Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Baby Burger Blues

It's getting so that you can't even buy a burger without being asked to comment on the experience. For example, this survey appeared on my laptop this week:
Thank you for your recent visit to Baby Burger, America's first and best choice for pre-chewed burgers®  By answering a few brief questions, you can help us continue to be the leader in introducing infants to America's favorite food, and in allowing senior citizens to enjoy burgers thru their golden years.

Did you choose Baby Burger primarily for:                                                                                                 your baby, grandchild or great grandchild?                                                                                                 your parent, grandparent or great grandparent?                                                                                          a toothless infant or senior unrelated to you?                                                                                              yourself or your significant senior other?

Did your order include:                                                                                                                                 a burger in a bowl?                                                                                                                                                a burger in a bottle?                                                                                                                                            strained fries?                                                                                                                                                      mashed Alaskan cod?                                                                                                                          

Was your baby burger order pre-chewed to your baby's (or senior's) preferred consistency? _______

If our Baby Burger character Gerber Burger was in the restaurant handing out balloon burgers, did your infant or senior guest find him:                                                                                             delightful?                                                                                                                                                           a bit creepy?                                                                                                                                                      terrifying?

Not long after I dutifully responded, I received this message:

Thank you for providing feedback on your recent visit to Baby Burger, baby's first choice for pre-chewed burgers.
We know your time is valuable, and we are grateful that you took the time to complete our questionnaire. 
Please help us evaluate our questionnaire by answering these few brief questions:

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst questionnaire you have ever completed, and 10 being the best, please rate Baby Burger's questionnaire. _____

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Impending Robot Rebellion

I wonder if something like this has happened to you. I called a business with a simple billing question. The whole process should have taken no more than two minutes. But instead of the anticipated quick chat with a sentient being, I found myself on hold with a female robot who told me all the humans were busy with other customers. She had the most annoying habit of thanking me for my patience every 30 seconds. She also said, over and over, "Your call is very important to us." By "us" I assumed she meant the business I was calling, but after several minutes on the line with the robot it occurred to me that if my call was in fact important to the business it would have ponied up enough money to have a human answer the phone---or at least a pony. That's when I realized that when the robot said my call was important "to us," she must have meant her and her robot friends. Just why my call was important to them would soon become clear. 

The robot asked for my name, address, account number, and several other things, including the make and model of my first car and the color of my maternal grandmother's hair, which, as I recall, was lavender. I dutifully supplied the information because I wanted to expedite things, and I had nothing better to do while absorbing mild radiation from my cell phone.

Apparently, after one endures forty robotic expressions of appreciation for patience, he's deemed human-worthy, and granted the privilege of speaking to a living person, who, incidentally, may be one or two oceans away.  If I'm not mistaken, the only prerequisites for a Customer Service Representative are to have a phone and reside somewhere on planet earth. 

The fact is, when I called I was hoping to speak to a native English speaker, but after almost half an hour on the phone with the robot, I was happy to speak to anyone with an epidermis. I suspect that may be part of the company's customer service strategy.

"Thank you so much for your patience. This is Sanjay. To whom am I speaking?"

"You're speaking to Russ SaKYa, spelled S-U-K-H-I-A. And there's no need to thank me for my patience. I may have been patient when I first called, but I can't remember now. That was (let me see) twenty-three minutes ago." 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Algebra oh Algebra

If you've read other Wry Bread stories, you may recall that my dad was an electrical engineer. He attended MIT on a scholarship, and received a Master's Degree from Caltech. Mathematics was as much a part of his life as goofing off in school was of mine. 

If there were any truth to Astrology (and if you think there is, the stars say this is the ideal time to contribute to a retired pastor), Dad would have been born under the sign of the 'Cosine', and I under the sign of the 'Asinine.' But there were occasions when our two worlds collided.

One occurred with painful regularity every nine weeks in high school, when grades were sent home. In my experience, a class clown can slide by in English, History, Humanities, etc., but not in subjects such as Chemistry and Algebra, where success, I am told, requires neurons to fire on the left side of the brain. 

If you ask why those neurons don't fire in a class clown's brain, my working theory is that sometime during his pre-natal development, 10 or 12 microscopic clowns gain access to his blood stream by a process not yet fully understood. Arriving at the infant’s brain, the clowns emerge from a mini-car that appears much too small to accommodate them all, each clown carrying a tiny fire extinguisher. Running and jumping in comical fashion, the clowns quickly douse the entire left side of the infant's brain with flame-retardant before squeezing back into the mini-car and driving off.  The unfortunate result, which may not be evident for several years, is commonly called retardation, but I prefer to call it flame-retardation, to place the onus on the tiny clowns, where it belongs.

