WELCOME - Let's Look At Life and Rant About It!!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Today In The Bathtub ...

Each year it gets harder and harder to come up with a clever or original costume idea for Halloween. Luckily, in a way, my burden for originality has been lessened over the past nearly three years because my current employer does not embrace Hallow's Eve "tomfoolery" ... we're fortunate that we were able to sway the human resources people to let us have a potluck luncheon. And not surprisingly, a number of dishes are themed around the strange and haunted ... last year, one guy brought in a huge peach jello mold in the shape of a brain accented with chunks of celery and shredded carrot. It was disgustingly neat!

But then there's my buddy, Trevor. He has a big Halloween blow-out every year and if you don't make every effort to attend in full regalia, he will make your life a living hell the next 364 days until your shot at costume redemption.

I've done all the traditional get-ups ... pirate, alien, cowboy, and warlock. When I was a kid, my Mom made this really elaborate clown costume for my oldest brother. She made it really big out of these loud fabric remnants and cleverly incorporated a series of ties so that it could be adjusted to almost any sized person. All four of us kids, an uncle, and even a few family friends wore that costume at one time or another. It had its own special garment bag large enough to hold the foam rubber feet, red wig, nose, hat, and assorted "accents" that we collected over the years. I wore it years ago to Trevor's first bash and everyone loved it. In actuality, wearing it for the party made me miss my Mom and I didn't have a very good time. Anyway, the real surprise was that after being in storage for years, the costume was in great shape. I think the thing is indestructible. It has now been passed down to my nieces and nephews.

Just a few years ago, I attended Trevor's soiree as "Waldo" of the "Where's Waldo?" franchise ... a pretty simple and comfortable ensemble. And NO make-up needed! Everyone wanted to know if I was hot in the hat and scarf. Not really well received. Another year, I went as Pete Rose ... full baseball gear and betting slips to hand out ... Trevor looked at me and just rolled his eyes.
The year after that I was Steve Irwin ... khaki "safari" clothes, a goofy longish blond wig, and a stuffed "stingray" carefully stitched to my clothes so it sort of wound around me. It had only been about two months since the zoologist's untimely death ... comments like "too soon!" seemed to follow me at the party and Trevor didn't talk to me for two weeks after that shindig.

October 2007 was the year I sat down, dug deep into my creative soul, and decided to go "conceptual artist" with my first of many esoteric outfits. When Trevor opened his door that year, I greeted him in black jeans, a black turtle neck, and black Chucks. I had went to a craft store and found two bags of stuffed chickens ... 36 in all ... and I basted them to my ebon garments in a way where they could be simply removed by snipping off a few threads. Then I used balsa wood and a plastic head-hugging headband I "borrowed" from my niece to fashion a large letter "U" that I could paint red and dark gray. The swoopy letter sat atop my head like antlers on a mid-century modern stag. "What the hell are you supposed to be?" my buddy asked, a drink in his hand and the beginnings of a look of shame on his face. "A chick magnet," I responded with pride. That particular Halloween, I was anything but!!

next year I bought some inexpensive board shorts and the ugliest Hawaiian shirt ever manufactured. To this I adhered keys I had pulled from an old computer keyboard. I used Gorilla Glue because that shirt was going in the trash as soon as I got home from the party. At a party outlet store I bought a pack of plastic leis (for around my neck) and one bag of fiberglass "cobwebs" (which I spread all over my body). I put bright blue sunblock on my nose and borrowed the boogie board that my nephew purchased on his family's last trip to Hilton Head. Snazzy flip-flops completed the look. When anyone asked what I was supposed to be, I replied with a trace of irritation "I'm a Web Surfer." One girl who had definitely been imbibing for a good amount of time asked if I had considered giving rehab a shot. I drank heavily in response.

last year, I thought and thought but nothing coalesced in my brain. I gave up and went on a hunting expedition to the fabric store and bought several yards of discounted pink fur. I had my sister help me build a kind of wide serape or "pocket" that covered me from neck to knees. Tapping into my feminine side, I purchased the largest pink tights I could find and forced them over my legs ... they fit terribly but I just needed the look from the knees down. The night before Trevor's party, I got out the hot glue gun and attached a huge assortment of toy food items I found with the toy kitchens at a department store. Pork chops ... loaves of bread ... little skillets with fried eggs ... bacon strips ... a chicken leg ... a carton of ice cream ... a can labeled "PEAS." The costume got heavier the more things I added ... a miniature ketchup bottle ... some chocolate chip cookies ... a tiny birthday cake ... so I finally had to stop. I must have looked like an idiot shrugging into the furry thing out on the street beside Trevor's apartment building. A stranger answered the door when I knocked and just looked at me with a bit of a challenge. I gave "heys" and "hellos" to a few people I knew but said nothing more. And no one questioned me. Finally I couldn't take the pressure anymore. "I'm an upset stomach," I bellowed. "Get it! GET IT!!" Of course, they didn't.

