Going Country

Hi gang,

Here’s my new address beginning 10/14:

1991 Chardonnay Drive
Oakley, CA 94561

Oakley is a smaller town that is not to be confused with Oakley, Oregon or Oakdale, CA (home of California Hershey’s plant or used to be). It’s Oakley… CALIFORNIA. “Oakley” is an old English boy’s name and means either “oak meadow” or “meadow of oak.” There’s also a possibility it refers to hazardous ground covering found in the above-referenced oak meadow, also known as “poison oakley.”

My two birds are not happy to be moving there because they know this is the location of their avian vet. (The famous Dr. Brian Speer who, in his spare time, makes a mean parakeet kabob.)

The area I’m moving to is flat. No view except a brown fence that looks over into the next door neighbor’s yard. I’m trying to see if their semi-cluttered backyard contains evidence of young women being held against their will. I realize that’s just paranoia on my part, since that would never happen out here, although I heard something related about the next town over— Antioch. Just rumor, I’m sure.

I’ve been told the Consecutive Cities–Bay Point, Pittsburg, Oakley (CA), Antioch and Brentwood are kind of competitive, with Antioch possibly holding the award for Best City for Keeping Captives.

The Delta is nearby as are the Delta Levees, who are unrelated to the Levis in my family as far as I know. I hope the Levees are able to prevent any flooding. I know the Levis in my family were affected by the Vanport (Portland) famous flood, so I’m a little uneasy that flooding runs in the family.

There is one Barnes and Noble that’s in Antioch that stupidly closes at 9:00 p.m rather than 11:00 p.m. which I expect of all B & Ns, just like I count on B & Ns having restrooms never being cleaned or inspected

Presumably this B & N’s cafe serves the same Starbucks Coffee which is not really the good Starbucks Coffee (it’s individually owned) but pretends to be the same. If you only drink Peet’s and don’t like Starbucks it’s because when you started with Peet’s before trying any Starbucks, your tastebuds have been immolated by the strength of Peet’s coffee. So you should have no opinion worth respecting regarding Starbucks.

They tell me there’s a Costco in Pittsburg. I don’t think I need to carry a weapon there, but I’ll call and ask the local library about that. There supposedly are a couple of libraries out this way, with shelves full of Gun and Ammo magazine, Fish and Game magazine, Hot Rod magazine, Greater Tattoos magazine, etc. To Kill a Mockingbird is found in the Dewey Decimal section on pesticides.

I believe .00067% of the population here is Jewish.

The two most recommended restaurants (AAA) are Black Bear and Round Table Pizzas. In case I’m ever able to entertain and pay back those of you who’ve
treated me for so long, I’ll find out if Black Bear and Round Table cater and if they can do lox, bagels, and herring.

I’ll try to keep you posted—those of you who continue to be my friend even though I’ll have moved on to the other side of Mt. Diablo. Remember that, after all, I’m still in the same county as many of you and surely that should count for something. I’ll still be the same good person you’ve known and loved/liked/tolerated, except for packing heat.


Tygerpen XXXXX

Till There Was You, Shirley

            I’m eager to read the newly released memoir by actress Shirley Jones. As soon as I read a synopsis of her book and before news of her racy life went viral, I signed up with the local library to reserve it. I am number 1,625 on the “Holds” list which means the memoir will be ready for pick-up in 13 years. By the time I get the book, Shirley will be 92 years old and still self-pleasuring as she claims to do daily. If she still doesn’t have dementia in 2026, with the sexual mental images I’ll have of her, I hope I do.

            I’ve always been extremely concerned about Shirley ever since she mutated from sweet virginal roles like Julie in Carousel, Laurie in Oklahoma, and Marian the Librarian in The Music Man, to become Lulu Bains the prostitute in Elmer Gantry. Hollywood called her Oscar-winning performance “playing against type” but years later I was extremely relieved to find her squeaky-clean once again as head of the Partridge Family.

            I knew she was married to Jack Cassidy and for years I tried in vain to warn her about Jack as a “Sexual Svengali”—her term— because of my run-in with him. Actually, it was more like a sit-in with him: Years ago I appeared with urbane, goateed Jack on a short-lived ABC quiz program called “Funny You Should Ask.” It was a show best viewed with a couple of beers and the television off.

            I wasn’t supposed to be on this show. At the time my UCLA college roommate Roz auditioned at ABC studios and was assigned to Hollywood Squares, the best of three possible quiz shows produced by the team of Heater-Quigley. With Roz’s incredible winnings, including a car, a Hawaiian vacation, and most of Sears Appliance Department, Roz could have simply purchased her UCLA diploma.

            When I foolishly let her talk me into auditioning—she insisted  I was a shoe-in for Hollywood Squares—– the closest I actually got to Hollywood Squares was climbing up that show’s three-story, rickety, tic-tac-toe-like metal structure where stars such as Paul Lynde and Charlie Weaver sat during videotaping and where the quiz show hopefuls auditioned.

            The Heater-Quigley employees wanted contestants who were perky, hyperactive, and possessed an academic background, such as courses in Advanced Fawning.  Most of us got assigned to one of the three quiz shows, except for the few potential contestants who fell out of the Hollywood Squares structure.  If conscious, they were given a consolation prize waffle maker.

            Regretfully, I was assigned to “Funny You Should Ask” which was hosted by Lloyd Thaxton (“the father of music videos”) and featured six wisecracking celebrities seated at desks who answered various opinion questions. After the questions, two contestants were brought out and had to guess which celebrity said what. A typical exchange:

            Thaxton: “Here’s the question. ‘What does a man do standing up, that a woman does sitting down, that a dog does with one paw lifted up?’ Which one of our celebrities answered, “Read a newspaper”?

