Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bowery Days

Dear George,


One of my Antioch College coop jobs was at Popular Science Magazine in New York City in 1958.  I was part of the library staff, responsible for responding to reader’s mailed-in questions.  Most of these had to do with past articles that readers vaguely remembered but no longer had available, and my job involved locating the article in question, clipping it out of an old copy of the magazine, and mailing it off with a brief form letter.  The task held only mild interest at best, and my after hours life in the city was the more meaningful part of my stay.


I fancied myself an aspiring writer at the time, and one of my occasional pursuits was to go down to the Bowery on a Saturday and mingle in the bars with the alcoholic patrons.  I recall one Saturday in particular.  I took the subway down to Greenwich Village around noon, then walked over to the Bowery, and had some beer in a couple of bars.  In one of them I met a tall guy in a cowboy hat and boots named Charlie, and we got to talking.  I told him I wanted to be a writer and had come there to hear some life stories.  He was happy to oblige.  Despite his apparel, Charlie wasn’t really a cowboy.  He’d grown up in Iowa, was in his forties and had been living on the Bowery for a decade or more, subsisting on temp construction work when he needed some money.  He showed me a bar game which involved moving three coins about, and we played to see who would pay for the beer.  I lost every time, but it was worth it.  Charlie told me a lot of colorful stories.  After an hour or so, the bartender suddenly hollered at a big Puerto Rican guy sitting on the stool next to Charlie’s.  The guy had taken and pocketed the dollar bill that Charlie had had sitting in front of him on the bar.  Charlie confronted him, and the Puerto Rican guy grabbed Charlie’s beer bottle by the neck and came at him with it.  At that point, a little gray-haired man leaped on the Puerto Rican guy’s back, pinning his arm back.  The Puerto Rican guy swung around, hurling the much smaller man onto a table, and took off running out the door.  Charlie shouted curses, but he didn’t go after him.  I chatted for a few minutes more, then said I needed to get going. 


I walked a few blocks down Bowery Ave. and came to the Salvation Army Mission.  A sign board outside announced that the evening services, followed by dinner, would be starting shortly.  I’d always been curious about the mission.  I went in, and there were already a couple hundred men seated in rows facing the front stage.  I took a seat in the back row.  A heavyset Salvation Army woman with glasses and gray hair was the speaker, and she was terrific.  She mixed together a bunch of religion, stories about life on the Bowery, and practical advice about how her clientele could turn their lives around.  She knew her stuff, and she got a lot of laughs out of her audience.  After half an hour she concluded her talk, said dinner would be served in the next room, and added that anybody who wasn’t there for dinner ought to leave at that point.  I wasn’t interested in staying for dinner, so I stood up.  It turned out that I was the only person who wasn’t there for the food, and all the eyes in the room turned to me.  I was still sort of woozy with beer, and I couldn’t quite make out which way to go.  The speaker started giving me directions over the microphone, and I wobbled this way and that, making my way to the very front of the room.  

Finally I was out of there, and I hurried down a dark hallway toward the door at the end.  Out of nowhere a hand grabbed me tightly around my upper arm.  My heart skipped a beat.  The hand pulled me into a side room.  Once inside I found that my captor was a wiry, spectacled woman with straight black hair who introduced herself as Captain Olive something-or-other.  She said she wanted to talk to me.   I was totally taken aback, but couldn’t think of anything to do except to answer her questions.  She asked why I was on the Bowery and how I’d gotten there.  I told her a story that was pretty much constructed from the questions she asked.  She asked if a girl were involved, and I said yes.  Together we figured out that I’d broken up with the girl I loved and had  left my family, who I didn’t get along with, and made my way to New York, ending upon penniless on the Bowery.  We talked about my sorry life for ten minutes.  Finally I promised her that I would would stop coming to the Bowery and instead start going to a Salvation Army mission in upper Manhattan.  When I promised that I would do that, Captain Olive let me go.


I made the mistake of telling my parents about some of this in a phone call, and they got very worried.  They arranged for one of their good friends who was traveling to New York for business purposes to meet with me for lunch and explain to me the dangers of the city’s underworld.  We did meet, and he was relieved to find that I hadn’t lost my mind.  Despite my promise, I never did go to the uptown Salvation Army mission.




Gmail Comments:

Linda KC:  that was a wonderful story

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Dear George,


Remember how I was saying I wanted to be a standup comedian.  Well, so far my career is going along very well.  At first I was contacting the local comedy clubs, but the economy is so bad that hundreds of furloughed people are trying to become comedians, and I couldn’t even get on the waiting list.  So now I go down the street and do my gig on the corner outside of Graeter’s ice cream parlor.  There’s a lot of pedestrian traffic there, so it’s an excellent place.  I share space with the sax player and the homeless guy selling newspapers.  I bring Mike and Duffy along, and they go to sleep at my feet which definitely adds to the authenticity of my stories.  I wouldn’t say that anybody has actually stopped to listen to my routine yet, but most people hear at least one joke as they’re passing by, and one old guy laughed out loud last Tuesday.  Here’s what I currently tell them.  See what you think.


