Monday, August 31, 2009

The McDonald Boys: A Gruesome Menominee Tale

Dear George,


For years I’ve done daily e-bay searches on Menominee, looking for antique postcards and other paper ephemera.  By chance, I ran across the grisly image above, a photo of the lynching of the McDonald Boys in Menominee in 1881.  The starting bid was $15, too high for my tastes, but, for the heck of it, I forwarded the e-bay page to my brother Peter who I knew would be curious about this bit of Menominee’s past.  A month later, an envelope containing the e-bay photo arrived in our mailbox.  That Peter!  I framed it and hung it over my desk, and Peter’s gift prompted me to do some research on what turned out to be an interesting, if macabre, story. 


The Menominee lynching was one of the most notorious in Michigan history.  It took place on September 27, 1881.  The victims were two lumberjacks from Canada, Frank McDonald and John McDougal.  They were known as the McDonald Boys, though they were actually cousins, and they were described at the time as “very fine fellows, except when they were drunk, when they were always fighting with knives.”  The cousins had come to town after a log drive for the Bay Shore Lumber Co. and gone to a local bordello in Frenchtown where they saw an old enemy at the bar, Billy Kittson, drinking with some prostitutes.  Billy and his two brothers were the sons of an Englishman and a Menominee Indian woman.  Their family had moved to Menominee after their home was destroyed in the Peshtigo fire in 1871, and Billy had recently helped his deputy sheriff brother George send Frank McDonald to prison.  Harsh words between the two men escalated into a fight, and Billy Kittson broke a whisky bottle over Frank’s head.  Billy, drunk, staggered out into the street to tell his brother about his victory, but the McDonald boys followed him, and John stabbed Billy in the back with a large hunting knife.  Billy’s brother, Norman, seeing this, joined the fight and was immediately stabbed in the neck by Frank McDonald.  Billy made his way into the nearest bar, ordered drinks for the house, and then keeled over dead. 


The McDonald Boys tried to flee town by train, but the county sheriff arrested them and placed them in the Menominee jail.  Executions had been banned in the state of Michigan, and Max Forvilly, owner of the largest bar in town, was talking up the idea of a lynching.  County officials were nervous about the prisoners’ safety and requested reinforcements from the Grand Army of the Republic chapter.  After a day of drinking and angry talk, many of Forvilly’s customers were ready to take action.  Despite the heavy guard at the jail, the mob stormed the rear of the courthouse, broke into the jail, smashed the cell doors with a large log, pulled the inmates out of their cell, and looped nooses around each of their necks.  The ends of the ropes were tied to the back of a horse and wagon, and the McDonald boys were dragged through the mud of Menominee’s streets.  As the victims passed by, lumberjacks stomped on their bodies, while others rode on them for a distance.


When they reached the Chicago & Northwestern R.R. tracks, the mob strung the bodies up on one of the railroad crossing signs and then threw rocks and garbage at them.  When they tired of this, the crowd hauled the bodies back to the bordello where the original fight had taken place.  It’s claimed that the prostitutes were forced to lie with the muddy, bloodied bodies.  The bodies were then hung from a jackpine and left for the prostitutes to contemplate.  After the mob dispersed, the McDonalds were taken to the Riverside Cemetery where they were buried side by side in the potter’s field, their graves remaining there to the present day.


Max Forvilly was arrested and tried for his role in the lynching, but he was found not guilty by a jury.  However, he lost his hotel and everything he had, went mad, and died on a little farm on Peshtigo Sugar Bush. Legend has it that the ringleaders of the lynching  “died with their boots on,” many of them in fact meeting violent and bizarre deaths.  The McDonald Boys themselves lived on in perpetuity via a ballad which commemorated their story.  Here are the last two stanzas:


May God forgive those Kitchen boys

For all their crimes through life;

‘N’ sheriff Rupright’s days be bright,

He protected us that night.

For he was brave and manly,

His heart was stout and proud.

But he was forced to yield (that night)

Before so fierce a crowd.


Now the jail is broke and the mob is in,

And there’s one more word to say.

Send a letter to our dear mother

Who’s home in Canaday.

It will make her feel heartbroken

And fill her heart with pain.

For to think she never more shall see

Her darling boys again.







Barnett, LeRoy.  Lynch law in Michigan.   Historical Society of Michigan Chronicle, 2005, 28 (1), 10-13.

Dorson, Richard Mercer.  Bloodstoppers and Bearwalkers.  Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 19XX.

Karamanski, Theodore J.  Deep Woods Frontier.  Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 19XX.

Walton, Ivan.  Ballad of the MacDonald Boys.  The Journal of American Folklore, 1963, 76 (302), 342-344.

Gmail Comments:

-Vicki L (9-4): Wow David....This helps to more clearly understand the environment in which I never managed to grow up. Good old Peter! Love, V

-Donna D (9-4): ok i havent read this word for word yet but my first impression awful....not sure i want to read the whole thing tonite...maybe i'll read it tomorrow.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Dear George,

Today is Katja's and my 49th wedding anniversary. What happened? Where did all that time go? It seems just a while ago that we were getting things together for our small wedding at the Quaker Chapel on Antioch’s campus. The minister’s name was Howard Johnson. Our families drove in from Philadelphia and Menominee, respectively. Ami (age 18) was the maid of honor, and Steven (19) was the best man. Katja’s parents were uneasy about the whole thing, and my dad took Katja aside and told her very sternly that members of our family never divorce. It made us both very nervous, which may be one of the reasons why we’re celebrating our 49th. Katja looked radiant in her white wedding gown. Her favorite French teacher, Herman Schnurer, was there, as was Erling Eng, my favorite Psychology professor. We honeymooned for one night at a downtown hotel in Dayton, left for Ann Arbor the next week. Six years later I took a job in Psychology and Sociology at the University of Cincinnati, and J was born three years after that in 1969. I got tenure in 1973, and we bought our first and only house. For years we were a tennis family as J competed on the regional junior circuit. Just as he was going off to Columbia in 1987, Katja, who had taught French at UC for many years, got her MSW and took a job at her social work agency. J and K went off to med school in New Orleans and got married at the Elvis Presley chapel in Las Vegas. We got the sheepdogs in 2002. Baby V was born in September 2008. I retired in January, Katja’s still working away, and now I am writing this blog.

