Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Almost Seven, Going on Eleven

L, J, Dave, & Katja at P.F. Changs

Dear George,
Our son J and grandson L flew in from New Orleans last Wednesday for a long weekend.  Their visit was the highlight of our year.  L, who will turn seven in September, enters second grade in August in his Spanish-immersion school.  He’s grown four inches in the past year and is older and more grown up than we saw him last Thanksgiving.  The four-day visit went by too quickly, but we packed in a lot of things.  My favorite was the new Smale Park down at the riverfront.  J, L, and Katja rode on the wonderful new carousel, and we checked out all the sights and kids’ activities.  L’s favorite outing was the Cincy Zoo where we saw the painted dogs and the cheetah run 60 m.p.h.  We all went to see Ant-Man at the Cinemark, and J, L, and I went to the Taft Museum whose current remarkable photography exhibition is on “Edward Curtis and the North American Indians.”  J and Katja went to the opera (Turandot) while L and I saw Adam Sandler’s new movie, Pixels.  L rated it 10 out of 10, though I was more in the 2-3 range.  L, consistent with his family heritage has become addicted to Skyline Chili, and we ate there four times (usually followed by dessert at Graeter’s ice cream parlor).  Katja treated us to dinner at P.F. Chang’s.  L also liked the breakfast bar at Frisch’s.  His current life quest is collecting Pokemon cards, and we went to Target to expand his collection.  We also took in a couple of thrift shops, buying kid and adult treasures.  J helped me set up the new Apple computer that I got for my birthday, as well as the FitBit exercise monitor that Katja bought me.  All in all, we had a great time.      

On our grandkids’ Thanksgiving visit last November I interviewed both L and his sister V, and I repeated that with L this time.  We typically see the kids every 3 to 6 months, so they’ve always changed noticeably.  L is more articulate, funny, and smart as ever.  Here’s what was on his mind this time around.  

How old are you now?  Six. 
How many teeth did you lose so far?  Three.
What grade did you just finish?  First grade. 
What is your favorite subject in school?  Art.  (What kind of art?)  Painting. 
What is the hardest thing in school?  The flu shot.     
What do you want to be when you grow up?  I don’t know.  A doctor? 
Do you want to be a fireman?  No.
Do you want to be a storekeeper?  What’s a storekeeper?  (Someone who runs a store.)  No.  
Do you want to be a soldier?  No.
Who is your favorite superhero?  Thor.  (What are his powers?)  A hammer.   
Who is your second favorite superhero?  Martian Manhunter.
What is your favorite movie?  Minions.  And the Pokemon Movie. 
What is your favorite sport?  Tennis.  (Can you play tennis?)  Can’t play.  (Will you in the future?)  Yes.  With my new robot leg.   
Who is the president of the United States?  Barack Obama. 
Who would be the best president – you or your sister?  Me. (Why?)  Don’t know.
 If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?  I don’t know.  (Squeals)  I don’t know. 
What would you change about your sister?  That’s a hard one too.  Her life.
What would you change about your parents?  I don’t know.  (laughs)  That’s a hard question. 
What do you dream about most often?  Pokemon.  
Who is your favorite Pokemon character?  Mew.  And Mewtoo. 
What are you good at?  (L writes down: “100 + 11 = 111”)  Arithmetic?  Yes.  
What is your favorite food?  I had it last night.  Dumplings.  But not the spicy ones.  And pizza is number one.  I have a lot of number ones.   
Are you serious or funny?  Serious and funny.  I’m funny right now. 
Are you selfish or generous?  Both. 
Handsome or strong?  Handsome.
What is the meaning of life?  That is the hardest question. 
What is life most like: Spongebob Squarepants, Star Wars, or cherry pie?  Star Wars. 
What do you think is the best time of life – like babies or kids or teenagers or adults?  Kids.  (Why is that?)  Because they’re funny. 
Do you think adults work more or have fun more? They work more.  (Why is that?)  Because they have work. 
What is the worst thing that human beings can do?  Smoking.
What is your earliest memory as a little child?  My first word.  “Mine”.  
If you got a weekly allowance, what would you like it to be?  How about a dollar?                                                                                                                                WhiWhich would you like most?: to have lots of friends; or to make lots of money; or to be smart.  To be smart.
Which would you want to be?: a writer; a musician; an athlete.  I think a musician. 
Which would you want to be?: an astronaut; a policeman; a soldier.  Policeman.  Because it’s the least dangerous.  I would definitely not choose soldier because that’s the most dangerous.  
Would you rather be an artist, a boxer, or a fast runner?  An artist. 
What animal are you most like?  A lion. 
Have you ever had a nickname?  Yes.  Zhongy.  Shey-Shey.  Rotom. 
If you could change your name, what would it be?  Mega Charizard E X.   
What are you afraid of?  Goosebumps. 
What makes you mad?   V*** being mean to me. 
What is something that makes you happy?  Snuggles.  Like when mom snuggles with me.   
What makes you laugh?  Being tickled. 
If you had one wish, what would it be?  To have millions and millions of Pokemon cards.
What is your favorite place in New Orleans?  Toys R Us. 
What would you say is your weakness?  I don’t know.
What do you like best in New Orleans: the aquarium, the zoo, or the insectarium?  The zoo.
What is a secret that you never told any of us?  It’s a secret!  I’m not going to let you know my secrets.
Do you like ice cream or vegetables better?  You know.  (No, I don’t.  What do you like best?)  Ice cream.
What is a good knock-knock joke?  Knock Knock.  Who’s there?  Boo.  Boo who?  Don’t cry, little baby, it’s just a joke.
 (On the way to the airport)  What did you like best from your trip to Cincinnati?  The zoo.