Those of you who did better in Science classes may have your own theory.

Thankfully, the chap who came up with using the letters A, B, C, D and F to mark one's academic progress evidently did not take into account that C, D and F (with very little prompting) can be encouraged to morph into the letter B. The letter E would have worked well too (perhaps best) but he skipped right over it and went from D to F. Unfortunately, this method of grade improvement, although quick and easy, does not ultimately benefit anyone who is not pursuing a career in embezzlement.

So sometimes, in a valiant (some would say foolhardy) effort to understand a particular algebraic concept, I would boldly go where few had gone before, into the lion's den itself---Dad's study. Perhaps I should explain that instead of seizing the opportunity to educate himself about German prison camps by watching Hogan's Heroes, or Cold War espionage by watching I Spy, or prehistoric man by watching The Flintstones, Dad would spend most evenings holed up in his small study. We were never quite sure what he did in there, but it was a safe bet that it involved equations.

Come with me for moral support as I, at the tender age of fifteen, knock with trepidation on the closed study door.

Saturday, March 24, 2018


I can’t tell you how many times Wry Bread readers have written to ask for more entertaining stories from my childhood.  No, I haven’t actually received any such notes yet, presumably because you readers haven’t gotten around to sending the many notes you’ve no doubt written.  I understand; it’s a busy time for you.
It just occurred to me that if you did send a note reading, “Please write more entertaining stories from your childhood,” what you might mean is, “The ones you’ve written are not sufficiently entertaining. Please write more entertaining stories.”

In any event, in an effort to satisfy your evidently insatiable appetite for entertainment, I shall now recount a previously untold story from my youth, which is about as close to childhood as my memory can get on most days.

One Saturday afternoon my high school friend Bill (you may recall him as the getaway driver for The Impossible Mission) wanted to buy an album.  As those of a certain age will know, the term album, in this context, refers to a round, flat, black, vinyl object that, subjected to the right conditions, would make music.  This was before we could ask Alexa to play any song anywhere at any time.  Back then, anyone named Alexa would have only hung out with cool guys named Clay, Chet or Luke, and we wouldn’t have had the nerve to ask her the time of day. 
To buy an album, we could have driven to Baer’s Music Store at the Winter Park Mall, the one with the huge Alaskan Brown Bear standing on his hind legs in the store window, 7 or 8 feet tall with front paws up and mouth frozen in mid-growl, frightening children and sensitive teens.  Baer’s was unique in that it had several soundproof booths in which you could actually listen to an album before deciding you had heard it so often that you didn’t need to buy it.  But Bill chose to go to a large discount department store in Casselberry, closer to home.  Picture a Wal-Mart or K-Mart, without the word mart in its name.  I don’t remember what album Bill wanted that day---a safe bet would be the latest release of the Stones, Beatles or Bob Dylan, but I distinctly remember the purchase transaction, or lack thereof.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Historical Fiction

The approach of one’s fiftieth high school reunion evidently gets the reminiscing juices flowing.  Join me as I journey back to the largest room in which classes were held at Lyman High School, Longwood, Florida (north of Orlando) in the late 60’s.  I suppose it was the school’s original auditorium, but it had been fitted with student desks---wooden ones with chairs attached. Picture 15 rows with maybe 15 or 20 desks in each, perhaps enough to accommodate the entire 300 or so who comprised the class of 1968.  In that room we would receive history lectures from our teacher, Mr. Brewer, a balding middle-aged man familiar to some of us only from a distance.  We were seated alphabetically, and as my last name began with the letter ‘S’ in those days, I was toward the far back of the room, which was fine with me, as that is the preferred spot of all goof-offs. 
One of our regular homework assignments was to read a section of the history textbook and write a few sentences in answer to questions about what we read.  As each class began, we were to pass to the front our sheet of paper with the eight or ten answers we had written the previous night, and after a few days we would receive our papers back with a check mark at the top, indicating we had received credit for the assignment. [For the benefit of our younger readers, paper was a thin wood product of actual substance, on which we could write, by hand, with what we called a pen or pencil. Consult Wikipedia for more details.]  I don’t recall how many weeks I dutifully answered those history questions before it dawned on me that it was highly unlikely that Mr. Brewer actually read every answer.  With hundreds of papers turned in each day, when would he have time to watch Mission: Impossible and Get Smart?  That’s when I determined to have some fun, and test my theory. 

