April welcomes the fresh green bloom of spring, as well as Opening Weekend for America’s favorite pastime: baseball.
In his April 22, 1950 cover for The Saturday Evening Post , illustrator Stevan Dohanos depicts a wide variety of reactions to an incoming fly ball on a sunny day at the ballpark.
The green upper decks curve around the back end of the stadium and enlarge the grandeur of the atmosphere as they approach the outfielder’s apparently useless attempt to catch a ball among the throngs of an excited crowd.
This game is not a casual affair taking place over a relaxing weekend afternoon. This outing plays host to a devoted baseball following. The scene takes place somewhere between late morning and afternoon. The adults in the stands are playing hooky, and should they catch that prize ball, they would have no one and nowhere to brag to for fear of being discovered out of the office. If you look carefully into the crowd, most of the men are still wearing their work attire. They have rolled up sleeves, but they still wear slacks, ties, button-down shirts, suspenders, and even a bus driver’s hat on the man in the back row.
The illustration shows that love of the game transcends generations. Boys and men all reach to the sky, hopeful for momentary fame, hoping to be “that guy” lucky enough to snatch a professional, maybe even game-ending ball. For the men, there are resurgent childhood dreams of one day playing professionally. The boys in the stands are instilled with those hopes and dreams for the first time.
Structurally, Dohanos composes a triangle across the cover by using the reaching crowd and outfielder as linear markers to draw the viewer’s eye to the falling trajectory of the incoming baseball. The immense stadium and rows of stands are simply background to the scene unfolding at the painting’s foreground.
The color palette blends the semi-yellowed field with the straw hats and yellow dress of the baseball-avoiding bystanders. The bright yellow colors disperse the white-collar chaotic mess in the stands. Some individuals sit back without a care while others hide or turn away. A select few in the section dive for the ball.
Like the viewer, the rest of the stadium watches this freeze-frame scene. The narrative indicates that a fan’s catch would ensure a home run against the outfielder jumping for the fences. We are brought into the scene’s tension, the game, and the stadium’s excited, cheerful atmosphere.
64 years later, America still eagerly awaits the baseball season and its longstanding tradition of spring’s Opening Day. The fields are watered and mowed, the sun is shining, and there’s always a chance it could be any one of us in the stands, ready to catch that home run ball.
I sit in front of the microphone, looking through a window at my producer in the control booth. I’m about to begin one of the scariest jobs of my life. I don’t know why I agreed to narrate an hour-long radio documentary about Hurricane Katrina. “What was I thinking?” I ask myself. “This can only go wrong.”
An engineer flips the switch. The producer, Rachel McCarthy, signals me to begin. I open my mouth, and for a few seconds nothing comes out. That silence is followed by a cacophony of clicking and choking, random guttural syllables and the occasional complete word. It sounds nothing like language at all, nothing like the beautiful phrases inside my head. I want to surrender and quit, just call off this entire project.
Rachel assures me there’s plenty of time, that she remains confident in my ability to pull off what, to me, seems impossible. As a journalist who stutters, I have good days and bad ones, days when the words glide out of my mouth, and others when my vocal cords feel as knotted as pretzels. Today is a bad day.
It’s the type of day that makes me think it would be easier to be an accountant. Lock myself in an office and never talk to anyone. But journalism is the only career I’ve ever wanted to pursue. When I was growing up, adults questioned my wisdom; even I doubted my own chance at success. A professor who gave me an A in her class warned me that I’d never make it as a reporter unless I overcame the stutter.
Yet in the three decades since graduation, I’ve built a career I feel proud of. I write for national magazines, trying to put human faces on complex issues. I make the occasional radio documentary. I turn away almost as many assignments as I accept. These days, I think my success is not in spite of my stutter, but rather because of it. Still, it’s never easy.
Research has not come up with a single cause of stuttering: Like many conditions, it’s the product of both genetic and neurophysiological factors. Scientists have found structural and functional differences in the brains of people who stutter. Various stresses, including the reactions of impatient listeners, can aggravate the symptoms.
Given the complexities of the syndrome, the wisest modern speech therapists don’t aim to “cure” stuttering in adults. Instead they help patients stutter easily and openly, without the breathless struggle that marks my own worst bouts, and feel more comfortable living with the remaining dysfluencies. Confident and effective communication, rather than vocal perfection, becomes the goal.
