Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fear or Sanity?: Hard to Say

Dear George,

Thanks to Comedy Central, we watched and enjoyed The Rally to Restore Sanity this afternoon. There was a huge turnout at the Washington Mall. The Daily Show’s John Stewart said (tongue in cheek) there were two million attendees, Comedy Central estimated 250,000; another media source said 150,000. The crowd looked youngish and pretty white from the TV camera scans. Fox News claimed there were too many people and nobody could see or hear anything. Stephen Colbert had originally announced a counter-rally to Keep Fear Alive, but the two supposed antagonists joined forces and presented a combined rally to “Restore Sanity and/or Fear.” There was plenty of both, plus a lot of good music. In fact, the show started off with a thirty-minute mini-concert by the Philadelphia hip hop group The Roots, joined by six-time Grammy winner John Legend, and they got the crowd totally energized. A couple of guys called the Mythbusters had 150,000 or so people doing the wave and cackling like mad scientists. John Stewart entered, welcomed the crowd, and introduced “The Four Troops,” a military quartet who sang the National Anthem. Father Guido Sarducci of SNL fame gave the benediction with his usual comic brilliance, and Sam Waterston read a poem about fears. A lot of musical acts were mixed in (e.g., Yusuf Islam, Ozzy Osbourne, the O’Jays, Kid Rock and Sheryl Crowe), and even a patriotic duet by Stewart and Colbert themselves (John Stewart was admittedly awful). Stephen Colbert had entered in the midst of all the hoopla from his Bunker of Fear, 2000 feet underground, and he and John Stewart engaged in a mock competition, with Stewart awarding medals for rationality (e.g., to the gracious baseball pitcher whose perfect no-hit game was ruined by an umpire’s wrong call) and Stephen Colbert’s Fear Awards (e.g., to NPR, the NY Times, Washington Post, and CBS for banning their employees from attending the rally) (yes, really true). Also to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook creator, who didn’t attend to receive his medal because “he values his privacy more than yours.” Stewart and Colbert then engaged in a debate, highlighted by the appearance of Kareem Abdul-Jabar who disrupted Colbert’s fear of all Muslims. When Colbert presented a video montage of TV news clips illustrating nonstop hatred from the right and the left, it appeared that Fear was about to win out. However, the Daily Show’s John Oliver appeared in a Peter Pan costume and led the crowd in cheering for John Stewart and chanting, whereupon Stephen Colbert and his gigantic puppet replica of himself melted into the stage and disappeared, just like the Wicked Witch of the West. John Stewart wound up with what he described as a moment of sincerity, thanking the crowd and the staff, and making a strong case that the press, particularly cable TV and politicians, have been manufacturing a false image of America as a “country torn by polarizing hate.” Stewart argued that the American people work together every day to solve problems of all sorts, suggesting that “cable TV is the only place we don’t.” There’s always darkness, he noted, but we have to be able to work together. Tony Bennett came out and sang “America the Beautiful,” and we all had a tear in our eyes. It was a meaningful and fun event which hopefully generated some voter enthusiasm on the eve of midterm elections. Stephen Colbert, as usual, was hilarious. It was billed as nonpartisan, though it wouldn’t be difficult to read in a critique of Fox News, the Tea Party, and various right-wing politicians. However, there was virtually no explicit mention of political parties, particular media sources or politicians, or given political issues. The emphasis really was on restoring sanity. Though Sanity won out on stage, it’s harder to determine what’s happening in real life. I guess we’ll learn more on Tuesday.



