Monday, June 18, 2018

Lazarus Lizards

Dear George,
I frequently walk down our street to the public library which is about six blocks away.  In the middle of my journey I run across some cute little creatures sunning on the sidewalk who dart away into the grass as I approach.  I thought they were salamanders, but it turns out that they are European wall lizards (or common wall lizards).  In Cincinnati they’re called “Lazarus Lizards” (more about this below).  I’ve been seeing these little guys for years, but this spring I was surprised (actually very pleased) to discover that they’ve moved down the street to our patio and driveway.  Despite being in a big city, we have lots of wildlife in our yard — even deer at times — and I’m happy to welcome our new Lazarus Lizards.  Here’s a poem in their honor and a few facts too.  

Lazarus Lizards

We have brand new pets on our patio  
They’re skinny and green with the longest tails  
They look to be eight hundred million years old   
Older than meerkats or hippos or whales    

Lazarus Lizards are our new pets’ name  
Brought to Cincy by a twelve-year old boy  
Born in Italy, they’ve gained local fame   
Like Fiona, they give me much joy   

Our lizards enjoy sitting out in the sun 
They patiently wait, to entice an ant   
I snuck up, attempted to capture one  
So quick, off it went, disappeared in a plant 

Since we lost our dogs my heart has been sad
But with Lazarus Lizards, life’s isn’t half bad    

There are literally millions of Lazarus Lizards in Cincinnati, spread throughout the entire city and, from there, infiltrating parts of Northern Kentucky and down the Ohio River to eastern Indiana.  There are also colonies in British Columbia (escapees from a small zoo) and Long Island.  Native to Europe, they always live around people, e.g., in rock walls, piles of wood, cracks or crevices in a house.  Wall lizards grow up to seven inches in length; are green, gray, or brown in color; and have an angular head and long limbs and toes. There are several theories about the origins of wall lizards here, but the most widely accepted resulted when an elderly member of the local Lazarus department store family wrote to UC biologists who were studying the reptiles.  In 1951 at age 12  George Rau, stepson of Fred and Irma Lazarus, was vacationing with his family in Lake Garda, Italy, about 80 miles east of Milan.  He captured about ten local lizards, put them in a sock, and brought them back to their family home on Torrence Court in East Walnut Hills.  (Torrence Court is now known as Lizard Hill.)  Recently a UC biology graduate student has compared DNA samples from Cincinnati and Northern Italy, verifying their common ancestry.  Moreover, the very low genetic diversity of the Cincinnati lizards indicated that as few as three had survived the migration, eventually producing the millions that exist today.   Lazarus lizards have distinguishing features so that one can recognize individuals.  They come out in the morning, once the sun has warmed the rocks (or patio tiles), and will sit an wait for an insect.  While they’re very quick, they’re not skittish and sometimes humans can approach within a foot or two.  I say hello to a Lazarus Lizard or two every morning, and they brighten up my day.. 

SOURCES:, “‘Imported’ lizard flourishing with few predators.”  Mark Wert, Nov. 25, 2014., “They came from Italy.  Now, they outnumber us all.”  Carol Motsinger, Aug 31, 2017., Porarcis muralis.  

Monday, June 11, 2018

An Ode to Menominee (Circa 1949)

Oh, Menominee, true world of wonders
Water and forest, sunshine and snow 
Stretching three miles on the Green Bay shore 
Her southern border, the handsome Menominee River
Wisconsin right over the bridge

1890 logging capitol of the world
The surroundings, lush woodlands
Birches, pine, oaks, maples
Deer, bear, beaver, porcupines, foxes
The very edge of the Great White North
Gateway to the U.P.  