If the question was, for example,

“What was the famous nickname given to Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson, and how and when did he receive it?”
I might answer, 

At the first Battle of the Big Bands held in Manassas, Virginia in July of 1861, General Jackson, not comfortable on the dance floor (having skipped the quarterly West Point dances to stay in his room studying military maneuvers), was seen standing motionless against a wall (a stone wall, as it happened) observing but not participating in the festivities.  One of his Brigadier Generals remarked, “There is Jackson, standing against that stone wall like a stone wallflower,” and before long Jackson was affectionately known by his men (many of whom could not dance either) as “Stone Wallflower” Jackson----sometimes just “Stonewall” for short.

Friday, February 16, 2018

What does Robin Hood have to do with it?

I was jostled awake by a firm nudge to my left leg.  “Pretz, you’re snoring again.” (Pretz is short for Pretzel, which sounds a bit like Russell, hence the nickname. The fact that pretzels are generally twisted has nothing to do with it---I’m almost certain.)  This mid-night awakening resulted in a familiar mumbled apology and a shuffling off to the spare bedroom.
The subject was revived in the light of day. “Not only are you snoring, it’s like you stop breathing for a while, and then start up again.”

“That’s disconcerting,” I said. “For a long-suffering wife, it must be like receiving a pardon from the governor, only to have it snatched away thirty seconds later.”
Donna replied, “Thou hast said.”

Actually, my lovely wife was sympathetic, and she urged me to go forthwith to a sleep clinic---to have my head examined.
One night a few weeks later I was in a cozy room with a bazillion wires attached to my head.

“Try to just relax and sleep as you normally do," the technician said.
“I don’t normally sleep with a bazillion wires attached to my head.”

“I suspect you don’t normally sleep normally at all---that’s why you’re here.”

I politely explained to her that in my stories I prefer to ascribe to myself any remarks that could be construed as clever.

After a few days I was told the results were in, and I went to see the doctor.  Those of you with a medical background may know him as a Sleepologist, Dreamician, Nocturnist or Snornithologist, but to me he was just the sleep doctor.  An older gentleman hailing from the Hudson River Valley, Dr. Van Winkle told me that on the night I was tested I had “only danced on the edges of deep sleep.”  This came as a complete shock to me. 

“So I can dance?” 
The Dr. was not amused.  He said, “This is a serious condition. You have Sleep Apnea."

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Tax-Paying Fish

Ravi Zacharias likes to tell the story of two brothers, known throughout their town as crooked and ruthless in their business dealings. When one of them died, the surviving brother sought out a minister who would be willing to say good things about the dear departed at the funeral.  He told one pastor:

“I will pay you a great sum…if in eulogizing my brother, you will refer to him as ‘a saint.’”

This minister was a man of principle, so he could not speak falsely for carnal gain; but he also knew that he could do some good with the promised funds, so he consented.  With the sanctuary full of those who had been swindled by the brothers and were hoping for some public vindication, the pastor rose to speak:

“The man you see in the coffin was a vile and debauched individual.  He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a reprobate, and a hedonist.  He destroyed the fortunes, careers, and lives of countless people in this city, some of whom are here today.  The man did every dirty, rotten, unconscionable thing you can think of.  But compared to his brother here, he was a saint.”  [Can Man Live Without God? pp.136-137, Word Publishing]

Something tells me that the minister in that little anecdote never received a dime from the surviving brother.) Ravi's humorous story reminds us that men of principle cannot always do what others desire or expect of them.  

On one occasion, Jesus was asked to pay the temple tax, an amount that each Jewish man was expected to give to support the great Temple of Jerusalem. Here's the way the incident is recounted by Matthew, who, you may recall, was himself a tax collector for the Roman occupiers of Palestine before Jesus called him.

When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?”  He said, “Yes.” And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon?  From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” Peter said to Him, “From strangers.”  Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. [Matthew 17:24-26]

Jesus' point was, since the temple was for the worship of God, our sovereign king, it would not be appropriate to expect the Son of God---God in the flesh, to pay such a tax.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Hair Wars

Before I came to faith in Christ, or to be more precise, before I was brought by God’s grace to faith in Christ, I was not too particular about keeping rules, especially if the rule in question made no sense to me. Our high school had a rule that the hair on the back of a male student’s head should not reach beyond the top of the collar of his shirt.  (Back in the twentieth century, we were not given the option of choosing our gender. It was assigned to us before birth.) As you can guess, the hair on the collar rule was one I resisted.