All this was on my mind when I went off to the fitness center this morning. As I was working on one of the upper body strength machines, I noticed an older couple, probably somewhere in their mid-eighties, at the nearby leg curl machine. The man was tall, balding, and very thin, and the woman was petite, silver-haired, and stooped over. They both looked very fragile. They were talking about the machine, pointing to its different parts, and looking at it from this vantage point and that. I thought they probably were new members and didn’t know how to adjust the settings. When I finished what I was doing, I asked them if I could help in any way. The man smiled and said, “No, we’re fine.” The woman added, “We’re just trying to figure out if he can get out of it once he gets in.” I said that I’d be glad to help if they needed any assistance and went on to another machine. I did keep my eye on them though. They took a long time, and finally the man did slowly and painfully work his way onto the seat. His wife helped lift his legs up on the bar he would be pressing. I did two or three other exercises while the elderly man was doing the leg curl, and his wife, by that time, had completed an adjacent machine. When they were done they slowly made their way across the room to the physical therapy unit. The man had a walker and moved at a snail’s pace. The woman held his arm and helped to steady him. They seemed like such a devoted couple; it was very touching. I guessed that they might be celebrating their 60th or 65th anniversary this year. I don’t know just how Katja and I have managed to carry it off, but it seemed to me that these strangers had the secret.



Gmail Comments:

-Donna D (8-28): very touching, david, very touching.... when you write for your 50th, you'll have more positive and fun things to say!

-Ami G (8-28): What about Winnie? Anyway, happy, happy anniversary and congratulations on a splendid life, so far! Much love. Ami and Bruce

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Dear George,

When I joined the fitness center, trainer Ellen set me up with a workout on the strength and cardio machines and suggested I might pick up an exercise class later on. I eliminated the class idea till recently, probably because of some deep tendency to be avoidant of groups of living beings. But when I saw a flyer announcing a country line dancing class, it caught my eye. Katja and I had taken ballroom dancing classes years ago, and we’d had a lot of fun. I told both Katja and our friend Donna about it; they were lukewarm but willing to try it out. Donna had a time conflict on the first Tuesday, but Katja and I went to the 7 p.m. class. Twenty or so people showed up, about three-quarters women and nearly everybody middle-aged or older. We all looked one another over. I thought I would probably do o.k. Jeff, the instructor, has been teaching line dancing for a dozen years in school systems, community centers, etc., though this was his first class at a fitness center. He said that, once we mastered the basics, we might want to go to Rodeo’s at the Metropolis Nightclub. This idea made me anxious, though Katja immediately started thinking about what sort of outfit to buy.

Jeff formed us into lines and started us out with the Electric Slide, apparently the best known line dance. First we just did the steps without music. Jeff modeled each tiny segment. Then we copied him as he repeated it. Finally he put the whole dance to music, first slow, then medium, then fast. Like previous dance classes, I found it both interesting and unnerving to be in the learner role. I’ve spent most of my adult life as a teacher, and I rarely think what it’s like to be in the novice position. Basically you start off knowing nothing, progress slowly and awkwardly through the component parts, and eventually try to put it all together as a complex whole. Getting the individual pieces varies from simple to challenging, and, so far, I’ve never once succeeded in doing an entire integrated routine without error (which, given my perfectionism, I regard as a miserable failure). The learning task is simple enough that one shows gradual progress and can hope for success. However, it’s difficult enough that one is often unsure just what comes next, makes frequent mistakes, and has to anxiously struggle to get back on track. The people in the class vary a lot. A few are obviously experienced line dancers; we view them as stars and keep an eye on them to stay on track. Most are novices though, and some combine that with no natural aptitude. Just about everybody looks silly at one point or another. However, people recognize that we’re all in the same boat and take it with good humor. It does make you appreciate how difficult good teaching is. You have to know where people are at, usually with wide variability and incomplete feedback, and adjust your instruction to accommodate people’s diverse needs. Jeff is encouraging and gives a lot of praise to the class as a whole. Katja has a good sense of rhythm, and she picks things up quickly. The guy with the gray ponytail in front of me, on the other hand, was all over the place, often facing in one direction when everybody was going the other way. He stuck with it for one class, but he never did come back.

After the electric side, Jeff showed us the basics of the booty call. (If you look this phrase up in Wikipedia, it has a meaning very different from a dance step.) He said that he often works with kids and so he has to be restrained with the booty call, but we could shake our booties any way we liked. There were some pretty good booty shakers in the class, but the men weren’t much good at it. Then we went on to the Cupid Shuffle and one or two other dances, the names of which I never really got. Jeff told the class we’d done a good job and that we’d move on to a new set of dances next week.

We’ve had a couple of classes since. Donna’s an excellent dancer, she masters the various steps with ease, and she loves the class. Katja has struggled a bit with stamina after a year of medical problems and enforced inactivity, but she has found it easier each week, and Jeff said she deserves the award as the most improved member of the class. I like doing the physical body work, though I get frustrated by my less than competent performance. I have a couple of country line dancing videotapes at home, and I’ve been trying to do some extra practice. When they force me to go to the country nightclub, I plan to be ready.