It’s a worthy aim that I embrace intellectually and actually believe on my better days. But stuttering has a way of deflating even the most self-confident speaker. For one, it’s exhausting: The very process of speaking means doing battle with a larynx that feels tied up in knots. Stuttering also involves “secondary symptoms” such as head jerks and facial tics.
None of this, though, is as dispiriting as the reactions I get from certain listeners: the recommendations that I sing my words or think before I speak; the laughter and mockery; the assumption that I must be “crazy” or “retarded.” Servers in restaurants turn to my dining companions, silently pleading with them to order for me. Years ago, an editor told me outright that he wouldn’t hire a stutterer, even though I was the best-qualified candidate.
This ostracism is one reason why I think stuttering makes me a better journalist. Aside from the speech impediment, I haven’t encountered a lot of struggle in my life. But my stutter has taught me about bias and marginalization. It has taught me how easy it is to overlook someone’s talent because of a trait irrelevant to job performance: disability, race, family status, religion, physical appearance.
It has helped me empathize with the struggles of African-Americans, single mothers, evangelicals, immigrants, teenagers, people in wheelchairs, transgender people, the poor. I find myself seeking common ground with — or at least seeking to understand–people whose political views are out of the mainstream, even if I disagree with them. I’ve learned to make the extra effort to understand individuals whose lives are unlike mine, because I know how blithely other journalists might unwittingly dismiss them. I know it because of how many people have unwittingly dismissed me.
It’s easy to talk with people who are able bodied, affluent, and college educated. They speak in quotable, syntactically correct sentences, with speech that’s easy to understand. They make my job easier by providing coherent analyses. Indeed, my research must include interviews with these folks. But when we journalists limit ourselves to them, we strip our craft of its texture. My stutter is a daily reminder–an alarm that goes off every time I talk–to interview people who might be harder to communicate with.
The other lesson my stutter has offered me is simple: Shut up and listen. I don’t particularly like the physical effort of speaking. So I’m content to ask others to tell me their stories, then sit back, take notes, and make eye contact. I don’t feel compelled to fill the silences; I know someone will fill them, and I prefer it be the interviewee. By listening intently, then following up with gentle questions about missing details, I often wind up with richer, more nuanced stories.
These days, I can tell some of those stories aloud, literally. As our Hurricane Katrina recording session proceeded into the third hour, and then the fourth, my vocal cords gradually relaxed. In the final 30 minutes, Rachel asked me to read the narration script one last time.
Mysteriously, the stutter temporarily disappeared in that final reading, and the words tumbled out fluently. In the control booth, Rachel’s eyes grew wide.
When I finished the last page, she let out a whoop. So did I, realizing that–even though it took a lot of stuttering to get there–I was one step closer to finding my voice.
There is an old man teetering through the locker room, pedaling homemade DVDs and breathing like a Freightliner truck. He’s wearing mismatched tennis shoes, a plain white shirt and a pair of khakis wrinkled like the skin of a cottonwood. “Did I give you one of these already?” he asks. “Yes,” they say, “I believe so,” and he keeps moving, three steps forward, one step back, inhale, exhale, a stack of rose-tinted jewel cases fixed between his fingers.
They are lying, these men, financial advisers and media specialists and high school civics instructors. They do not possess this man’s DVD. They do not want it, and do not wish to give him the wrong idea. They are not the right audience. They are very busy. They must go home now, back to their wives and children. They must be on their way.
Soon he will reach my locker. I have just showered. I am still wet and half-naked and my own family is waiting on me for Pancake Night. But I know better. I am better. I have read books, walked through museums, paid money for feature-length documentary films.
I understand empathy. I employ it on a regular basis. I tip the doorman at my office building. I ask my secretary about her weekend plans. In truth, I’d rather not speak to this man, either; I’d rather duck his gaze and sprint for the exit. But to circle this room like a hopeless poltergeist, day in and day out, invisible and ignored—how he must suffer! None of us know him. We do not know his story, but to land at the YMCA pedaling nondescript DVDs, well, the word “downtrodden” comes to mind.
It’s important to ask questions to men like this, to say hello, to meet their gaze when we pass them on the street or find them pedaling DVDs at the YMCA. It’s important to remember the world is unfair, that we do not all share a common heritage, a common childhood, a common blessing.