            Contestant: “OOOhhhh, what a wonderful question! Really makes one think.  Hmmmm….I don’t have a dog, but my cat goes to Evelyn Woods Reading Dynamics. So I’m going to say Glenn Ford answered “Reading a newspaper” because he probably keeps up on all the news….Oh, and you were sensational in Star Wars, Mr. Ford.”

           Glenn Ford (glowering): “That was Harrison Ford.”

           Because five shows were taped consecutively on the same day—a week’s worth—- with a few of the celebrities changing sweaters for variety, by the time I was hauled in to answer who-said-what, I was a mere “2” on the Perkiness Scale. The associate producer seated me next to my competing male contestant, a 20-ish aspiring actor named Brad. A few feet away sat Jack Cassidy, the celebrity closest to us.

           This was the exchange I remember:

           Thaxton: “Here’s the question, contestants: ‘Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb?’ Which celebrity said ‘Cary Grant?’

           Me: “I think Jack said it because……”

          Jack Cassidy: “Oh, it’s ‘Jack,’ is it? So you must’ve met me before?”

         ( Audience laughs.)

          Me: (chuckling nervously) “No, I’ve never met you before. I think Jack said ‘Cary Grant’ because he……”

          Jack Cassidy: “Oh, so you’re denying we’ve been together?”

         (Audience laughs.)

          Brad: “Hahahahahahah. Well, I’m sure WE haven’t been together!

          Jack Cassidy:  “Maybe not lately.”

          Brad: “I think it was Zsa Zsa who said ‘Cary Grant’ because she’s a bubble-headed blonde cretin.”

           Lloyd Thaxton: “You’re RIGHT! You’re our new champion. You just won yourself a trip to Las Vegas, 40 acres and a mule! And for our loser contestant, you get a waffle maker.”

           This exchange occurred eight years before Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy divorced. But there it was—- Jack cozying up to me—– seen across the entire country by the show’s national viewing audience of 20.

           In retrospect, I was happy to learn Shirley was no shrinking violet either. And, even if I’m dismayed to learn about the real Shirley Jones, at least she’s offered full disclosure of her provocative past, including a threesome involving a cockatoo.

           Contrast that with the cowardly revelations of numerous male politicians, those upright paragons of virtue and family values who’ve concealed and even denied their affairs when confronted with the evidence:

           David Vitter, Louisiana U.S. Senator, who admitted in July 2007 he was a client of the prostitution service run by the infamous DC Madam, and conducted a lengthy affair with a prostitute identified only by police as “Shirley Jones”.

           Eliot Spitzer, New York Governor who resigned in 2008 after a scandal revealed he patronized an elite escort service and paid up to $80,000 for a prostitute named Ashley Dupre (aka “Shirley Jones”).

           Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who resigned in 2009 after he publicly revealed he was having an affair with an Appalachian woman named Dewlene Mae Jones (Maiden name “Shirley Jones”).

           Anthony Weiner, the New York Congressman once again in the news, who resigned in 2011 after admitting he exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with six women identified by the FBI as Lulu Bains, Shirley Cassidy, Shirley Ingles, Shirley Partridge, Davida Cassidy, and Shirley Jones, all of Beverly Hills, California.

           Weiner’s current scandal involves his sexting with actress Joan Collins who has denied she is Shirley Jones.

No Piece of Cake: The Bakery Shop Horror

Just in the nick of Back-to-School time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued new rules which ban most sugary, greasy, and salty snacks in schools. I’m certain the presence of these snacks is the prime reason American children have fallen so far behind in education compared to their foreign peers such as in China where, according to Forbes Magazine, children eat more nutritious meals like Kentucky Fried Chicken.

No sooner did the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the school snack ban, then the Metropoulos & Company company announced it’s putting Hostess Twinkies, Cupcakes, Dingdongs and all the other Hostess products back on the grocery shelves beginning July 15!  This mercenary action by Metropoulos was even more offensive since July 15 fell on one of the most important events of the year, Cow Appreciation Day. (Woodstock, VT)

When my sons were small, I did my best to limit their exposure to sweets and particularly cake, which is the most dangerous snack of all. Cakes (like Twinkies) contain flour, sugar, salt, fat, baking soda and—– to create the soft and fluffy cakes that bounce back when you press on them—-  polyurethane foam, found in most mattresses unless you order cake at a four-star restaurant where the gourmet cakes contain viscoelastic foam, i.e. TempurPedic foam.

Researchers know that cake-eating over the decades leads to premature insanity. Even exposure to cakes can have this effect.  Recently, the mother of an Indiana University graduate ordered a cake with the young woman’s photo as decoration, including a graduation CAP (the mortar board) in icing. When the cake was delivered with the photo decoration, instead of a CAP, mistakenly atop the young woman’s head was a CAT—pink nose, white whiskers. This is what occurs in bakeries from breathing cake fumes.

When my sons were four and five, I was unaware of the dangers of Cake Scent. One day I brought them along with me to an upscale local bakery called Delices to test out the desserts. Now in those early parenting years, I had occasionally seen frolicking, antsy or rabid children followed by exhausted mothers holding the kids on a leash, which shocked and appalled me. But that day at Delices Bakery, I’d regretfully left the boys’ leashes at home.

From the moment we entered the bakery I was dismayed at the large crowd which I surmised was due to the lunch hour. Equally disappointing was the lack of baked goods behind the glass shelves. There were a couple of plates of nondescript cookies and maybe one or two nonchocolate* cakes.  (*The latter a clear Restaurant Inspection Violation and a prime reason for being omitted from the Zagat Guide.)

That was it. The only other cake in the place was an awe-inspiring floor-to-ceiling white frosted multiple-tiered wedding cake that stood in the corner of the bakery. I wondered if it was real.