Gmail Comments:

-Donna D (8-27): david, this is great. you WILL be ready!

-Vicki L (8-27): Good for you David! This was the kind of spirit I was looking for with you and Peter that long ago night in the country western Cinncy bar! Ah... but life isn't over yet…By the way, can't you imagine how George would be behaving in a country line dance? Love, Sis

-Gayle C (8-26): U R AMAZING. And Its amazing what U can do when u R retired.). I hope U all R well,). I miss U both._ I am at the beach fort the evening . Its a beautiful night. I will try to send a photo from my phone ;) love U. G

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cincy Loves Baby V

Dear George,

            We just enjoyed the perfect weekend.  J and our 11-month-old granddaughter V flew up from New Orleans on Friday morning for a three-day visit.  Katja and I picked them up at 10 a.m., and we went straight to Katja’s agency where a little bird had told her colleagues there might be a surprise visitor.  Kathy and Adrianne came out to the lobby first, and we were joined shortly by Ginny, Chuck, Pam, Pat, Sue, Jeannie, Todd, Judy S., Judy H., and others I can’t even remember.  V was looking so cute, and everybody ooh’d and aah’d.  She’s so sociable.  She looks from one person to the next, responds to each with a smile, and is entirely comfortable being picked up and held by strangers.  She walked a little bit for her audience, 

then scooted down the hallway on her hands and knees. As we left, J thanked everybody for being so adoring.  Donna had been away with a client, but she said that when she came back to work everybody was talking about how friendly and relaxed V is.

            The dogs were curious when we got home.  Mikey loves little children, particularly for the purpose of kissing, and he approached V right away.  V is used to having a big dog at home, her family’s bull terrier Titus, and she seemed entirely comfortable with Mike and Duffy, even when Mike did give her a sloppy kiss on the face.  Duffy is more standoff-ish.  He gave a quick sniff, but then went off to play with his 

rubber chicken.  J doesn’t encourage V to play with Titus at home for protective reasons, and we adopted the same policy, though V did crawl over and pat the dogs on several occasions.  Mike and Duffy were very good with her and seemed to instinctively know how to be gentle with a baby.  Once we were settled in K called from NOLA to see how things were going.  It’s the first time she’s been away from V, and she seemed a little blue.

            V is more mobile each time that we see her.  She can go from a seated to a standing position readily without holding onto anything, and she’s able to walk up to ten feet or so without taking a spill.  She is very active and likes to get hold of just about any object within reach, most of which wind up in her mouth for a quick once over.  We haven’t yet accumulated baby stuff for her visits, though it suddenly occurred to me that I have a big collection of toy figures that I’ve accumulated over the years to decorate the shelves in my home office.  I went up to the attic and got my collection which filled up a large Husman’s potato chip barrel.  V was enthralled.  She stood at the side of the barrel, took the toys out one by one, manipulated

them with her hands, put them in her mouth, then set them on the floor to go on to the next one.  Soon we had a bedroom floor filled with ducks and chickens, Mickey Mouse and Wonder Woman, frogs and cows, and who knows what.

            Donna came over for dinner on Friday evening, and she was captivated.  She held V and they played and played.  Donna would love to be a grandmother, and we invited her to be V’s grand-auntie in the meantime.  Katja made some manicotti, which V enjoyed as much as the adults did, and we had a

wine-tasting in which we put people’s appraisals in our new wine journal that Katja bought last week.  Donna was struck by what a good dad J was, and I told her later that J and K are such loving parents that it’s easy to see why V is such a happy baby.  

            The main event on Saturday was a trip to the zoo.  I thought that V would be too young to do this meaningfully, but Katja was eager to go.  My prediction was all wrong.  The first exhibit we came to was the elephant yard, and V was virtually hypnotized by the sight of these gigantic creatures extending their trunks up to the haybins suspended from high posts.  Her eyes fixed on the big animals, and she pointed to show her dad.  The same thing happened with the giraffes and then the rhino, and it was quickly apparent 

that we have a very responsive and perceptive baby in our midst.  V has five words in her vocabulary to date (Mama, Dada, dog, bird, and go), so J was eager to take her into the bird house.  Spotting birds is a tricky business since many are flying about or hidden among the leaves, but V did a lot of accurate pointing.  She liked the gorillas and the monkeys and the peacock wandering free on the zoo grounds.  In fact, she liked everything.  We were at the zoo for at least three hours, and there wasn’t even a moment of irritation from this little baby.

            Katja and I got to spend a lot of time with baby V, carrying and holding and playing and cuddling. From time to time J was off doing other things, and we became momentary caretakers.  Katja was delighted 

with this, and she and V had a lot of happy moments playing together and interacting.  It was really pleasing to see, and I’m sure Katja felt the same way about my enjoying Baby V.  

            Katja made Swedish pancakes on Sunday morning, and then we went to the Tri-County mall area to buy a new camera.  V played on the floor while the adults watched the ATP men’s tennis final on TV, and 

then she and Katja took naps while J and I went for a late lunch to Skyline Chili.  We all took a walk on Ludlow Ave., then packed the car for our trip to the airport.  We’d decided to stop by Buck and Helen’s grave at Spring Grove Cemetery on our way, but the cemetery was just closing as we arrived.  J said his grandparents would have appreciated our good intentions, but I thought they would have been really annoyed that we failed to get their great granddaughter there in time.

            V cried all the way to the airport.  It was entirely out of character, since she hadn’t done any extended crying the whole trip.  Then I thought about some classic research which demonstrated that newborn infants on the maternity ward show decided preferences for orange vs. tomato juice, depending on 

their mothers’ preferences.  I wondered if V were picking up the sad vibes from our family about leaving one another and letting us know about her sadness too.  We exchanged some hugs and affection at the airport terminal, and then J and V were on their way.  Katja and I were pretty quiet on the way home.  I asked Katja if she thought we’d done all o.k. as grandparents, and she thought we probably did.