He’s coming closer now, his shoelaces trailing like alley cats behind him. He looks arthritic, hunchbacked, emphysemic. He’s probably been smoking for years, since he was a kid. They started young back then. No filters. Or maybe he picked it up in the war—maybe he’s a veteran. Korea. Vietnam. Could you blame him for smoking? Flushing out the tunnels, braving booby traps and landmines. And if he is a vet–I’d put money on it–how will you feel then, knowing you’ve ignored a man who nearly died for you and your country, an American hero?
Of course, I could be wrong, and that’s the point: we don’t know. But this much is evident: he’s lived hard. I worry he’s alone in the world. If he had a family, surely they wouldn’t let him live like this, smelling like a dumpster and pinballing from one locker to the next.
Maybe he had a family like mine once, a pretty wife, two kids. Maybe they loved him, and maybe they died, or maybe they fell out of love with him and left, and maybe then he crumbled, fell from grace to the nearest YMCA. It’s important to ask questions to men like this.
There are now only three men between us. I have not looked him in the eye, but I can sense his trajectory, I’m sure of it, can feel his gaze heating up my neck like the coils of an electric stove. I won’t ignore him–of course not–but what will I say? How will I answer his questions?
And how long will it take, because truly, my family is waiting for me. On Pancake Night, I cook dinner. I flip the pancakes. “I like my syrup with a bit of pancake,” Casey Jo likes to say, mimicking me. Kevin likes his with peanut butter. Jane knows my pancakes are only pancakes, but the kids believe they are something special. They believe in the ritual of Pancake Night, and Jane plays along. Pancake night is their favorite night of the week. I really shouldn’t let them wait. I really must be on my way.
“Did I give you one of these already?” he asks, placing the DVD in my hand before I can answer. He’s looking right at me. I can see a bit of food on his tongue. His lips are wet.
The smell is overwhelming me and I am holding my breath. There is something crusty on the jewel case.
“I’m not sure,” I say, “what’s on it?”
“Nothing,” he says. “Totally blank.”
And before I know it he’s shuffling away, head hung low, whispering something I can’t make out.
“Fill it with whatever you like,” he says.
It has come down to us a pivotal moment in American history, a classic confrontation between science and faith.
In 1925, John T. Scopes was arrested in Dayton, Tennessee, for the crime of teaching evolution in the local high school.
The resulting trial came mid-way through a decade that seemed obsessed with sensational stories. That summer, newspapers had given lurid coverage to the ongoing troubles with bootleggers, the excesses of jazz-crazed youth, critical response to Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, and the meaning of a parade by 40,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan through Washington, D.C.
But for many days that summer, the Scopes trial crowded every other story off the front page.
Over 100 newspaper reporters swooped down onto the town of Dayton, as well as throngs of tourists, not to mention pro-science and pro-Bible advocates eager for an audience. Street-corner preachers drew crowds of gawkers and idlers by damning Scopes and the theory that humans had “descended from a lower order of animals.” They demanded every sort of punishment for Scopes, just short of execution.
Also crowding into the little town was Scopes’ defense team, which included the nationally renowned lawyer Clarence Darrow. The prosecution team included former Vice President and evangelist William Jennings Bryan. The trial became a spectacle as Darrow put Bryan on the witness stand and cross-examined his fundamentalist beliefs.
It all made for good copy, and it encouraged Americans to debate the meaning and consequences of the trial. Lost in all the noise, though, was the fact that the event—Scopes’ teaching from the state approved biology book on April 24, his subsequent arrest, and the trial, were all a stunt.
The American Civil Liberties Union wanted a test case to see if the Tennessee courts would enforce its new “Butler Act,” which outlawed the teaching of evolution.
The community leaders of Dayton, Tennessee, saw an opportunity to hold the test case in their jurisdiction and profit from the attention and tourism that would result.
John T. Scopes agreed to be the subject of the case. He was charged with having taught evolution on April 25, 1925, and quickly released on $500 bail posted by a Baltimore newspaper.
If you’re familiar with the story, or you’ve seen its dramatized account in the play/film “Inherit The Wind,” you know Scopes was found guilty.