All U.P. towns are smallish
Menominee, the fourth largest 
Nine thousand, plus or minus a few 
German, Scandinavian, Polish, French
Catholics and Protestants, some non-believers too
Friendly, caring, honest, helpful  

Menominee people are an outdoor sort 
Camping, swimming, ice boating
Sailboat races to Mackinac Island
They say, the best bass fishing in the world
Muskies, whitefish, Northern pike
The first day of hunting season, time to skip school
Our county, the largest deer population in Michigan
At age 16 our dads brought us to Jean Worth’s camp   

Summers are the stuff of dreams 
Temperatures in the seventies, air so pure it sings
Hot dogs, firecrackers, softball at the circus grounds 
The winters, quite opposite, hardy and majestic 
Snowstorms with drifts three or four feet high
Icicles stretching from the eaves to the ground 
Cross-country skiing, plodding on snowshoes
Days off from school when our county road closed 

Boats from Milwaukee tied up in the harbor
Thursdays, bandshell concerts at Marina Park 
Only ten cents a ticket, matinees at the Opera House
Roy Rogers, Tom Mix, Laurel and Hardy
Playin at the Dome, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington
Every August, the Hagenbeck Circus 
Elephants, slapstick clowns, high-wire beauties   
We fed the deer, watched the buffaloes at Henes Park
Snuck into the stock car races at Spies Field
Cheered for the Menominee Maroons 
Afterwards, root beers at the A&W drive-in

Our family moved to our house on the river
We built rafts from old logs, rowed our boat through the channel
Caught snakes and fireflies, crayfish, toads
Were frightened by the snapping turtles feeding at dusk
And deadly quicksand at Mr. Shaver’s lagoon
Steve and I played basketball on the snow and ice
The Ideal Dairy, just one mile away
Lemon Flake ice cream, two dips for a nickel
We pulled our wagon to the city dump
Such treasures we brought home, you’d never believe 

Menominee was a safe and welcoming place
We children could go wherever we liked 
The whole town, within ten minutes on our bikes 
We never were scared to go anywhere
A pretty good place for young kids to grow up  

[Footnote: For more Menominee poems, see]

Monday, June 4, 2018


Dear George,
Katja and I got married at the Quaker chapel in Yellow Springs on August 28, 1960.  We drove to Dayton the month before to do some wedding purchases, including our rings.  Dayton’s three or four jewelry stores were on a single block on a downtown side street.  One of the shop owners had set up a table in front of his store, hawking items on sale.  We arranged to purchase two gold wedding bands from him, $19 apiece.  He had them inscribed “SKW - DCL, 8-28-60.”  

We left for graduate school a week after the wedding.  Three years later I was taking a social psychology seminar from Dr. Swanson in Mason Hall.  In the middle of a class session he said that the room was getting chilly and asked that someone close the window.  I stepped up on the windowsill, pulled the window down, and jumped back down to the floor.  Unfortunately my wedding ring got caught on the window latch, and, as I dropped to the floor, it tore the flesh half off of my ring finger before coming loose.  I was rushed to the emergency room, fantasizing that I would lose my finger and never be able to type again.  There goes my dissertation!  The male nurse tried to saw my ring off with a file but the ring was too strong.  After 30 or 40 minutes they sent me up to dental surgery, and the technician was able to cut my ring in two with a diamond drill.  He said that they have to cut a ring off a man’s finger at least once a week.  I decided that was it for me with wedding rings.  Happily my finger healed properly, and I was able to type again.  I still have the scar.  

Katja hasn’t been able to get her wedding band off for quite a long time, but that hasn’t bothered her.  Last week she went out to Sears to get some trashmasher bags.  Leaving the store, her open-toed shoe caught on the pavement, and she fell to the ground, landing on her left forearm.  She was able to drive to her scheduled massage, but the pain got too bad, and the massage therapist recommended going to the emergency room.  Katja came home, and we drove over to Good Sam.  The initial X-ray didn’t show a fracture, but, with all the bones in one’s hands, they couldn’t be 100% sure.  The doctor said that, because of the swelling, she would have to remove her rings.  The male technician successfully used lubricant to remove a recently acquired ring, but no luck with Katja’s wedding band.  He then used a ring cutter, though Katja’s ring was just as sturdy as mine had been.  Because of all the pain Katja was experiencing, this was a difficult procedure.  His first ring cutter broke, and he got a second one.  Finally success.  Leaving the two of us ringless of course.  