G-Mail Comments

-Donna D (10-31): very good david. i'm voting for sanity on tuesday.... donna

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hot Air Doldrums

Katja & Mike check the air conditioning units

Dear George,

I shouldn’t even be a home owner. It’s all a little bit beyond me. We slept in yesterday and were wakened by a phone call from Sampson Bros., our furnace/air conditioning people, saying that their technician was on the way. We’d forgotten our appointment for an annual maintenance check, so we jumped up and got dressed. The furnace guy, a portly fortyish man whose name was Mac, arrived twenty minutes later, greeted at the door by large dogs with loud barking voices. He’d been to our house before so he wasn’t fooled by the dogs’ make-believe aggression. Because Cincinnati was under a tornado watch, he said he was going to do the outdoor stuff first. I said, however, that we’d been having trouble with the new thermostat that they’d installed last year. This state of the art device supposedly enables the owner to pre-program it so that it automatically changes temperature settings at different hours of the day (e.g., lowering the temperature when the people go to work). Our thermostat, though, seemed to have a mind of its own and has simply changed itself to 62 degrees every four hours no matter what. This frequently made for an unpleasantly cold house. I asked Mac if he could change the thermostat so it would be set on manual instead. He didn’t seem to hear my question but instead asked what was the lowest temperature we would prefer. Katja said 68. He pushed the various buttons on the thermostat about a dozen times and announced that it would now go no lower than 68. I repeated my question about whether we could just have it set on manual and change the thermostat ourselves. Mac said something, but, because he has a hefty speech defect, I couldn’t make it out. I gave up on my manual idea. I told him that the other problem we’d had last winter was that the furnace would stop generating hot air altogether every week or two and I’d have to go up to the attic and bleed the hose (which he’d showed me how to do two years ago). We went up to the attic to look at it. I’m always embarrassed because stuff in our attic is piled so high that your life is at risk from being crushed by falling possessions when walking through. Mac said I hadn’t been bleeding the furnace correctly, and he showed me how to do it again. I privately thought to myself that if our furnace was working properly I shouldn’t have to be bleeding it at all, but I didn’t say it aloud. Mac then went outdoors to do whatever he needed to do. When he came back I asked if he’d noticed any odor of sewer gas in our basement. He got defensive and said the furnace doesn’t cause sewer gas. I said I knew that, but we’d been having a problem with sewer odors, and I just wanted an outsider’s opinion. He said he hadn’t noticed anything. Then, since he was clearly more knowledgeable than I about practical matters of all sorts, I asked him if he thought the lack of sound on our downstairs TV was likely to be a cable problem or a problem with the television set itself. He thought it was probably the TV set. “I wonder if I should call a TV repairman,” I asked. Mac didn’t reply, leading me to wonder if he had a hearing problem. He said that the garden hose that ran through the basement from the furnace to a drain in the floor was leaking and that we should replace it. I asked if I’d be able to do that. He said it was just an ordinary garden hose which I could attach to the furnace outlet. I asked if I could just tape up the old hose with duct tape, but he said it wouldn’t hold. He was done with his work, and I signed the papers. “Is everything looking o.k. then?,” I asked, and Mac said everything looked fine. That was a relief. Now the thermostat will reset itself to 68 every few hours, but it will be less of a problem. And I’ll be able to get the furnace running again every week or two by bleeding it properly (if I can remember how). I was happy that we were prepared for the coming winter. Katja suggested I go to Ace Hardware right away and buy a garden hose, but I said I had more important things to do (like writing this blog posting). Besides, the hose had been leaking for at least a year, so there’s no rush. I’ll take care of it next week.



G-Mail Comments

-Vicki L (10-30): Hi D, This posting was very reassuring to me. Geo had a new furnace installed several years ago. I've never been able to figure out how to program it. Only one of many instances of feeling stupid and inadequate. Fact is, I think many of these 'devices' are set up to be hard to figure out - providing opportunities for the 'Mac's' of the world to have plentiful work. That'd be OK by me if 'Mac' would take time to really help me become competent. I don't know about stretching the questions to the TV. I've given up trying to watch TV and am coming close to seeing the telephone as also too complicated. The pic of K's arm is very impressive. Send her my love, V.

-Gayle CL (10-28): David,,,, you should hire Mac as ur handy man.....:)))) great photo of Katya and one of the big dogs...lots of love;)))))) X O. G

-Donna D (10-27): great pic, david!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Ode to Old English Sheepdogs

Dear George,

Recently I took Mike and Duffy, our Old English Sheepdogs, on a three-day camping trip to East Fork State Park in nearby Clermont County. Spending 24 hours a day together is a good opportunity for the dogs and I to know one another still better and work out our camping rituals. Here’s why I think the dogs are such good companions.