The sensational aspects of the story ended there, and few people are aware of what happened after the verdict. The judge set a fine of $100. Scopes’ lawyers appealed the verdict to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which supported the lower court’s verdict. However, the higher court—perhaps eager to get rid of the case—noted that the judge, not the jury, had set the amount of the fine. On this technicality, the Supreme Court overturned Scopes’ conviction.
The Scopes trial was one of the last great cases of Darrow’s career, and Bryan died just five days after the trial. Tennessee’s Butler Act remained in effect until 1967, at which point the state’s teachers were free to incorporate the theory of evolution into their biology curricula. In 2012, a new state law required science teachers to present evolution as a “controversial” and questionable theory.
And John Scopes? The ‘victim,’ according to some journalists? The ‘criminal’ whose punishment could not be too severe, according to others?
He appears to have slipped neatly back into the obscurity from which he had come.
Shortly after his conviction was overturned, he became a graduate geology student at the University of Chicago. He was later hired by Gulf Oil to look for oil deposits in South America. He wound up in Shreveport, Louisiana, studying oil reserves until his retirement in 1963.
“I’m just an ordinary man now, working to support a fine family,” he told the Post in October 1943. “Occasionally people will ask if I am ‘the John Scopes,’ but usually I just don’t think about it.
“I feel no guilt about the trial,” he said, adding quietly. “It was a long time ago, and I was pretty young then—too young.”
The June 6, 1936 cover of The Saturday Evening Post,“No Money For Her Soda,” shows two kids who’ve spent the day with each other, and a boy who doesn’t have two pennies left to rub together. Even in this embarrassing moment the artist’s use of small children in a setting for adults, while using a bright color palette, manages to keep the scene innocent and playful.
Frances Tipton Hunter’s first cover for The Saturday Evening Post does a wonderful job arranging tokens of the day’s activities around the counter. The remnants of the day rest under the boy’s arm, on the floor, and even held between his teeth, including a ticket stub, a gift-wrapped box, an empty soda glass, and a bag of ballpark peanuts. Just in case we need further evidence of the boy’s financial predicament (and we don’t really), the boy’s pockets are turned inside out.
Much like the works of Norman Rockwell, Frances Tipton Hunter painted innocent boys and girls living idealized American childhoods, complete with this idyllic failure of financial preparation. Your heart aches as what looks to be a fun-filled day comes to a stalled, awkward end—the partially deflated balloon representing the increasingly poor prospects of their future together.
Painted at the height of the Great Depression, the picture of a young spendthrift on a badly planned date automatically raises broader questions. Though the work depicts children, could this catastrophic date, complete with reckless money management, have hit a little too close to home for a struggling 1930s America?
The two children sit upon adult-sized, vertical barstools (feet dangling), staged symmetrically opposite one another to draw the viewer’s attention to the compositional “H” frame’s center. The horizontal line of the bar cuts across the image, drawing the eye in to navigate the story’s narrative, a pocket-searching hand and the counter’s empty glass.
Further dissecting the work’s structural composition, Hunter’s set design and palette interact with the overall story to tone down the seriousness of the subject matter. The lighter hues–pinks, peaches, blues, beige, and white all work to soften the severity of the situation. Hunter even changed the Post font color to a fun, light-hearted pink.
The white backdrop of the cover’s negative space pulls the scene forward dimensionally from the rest of the cover, creating depth layered from the barstools to the bar, to the back wall of the soda shop. The entire scene steps out from the cutoff nameplate of The Saturday Evening Post as an entrée into their moment.
This momentary glimpse into a child’s hardship brings both a smile and a reminder to keep track of one’s finances.
I’ve been shovelin’ this sidewalk for hours,
And it’s quite nearly robbed all me powers.
But the toil’s not the reason,
Tis all of the sneezin’.
You see’s, I’m allergic to flowers.
—John Eggerton, Springfield, Virginia
Of course, John’s limerick wasn’t the only one we liked! Here are some of our favorite limericks from our runners-up, in no particular order:
A florist named Tropical Joe
Was weary of shoveling snow.
His balmy green thumb
Froze up and turned numb,
And resentment was all he could grow.
—Michelle Barnes, Gainesville, Florida
My job as a sweeper is tough;
I really have had quite enough.
I surely am through,
Because all I do
Is heave around forkfuls of fluff.
—David Warren, Lake Oswego, Oregon
It’s hard to clean up snow,
You can’t use a rake or a hoe.