The episode was more distressing to me than you might think.  Aside from some photos and a few written documents, Katja’s wedding ring is the oldest physical object still in our possession.  Not only is it a symbol of our marriage, but it’s associated so directly with young love, our momentous step in getting married, our commerce with a sidewalk jewelry vendor, and all the other things going on with getting married at the time.   The destruction of Katja’s ring felt like the end of an era.  At least we had one wedding ring in the family, but now we are down to zero.  Probably a more encouraging approach is to think of it as a new beginning.  Katja even suggested that I might want to get a new wedding ring.  After 55 years without a wedding ring, I’m giving it some thought.   

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Memorial Day 2018

Dear George,
In my youth (and I’m sure it’s the case now) my hometown of Menominee celebrated Memorial Day with the year’s largest parade, heading north on Sheridan Road and then west on Ogden Avenue.  Our boy scout troop marched in the parade, and we prepared for months beforehand.  This was shortly after the end of World War II, and the war had had a life-altering impact on everyone.  My dad was in the navy, stationed in the Pacific, and my uncles Kent and Karl were in the army, fighting in Europe.  Many family friends served in the Army, Navy, and Marines. 

Memorial Day has a long history.  First known as Decoration Day, it originated shortly after the Civil War, with observances in numerous towns and cities.  Waterloo, NY, has been designated the official birthplace of Memorial Day.  Businesses were closed, and residents decorated the graves of Union soldiers.  In 1868 General John A. Logan called for a nationwide day of remembrance on May 30 for soldiers who died in the Civil War, calling it Decoration Day.   With major U.S. losses in World War I, the newly named Memorial Day evolved to commemorate American military deaths in all wars.  In 1968 Congress established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. (4)       

Below are the estimated numbers of American military deaths in major wars and percentages of military deaths per total U.S. population. (8)  I’ve also added a list of Menominee County Vietnam war dead (my and my siblings’ generation) (10) and miscellaneous facts about World War II, many horrendous, some quirky.

Table: Military deaths and deaths as a percent of the U.S. population.  

Civil War (1861-65) 655,000 (2.4%)
World War II (1941-45) 405,399 (0.3%)
World War I (1917-18) 116,516 (0.1%)
Vietnam War (1955-75)          58,209 (0.03%)
Korean War (1950-53)           54,246 (0.04%)
Revolutionary War (1775-83) 25,000 (1.0%)
War of 1812 (1812-15)          15,000 (0.2%)
Mexican-Amer. War (1846-48)       13,283 (0.06%)
Iraq War (2003-11)             4,497 (0.002%)
Philippine-Amer. War(1899-1902)    4,196 (0.006%)
Spanish-American War (1898)      2,246 (—)
War in Afghanistan (2001-pres.)    2,216 (—)

Vietnam War Dead (Menominee County) 
William Richard Alfredson, Army
Wayne Richard Bebo, Army
Wayne David Johnson, Army
David John Klippel, Army 
Michael Conrad Larsen, Army
William Benedict Nolde, Army* 
Ronald Joseph Phelps, Marines
Jon William Rich, Army
Dennis Lawrence Stiglitz, Army
Albert James Van Horn, Marines
*Colonel William Benedicdt Nolde, a professor of military science at Central Michigan University before joining the army, was the last official combat casualty of the Vietnam War, dying just 11 hours before the beginning of the cease fire on 1-27-73.  Serving in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War, he was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Vietnam Service Medal, Air Medal, and Vietnam Campaign Medal.  (8)

