Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A GR8 Solution for the G-8

For the past decade, whenever the G-8 hold a meeting, no matter what city they choose, every conceivable protestor of every conceivable political stripe shows up to protest and, invariably, the protests degenerate into riots. To me, the solution is simplicity itself: someone ought to get out a copy of a world atlas and make a list of good-sized uninhabited islands more than twenty miles from shore. Even if a few protestors will get into boats, it is much easier to control a few dozen boats than a few dozen thousand indignant pedestrians.

A "Good Shooting"

Almost forty years ago, a seventeen-year-old kid in Columbus, Ohio decided that the best way he could advance his economic interest was to rob a filling station at gunpoint. Unfortunately for him, the Columbus Police Department arrived before he could leave the premises. Even more unfortunately, he pointed his gun at one of the officers. That officer fired once, striking the would-be robber in the head, killing him instantly.

Years later, I got to know that police officer, Ron Larimer, pretty well. I used to date his sister. I ultimately concluded that, I would have loved to have had Ron as a brother-in-law, just so long as I didn’t have to marry his sister to do it. He once told me about that shooting incident and that, for months afterward, he had nightmares.

After I broke up with Ron’s sister, I didn’t have occasion to talk with him for over twenty years. One day, I was doing a bit of research about a question of Columbus police procedure, and I called Ron for the answer. He had long since retired, and we had a good time catching up. When I mentioned that he had told me about his months of nightmares after that shooting, he was quiet for a few seconds, and then slowly said, “I had nightmares for *years* afterwards.”

That is, perhaps, the most insidious aspect of violence on television. I recently read that, in real life, *half* of all police officers involved in fatal shootings, leave the profession within a year. In TV shootings, no one is ever traumatized for more than a few seconds, or until the next commercial break.

Not From Around Here?

When my paternal grandmother died in 1969, my father and mother went down to Osceola, Arkansas to fix up my grandmother’s house in preparation of putting it on the market. When they arrived at the house , my mother saw my grandmother’s “colored” cleaning lady. (Please note: in 1969, in Osceola, Arkansas, the *polite* term for a cleaning person of African ancestry was “colored.”) on her hands and knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor. My mother, being the good Kansas farm girl she was, immediately grabbed a rag, dipped it in the water and began scrubbing the other end of the kitchen floor.

My grandmother’s cleaning lady did a double-take, was silent for a while, and then commented, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

That story has always made me very proud of my mother.

Bing Crosby

I’m not *at* *all* fond of Christmas- Partially because it coincided so closely with my mother’s death in 1975. I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds the sound of Bing Crosby crooning “White Christmas” both obnoxious and depressing, since it brings to mind some hopelessly idealized vision of ecstatic Christmas happiness.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned a couple things that made me feel better. Bing had four sons by his first wife. The eldest, Gary Crosby, achieved a modicum of success as an actor playing a supporting role as a Los Angeles cop in Adam-12. Gary Crosby wrote a book called Going My Own Way, in which he excoriated his father as being a terrible parent. His youngest brother disputed those claims, so who knows where the truth lies? One aspect of the Crosby family that strikes me as absolutely *ghastly* is that Bing’s second and third sons, who were twins, both committed suicide. Sounds to me as though there was something seriously wrong in that household.

The last piece of evidence for me is that fact that Bing Crosby was a *fabulously* wealthy man and, when he died, he left his sons trust funds that they could not collect on until their *sixtieth* birthdays. Ironically, none of his four sons lived that long. So cheer up, people. Don’t let Bing singing “White Christmas” get you down. I’ll bet his family was a *lot* more dysfunctional than yours.”

Bing Crosby in a rare toupee-less moment.

Another "Daycare Defector"

One of my dearest friends is an extraordinarily sweet-natured woman named Barbara who has three children who are currently either in college, or have graduated. I remember watching her play with her children years ago and thinking about how lucky those children are to have such a wonderful mother. Over the years, that impression has only grown stronger. (A few years ago, she took in one of her nephews, who was in his late teens, another testament to the goodness of her heart.) I was impressed with her as a mother to begin with, but all the more so when I learned that she operates a daycare center, caring for between five and eleven preschoolers. (My collaborator just said that isn’t so bad if you have the right cages.)