So Trevor's 2010 bash was last night. I had a good time and everyone liked my costume. It was comfortable and easy to assemble. Unfortunately, the "easy to rinse out" hair dye was proving to be problematic. I have now washed my hair four times and it's still pitch black and a combination of oily- and scary-looking. Luckily it's Sunday, but my littlest nephew wants his wiffleball bat ... my "club" ... back today so he can play with his friends. But I think it's safe to say that "Fred Flintstone" was a hit at the party!!

OF RANT: Yabba ... Dabba ... Never Again!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Today At The Amish Store ...

Here in Ohio, fall came on like a prowling lynx. The temperature dropped a little. The air took on a crisp quality. The trees just seemed to subtly burst into golds and oranges and cardinals and crimsons and now ... POOF!! ... two thirds of the leaves are laying on the ground brittle and melancholy. To some, fall means that summer is gone and the bitter cold of winter is on its way. But for me, autumn represents many positive things including a few trips to a local Amish store about 30 minutes away.
It's not easy to find, nestled deep between back roads and generational family farms ... but it's soooo worth the effort.

The store's hours are odd ... very late a few evenings and closed Thursdays (many Amish weddings and meetings are held on this day) and Sundays. The lane off the rural road to get there is pitted and almost impassable when it's raining heavily; the ruts from repeated buggy tracks are genuine impact tests for most shock absorbers.

But DAMN! ... the bounty of treasures and low prices makes me almost swoon with gluttony! When I go I have a list and a set amount I want to spend ... cash only because they don't take checks or credit cards ... but I always overspend ... and over indulge! And my family and friends benefit from my lack of fiscal discipline because I bring them a jar of pear butter or a half-dozen sinful cinnamon rolls.

Every day, fresh batches of bread, dinner rolls, muffins, and pies are carefully cooled and wrapped by a bevy of plain-but-wholesome-looking young Amish women. Baskets of locally-grown items are placed in small bins ... potatoes, green beans, summer squash, cantaloupe, onions and leeks, peas, sweet corn, cabbage, rhubarb, strawberries, and peaches. This time of year, in particular, apples and pumpkins and decorative gourds and Indian corn are in abundance. Shelves are stocked with unusual pastas, beans, homemade jams and jellies, jars of thick and savory bread and butter pickles, and powdered ingredients for a wide variety of homespun cooking. This little shop is the only place where I've found tomato-basil lasagna noodles and a unique type of white bean that makes for incredible "white" chili. It's like the Old World met The Food Network, fell in love, and had a baby ... "The Amish Iron Chef."

And the spices ... this little cinder-block building is my restock "depot" for cilantro, capaprika, ginger, dried mustard, anise, caraway seed, nutmeg, and thyme, as well as the only place where I've found interesting things like "sweet cumin," a sun-dried tomato/green pepper/red pepper combo that is a must-have for omelets and spaghetti sauce, lime curd for pork roast, and a garlic lemon pepper that makes anything taste better. I'm half tempted to put it on my morning oatmeal ... it's that good!!

There are also some truly unusual items that attract kitchen "dabblers" like me. They have blocks of chocolate the size of newborn babies. And every few weeks they feature hand-churned herb butter ... heavy with garlic, sage, and rosemary. And on occasion, usually around major holidays, they sell large batches of butter cream and cream cheese icing that a local non-Amish lady whips ... what a timesaver for Christmas cookies and the occasional fancy and festive Easter dessert. And there is a whole candy aisle of tiny samples ... sour balls, fruit slices, peppermints, old-fashioned butterscotch, toffee bark, and more. I always start my hunt for "stocking stuffers" at this establishment.