I selected one of three long lines and stood at the end behind dark suited men and women on their lunch hours. I thought I was the only non-employed person except for one very pregnant woman wearing a white blouse and red skirt who stood parallel to me in an adjacent line. My four year old watched her, transfixed, as our lines crawled toward the glass shelves in front.

For several minutes I studied from a distance the mostly empty glass cases, uncertain what there was to order. As I glanced over at my five year old to ask his preference, a bloodcurdling scream cut through the lively chatter in the bakery. Instantly all conversations ceased. I had an instant stomach-churning premonition—a psychic power that evolves from having sons—-that the scream was related to me.

At that moment one of the clerks behind the glass case ran the entire length of the counter, shot out from behind the glass shelves and sprang over to the floor-to-ceiling white wedding cake where a little boy, misleadingly WASP-appearing with blonde hair and blue eyes, stood munching on a brick-size slab of white cake clutched in his fist. A wedding cake that only moments before stood tall and stately was now brought low by a swipe from The Unseen Claw that hollowed out a crater in the bottom tier.

Rather than seizing the young perpetrator, the breathless agitated clerk lifted and turned the white monolith around so the new cake-hole was hidden, facing the wall.

There are those moments that require life-altering decisions: In this case, does one immediately apologize to the counter staff? Offer to pay for the cropped cake? Have the child apologize for his actions? Review with the child his ethical duty to make amends? Or most important, stay put rather than lose one’s place in line?

The issue was immediately solved, my honor intact: I bribed the man ahead of me in line to hold my place while I sprinted over to where I’d last seen the four year old. But the culprit had disappeared into the crowd. When I was back in line—I’m no fool—- I spotted him weaving through the crowds until he approached me and stopped, clearly motivated that I was next in line to be served.

As I reached out to seize his hand (the one without icing and crumbs), a phenomenon occurred that American physicists have yet to explain.  In a burst of speed (an estimated 186,000 miles per second), the four year old was suddenly standing alongside the exceedingly pregnant woman in the adjacent row, where he immediately scooped up her red skirt high enough to reveal the exposed space beneath that could fit, if not a clown car, at least a several short performers from Cirque du Soleil. For his performance, an estimated 60 people in the bakery were easily able to evaluate (among other things) the substantial bulge that had been stored under her skirt.

When the commotion ceased, I found myself standing before three sets of glaring eyes behind the counter. Mustering what remained of my dignity, I placed my order. I was, after all, a paying customer.

“I’ll have one cookie,” I said in a soft voice that channeled Minnie Mouse.

Years later I was relieved when the bakery closed, since it stood as a symbol of either My Parental Failure or worse, No Observable Chocolate Desserts.

But my warnings of the dangers of Cake Scent and cake-making-leading-to-premature-insanity are still valid.

Case in point:  The James Skinner Baking Company has set up shop in Paris, Texas thanks to the Texas Enterprise Fund and Governor Rick Perry. The Skinner Baking Company supplies more than 200 million pastries and baked goods per year.

Cakes. Texas. Insanity.

Are there any questions, class?


            With the Fourth of July approaching, I’m once again wondering if I should illicitly acquire a few sparklers or ground blossom fireworks to celebrate the traditional and beloved American past-time of setting my hillside on fire.  Or accidentally gouging out my eyes with fiery sticks. It’s one thing to watch the hillside go up in flames—there are, after all, a lot of hillsides—-but I’ve only got two eyeballs. And if my eyes are, in poetic terms, the windows to my soul, I’ve noticed recently they could use a lot of Windex.

            I’ve always considered my dark brown eyes my best feature, not counting my belly which, depending on its mood, can appear flat and firm or gracefully bulbous, resembling a work of nature—the planet Jupiter. For most of my life, I didn’t need glasses and probably took that for granted until the day I saw an ophthalmologist for a checkup. He dilated my eyes with what seemed an excessive number of drops (14 out of a two inch bottle that held 15). Possibly he instilled Vaseline. I couldn’t tell for sure once he anesthetized my eyes, since he immediately turned on a brightly-lit scope and, as always, ordered me to look at the top of his ear. 

            Patients are always required to stare at the eye doctor’s ear as their eyes are being examined.. (“Look up. Now look down. Now look at the top of my ear.”) This ear-staring procedure has always caused me tremendous anxiety and guilt. I know all patients are instructed to do that, but I’m certain after years of patient staring at the top of the doctor’s ear (which heats it up to at least 450 degrees F), the ear will soon wither and fall off. Just not while I’m in the chair being examined, dear God.

            Within a few minutes after the drops took effect, the interior of the ophthalmologist’s tiny examining room nearly disappeared before my eyes, including the “E” chart which transformed into a white wall sprinkled with poppy seeds. The ophthalmologist laughed and said, “Now you know how you’ll see when you’re 60.” (This apparently is Eye Doctor Humor. Or possibly Slit Lamp Psychosis.)

            After that exam, I became aware on several occasions of the failure or refusal of my eyes to perform properly, even if they didn’t require glasses. For example, when I was a college student attending UCLA, on cold mornings I’d often buy a cup of hot chocolate from a vending machine. I’d rave to my friends that this particular vending machine, which I visited every day, provided the best hot chocolate I’d ever had, possibly because the machine used a lot of cocoa powder or chocolate syrup. 

            One morning as I drank my hot chocolate from the paper cup, my head thrown back because I was in a hurry, I looked up at the bottom of the cup and admired its thick, intensely dark syrup (Hershey’s? Nestles Semi-sweet?) provided by the Aramark Company who tended the vending machines. I’d completely forgotten that given the opportunity, my eyes would often perjure themselves, making me believe, for example, that my time on a parking meter is still o.k. or that my thighs are thin. Fortunately (I guess) this time my eyes came clean and showed me that the soupy brown liquid I was looking up at on the bottom of the paper cup—- and which I’d been steadily drinking—– was, in scientific terms, a Jacuzzi for ants.