As almost any dog owner would tell you, dogs love being with their masters. They hang out with you; they follow you around; they crave your attention, respond with happiness when you give it to them, and are eager to please. As I packed up for our East Fork trip, Mike and Duffy followed my every move, and they barked and jumped with joy when I attached leashes to their collars. I’m as happy about this as the dogs are. They have consistently positive attitudes and put us human beings in a good mood too. I always think that I can learn important life lessons from the sheepdogs.

Being in a new place can be unnerving, and the dogs enjoy being in the security of their playpen house. They sit and watch when I’m putting up the tent or washing the dishes. When they determine that what I’m doing doesn’t involve them, they put their heads down and fall into a sound sleep. They have a great capacity for rest and can go to sleep in a moment when it’s their “off-time”.

The minute I’m ready to do something, the dogs jump up and are ready to go. They are open to any activity I initiate. Most often this involves taking a hike and exploring the surroundings. Mike and Duffy stick closely with me and rarely stray off the trail, even if they see a squirrel or a deer in the distance. Sometimes they’ll take the lead, but more often they follow behind, Duffy just a step back of me and Mike behind him.

The sheepdogs are curious about everything in the environment – smells, sounds, sights. Though they’ve had minimal experience with bodies of water, they quickly took to wading in East Fork Lake. Mike, in particular, seemed to think he’s some sort of water dog.

All in all, being with the dogs is enjoyable because they have such good dispositions. They’re mellow, happy, and even-tempered. They often have a smile on their face and rarely seem depressed or moody. A skeptic might say that they ought to be happy because they lead such comfortable lives. However, I think it’s their basic nature. That’s why I like to hang out with the doggies – I’m always hopeful some of it will rub off on me.



G-Mail Comments

-Donna D (10-26): this is wonderful david. then there are the humans who feel like they are never doing enough for their dogs....that's me!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lunacy in the Air

Candidate Rand Paul; Campaigner Sarah Palin

Dear George,

One of the knocks against social sciences is its supposed inability to predict the future. That may be true sometimes, but when conditions are right it’s possible to make some pretty good predictions. Take the recent buzz around Tea Party superstar Rand Paul’s race for the senate in Kentucky. Paul’s campaign has seen the largest influx of extreme right-wing politicians to any campaign site in all of recorded history: Rand’s libertarian father, Texas congressman Ron Paul; Tea Party darling Sarah Palin herself; the Senate’s most radical conservative, Jim DeMint; right-wing Republican Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi; Kentuckian and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell; and a parade of lesser ideologues. The intensity of it all has whipped up such a storm of anger and paranoid resentment that toxic vibrations have spread through the atmosphere and are corroding people’s brains. After some careful social scientific mulling, I came up with a bunch of predictions about the destructive effects of all this agitation. Here are just a few of the things likely to happen:

(1) Violence will escalate with local folk using bizarre weaponry like Japanese swords and bows and arrows.

(2) Postal workers will go berserk and attack foreign immigrants.

(3) Given their marginality, Hispanic immigrants will turn upon one another in an orgy of in-group violence.

(4) Rich anti-tax people will resort to theft to avoid paying for fine wines and other highly taxed commodities.

(5) Alienated from the government, conservatives will start impersonating government officials to gain illicit ends (e.g., by pretending to be Secret Service agents).

Palinites Infected by Tea Party Vapors in Kentucky []

Once I had my predictions in place, I started monitoring the local news. I wasn’t in the least bit surprised when the following stories turned up in the Cincinnati Enquirer (yes, no kidding, these are for real, though pseudonyms are used here):

Five Finger Sword Assault. Angela Offwul, 29 of South Fairview, is being held on $15,000 bond for attempting to slice off her ex-boyfriend’s fingers with a Japanese Katan sword. [Hypothesis 1 supported; Enquirer, Oct. 5]

Archered to Near-Death. Sanford Staley invited Harold Spicey to live with him for a while because the latter was out of work. But when the two men argued about Staley’s 11-year-old daughter, Spicey shot Staley three times with his bow and arrow, leaving him for dead. [Hyp. 1 supported; Enquirer, Sept. 8]