When my hair began to extend over my collar (as it inevitably did, and still tends to do, albeit in smaller quantities) I was summoned to Principal Henley’s office. A fly on the wall of that office would have heard----  

unintelligible noises coming from the giants in the room.

But suppose that fly had been trained to distinguish and comprehend human speech, and suppose it could recall it word for word decades later?  You’re right---it’s a huge stretch.  Why don’t we just forget about the fly?  How about this: Suppose Principal Henley kept a tape recorder in his office, and suppose the sound on the recording was still audible today.  Perhaps we would hear:

PH: Please take a seat, Young Man. Do you know why you’re here, Mr. Sukhia?

Me: I have a general idea.

PH: Enlighten me.

Me: Well according to Mr. Todd and the Science Department, I’m here as a result of something my parents did in secret over 16 years ago now.

PH: Do you know why you’re in my office?

Me: I was in French Class and a student aide came…

PH: (rather loudly interrupting) You are here because you need a haircut.

Me: Why do I need a haircut?

PH: Your hair is too long.

Me: I don’t think it’s too long.

PH: That has nothing to do with it.

Me: How can that be? It’s my hair…Wait---look at that fly.

PH: What about it?

Me: I think it may be listening to us.

Friday, January 26, 2018

It's Raining Cats and Apples

The same issue of Time Magazine that told of fifteen pounds of frozen pork finding its way onto a fellow’s Ft. Lauderdale roof in mid-July (See When Pigs Flew also noted the following:

Rush-hour motorists were alarmed when it began raining apples over a main road in Coventry, England, in 2011.                                                                                                                                     

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen it raining apples, though we’ve all seen it raining cats and dogs so often that it's become cliché, and we’re exhorted by the guardians of the language to euthanize the expression.  In fact, here's the message that the retired English teacher who monitors my laptop sent me the moment I typed the words raining cats and dogs, which she underlined in green.

The marked word or phrase may be overused or unnecessary to the meaning of your sentence. For a more forceful and convincing sentence, consider replacing or shortening the word or phrase.
Thank you, Mrs. Hughes. If I had known you would have to keep working into your eighties, I might have been a bit more respectful in high school. Perhaps you’ll allow this shortened version:                

We’ve all seen it raining cats.
Okay. That worked.  No objections from Mrs. Hughes. 
She’s the one, by the way, who couldn’t help but notice that one of her most promising students, Donna Kilmer, Secretary of the Lyman High School chapter of the National Honor Society, and voted Best-All-Around by her classmates, was fraternizing with one of Mrs. Hughes' least promising students, voted Most Likely to be Mauled by a Bear. She took Donna aside and tried to tell her, tactfully, that she could do better.  I remember the day distinctly; it was raining Calicoes. Thankfully for me, Donna did not act on our teacher’s wise counsel. Excuse me. My laptop is sending me another message:

Monday, January 22, 2018

When Pigs Flew

Time Magazine reported several months ago that a homeowner in Ft. Lauderdale was trying to determine how 15 pounds of frozen pork landed on the roof of his home one sunny day in mid-July.  This piqued my interest, not just for the obvious mystery---how and why did the pork end up on the guy’s roof, but also because, having lived in South Florida, I recall how unlikely it was to find anything frozen outside in July (or, come to think of it, in any other month). 

But because Wry Bread connoisseurs (yes, I had to spell-check it) have learned to look here for answers to life’s mysteries, such as, “Who in his right mind would get within ten yards of a wild bear just for a better photo?” Answer:  No one in his right mind; and, “What idiot would conclude that dropping campaign materials from a plane onto his high school campus would persuade his classmates to elect him their president?” Answer: Just one idiot I know of; the idiot in question will here propose explanations for what shall now (and never again) be called the Porcine Parapet Predicament.  (No, technically a parapet is not a roof, but it’s close enough.) 
How did 15 pounds of frozen pork end up on this fellow’s roof?

Explanation 1: A south Florida Congressman, returning from a DC budget battle with his carry-on luggage filled with pork for a major donor, spotted Scott Pelley of CBS’s Sixty Minutes on the plane, and jettisoned the pork. (No, I don’t know how he got the pork off the plane, but then neither does Scott Pelley.)
                                                                                                                                                                    Explanation 2: A Ft. Lauderdale High School student was running for class president.  The school’s rivals were the Bradenton Wild Boars.  He thought he might create some buzz and win some votes if he dropped a frozen pig from a plane onto the campus.  Unfortunately, not only did he miss the campus, he missed the start of the school year by about six weeks.  His political life came to a swift and sudden end, not unlike that of the pig. (No, I don’t know what office the pig was running for.  I can’t solve ALL the mysteries for you).