Thanks for coming by, folks.  I really appreciate your attention.  These are my sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy (point to dogs at my feet). As you can see, they are very handsome.  What you don’t know, though, is these dogs have an amazing capacity.  They can actually speak perfect English.  Of course, I’ve asked them not to interrupt me while I’m talking today.  And they’re so smart that they won’t even utter a word.  But if you stick around till the end, I’ll wake them up and you can try asking them a question. 


My sister-in-law Ami got very excited when we told her that the sheepdogs could talk, and she came from New York to stay with us.  When she arrived, we told her she would hear Mike and Duffy talk any time.   Each morning she greeted them, “Good morning, sweet doggies.  What do you have to say today?”  But the dogs never said a thing.  This went on for days and days.  Finally Ami concluded that we must have imagined the dogs were talking, and she walked right past the dogs without her usual morning greeting.  Mike just stared at her and then he blurted out, “Well, what’s the matter with you today, Miss Hoity Toity?”


Ami and Katja decided to have a party so we could show the guests how smart the dogs are.  When everybody had arrived, Katja called Duffy into the room and, at her command, he stood on his back legs, put his paws on her shoulders, smooched her on the cheek, and pressed his body against her chest.  Everybody applauded except this tall, dark, handsome guy at the back of the room.  “What’s so great about that?” he said.  “Anybody could do that.  “Oh yeah,” I said to the guy, “would you like to try it?”  “Sure I would,” the guy said.  “But first get that sheepdog out of here.”


Katja got pretty embarassed, but, after she recovered, she brought Mikey in and took him over to the piano.  Mike jumped up on the piano bench and began playing a complicated Bach sonata.  The tall handsome guy by that time had had too much to drink, and he started talking loudly during Mike’s performance.  Mike growled at him and then backed him into the corner.  “Don’t worry,” Katja reassured the frightened guest, “his Bach is worse than his bite.”


We like to walk the dogs around the neighborhood.  Everybody in Clifton knows them, and the dogs enjoy the attention.  Whenever we take them down the street, they start running circles around us.  They nip at our heels and bark and nudge us to go this way and that.  We’ve always been baffled about this unusual behavior.  Finally one of our dog-wise neighbors explained what it means: “You always herd the ones you love.”


Recently we were walking home on Ludlow Avenue. Duffy stopped to sniff at the base of a telephone pole outside the new Ace Hardware store.  It seemed like he was taking forever.  Finally Katja started tugging at his leash. “Let’s go, Duffy!  Come on!  Let’s go!”  “Wait a minute,” Duffy said, “it takes me time to check my p-mail.”


Now that the dogs are older, they’re allowed to go out by themselves.  The other day Duffy went over to the US Bank and went up to a teller. He could see from her name plate that she is called Patricia Wack, so he said "Ms. Wack, I'd like to borrow $30,000, please."  The teller asked for his name and he replied that he is Duffy Jagger, son of Mick Jagger, and a personal friend of the bank president. Unconvinced, Ms. Wack explained she would need some identity and also some security against his loan. Duffy produced a tiny pink porcelain elephant and handed it to her.  The confused teller said she would have to consult with her manager. 'There's a dog called Duffy Jagger at the counter who wants to borrow $30,000," she told her boss. "And what do you think this pink elephant is about?"  The manager looked back at her and said, "It's a knick-knack, Patti Wack, give the dog a loan. His old man's a Rolling Stone.' 


Sometimes the dogs get carried away with themselves.  Mikey was walking down Ludlow Avenue the other day, claiming to everyone he encountered that he is the most powerful dog in all of Cincinnati.  He met a Chihuahua at the corner of Middleton and said, “Who is the mightiest dog?”  The poor scared Chihuahua said, “You are.”  Mikey got to Ormond St. and saw a cocker spaniel?  “Who is the mightiest dog in Cincinnati?”  The cocker spaniel trembled and said, “You definitely are”.  At Telford St. Mikey asked the same question of a schnauzer, and he got the same answer.  Finally he encountered a Great Dane at Clifton Avenue.  “Who is the mightiest of all?” he boasted.  The Great Dane picked Mike up by the scruff of his neck, shook him back and forth, and tossed him in a heap in the gutter.  Mike slowly picked himself up and said, “You don’t have to get so mad just because you don’t know the answer.”


I took Mike to the vet a few weeks ago.   I told her, "His ears are itchy, is there anything you can do for him?"  "Well," said the vet, "let’s have a look." So she picked Mike up and had a good look in one ear and then the other.  "Hmm," said the vet, "I'm going to have to put him down."  My heart sank into my stomach.  "Oh no!” I said, “just because his ears are itching?"  “No,” the vet said, “because he’s so heavy.”