Postal Clerk Takes Action. When Tenju Wang found the mailbox filled to capacity and nobody at the front desk of the Monfort Post Office, he went around to the back door to report the problem. Ever alert postal clerk Shawn Tollabee, sensing an Asian presence, picked up a large knife, grabbed Wang, held the knife to his throat, and slammed his head against a metal post. The Postal Service is conducting an inquiry. [Hyp. 2 supported; Enquirer, Oct. 5]

Hispanic Wilding. 150 Hispanic people, including 30 children, gathered for a little girl’s birthday party at the Elks’ Hall in Oakwood Place. When a fight broke out between a woman’s boyfriend and her ex-husband, 75 people began throwing punches and beer bottles at one another. Twenty police officers swarmed the scene but their investigation failed because they couldn’t find anybody who could speak English. [Hyp. 3 supported; Enquirer, Sept. 28]

How to Get Good Bargain Wines. Dr. Domino Riccolo, program director for a local hospital’s heart transplant clinic, was convicted on two counts of theft for changing the bar codes on expensive bottles of wine and purchasing them for as little as $1.59. The judge put the doctor on probation and advised him to stay out of Kroger stores. [Hyp. 4 supported; Enquirer, Sept. 28]

Secret Secret Identity. When a Fort Granger KY police officer arrested a woman for trying to cash a counterfeit payroll check, Vurdell Hix intervened, identifying himself as a Secret Service agent and insisting that the woman be released so he could follow her and uncover the counterfeiting operation. It turns out that Vurdell Hix himself was the counterfeiter, and the secret service agent he was impersonating was the very person who was investigating him. [Hyp. 5 supported; Enquirer, 8-23-10]

You might think that this amazing confirmation of all my predictions is evidence of a supernatural ability to foresee the future. However, in all modesty, it’s nothing more than the application of modern-day social science methods. I also made some additional predictions about what will happen when Rand Paul and the other Tea Party candidates win the election and take over Congress. However, these are so mind-shattering that I locked them away in a sealed envelope and mailed them to my sister Vicki by Special Delivery. I asked Vicki to open the envelope on November 3rd and let everybody know the terrible news.



G-Mail Comments

-Jennifer M (10-23): It's time to come out of retirement. :-)

Phyllis SS (10-21): Dave, Your story is horrifyingly funny.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Burnet Woods, October Magic

Map: Clifton neighborhood, Cincinnati

Dear George,

One of my favorite pastimes these days is taking the sheepdogs over to Burnet Woods and shooting photos in the forest. The more time I spend there, the more attached I become. On the map above, the park’s northwestern edge is at the intersection of Clifton and Ludlow Avenues. We live just three blocks to the west on Ludlow. So Burnet Woods is practically in our back yard. Once you enter it, you’re in the midst of a mature forest and might just as well be in Cedar River, Michigan, or some other wilderness spot. Right now the autumn leaves are peaking in our region, and with sunny days and perfect temperatures it’s an ideal time to be out and about. Here are some photos from Burnet Woods in the past few days which capture a bit of its splendor.



G-Mail Comments

-Vicki L (10-18): Hi David, You have some crazy trees in Burnet Woods or perhaps a lot of chops behind the camera and its possibilities. I thought Peter would have enjoyed these pics.

-Ami G (10-17): Wow! These are lovely! Nice job!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Birch Creek Earthquake: A Secret Message?

Eileen Heider inspects the fissure on her Birch Creek property []

Dear George,

My brother Peter was always a keen student of Eastern philosophies and religions, and he developed a healthy sense of the hidden and unfathomable aspects of human existence. More than the rest of us, Peter was attuned to puzzling and seemingly inexplicable events, especially in family matters, and he liked to speculate about their mystical or supernatural origins. Being more literal and concrete in my thinking, I’d often react to my brother’s interpretations of strange happenings with skepticism, but I’ll admit that many of his hunches were intriguing. So when I ran across a news story in the online edition of the Marinette-Menominee Eagle-Herald about an unprecedented earthquake in Birch Creek, I thought of Peter immediately.