            Another time my eyes failed me occurred at a business lunch with a male attorney who was wooing my employer for new business.  The two of us were dining on the mezzanine of a popular Seattle restaurant—his choice— where the room light was dimmed, providing an uncomfortable intimacy especially since he was from Spokane. During the meal we ordered coffee, which was served in individual small flasks or carafes called “hottels” from which one would pour coffee into a separate cup.

            Although I’m not a coffee drinker, I grew increasingly uneasy in the dark restaurant setting and from my own inexperience dealing with lawyers soliciting business, which generally requires a firearm.  Although I’m not a fan of coffee, because of my discomfort I found myself drinking coffee repeatedly. Gradually, when the conversation tapered off, I noticed the attorney starring intently at me. Self-conscious once again, I reached for my coffee and started gulping it down. This time, because history repeats itself, I looked up to discover that for the entire meal with the attorney I’d been holding and drinking coffee straight out of the coffee carafe. 

            Clearly after these and similar experiences, I’ve learned the most important lesson about my eyes:

                Don’t look up.

[Following day.  Spokane attorney’s senior partner: “So, will she give us some cases? Did everything work out o.k.? Will we get their business?”

Attorney from lunch: “You know, I think we have a slight problem. The woman I’d be working for is partially insane.”]

            Fortunately, as the years went by, I was fitted with glasses that I don’t wear because I prefer contacts. Mine are monovision contacts, which Barbara Walters wears, though we generally take turns wearing them. With monovision contacts, the prescription for my right eye is for close reading, while the prescription for my left eye is for distance. It takes a little while to adjust to wearing two entirely different contacts, one of which will be blurry at different times, but most wearers end up comfortable and confident. And rest assured, if you intentionally cross your eyes one day just to see if you can still do this, you’ll definitely have clear vision even as you immediately find yourself on the opposite side of the freeway driving against traffic.

            Another issue with all contacts is that they require before each wearing that you read on the individual contacts several imprinted numbers or letters the size of subatomic particles. This is to make sure the contacts won’t be worn inside out. The size of the numbers or letters forces you to use glasses to read them, a constant, needling reminder that your eyes are old and SO BAD you shouldn’t be using contacts.

            However, be assured it’s not difficult to put your soft contacts in each eye as long as you’re adept handling subatomic particles made out of Saran Wrap.


            Plowing through the usual uneventful news like (from Zimbabwe) “Lion Eats Woman While Having Sex with Her Boyfriend” and (from South Korea) “Men Without Testicles Might Live Longer, Study Suggests,” I read that President Obama wants Congress to spend $100 million to map the brain’s activity in unprecedented detail to better treat such conditions as Alzheimer’s, autism, stroke, traumatic brain injuries, and one of the least-known but far-reaching brain disorders, Hebrew Language Brain Leakage. (HLBL)

            Scientists are aware that Language Brain Leakage has a long history and have studied high school students who took classes in Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese and Sign Language. Within a few years after those classes, students who took Spanish, French, German, Russian and Japanese lost the ability to speak or read the language. Those who’d taken Sign Language lost the ability to communicate with their hands except to form bunny shadow puppets.

            Students who’ve been taught Hebrew experience the worst Language Brain Leakage and the question is why, especially since Jewish children are often exposed to or taught Hebrew from the time they were born.  In fact, a recent study showed 10 weeks before birth, a fetus can hear sounds outside the womb and possibly may start to learn language itself. In that study newborn babies were given special pacifiers and headphones attached to computers to determine if babies stopped sucking when they heard vowel sounds. The result of the study led to at least three more critical scientific questions—–(1) What kinds of parents agree to have their newborns rigged up with headphones and a computerized pacifier? (2) Is it “i” before “e” except after “c”?  (3) Why was the Zimbabwe lion having sex with the girl’s boyfriend rather than the girl?

            Jewish parents send their children to after school Hebrew School classes once or twice a week to become skilled in reading prayer book Hebrew. It’s necessary for kids to gain a better understanding of their Jewish identity and prepare for their Bar Mitzvah (boys) or Bat Mitzvah (girls) at age 13. At that event, the girl or boy reads from the Torah and gives a heartfelt speech that has been severely edited or ghostwritten by proud, sweating parents sitting out in the congregation. “Bar/Bat Mitzvah,” in case you’re not familiar with this important coming-of-age rite, is a Hebrew expression meaning “Permanent End of Enforced Hebrew School Thank God.”

            Why has afternoon Hebrew School always been an unpopular activity? For one reason, kids are already tired after secular school where they really have to behave in order to eventually pursue the time-honored dream of going to college, earning a degree, graduating with honors, moving back home and selling Cutco knives.  Hebrew School teachers know their students may be bored or restless. That’s why at some synagogues, young rabbis are delegated to teach Hebrew: they’re fluent in the language, they’re an authority figure, and being young, when subjected to Hebrew School classroom stress they’ll respond better to a defibrillator.

            I saw many years ago how effective young rabbis can be working with children after watching our first assistant rabbi (female) in the sanctuary address the entire religious school on the subject of Repentance. She called on several students to find out what they’d done the previous year that they regretted:

            Rabbi: (To student #1) “Are you sorry about anything?”

            Inaudible reply:

            Rabbi: “You pushed your brother into the goldfish bowl? Uh huh.”

            Inaudible comment (student #2):

            Rabbi: (To student #2) “You threw your dog against the wall?”

            Inaudible comment (student #3):

            Rabbi:  (To student #3) “You sat on your brother’s head?

            Inaudible reply.

            Rabbi: “And he was under water?”   