Then a week later Duffy had to go to the vet.  He was having such a bad problem with gas that we could barely sleep in the same room with him.  I told the vet about it and said, “Every time Duffy passes wind, he makes this weird sound: ‘honda, honda, honda.”  The vet thought about it, scrunched up her face, and finally said, “I think I know what it is.”  She opened Duffy’s mouth and peered inside.  “Aha,” she said, “my theory is correct!”  “What is it?” I asked.  The vet showed me a large abscess in the back of Duffy’s mouth, running along the back molars.  “Well, what is your theory?” I asked.  The vet explained, “Abscess makes the fart go ‘honda’.”


We decided that the dogs are having all these problems from leading too confined a city life.  So we tried sending them out to Montana to work on a sheep ranch.  They were doing really well at first.  But one day they were tending their flock on the open range when this grizzled old cowboy rode up.  He started yelling at them.  “You sheepdogs are so weird looking!  Your hair covers your face, your legs are bowed, your coats are matted, and you just have a little stump where your tail should be!”  Then he just rode off into the sunset.  Mike and Duffy stared at one another.  Finally Duffy said, “I think we just heard a discouraging word.” 


The other day we ran into some neighborhood kids on the street, and they said, “Would you like to hear the latest sheepdog knock knock jokes.”  “Sure,” we said, and it went something like this:


Knock knock.

Who’s there?


Mikey who?

Mikey is stuck in the lock – please open the door for me.


Knock knock.

Who’s there?


Duffy who?

Duffy will be two bucks if I open that door for you.


Knock knock.

Who’s there?


Juicy who?

Juicy where those sheepdogs went?


Knock knock.

Who’s there?


Athena who?

Athena sheepdog down the block.


Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Ice cream soda.

Ice cream soda who?

Ice cream soda sheepdogs will hear me.


Knock knock.

Who’s there?


Emma who?

Emma very glad to see you doggies come home.


Knock knock.

Who’s there.


Holden who?

Holden Glish Sheepdogs – how could life be better than this?


Thanks a lot, all you Ludlow Avenue people.  You’re the greatest audience there is!  (Dogs wake up and look confused.)




G-Mail Comments

Ami G (9-27):  I’m speechless!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


                       Newborn Baby V, Sept. 2008 (photo by JML)

Dear George,


Many years ago, when J was just a toddler, I took him to consult with the Oracle who lives on the top of Mount Airy.  Foreseeing that one day J would be married and have a baby, we asked the Oracle what would be the perfect arrangement of birthdays for such a family.  The Oracle stroked his beard and said the birthdays should all occur together to make for a yearly super-celebration, and they should all be in the month of September because the weather is the best – neither hot and muggy, nor gray and wet.  The Mom’s birthday should be first, because, of course, she is the Mom.  Sept. 15 would be best, right in the middle of the month.  The baby’s birthday should come next, so her special day would be bookended by her loving parents.  Then the Dad’s birthday should come a few days later, which would give ample time to celebrate the beloved baby.  The Oracle prophecied that this would happen for J’s family when he grew up.  This story is so astonishing that it’s hard to believe, because, of course, K’s birthday was last week on Sept. 15, Baby V’s was on Sept. 16, and J’s was on Sept. 19.   


This year K arranged a surprise birthday week trip to Seattle, which made for get-togethers with our Seattle extended family, Margie, Jennifer and Wynn, Greg, Jason and Hilary, and the kids.  When we phoned, Margie was having a party for Baby V’s first birthday, a cause for great celebration.  It is such an exciting time for everyone concerned.  V has been busy mastering walking for the last couple of months, and she becomes more mobile every day.  It was clear on our recent visit that V comprehends a lot of what is said to her and is beginning to produce words on her own.  And her wonderful, affable personality is just bursting forth.  J said his own 40th birthday is sort of a milestone, but he felt V’s first birthday was of far greater significance.  It’s hard to comprehend that so much has happened in her life already, yet the vast portion of her experience still lies ahead.


Like V, J was an easy and rewarding baby from his first year on.  From the time he came home from the hospital, he’d sleep through the night, rarely cried, and was curious about everything in the world about him.  As new and inexperienced parents we’d lie awake at night, trying to hear him in the next room, then tiptoe in to make sure that he was still breathing.  Katja went back to work when J was six months old, and, after a couple of nannies, 2-year-old J joined 80-year-old Mrs. Tucker’s daycare entourage in Fairview.  Mrs. Tucker had raised hundreds of children during her life.  We looked upon her as Mother Earth, and she was incredible.  J grew up to be a very well-adjusted child, certainly moreso than either of his parents, and we give all the credit to Mrs. Tucker.


