Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sweet Dreams

Ambien Addicts

Dear George,

I used to think Ambien was the wonder drug of the 21st century, but now I’m having my doubts. Lately I’ve found myself writing strange e-mails to friends and family members during the night. They seem amusing at the time, but then I wake up and read them with horror. Last month I discovered that I’d joined an online dating service while in a stupor. That very night I heard from somebody named Tawny Sue, but I just couldn’t deal with it by the light of day. Though I’d been thinking that Ambien makes for blissful, uninterrupted sleep, our son J told me that researchers have found that you actually only sleep 11 minutes more per night when you take Ambien. You only think you’ve slept well because it wipes out your memory. It makes you wonder.

Friday night around midnight Katja nudged me and said she’d like some wine and cheese. I’d been sound asleep, had brushed my teeth, and said I didn’t want any. A while later she poked me again and handed me a cracker with a slice of Camembert on it. She’d opened a bottle of white wine, and I had one sip of that too, but then I drifted back to sleep. When I woke in the morning there was a single slice of cheese left on the bedside table, and the bottle of wine was empty. I went down to the kitchen, and the floor was all sticky and had three dish towels on it. It smelled of white wine. Also there was a salad bowl on the counter stool with some liquid in it. That smelled like white wine too. I couldn’t figure out why the wine was in a salad bowl (or on the floor). When Katja woke up, I asked her about it. She said she hadn’t had any wine or cheese last night, but I insisted she had. She thought maybe I’d dreamed it, but I showed her the evidence. She still thinks it was me.

We wouldn’t have these difficulties if we were more like the dogs. They stake out their spaces on the bed, don’t ingest anything, and rarely raise an eyelid. That’s partly why we have difficulty sleeping, since we have to find some twisted spot in the small spaces that the sleeping dogs leave for us. Mikey has the enviable of habit of sleeping on his back with his four paws raised in the air. I did a little Internet research, and I learned that dogs do this when they are trying to cool off because they have less fur on their tummies. Alpha dogs never sleep on their backs because that could make them vulnerable to attack, but underling dogs do so as a gesture of submission. That definitely holds for Duffy and Mike.

Katja came home yesterday with a new CD called “The Ison Method – Music for Sleep.” This could help in our efforts to adopt a new drug-free life style. The cover of the CD says it’s being used in Iraq to help soldiers sleep better. If it works on soldiers under the threat of missile attacks, it certainly should work on us. She put it on last night about midnight and turned the lights off. First there was the sound of waves in the distance. Then birds making chirping sounds. Then it played rhythmic, repetitive chords of music. At first I thought it would keep me up all night because I was listening to it carefully. But then I stopped listening. And soon I was sound asleep. I never woke up all night – it was just like Ambien except I didn’t do stupid things.

During the night I dreamt that I was attending a three-day Sociology conference at a hotel in Portland, Oregon. Most of my colleagues weren’t there, so I was pretty much on my own. When I came back to my room there was an Indian doctor there with several female graduate students, and he was occupying the room too. He was puzzled by my presence, and I by his. Though he watched me suspiciously, I decided I would just share the room with him. One of the things I needed to do was to go to another very fancy hotel across town where Katja and I had stayed a year ago. We had left a lot of our belongings in the room, including a library of several hundred books. We’d never paid the bill, and I figured that by now we owed them about forty thousand dollars in rent for the room. I was hoping I could negotiate with them for a lesser fee, maybe two or three thousand dollars (this is a recurrent dream that I’ve been having ever since I retired). Then it suddenly dawned on me that they hadn’t tried to reach us for an entire year. They’d probably cleared out our books and stuff anyway and thrown them away. I didn’t have to contact them at all. We could just forget about it. I had a feeling of immense relief from this insight and ran straight to the phone to tell Katja.

When I woke up after my dream I realized that today is our fifty-first wedding anniversary. That was impressive but a little difficult to assimilate. It’s not as huge as number fifty, but big nonetheless. I decided it means that we are one year into celebrating our second half-century of being married. Just like the books and belongings we’d left for a year in the fancy hotel room, we can just set aside that first half century now and begin all over again. What with Katja retiring and our starting on a new life course, it’s sort of like being newlyweds again. Well, almost.