In fact, the one concession to the traditional Amish "stereotype" is a set of freezer cases run by a generator ... no permanent hook up to electric utilities. Anyway, this allows for a wide selection of cheeses and trail bologna and summer sausage made regionally. Buttery farmer's cheese ... Swiss with fennel seeds ... cheddar with pepperoni ... "chocolate" cheese ... the variety switches with the seasons, but there's always something new and unique to try. And I can't stress how inexpensive some of these items are ... like about 30 percent of what I'd usually pay at the grocery or specialty deli store. But it's the soda in the chillers that amazes me ... the Amish must really enjoy carbonated beverages because I've found brands and unique sizes of cola that I never knew existed.

So I used the word "stereotype" earlier. I realize that not everyone is familiar with Amish culture, or just thinks of them as backward folk in plain clothes living without electricity, riding around in horse-pulled buggies, and speaking an odd combination of Dutch and Germanic languages. But like so many of our ancestors, the Amish came to the U.S. in search or religious freedom. In 16th century Europe, many people adopted a faith that did not baptize infants like the predominant Catholic faith, but instead embraced baptism as more knowledgeable adults. These same people also often came into conflict with the Swiss Protestant Reformation movement because they wanted more structure within their churches. These people, closely associated with Mennonites, became known as the Amish, or "the plain people" because of their disdain for many of the worldly possessions coveted by others.

A simple Amish tenet comes from I John 2:15 --

Do not love the world or the things in the world.
If any one loves the world,
love for the Father is not in him.

In the 1700s, a small number of Amish families ... less than 100 ... came to America and settled in Pennsylvania. Many more families followed, and over time a large number of Amish "orders" spread into Ohio and Indiana. Primarily farmers, the Amish have also become well known for their carpentry and repair skills. Additionally, traditional Amish artisans have kept alive many crafts and metal arts disciplines such as blacksmithing, weaving, quilting, and more.

I had an aunt whose farm was adjacent to a small-but-thriving Amish farm. As a kid, I remember spending time at her house and playing with the Amish children. We all loved tag and hide 'n' seek and climbing this big, gnarled tree that sat in the middle of a field. We also got put to work picking raspberries and blackberries, and this slightly older Amish girl showed me how to pick them without getting nicked so much by the briars. But one thing I will never forget is how my aunt would have us all come in for about an hour and draw or play board games. She said it was because she didn't want to send the Amish kids home to their parents all excited or sunburned. I think she just liked having 60 minutes where we weren't all screaming and screeching like maniacs. Here, during the inside time, I noticed the intrinsic differences between "them" and me. The clothes never bothered me, but most of the kids wanted to play checkers or work puzzles. They had no real interest in Candyland or Clue Jr. And when we drew pictures, mine were spaceships and castles where theirs were always horses and pigs and cats and family picnics and trees ... ALWAYS!! And my aunt would usually fix microwave popcorn for a snack and the mood in the house would instantly change. Every Amish child in the room ... usually about five ... would drop what they were doing to watch the "magic" occurring in the "silver box." I never gave it a second thought.

POINT OF RANT: I should have got more trail bologna this trip ... damn it's good!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Today In The Candy Aisle ...

I don't want to sound like a tired old man, but I might just skip Halloween this year. I retrieved my box of decorations ... cobwebs and a pumpkin carving kit and a mechanical spider that shrieks and a mummy's arm that crawls across surfaces and a super-cool Frankenstein head candy dish ... but it all looks tattered and just plain silly. I might still put out some pumpkins and gourds and Indian corn, but I may pass on "Beggars' Night" ... just go to a movie or be elsewhere. Especially since buying candy to feed the masses has gotten to be so expensive.

I'm also in a new apartment this year and really don't know how many kids are in the area. I don't want to buy too little candy and run out and look like a douche to all the little gkosts and goblins, but I also don't want to buy too much cause I'll just devour it myself then. And I have a cat now ... she could get loose and terrorize the neighborhood with her loud purring and back feet-only claws. And my steps are steep and narrow. No, this would be an ideal time to break the cycle ... buck the tradition. And I can blame it on the cat and the apartment, I thought ... insert evil laugh here.