Here are some pictures from our visit.  I should mention that after I’d taken twenty or so photos, L asked, “When are you going to stop torturing me?”  I didn’t have a good answer, but I thought to myself that it was worth it.

At the Smale Riverfront Park

L, Katja, and J on the carousel 

L dressed up for dinner out

Sunday a.m. at Frisch's 

A three-way chili feast

Picking out the Pokemon cards

Mango sorbet at Graeter's

Then back to the airport

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Seventy-Eight, the Motor Number of the Cosmos

Dear George,
I’ve been 78 for over ten hours now.  So far, it’s been pleasant, though I’ve been asleep most of the time.  Two or three months ago I didn’t think this was going to be a significant birthday at all (e.g., in a league with 12 or 21 or 40), but now I think it should be added to the list.  That’s because if you take all the childhood years from one to twelve and add them together (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+11+12), the total comes to 78.  That more or less implies that age 78 is equal in significance to all the years of childhood combined.  What a momentus year!  Beyond that amazing fact, a prominent Internet numerologist explains that 78 is “the motor number of the whole Cosmos, before and after the manifestation.”  (36)  [Note: numbers in parentheses refer to sources at end.]  I need to stay alert and appreciate each day for the next twelve months.      

I started mulling over my new age when I went to my recent high school reunion.  Nearly all of my high school classmates are now 78. I’d never been in a room filled with 78-year-olds before.  I’d have to say there were a lot of positive vibes.  As far as I can tell, 78-year-olds are into becoming great-grandparents, enjoy a cocktail or two, like to play a round of golf, don’t hear as well as they used to, are happy to be retired, and are no longer obsessed with getting ahead in the world.  If anything, my classmates seemed more mellow and harmonious at age 78 than at any of our earlier reunions. 

To help myself get organized, I’ve done some research on the various meanings of the number 78.  I’ve been quite surprised about how personally relevant my new age is.  Bengals offensive tackle Anthony Munoz, regarded as one of the greatest players in NFL history, wore Jersey #78 throughout his career in Cincinnati (30).  I got my teenage introduction to Patti Page, Peggy Lee, and the McGuire Sisters on 78 r.p.m. records.  Kate Winslet, one of my favorites, has been listed as the 78th best movie actress in history (15).  Like me, newsmaker Bill Cosby turned 78 this year (13).  Ambien sleeping pills, without which I’d never survive, are imprinted with the symbol E-78 (7).  And that’s just the beginning.  Here are more astonishing facts about 78 that I never knew: 