G-mail Comments

-Phyllis S-S (8-29): Dave, I especially loved the part about the dream. pss

-Vicki L (8-28): Happy 51st David and Katja - you can feel proud that your lifestyle gets wilder and more outrageous with each passing year. Keep up the good non-work. Love, Vicki

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Bush Tax Cuts

Dear George,

There have probably have been more painful times politically in the U.S. in the last fifty years (e.g., the Vietnam War era, Watergate, Reagan), but the last two years seem like the ugliest in recent memory. This can mostly be attributed to to the rightwing backlash against President Obama and the election of extremist Tea Party-supported Republican candidates to Congress. It all seemed to come to a head in the recent political crisis regarding raising the debt ceiling. I could barely stand to listen to the news, but I also decided it’s important to try to better understand what’s going on. Democrats and Republicans were most polarized in their stances toward ending the soon-to-expire tax cuts that George W. Bush put in place during his first term. Obama proposed retaining the Bush tax cuts for middle and lower income earners, but returning to Clinton-era tax rates for high income people (i.e., individuals over $200,000; couples over $250,000). This would have meant tax increases for about 2% of the population (for the highest bracket, an increase from 35% to 39.6%). Republicans objected strenuously, vowing to maintain tax cuts for the wealthy at all costs and arguing that the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent for all taxpayers. With the Republicans threatening economic chaos by blocking an increase to the federal debt ceiling, Obama reached a compromise with Republicans in Congress to extend the cuts for two more years for the rich and for everybody else. Many Democrats responded with outrage at what they saw as Obama’s caving in to Republican obstructionism. So what’s this all about?

What are the Bush tax cuts?

The George W. Bush administration, with the aid of Congress, implemented changes in the U.S. tax code in 2001 and 2003 that lowered federal income taxes for nearly all taxpayers. For example, tax rates for a middle income category ($34,500 to $83,600) dropped from 28% to 25%. Tax rates for the highest income bracket ($379,150 and above) dropped from 39.6% to 35%. The cuts also lowered taxes on dividends and capital gains; reduced estate taxes; lowered tax burdens on parents, married couples, and the working poor; and increased tax credits for retirement savings and education. (13) (4) [Note: Numbers in parentheses refer to sources cited at end.]

How have economists reacted to the Bush tax cuts?

Most U.S. economists opposed the Bush tax cuts (18). At the time of the legislation, 450 economists, including ten Nobel Prize winners, sent a statement to President Bush saying that “these tax cuts will worsen the long-term budget outlook… will reduce the capacity of the government to finance Social Security and Medicare benefits as well as investments in schools, health, infrastructure, and basic research… [and] generate further inequalities in after-tax income.” (18) All of these predictions appear to have been borne out. Despite Republicans’ rejection of tax cuts as a means of helping to reduce the Federal deficit, most economists agree that it’s impossible to maintain the Bush tax cuts and reduce the Federal deficit by spending cuts alone. As the New York Times puts it, “There is no economically sensible or politically honest way to address the deficit without also increasing revenues and reforming the tax code.” (6)

Who has benefited most from the Bush tax cuts?

People at all income levels have had more disposable income as a consequence of the Bush tax cuts. While economists’ opinions vary, many conclude that the rich have benefited the most. According to the Christian Science Monitor (2), a middle-income family ($52,224 per year) has obtained a take-home pay increase of $1,016 (2.4%) as a consequence of the Bush tax cuts. Persons in the top 1%, however, have enjoyed an increase of $72,872 (5.9%). The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded that the Bush tax cuts yielded the “largest benefits, by far, on the highest income households.” (13)

How have the Bush Tax Cuts affected the national debt?

Members of the Bush administration predicted that the tax cuts, because they would stimulate the economy and create jobs, would pay for themselves. This did not happen. The country’s last financial surplus was in 2001 at the end of Clinton’s presidency. From 2001 to 2009 government spending increased from 18.2% of the Gross Domestic Product (hereafter, GDP) to 24.7%, while taxes declined from 19.5% to 14.8% of the GDP. Relative to the GDP, this was the highest level of spending and the lowest level of taxation in 40 years. (19) Due to a combination of tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. national debt grew substantially during Bush’s presidency (2001-2008), both in sheer dollars and relative to the size of the economy, and it has continued to grow under Obama. (19) In 2001 the Congressional Budget Office forecasted a surplus of $2.3 trillion by 2011. Instead, according to the Pew Center, the national debt in 2011 is approximately $10.4 trillion, most of that due to recessions and the effects of Bush’s policies. (19)

How has income inequality in the U.S. changed over recent decades?