Thursday, August 20, 2009


Dear George,


I was watching CNN yesterday about the terrible case in Georgia where a pack of roaming dogs killed an elderly woman and her husband.  They had an animal expert on the show who talked about about mentally ill people who take in large numbers of abandoned dogs or cats and let them live in their house.  The guy pointed out, of course, that the people don’t regard themselves as mentally ill, but rather as ardent animal lovers who are caring for abandoned pets who would otherwise suffer and/or die.


It’s a fine line.  Katja and I not taken in any stray animals so far, though we have been tempted on occasion.  Our particular pathology, instead, takes the form of showering Mike and Duffy with so many rewards and privileges that the dogs’ needs and wishes often take priority over those of the humanoids.

One good example is our family sleeping ritual.  I’ve drawn a map (below) which shows our typical dog-human sleeping arrangement (though there are various permutations from one night to the next).  As you can see, the dogs take up the lower half of the kingsize bed, lying horizontally rather than vertically in order to cover a maximum amount of space. 

The humans then arrange themselves within the constraints set by the dogs so as to not disturb or inconvenience them.  I normally sleep on an angle with my lower legs and feet extended off the side of the bed (see Human #2).  Katja lies sideways, with her feet necessarily somewhere on top of me.   When the dogs shift, we shift accordingly, though they normally shift to get more space rather than less.


There seem to be three principles that govern our collective behavior:


(1)  The dogs get in bed and claim their space before the humans.  They are ready to go to sleep soon after their 9 p.m. walk, and Duffy gets in bed first by himself.  Mike is capable of jumping into bed, but he doesn’t like to, so he stands by the side of the bed until I come and hoist him in.


(2)  Next, when the humans get into bed, they locate themselves in the spatial niche that is left over by the dogs and do not touch, speak to, or disturb the dogs in any way.  If the humans do this correctly, the dogs do not even notice that they have arrived.  Katja always goes to bed first, which gives her a little more leeway in finding a spot.  David makes do with whatever space is left over, usually about 15-20% of the bed.


(3)  Humans are prohibited from competing with the dog for space, pushing the dogs out of the way, or, God forbid, making the dogs get on the floor.  When one of the dogs does get on the floor by his own volition, the human is expected to try to call him back up before laying any claim to the vacated space.


Sometimes Duffy will hear a noise in the night and will jump out of bed to check things out at the window.  After a little while, he leaps back in, either on Katja’s or my side of the bed, landing on our stomach, chest, or face.  This is a startling way to be woken up, but we reassure Duffy that we are o.k. and it is not a problem.  Then we move over to make room for him.


When the alarm goes off, Duffy likes to climb length-wise on top of Katja, pinning her shoulders down with his front legs, and covering her with slobbery kisses (a practice which we refer to as "Lamour Lamour").  Mikey, less inclined to intimacy, retreats to the base of the bed, where he paws at my foot until I take it out from under the blanket and then licks it incessantly. 


We are usually pretty tired when we get up, though we are pleased that the dogs are well-rested.  One reason that we haven’t taken in any more dogs is that there would be no room at all left for the humans.  However, please don’t consider this description to be a complaint.  Our life is idyllic, and we would have it no other way.







Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Dear George,


Katja and I were married on August 28, 1960, at the Quaker chapel on Antioch’s campus in Yellow Springs.  We honeymooned for one night at a downtown hotel in Dayton, and a week later we drove up to Ann Arbor to start grad school.  We had arranged to rent a small second floor apartment in Mrs. Quackenbush’s white clapboard home on Brookwood St.  Mrs. Quackenbush was an elderly lady in her 80’s who had rented to students for many years.  She was friendly and accommodating, but also business-like and rather anxious.


Several weeks into the Autumn semester, Katja brought home a German Shepherd puppy.  Though a complete surprise to me, the dog was totally darling – a little puffball of black fur and endless energy.  Katja suggested the name Heather, and it fit her perfectly.  Heather symbolized the excitement of our new marriage and the beginning of our family life.  We petted and played and cooed over her.  We were sad when we had to leave her alone each morning, and it was a thrill each day to come home in the late afternoon.


Mrs. Quackenbush was enthusiastic about our having a puppy and insisted that her relieving herself in the yard wasn’t a problem.  After a while, though, the back yard became sort of a minefield of stools.  I collected them all up one day and built a bonfire of the dried out pellets while Mrs. Quackenbush stood and watched.  Heather also spent a lot of time barking during the day while we were gone, and the noise increasingly got on Mrs. Quackenbush’s nerves.  We talked to a friend and fellow Antiochian who had moved to Ann Arbor when we did.  He volunteered to take care of Heather in the daytime since he had a fenced-in yard, and we were very appreciative.  I began delivering Heather there each morning and picking her up at the end of the day.


On the evening of Oct. 14, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy was scheduled to give an address from the steps of the Michigan Union.  We walked over with Heather and waited for a couple of hours for the candidate who was running late.  There was a huge crowd, and, in the midst of it, some guy stepped on Heather’s foot.  It hurt a lot, and she cried in pain and limped.  We held her for the rest of the evening, and Kennedy wound up giving the famous speech in which he introduced his proposal for the Peace Corps for the first time.  I carried Heather home afterward.


I took her to our friend’s house the next morning.  When Katja and I came home at the end of the day, my friend was waiting for us on our porch.  He had the saddest expression on his face, and we knew something was drastically wrong.  Teary-eyed, he just blurted it out.  He had tied Heather on a rope attached to a tree, but she had managed to climb over the fence.  She had strangled to death on the rope.