  • The year 78 in our Gregorian calendar is 622 in the Buddhist calendar and 3838-3839 in the Hebrew calendar.  (28)
  • In the year 78 the Romans conquered the Ordovices, located at the site of present-day Wales.  (28) 
  • 78 is the atomic number of platinum, one of the rarest and most precious of metals.  (32)
  • Psalm 78 in the King James Bible begins: Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth; I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old…  (4)
  • According to, the meaning of 78 in the Bible is sexual abuse.  (25)
  • A standard tarot card deck is made up of 78 cards: 21 trump cards, the Fool, and 56 suit cards.  (29)
  • Henry Sy of China, age 90, is the 78th richest person in the world (net worth $14 billion).  (ther)
  • Women earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by men.  (18)
  • The U.S., with 73 female Representatives and 17 female Senators, ranks 78th in the world with respect to women being represented in government.  (21)
  • 78% of domestic violence victims are represented by public defenders.  (10)
  • The average high temperature in Menominee, Michigan, in June is 78 degrees.  (1)
  • The former Ann Arbor Carferry ran 78 nautical miles from Frankfort, MI, to Menominee.  (17)
  • There are 78 miles of Off-Road Vehicle trails in Menominee County and the western part of Delta County.  (16)
  • Nigeria ranks No. 78 in the 2015 World Happiness Report.  (19)
  • NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. drives the No. 78 Chevrolet SS.  (29)
  • Chandler, Arizona, (pop. 254,276) is the 78th largest city in the U.S.  (31)
  • Krispy Kreme Donuts celebrated their 78th anniversary on July 10, 2015.  (27)
  • Pro surfer Garrett McNamara set the world record in 2011 in Portugal for the largest wave ever surfed: 78 feet high.  (35)
  • The 78th most popular names for girls and boys in the U.S. are Eleanor and Chase.  (20)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) has been identified as the 78th best novel of all times.  (26)
  • The perimeter of a standard basketball court is 78 meters.  (34)
  • The Terminator (1984) is the 78th best movie in history.  (23)
  • 78% of Twitter users live outside the U.S.  (2)
  • Gary Ross Dahl, creator of the Pet Rock, died at age 78 on Mar. 23, 2015, in southern Oregon.  (9)
  • 78% of seventeen-year-old American girls are “unhappy with their bodies.”  (6)
  • Cincinnati's area is 78 square miles.  (5)
  • The Little Miami Scenic Trail runs 78 miles northeast from Cincinnati's outskirts to Springfield, OH.  (22)
  • There are 78 audiologists in the Cincinnati Metro area.  (12)
  • During the Great Blizzard of ’78 the U.S. Coast Guard flew 30 tons of food into Cincinnati for poor people.  (11)
  • According to the NCDC, the world record 24-hour snowfall of 78 inches occurred on Feb. 7, 1963, at Copper River County in Alaska.  (33)
  • 78 years ago Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific.  (14)
  • Past and current LSU football coaches Lou Saban and Les Miles have the same winning percentage: 78%.  (24)
  • Jim Carrey is the 78th best movie actor of all time.  (8) 
  • The 78th best opening line from a novel is: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”  (L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between, 1953)  (3)

All of these phenomena are inter-connected since they are all pieces of the motor number of the Cosmos.  Just how they fit together is something I intend to figure out during the coming year.  To tell the truth, I never gave much thought to being 78 when I was 20 or 30.  Sixty was about as far ahead as I could imagine.  But now that I’ve arrived, it’s time to make the most of it.  All my 1955 high school classmates would agree with me that we’re a lot younger than, say, members of the Class of 1940.    

(1), "Menominee, MI";
(2), “78% of Twitter Users are International”; 
(3), “100 best first lines from novels”;
(4), “Psalm 78”;
(5), "Cincinnati Facts";
(6):, “Media’s effect on body image”;
(7), “Imprints: E 78”;
 (8), “Top 100 Best Hollywood Actors Of All Time”;
(9), “Pet Rock creator dead at 78”;
(10), “Public defender appointed in 78% of cases”;
(11), "Great Blizzard of 1978";
(12), "Audiologists near Cincinnati, OH";
(13), "Born in 1937";
(14), "News and Events of 1937";
(15), “Top 100 Actresses”;
(16), “The Escanaba Unit manages land in Menominee Co =- DNR”;
(17), "The Michigan Miner, Vols. 1-2, p. 41);
 (18), “78 cents on the dollar”;
(19), “World Happiness Report 2015 – Nigeria”;
(20), "2014 Most Popular Names in the US";
(21), “For Canada, U.S. Debates are old news”;
 (22), "Ohio's Little Miami Scenic Trail";
(23), “Top 100 Movies of All Time”;
(24), “LSU winning percentage: Saban 78% Miles 78%”;
(25), “Meaning of Numbers 1-100 in the Bible and Dreams”;
(26), “The 100 best novels”;
(ther), “Top 250 richest people in the world”;
(27), “Here’s How to Get a Dozen Krispy Kreme Donuts for 78 cents”;
(28), “78”;
(29), “78 (number)”;
(30), “Anthony Munoz”;
(31), “List of U.S. cities by population”;
(32), “Platinum”;
(33), "World Record Snowfall?";
(34), “The perimeter of a basketball court is 78 meters…”;
(35), “Surfer rides World Record 78 foot wave”
(36), “Number 78” 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Checking In With the Class of '55