Income inequality in the U.S. has been increasing since the 1970s. Among wealthy countries, the U.S. has the highest level of income inequality (i.e., the greatest gap between the rich and the poor), and it has experienced the greatest increases in income inequality over the last 20-30 years. There are more millionaires in the U.S. than in any other country (236,883 households), and the U.S. has a higher proportion of citizens living in poverty than a majority of Western countries. (16) The growth of income in the U.S. has been heavily concentrated in the top 1% (i.e., the super rich). Real income between 1979 and 2005 increased 176% for the top 1%; 15% for the bottom 60%. During the Bush years, only 4% of earners enjoyed increases in real income, and these were mostly high income earners. In 2005, for example, income increased by 14% for the top 1% and decreased slightly (0.6%) for the bottom 90%. (20) The poverty rate, on the other hand, increased from 11.2% to 13.2% between 2000 and 2008. (12) (ww8) As of 2004, the wealthiest 25% of US households owned 87% of the wealth in the country; the poorest 25% owned 0% of the country’s wealth. (20)

What is the argument for extending the Bush tax cuts?

It’s argued that in the currently weak economy raising taxes could reverse our economic growth. If tax bills go up, Americans will have less money to spend and invest in the economy, and that could erase whatever economic ground has been recovered to date. (4)

How would the national debt be affected by extending the Bush tax cuts?

Many economists believe that spending cuts by themselves cannot reduce the national debt and that increased tax revenues will be necessary as well. The non-partisan Pew Charitable Trusts recently made the following estimates: (a) If the tax cuts were made permanent for all taxpayers at all income levels, this would increase the national debt by $3.3 trillion over the next ten years. (b) If the tax cuts were extended only to individuals making less than $200,000 and couples earning less than $250,000, the national debt would increase by $2.2 trillion over the next ten years. (c) If the tax cuts were extended for all taxpayers for two years only and then ended, the national debt would increase by $561 billion over the next ten years. (13)

Who would be negatively affected if the Bush tax cuts are made permanent?

Compared to other countries, government spending in the U.S. is comparatively low except for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the military. Spending cuts in these domains, in the absence of increased tax revenues, will disproportionately harm the elderly, minorities, and the poor, as well as reducing resources available for national security. (12)

Do Americans pay higher taxes than citizens of other advanced economies?

No, just the opposite. Tax rates in the U.S. are lower than those in nearly all other advanced industrial economies. In the Group of Seven large industrial economies, Japan and the U.S. are tied for the lowest ratio of tax revenue to the Gross Domestic Product. (3) In 2006 U.S. taxes were lower than 26 of the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. U.S. taxes of all types claimed 28% of the GDP, compared with an average of 36% for the 30 OECD member countries. Only Mexico, Turkey, and Korea had lower taxes than the U.S. (9)

Do rich people in the U.S. pay higher taxes than in the past?

No. According to an Associated Press report (Seattle Times, 4/17/11), the wealthiest families in America are paying substantially lower taxes than they did a couple of decades ago. (8) In 1950 the tax rate for those earning $200,000 or more was 91%. In 1980, when Reagan became president, individuals earning over $108,300 had a federal income tax rate of 70%. Reagan cut the tax rate to 50% and then to 28% in 1987. George H.W. Bush and Clinton then raised taxes; George W. Bush lowered them again. (8) In 2007 the average worker in the U.S. earned $26,000 in annual income and paid 23.4% of that in income and payroll taxes. Americans in the Top 400 of the income distribution made an average of $344,759,000 per year and paid 18.7% of that in income and payroll taxes. Though the highest income tax rate is 36%, there are so many tax breaks and loopholes available that the super rich, on average, pay about half that amount. (8) Thus, on a proportion of income basis, average workers’ burdens were about 25% higher than those of the Top 400. (12)

Where does the American public stand on the issue?

According to a recent New York Times/CBS Poll, 63% favor helping to address the federal deficit by raising taxes for households that earn over $250,000 a year. (6)

My conclusions

There are no absolute, hard-and-fast answers in these political, economic, and social policy domains, and reasonable people can differ in their conclusions. Given that caveat, my personal opinions after digging around in this material can be expressed in terms of six conclusions:

(1) The Bush tax cuts are one influential factor contributing to an immense and unsustainable federal debt.

