle with two fresh coats of semi gloss and Ed and I settle up based on his initial estimate, plus the extras. We shake hands and Ed, Jim and Wade depart.

Ed is no longer with us and I miss him. Not because I need my house painted again, but because

he became part of us during that summer that I will always remember.

April 28, 2010


In just over a month, one of the greatest spectacles in sports returns…

The World Cup is back!  

Every four  years the World Cup tournament is held to determine the soccer champions for the next four  years. It is a grand exhibition that has a beautiful combination of athletic achievement and passion rarely seen in modern professional sports. This year it is being showcased in South Africa. Teams from 32 countries will compete for the biggest prize of the world’s most popular sport.

Over 3 billion people around the world will watch these games, dwarfing the attention given to American football, baseball, basketball and hockey combined. The majority of these fans reside outside  of  North America and are passionate, zealous, and quite nearly rabid in support of their team. ***

I love watching soccer. When I used to play in high school and college before my knees rebelled, it was a relatively unknown geek sport in the USA. OK, well maybe I was a geek.

But now I am happy soccer is getting the recognition it deserves in this country if only at the youth level.

The regular youth soccer season ended last weekend in St. Louis. My granddaughters, Sydney and Kate both play in strong leagues in this strong soccer community.  These adolescent girls (and boys) play with passion and fire. They want to win and play hard to do so. Success in soccer demands teamwork, individual skill, and an instinctive knowledge of the game. These kids have it. You see in their eyes and in the grit on their uniforms. This is no game for sissies. Yes, there may be a tear or two after a rough tumbling tackle, but it comes more from the passion of completion that a weakness of spirit. More often than not, they “just rub some dirt on it” and start playing again more determined than ever.  

Congratulations to Sydney and Kate!

                          You both had great soccer seasons!


Back to the World Cup. I encourage you to try and watch some of the games. You will soon appreciate what it takes to run up and down that field for ninety minutes chasing that elusive ball against an equally determined opponent. You must be an athlete of exceptional strength, endurance and agility to keep up the pace. You don’t get to rest in a huddle or by free substitution; just playing offense or defense. Watch for the plays being set up; the angles being created and the shots taken. Oh yes, and don’t miss the magnificent defensive plays. There is no better marriage of true athleticism and raw courage in sports that to see a keeper’s body fully extended in a  flat out dive to stop a well footed ball.

Don’t be misled by those who say soccer is slow and boring because it is a low scoring game. Soccer is neither slow nor boring. The pace is very fast (with no timeouts). It is often low scoring, but that is just what builds the excitement. The awareness, that the result could turn in an instant from a misplay or a well booted ball and then all is won or lost,  is  high drama at its best.

The beauty of great music comes not only from the notes being played but also the “rests” when the notes are not being played.  Likewise, great soccer has many magical moments when goals, are scored, but the beauty of the game is in the playing.


I have attended two world cup matches in my life. Once in Chicago when the US hosted the event in 1994; and also in Germany when Franz Beckenbauer and Bayern Munich were in their glory days.  Each time, it was a thrilling experience that I will always remember.

I won’t be going to South Africa, but you can be sure I will be watching from the opening whistle.

***Some people believe soccer is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that  attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that…..English soccer coach

April 27, 2010


Volcanoes ,  Tornados and Earthquakes, Oh my!

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”…..Dorothy Gale


It is spring and the stormy season in the Midwest. Yesterday we had a severe weather event pass through our neighborhood with a weak tornado touching down about a mile from my house.   It was strong enough to force the closure of the mall for a full 45 minutes …and I had an appointment at the tanning salon too,… darn it all!  But I was just as happy to be entertained by watching the endless local Chicken Little TV coverage of a small tree falling down and the traffic light not working. (Later however, when the TV news people got finished tripping over each other to report nonsense, we learned that a few large trees fell and a half a dozen homes were damaged.)

OK, I admit it,  I am not one to rush to the basement when the storm sirens go off. In fact, I like to go out on the porch and watch the awesome power of nature.

This  was a nightly entertainment ritual in Florida. During the summer , thunderstorms rolled in just  about everyday at 5pm.  You just got your wine or gin and  tonic  and sat on the veranda to watch the free lightning  show.  I have behaved this way though at least 6 hurricanes and  a number of tornado producing severe storms.

I guess you could say, I want to see what is coming at me before I duck and cover.

This reckless behavior, notwithstanding,  I have a healthy respect for nature’s powerful displays of energy.

While both tornados and hurricanes can be very destructive and deadly, I believe, hurricanes are

more evil because of their size and lasting effects.