Class of 1955, Menominee High School 

Dear George,
I flew up to Green Bay last Thursday to attend the 60th reunion of my high school class in Menominee.  It’s the fifth M.H.S. reunion that I’ve attended over the years.  I always get nervous beforehand, but, as in the past, it turned out to be a lot of fun.  Katja has accompanied me at previous get-togethers, but we didn’t want to put Mike, our one remaining sheepdog, in the kennel, and so I went alone this time.

I rented a car at the Green Bay airport.  I don’t know whether or not it’s symptomatic of my aged mind, but the rental guy talked me into pre-paying for a full tank of gas for my Toyota Corolla.  He said I could return it on empty and save about twenty cents a gallon.  That sounded excellent, except, as I realized later, a full tank meant about 350 miles of driving, and it was only fifty miles from Green Bay to Menominee.  I purposely drove around town twice as much as I normally would, but I only used up half a tank and wound up paying about $6 per gallon for the gas I used. 

The Green Bay shore from Bob & Lois’ home

I’d arranged to stay in Menominee with our long-time friends, Bob and Lois A.  Bob was one of my best friends in high school, and we’ve all gotten together every time that Katja and I have visited Menominee.  Over the last decade Bob and Lois have built (with just the two of them doing all the work) a magnificent 6-bedroom home on the Green Bay shore.  Katja and I have seen it in progress over the years, and it was a treat to stay at the finished product.  Bob founded and continues to run a very successful manufacturing company in Menominee which specializes in high-quality wood-frame beds and mattresses (see  I slept on one of their firm’s mattresses, and I’d say it was the deepest sleep I’ve had in years.  Though they didn’t attend the reunion, we spent a lot of time together, chatting about the old days and catching up and enjoying one another’s company.  Lois made a photo album of our sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, from one of our previous trips, and it brought a tear to my eye.  

Mingling at the American Legion

The reunion events included a Friday evening mixer at the American Legion Hall on First Street and a Saturday evening dinner at Riverside Country Club.  Our class had 153 graduates, and about seventy people (including spouses) attended the two events.  As in the past, I was struck by how easy it is to reconnect with friends from one’s youth, even when you haven’t seen one another for many years.  There weren’t any nametags at the Friday event, and I had difficulty identifying people, even when we had been close friends sixty or seventy years ago.  Some people hadn’t changed much over the years, but many looked completely different.  There was more gray hair than at past reunions, but people were lively and in good spirits.  Whether true or not, everyone thought we were the best class in Menominee High School in our era, and there was a lot of felt solidarity. Reunions celebrate school and friendship ties during a crucial life stage, and they reaffirm many of our longest-lasting relationships.  One of my friends had lost his wife of 47 years to cancer, but had remarried two years ago and had begun a new and happy life journey.  Another had been discharged from a hospital in Marquette just hours before the reunion dinner, but was bound and determined to make it (which he did).  A lot of my Washington Grade School classmates were there, and we had fun recounting childhood experiences.  My teenage high school pals were also full of zest.    

Most of my classmates are 78 this year, close to the average life expectancy for adults in the U.S.  About a third of the members of our class are deceased, and, while it wasn’t mentioned much, I think that our late life stage was on people’s minds. People were glad to still be around, and they were glad to be wtih friends who’d been important all these years.  A list of deceased classmates was read aloud to the group, and I was struck with how many meaningful and memorable experiences I’d had with the individuals mentioned.  It was a shock to be missing such a big group of good people. 