            I wish I’d had a rabbi teach me when, several years ago, I joined a class to prepare for my adult Bat Mitzvah, a program many synagogues offer. My Hebrew class was a high-powered one since many members went on to positions of synagogue leadership. With their children now approaching Bar/Bat Mitzvah age, these parents wanted to be more knowledgeable and involved, not only learning Hebrew but more Jewish liturgical and ethical practices. Unfortunately, our Hebrew teacher was no match for this adult class who, in biblical terms, smote her with constant questions about course content and class procedures. An antagonist relationship existed between us, the students, and our teacher but it was in the Grand Tradition of Hebrew School.

            Learning the Hebrew alphabet and vowel sounds wasn’t difficult, but I struggled to master words and read sentences.  However, as others in my class tripped over themselves to read Hebrew portions, I secretly developed a fool-proof fluency system: writing in my class workbook or text in the blank spaces above the Hebrew words their phonetic pronunciations (i.e., the transliteration). My biggest fear wasn’t that I’d be unprepared for my Bat Mitzvah, but that students would peak over my shoulder, spy in my books the lines of handwritten phonetic notes, and rat me out.

            In other words, I cheated in order to learn Hebrew and more Jewish ethics.

            Still, it worked. I got through my Bat Mitzvah flawlessly. I realize my “Easy Hebrew” system is not advisable for everyone, especially if they’re honest. But sometimes, we could all use a little help with a big job, which is why Moses, when he couldn’t remember the Ten Commandments, needed to take them down in tablet form.


Recently as I was worrying about gun control, Iran, North Korea and why on earth the Westminster Kennel Club Show included a Doberman with the name of “Fifi,” I read an even more chilling story in the local paper:  A few miles away from me on semi-rural Bailey Road, a red Honda minivan collided with a camel.

Apparently at 3:00 p.m. a dromedary (one-hump) camel named Rudy snuck out of his wire-fenced pasture where he was supposedly living with another camel named Phil. The snucking occurred when Rudy discovered a hole in the fence, let himself out and began grazing on the shoulder of the road. He succeeded in stopping traffic in both directions. Some motorists left their vehicles to coax Rudy back to his pen by helpfully calling out “C’mere, Bob!” and “Come, Bailey!” which they insisted was the camel’s correct name.

The California Highway Patrol arrived and returned Rudy to his slammer.

However, around 7:00 p.m. Rudy escaped again. As he sauntered along the road, he was struck by the red Honda minivan that took off with a panicky driver desperately wondering if he’d been hallucinating or struck an unbelievably ugly horse. Meanwhile, Rudy stood up, began to walk, then ran around the road. A group of neighboring cowboys gathered and for two hours tried to persuade Rudy—who wasn’t going to fall for this recapture trick again—- to climb into a trailer-truck.  By the time the lengthy ordeal ended, the men had tried lassos and luring the camel with traditional Arabic camel calls (“Come on, dude”) and showing Rudy a poster of Peter O’Toole.

The next day University of California Davis veterinarians announced the alarming medical findings: (1) Rudy was really “Phil.”  (2) The real Rudy had been shipped off last year to Missouri for impersonating Phil. (3) There are no known camels in the area named “Bob” or “Bailey.” (4) Ulysses Grant is buried in Grant’s Tomb.

Other than that, Phil the camel was in good shape.

But we, the public, are not.  World-wide there are 14 million camels, the same number as there are guns in Brazil. The same number as Brittany Spears’ debut album, “Baby One More Time.” These coincidences can’t be ignored. Camels are expected to double in ten years if they don’t skip dessert.

That they are a deadly threat has been lost in the rhetoric of global warming even though in Saudi Arabia alone, an estimated fifty percent of the country’s gross national product is based on camel flatulence (aka methane gas). Because of cargo restrictions, the Saudis cannot import the estimated 60 trillion Glade “Country Garden” floral sprays to address the problem.

Even Australians are concerned with the epidemic of camels: The population of their feral camels is 750,000. One Australian company has proposed shooting the camels or alternatively, sending them to an abattoir, which, because this is a French word, should mean “a body spa,” but is in fact a “slaughterhouse.”

As it is, uninsured camels, here and abroad, are increasingly responsible for camel-vehicle collisions (CVCs). At least the Saudis, because of the soaring rates of camel-vehicle collisions, are considering camel-crossing signs, fitting camels with reflectors, and better fencing, where camels have shown the dexterity to use swords.

In the United Arab Emirates’ Journal of Emergency Medicine, an illustration graphically depicts a car in Saudi Arabia striking a camel, the camel falling on top of the car’s windshield and roof, and causing cervical and fatal head injuries to the occupant. The Saudi AAA had been called but took 15 hours to arrive at the scene, with an additional hour for the tow truck driver to explain to the deceased motorist that his AAA membership expired two weeks earlier.

In America, the Pentagon maintains that camels are few in number and pose no homeland threat. But most camels in this country are in hiding, living illegally and fighting to be included in immigration negotiations so they have a path to citizenship.

Why are camels even in this country? The U.S. Army did have a U.S. Camel Corps in California in the 19th century, but it ended with the outbreak of the Civil War. Most veteran camels were left to wander in the desert where, because of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or too much sun, they formed paramilitary packs. The remainder who spurned the desert were confiscated for circuses or companies offering rides to children and adults. A few lucky camels spent decades appearing in Hollywood biblical films until this genre was out of favor, replaced by westerns, war movies and remakes of famous films, like “Birth of a Nation” starring Mel Gibson.

Ultimately, there was only one remaining role for camels with SAG cards: appearing in live Nativity scenes or plays around Christmas time. Although the Gospels don’t mention sheep, donkeys and camels being present at the birth of Jesus, churches traditionally have included them in Nativity scenes. For unemployed camels, “Living” Nativity Scenes provide the perfect part-time job and as well as “cover” for the benign-looking but malevolent camels.