In addition, it is their duration that works on your mind and makes you crazy. Usually you have at least 3 or 4 days warning and worrying. Then the storm takes its sweet time passing– usually 12 to 24 hours. Then the power is out for 3 days, so the whole ordeal takes at least a week out of your life….. And that does not even count the after storm clean up time, which could take years.

Tornados are much quicker.  An hour or two of terror at most, then the sunshine returns. Unless you

get a direct hit, then that is a game changer like the one those poor folks are dealing with in Mississippi.

I have limited experience with earthquakes despite   living within shaking distance of the New Madrid, Missouri fault.

I did however get caught in a terremoto  intenso while vacationing in Sicily.

While sitting on the  hotel’s terrace watching a spectacular Mt. Etna eruption, the ground beneath us began to shake. It was the ultimate 3D reality show ; a shake and bake double feature.

Now comes, the latest stressful, media induced panic;  hand wrenching   stories of those annoying volcanoes with the weird names in Iceland. These erupting mountains are causing all that smoky dust;  grounding planes and ruining people’s vacations. 

I just don’t know why the earth is being so mean!  

Why won’t  it just quit  spewing and grumbling and let us have some fun.  I mean after all, we started all this global warming and climate cooling hoopla  just to please Mother Earth. Didn’t we?

And if that was not enough, Last week, we joyously celebrated the 40th anniversary of “Earth Day”. The planet’s very own holiday. (which by the way, we invented!).

Ok, so we did not close the banks or federal office buildings. And I guess we did not do a lot of cards and flowers like on the real mother’s day,  but  ….. the lady down the street did planted a tree.  That counts for something.

So come on Mother Earth, lighten up!

April 26, 2010


The Accidental Analyst

Help, I need somebody,……… anybody!


I don’t know why this happens to me,  but sometimes people I come in contact with whether, on a plane,

or  in a restaurant or some other public place have a tendency to involve me in a conversation

which  includes a lot of personal information about themselves . Information,  I do not  need to know.

This has happened  in the past to such an extent, that I am thinking of starting an  advice to the

Lovelorn and Confused  column.

An example is when a woman from Atlanta told me all about her recent two-week visit to the

hospital  when she got sick with food poisoning. She said she got sick after eating at a celebrity chef’s

flagship restaurant in Savannah , Georgia. She seemed genuinely relieved to be able to talk about her problems. I was glad to be there to listen to her; however, note to self, avoid celebrity restaurants in Savannah!

Or the time  another woman  was complaining to me about her pushy husband who was

always making her do things she did not want to do; like the cruise they just ” have”  to take

 when the plane lands in Miami. She wanted my opinion and approval of her side of the issue,

which I  was reluctant to give…………..Her husband was asleep in the  seat next to me!  Geez!

My most impressive achievement, however, was when I talked a woman out of a marriage she was herself dreading and did not know it!

Back in the day when I flew a lot, one Friday afternoon, I boarded a plane at La Guardia going to

 St. Louis, Missouri. 

I was seated in 3C.  Next to me, in 3A was an attractive woman with dark hair.

She was about 35, smartly dressed in a blue business suit. She was well coiffed and classy. She was that

 unapproachable type of woman, you would never start a conversation with unless she began it first. 

When the plane’s door closed, I took out my book and started reading.

As we started to taxi , the woman, turned from the window and said,

“What are you reading?”

“What? Oh, the book.  It is just a murder mystery; some light reading”

Well, we began talking and then after about twenty minutes, she tells me that she is headed to Dallas to get married.

I said, “Oh, that’s wonderful, You must be very happy”

Dark haired woman: “Yes, I suppose so”

Being the quick study that I am, I sensed she was not your typical joyous bride to be.

Me: “It sounds like you have some reservations about your marriage”

Dark haired woman: “Well, I guess I do”

Intrigued now, I pushed, “What’s the matter?”

She then proceeds to tell me in somewhat copious detail how she believes she is

not being treated well by her intended. The final straw it seems was a complete disregard

for her opinions. Apparently, she shipped her artwork to Dallas and the boyfriend put it in storage. Saying

he preferred to have his artwork adorn the walls of the their future home.

“Well, Diane” (By this time I know her name), That is not a good sign”

“If you feel, this way now, how will you feel in a week, or a month or a year?”

For a long moment she was quiet, then she looked up, her blue eyes, welling with emotion,

Reaching for my arm, she said softly” You are right, I am not going to do this!”

Just then, the plane’s door was opened as we arrived in St. Louis.

As we walked down the jet way,   I wished her well, and turned towards the exit. When I looked

back, she smiled, and waved from the ticket counter as she booked a return flight to New York.