(2) The Republicans’ insistence on addressing that debt problem exclusively through government spending cuts is unrealistic and harmful.

(3) There are enormous economic disparities in the U.S. which have increased substantially in the last four decades, and the Bush tax cuts have further accelerated those huge gaps between the rich and the poor.

(4) Tax rates for the richest Americans are substantially lower than in other advanced countries and substantially lower than they have been historically in the United States.

(5) Keeping the Bush tax cuts in place for the super-rich and addressing the federal deficit through spending cuts alone means that much of the economic burden would fall upon the poor, minorities, and the elderly.

(6) I personally think that President Obama’s proposal to maintain tax cuts for lower and middle income people and to return to Clinton-era tax rates for the highest income brackets is a pragmatic, fair, and rational approach.



P.S. Usually this blog likes to contain some humor. This topic doesn’t seem that humorous.


(1) (“Official 2011 US Income Tax Brackets (IRS Tax Rates)”; 1-10-11)

(2) (“Bush tax cuts 101: What changes could be in store for taxpayers?”; 9-13-10)

(3) (“US tax bite smaller than other nations’”; 4-11-10)

(4) (“Bush tax cuts: What you need to know”; 9-15-10)

(5) (“Bush era tax cuts”; 12-17-10)

(6) (“The truth about taxes”; 8-6-11)

(7) (Warren E. Buffett, “Stop coddling the super-rich”; 8-14-11).

(8) (“Super rich see federal taxes drop dramatically; 4-17-11)

(9) (“The Numbers: How do U.S. taxes compare internationally?”; 3-16-10)

(10) (“5 myths about the Bush tax cuts”; 9-1-10)

(10); “Tax progressivity in the US”; 9-16-10)

(12) (“9 things the rich don’t want you to know about taxes”; 4-13-11)

(13) (“Bush Tax Cuts”)

(18) (“Economic policy of the George W. Bush administration”)

(20) (“Income inequality in the United States”)

(14) (“List of countries by income inequality”)

(15) (“List of countries by percentage living in poverty”)

(16) (“Number of millionaires by country”)

(19) (“United States public debt”)

(20) (“Wealth in the United States”)

G-mail Comments

-Vicki L (to her friend April; 8-27): Hi April, I'm sending along one of my brother David's (uncharacteristic) blogs - just in case you're in a political snit and need to draw on some statistics to give someone a good talking to. (My sense, though, is you're in a harvesting and canning phase - how much more fun.) Love, Vicki

-Gayle C-L (8-25): David Darling, Such wonderful information. You should be President. After all you are the perfect age. You have an extremely clean record a perfect wife. A perfect son and daughter in law and babies. You are extremely smart Kind. A great sense of humor. You come from

A great family Farm Included.. And most importantly cute:)) Given all of that .. In case you decide to run... I will just have to be your publicist .:())) Think about it. I m sure you are more qualified any other candidate that will soon run:)

Lots of love. G

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tennis Lollapalooza

Dear George,

Thanks to our friends Paula and Frank, we got out to Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Tennis Tournament this week. This used to be the ATP, and before that the Tri-State Tournament, but now, for the first time, they've combined the men's ATP and the women's WTA tournaments into a single event, bringing in nearly all of the top pro tennis players in the world. The men's draw includes Djokovich, Nadal, Federer, Murray, Fish, and most of the other top-ranked sixty players. Likewise, the women's draw has included Serena Williams, Sharapova, Wozniacki, Zvonareva, Li Na, etc. Aside from the Grand Slams, Cincinnati is one of only five events in the world to combine top-level men's and women's competition in a single tournament (the others: Rome, Madrid, Miami, and Indian Wells). To accommodate the newly expanded tournament, the tennis center built six new courts, a grand entry plaza, and a bigger retail area. Last Sunday Katja and I saw James Blake vs. Marcos Bhagdati. Then Donna joined us on Thursday, and we watched Roger Federer vs. Blake and Jelena Jankovic vs. Francesca Schiavone. We had a great time, and it’s exciting to be out and about in the big-time tennis world. Here are some photos which give a feel for our adventure and how the Tennis Center is looking these days.