First, a little background. My parents, Vic and Doris, bought their 240-acre Farm property in Birch Creek, MI, in the mid-60’s, then moved there full-time in the 70’s. My three siblings and I and our families began gathering there with our parents every August for a big family reunion, and our children formed a strong emotional attachment to Farm. By his late seventies, my dad had developed an almost religious sense our property, seeing it as the homeland of our family and envisioning the day when all family members would move there and live in peace and love in a network of compounds. After my parents died, our extended family continued ownership of the property through a joint partnership of the four siblings, though our use of the property dwindled drastically over the years, and there was even debate on whether to keep the property in the family at all. After years of it languishing, my sister Vicki announced the other day that our lawyer is drafting papers to gift the property to the younger generation, a new tenant for the farmhouse has been found, and plans are underway to harvest mature timber to provide income to help maintain and improve the property. My nieces and nephews responded excitedly to these developments, and it appears that Vic’s dream, which had seemed headed for oblivion, has been totally re-energized.

Just as I had received all this enthusiastic family news by e-mail from Vicki, I ran across a news story about Birch Creek from the local online newspaper ( Eileen Heider, who lives on her 53-acre property on Bay de Noc Road, probably next door to Vic and Doris’ land, reported that last Monday morning she heard an explosion and felt her recliner bouncing around underneath her. Later her partner took a walk on the property and discovered that a lengthy mound of earth had risen up to 15 feet high in places, tilting trees 30 degrees away from one another on either side of the ridge. There was a 200-yard fissure along the ridge, four or five feet deep, and up to twenty feet wide in places. A Michigan Tech geologist came down from Houghton and concluded that an earthquake had occurred, even though there’s never been an earthquake in the recorded history of the U.P. Fortunately, the Tech guy judged the likelihood of another earthquake occurring in Birch Creek to be zero. Meanwhile the site has become the most popular tourist attraction in Menominee County.

Portrait of Vic L at his Birch Creek Farm

Were Peter around for this happening, I can just imagine what he’d have to say. I’m sure he would argue that it’s no coincidence that, just as our family was experiencing the resurrection of my dad’s dreams about our property, there was a simultaneous explosion from the bowels of the earth in Birch Creek. Peter would see this as entirely predictable and just so characteristic of Vic, who was sending from another world his a message of approval and enthusiastic celebration with all of the boisterousness of which he was capable. Leave it to our father to create an earthquake to express himself. While normal people might consider this far-fetched, I’m sure our family members would see a certain ring of truth about it. It’s definitely as plausible as the supposedly scientific claim of the Michigan Tech geologist.



G-Mail Comments

-Phyllis SS (10-22): Dave, This is the MOST exciting thing to see? Maybe your brother was right - remember that postcard you got that time that didn't even have the correct address on it? When you were hoping to hear from your brother(s) or family? Phyllis

-Vicki L (10-15): Your blog about Peter was great - had a real belly laugh. Hope it's ok I forwarded it to my kids for their enjoyment. I miss the boys - talk about them all the time.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Random Beauty

Jackson Pollock, No. 8 (1949)

Dear George,

Lately I’ve been spending more time taking pictures in the woods. Partly this is due to perfect weather and dogs who need exercise. Beyond that, though, the forest is a rich and challenging source of visual imagery. While there’s certainly plenty of patterning, there’s just as frequently a dose of chaos that engages the viewer. When photographed, a lot of it reminds me of abstract art, sort of like Jackson Pollock creating wild configurations by flinging and spattering paint on a canvas. And it’s everywhere you look. Walking along a trail in Mt. Airy Forest yesterday I had a whimsical idea of letting random chance dictate my photo choices. So I took a quarter from my pocket and tossed it through the air about ten feet off the trail. Then I walked over to where the coin had landed and took about a dozen photos of the forest floor, all within twelve inches of where the quarter was lying. The images are below. The conclusion I reach is that the natural world is overflowing with beauty no matter where you look. It’s a little bit overwhelming. See what you think.