A shovel is best
When put to the test,
Until the wind starts-in to blow.
—Cathy Fleming, Coal City, Illinois
This cold weather gives me the blues.
It freezes my gloves and my shoes.
I shovel this stuff,
But I’ve had enough—
Next winter I’m booking a cruise!
—Mary Starn, Orrville, Ohio
Forecasters do have a knack
For inches of snow keeping track.
Some think it’s pretty.
But for those in the city,
The snow is a pain in the back.
—Tim Cannon, Osceola, Iowa
Although I don’t mean to be picky,
This weather’s incredibly icky.
Too bad there’s a guard in
the front of that garden.
Now getting inside will be tricky.
—Neal Levin, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
There was an old fellow named Cox,
Who spent his life shoveling rocks.
Said he got his powers
From sniffing the flowers;
He was a delightful old fox.
—Bill Jones, Johnstown, Pennsylvania
The shop called the Tropical Bloom
Is filled with a floral perfume
That’s cheerful and gracious,
A delightful oasis,
From winter’s unstoppable gloom.
—Buffy Silverman, Augusta, Michigan
It is not really quite apropos
That the flower men must shovel snow.
But they must sell their posies
If it means frozen toesies,
Since the bank account’s running so low.
—Patrick McKeon, Pennington, New Jersey
There once was a shoveler named Ray,
A situation he thought gross and gray.
He hated ice slush
Like so much dead mush,
So he hopped the next flight to L.A.
—Terry Free, Andover, Minnesota
Oh me, oh my, what a mess.
This will certainly be a test
For two men with shovels
To be quick on the double,
So ladies will not be distressed.
—Judy Shannon, Huntsville, Missouri
The fact of the matter was, I didn’t have anyone else to blame. So I blamed Roscoe–perhaps ill-advised, him being my father’s K-9 partner-in-waiting, but I had completely forgotten my homework. I wasn’t in the habit of lying or putting blame where it didn’t belong, but I was caught off guard–daydreaming about Roscoe, in fact. My third grade teacher now loomed over my desk, expectant, her hand outstretched, fingers wiggling. And in my deer-in-the-headlights stare, with Miss Underwood frowning down at me, the words blurted out all on their own.
“Roscoe ate it.”
“What?” Miss Underwood scowled more, if that were possible. She planted her fists against her ample hips and leaned in, hovering over me.
I blinked, swallowed a spitless lump in my throat, and having already lied, promptly repeated myself. “Roscoe ate it,” I said with slightly more conviction.
Miss Underwood stood stiff, smack dab in front of my desk, so close I should have been able to smell the little flowers on her dress. I had an overpowering impulse to move away from her, but my chair shackled me to the spot. I stared at the vibrant gladiola sprouting out from beneath Miss Underwood’s belt, and felt the entire class’s attention span shake from all else and swoop down on me.
“Mister Pike. You are not lying to me, are you?” It was more a challenge than a question.
Miss Underwood absolutely terrified me–almost as much as did the prospect of acquiring the entire class’s ridicule or getting caught in a bald-faced lie–and such terror can be a remarkable survival mechanism, because my brain spun a web and my mouth spewed it out without so much as consulting with me. I sat, breathless and rapt with the rest of the class, listening to this story unfold.
“Oh, no ma’am,” a voice–my voice–poured out of me, my brain, frenetic, only barely keeping a syllable ahead of my mouth. “I wrote my report on the metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs,” I heard. (It was a good thing I had recently become fascinated by this amphibious process and had not only been reading about it but observing it in the natural setting of our backyard.) “And I took the paper with me to the pond so that I could look at them and draw pictures to show the stages, and Roscoe came with me, and I had a tadpole on the top of the paper so I could trace it and Roscoe saw it and before I knew what happened he jumped on it and swallowed it whole, and the paper.”
I shifted my bug-eyed gaze up the floral landscape to the teacher’s face. Miss Underwood remained completely still.
“And the rock that I had holding the paper down,” my voice said. Her eye twitched, barely perceptible. “And the pencil I was using.” Her brows drew closer together. “And then it was dark, and I couldn’t draw them again, and then I had to do my chores and it was time for bed.”
Miss Underwood frowned, unwedged one hand from her hip and pointed at my chest. “You’d better be sure to get that dog to the vet, young man.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I nodded vigorously. “We’re taking him this afternoon.”