But then I remember when I was a kid and how magical Halloween was. The air always chilled and crisp. The streets choked with laughing kids in costumes ranging from original to store-bought silly. And the candy ... oh, the mounds and mounds of candy. Pop Rockz, Mallo Cups, Razzles, chocolate "pirate" coins, BlowPops, candy corn, Nerds, ReeseSticks, Gobstoppers, M&Ms ... all the sugar a little boy could dream of. And then up the street there was this really nice guy who transformed his lawn into an eerie graveyard and he dressed up like a very convincing Grim Reaper. Until I was a bit older, I could never deal with the man when he said "hi" when I walked past, or if I was out riding my bike and he was in his yard and asked how my parents were. All I could see was his face covered in grizzly make-up and the sickle up the sleeve of his tattered black robe while he did his best to talk in a low, menacing voice. GOOSEBUMPS! DAMN!!

When I was very little, my parents also helped out with a neighborhood "haunted barn," after which the families would have a big bonfire with hotdogs, big crockpots of potato soup and chili, and toasted marshmellows and caramel apples. And us kids would swap candy so I could corner the market on Razzles. Every year, my Mom usually dressed like a suburban witch and my Dad like a ship-less pirate.

After my mother died, I was one of two siblings still living at home while I finished college. We lived in the "busy" ... code word for rundown and packed with people ... section of town. Our Mom loved decorating for Halloween and really enjoyed seeing all the kids and parents while she handed out candy, so my older brother and I decided we'd keep her zest for trick or treat alive if Dad would foot the bill. That first year he was still in a daze ... he just handed us cash and told us to do the best we could.

Well, my brother and me got serious about the event ... organized. We decided we would use inexpensive sandwich bags and create Halloween "treat kits" so all those germy little hands wouldn't be touching all the candy we secretly hoped to inherit as "leftovers." Each bag had one "miniature" candy bar, a packet of candy corn, a packet of Skittles, four or five flavored Tootsie Rolls, and a jawbreaker that looked like a faceted gemstone. We also found several bags of little glow-in-the-dark rats and spiders and tried to put a few in every bag. We started the "assembly line" about three days before Halloween ... Dad had to get more candy twice. "Christ, boys," he said, "we're not supplying candy to the whole state!" We reminded him that, as just barely young adults, we knew the kind of onslaught that was just around the corner. I think he was just happy to see us excited about something.

Halloween was on a Thursday night that year. We had the porch light blazing, Mom's Frankenstein bowl,... the one I now possess ... filled with bags, and the rest within easy reach. Just shy of 350 little princesses, police officers, mummies, vampires, Power Rangers, ghosts, wizards, dinosaurs, black cats, Pooh characters, and more made the trek up our four big stone steps to add to their bounty of confections. We had about a dozen bags left which disappeared quickly ... the craziness and frenetic energy of the evening demanded a sugar fix!

But now ... in the present ... did I really want to go to that kind of trouble? Besides, I had a potluck at work to worry about too. We always go a little crazy with food on the holidays, and Halloween was no exception. One year, I made those pumpkin rolls with decadent cream cheese frosting. I always add a bit of extra cinnamon and nutmeg into the pumpkin batter and a touch of lime zest to the filling ... a nice fresh twist. And another year I made a thick root vegetable stew that you actually cook and serve in a hollowed out pumpkin. That stuff was killer ... garlic and oregano and cumin accenting the flavors of squash, potatoes, leeks, parsnips, onion, fennel, and eggplant. There had not been enough left of that to even bother bringing home.

This year I was making "deviled eyes" ... basically deviled eggs, but you tint the filling (I chose green and brown), add a black olive for the "pupil," and draw a few bloodshot accents with a red icing pen. As a dry run, I made a dozen and took them to my landlord to sample. She thought they were wonderful and appreciated how I had added sage and celery seed to the fluffy filling. Now, my landlord is a wonderful lady who is also an outstanding cook. She suggested I switch the brown hue for blue ... I agreed it would be much more appealing ... and that I dribble some spicy cocktail sauce on the eyes instead of using the squiggly and too-sweet icing accent. "And maybe give the two different colors slightly different tastes," she cooed as she popped a second egg in her mouth, replacing the Saran wrap over the small serving plate and promising to save the rest for later on when her husband got home.

Well, I had a while until Halloween actually occurred, but i decided to make a grocery list for all the ingredients I would require for my eerie appetizers. Maybe I could pick up a bag of party-size 3 Musketeers bars ... or maybe two ... just in case friends with kids stop by, I thought as I added it to the list. And it wouldn't hurt to have a bowl of candy corn on hand. And some of those gummy eyeballs I saw last week ... those are so cool! And I wonder if they still make "pixie sticks?"