Friday, October 8, 2010

Tiny Adventures

Duffy & Mike on the trail in Mt. Airy

Dear George,

When I was a kid, going on an expedition in the forest was always a big adventure. I’d usually take our family dog Mike, and with only boy and dog together I had an exhilarating sense of freedom – from parents, routine home life, the whole social world. Sometimes I’d head east along the river to Brewery Park or even all the way downstream to the Meyers property near the cemetery. Other times I’d head upriver, past Lou Reed’s house, and search for artifacts in the collapsed silo at an old abandoned farm. Or across the road to the huge field full of flowers, shrubs, ant hills, and butterflies. There was always interesting stuff to see or do – dried up milkweed pods, Indian tobacco, birds’ nests, acorns, garter snakes to catch, stones to throw. There was also a mild feeling of suspense and potential danger – getting lost, encountering wild animals or even robbers or murderers, falling into a sinkhole. But, happily, bad things almost never happened.

Nowadays going out in the forest still is an adventure, though not as magical as it was in childhood. Yesterday I took our sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, on an expedition to Mt. Airy Forest. We went on a different trail than usual, down the hill toward the Tree House. At the hill’s bottom we came across a dried up creek bed, and I decided to abandon the regular trail and see where it went. The creek bed was covered in large, irregular, sometimes jagged rocks, and, because of its steady downward descent, there were frequent rock ledges to climb down. I worried about the dogs hurting themselves on the rugged terrain, but in fact they were more sure-footed than I.

Hiking on the creek bed

Whenever we go hiking, Duffy often sticks close to me. I don’t know if this reflects his herding instinct or his insecurity, but he’s definitely connected to me. Mike, with a more relaxed disposition as well as arthritic hips, is in no hurry and usually lags behind. I was taking photos of tree roots on this particular outing, and whenever I stopped to take a picture Duffy would come right to my side, but Mike would sit down wherever he was and wait patiently till he was certain I was ready to move on.

Mt. Airy tree roots

About midway on our journey I found a whole bevy of interesting tree roots and was busy stopping at one spot, then another. When I finished I called for the dogs to move on, but, when I turned around, only Duffy was there. I turned around and looked in front of where I was standing – no Mike there either. My heart sunk into my stomach. I’d just seen him moments before, and I couldn’t imagine how he’d vanished. “Mike!” I yelled as loud as I could, my voice quavering. I could see twenty or thirty yards behind me, and there was no sign of the dog anywhere. “Mike, Mike, Mike,” I started yelling while I ran back along the creek’s bed of rocks, looking up both of the hillsides. I thought about Mike wearing his I.D. tag and wondered if someone would call our phone number to return him. Then I imagined how Katja would react – she would never forgive me. “Mike!” I screamed at the top of my voice. Then, just as suddenly as he’d disappeared, he stepped out from a cluster of shrubs some fifty feet away. He’d apparently gone into the bushes to get out of the sun till I finished taking photographs, and he’d been in no hurry to come back out. I was never so happy to see anybody in my life. I gave him a pet on the back, and we set off again. For the rest of the trip I looked back to check on the dogs’ whereabouts every ten or fifteen seconds.

Mike reappears from the shrubs

My sense was that our trail ran parallel to the creek, and, after a while, I wanted to leave the creek and climb back up to the trail, but the ravine walls had become steeper and were essentially unclimbable. The creek went on for a long distance, and maneuvering it became increasingly challenging. The dogs had to climb over fallen tree trunks and piles of brush and jump down three-foot heights of rock. Duffy leapt over the obstacles easily and Mike approached them more gingerly, but both dogs made their way successfully. I didn’t know quite where we were, but after forty minutes or so we found ourselves at West Fork Road at the opposite side of the park. The hill was less steep at the edge of the road and I took the dogs up to its top, hoping to find a trail there. We had no luck, so we came back down and took the creek in the reverse direction. Halfway back I stumbled over a large rock and fell to the ground, cradling my camera with one arm. I broke the fall with my right hand, and my body made a bumpy landing on the rocks. The dogs ran to me out of concern, but I was o.k. As I slowly got up, I thought about Katja’s recently broken arm and how we couldn’t afford to have two disabled people. I worried about getting hurt when there was no human traffic around, and I started watching more carefully where I was stepping.

The Mt. Airy Tree House

After a lengthy uphill trek we got back to our original forest trail, then walked up the hill to the Tree House and back to the parking area where the dogs got a drink at the water fountain. Their tongues were hanging out by then, and, figuratively, so was mine. We’d all had a good workout and I’d taken 139 photos. Even so, we were happy to be back to civilization.