“Good,” she said. “And re-write your report and bring it in tomorrow. Along with a report on how Roscoe did at the vet’s.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, and wondered if the pittance I had in the Mason jar under my bed could buy me a plane, train, or boat ticket anywhere else in the world.
That afternoon, when I slouched from the school bus, Roscoe careened down the driveway to meet me, his half-grown legs all knobs and paws flying indiscriminately; he seemed none the worse for wear for his “misadventure” of the day before. I trudged up the driveway, the pup orbiting around me, bounding and panting, pausing only to wolf down my mother’s lone remaining gladiola. While my reporting of late had been very light on honesty, there was truth to the fact that Roscoe was a one-canine mauling, gulping, devouring, completely-nondiscriminatory eating machine. The gladiolas, much to my mother’s dismay, had vanished into his maw during a single galumphing frenzy; this was shortly after Roscoe had discovered the infinite wonders that the frog pond in the backyard held. Mom had admonished my father to restrain the dog. Dad had testified that socialization was critical to Roscoe’s mental development and future as a police dog. Mom declared her flowers unfair casualties. Dad promised to build a fence for her gardens (a moot point, as Roscoe had already decimated them).
The sound of my mother’s footsteps on the porch drew my attention; I looked up to see Roscoe gleefully caprioling by her side. She had her arms crossed over her chest, and was staring at me with an expression that immediately made me slow my already lethargic trudge.
“I hear Roscoe ate your homework,” she said. There was no tone of accusation or belief–or even disbelief, for that matter–just a simple statement. I stopped and looked up at her, and for two ticks of a heartbeat I was on the verge of coming clean. I steeled myself to admit my lie, to face the consequences, and to be a better man for it. During those two ticks of a heartbeat, Roscoe splayed himself on the porch and latched onto one of the banister posts, gnawing and grunting.
“Yes ma’am,” I said, and felt the heat rise under my collar as I lied to my own mother. I looked intently at Roscoe (who supported my story with his every action) to avoid looking in my mother’s eyes. I heard her sigh.
“Well, alright then. I called Dr. Brown’s office as soon as Miss Underwood phoned me, so let’s get things together and get going. Hopefully, he’ll be fine; it’s that rock I’m worried about.”
I nodded and walked up the porch steps, head down and ashamed, and slipped past my mother, past the squirming, euphoric mass of German shepherd enthusiasm. My mother stayed on the porch while I dropped my book bag on the kitchen table. Roscoe leapt up, flung himself against her legs. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her reach down idly and rub his head. He gazed up at her adoringly, his tongue lolling out of his mouth, wood splinters flecking his lips; his tailed swished nonstop across the porch.
“Maybe the paper and rock and all just went right through him,” I said, and hoped that if a dog actually were to eat a paper and a rock, they might actually move right along. Otherwise, I was going to be busted when the vet checked the dog out and declared him devoid of foreign objects. Not that I wanted him to have a problem; I didn’t, but his clean bill of health was my sentence. Granted, it was of my own making.
“I hope so,” Mom’s voice came in from the porch. I heard her add, under her breath, “Roscoe, you’re going to be the death of me if you live long enough.”
In the vet’s waiting room, I studiously worked on my tadpole-to-frog report, shielding it from Roscoe, who my mother worked up a sweat restraining. And when it was finally his turn to go in and be examined, and I was left with silence and the weight of my own guilt, I could barely remember the details of amphibian metamorphosis, much less write about them. Mom, quiet, read a paperback. The clock on the wall ticked off five minutes, 10, 15; the smell of the waiting room mixed with the odor of wet dog, cat pee, and rodent cage litter, and I began to feel nauseous.
“How’s your paper coming?” Mom asked. I shrugged. I sweated.
I was nearly to the point of breaking down and admitting my guilt, or at least bolting from the waiting room and into the parking lot, when Dr. Brown summoned us. Mom clutched her purse, and I drooped behind her, a condemned man going to the gallows. The vet brought us into the execution chamber, and closed the door. The harsh florescent lights gleamed, ruthless and all-seeing. Roscoe was not in the room to witness my punishment.