Oh, hell, I laughed inwardly, I better get some sandwich bags just in case!

POINT OF RANT: Like a vampire, old habits will always come back and bite you in the ass ... and the wallet!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Today Changing Batteries ...

Several months ago, I found myself in a housing snafu. My previous residence ... a small rental cottage that I'd been happily ensconsed in for a few years ... had been sold by its owner, so I needed to relocate. I had ample time to make the move, but not once but three times I secured a new abode only to see the arrangements unravel before my eyes at the "eleventh hour."

Luckily, I had an older aunt and uncle ... relatives from my mom's side of the family, real characters in their late sixties ... who offered me a place to crash while my life sorted itself out. The whole thing worked out fine, but my aging kin came to rely on me for my willingness to help out and do odd jobs around their sturdy-but-dated home.

So today, I received a somewhat frantic call from my aunt ... the actual blood relative. "That darn smoke detector our son bought us is making an awful racket, dear. Dad (my uncle) says it's the batteries. Could you be a sweetie and come check it for me? You're so good with those things and that chirping is getting on my last nerve!!"

For anyone who has read any of my previous blog postings, you know that my aunt's predicament created a unique personal flashpoint for me. I have a thing about being prepared for energencies ... almost an obsession but just shy of needing therapy. On one hand, I have caches of the oddest items stored away ... I have enough Band-Aids for a third-world skirmish. And a shutdown of production facilities for toothbrushes, dishwashing detergent, ball point pens, deodorant, or toilet paper would not affect me for at least eight months! Same goes for Ramen noodles and instant potatoes.

Then there's that pesky "other hand" ... the one that belongs to a man with a near-phobic reaction to just seeing a ladder and an intellectual understanding of what a four- or five-foot fall can potentially do to the human body.

But in the end, I quickly agreed to be at my aunt's house right after work. After all, she and her husband had been so kind to me during a turmultuous time in my life and any chance to repay a little of that generosity was worth a little queasy stomach. And ... she was promising pie!!

When I arrived, I said a quick "hello" to the pair and retrieved their assassin-in-disguise step ladder from the attached garage. It was no big deal to swap out the batteries for fresh ones I purchased on the ride over. Everything seemed "ready to rock" but I told my aunt and uncle that I wanted to double check the situation. First, I took the "old" batteries and popped them into a little drink mixer gadget I had bought for my uncle to help him blend the fiber concoction he drinksevery morning. The small whip-like appliance whirred to life ... the supposedly-defunct power cells seemed fine. Next, I grabbed a small piece of newspaper and a pack of matches from a utility drawer. Digging deep for my "inner man," I remounted the ladder. Once steadied, I rolled the newsprint into a tapered "candle," lit one end, and held it under the slightly dusty, "green for go" detector unit. Five seconds ... nothing. Ten seconds ... nada on the blood-curdling siren I was expecting. Twenty seconds ... zilch! The smoke alarm was completely non-functional.

I shared my discovery with my older relatives after stowing away the ladder, giving it a quick "I cheated death ... HAH!" smirk. My aunt seemed excited, immediately planning a "trip to town" for a replacement like it was a week in Dollywood. My uncle muttered his reply ... something that included the word "figures" and the phrase "damn Japs!" ... before returning his attention to the TV set.

My aunt insisted that I stay for a bowl of soup and the promised slice of pie. I agreed and went to wash up. I knew it would be several minutes before supper commenced, so I did a little snooping around the house, my eyes trained on safety "infractions" and simple ways that my dear relations might avoid injuries and mishaps.

At the table, I was presented with my aunt's awesome vegetable soup, thick with sliced potatoes and chucks of roast. Damn, my Mom's family can cook, I thought as I took my first bite. As we all supped, I interjected my "findings" into the general dinner-time dialogue. I also included some good-but-startling statistics to emphasize the point of the discussion. Based on a 10-year study conducted by the United States Fire Administration (USFA), I told them over soup and warm rye bread for dipping, more than 397,000 housefires occur in the U.S. each year. These conflagrations cause more than 3,000 deaths and nearly 15,000 injuries annually.