Monday, October 4, 2010


Dear George,

Most of my childhood heroes were either movie characters (e.g., Hopalong Cassidy), comic book heroes (e.g., Batman), or literary figures (e.g., Robin Hood). A real-life idol for most of us Menominee kids, however, was local football player Billy Wells. The Wells were a long-time lumber family in our home town, and Billy was the son of friends of my parents, John and Dorothy (Tilly) Wells. Tilly was the younger sister of our close family friend, Jean Worth. I didn’t really know Billy because he was six years older than me, but my siblings and I were friends with his younger brother John and his cousins Sammy and Rita. The other day I was fiddling around, Googling various people from my distant past, and I was pleased to discover that Billy Wells still enjoys a significant presence in virtual reality.

Billy Wells was the adopted son of Mrs. Wells by a first marriage. He began playing football as a team sport in the seventh grade at Menominee High School. He became an all-around high school star in football, basketball, and track. His varsity football team won two mythical Upper Peninsula championships and attained a three-year record of 19-4-1. According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, “Wells was renowned as a dazzling broken field runner who could score from anywhere on the field.” The story quotes Billy as saying he probably had “…seven or eight touchdowns over 40 yards my senior year…” Menominee was a rabid high school football town, and Billy Wells received a great deal of local renown.

Billy Wells at Menominee High (Wells Family web-site)

The new coach at Michigan State College, Clarence L. (“Biggie”) Munn, recruited Wells, along with a host of other players who were to become the most accomplished team in all of MSU’s history. The backfield gained lasting fame as the “Pony backfield” because of their small size (the four averaged 172 pounds apiece), quickness, and power. The team earned a No. 2 national ranking in 1951, then won national championships in 1952 and 1953 with a 28-game winning streak. The Spartans played their first full season in the Big Ten in 1953, and Wells scored MSU’s first Big Ten running touchdown and their first pass reception touchdown. He scored 17 touchdowns for MSU during his three collegiate seasons.

Billy Wells & Janet Richter dancing the Charleston at her MSU sorority (Life Magazine, 1952)

Michigan State won the Big Ten championship in their first year of eligibility, then met UCLA in the 1954 Rose Bowl before a crowd of 101,000. The game was the occasion for the first national color television broadcast (to a grand total of 200 TV sets). UCLA jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but MSU battled back, with Billy Wells scoring two touchdowns, one on a 62-yard punt return with less than five minutes left. After the TD he ran to the bench and told the coach, “That was for you, Biggie.” MSU won 28-20, and Wells was named Rose Bowl Player of the Day. He and other bowl stars went to New York to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, and he managed to arrange a dream date in L.A. with Debbie Reynolds.

Billy Wells was drafted by the NFL in the fifth round and played with the Washington Redkins (1954-57), Pittsburgh Steelers (1957), Philadelphia Eagles (1958), and the Boston Patriots of the AFL (1960). He led the Redskins in rushing as a rookie, then spent two years in the military, and returned to be the Steeler’s top rusher. He still holds the Washington Redskins record for the longest run from scrimmage (88 yards). For his career he had 1,384 rushing yards for a 3.8 average, 725 receiving yards, and 9 touchdowns.

Billy Wells (Redskins Halfback), Topps Football Rookie Card (1956)

After retiring from professional football, Wells founded and led a Dixieland band called Billy and His Bachelors which played all over Southern California. Wells did the vocals and played banjo. He did some TV acting in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Bat Masterson, Manhunt, and Colt. 45. Later he worked as a sportscaster in Chicago and producer of movie shorts, then as a field supervisor for a security guard company. He, his wife Beverly (Chappelle), son Chris, and daughters Becca and Scottie lived in Manhattan Beach, a Los Angeles suburb. Billy Wells died in Altadena, CA, on December, 25, 2001, at age 70.

In doing the research for this story I ran across a blog that posed the question: “Who was the greatest running back in MSU history.” The most frequent answer was Lorenzo White who starred for the team in the mid-80’s and went on to play for the Houston Oilers. All the old-timers, though, said Billy Wells. I go along with that. Not bad for a U.P. Menominee guy.