Last week I told J that forty was the best birthday age of all.  He pointed out that I’ve said that about every new year he’s attained for the last decade.  He’s right about that, but this year my opinion is finally correct.  Forty is the best age of all, right at that dividing line which merges the best features of youth (e.g., health, excitement with life, fun) and adult maturity from many life lessons and getting it all together.  In J’s case, he and K have a wonderful, lively marriage, and now a bright and beautiful daughter.  They’ve both completed excellent educations and established themselves successfully in careers where they make important differences in people’s lives.  They have a wide network of loving friends and are firmly attached to their chosen community of New Orleans and its culture.  They travel widely and enjoy rewarding leisure pursuits.  In brief, there’s much to celebrate and appreciate in this trio of birthdays.  And it makes Katja and I very proud and happy.




G-Mail Comments

-Vicki L (9-24): Happy Birthday to the Magnificent Three. Yes, an astonishing story, that of the oracle. Hmmm, a story I find a tiny bit hard to believe…And yes indeedy, I too, find J, K and V's lives a source of joy and inspiration.

-Phyllis SS (9-24): You made up the oracle on Mt. Airy right?  Clever.

-Donna D (9-24): so moving david.  the picture of a successful life.  of course you made up the oracle stuff, right?

-KKB (9-24): Dave, thank you for making my day! What a sweet and loving letter....

-Ami G (9-23): Amen.

-JML (9-23): I'm feeling a lot better about life after reading this.

Monday, September 21, 2009

We Go Camping With Our Master

                            Duffy and Mike Go Camping

Dear George,


You probably never got a letter from an Old English Sheepdog before.  However, I’ve been watching Our Beloved Master (also known as The Big Guy), and I found it’s not that difficult to use a computer.  My main problem is that my paws are too big, but, if I go slow, I can do it.  So I thought I’d let you know what Mikey and I have been up to.


Last week The Big Guy started lugging boxes up from the basement.  Mike and I didn’t know exactly what he was doing, but we knew it was something special.  Whenever the Master does something like this, we jump around and bark a lot and nip at his wrists to let him know we want to be included.  This always works with the Master.  And sure enough, he put us in the SUV, and off we went.


We drove to a place called Winton Woods.  Even though it’s just out in Cincinnati’s suburbs, it looked a lot like the wilds of Northern Wisconsin where we went last summer – eighty-foot pine trees and a big lake and spacious campsites.   The Big Guy tied us up to a tree as soon as we arrived.  We don’t know why he bothers.  It’s scary enough being out in the forest, and there’s no possibility we would go anywhere.  But it does give us a chance to lie down in the dirt which is our favorite out of doors thing to do.


We watched Our Human as he unloaded the car.  Then he laid a big silver tarp on the ground and put our expandable wooden playpen on top of it.  We love our playpen.  The Master untied us, and we ran right in.  It is like our own little house.  We get to stay inside, and no one else can get in.  Even though we could easily jump out, we never do.  The only drawback is the silver tarp gets too hot when the sun hits it.  We try to push it aside so we can get back in the dirt, but the Big Guy won’t let us. 


After the Master ate his lunch, we went for a walk on the Horse Trail where he let us off the leash.  The Master started picking up dead tree branches which he’d break into two or three smaller pieces.  We used to get excited about this.  The crackling sound is thrilling, and we always think he’ll be throwing the sticks for us.  But instead he just puts them in a knapsack.  So we sat patiently and watched. 


Back at our campsite we took a nice walk around the campground.  Every time Mikey saw an SUV, he tried to get into it.  He wanted to go home pretty badly, but The Big Guy kept pulling Mike along.  He was very careful to pick up any poops we made.  He himself stopped in this big booth called a Port-a-Potty, holding onto our leashes but leaving us outside the door.  We didn’t want to be left alone, so we kept tugging on the leashes and pulling the door back open, but he kept pulling back and closing it.  After a while he must have gotten tired of this fun game because he came back out.

The Big Guy gave us our supper in the playpen.  Usually we’re not allowed to eat in such a small space because it can cause trouble.  I gulped down my food as fast as possible so I could attack Mike and get his food too.  However, he must have had the same idea, and we finished at the same time. The Big Guy meanwhile was cooking his own dinner.  He’s o.k. at preparing dog food, but that’s about it.  He burnt the fried potatoes, he didn’t have any lemon to put on the fried perch, and he forgot to bring salt and pepper.  The only thing that looked prepared correctly was his Diet Cherry Seven-Up.  However, he ate it all up and didn’t seem to mind.  Maybe he has some sheepdog in him. 


As darkness set in, our Master moved our playpen over near the fireplace and made a fire with the sticks he’d collected.  He sat and drank some red wine and stared at the flames.  Our RV neighbors next door were sitting by their fire and watching television.  We considered them to be pretty wimpy campers.  Finally the Master took an Ambien.  We thought this was a bad idea, since he’s been known to wander around in the night.  But we were able to get him into the tent successfully.  Mikey and I love it in the tent.  We love it even more than the playpen, because it’s like a big doghouse, and Our Beloved Master is inside with us.  He’s the only one who gets to sleep on the air mattress.  We try to get on it with him, but he pushes us off.