Dr. Brown cleared his throat. I felt a prickling thrill of sweat, and stared fixedly at the poster of canine parasites on the wall. “Well, we took x-rays of Roscoe, and we don’t see your rock or your paper.”
I couldn’t help a fleeting glance at the vet; he met my eyes for a beat, then looked over at Mom. “But it’s a good thing you brought him in, because we did see something else.”
I blinked, confused.
“Oh?” my mother said.
Dr. Brown turned his back to us, popped a thick sheet of film against a panel, and turned on the light behind it. Ribs and spine and gray masses flickered to light. Dr. Brown glanced over his shoulder toward us. Both Mom and I leaned toward the glowing image. Dr. Brown cleared his throat again and pointed to something in the middle of the picture. I looked closer, squinted, and then with a sting of recognition, I understood the image on the screen. My mother realized at the same time, and she chuffed, glancing sidelong at me.
“This,” Dr. Brown said, tapping the image of my G.I. Joe, recently MIA, “needs to come out. And it won’t come out the easy way like that rock did,” he glanced down at me again. “It will snag other things he swallows, and you’re going to have a bad emergency situation, maybe a dead dog.”
My mother reached for the collar of her blouse, pressed her hand flat. “Oh, no. Oh, poor Roscoe!”
My skin prickled again, but I wasn’t worried about my guilt and punishment anymore. “Will he be okay?” My voice sounded tiny and tremulous. “He won’t really die, will he?”
Dr. Brown smiled then. “No, I think we got him in time. We’ll put him on the surgery schedule for the morning, and he should be right as rain in a month’s time.” He reached a hand out and ruffled my hair. I realized I was crying. “In a way, it’s a good thing he ate your homework, otherwise you might not have found out about this until it was too late.”
I looked up at him lamely.
That weekend, Dad fenced off what was left of Mom’s gardens, I patrolled the entire house and yard and commandeered all swallowable objects (and even some that didn’t seem swallowable), and my folks and I discussed the new obedience regimen for Roscoe. When he came home a few days later, belly shaved but none-the-worse for wear, I doted on him and chaperoned him vigilantly. After a short period of gorging withdrawal, Roscoe adjusted gleefully to his obedience training, and was already ahead of the learning curve when he officially entered his police-dog training.
I was too ashamed to ever admit to my parents my panic-induced homework fabrication. I like to think that the guilt and anxiety I experienced for that long afternoon was punishment enough, and sometimes, I also like to think that it was all part of the plan for Roscoe’s long and decorated life. I like to think that, but I don’t believe it much more than Miss Underwood believed me.
Do you know about Death Cafés? They’re still pretty new on the scene. If you imagine them as not-quite-underground meetups where you sit around and enjoy refreshments while musing over the morbid, tantalizing subject of human demise, you’ve pretty much got the concept.
Sound like fun? No? Well, Death Cafés are kind of creepy. But lots of people are eager to gather and gab about their secret concerns: “Why do I fear death so?” “What happens to bodies in graves?” In fact, everything about death is inherently intriguing, including that most eternal of questions: What do I want done with my body after I’m gone?
In America, where our ashes can be spread at the 18th hole or converted into precious jewelry or shot into Earth orbit, traditional body-in-steel-casket burial is no longer the go-to choice. We’re a society that prides itself on novelty, including what death care executives (yes, that’s what they call themselves) refer to as “final disposition” of our corpses.
The most trendy among today’s options are “natural burials,” in which you may go green by having yourself lowered into the soil in a hand-painted coffin made of biodegradable woven fabric. Your earthly remains decompose into earthy remains, thus preserving the land for use by the living. Europeans have practiced natural burial for ages. “People in the rest of the world think we Americans are just batty when they see what we do with our caskets,” says Cynthia Beal, founder of Natural Burial Company.
Some of the newer alternatives to burial are a blast–literally. Jeff Staab, who bills himself as “the world’s leading authority on the scattering of ashes,” will gladly set you up with an Ash Scattering Machine ($500 per use) or a Loved One Launcher ($350 to own), both of which can propel a mixture of cremains and, if you wish, confetti for a distance of 75 feet; the airstream can carry the particles for miles beyond, says Staab.
“I’ve even been along on a ski slope for a Dixie cup toast-and-toss,” boasts Staab, who runs a company called Cremation Solutions. “But you don’t want to be downwind for that!” “Uh, is that even legal?” I wonder. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Staab replies.