"Most people think that housefires are started by careless smokers or unruly kids playing with matches," I told my aunt, the more receptive of my two fellow diners, "but that's more of a myth." While these stereotypical scenarios do pose obvious dangers, smoking-related fires account for less than 2 percent of U.S. housefire incidents. Leading causes include cooking mishaps (26.4 percent), malfunctioning furnaces and heating units (11.4 percent), and candles and decorative lighting left unattended (5.4 percent).

Between bites and buttering the dark, earthy bread, I tried to gauge my relatives' reactions. For the most part, they seemed unconcerned. "Look," I added. "The Fire Administration has some pretty simple ideas to keep people safe and ready. They suggest having a good smoke detector at common 'hot spots' like the kitchen, garage, and the basement or utility area near heating equipment. And I think for you guys one more upstairs wouldn't hurt. You can find a decent unit for $20 or less."

I could see my aunt stressing ... probably imagining four little monitors ganging up on her with their "low battery" screeches all going off at the same time. And my uncle's brow was furrowedas I spoke, more than likely doing the math on the cost of four smoke detectors. I figured What the hell, so I plugged away and added my "two cents" about adding fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors to the safety plan. USFA suggested locating fire extinguishers in the same "caution areas" ... kitchens near the stove, garages near tools and work tables, and basements near the furnace.

A combination extinguisher is what I have at my apartment, I told them. It has an A-B-C designation, meaning it's effective on ordinary combustables (wood, paper, etc.), flammable liquids (like grease and gasoline), and even small electrical fires. I also shared that the one I have in my kitchen retailed for right around $25. Carbon monoxide detectors ... with suggested placements near bedroom areas and heating equipment ... I estimated at $25 per unit.

"You guys could do it all for under $200 and I'd help you install all the brackets and stuff." The furrowing on Uncle Ed's brow turned menacing and Aunt Gloria actually dropped her spoon when hearing the dollar amount for my suggested expenditure, but before I lost any steam I reminded them that a couple hundred dollars was nothing compared to the devastation of losing your house to fire and all the irreplacable belongings like photographs and antiques and collectibles. They nodded solemnly at that.

I also explained that there were competitively-priced services that could come in, evaluate their home, and install more active monitoring for a monthly fee. My uncle looked up at me like I'd started talking Potuguese. "I don't need no Dot-Heads digging through my stuff and then sitting somewhere hoping my house will burn down!" he stated vehemently.


"Indian fellows, dear," my aunt said, patting my hand with her liver-spotted one like I was a two-year-old trying to make sense of an adult conversation. "Your uncle thinks they watch our every move." In response, my uncle aggressively crumpled some saltines into his second bowl of soup.

The three of us sat quietly for a few moments. I, too, got a second bowl of my aunt's home-cook masterpiece. Conversation resumed slowly, a trading of stories about family and their misadventures. I laughed and sighed at what I thought were appropriate places, but my mind was buzzing with all the other information I wanted to share. Did they know that home injuries cause over 20,ooo deaths each year, as well as 7 million disabling injuries and more than 20 million hospital trips? Were they aware that falls are the major cause of home injuries and could be safeguarded against by simply tightening banisters and railings, applying non-stick appliques or slip-resistant paint to bathtub and shower floors, basement steps, and garage floors, and purchasing proper types of ladders and step stools? Did my dear aunt and irksome uncle know that a used copy of "First Aid and Safety for Dummies" ... my go-to home bible ... could be acquired on Amazon.com for less than $10 (plus shipping)? And could they PLEASE shell out a little money each winter and let Timmy Miers up the street shovel their walk and driveway so their property wasn't a slushy deathtrap?

Okay ... over cherry pie (mine's much better) and coffee, I finally reached my limit. I begged my uncle to let me buy two goofy lunch boxes and help him assemble an emergency tool kit and a first aid kit out of stuff they already had. Secretly, I knew that I'd be augmenting the project with some extra items like a "crank" flashlight/radio, some "liquid" bandage, hydrogen peroxide, a few extra fuses and light bulbs, hand sanitizer, and anything else that caught my eye.

I turned to my aunt and queried her about finding some extra blankets and storing them in a tote in their basement with a few cans of soup and vegetables like peas and corn ... things that can be heated on a grill or eaten cold if need be ... plus a pot, a can opener, and maybe some jerky. We lived in Ohio, I reminded them, and tornado season makes the basement an important location.

"And bottled water ... you should but a case of Aquafina or Dasani down there too for emergencies."