We were wakened in the morning by loud scary honking sounds.  When we looked out the window, we saw big birds flying together in a V shape, heading for some important place.  Our Master was still asleep, so I gave him some licks on the face.  We got up, and he gave us our breakfast (which was prepared very well and turned out to be exactly the same recipe as our supper).  For himself, he cooked some burnt scrambled eggs, some burnt bacon, some burnt potatoes, and some weak coffee.  He seemed to think this was quite an accomplishment.


After a while a lady came over from the RV next door.  She asked the Master if she’d seen us on Ludlow Avenue.  When the Master said yes, she said she drives down Ludlow every day to get to work at Christ Hospital and she’d seen us many times.  She said how cute Mikey and I were and what great dogs we’ve been on the campground.  We were the only dogs that didn’t bark all the time.  We were proud.  Not only are we well-known in our neighborhood, but we’re even famous in the woods.  Our Master is lucky to own us because he gets to be a celebrity too.


After lunch, the Big Guy tied us to a tree and started packing up.  This makes us very nervous, because we’re never certain if he’s going to remember to take us with him.  We watched his every move. He kept looking over at us too, as if to remind himself, “Whatever you do, don’t forget the dogs.”  The very last thing, he boosted us into the SUV.  We were very happy when we got home.  Supposedly we are descended from wolves, but any affinity for the forest was bred out of us many generations back.  What we like is air conditioning and easy chairs and down comforters and snoozing in front of the TV.  We appreciate that the Master likes to bring us along to the woods, but, frankly, we’d just as soon have everybody stay right at home.




Gmail Comments

-Jennifer M (9-22):  Great.  I didn’t know the dogs didn’t like camping!

-Linda KC (9-21): i always read your blog and i love it, we had queen vida in seattle with the rest of the group , she is something else, her cousins love her so much and she loves to get in and tussle with them. love linda

-Vicki L (9-21):  Just delighted in reading Mike and Duffy’s account of your camping trip.

-Donna D (9-21):  david. this is so clever...love the story, love the pictures…

Friday, September 18, 2009

Recapping the U.S. Open

Dear George,


We wound up two weeks of watching the US Open last Monday, and we enjoyed the whole event.  As somebody who’d never even seen TV before his sophomore year in high school, I still find the medium to be a miracle.  For all practical purposes, we were right there in front row seats in Arthur Ashe Stadium (actually much closer – right there on the court) and enjoyed the benefits of expert commentary, instant replay, fantastic graphics, etc.  Who could have imagined?


Katja and I have watched professional tennis together, live or on TV, since we got married in the days of wood rackets.  Rod Laver and Billie Jean King were among our early favorites, then Borg and Connors and Navratilova.  Nowadays we are big Roger Federer fans, and we were excited about the prospect of Roger winning his sixth consecutive US Open and tying Bill Tilden’s all-time record from the 1920’s.  Sadly, of course, this was not to happen.


U.S. tennis has fallen on hard times.  Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that European tennis – and particularly Russian and eastern European tennis – has become dominant.  Andy Roddick was the only American seed in the top 20, and he was defeated in the third round by fellow American, John Isner, ranked 55th in the world.  Isner, at 6’ 9”, is the tallest player on the men’s tour, and his game rests upon his powerful serves.  His groundstrokes, though, are shaky, and he lost in his next match.  It’s the first time in the Open era that there wasn’t a single American male in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.


American women did a little better, thanks to Venus and Serena Williams and newcomer Melanie Oudin.  Oudin, in particular, was a highlight of this year’s Open.  Before the tournament she was the third highest ranked U.S. woman at number 70 in the world, and she wasn’t expected to do much.  A gritty teenager with powerful groundstrokes and good court coverage, she singlehandedly proceeded to eliminate much of the Russian contingent: number 4 seed, Elena Dementieva; 29th seed and former U.S. Open champion, Maria Sharapova; thirteenth seed, Nadia Petrova.  Oudin finally lost to Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinal round, but not before improving her ranking, taking home a pot of prize money, and becoming a media darling.    


The other woman with a newsworthy story was Kim Clijsters of Belgium, who had won the U.S. Open in 2005, then retired in 2007 to begin a family.  Her cute little baby was there throughout the tournament.   Clijsters received a wild card to get into the Open because she hadn’t played enough this year to be ranked.  After winning three straight set matches, she then beat third seed Venus Williams in the fourth round by the improbable score of 6-0, 0-6, 6-4.  These were two equally powerful woman, matching groundstroke for groundstroke, and I think Clijster’s composure under duress made for the difference.  After a win against Na Li of China, Clijsters and Serena Williams had another knock-down, drag-out match.  Clisters, who played more consistently and was in command throughout, won on a very unfortunate circumstance when Serena reacted emotionally and hostilely to a lineperson’s foot fault call on the point before match point.  The line judge reported that Serena had threatened to kill her, and the referee administered a point penalty which ended the match in Clijster’s favor.  Commentator John McEnroe said that he didn’t see a foot fault from the TV coverage, and, even if a slight foot fault did occur, it was an inappropriate call at that critical moment.  Other commentators severely criticized Serena, suggesting that a $10,000 fine was a mere slap on the wrist.  I personally think that Serena probably did scare the wits out of the tiny linesperson, but that her behavior wasn’t any more out of line than, say, McEnroe’s or Connors’ in days gone by.  Clijster’s, who appeared likely to win the match in any case, then went on to defeat Wozniacki 7-5, 6-3 in a well-played final and became the first mom since Evonne Goolagong in 1980 to win a grand slam final.