Barbara is the only woman I’ve ever met who *might* be accused of being too good a mother. She occasionally unintentionally embarrasses other mothers. I recently learned that a three-year-old child, after having completed a stint at Miss Barbara’s Daycare, ran away from home. The kid ran to Miss Barbara’s home. This is *not* the first time such a thing has happened. (A couple of years ago, different 3 year old, same destination) I’m not entirely sure whether this indicates that the child’s birth parents should take a good, long look at themselves, or that this is another indication that Miss Barbara is Supermom, or both.

Merlin Olsen: Football Star, Florist and Actor

Merlin Olson was always one of my favorite football players. He played *fifteen* *years* in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams and made All-Pro every year until, finally, old age and knee injuries caught up with him. People younger than I, no doubt, know him as a TV sports color commentator and as the most successful flower salesman FTD has ever had.

He always comes across as being very thoughtful and well-spoken. If I ever met him, I would seriously consider politely asking him if he was okay with being hugged by a total stranger. (He not only earned his college degree, but picked up an MBA, graduating cum laude.) He also achieved a certain amount of success as an actor. Once, at a Hollywood party, as Merlin was sipping a fruit juice (as a devout Mormon, drinking alcohol is a no-no), his teammate Roman Gabriel mentioned that he had an offer to be in a movie and asked if Merlin would like to join the production. There was a part in the film that was perfect for him.

Merlin asked, “Is it fun?”


“Do you make money?”

And a Hollywood legend was born. The film was a John Wayne/Rock Hudson vehicle called "The Undefeated". Although Olsen only had about ten lines and had no previous acting training, I seriously doubt that Brando, Olivier, Gielgud or DeNiro could have played the part of “Little George” the blacksmith, as well as Merlin Olson did. You see, the key to that part was that they needed someone who was huge enough to dwarf both John Wayne and Rock Hudson by comparison. Since Merlin stands 6’5” and was 275 pounds of solid muscle, so he fit the bill quite well.

This was not the end of Merlin Olson’s acting career. Many viewers may recall him in the role of the Ingalls family’s next-door neighbor in Little House on the Prairie. Olsen looks big enough to wrestle a bear, but gentle enough that you'd trust him to hold your pet parakeet in the palm of his hand.

Audiences found Olsen’s presence and manner so appealing that, in 1981, he even got the opportunity to play title role in a TV drama called Father Murphy. In it, he played a benevolent fellow posing as a monk so he could help a group of orphans. (How schmaltzy can you get?) The series did run into one snag early on. In one episode, the script called for Father Murphy to get the news that a nefarious group of bad guys were going to shut down the orphanage and convert it into a sweatshop. The script also called for Father Murphy to fly into a rage. They did a take, but the director told Merlin he wasn’t producing a suitable rage, so they shot another take, and another, and another and another. Finally, when it became clear that they weren’t get a good “rage” out of Merlin Olson, the TV execs asked Merlin why he couldn’t even pretend to be angry. He told them that it was probably the result of something his parents had told him almost thirty years earlier. He was almost full-grown at the very early age of twelve. Even for a kid his size, he was possessed of a near-Herculean strength. One day, his parents sat him down for a talk. They told him, “Merlin, do not EVER lose your temper. You could kill someone if you do!”

The series was cancelled after one season. I just love that story because, while it proves that while Merlin Olson may not be a great actor, he is a truly *outstanding* human being.

Romping With Wrigley

During my five-year stint as a public defender in Bethel, Alaska, one of my greatest joys was my occasional visits from my coworker’s extremely vocal beagle, Wrigley. The dog and I had an understanding. I kept a large box of dog biscuits in my filing cabinet and would feed that critter as many as he wanted. In return, Wrigley would make it clear that he thought I was absolutely, positively the most wonderful person in the world. This was downright therapeutic for me after having disgruntled clients calling me *everything* but a Precious Child of God 8-5 Monday through Friday.