We went into shock.  Our friend was distressed and terribly guilty.  Katja and I were so  heartbroken, it’s hard to put into words.  Heather had provided a wonderful source of happiness for us, and now she was the first tragedy that we had to deal with as a couple.  We had an empty painful feeling for a long time. John F. Kennedy won the presidency a few weeks later.  We talked about Heather having been there that evening, and that offered a small bit of consolation.  All in all, our experience is a vivid reminder of the emotional significance of dogs in our lives. 




Sunday, August 16, 2009


Dear George,

 I’d say my mind was more in a state of disarray at age 40 or 50 than it is nowadays.  I’ve always conformed to the stereotype of an absent-minded professor.  In the thick of middle age I was pretty scatter-brained and sometimes wondered how I managed to function in the world at all.  These days my brain chugs away more slowly, but I feel at least partially in touch with reality most of the time.

Of course, there are always exceptions.  A while back we went out for brunch with our friends, Ellie and Sam.  The waitress asked if we would like anything to drink, and Sam suggested a bottle of wine.  The waitress brought him the wine list, and Sam said that he would like to treat us to champagne in honor of my retirement.  He ordered and asked the waitress to put the champagne on his tab.  When it came, I looked at the bottle and it said Taittinger’s.  I recognized the brand from ads in Vanity Fair.  “That’s the best champagne I’ve ever had,” I told Sam after tasting it, and it was.  At the end of the meal the waitress brought the checks.  Because she had mixed up our credit cards, I initially worried I might have Sam’s bill.  But we compared our receipts, and the slip I had for our two fixed-price brunches was for $68 and his slip was for $148.  Whew, I thought to myself, eighty dollar champagne.  I marveled at Sam’s generosity.  On our way home I mulled over the transaction and looked again at my Customer Copy of the credit card charge.  I was startled to find that I had Sam’s receipt which showed that $68 had been charged to his American Express card.  I realized that he in turn had my Visa credit card receipt, to which $148 (and our Taittinger champagne) had been charged.  I’d inadvertently bought champagne for the table.  I told Katja, and she asked what I was going to do.  Nothing, I said.  Then I thought to myself:  I’ve just treated our friends to eighty dollar champagne.  Who’d ever have thought I was such a big spender?”

We went home, and Katja took a nap.  I went into the refrigerator to get some cold water.  It was crammed with Katja’s purchases from Fresh Market the day before.  I noticed several large containers of fancy deli salad.  I pulled the water bottle out, and one of the salad containers fell off the top shelf and crashed on the kitchen floor, its contents  splattering all over the place.  I picked up the plastic container which was now empty.  The price tag said $18.97.  I looked at the mess on the floor.  Katja will never know, I thought.  She has must have bought this for my lunches.  I will just salvage it and eat it tomorrow.  It will be like camping.   I shooed off the curious dogs and scooped up the salad fixings with my fingers.  Soon it looked almost like new.  At five o’clock I woke Katja up.  She had to get ready for her bimonthly book club meeting.  Her friend Carla showed up an hour later, and I went down to the kitchen to say goodbye.  There was Katja putting the Fresh Market salad containers in a shopping bag to bring for her book club’s meal.  “Have a wonderful time,” I said, waving feebly.  I myself had suddenly lost my appetite.

So that wasn’t the best of days.  However, all of our daily life isn’t usually this erratic, and we muddle our way through more often than not.  It does give you pause for thought though.



Saturday, August 15, 2009

Big-Time Tennis Comes to Town

                                            Dinara Safina

Dear George,


This is a phenomenal year for big-time tennis in Cincinnati.  We’ve had a major men’s ATP tournament in suburban Mason for three decades now, but this year they up-graded the women’s tournament to a top-tier event, which, when they merge completely next year, will make Cincinnati one of the top four tennis destinations in the nation, along with the U.S. Open, Indian Wells, and Miami.  The 16 top-ranked women in the world are currently at Mason, and the 44 top-ranked men are arriving this weekend.  Thanks to our friends and fellow tennis fans, Paula Dubeck and Tom Jenkins, Katja and I enjoyed the luxury of gift tickets to the women’s tournament on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, and it was a real treat. 


The ATP was formerly known as the Western Tennis Tournament, and it was held at the Cincinnati Tennis Club’s clay courts when we first came to Cincinnati in the late 1960’s.  Our friend Clyde McCoy used to organize expeditions for Soc grad students and faculty, and we saw a host of stars in those early days: Stan Smith, Cliff Ritchey, Tom Gorman, Ken Rosewall, Guillermo Vilas, Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe.  From 1975 to 1979 the tournament moved to Coney Island, and our favorites included Harold Solomon, Eddie Dibbs, Peter Fleming, Ilie Nastase, Connors, and Roscoe Tanner.  We’ve gone to the ATP at Mason many years since it moved there in 1979, and we’ve seen a lot of stars, e.g., McEnroe, Lendl, Edberg, Chang, and  Katja’s all-time favorites, Frenchman Henri LeConte and Swede Matts Wilander.


We got out to the ATP early on Wednesday evening to stroll around and take in the atmosphere.  There are many merchandise booths as you enter with names like Cute Tennis Stuff or Gee Bee Charming.  I tried to dissuade Katja from buying a pink $18 Adidas baseball cap, but she said she needed to spend some money.   Tournament T-shirts were on sale for $20, but, apparently because of legal restrictions, these simply said “Cincinnati 09” and were unappealing.  I’d eaten a Lean Cuisine at home to avoid inflated food court costs, but Katja dined on a $7 burger which she said tasted like Styrofoam.  The $5.50 lemonade was higher quality, and I’ll have to admit to splurging on a $4 salted pretzel.