G-mail Comments

-Jennifer M (8-21): so fancy!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Archive: Vic's Photos (#2)

Vic reads to Dave and Steve (circa 1943)

Dear George,

This file is the second of two cumulative archives of “Vic’s Photos” that have previously appeared in the righthand column of this blog. “Vic”, of course, is my dad, V.A.L. Jr., who was an excellent amateur photographer and who documented our family’s world from the late 30’s to the late 50’s and beyond. These photos have been changed every week since July 2009, and, because they aren’t automatically saved on the blog, I’ve decided to store the old ones here for a new viewer’s potential interest. Updated additions will continue to be made from time to time as photos are posted. My brother Peter restored and shared with our family these images from Vic’s original negatives, and his project is the source of all of the photos contained here.




The Menominee River dominated our growing up. In the winter it enabled us to cross over to Pig Island by foot, or explore along the river’s bank to the east and the west. We could sled, skate, and ski on the river, build snow forts, chop holes in the ice, and do ice fishing (though we rarely did that). When the ice went out on “Chinese Bells Day” we stepped into the river in hip-high waders and retrieved flotsam and jetsom treasures with bamboo fishing poles. From the left: Peter, Dave, Vicki, Steve.


My parents gave me a microscope in high school to foster my nascent scientific interests, and I soon became fascinated with growing protozoa in yeast-filled water. I took the microscope with me to Antioch College and created a colony of tiny creatures there, but it smelled so bad that my roommate demanded that I move the bottles out on the fire escape. I think we still have the microscope somewhere up in our crowded attic. Maybe I will get it out again.


Martha was my dad’s sister and the youngest of four siblings in their family. Ralph, her husband, helped run the Marinette Drugstore along with pharmacist Clarence Nelson. They and their kids, Ann and John, lived at Pine Beach in Marinette with my grandfather, V.A. Sr., and we were regular visitors at their household. My brothers, sister, and I all worked in our teenage years for Uncle Ralph who was a kind and jovial boss. In our adult years Vicki and I visited Martha each year when we were home for family reunions, and she was a fount of genealogical information about our family.


My family drove the 600 miles from Menominee to Yellow Springs for Katja and my August 1960 wedding. They stayed at the Antioch Inn, and my parents entertained us all at the rehearsal dinner at the King Cole restaurant in Dayton. Steve was my best man. Katja and I were overjoyed to be getting married after a turbulent senior year.


Steve was the best athlete in our family. Coach Noonan recruited him for the varsity basketball team when he was only a freshman, an unprecedented event, and he was a four-year letterman in basketball, as well as the top player on the golf team. My brother Peter played football, and I was on the tennis team. In an era of no girls’ sports, my sister Vicki was a cheerleader (at least for a while).


My parents were devoted bridge players, and they decided to teach the game to Katja and I as newlyweds. Bridge seemed to demand an excellent memory and inordinate concentration, and we didn’t take to it. Instead we stuck to gin rummy, hearts, and canasta.


Katja was very attached to our family from her very first visit to Menominee in 1957, and they in turn loved her. This photo was taken in summer 1961, a year after we got married, and it’s the first annual family photo in which Katja was a family member. We visited Menominee each summer and each Christmas for many years afterwards.


Much to my horror, I was sent off to YMCA camp each summer in my mid-childhood. My main recollection is kids pulling wings off butterflies and paralyzing frogs by smacking them down on the water on their bellies. The middle Sunday of camp sessions was a family visiting day, and I would beg to be taken home (to no avail).


I was never any good at going off to new places on my own as a child. Here my mom is delivering me to Boswell School on the first day of kindergarten. This photo reeks of terror.


That’s my mom and me and Grace and Sally Fernstrum. Our families lived in the upstairs and downstairs apartments of a big white house on Ogden Avenue, just west of the Interstate Bridge. Sally was my first friend in life, and we went to kindergarten at Boswell School together. Our family then moved to Sheridan Road, but Sally and I resumed our friendship in our teenage years when we were members of the same crowd. Nowadays we see one another at high school reunions every five years or so.


Given a small town in a rural environment with limited community events, my parents and their friends were beyond creative in the many social events that they generated for their amusement. Theme parties and costume parties were the name of the day. Here are Doris and Vic who one could easily mistake for authentic Vikings.