My uncle stopped short of his mouth with a forkful of flaky pie. "Dasani?," he said with a sneer, "that sounds Italian (pronounced Eye-talian) ... I don't much care for Italians."

POINT OF RANT: My uncle really isn't a nice man.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Today In The Newspaper ...

Charles Monroe Schultz was born on November 26, 1922, in Minneapolis. He was the only child of a German father (a barber) and a Swedish mother (housewife), and lived a quiet life doodling and playing with his dog, Spike. Schultz was a shy kid, made even more so by the fact that he was skipped two half-grades in school so he was always the young and smallest student among his peers.

Schultz graduated high school and undertook a few correspondence courses in art and design. In 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving until early 1946 and attaining the rank of staff sergeant. After leaving the military, Schultz returned to Minneapolis and worked as an art teacher. In his spare time, he developed a comic strip called Li'l Folks. The strip, which appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1947 to 1950, featured a cuddly dog and a peripheral character named "Charlie Brown" ... sound familiar? Schultz earned $10 for each submission.

After 7,000 panels of Li'l Folks and a cartoon published in the Saturday Evening Post, Schultz and the Pioneer Press parted company in 1950 over a denied pay raise and better page position for the comic strip. But you know that saying about "when one door closes, another door opens?" Schultz does, because later that same year, he negotiated a deal with United Feature Syndicate ... a mega player in the publishing industry then and today. And after some character and concept refinements, Peanuts was launched on October 2, 1950 ... 60 years ago today!

Original Peanuts strips ran for nearly 50 years, allowing readers in 2,600 newspapers in more than 75 countries to fall in love with the family values-driven antics of Charlie Brown (shy, like Schultz himself), rowdy beagle Snoopy (Schultz's pet Spike was a pointer), friend Linus van Pelt (named after Schultz's childhood friend), nemesis Lucy van Pelt, sister Sally, bossy Peppermint Patty (inspired by Schultz's cousin Patricia), and the rest of the gang. In fact, except for a five-week vacation break in 1997, Peanuts ran uninterrupted for close to half a century.

During those five decades, Schultz received numerous honors, including multiple awards from the National Cartoonist Society, the Silver Buffalo Award ... high adult honor given by the Boy Scouts of America, a "star" on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (adjacent to Walt Disney, which I think is pretty cool!), and the Congressional Gold Medal ... the highest civilian honor granted by the U.S. Legislature!

Schultz and his family were also very charitable to educational and civic organizations. They were ice sports enthusiasts ... in fact Schultz was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame and the United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame for outstanding contributions to those sports.

I occasionally read the Peanuts strip in the newspaper growing up, but, like millions of other youngsters, Peanuts was all about the TV specials. I don't care how "mature" you were growing up ... you cringed a little with Linus in the pumpkin patch waiting for the "Great Pumpkin" to appear. You cheered for the rafting teams when the gang went to summer camp. Or you asked your parents why Franklin had darker skin than the other kids ... it was very "white" where I grew up. And I bet every reader out there had a first apartment with a sad little Christmas tree that made you think of the Charlie Brown Christmas special . At the very least, you wondered why the school nurse didn't talk to Pigpen's parents about that noxious cloud that followed him everywhere he went. Give the kid a bar of soap and a hygiene pamphlet, public school system!

Unfortunately, dynasties come to an end. In late 1999, Schultz suffered a debilitating stroke that affected his eyesight and general health. And it was later discovered that he had advanced colon cancer. With a heavy heart, Charles Schultz announced his planned retirement for December 14 of that same year.

Schultz died in his home on February 12, 2000. Just hours after his death, Sunday papers began hitting newsstands and people's homes featuring the last original Peanuts comic strip. On May 27, 2000, cartoonists of more than 100 comic strips published special strips dedicated to Charles Schultz, one of the most popular American cartoonists in the history of the medium.

In interviews toward the end of his career ... and life ... Schultz was asked if Charlie Brown would finally get to kick the football. He replied, "... Definitely not! I couldn't have Charlie Brown kick that football; that would be a terrible disservice to him after nearly half a century. ..." Yet later, after just signing the last panel of the strip, he was reported as saying, " ... You know, that poor, poor kid, he never got to kick the football. What a dirty trick - ..."

POINT OF RANT: Charlie Brown understands ... we all do! Rest in Peace!!