Miscellaneous World War II Facts
  • There were between 50 million and 70 million casualties in World War II.  80% came from four countries: Russian, China, Germany, and Poland.  Over 50% of casualties were civilians, a majority of them women and children.  (1) 
  • 80% of males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 died during the war.  (1) 
  • At the beginning of WW II, the U.S. army was smaller than the army of Portugal.  (3) 
  • The Gulf War cost America $306 per person; the Korean War, $2,266 per person; and World War II, $20,388 per person.   (3)  
  • The Battle of the Bulge was the deadliest battle for U.S. troops, with over 80,000 American casualties.  (2) 
  • The Nazis murdered approximately 12 million people during the war, nearly 6 million being Jews killed in the Holocaust.  (2) 
  • To avoid using the German-sounding name “hamburger” during the war, Americans used the name “Liberty Steak”.  (1) 
  • A well established Nazi party operated in the U.S. until 1940, Henry Ford being one of the major financial backers.  (5)  
  • The Nazis stole the Harvard “fight song” to compose their “Sieg Heil” March.  (2) 
  • Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, opened 6 years before WW II.  (3) 
  • London zookeepers killed all their venomous animals in case the zoo was bombed and the animals were to escape.  (3) 
  • The invasion of Okinawa (40,000 U.S. troops) was larger than the D-Day invasion (24,000 U.S., British, and Canadian troops).  (5) 
  • A Polish Army bear named Wojtek carried boxes of shells to the frontline and was taught to salute.  (3) 
  • A serviceman in the U.S. Air Corps had a 71% chance of dying during World War II.  (7) 
  • The American 8th Air Force brought down one enemy fighter for every 12,700 shots fired.  (7) 
  • WW II American pilot Nicholas Alkemade survived a fall from 18,000 feet without a parachute, crashing through a glass roof and suffering only a sprained leg.  (3) 
  • The Mosque of Paris helped Jews escape the Nazis by giving them Muslim ID’s.  (3) 
  • During WW II Japan bombed China with fleas infected with bubonic plague.  (3) 
  • 21% of U.S. casualties in WW II occurred through friendly fire.  (3) 
  • At Buckingham Palace Queen Elizabeth taught herself to shoot in case a German parachutist attacked.  (3) 
  • The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima destroyed 90% of the city and killed 80,000 people.  (9) 
  • The intended target of America’s second atomic bomb was Kokura (pop. 130,000), but it was shrouded in fog and planes were rerouted to Nagasaki.  (6) 
(1); (2); (3) fact;  (4); (5);  (6);  (7);  (8); (9); (10) 

Monday, May 21, 2018

What Are Your Innermost Thoughts About the President?

Sara Huckabee Sanders, Press Secretary
What have I gotten myself into?
Defending my boss to the press 
He changes his mind every second
Sean warned me that this is a mess 

Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy
The Trumpster and I, we are good old boys
We’re true backers of oil and coal
We’ll soon be rid of wind and of solar 
To make the rich richer — our goal 

Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House
Like Tillerson said, he’s a moron
But this could be great for the House 
It means we can set the agenda 
That’s why I must act like a mouse 

Rudy Giuliani, Personal lawyer
The Donald and I are like peas in a pod
New Yorkers, we like to spout off
So many felonies I’m trying to hide
To his credit, he has a good coiffe

Sean Hannity, Political commentator
Thanks to the president, Fox News is now king
We’re so blessed he has no information 
He tunes in all day to our talk show hosts
So it’s Fox that is running the nation 

Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education
We billionaires stick together
That’s why I’m in charge of the schools
My aim is to serve the religious right
Most teachers are nothing but fools 

Michel Cohen, Personal lawyer
I know more than Mueller about goings-on
Many facts that I’ll never reveal
It’s true that we’re antsy about Russia
But the Stormy thing, that is surreal

Mike Pence, Vice-President
It’s true that our president is morally depraved 
But so far I’ve played my cards right 
I just keep quiet, put on a bland smile
With impeachment, I’ll win the whole fight  