This is my brother Steve in his cowboy outfit, probably age 8 or 9. Cowboys were s bigger deal in our day than they were a generation or two later, probably due to a steady diet of Saturday afternoon matinees. Playing cowboys and Indians in the back yard was one of our major pastimes. We’d ride imaginary horses, form posses and chase the bad guys, shoot our capguns, and make a lot of noise.


The boys rented tuxes for the prom, and the girls rented ballgowns. The boys bought a corsage for their date’s wrist or dress and a boutiniere for themselves. Much to my embarrassment, my father recorded this event for posterity, showing up with his camera at my date Carol G’s house. This photo was from the Menominee High junior prom in 1954.


This is our grandfather, V.A.L. Sr., with his grandchildren Vicki and Peter, taken at river house. V.A. was a kind, gentle man who was close to his grandchildren. He had a one-room cabin built on our property and lived there for a year a while until he moved to Pine Beach to live with his daughter Martha and her husband Ralph. Steven took over the cabin several years later and turned it into a poker-playing den of iniquity. V.A. had a special bond with Peter, and they spent many hours at the workbench in the garage, carrying out one fix-it project after another.


Vicki and Kevin (Kiera) look to be about 11 or 12 in this photo. They were the very closest of friends, and Vicki was practically a member of the O’Hara family, Kiera was born on the Fourth of July and was nicknamed Firecracker by friends and family, at least in part because of her passionate temperament. Inspired by her chum, Vicki decided that she wanted to be a Catholic, and, in fact, her life aim at the time was to become a nun. Our parents told her she couldn’t do that, and that created much distress and conflict. I haven’t heard anything about it for a very long time.


For those who are familiar with river house, this photo is likely to be perplexing. What, for example, is that door on the right side of the center section of the house? The answer: this negative was printed backwards, and those French doors, shown here on the east side of the house, were really on the west side. Judging from the size of the small evergreens in the front yard, this picture was taken early in river house’s history in the 1940’s. Dusk was a special time in our childhood, the winding down of a day of outdoor play, and a time to swat mosquitoes and catch fireflies in a Mason jar.


This is me getting ready to blow out the candles on my tenth birthday cake with assistance from my six-year-old brother Steven. While Steve, Vicki, and our mom all had birthdays in late February, Peter’s and mine were in the summer, and so we got to celebrate with outdoor play and swimming in the river. Age ten was one of those big round-number birthdays that was a milestone of growing up – moving on to fifth grade and finishing a first year of living in the country on the river.


This is my mom, Doris, and our close family friend, Jean Worth, sitting on the bridge over the creek at our family property at Farm. Jean edited the Menominee Herald-Leader, then moved on to the Escanaba newspaper, and was the foremost historian of the Upper Peninsula. He was a wonderful story-teller, had a great sense of humor, and my parents were very close to him. The dog in the photo is Puff, loved also by my parents, and a gift from Steve and Margie who named him after the drug-inspired tune of the sixties, Puff the Magic Dragon.


This is my brother Steve (right) and two of his close friends, Peter Venema (left), and Tom Kuber (middle), at the Riverside Country Club in about 1959. I got to chat with Peter Venema in Menominee about ten years ago when he was doing a bird-watching project in Menominee County, and several years before that we met up with Tom Kuber who was engaged in large-scale economic development projects in Milwaukee and the Twin Cities. Growing up, Steve had a close and spirited friendship group, all of whom remained good friends throughout adulthood.


I am going to guess that this is Peter L’s sixth birthday (since he’s given us a signal with his fingers). The cowboy gun holsters might be part of a birthday present as well. Shaped by World War II, our childhood was filled with toy guns and gun play: cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, soldiers in combat. Those were the most exciting toys of our young years, and they were successful socialization devices for fostering male aggression, militarism, and a criminal mindset.


This is me (about age 12) and Steve (about age 8), on a giant stump that probably had been pulled from the Menominee River. As a major conduit for the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century logging industry in northern Michigan and Wisconsin, the river was filled with stumps and deadheads. We would occasionally row across the river to the Channel and bring stumps home to make tables and other decorative projects. I can’t imagine ever seeing a stump this big (though obviously I did).