The dark horse on the men’s side was fifth-seeded Argentinian Juan Martin Del Potro, age 20, who was playing in his fourth U.S. Open.  Del Potro met Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals and gave Nadal his worst career loss in a grand slam tournament, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2.  Nadal was suffering an abdominal injury, which appeared to affect his serving power, but Del Potro impressively dominated him throughout the match with powerful, accurate groundstrokes.  We’ve never seen Nadal look so chagrined.  Roger Federer, in the meantime, had a straight set victory over Novak Djokovich in which he hit what he described as the greatest shot of his career, a behind the back passing shot through his legs which just cleared the net at a high velocity and landed in the back corner for a winner.  Following the Nadal rout, Del Potro looked like a scary opponent, even though Federer had beaten him six times in the past.  Federer started out strong, in command throughout the first set, and he continued that way into the second.  He got cutesy, though, hitting a couple of stupid drop shots that he lost, and Del Potro, who’d been looking dejected and lackadaisical to that point, worked his way back and took the second set in a tiebreaker.  When Federer won the third set, it once again looked all over.  Del Potro, though, kept elevating his game and his confidence, relying extensively on his impressive forehand, while Federer became increasingly unsettled and inconsistent.  He actually snarled at the referee a couple of times in the match’s later stages.  We remained confident that Roger would win when they went into a fifth set, but it wasn’t to be.  Final score:  3–6, 7–6, 4–6, 7–6, 6–2.  Federer looked pretty miserable receiving the runner-up trophy, and we fans were even more miserable for him.  Now we wonder how Roger will do in 2010.

Katja suggested afterward that we subscribe to the Tennis Channel, but I wasn’t that carried away.  It’s a long wait till next year’s French Open, but we’ll follow the Cincinnati Bengals in the meantime (even though they continue to be very un-Federer-like).




Monday, September 14, 2009


Dear George,


A couple of years ago when I existed in the real world of teaching social psychology I was doing a lecture on gender roles, and, seeking an example of the prototypical American woman, I used Doris Day as my example.  A couple of students giggled, and a male in the back asked, “Who is Doris Day?”  I was taken aback, but I was even more surprised when I tossed the question back to the class and found that none of the 70 students present had an answer.  This was particularly puzzling since Doris Day is a native Cincinnatian.  I was very familiar with her, of course, from her many hit songs and movies in my adolescence and young adulthood.  Plus, as a teenager, I and my friends were addicted to Your Hit Parade, the weekly radio show hosted by Day and Frank Sinatra. I can still repeat verbatim the lyrics to her “Que Sera, Sera”,  “A Guy is a Guy”, or “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.”  


Doris Mary Anne von Kappelhoff was born in Cincinnati on April 3, 1922, to Alma Sophia Welz, a housewife, and Wilhelm von Kappelhoff, a music teacher.  Her grandparents were German emigrants, and the family lived in Evanston.  She was named after Doris Kenyon, a silent movie actress.  Though the family was Roman Catholic, her parents divorced in her childhood because of her father’s infidelity. 

Doris had a strong interest in dance in her youth and formed a dance duo that performed locally in Cincinnati.  In 1937 she won an amateur contest, and her mother decided to take her to Hollywood.  However, they had a car accident on the way west, and Doris’ right leg was severely injured.  She returned home to recuperate.  The family lived above a tavern owned by her uncle, and she got interested in singing by listening to the jukebox.  She took lessons and won an amateur contest on radio station WLW, singing Day by Day.  Soon after she began performing at a local club with bandleader Barney Rapp, who suggested she change her name to “Day” (after the song) because “Kappelhoff” was too long to fit on a marquee.  She didn’t like the name, thinking it sounded like a burlesque performer, but she accepted the advice.   She then worked with a number of bandleaders, including Bob Crosby and Les Brown.  Doris had her first hit recording, Sentimental Journey, working with Brown in 1945.  It became the anthem of the U.S. troops’ desire to return home to the states at the war’s end, and Doris’ career was launched.