Wrigley would run away from home, lurk outside the public defender’s office door and dart in at his first opportunity. He would then scamper down the hall and scamper to my office door, scratching and trying to turn the doorknob with his paws. This was a sight that never failed to crack me up. Furthermore, Wrigley did not bark like most dogs. That critter *hooooooooooooooowled*. I do not have an English-to-Beaglish dictionary, but I *think* he was saying, “Biscuits! Biscuits! I want biscuits right now!”

I told Wrigley’s owner that the dog was a talented creature. Not only could he sing, but he could dance. I would hold up a biscuit, and Wrigley would dance on his hind legs, trying to snatch the biscuit from my hand.. I’ve noticed that some dogs are dainty eaters. Wrigley could scarf one down in two seconds flat, then look at me as if to say, “So...... what have you done for me lately?”

The biscuit box gave instructions to only give a dog one biscuit for every seven pounds of body weight; I suspect that Wrigley may be the world’s only 147-pound beagle. If I ran out of biscuits or, as happened only occasionally, Wrigley had satisfied his appetite, the dog would run around in no apparent direction looking for a sunny place to nap. I once told Wrigley’s owner that it seemed that her dog’s life consisted of two occasions: happy hour and nappy hour. Who says that leading a dog’s life is a bad thing? Sad to say, Wrigley’s owner eventually told me to stop feeding her pet because she feared that Wrigley might get hit by a car on his way to partake of the biscuit buffet.

While I was in Alaska, I made a point of calling my father once a week. This strikes me as something a dutiful son would do, even if he has *major* issues with his father. Once time, I told my father about the joy Wrigley brought me. The next week, I committed the unpardonable gaffe of mentioning Wrigley a second time. Dad cut me off with, “I have heard all I care to hear about that dog.” I was *steamed*. So I spent the next week keeping a very careful count of the cases that our office dealt with. The next weekend, when I called my father, and he asked me what was going on, I informed him 1) that the domestic violence case against one of my clients had been dismissed because he had finally gotten around to actually killing his commonlaw wife and was facing second-degree murder charges, 2) that a DWI client was going to get his charge dismissed because he managed to drive his snow machine over thin ice and fell into the chilly waters of a local river and drowned and 3) We had a teenage client commit suicide and 4) that someone had broken into the house of our receptionist’s parents, had beaten and raped her mother and had beaten her father so badly that it was unclear whether he would live, or, if he lived, he would spend the rest of his life in a vegetative state.

After reciting that list, there was a *long* moment of silence on the other end of the phone. I then asked my father, “Is it really so [expletive deleted] TERRIBLE that I like talking about a happy little beagle who howls for joy when he sees me?

Schwarzkopf's Casting Choice

After General H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s retirement, some people have asked him which actor should portray him if they ever make a movie based on Desert Storm. I’m pleased to note that Schwarzkopf has a sense of humor. When Jay Leno asked him, he said, “Well, they’re considering the lookalikes…Tom Selleck, Tom Cruise and Burt Reynolds...” (He then waited for the laughter to die down.) “But the best choice would have to be Danny DeVito.”

p.s. Am I the only person to notice that General Schwarzkopf is a ringer for Jonathan Winters?

Stanley Tucci's Crazy Casting Choices

Stanley Tucci is an extraordinarily talented actor (I find it *quite* refreshing to see that a man can achieve success in Hollywood without having a full head of hair), but I sometimes wonder about the roles he chooses to play. While he played one of the resteranteur brothers in "Big Night" and Joe Mitchell in "Joe Gould’s Secret," quite frequently, he is typecast in the roles of sinister villains. He played a hit man in The Pelican Brief, the mobster Frank Nitti in The Road to Perdition and, in Billy Bathgate, he played the infamous Charlie “Lucky” Luciano. He only had two scenes, but his presence and manner was positively bone-chilling.

I once read that Mr. Tucci had gotten sick and tired of being typecast as a mobster and that he announced he would not play any more of those roles. Ironically, shortly thereafter, he appeared in Conspiracy, which is about the infamous Wannsee Conference in early 1942. Stanley Tucci played Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann.

Since I started composing this snippet, I learned that Mr. Tucci is playing a major role in the new film "The Lovely Bones." He plays the Man Next Door...who rapes and murders a teenage girl.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Christmas Shopping Story

The story goes that the Three Wise Kings have gotten to the crest of the last hill outside Betheleham, and can even see the manger. The first king says, "This is great. I searched all over India, and I've got the finest frankincense in all of India to give to the Christ child."