Peter looks about 6, Vicki about 4 (circa 1951), and they are in the front yard at river house. Since our lawn was on the banks of the Menominee River, offering an ever-present swimming site, I’m not sure why we even needed a plastic pool. However, the children look pleased about it.


I look about two years old and, of course, have no recollection of anything from this age, much less petting a baby lamb. Vic took many idyllic pictures of my mother with me and my siblings, and I can’t help but wonder how representative they are. Oh well, not to worry, I should just enjoy this fine scene.

G-mail Comments

Hi David, Loved your rotating 'archive' - some of those pictures I've never seen (eg you and Doris and the lamb - what a fine Easter Card that would make). I'm searching for some nice portraits (close-ups) of both Vic and Doris – they seem kind of rare. If you come across anything let me know - Love, Sis

-Gayle C-L (8-17): David. Very Nice. Hope all us well. LOL. G

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Snake in the Path

Dear George,

It’s been so hot that we haven’t ventured outdoors together for over a month. Finally a cold front (sort of) moved in on Thursday with the day’s high reaching a moderate 76. We decided to go to the zoo. We stopped by the fitness center first, and Katja did a pretty strenuous workout with her personal trainer. When we arrived at the zoo, we got about the last parking place. It looked like everybody else had the same idea.

The zoo was looking very pretty with all the plants and flowers at their peak despite the prolonged drought. The walking route is arranged in a big circle, and we did the whole thing. First we saw the sleeping black bears, then the sleeping spectacle bears, then the sleeping polar bears, the sleeping white lions, the sleeping alligator, etc. Even the flamingos were sound asleep, standing on a single leg. Katja wondered if the zoo tranquilizes its animals. I said I didn’t think so, but you have to catch them at the right time, like just before lunch. The black rhinoceros was awake, but he was standing immobile in the shadow of his cave. (When we saw him forty minutes later he was in the same spot in the same pose, apparently having not moved a fraction of an inch in the interim.) The Bactrian Camel was sitting in a Sphinx-like pose, and until I saw his eyes blink I was unsure if he were stuffed. The two giraffes were out and nibbling from the trees. It was sad because their recently born offspring had had to be euthanized after breaking his leg in his pen. A little boy kept asking his parents where the baby giraffe was, but they didn’t say anything.

Near the end of our tour the effects of Katja’s fitness center workout were starting to catch up with her. I wanted to take some photos of the Red River Hogs down in the Wildlife Canyon, so she chose to wait for me on a nearby bench. Not many people were down there. One of the Red River Hogs was rooting around, so I took a couple of pictures of him. As I moved further down the path a fortyish man with his family held his finger up to his lips and whispered to me that there was a snake in the path ahead. He cautioned me to be quiet and not disturb it. I saw it about 15 feet ahead of me. It was a medium-sized snake, multi-colored, coiled up in a perfect circle. It had sort of exotic markings, and I wondered if it had escaped from the nearby Reptile House. Then I wondered if it were poisonous. A little boy was crouched down at the edge of the path, watching the snake intently. He seemed pretty fearless. The snake didn’t move at all, apparently asleep like all the other animals. I tiptoed slowly and carefully along the path on the opposite side from the boy. I had my camera out, so when I got directly next to the snake I took a picture of it. I think my hands were trembling since the picture wound up out of focus.

Behind me the boy’s mother said, “Oh look. He’s taking a picture of the snake.” Then she suggested to her son that he pick up the snake. I couldn’t believe she actually told him that, but, before I knew it, the boy had the snake resting in his hands. It stayed wrapped in its perfect circular coil. Then it hit me. It was a plastic snake. I burst into impromptu laughter, and the man, woman, and boy started laughing too. I had been taken in by an entire team of family pranksters. I did feel sort of silly. But it was so amusing to the perpetrators that it was funny to me too. I wondered how many other gullible passersby they’d fooled. I felt pretty sure that nobody else went to the extreme of taking a picture of the mysterious snake. “That’s really great,” I said and went on my way to track down Katja.

It was enjoyable to be back at the zoo. It was a perfect day, and there’s a nice feeling that comes with being out and about in a crowd of people enjoying themselves. And I had given one kid and his parents a moment of fun. That was worth the price of admission in itself. Next time, though, I’ll probably check out any escaped reptiles more carefully.



G-mail Comments

-Jennifer M (8-13): What a great story!