Case in point: In 2010 at the First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Florida, church-goers joyously welcomed the Living Nativity Scene with its live donkey and sheep. Finally, a 1,000 pound camel appeared, led on a leash by an animal handler. As “We Three Kings” blared from speakers (mostly guest speakers), the wily camel fell sideways into the crowd, intending to wipe out two entire pews of churchgoers.

While we as Americans have every reason to fear suicidal or terrorist camels, unlike in other countries we can rehabilitate them. Considering the camel’s basic nature—inquisitive, intelligent and affectionate—-they can be deprogrammed to rid them of hostility, long-time grudges and their proclivity to do evil.  Even given their previous fiendish background, the majority of camels can, with encouragement and some training, be effectively put to work as accountants.

WOMEN AND GUNS: In the Trenches with Newt [revisited]

[This is cheating—–running a Tygerpen column from a few years ago (12/1/2011)—— but I couldn’t resist, based on today’s headline: “Women to Serve in Combat.”
I’m hoping that doesn’t mean lattes and frappuccinos.]

A January 19, 1995 New York Times article reported that Newt Gingrich, while teaching a history course at Georgia’s Reinhardt College, raised concerns about women in military combat roles.  The Times reported Gingrich told his students that “females have biological problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because they get infections…”

True, it was years ago when Newt made the remark. But remembering his controversial cautionary remarks, I worried about my niece Melissa who’s planning on a career in the Army. Did she know about these infections?

To put my mind at rest, I called the local Army Recruiting station.

“Do women in combat who stay in ditches for 30 days get infections,” I asked Sergeant Renfro, the officer in charge, “like Newt Gingrich has said?”

“M’am, I don’t believe that’s what Mr. Gingrich said,” the sergeant replied uncomfortably. “From all our information, Mr. Gingrich said women get inspections after 30 days in a ditch.”

I was relieved. Later than night, I heard on local news the old quote attributed to Newt.

The next day I called my gynecologist.

“What kind of infections do women get in the trenches, like Newt Gingrich once said?” I asked.

He laughed. “Don’t believe everything you read, just like the conflicting reports on medical research. I’m sure Gingrich said women get injections after 30 days in a ditch. After all, there’s a lot of bugs in those close quarters.”

I felt a lot better until I watched a news commentary show on CNN. Republicans and Democrats were yelling back and forth while the commentator pretended to keep order. One of the Democrats attacked Newt for his women-in-combat remarks at Reinhart College.

That was it. I FAXED a polite note to Joe McQuaid, publisher of New Hampshire’s only statewide newspaper, the influential Union Leader, who has endorsed Gingrich’s bid for President.

“How could you support a Neanderthal like Gingrich?” I wrote.

One of McQuaid’s assistants Faxed back swiftly. “Regret that Gingrich was clearly misquoted. He really said women get confections after 30 days in a ditch. Candy from home, chocolates.”

That put my mind at rest until I went to a party and heard several angry women remember Newt’s “infection” comment.

“Don’t worry, “  I said, “It was all a silly mistake.” But I agreed to call up Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s office. Deal is one of the few powerhouses who has endorsed Newt’s candidacy.

“Of course Newt didn’t say that, “the Governor’s aide said. “What Newt said was, women get directions after 30 days in a ditch. They get their marching orders.”

At dinner that night, my friend Michael, a loyal Republican, was adamant. “No politician, particularly one as high up as Newt Gingrich, would ever say something so stupid, sexist and unfounded. The press is just out to nail him, to dredge up all the old garbage.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “But I wish I knew exactly what he said. None of the Republicans seem to agree on what he said.”

“So call Speaker Boehner’s office.”

The next day I did, cautious that Boehner was not a Gingrich fan. But surely the House majority leader would know Newt’s history.

A young man answered. “Oh, yes, that was quite a flap,” he remarked, over the rustle of paper. “Mr. Gingrich actually said women get inflections after 30 days in a ditch. Their voices get louder from being underground.”

Still uneasy, I called my niece.

“I know your heart is set on the service,” I told her, “but if you go into combat and get stuck in a ditch, you may have a problem.”

“Oh, yeah, “ she replied, “but I’m not worried. I remember Newt Gingrich’s comments. That men have problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because they get erections. Hey, war is hell on everybody.”


            I’m on the air, standing alone in front of a small TV audience. I’m with my Bluebird or Brownie troop (depending what I was at the time, possibly even a Cub Scout), visiting the Heck Harper television program in Portland. This was the time when TV was new, black and white, and kids traveled with youth groups to the stations so their parents could see them on television, which for most kids would be their only 9 minutes of fame as they stood paralyzed by the lights and cameras, squirming or shoving fingers up their noses.

            Heck Harper, the local television cowboy (every station had one) with his white Stetson, thrusts a microphone into my face and asks, “And what do you want to be when you grow up? A nurse? A teacher?”  He’s thinking I’ll say “A mommy” or “a housewife.” But I know the answer to this one.

           “I want to be a Project Manager.”

            Heck looks at me blankly and moves on swiftly to the next kid. It’s a reaction I’ll become familiar with.

            From the time I was small, I had one ambition in life: Project Manager. This was confusing to my mother who, because she worked on Portland’s “Film Row” at the branch offices of MGM and later Universal, encouraged her daughters to seek careers in the film industry. I believe Mom envisioned for my beautiful red-haired older sister the life of a movie star, and me, possibly a Grip, Best Boy or Boom Operator.

            But I’d had a vision of “Project Manager,” and I was determined this was The Way.

            When little friends of mine played dress up, with Joan costumed as a princess, Margaret a cowgirl, and Ricky a Ballerina, I carried a clipboard, pen and a sheet of costly wide-lined bond paper on which I drew a work breakdown structure. I couldn’t tell you where this idea came from because, like the “Project Manager” vision, incredibly not one person in my immediate or extended family had shown the persistence, diligence and fortitude to work in the nonexistent field of Project Management.