April 24, 2010


eBay and me, a vagabond’s tale


The seduction

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new Ford Flex. It is a wonderful car. It has lots of fun stuff in it; satellite radio, blue teeth, a jukebox, dual DVD’s with remotes. It even talks to you and tells you where and how to drive; like some people I know!
Its barn size doors make it easy getting in and out, and it has all wheel drive. The silver color gives it the appearance of a six slice toaster. So people sometimes laugh when they see it, but I just love my Flex.
The buying experience was also pleasant. I bought it from my friend in Florida.

Thinking of this caused me to recall a buying experience of another kind. It occurred four years ago when I bought a car on eBay.
It was a 1983 Mercedes Benz 240D sedan with 120,000 miles on it.
If you don’t know these cars, look them up. They are simple, slow, and built like a tanks,
(German tanks, yikes!). They just go forever and are used as taxis in Germany.

 I had a 240D about 25 years ago and was feeling nostalgic so, while surfing the web, I saw one on eBay.
Now, I have never purchased anything on eBay. But my sister, Trudy, who collects vintage books, does so all the time. She told me, there’s nothing to it.

So one night in a moment of crazed insanity I put in a bid… then another and another.
As a former bond trader, I liked the action and quickly got the fever. So, after a 
frantic 15 minutes of wild bidding, the hammer fell, and I owned this cream puff.

Now, how do I get it back to St. Louis from its home in Albany, N Y. Ship it?
No, that would cost too much.  Well, I have some time; I will just drive it back.

A  Journey Begins

On the appointed day, I flew to Albany where the seller met me at the airport at about 11 am. We went over the vehicle  and it was as advertized. I paid for the car and started my 1ooo mile adventure westward.
I got to Syracuse, NY and stopped at a rest area. When I tried to start the car again, it would not start.  After several more futile attempts, I called the seller and asked in my most businesslike voice, “Any reason why this car won’t start?”.
He replied with all the confidence of a confidence man, “It always starts”. 
I went back to the car and tried again. The 4 cylinder 68 hp diesel gurgled to life. (Maybe I was just doing it wrong?) So, away I went again. This time I got as far as Buffalo and stopped for fuel. With a full tank of diesel, I tried to start this teutonic marvel; and again, no go. This time, no matter what I did, it would not start. Finally I gave up and called AAA. An hour later, a tow truck arrived.  Joe, the driver, a chatty fellow asked,

“Where do you want to take it?”

“St. Louis”, I replied”
“Been there once before with my girlfriend. I don’t know if my boss will let me go tonight, I’ll call him. Let’s get your car on the truck.”

 I said “Let me try one more time”.
This time, the Benz started.  
Well I thought, I have to find out what’s wrong. I am not going to do this fits and starts dance all the way to Missouri.  So, I drove the car onto the truck and Joe and I took off down the highway.
While deciding what to do, and waiting for Joe’s boss to call back, we got a call on the radio.
There was a flurry of 10-4s, rodgers, and over and outs, amid some impressive static crackles.

Then, Joe explained,”There has been a wreck; I need to pick up another car”.
So, we turned around and headed for the accident scene to retrieve this newly bashed  car.
Now I am getting worried, sitting in this truck with all these state troopers at the scene.
Will they notice the old expired Florida license plates I put on the Benz to drive it home?
Am I headed to explain my actions to some hanging judge in the Buffalo N. Y. night court?
Ah, but I am soon relieved, the troopers are focused on the accident, I just try to blend in,
as Joe’s helper. We attach the stricken car to the back of Joe’s truck. I am starting to like Joe.
While carrying this wreck to the disabled vehicle depot, I am feeling a bit strange. 

It is Saturday evening about 7 pm. I am sitting in this monster truck, listening to my new best friend, Joe with his nonstop chatter and his favorite C&W song about a desert and a pickup truck. 

My recalcitrant car is also on this truck, and its reliability has been proven suspect. Moreover, I don’t have a plan or even a clue as to what to do next to continue my trip west and bring home my prize.

Is Woody to become  just another wandering whimsy?
To be continued….

eBay and me,   Part II


Darkness falls

The radio crackled. It was Joe’s boss. I was out of the truck, undocking the wreck and still
thinking about what I should do.
“Boss says, it will be $2000 to take you to St. Louis”
“Gee, Joe that is almost as much as I paid for the car”
“Well, we gotta go get another wreck now. Let me know, we can leave at 11pm when I get  off work. Be there by noon tomorrow. We’ll just drive all night”
Now I am really getting worried. I mean, I like Joe and all, but the thought of riding in his
bouncy truck all night, listening to achy breaky country and western songs all the way
was a little more than I wanted to pay for the car at this point.
Desperate, I asked, “Well Joe, I don’t know. What would you do?”
“Two thousand is a lot of money. I’d just drive and see what happens.”
“That’s what I’m thinking too.”
I climbed up the truck ramp and got into the Benz.
Lit the glow plug and that little diesel started gurgling again.
I backed the car off the truck
and headed west, waving bye to my friend, Joe.
I was coming into Erie, PA and it was nearly 11pm. I needed to get some sleep so, I pulled into
a motel. Parked and switched off the engine, hoping I would hear it again in the morning.