The second king says, "Me too! I searched all over China for the finest gold ornaments to give to the Christ child."

And the third king says, "Uh....do you think there will be any stores open this late on Christmas Eve?"

Chicago Stories

Way back in December of 1984, I participated in Notre Dame Law School's GALILEE program (Group Alternative Live-in Legal Experience). Basically, for several days, we got a guided tour of every do-gooder organization in Chicago. (In this case 'do-gooder' is not pejorative.)

Part of the proram was an 8-hour ride along with the Chicago police in the Second Division- the Chicago projects. My father once told me that the way you could tell you were in a bad neighborhood was that police worked in pairs. As the two cops I was assigned to ride with got ready to hit the street, I noticed that they were both wearing second chance vests, and both carrying *two* Glock 9mm *each*- with a spare magazine for each weapon. It went through my mind, between the two of them, they felt the need to carry a total of 136 rounds of ammunition- dang, why don't they just carry M-16 assault rifles and be done with it! I learned that both of the officers had on lawsuits against the city in disputes over pay- getting transfered to the 2nd Division as the city's way of punishing them. (I heard one cop say that getting a transfer to the Projects was the city's way of taking away your birthday.)

It was a *bitter* cold night with a lot of snow on the ground with a strong wind- I'd say the temperature was near zero Fahrenheit with a wind chill of maybe 20 below. We passed one street corner where there ere maybe two dozen people standing around. "*What*", I asked, "are those people doing out there on a night like this?"

"Waiting to score drugs" one of the cops told me.

During the ride along the two cops (both of whom were white) made some comments about the people of the community that I did not particularly approve of, but my sense of self-preservation completely overroad any considerations of political correctness. I figured if I ticked those guys off, they could just dump me out of the cruiser- and I'd be lucky if I made it two blocks.

About a year and a helf later, I drove into Chicago on the Dan Ryan Expressway, going to a job interview, and I had my galpal, Kathy, along with me. I was thinking, gotta get to the interview, gotta get to the interview, gotta get to the interview. And then my car developed engine trouble. I pulled off the Dan Ryan, and *lucky* *me*- immediately found a garage. And I'm thinking, gotta get to the interview, gotta get to the interview, gotta get to the interview, so I said to the owner, "Fix whatever needs to be fixed, and please call a cab for me."

Then the garage owner said the eleven scariest words I've ever heard in my entire life: "You think a cab is going to come into *this* neighborhood?"

And I was thinking, how do I get out of this neighborhood *alive*?

It was about two blocks to a bus stop, and about the longest couple of minutes of my life getting to the L station. After our train left the station, Kathy was teasing me because I was very close to hyperventilating. I did not get the job; however, I did make it home alive, so I had no complaints whatsoever.

Quite a few years I told that story to a friend who'd lived in Chicago. Somewhat to my surprise, her husband told me a story that topped mine. One day he was dressed up (for a job interview?) and for reasons I no longer remember, found himself in that same part of Chicago. A couple of the locals saw him, did a double take, and then asked him, "Are you a *cop*?"


"Are you a *doctor*?"


Pause. Looooong moment of silence. The two guys looked at each other, and then asked, "Do you know where the L station is?"


With that, the two gentlemen from the hood *walked* him to the L station, stood by him until a train arrived, and waved to him as the train pulled out of the station.

Is there a moral to this story? Hmmmm...how about, even in some *really* bad neighborhoods, sometimes you can be lucky enough to meet some *really* good people.

Vienna Mystery Revealed

I recently retold a story I read about in one of Viktor Suvorov's books: back in the late 60s, a huge package, several meters square, weighing several tons- with no radioactive or magnetic emissions- was sent from the Soviet embassy in Vienna back to Moscow via 'diplomatic pouch.' What was in the package?