The really big store on the grounds was Midwest Sports Tennis which occupied a 10,000 square foot tent on the stadium grounds and handled every conceivable tennis-related item, much of it at hefty prices.  We were interested because the business is owned by Marty Wolf and one of his brothers.  Marty was the metro area tennis champ for years when our son J was a teenager, and, in fact, J worked one summer as an assistant tennis pro for him at Losantiville Country Club.  It was good to see Marty Wolf so successful.  His store in Sharonville is the largest tennis outlet in the country, and they are the number one online vendors as well.


The grounds were buzzing as we walked around, and you would not mistake anybody in the crowd for a Wal-Mart shopper.  Because Serena Williams was playing in the premiere match on Wednesday night, there were probably five times as many African American fans as usual (with the result that the crowd was only 99.5% white rather than 99.9% white).  There were lots of people in tennis outfits, many slim tanned women with blond hair, kids carrying huge tennis balls to get players’ autographs and appearing to be junior tennis players, and a crowd which looked as though it were disproportionately from Indian Hill, Kenwood, and surrounding affluent suburbs.  It’s fun to mingle with the hoi poloi and definitely a prime people-watching location.  Except for Paula and Frank on the second night, we didn’t see a single person that we knew.  It’s a big change from twenty years ago when J was the top junior tennis player in greater Cincinnati.  Back then we enjoyed some spin-off parent celebrity status as a consequence, so we would see many other parents from the junior tennis world at the ATP.  It was weird to have your social status determined by your teenager’s success, and our current anonymity is clearly more relaxing.


Seeing Serena Williams play in person was very exciting.  She’s a foreboding presence on the court, muscular, broad-shouldered, busty, with powerful thighs – basically the template of a Marvel comics super-hero.  While her opponent was gifted, the match’s outcome was never in doubt.  Serena seemed very methodical and low-key, which made sense when the newspaper reported the next day that she was sick and had spent the day in bed, but the power of her serves and groundstrokes were simply too much.  On Thursday night we had seats in Tom’s private box in the Grandstand Court (court 2), where we saw some excellent doubles, but we also snuck into Center Court to watch Dinara Safina, currently ranked No. 1 in the world.  Safina’s gotten a lot of bad press because she is ranked number one, but has never won a Grand Slam tournament.  I’d never seen her play before, and seeing her in person dispelled a lot of the snippy criticism.  She overwhelmed a very solid player from China, and her groundstrokes, particularly her backhand, were devastating.


We ran into Paula and Frank in the parking lot as we were leaving on Thursday night.  Katja has been carrying Paula’s Xmas present in the trunk of our car for the last eight months, so they drove us over to our parking space where Katja could give it to them.  It was a nice way to wind up our tournament visits.  Katja and I watch the major Grand Slam tournaments on TV every year, but it’s a much more powerful experience to be at the ATP in person .  Now we’re looking forward to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal being in town.







Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Local News: Mother Love Runs Amok

                               Barbara Jolly, Mom & Bank Robber

Dear George,


In our culture we lump motherhood along with God, country, and apple pie under the umbrella category of all that is good, pure, and virtuous.  Though we don’t think of mothering as a simple act, we normally construe it as an unfettered outpouring of love, caring, and support.  This view, of course, reflects a cultural stereotype that bears no resemblance to everyday reality.  One of the startling shocks of new parenthood is the discovery that parenting can be aggravating, boring, even painful, and can generate anger and depression as well as happiness or contentment.  Even full-fledged devotion to one’s children, under given circumstances, can generate destructive behavior toward third parties seen as inimical to one’s offspring, e.g., teachers, neighbors, bullying kids, nasty relatives, etc.  I’ve been struck by this with a spat of recent news stories in the Cincinnati Enquirer which seem to point to an epidemic of loving mothers running amok.  Here are a few instances. 


What can be more tender and devoted, for example, than the act of breastfeeding one’s infant.  Well, just tell that to Genene Compten, 39, of Harrison Township who was recently arrested and charged with child endangering when she was breastfeeding her child and talking on a cell phone while driving.  Like any good mother would be, Ms. Compten was outraged by the police’s accusations. She let them know that she is not the sort of mother who would ever deprive her child when it is hungry, whatever the circumstances.   And she defiantly claims that she will feed and drive whenever her baby requires it.  The police argued in vain that the problem was not public breastfeeding but placing the child’s health and safety at risk, but Ms. Compten would hear nothing of it.


For many moms, sticking up for one’s child extends into young adulthood and beyond.  Deidra Roget’s 22-year-old son Dmitri, like any red-blooded kid might do, got involved in a fight at Annie’s nightclub, took a shot at the other guy, and then pointed his pistol at a policeman.  The police officer, in response, fired 11 times at Dmitri, shooting him in the butt and the foot.  Appearing at the courthouse in her son’s behalf, Ms. Roget went berzerk, and she wound up being arresting for assaulting a police officer, obstructing official business, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct.  Despite this mom’s loving and heartfelt efforts to support and protect her son, an uncaring judge sent him to prison for 13 years anyway.


Mothers don’t just give emotional support, but they often need to provide material resources as well.  When one’s finances are limited, being a good mother may require actions that society would otherwise frown upon.  A good example is the recent case of  Patricia Clottingham, 48.  Charged with stealing $45,000 from her health care employer, Mrs. Clottingham got a new bookkeeping job in order to repay the stolen cash.  She succeeded in making the repayments by stealing $1.2 million from her new employer.  Mrs. Clottingham was imprecise about where the money went, but her lawyer said much of it was for miscellaneous things, such as limousine rides for her children and renovation of her children’s homes.  We might wonder about Mrs. Clottingham’s methods, but no one can dispute this bottomless fount of maternal love.