Day toured the country with Les Brown, and her growing popularity led to her career in films.  She attended a party at the home of composer Jule Styne, where she sang Embraceable You.  She so impressed Styne and his partner Sammy Cahn that they recommended her for the main role in Romance on the High Seas from which Betty Hutton had withdrawn because of pregnancy.  In 1950 U.S. servicemen in Korea voted Doris Day their favorite movie star.   She went on to become one of America’s biggest box office stars, making a total of 39 movies, even though she retired from films in 1968.  These included a succession of romantic comedies with Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, and other male leads, e.g., Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, Love Me or Leave Me, Teacher’s Pet, Midnight Lace,  Send Me No Flowers, The Thrill of It All.  Her screen roles promoted her image as the All-American girl, wholesome, vivacious, and innocent.  Doris didn’t care for the image, but her husband and manager Martin Melcher actively promoted it.  According to Quigley Publishing’s poll of All-Time Number One Stars, Doris Day is currently the top ranking female box-office star of all time, the only other female in the top ten movie star list being Shirley Temple.  She received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in motion pictures in 1989.     

Contrary to her image as the girl next door, Doris Day had a succession of bad marriages.  Al Jorden, her first husband and father to her only child, was a trombonist in the Barney Rapp Band, was a physically abusive alcoholic, and committed suicide in 1967.  Her marriage to saxophonist George Weidler lasted only three years, though he later helped her to convert to Christian Science.  Martin Melcher, who Day married in 1951, produced many of Day’s movies, but reportedly abused her son, and created severe financial problems by squandering huge amounts of Day’s earnings, leaving her deeply in debt.  Melcher died in 1968, and Day successfully sued his business partner and won the largest civil suit ($20 million) ever awarded to that time in California.  Day’s fourth husband, Barry Comden, was a restaurant maitre d’ who won her over by giving her a bag of meat scraps and bones for her dogs, but their marriage collapsed when he complained that Doris cared more for her animal friends than she did for him.          


Now age 87, Doris Day lives on an 11-acre ranch near Carmel, CA.  She owns and operates the pet-friendly Cypress Hotel in Carmel where she can frequently be seen.  She often uses the name Clara Kappelhoff, Clara being a nickname given to her by co-star Billy De Wolfe.  She continues her long-time activism for animal rights, funding and running the Doris Day Animal League which merged three years ago with the Humane Society of the U.S.  President George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, though she didn’t attend because of fear of flying.  Doris Day stated, “I am deeply grateful to the President and to my country…to come from Cincinnati, Ohio, for God’s sake, then to go to Hollywood, and to get this kind of tribute from my country…I love this country so much..”  (We love you too, Doris – except for my students).





Sources:  Wikipedia, www.dorisdaytribute.com, www.imbd.com, www.parabrisas.com

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Washington School Days: 6. The Famous Drugstore Incident

Dear George,


My grandfather, V.A. Sr., owned and operated drugstores in Menominee and Marinette.  When he retired, he gave the Marinette store to my dad and the Menominee store to my Uncle Kent who was a pharmacist.  The Menominee drugstore was on Electric Square at the northwest corner of the intersection of Ogden Avenue and Sheridan Road in the heart of downtown Menominee.  If you were to go there today, it’s the building occupied by the Subway Sandwich Shop, but back then it was a bustling drugstore with a full-scale pharmacy, a soda fountain and lunch counter, a perfume department, and all the various items which a respectable Rexall store would carry.


Washington School was only a half block away.  Washington was a neighborhood school, and nearly all the kids walked home for lunch at noon.  Our family, though, had moved out of town to Riverside Boulevard when I was in the fourth grade.  As a result, my dad made arrangements with Uncle Kent for Steven and I to eat lunch at the drugstore each day.  Our lunches included a sandwich and a drink, sometimes soup or potato chips.  When things were quiet, we were allowed to eat at the lunch counter.  But to maximize seating for paying customers, we nearly always ate in Uncle Kent’s office, a small, dark, dingy room adjacent to the pharmacy space at the back of the store.

                   The Menominee Drugstore (photo by VAL)

The drugstore provided one of the great joys of my childhood because its magazine rack offered a plentiful and ever-changing supply of the latest comic books.  Kent allowed us to read these as long as we didn’t put a single wrinkle in the pages.  We carefully followed his instructions.  I loved comic books.  Superheroes were my favorite, and Skipper Burke, Frankie St. Peter, and I would have endless discussions of who was best: Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, The Green Lantern, etc.  Frankie and I always voted for Superman and felt confident in our choice because he had the greatest powers.  Skipper, though, made a strong case for Batman, namely that he was a regular human being of extraordinary strength and intelligence who didn’t have to rely on supernatural powers.  We all poked fun at Captain Marvel as a sort of antiquated superhero with his magical incantation, “Shazam”.  Inspired by the comics, I spent a lot of time drawing cartoons, copying images of Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck or making up characters of my own.


Uncle Kent had been a military leader and war hero, and he carried these attitudes over into his civilian life.  While I later became exposed as a young adult to his very caring side as a family member, Uncle Kent was very much in charge, and we were nervous and obedient when in his domain.  His main employee and coworker in the drugstore was fellow pharmacist, Lucien P.  Lucien was an older, thin, white-haired man with a rather depressed disposition. What I remember most about Lucien is his telling me each time I came in that I’d better enjoy life right now as a ten-year-old, because it was sure to get worse and worse as you went along.  This made a great impression upon me, probably because I was pretty unhappy already and it was hard for me to imagine that now was the best that life would ever be.