            My high school counselor, Miss Settee, tried to discourage me about careers. “It’s almost impossible for a woman to be a journalist, a lawyer, or a corporate manager,” she said, looking out her office window at a fresh-faced blonde-haired youth pouring soap powder into the school fountain.

            Enthusiastically, I shook my head in agreement.  

            She finally looked at me. “So what do you want to put down on your college applications as your career choice?”

            “Project Manager,” I said.

            She wrote down “Home Economics Teacher.”

            I was admitted to UCLA, but they didn’t have a “Project Manager” major. I decided I could live temporarily with a popular major—Political Science.  Years later, people who’d majored in any social science quietly changed their majors on paper to impressive ones like Pre-Med, Pre-Law, Pre-Social Welfare, and Pre-Eclampsia.

            By the time I finished UCLA, I wanted to apply to graduate school. Once again none of the schools across the country offered a “Project Manager” major.  Meanwhile, since I had to pick something, I studied to become a social studies high school teacher and later a lawyer, both excellent careers to sharpen up one’s skills in public speaking and reading the “Want Ads.”

            The closest I came to my dream job was when computer dating became a reality and I filled out an application claiming to be a “Project Manager.”  At last I could come out with my career of choice. I sincerely believed the computer dating service when they insisted they would match me to men who would respect my Project Manager career goal. And in fact several potential dates on their applications claimed they were “open to new experiences” and “willing to meet a woman whose career goal was Project Manager” especially since, as one wrote, “I have nothing against bisexuals.”    

            Over the decades I searched repeatedly for a job opening as a Project Manager. When I got married and raised a family—though not with a computer date—I put aside the career dream.  Eventually I concluded that my two sons were probably not going to prison and I could resume looking for my elusive Project Manager job. A computer I acquired promised to make my job search easier and it did.

             However, to my astonishment there were now at least 42,000 Project Manager jobs on CareerBuilder, 1,000 Project Manager jobs on Monster.com, and 36,000 Project Manager jobs on Indeed! One site estimated there would be a need for 500,000 Project Manager Jobs in the near future! Project Manager jobs—MY original job of choice—-were everywhere!!

            Now there were too many people calling themselves Project Managers. I couldn’t get through the door for an interview.  Some Project Managers had to have such absurd backgrounds as contractors, architects, computer nerds, engineers, and MBAs. All to clog up the simple field of Project Management so they could remind everyone they’d aced Algebra 2, Calculus and Trig in high school. Other Project Manager jobs that required specific Project Manager experience were listed as available at nonprofits like poetry societies, nursery schools and cat-sitting services.

            I had no chance.

            Desperately, I went to the local state employment office where a career counselor administered several career assessment tests.

            The results were clear. The best two choices for me for a career?

            Project Manager.  Baptist Minister.

            The rueful career counselor said, “Look, you need to be realistic. Pick a traditional job—like sales—where your only competition is every recent college graduate and everyone in their 20s and 30s. But at least that narrows the field. Or pick a field that was formerly oversaturated and now occupied by only a few people. A field where you don’t need to go back to school, your college major doesn’t matter, you hardly need work experience, and your decades of unemployment won’t count. Best of all, a field where your business card alone will impress hell out of everyone.”

            Suddenly, it was clear. A bright future lay ahead. We both knew if I couldn’t be a Project Manager, there was that one job just tailor-made for me.

           “You’re right,” I said. “I’m going to be a Consultant.”


At the holiday season, I’m giving out gift cards to children to use at our local Barnes and Noble. This is the greatest present I can bestow because in this age of tech toys, nothing is more important than introducing a child to over-used public restrooms such as at Barnes and Noble, and how to survive them.

Our local B&N is my favorite hangout, but even during other times of the year the state of the women’s room could be most kindly described as “messy,” “dirty” or perhaps “decayed.” From reading all the paranoia-inducing news articles about bacteria and viruses invisibly crawling all over the restroom, I’ve developed protective methods to maneuver my way around the various deathtraps, like stall door handles, sink tap handles and worst of all, the handle of the door exiting the restroom.  Similarly, it’s not enough for children to learn to wash their hands after using the toilet. They must be shown how to use their feet to flush the toilet, how to grasp paper towels to turn off the taps, and how to pull down their sweater or coat sleeves to open the door handle of the exit door.

Most difficult of all is showing them—-where insensitive store personnel have not provided a waste basket next to the exit door—- how to hold the exit door open with a foot block (to avoid touching the door handle) while twisting the torso sideways to lay up and shoot the wadded roll of used paper towel into the towel waste dispenser that’s generally 50 feet away. This is a difficult maneuver for all ages and is a diagnosis known to physicians as PTSD [“Paper Towel-induced Shoulder Dislocation”].

Despite these precautions, it’s almost unavoidable when using a restroom, for one to step in small remnants of floor urine. I’ve heard repeatedly I shouldn’t worry about that because, as some annoying person will always insist, “Urine is sterile.” If that’s not comforting, consider that cabbages, tomatoes and other food we eat may have been treated with human urine.

How do I know that? A few years ago researchers at the University of Kuopio, whose most famous discovery was that Kuopio is in Finland, grew cabbages treated with conventional fertilizer, no fertilizer, or human urine. Result: The urine-treated cabbages grew bigger than the other groups and carried fewer germs. The university scientists then made sauerkraut from the cabbages, and while noting differences in flavors among the three groups, they liked all three equally.