Embezzlement is a preferred technique when you can do it, but, if one doesn’t have ready access to a pile of cash through their job, devoted moms need to resort to more direct methods.  A local area mother, Barbara Jolly, 68, of Middletown gained considerable press attention, if not acclaim, when she was convicted for a string of bank robberies in Warren and Butler counties.  Because her 39-year-old son Christopher had lost his job, she sent him a total of $200,000 from her and her husbands’ retirement savings.  When her husband finally balked at this, Mrs. Jolly turned to bank robberies.  Mr. Jolly explained, “She is a loving grandmother who simply could not say ‘no’ to our son’s pleas for more and more financial help.”   Prior to taking up bank robbery, Mrs. Jolly’s main avocations were stitching quilts for the homeless, attending church, and volunteering at school festivals.  To date she has been sentenced to sixteen years in prison.  I hope she will be nominated for Prison Mother of the Year.


Sometimes mother love can even create conflict with one’s life partner.  The extremes of good motherhood made front page news when Cheryl McCaugherty, 44, called 911 to report that she had shot her husband Robert between the eyes, apparently while he was sleeping.  Robert was the likable V.P. of a medical supply company, Cheryl was a successful advertising executive at the Enquirer, and they were generally regarded as a perfect couple in their wealthy Fort Thomas community.  The prosecutor claimed that Ms. Cafferty had absconded with thousands of her husband’s money to pay for her daugher’s modeling lessons.   Ms. McCaugherty’s lawyer, on the other hand, said her husband had threatened to kill their 12 and 15 year old children, and that her action was a case of self-defense and protection of her children.  The jury, swayed by Ms. McCaugherty’s maternal devotion, found her guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter.


What are we to make of this?  It’s always a little discomforting when mothers need to lie, cheat, steal, stab, shoot, and murder in order to promote their children’s well-being.  But it’s like the old book title says, “Love is Not Enough.”  We need to recognize that the world is a complex place, and that mothers, to defend and nurture their little ones, sometimes have to engage in actions that may have less than desirable side effects upon others.  I myself feel a bit of relief when I realize that my mom probably would have murdered a few people for me if the need had arisen.




Gmail Comments:

-JML (8-12): Hey Dad, Here in new orleans we had a case last year in which a 15 year old got into a fistfight while playing basketball. He went home crying to his mom and she gave him a handgun with instructions to teach them a lesson.  He then proceeded to shoot one of the bullies to death.  She's now in prison for accessory to murder. 

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Half-Price Shenanigans

Dear George,


Because the economy’s so lousy, Katja’s has been spending her leisure time boxing up books from our den and cashing them in at the local Half-Price Books.  It’s sort of exciting to get thirty or forty dollars from a stack of books that we’ll never look at again (just so long as one doesn’t think about paying five or six hundred dollars for the originals).  Recently, because our bookshelves were starting to look pretty thinned out, she asked our son J if she might sell his college books that he’s stored in our attic for twenty years.  J was fine with that and didn’t even ask for a cut.


Katja enlisted my help on a recent Saturday.  Our attic is so unbelievably crowded that it took a quite a bit of work just to get to the boxes of books stacked against the back wall.  Katja handed the boxes to me, one by one, and I lugged them down to the porch.  Pretty soon we had a pile of ten or so boxes.  We discovered, as we opened them, that most were accompanied by little piles of mouse droppings.  So we worked together on the porch, me wiping each book off with a damp towel and Katja repacking the boxes for transport.


The task had some nostalgia to it.  J, who has clearly inherited a tendency to be an obsessive collector, had accumulated the books during his years at Columbia, and they offered a broad survey of the ancient and modern world.  Shakespeare, Rabelais, Descarte, Plato, Montaigne, Faulkner, O’Neill, Chaucer, Thurber, Thoreau, Freud, Salinger, and on and on.  History, fiction, poetry, politics, language, science, religion, sociology.  If one mastered all of it, one could be a potential candidate for a Nobel prize.


Despite the wealth of intellectual riches, I suggested to Katja that we probably wouldn’t get a lot of cash.  The books were old, some were tattered or yellowing, and, in general, they weren’t best sellers on the mass market.  Plus we tossed out all the ones that the mice had chewed upon.  Nonetheless, we set off and parked near Half-Price’s back door, where an employee brought out a cart to help us lug them in.


Katja went to the paperback mystery section while her appraisal was being done, and I skimmed the $1 clearance shelf.  Finally they called for “Kate”.  I was paying for a few items at the cash register.  When Katja joined me, I asked how much she’d gotten.  “Take a guess,” she said.  Given 200 or so books, I made what I thought to be a very conservative estimate of $31.  She shook her head.  “More?” I asked naively, and she shook her head again.  “Twenty dollars?” I asked.  She still shook her head.  “How much?” I finally asked.  “Ten dollars,” she replied.


I muttered to myself all the way out to the car.  Ten dollars for an entire library of classics.  What has our society come to?  We got a nickel apiece for the greatest works in Western Civilization.  If you factor in the gasoline our SUV consumed on the trip, it was four cents.  Of if you calculate our labor at a rate of one dollar per person-hour, it came to two cents per book.  200 pages of Ernest Hemingway for two cents?  


We drove in silence over to Tri-County mall where I was replacing my broken watchband.  On the way out, we bought a large cup of coffee to share from Starbucks with $1.95 of our Half-Price proceeds.  After taking a sip, I said, “This is a really good cup of coffee.”  I thought to myself, “We can get five cups of Starbucks coffee from our ten dollars, and we will still have a quarter left over.”   Hmm.  Maybe it wasn’t that bad a deal after all.  