Kent was very active in the American Legion, and one year he ran for the position of Michigan State Commander.  His identical twin brother, Karl, accompanied him to the state convention in the Lower Peninsula.  Though very similar in appearance, Kent and Karl were strikingly different in personality.  If Kent tended to be gruff and serious, Karl was outgoing, full of laughs, and the prototypical life of the party.  As they’d done throughout their life, they engaged in some trickery at the state Legion convention.  There were many cocktail parties going on simultaneously, and Kent and Karl divided them up between the two of them, with Karl pretending to be Kent and campaigning at half the locations.  The two brothers covered double the territory of any other candidate, and, undoubtedly in part because of Karl’s geniality, Kent wound up winning by a landslide.


Kent wasn’t around the drugstore nearly as much.  But when he was there, he became very upset about the growing rat problem in the building.  Kent and Lucien tried setting traps, but with only limited success.  It seemed probable that the rat problem was somehow connected to the lunch counter, but the foodstuffs were all kept in metal containers, the refrigerator was inaccessible, and the garbage cans were tightly sealed.  This went on for many months with no resolution and was obviously an embarrassment for an establishment whose very identity rested an image of health and cleanliness.  Finally, one day the mystery was solved.  Somebody, perhaps in the act of cleaning, had pushed Kent’s office desk back away from the wall.  There they discovered a three foot high mound of moldy white bread crusts which apparently had been accumulating for up to two years and had filled the entire space behind the desk.  It was my brother Steven’s creation.  Steve hated bread crusts, and, after eating the innards of his sandwiches, he had been secretly disposing of the crusts behind Kent’s desk since the first day we had eaten there.  My father informed us of our transgression and said we wouldn’t be eating at the drugstore for a while.  I didn’t mind not eating at the drugstore.  I just didn’t want to be murdered.  Things did work themselves out though.  We finally were required to meet with Uncle Kent, and he was surprisingly gentle.    He gave us a lengthy lecture on social responsibility and some detailed orders to follow.  As good soldiers, we followed them to the letter.





Gmail Comments:

From Phyllis S-S (9-13): Dave,  What did Karl do for a living?  I loved the bread crust story.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Dear George,


When the humans go on vacation, the dogs get to vacation too.  In this case, Donna took a five-day trip with her friend and colleague Cindy to The Villages in Central Florida, and Sophie came to stay with us in resort-like Clifton.  Sophie, of course, is Mike and Duffy’s younger sister, and they spend so much time together that they constitute a pack.  Nonetheless, it’s a special and exciting occasion when Sophie comes to live with us for a while.

Sophie is very attached to Donna, so the first thing she does with her human’s departure is to sit in front of the gate and stare at it, as if some magic will make her mother reappear.

Finally Sophie gives up and comes in the house.  She goes straight up to the bedroom and jumps in the bed.  I think she must associate this with security since it’s the place that she’s closest to the humans.  She may also want to get there first to establish her place before Duffy and Mike arrive.

Once Katja, gets in bed, everybody gets in.  As you can see, Sophie gets a prime location, up with the humans, while Mike and Duffy are relegated to the lower levels.  

We spend a lot of time walking on Ludlow Avenue.  The three sheepdogs are a wonderful sight, and passing drivers yell out from their happiness in seeing them.

Katja and Sophie, as the only females in the pack, enjoy a special bond, so sometimes they may have a girls-only excursion.

We had some nice trips to Mt. Airy Forest and Burnet Woods on this visit.  The dogs get very excited when they get in the car, and they pant with emotion by the time they reach their destination.

Despite a leash law backed up by $100 fines, I let the dogs run free in the forest.  Sophie and Duffy generally lead the way, while Mike lags behind.  There is a lot of good stuff to sniff.  Sometimes Sophie runs so far ahead that I worry about losing her.

We spent a lot of time watching the US Open over the weekend.  At this particular moment, Sophie seems more interested than does Katja.

One interesting feature of Sophie’s visits is that when the dogs hear a strange noise outside, Sophie begins howling, and Mike and Duffy join in.  They only do this when Sophie is here, and the three of them sound like werewolves on the Scottish moors.


Sophie had a swell time, but she was extremely happy when her Mom returned home.  Now we miss her.



Gmail Comments:

-Ami G (9-10): This saga is adorable, as are all of you!

-Vicki L (9-10): thanks for the great dog report complete with pictures, David. Too wonderful...such cozy happy images. what lucky dogs. love, sis

-Donna D (9-10): oh, david, this is so wonderful!  what great pictures.  i didn't realize she sat by the gate when i left...i think you must have set her there for the picture, right?  i just loved this so much.  thank you!