Electric Square in downtown Menominee

Whenever I’m home, I spend time driving and walking around Menominee and Marinette, taking photos and visiting various places from my childhood and adolescence.  When I drove into town the first day, the local sights immediately aroused a flood of memories and emotions.  I took a bunch of 
photos in Henes Park and walked across the Interstate Bridge and back, doing the same.  On Friday and Saturday mornings I went to all the Menominee yard sales as well as local thrift shops, the twin cities’ main antique store, and the M&M Plaza flea market. I walked about the downtown areas in Menominee and Marinette, had two cheeseburgers and a shake at Mickey-Lu’s, got a Menominee T-shirt at one of the shops in the Historic District and bought a couple of Menominee history books at the Spies Public Library.  My cousins Ann and John Buscher and I enjoyed lunch at Culvers, catching up on family news.  (Tossing my diet to the winds, I returned three more times to Culvers for their delicious frozen custard). My sister Vicki asked me to check out her property on the Menominee River, just adjacent to where our family home used to be, and it was pleasing to be at the beautiful riverbank once again. 

Sally and Dave S.

My very first childhood friend, Sally S., was at the reunion with her husband Dave, and I helped arrange for them to come over to Bob and Lois’ house on Sunday morning.  Bob, Sally, and I had been best of friends in high school, and that was an enjoyable mini-reunion in its own right.  Lois made a crab salad for lunch, and then I was on my way back to Green Bay for my flight home.  I ran into a major traffic jam at Green Bay, took the first exit available, and got a bit lost on my way to the airport.  It didn’t matter much because my flight was delayed nearly an hour because of weather problems in Minneapolis.  When I arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, I only had 12 minutes to make my connection to Cincinnati.  I ran through three big terminal buildings, finally hitched a ride on one of the airport golf carts, and arrived at the gate with about two minutes to spare.  Katja was waiting for me in the Cincinnati airport, and Mikey was out in the car.  It had been a quick and exciting trip.  I was tired out and happy to be home again.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Oh No, Not Our Landlines!

Dear George,
It seems that our state legislators are drafting a bill to allow telephone companies to get rid of people’s landline phones.*  You’d think the legislature wouldn’t have time for such matters, what with their anti-abortion and anti-voting rights initiatives, but the big phone corporations have been lobbying vigorously because they make larger profits on their newfangled devices.  About three-quarters of Ohio households have landline phones, and 17% rely almost entirely on their landlines for phone calls.*  What are these decent, salt of the earth people supposed to do?

When we call friends who are in their sixties or seventies, we almost always chat on our respective landline phones.  But when we call young people (i.e., people below fifty), they often don’t even have a landline.  This is a puzzling generational difference.  I like to think it’s because the older group has a greater amount of accumulated life wisdom.  Or there could be other factors too.

I’m a landline guy because that’s what I grew up with.  In fact, our family’s landline was attached to the closet wall by a sturdy black cord.  Having a cord on your landline phone is best.  If your phone has a cord, you can always count on it to be in the same place.  Since it runs on electricity, you never have to worry about the battery running down.  Another advantage of landline phones is that you can call other people’s landlines when you know they’re not at home and talk to their answering machine instead.  If you actually want to talk to somebody, it’s also better to call on a landline because the mother answers sometimes, the father sometimes, or sometimes one of the kids.  It’s more of a family thing. 

I only own a cell phone because Katja insisted on buying me one years ago.  It’s very complicated and tricky. I only call five or six other people on it, so it costs about a dollar each time.  I misplace the phone regularly, or the battery goes dead.  When I silence it at the movies, I usually forget to turn it back on.  Even when the volume is on, I often don’t hear it because it’s in my pants pocket. 

I also don’t like the idea of taking a telephone with me wherever I go.  That’s way too socially accessible.  I could just avoid answering calls, but then people would suspect that I’m intentionally screening them out.  Probably the biggest limitation of cell phones is that you rarely get calls from worthwhile groups like Rand Paul’s Super PAC or Mothers Against Drunken Children.  How are you supposed to know where to send your money?

Sometimes people ask Katja and myself why we keep our landline since we each have a cell phone.  That’s a silly question.  We keep our landline because we’ve always had one.  We use our landline when we’re in the house, and we use our cell phones when we’re not in the house.  That’s just common sense.  And it’s comforting to have double the number of telephones.  I must admit that now I would find it difficult to give up my cell phone.  I get nervous when I leave the house without it.  It’s important to have it available when danger lurks, e.g., if your car gets trapped in the flood waters. 

Whatever the case, if the legislature allows companies to terminate landline services, a lot of Ohio residents will be upset, myself included.  In that eventuality, I’ll probably purchase a second cell phone and tie it with a string to the kitchen counter.  At least I’ll have a modicum of security.