Several years earlier, when Krushchev took power, some party flak had a bright idea: to publish a fawning biography of the new General Secretary. All Soviet embassies throughout the world received thousands of copies. Big problem: just about *nobody* would buy a copy. That was *not* what the foreign ministry back in Moscow wanted to hear- all the embassies were *strongly* encouraged to step up sales. The embassies soon learned that they couldn't even give away copies. Finally, the embassy in Vienna hit upon a brilliant idea- buy up thousands of copies of the Khrushchev biography, and stow them in the embassy attic- stacked floor to ceiling and wall to wall- and there they remained for many years, gathering dust. Until one day, the head GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence) officer asked the Ambassador for more space.

"How about the attic?"

"Uh...no, that's already taken."

"With *what*?"

"Thousands and thousands and thousands of copies of unsold Khrushchev biographies."

"No problem, we'll just put them out in the garbage."

"*Huge* problem- word will get out, and there will be a huge scandal, and the people responsible will have their careers ruined (or maybe imprisoned or even *shot*)."

"Okay, how about we just burn them?"

"No way- word gets out that a Soviet Embassy is burning documents- usually an immediate prelude to war- *huge* international incident- the people responsible will have their careers ruined- maybe even imprisoned or *shot*."

Soooo, the GRU officer finally came up with the bright idea of sending all those unused, unread, unwanted copies of Khruschev's biography back to Moscow by diplomatic pouch. (By this time, the Communist Party of the USSR had a new General Secretary- and Khrushchev had long since breathed his last).

All things considered, I'm *really* glad the West won the Cold War.

Bernie Madoff

I learned that, contrary to earlier reports, apparently Bernie Madoff is *not* in the hospital as a result of his fellow inmates beating the hell out of him. This might be a bit mean-spirited of me, but I think it would be quite fitting if the other convicts got in the spirit of the season- and used Bernie as a pinata.

Mink Farming Question

My father once told him that a distant relative of his once had a mink farm many years ago- and the question they always got was "How many pelts can you get off a mink?"

After hearing that same question a few too many times, they finally came up with the answer "Only two, because after you skin a mink that *second* time, the mink gets *so* irritable, they're just about impossible to work with."

Washington Wizards

For the benefit of anyone who does not fellow the National Basketball Association, for about thirty years, there was a team in Baltimore, called the Baltimore Bullets. Until 1996, when the team's oner, Abe Pollin, moved the team a few miles down the road to Washington D.C., and renamed the team the Wizards. Political correctness strikes again. Of course, naming the team something other than the Bullets would solve the problems of crime and violence in the nation's capital. (A note to my non-American readers: try looking of the rates of violent crime in the District of Columbia for the past fifty years. Your eyes are likely to pop out of your head. So much for the effectiveness of strict gun control laws- for over three decades DC had the nation's strictest.) Of course, some smart alecks pointed out that 'Wizard' is usually the name given to a leader of the Klu Klux Klan; pretty ironic in a city that is overwelmingly black.

A few days ago, two of the Wizards, Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, got into an altercation in the locker room, and although reports differ (dispute over a gambling debt?), the two reportedly drew guns on each other. *sigh* The thing that amazes me about this is that Mr. Arenas recently signed a 6 year contract- for $111 *million*. If I was that rich, making $18.5million a year, would I let *anything* bother me enough to pull a gun? I think I'd manage to settle any gambling debts- and if I had concerns for my safety, I think I'd hire a whole bunch of bodyguards. (It's a very good bet that Mr. Crittenton is a multi-millioniare too.) It remains to be seen what action the District Attorney and the NBA will take.

In view of those two gentlemens' maturity, good sense and generally exemplary behavior, perhaps the Pollin family should borrow a phrase from the UK...and rename their team the Washington Wankers.

Yale Limerick

On the chest of a barmaid at Yale
Were tattooed all the prices of ale
And on her behind
For the sake of the blind
Was the same information in braille.


As a student of Military History, I started reading about Erwin Rommel when I was quite young. I find it impossible not to admire him; but it would be a *huge* mistake to admire him too much.

Rommel's physical courage, and tactical skill, his "fingerspitzengefuhl" (feeling at the fingertips) was the stuff of legend: in the First World War, He led troops against the Romanians, Italians, and French- he was wounded three times; captured- he escaped; he won the Iron Cross second class, Iron Cross first class, *and* the Pour le Merit (most of *those* were won posthumously). He had to have had *amazing* luck to have survived until Nov. 11, 1918.