The final day
It was just about six o’clock when I got into the car. This June morning in western Pennsylvania was cool and moist. With a turn of the key, the car started on the first try. Well, maybe this will be a good day.
My plan for the next 700 miles was not to shut off the engine. Whenever I stopped for food, fuel or restroom break, I would leave the engine running. I did not want to risk a restart problem.
Passing through Ohio and half way through Indiana all was going well. Then I had to stop for fuel in Terra Haute.
When I came out of the truck stop after paying for the fuel, the car was silent.
Oh no! I am so close now. I tried a restart, nothing; again, nothing. The Midwest sun was higher and getting hot now. I could feel the beads of sweat as I mused about what to do.
I opened the hood and looked in. It sounds like it is starved for fuel, I thought, maybe there is a break or leak in the fuel line. To my thoroughly untrained mechanic’s eye, everything looked like it should. Even under duress, I was able to admire the smart brass fittings and the quality of this machine.

“They don’t make ‘em like this anymore” I joked to myself,

“Yeah, the ones now actually start!”

 I fiddled with some connections and closed the hood. Got back behind the wheel and turned the key.
To my utter amazement, the engine started in a slow chugging way.
I  eased back on the highway.
“No more stops till we get to St. Louis”, I announced loudly to myself, as the speedometer read 65.
The Poplar Street Bridge crosses the Mississippi River at St. Louis.

The roadway rises across the water and there is a beautiful view of the city and the famous Gateway Arch. But, I was not thinking about any of that as I heard the engine cough, strain and then felt it  losing power as we started up the bridge to cross the river. 

“Don’t quit now!!!” I screamed as I massaged the accelerator to coax the sputtering machine. A few more miles, just a few more miles!

It seemed to take weeks to get across that bridge, but we made it and just about coasted the rest of the way home.

I pulled in the driveway and shut off the engine.

It never started again.



A week later with a new $235 fuel pump, She is running sehr gut!

April 23, 2010

Decidedly Delicious

  I am dyslexic. I have been burdened with thsi this condition
for about 60 years. Of course when I was young, dyslexia had not yet been
invented, so people (including me) just thought I was a dope.
I very often misplace letters in words or leave them out entirely, especially when I read aloud.
When this happens, Donna will gently say the word in the background, and
then add some mitigating cause for my error such as “the lighting in here is so bad”.
However, we both know what happened. Heck, I could be reading the Readers Digest,
large print version in a fully lit operating theatre and still  mispronounce the words!
It is the same with numbers. When I read some numbers especially those in a column,
I will transpose two numbers back to front. This could be a problem when one is
an accountant. I was.
Nevertheless, I have learned to live with dyslexia and I want you to know, that even though it is a
recognized disability, I have not gotten one of those little blue stickers for the car so I can
park closer to the hardware store. I have however, gotten Kuno certified as a service dog, but he
is not much of a speller either.

Why am I telling you this? why now? Well, I have just recently decided that I like words very much.
I use to take them for granted like most people, but now, I relish the chance to become friendlier
with them and enjoy their company more. I love the way the words now feel in my mouth, roll off my tongue and land someplace special. 

Just the other day, we were visiting with Kristy and Thomas Jason and the word “Delicious” came up. Kristy felt, she was using it too much to describe things that appealed to her.
I said, “Nonsense.  Delicious is such an excellent word. It can be used in many circumstances with perfect and precise meaning”.  

“Furthermore”, I gushed, “I now intend to use it often, whenever it pleases me”

However, I will never think of using that lazy, vulgar contraction, delish.
It is a harsh, bitter assault to the senses. It is an adjunct to all those repugnant computer shorthand notations (OMG, LOL, LOLROF etc.) which are now it seems  sprouting up in everyday oral conversation.

It is an epidemic of grammatic proportions.

Another repulsive trend is the banal use of the contraction “veggie’ or even worst, the british slothful “veg” to mean “vegetable”.  Vegetable  is a glorious word that carries with it  the earthy smell of the land and the proud sweat of the harvest. I say use it always and be splendid when you do so.

Speaking of vegetables, they can be just delicious!

Part of the audio attraction of words like delicious,  is the full ripeness of the word and  the sweetness of the i-o-u-s ending. It rolls so deliciously off the tongue.  It is just luscious…like perfume to the ear.

Words are delicious to me.