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Driving on Rt. 15 in Virginia, I did a double-take when I passed a church named "St. Isador the Farmer." So we're naming churches after farmers now?  How long has this been going on?  Why dont you people tell me anything?  No, it wasn't called the Old McDonald had a Farm Church," but it was close enough. It got me wondering how many other churches are named after farmers.  Is there a Farmer John Church,a Farmer Brown Church, or a Farmer in the Dell Church, maybe one with a sanctuary sponsored by Farmers Insurance, and hymnals courtesy of The Farmers' Almanac?

What about other vocations?  If there's a "St. Isador the Farmer Church" in Virginia, maybe there's a "St. Donald the Developer Church in New York, or a "St. Mario the Plumber Churchin Florence, or a "St. Bob the Builder Church" in Indiana. Perhaps, somewhere in Maryland, there's a "St. Brooks the Third Baseman Church," and if New England still has any churches, one of them may be named "St. Brady the Patriot." 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


Speaking on behalf of all husbands (and who better to do so than I?), and as part of my ongoing effort to bridge the gap between the sexes (you may recall my inside scoop on Men’s Rooms in the Wry Bread story, “Rest Room Break”) I now reveal additional information that was previously classified:  

No husband, of any age, creed or ethnicity, ever took the following medical advice: 
“Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sex.”  
A husband in his right mind would not ask that question, as in his right mind he would be able to reason that his doctor’s answer could be “No.” If not in his right mind, he would never remember to ask the question.  I rest my case.  
Here’s more advice no husband has ever taken:

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

NECESSITY is the mother of Invention. Invention's father is a guy named Bob. Bob told me he wanted to name his daughter Mary, but Necessity wouldn't hear of it. She had her mind set on "Invention."

Bob tried to reason with her:

•None of the other kids in school will be named 'Invention.'

 •Boys attempting to write her Valentine poems will be forced to use words like intention, declension or detention.

"I'd spend two hours in detention,
If I could be with you, Invention."

•Or her friends will call her Venti, and she'll be humiliated when a middle school boy discovers that at Starbucks, Venti means "very large."

But Bob's arguments were unpersuasive. Necessity was determined.

After giving the matter the thirty seconds of thought that such matters demand ("That's pretty much your thought limit, isn't it Rusty?--PB)  I realized that surely Necessity must have been teased about her OWN name. Kids at school would have called her "Nessie," which not only rhymes with "messy," but is the chosen name of the Loch Ness monster.

Thursday, July 6, 2017


Last Friday night we were attacked by a suicide-attack deer as we were driving the Prius, our car from the future. It was after 9PM, when most respectable deer are home from work, bouncing their fawning offspring on their numerous knees. The one who attacked us was evidently crouching behind a bush, awaiting our approach on a dark country road in Maryland.  It certainly seemed that he knew we were coming, which makes me suspect that he was tipped off by someone like Tommy (Pretty Boy) Humphrey.  Since I don’t know anyone like Pretty Boy, it was probably him.

He leaped in front of us at the last possible second (the deer, not Pretty Boy), and although I immediately hit the brakes, we collided. The good news is that if the deer was wearing a suicide-vest, it didn't detonate. I suspect this was because he hadn't anticipated my cat-like reflexes, so he was struck in the hindquarters rather than the chest as he evidently intended. The point of impact was the very front of the car, where there is (or was) an oval shaped Toyota emblem.

I don't think I'll ever forget the hatred I saw in his eye just before impact.  (The hatred was in his left eye, in case you were wondering.) My first thought was that the attack might be ISIS-related, through its radicalized deer army, DASH (Deer/Angry/Suicidal/Hostile).  But as you know, those attacks are usually planned for places where large numbers congregate. This deer seemed to be waiting for us specifically.

At Risk to Die of BB's

After some routine blood work involving a small vial of My Precious being extracted from my left arm, I had a follow up appointment with my new Asian doctor.  Although I should point out that he is far more fluent in my native language than I am in his, issues remain.

"Blood levels not good. Too high. You at risk to die of BBs."

This came as a complete shock, first because I assumed my risk of dying of BBs dropped dramatically after my brothers stopped shooting me; and second, because even with all the trumpeted advancements in medicine, I couldn’t see how a simple blood test could reveal the risk of a future BB shot. 
“The patient’s blood looks normal, with that red color we’ve come to expect, but his BB titers are elevated.  The short term risk of a lethal BB shot is quite high.”