Saturday, August 8, 2009

Washington School Days: 5. The Glee Club

Dear George,

 At Washington Grade School, the fourth graders made up the Glee Club, and Miss Hunnefeld* was the  director.  We practiced after school on Tuesdays, and everybody in the class was encouraged to join.  Miss Hunnefeld gave us points which counted in our progress toward becoming Gold Star Generals, so participation was high.  Our efforts for the entire school year were focused upon our scheduled Spring Concert for the Lion’s Club at the Menominee Hotel.  In appreciation for our performance, the Lions Club offered the children free movie tickets to the Menominee theater, and that only added to our already high motivation.

Midway in our second rehearsal in September, Miss Hunnefeld got a strange look on her face.  She stepped in closer to the group, cocked her ear, and began moving down the row.  Finally, she stopped squarely in front of me.  She told us to keep singing.  Then she told us to stop.  She looked at me and said, “You’re out of key, David.”  The whole glee club looked at me.  Miss Hunnefeld pulled out her pitchpipe and tooted the key of C.  I tried to duplicate the tone, but my voice cracked, and I made an unworldly, breathless sound.  Miss Hunnefeld tooted again.  I tried my best, but I could barely make a noise.

Miss Hunnefeld took me to the cloakroom.  She told me, quite apologetically, that she was very sorry, but I wouldn’t be able to continue in the Glee Club.  I did not seem to be able to sing on key, and I would ruin the class’s performance at the Lions Club.  I may have started crying at that point.  In any case, I made a fuss.  I said that I wanted the points so badly.  And I wanted the movie tickets.  Most of all, I would be the only fourth grader who wasn’t a member of the Glee Club.  Miss Hunnefeld didn’t know what to do.  I begged her some more.  Finally she decided that I could remain in the Glee Club as long as I did not sing out loud.  She said that I should move my lips and pretend that I was singing, but I should not utter a single note.

Our class practiced every week after school, and twice a week as our spring concert approached.  I went faithfully, but it was very boring.  I carefully mouthed the words to each number, trying to look like an authentic singer.  Every once in a while, I would even  toss in a note out loud.  However, only one note, out of fear that Miss Hunnefeld would hear and expel me.  My favorite song was “Centa, Sweet Centa.”  It went like this:

Centa, Sweet Centa,

Refuses her polenta.

Don’t scold her, don’t hold her.

She’ll eat never a bite today.


Gather buds yellow and red and blue,

Twist a knot yellow and blue and red.

Patience, lads, cheerily bide your time.

Girlish moods are quickly fled.

A couple of years ago I did a Google search on “Centa”, and I ran across a psychoanalytic interpretation which said that the folk song’s lyrics are instructions to males on how to successfully seduce women.  This, of course, never entered our minds as  fourth graders, nor I’m sure did Miss Hunnefeld think about it that way, but now it makes a lot of sense.

The Spring Concert finally came around, and the Lions applauded us with great enthusiasm at the end.  I sang two notes out loud, no more, no less.  I did get my free tickets to the movie theater.  I was really happy when Glee Club came to an end.  It was a good life lesson though.  Sometimes you have to put in a lot of effort and then fake the whole thing.  What I learned is that success occurs when you manage to get away with it.




*Pseudonym used in this story.



Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why You Shouldn't Count 100% on Mind-Reading

Dear George,


As I grow older I find that I’m more prone to just do what I want to do, even though this can have negative effects.  An example occurred several weeks ago when one of  Katja’s friends invited us to a big party.  Katja was excited about it, but I only knew her friend a little bit, and I didn’t think I would know most of the other party-goers at all.  This, of course, made me excessively nervous. We talked back and forth, I remained stubborn, and finally Katja gave up and said she would go by herself.   


The next day I reminded Katja that I wouldn’t be going to the party, and we talked about it some more.  She said we could dance together, and it would be lots of fun. I succeeded in saying every wrong thing imaginable, and, by the end of the conversation, Katja wound up hollering at me, saying she didn’t even want me to go, that I should just stay home, and I could pack my suitcase and go and live somewhere else.  I knew she didn’t mean it, so I didn’t get perturbed.  Instead I thought to myself, that’s what I should do.  I should just pack my suitcase and move into my office.  But I knew I didn’t really mean that either.


The day of the party I chatted with a couple of friends. They encouraged me to go, giving lots of good reasons, not the least of which was that it would be supportive of Katja.  I thought about it.  We haven’t gone dancing for a long time, and that would be fun.  Plus I could write on my blog about going to the party.  That was the selling point.  I changed my mind and decided to go.


I came home, put on some nicer clothes, and started practicing dance steps in my head.  Katja arrived a bit later and did stuff downstairs while I worked upstairs on the computer. At 8:00 she called up and said goodbye.  Goodbye?  I went downstairs, and Katja said she’d be home around 10.  “Oh,” I said, “I told everybody that I would probably be going to the party with you.  We could do some dancing.”  “Oh,” Katja said matter-of-factly, “you would be too uncomfortable.  I’ll just go ahead by myself.”  And off she went.  I felt sort of mopy.  It was one of those prototypical marital exchanges where we started off at opposite poles and each of us shifted to the other’s position, passing one other in the middle, but not even knowing it.  I must admit I hadn’t actually said anything to Katja about my change of heart.  I sort of count on her to be a mind-reader.  She usually is, but it doesn’t always work perfectly.  I went to Skyline and had a five-way, then stopped at Graeters for some dark chocolate peanut clusters.  I was sound asleep when Katja got home.  She’d had a very good time.  She said the food was wonderful, and she’d enjoyed meeting her friend’s visiting family members.  I was happy it went well and didn’t say anything else.  I privately thought that maybe our marital communication has gotten too subtle and needs a little fine-tuning.  If I can remember, I intend to try harder next time.