David Dukes, Louisiana politician, white supremacist, anti-Semite
These are the best times we’ve ever had
White nationalism has risen from its grave
Trump will get rid of the immigrants
It’s us white racist Christians he’ll save

Barack Obama, former President
I try to avoid foul obscenities
But this guy is clearly a (blank) 
He’s cancelling everything good we achieved
And, trust me, I’m not being a crank 

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia
Trump is much better than we ever had hoped
So good we made him man of the hour
The more pacts he breaks, the stronger we get
Putin Russia, a new super-power

James Comey, ex-FBI director
I released all that stuff about Hilary
But kept silent about Russian collusion
I never foresaw what a nightmare we’d have
Democracy, it’s now an illusion

Hilary Clinton, Presidential candidate
This is the worst scandal ever
I was eighty times more qualified
Trump was elected by deplorables
I went to the forest and cried

Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea
This strange person calls me Rocket-Man
But look at the attention I get
He’ll help me take over South Korea
He’s the most clueless president yet 

John McCain, Republican senator 
A terrible time to be gravely ill
I want to stand up to this tyrant
He’s dragged our party down the sewer 
I’ve begged Mitch to be more defiant

Rachel Maddow, MSNBC commentator
In the boring old days no one tuned me in 
But now I’ve got three million viewers 
There’s crazy Trump news every single day 
I love doing in the wrongdoers 

Donald Trump, President
I didn’t even want to be President
But so huge that I won over Hilary 
The greatest comeback in history
Now I get to ravage and pillory

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Savage, Heartless So-and-So's

Dear George,
We arrived home from our recent seashore vacation in the best of moods.  Unfortunately, that was short-lived.  The first thing Katja did was to go through our accumulated mail.  Midway in that task, she opened a letter from our insurance company which announced that our automobile insurance would be terminated in four weeks.  My reaction was a mix of shock and outrage.  We’ve been clients of this company and its predecessor for fifty years, and both of us have near-perfect driving histories.  I haven’t had a ticket since 1969; Katja, one or two.  “This is nothing but age-discrimination!” I blurted out.  

After I calmed down and read their letter more carefully, their facts were more or less accurate.  We each had filed claims for two accidents in the past four years.  Two of these were “real” accidents, i.e., moving collisions where we were at fault and which resulted in moderate damage.  The other two were minor fender-benders while parking or backing out of parking spaces.  If we’d had our wits about us, we would have paid for the minor damage out of pocket in these two cases and avoided jeopardy to our insurance. 

For the subsequent week I’ve been in a state of nervous collapse.  Being pretty old, I decided that we would never get insurance again.  That was workable, I decided.  We live right on the edge of the Clifton business district, and between the grocery, the drugstore, the hardware store, restaurants, movie theater, and multiple ethnic clothing stores, nearly all life needs can be met within two or three blocks.  It would be like living in a rural French village.  Katja prefers to drive ten miles and shop at the fancy mall, but that’s more of a recreational thing than a necessity.  We would probably give up the theater and the symphony.   If need be, we could call Uber (which our son J fortuitously set up on Katja’s phone several months ago).  I don’t like the idea of Ubering around, but it’s better than nothing.  

We called the insurance company, and they were no help.  They suggested an alternative company who would give us a policy at four times our current rate.  I would rather live in a French village and walk.  Instead I posted a blurb on our neighborhood website, asking if anyone could recommend a helpful insurance agent.  Half a dozen people responded, and, after looking at available websites, we picked the one recommended by Alissa J.   We met with the agent on Friday, and he took a bunch of facts and assured us that we would get a new policy.  I asked the pivotal question at the end, “Am I going to be able to start sleeping again?”  He assured me that I can.  I have slept better, but I’m going to be fully relieved when we sign a new contract.  (What I took away from all this: Be careful about filing claims with the [evil] insurance company.)