Then it occurred to me that maybe what the doctor meant was that the test revealed BBs already present in the blood, BBs that have presumably been there for decades. 

If so, the BBs would have company.  I remember one day when I dropped my pencil while sitting on a stool in a Lyman High drafting class in Longwood, Florida, north of Orlando.  I had the presence of mind and the catlike reflexes to clap my legs together and catch it, thus saving me the trouble of stepping off the stool to retrieve it, as some of my slower classmates had to do when they dropped their pencils.  Had my recently sharpened pencil been falling vertically, this clapping together of the legs might have been a good plan.  It was not.  If you are ever assigned the task of identifying my body, let me make it easy for you.  Look for a 1/8 inch black foreign object below the skin on my right thigh about six inches above the knee.

Rusty Dumpty's not so Great Fall


Our home has two skylights.  They both fulfill their purpose well, if as I assume, their purpose is to bring in sky light.  One of them, however, has developed the annoying habit of also bringing in sky rain.  I don’t know about your home, but in ours, light is welcome; rain is not.  I consulted a man more knowledgeable in such matters than I (which was easy, as I just had to consult any other man).  We went on the roof together one November day and he showed me where to caulk to prevent further interior hydration.  An hour or two later the skylight was as tight as your Uncle Scrooge, or your Uncle Scrooge’s drum, or your Uncle Scrooge  beating a drum with the minister’s cat, after a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop.

For several weeks after what I’d like to call the November Peace Caulks (but decided against it), I was cautiously optimistic that our détente might lead to a permanent resolution. But during a heavy downpour one December morning, rain began dripping down our living room wall and onto our carpet, a flagrant violation of the Rooftop Peace Accord.  Our response had to be swift and firm if we were to maintain any credibility in the international skylight community.  Heedless of the wind and weather, I donned rain-gear and ventured out.  [“Wait---if you had been in fact heedless of the wind and weather, Rusty, you wouldn’t have donned rain-gear.”] Look Pretty Boy, apart from one carol, when do we get to use the phrase, “heedless of the wind and weather?”  If you expect me to let your thoughts intrude into my stories, you’ll have to cut me some slack.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Everyone's a Critic

The experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have declared June 1 to November 30 to be “Hurricane Season.”  When they did this last year, I thought it was a bad idea, and sure enough, before long a Hurricane with the odd name of Arthur ambled up the east coast, messing up beach vacations.   No one declares a Volcano Season or an Earthquake Season for good reason; we don’t want to encourage such things.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) doesn’t declare a Bubonic Plague Period, or Typhoid Time.  The Justice Department doesn’t announce a Murder Month, or a Kidnapping Week.  This is plain common sense.  In the same way, you don’t put a mobile home in an open field in Oklahoma unless you want to attract tornadoes, and you don’t hang a ham in your garage unless you want to attract stray dogs, flies, or Tommy Humphrey. 
NOAA has even gone so far as to pick out names for each storm this year, including Bill, Fred and Sam for the run of the mill storms; Claudette for a storm of French origin; and for a fierce tempest they never want repeated (or pronounced), Joaquin.  I am particularly troubled that they have chosen to call one of the storms Grace.  Even if this were not the name of our sweet daughter, it would still be a lousy name for a violent storm.   Why not Hurricane Hannibal, or Hurricane Hitler?  Or does NOAA think we can tame the beast by assigning it a benign name?  I’ve tried it.  It didn’t work with Pretty Boy Humphrey.

Talk of violent storms takes me back to South Florida, where we coexisted with hurricanes (sometimes just barely) for several years.  Remind me to tell you about playing ball there.  Oh never mind---you have enough things to remember.  I’ll tell you about it now. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Battle of Glenridge: Thus Always to Tyrants

My parents moved our family from Maryland to Central Florida in the summer after I completed sixth grade.  That fall, after a few traumatic weeks finding my way around my new school, it was becoming clear to me that none of the friends I had at Old Post Road Elementary in Abingdon, Maryland had been promoted to the seventh grade; or if they had been, clearly none had been assigned to Glenridge Junior High in Orlando.  Every living being in the school was a complete stranger to me; and if there were dead beings there, they were even stranger, although perhaps less complete.  

The campus was sprawling, covering several acres, and just a single story high, as are most Florida schools.  That way, if a building or two is swallowed by a sinkhole, or lost in a hurricane, it’s just a single story loss.  For some reason I had chosen Band as my seventh period elective, although I had two relevant problems; I couldn’t play an instrument, and I couldn’t read music.  Even today the smell of a clarinet reed strikes me with terror.  You would be terrified too if you were expected to play selections from Scheherazade with the aforementioned handicaps.  The Persian bride Scheherazade faced beheading if the king decided he wanted to hear no more from her.  I experienced a similar dread every time the teacher asked me to play.  I grew to hate Rimsky; and truth be told, I wasn’t that fond of Korsakov.