You have to ask yourself how Finland, rated by one organization as having the finest education system in the world with all teachers earning masters degrees and 66% of students going on to college, is now best known for proving that human pee grows better crops? How would that be expressed by the Nobel Prize people? I’m quite concerned because pee for crops doesn’t seem to fall under the Nobel Prize for Physics or Medicine or Economic Sciences or Chemistry or Peace. That leaves Finland’s researchers at the University of Kuopio—-a name that emphasizes the “pio” and not long ago changed out of embarrassment to “University of Eastern Finland”—to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature for its contribution to Urine Studies.

I want to believe the Finns are intelligent and well-meaning, even if they want our farmers to urinate on our crops. In truth the only Finn I remember personally was Huckleberry. But my opinion of the Finns skyrocketed when I read how they treated the ice skating defenseman of the Dallas Stars, Stephane Robidas, who went to Finland to play with the Finnish League. Robidas said his playing “wasn’t as good as I would have hoped.” So how did the Finns make their American guest feel better?

“….I ate a lot of local food,” Robidas said. “I had reindeer, and it was unbelievable. They serve it with cranberry sauce, and it was so tender.”

This is the most outstanding contribution by the Finns.  Every year, the tireless, cooperative reindeer fly on Christmas thousands of miles around the world from Lapland, Finland where Santa lives. When the Big Trip is finished, they look forward to being recycled as pot roasts. To be served with potatoes, carrots, lutefisk and a casserole made from “scientifically grown” cabbage.

There’s one Finn I’m personally trying to get in touch with, especially at this holiday season of the crowded stores and squalid restrooms—–Nea Makala, the 6’2 star basketball player from Finland who’s burning up the courts at Northern Michigan University. She’s promised to show me how to sink a jump shot…..using a ball of wadded paper towels while blocking a restroom door with one foot.


‘Tis the season to celebrate, and no one is celebrating as much as the students at Harrison County, West Virginia high schools. Just last week, in a moment of rigidity, the Superintendent banned all high school dances because students were “grinding.”

Years ago my dentist accused me of “grinding.”  Then he made me a hard plastic mouth guard to prevent damage from grinding. That’s what those students need. Stopping a dance won’t prevent them from grinding. It’s possible students will still be grinding in classrooms, even in the presence of teachers and especially when they’re taking exams! But at least they’ll have protection from permanent dental injury.

I’ve been told that when students are grinding at a dance, they can be found slapping their pelvises repeatedly up against each other. Or one person’s pelvis collides with the back end of another (the “pelvee”) in suggestive ways. And young men experience a rigidity unrelated to school superintendents. These eyebrow-raising actions are purely the consequence of being a stressed-out, frustrated teenager.  Many grind at night in bed. At least a school dance affords the opportunity for students to grind in public, so they can share the experience and know they’re not alone.

The good news for the Harrison County high school students is that the Superintendant lifted the ban after realizing that grinding won’t stop just because students can’t dance. The Superintendant’s action does raise a critical question: In this day and age when the United States places 17th in the developed world for education, behind Estonia and Poland, what is more important to a student’s future—–math, physics, chemistry, or dancing? Yes, after years of educational neglect, dancing has finally been recognized as the key to a student’s socio-anthro-politico-psycho success.

Unfortunately, for decades “dancing” describes people on the dance floor standing separate from each other and bouncing, jumping, jerking, kicking, turning, twisting, kneeling, bending, but most important pretending they know how to dance. At Obama’s inauguration next month, Barack and Michelle, who will attend at least 10 official inaugural balls in one night, are having difficulty once again finding people to invite who—for the sake of international coverage—- can appear to dance together with arms enfolded around each other.

If you do not receive an invitation to the Obama inauguration, it’s because the 2010 census, which you probably refused to take, asked how many households know how to ballroom dance. It also asked if any members of the household have a problem with grinding.

Fortunately I learned to ballroom dance in the 8th grade. Our grade school, Duniway Elementary in Portland, Oregon, was blessed with a principal—M. Dale Schofield—who reputedly had been a dance instructor before developing a mental impairment and going into teaching. Every 8th grader attended his Friday night ballroom dancing class. We met in the school’s gym. Girls wore dresses, boys wore excessive perspiration.  After Mr. Schofield paired everyone up, we formed a large circle and, with Mr. Schofield in the center, we’d attempt to imitate his actions.

The first dance we learned was the Box Step, which is like writing an invisible square on the ground with your feet. I’d never heard anyone bragging about doing the “Box Step,” but Mr. Schofield said it was the basic step to learn other dances.  All of us newly-created partners practiced it repeatedly, our legs often tripping or blocking each other. Across the room a vinyl record player provided musical accompaniment with this song:

“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”

Fortunately, there was another verse:

“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”

In the weeks ahead I learned the waltz, foxtrot, tango and the swing. Eventually Mr. Schofield demonstrated the Latin American dances—-the samba, cha-cha, and rumba—for which we affably swung our hips while sultry music crooned on the phonograph:

“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”

To ensure a variety of partners, Mr. Schofield introduced us to people-swapping devices like the Snowball. I was always happy to dance with the taller boys since I towered over a lot of my female classmates.  I didn’t like holding my arms down to partially engulf shorter boys especially since their heads barely cleared my relatively new chest.

When I finally could reasonably dance in the arms of my favorite lofty boys, I began to notice a peculiar rock-hard sensation against my thigh. I’d subtly glance down at our legs to see if my partner’s denims were particularly lumpy with rivets. Finding no explanation, I’d try to ignore this stony protrusion.  I’d never noticed that several of the boys’ denims had the same bulging design.

In retrospect, I believe my unfortunate teenage dance partners at the time, coping with acne, sweaty palms and b.o., were grinding. Even those who wore bite plates and headgear were gnashing their teeth and holding me, well, stiffly. If Mr. Schofield was aware of this phenomenon, he didn’t let on. And being the wise man he was, he sure didn’t cancel any dances.