Friday, October 1, 2010

Seniorhood: Such a Pleasant Surprise

“The Senior Guide Contains a Lot of Truth”

Dear George,

I’ve gone through some psychic pain making this transition from being a junior to being a senior. I should have worked it all out years ago, but I’ve resisted because of all the goofy age stereotypes in TV sitcoms and Geritol ads. Just this week, though, I’ve had quite a breakthrough. What I’ve discovered, believe it or not, is that being a senior is a big step up from being a junior.

“Seniors play all sorts of racket sports” [Note: All photos from the 2010 Senior Guide]

Yesterday, coming out of the drugstore, I happened to glance at a rack of free magazines and noticed one called “Greater Cincinnati SENIOR GUIDE.” I’d never paid attention to publications of this sort, figuring they were designed for my grandparents. This time, though, I took a copy home to see if there was anything I should know about if I were to get old. Holy moly, was I surprised! Here I’d been deliberately not thinking of myself as a senior citizen. Now I find that it’s one of the best things one can be. Just paging through the Senior Guide, it’s clear that seniors’ lives are filled with wonder and joy. The first thing that struck my eye is how good-looking seniors are. If you were to go to Florence Mall and look at a bunch of juniors, you’d see a lot of plain-looking or even ugly people. However, you can’t help but conclude from the photos in Senior Guide that virtually every senior in Greater Cincinnati is good-looking, slim, stylish, and has a perfect complexion. I never realized it before, but it seems that people get more and more attractive as they age.

Some Typical Seniors.”

Being an empirically-minded social scientist, I did a content analysis of the photographs in the Senior Guide, e.g., counting the number of instances that people were smiling vs. not smiling. The results are given in the table below:

Table: Content of Photos in the Senior Guide

People together(vs. people alone)..76%

Male-male pairs.....................0%

Female-female pairs.................8%

Female-male pairs..................92%

People smiling (vs. not smiling)...97%

Physically touching (vs. not)......64%

Disabilities (e.g., walker).........3%

In apparent physical pain...........0%

Looks physically ill................0%

Looks confused, disoriented.........0%

Appears depressed...................0%

What the data show is that our everyday fears about aging are a bunch of hooey. One clearly wrong idea is that old people are socially isolated. As these real-life pictures of actual people in real places prove, elderly people are together with others the vast majority of the time (76%). Moreover, while older women occasionally spend time with one another (8%), they are nearly always in the company of their handsome male partners (92%).

“Seniors are giddy and joyful”

The most significant fact from the Senior Guide is that seniors are deliriously happy. As noted, they smile 97% of the time, and you’ll never see one frowning. Also they spend much of their time (64%) exchanging affection through physical touch. Further, the supposed idea that seniors are prone to ill health has no support. There isn’t a single senior in this Greater Cincinnati sample who shows any sign of pain, sickness, mental decay, or depression. True, one person used a walker; another, a wheelchair. But you would find that in any really big group of teenagers too.

“Seniors communicate mainly through physical touch”

The upshot of all this is that I’ve become much more enthusiastic about my chronological age. I had no idea of the swell times I was missing out on. The main thing I need to do is learn to smile a lot more so that I’m more in tune with my age group. As soon as I’m done posting this link I think I’ll walk down Ludlow Avenue and let passersby know that I’ve decided to become a senior. They will probably treat me politely, but secretly, I think, they will be a little envious.



G-Mail Comments

-Linda C (10-2): Absolutly one of the best. I am going to look in mirror and practice smiling love Linda

-Anon (10-1): This is really funny. I think the picture with the group playing cards might be the opening scene of a porn film. They have their hands all over each other. The one woman is pretending to touch her female friend's hand while making a stealth play for the guy too! The bad news seems to be that when you're a senior guy, there are lots of women around, but you have to keep your hands to yourself!

-Gayle CL (10-1): Very amusing.... You are certainly looking at the bright side of aging. ;))) just don't stand on the corner w a group of Seniors wearing a red hat.... I ll explain if u don't know what that. Means :))))) get back to me on that ;)). X