The alternative courses available during seventh period must have been really horrid---“Sinkhole Filling for Newcomers,” or “Sandspur Picking, 101.”  Sandspurs, for the uninitiated, are sharp spiny things, like three-dimensional asterisks, about the size of pencil erasers, and they’re as common in Florida as moss on trees. They stick to your socks, find a way to your skin and can’t be removed without drawing blood from your fingers.  Their primary function, it seems, is to keep Floridians from overdosing on Vitamins C and D by releasing a healthy bit of their blood each day.  Their secondary function is to make Phys. Ed class in the heat and humidity even more unpleasant than it would otherwise be, and make no mistake, it would otherwise be unpleasant enough.  

The worst thing about PE, of course, was showering with a slew of other boys, some of whom had so perfected the art of snapping a towel against an unsuspecting posterior that it would leave a welt.  The other worst thing (yes, there were two worst things about PE) was when, once every eight or ten days, presumably because the coach was in a foul mood, the dreaded words began to filter through the school from the earlier periods, “Happy Hour Today.”  Happy Hour was the name coined by the Marquis de Sade for an entire PE period devoted to jumping jacks, sit-ups, pull-ups, and laps around the track.  I believe he called it "l’heure joyeux."  Some of the kids blamed Happy Hour on the fitness initiative of President Kennedy (whose French wife, it was rumored, was related to the Marquis).  But I have come into possession of an old reel-to-reel tape recording from a closed-door session in Tallahassee.  The following is an exact transcript, with expletives deleted: 

Monday, January 26, 2015

When Blizzards were Blizzards

Earlier this winter, my brother Doug and his wife Nancy endured a Buffalo snowfall with accumulations recorded between five and seven feet----but enough about them.  Their storm can’t be compared to the one Donna and I survived when we lived there, the historic Western New York Blizzard of ‘77.  In those days, before the environmentalists got their hands on our atmosphere, America was cranking out pollutants to beat the band, and Buffalo was a major band beater.  The weather pattern then was as follows:  In Buffalo’s summer, which usually fell sometime between the first and fifteenth of August, industrial waste would block the sun’s rays and help to hasten the season we were famous for, winter.  In winter, moisture from Lake Erie would condense around the various toxins in the clouds, and the result would be the descent of huge, semi-metallic snowflakes, and lots of them. 

Yes, other cities received occasional snow pollution; my brother Kenny, who as a child in Baltimore would catch snowflakes on his tongue, still has tongue shrapnel, which along with his suspicious-sounding last name, makes it tough for him to get through airport security.  But Buffalo snow was renowned for its high metallic content.  When the mountains of snow eventually melted, almost always before the Fourth of July, our kids would earn spending money raking up the metal fragments in the yard and selling them back to one of the local steel plants.  The air pollution wasn’t especially good for our lungs, but in those days, you must remember, lungs were toughened by the second-hand smoke everyone inhaled in public places.

Let the record show that the recent snow in Buffalo was comprised entirely of young, flighty November flakes.  By contrast, the Blizzard of ‘77 used only mature, January snow.  In Buffalo, January flakes are ripe and plump, and they hit like mini-snowballs.  The flakes in that blizzard were especially fat; every time three of them landed on each other they formed a snowman.  Donna and I were in Northeast Philly visiting our friends, Wayne and Phyllis Clapier, when we heard a forecast of heavy snow for western New York, which didn’t alarm us.  If at that point they had called it the historic blizzard of ‘77 we might have been more concerned, but no one got around to naming it until later.  It’s also true that at the time I didn’t put much stock in meteorologists’ forecasts because I thought, “What qualifies someone who studies meteors to make predictions about the weather?”  It has since been explained to me that meteorologists focus not on meteors, but on meteorites, and anything that plunges into our atmosphere must have some effect on it.  So I stand corrected.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bye Bye Birdies

If you’ve read my little book, Wry Bread, then you already know me to be a man of exceptional courage.  Those exceptions include bears, sharks, wolves, high school principals, feisty aunts, Godzilla and any other real or fictitious creature which may inadvertently (or advertently) bring me harm.  Some throw caution to the wind (and when you think about it, we’ve never been offered another place to throw it) and do things like attend Yankee games, as if they had never heard of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  But it’s not through such recklessness that I’m just one day shy of reaching the ripe old age at which, as I was told by my high school mentors John and Paul, every summer Donna and I can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight (if it’s not too dear) with Vera, Chuck and Dave on her knee.  In high school it didn’t seem preposterous that at sixty-four we could put three grandchildren on one knee.  This snake adventure highlights the caution that has served me so well yea these many years.

It was a warm evening in early summer; the Katydids were chattering and the lightening bugs flashing---wait, maybe they weren’t.  I can’t remember now.  But I remember I happened to look out our large front picture window and see a long black something on our white porch railing.  (Why we call it a picture window, I don’t know, as there’s no picture on it---I just checked to make sure.  All I could find is an ADT™ sticker left by the last occupant.  I suppose I should have removed the sticker sometime in the past ten years, since ADT™ has never received a dime from us to protect our home, but as I didn’t put the sticker on there, I felt no constraint to take it off.  The only person it might mislead is one intending to rob us, or one trying to sell us a home-security system, and I have little sympathy for either of those fellows, who, now that I think of it, may in fact be the same fellow.  The ADT™ sticker really has nothing to do with the story, so why don’t we just move on?  We’re almost at the snake part.  We’d have been there a lot sooner if not for the sticker, but remember, I’m not the one who put it on the window.)  

You’ve probably guessed by now that the long black something on our white porch railing was----a dog leash.  Wrong.  It was a snake.  Don’t you remember when I called this a snake story?  Not only was it a snake, and black, but it was a Black Snake, which makes it doubly black and doubly snake-ish.  He or she was about 3 feet long, and about two inches in diameter, and shall be referred to hence as “it.”  It seemed to have an inordinate interest in the small cylindrical wooden birdhouse hanging from the porch roof support, about two and a half feet above said snake.  You may have already deduced, from the snake’s interest, that the birdhouse was occupied by a family of-----dog leashes.  Wrong again!   It was occupied by a family of birds, including several recently hatched chicks.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ivan The Terrible

The following item appeared in our newspaper last week:
“On this date in 1547, Ivan IV of Russia, popularly known as ‘Ivan the Terrible,’ was crowned Czar.”

This got me wondering:  Just how dreadful must the other candidates have been, if the man popularly known as ‘Ivan the Terrible’ was crowned Czar? Then I discovered a rare transcript of the Czar Search Committee from early 1547.

“Thank you all for coming.  Let us get right to the point.  Vlad the Horrendous, you have many qualities we were looking for in a leader.  But I’m afraid the committee has decided to go in a different direction.  With so many ruthless applicants, we hope you understand our dilemma. Sergei the Atrocious, you were under serious consideration, as were you, Igor the Malodorus.  All in Russia have heard of your great exploits, and of the Cossack town, Slovitch the Serene, known since your visit as Slovitch the Smoldering;  surely never again will any innkeeper be so imprudent as to suggest that you and your men should ‘sleep with the pigs.’   The decision we announce today should not be understood as disparaging your capacity for pillaging and plundering.  Keep up the---ah, work.  I must say, Pavel the Appalling, the committee was impressed with your collection of Polish toes, until one member pointed out that it is impossible to determine if, as you say, they were cut off the unfortunate peasants following your sacking of a defenseless town, or they simply reflect natural Siberian-winter toe-loss.  Dimitri the Despicable, and Nicolai the Nefarious, we love the alliteration; but although we have no reason to doubt your claim to be scoundrels of the baser sort, we were unable to verify any truly heinous acts ascribed to you.” 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Wry Bread Now in Book Form

As readers of Little Loaves may know, several months ago I compiled the stories I had written up to that point into a book, and self-published them as an E-book on   You can see it by going to the Amazon site, clicking Kindle Books, and searching for Wry Bread. Since then, the book has far exceeded all expectations.  (This was not hard to do, in that no one expected it to sell any copies.)  Having persuaded, cajoled and shamed several family members and friends into buying the book, sales of Wry Bread have plateaued at about 30. Let me emphasize, that's thirtynot thirty thousand.  By the way, you can encourage more people to read the book by giving it a positive review on the site.  The best thing to do with a negative review is mail it to me without postage.

Some friends asked if I would publish Wry Bread the old fashioned way---you know, printed on paper made from trees. That has now been done, and those are selling like---well not so much like hotcakes, more like bread that sells slowly. The paperback books of 190 pages are available for a suggested donation of $8 each, or $10 with shipping included (within the U.S.) Just Email me at to request your fresh baked copy.