Another popular trend is to have a portion of your cremated remains pressed into a custom-made under-sea reef formation. Also hot is the be-some-bling option. A few ashes are stuffed into kitschy jewelry; be prepared to drop as much as $19,000 to have a lock of hair or some ashes compressed into an actual diamond.
But the most grand way of saying sayonara has got to be the space journey. Charles Chafer, the CEO of Celestis, says his company can get a smidgen of what was once you into a payload container sent to outer space. Cost: as little as $1,000. If you’d like your ashes slammed into the moon’s surface, that’s more like $10,000. It’s pricey, but “going to the moon is a hopeful statement,” Chafer says.
Less ambitious, but more “final” in a sense, is a controversial procedure developed in Scotland just now gaining limited support in the U.S. This novel solution turns bodies into, well, a solution. The technical name is alkaline hydrolysis. Let’s just say this basically amounts to chemically converting corpses into something not unlike a broth that might be poured down a drain at your local Jiffy Lube.
With all the plotting by savvy death care marketers, you’d understand why some might nervously wrestle with the choice about their body’s afterlife. I asked myself who in all the country is possibly best positioned to make a considered decision on such a thing. I figured it might be Mary Roach, author of the national best-seller Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. So, I ask her about her own final disposition. “I’m in a deep state of denial. It’s embarrassing,” Roach tells me. “I like the trend toward green burials. I like the frugality.” Or, she says, “Maybe I’ll have my ashes scattered somewhere. Or I’ll donate my body. Or, uh…”
Indeed, it can be a particularly tough call these days because, more than ever, the style you specify for your exit expresses a powerful final statement about your life.
You mean you’re playing now?”
My husband is curled over something held low in his lap. He doesn’t answer.
“OK then,” I say. “Let me try for awhile.”
“No. I thought you quit.”
“Just one time. Just a little bit. Then I’ll be done.”
He ignores me, his eyes fixed, glazed, a zoned-out slackness to his mouth. I’m momentarily piqued, but then feel a flash of relief. I’ve dodged a bullet. If I relapse, there’s no knowing how far it’ll go.
At first, it’s simple: Line up three of a kind and they drop.
Get four in a row and they turn into a super one; the same thing happens if you make a T or a letter L–a different kind of super one.
Knock two super ones together, they throb and explode in a torrent of colors, sending little jelly-like fish swimming around the screen.
“It’s free” is the come on, but you can pay to get “boosters,” little cheats to help you win–a hammer, a hand, a giant bam-bam lollipop.
I swore I’d never pay to play. Except maybe just for this level, the one that’s impossible.
I’m on a binge this week. I have a crick in my shoulder, a pain in my neck. I see colored dots even when I’m not playing.
At the beginning of each game, I say, This is the last. See, I’m actually not the kind of person who plays video games.
Then I hit “play again.”
“Come to bed,” my husband says. I settle in next to his warm furry nakedness, then grab my phone for just one more round. He groans and turns over.
I dream of lining things up, having them drop.
In the morning, I play just one game. Hair of the dog and all.
I wait while it loads; anticipation builds. Like making the preparations for drug use, the rolling or grinding or measuring, or whatever.
The relief when the board’s set up. Happy colors, happy music. My path set out for me. I can do this!
I start slow–most of the levels aren’t timed. I’ll play it smart this time, try and line up my moves, don’t go for the easy three, the pulsing ones the game prompts me with if I seem to deliberate too long.
My unfinished novel pants at my feet like an annoying dog; I pointedly ignore it and start another level.
Line up, slide down. Line up, line up, slide down.
Nasty game this time. A couple more tries. Then, good round! Almost cleared the board. Try again.
Be careful, too many random choices and you can lose your life.
All the time, the game is nudging–give your friends lives! Invite your friends! Ask your friends to unlock levels! Share your wins!
Give a life to a friend. See, I’m magnanimous. Or, then I feel guilty, like a dealer, roping them in.
Accept a life from a friend. I’m popular–someone likes me!
I play day and night. I have to beat one level before doing any other task–one level stretching to several. I start to get antsy hanging out with friends, anxious for them to leave so I can go and play.
Ashamed, I hide my phone from prying eyes, toggle off the screen when someone comes in the room. I hope it saved; I was doing well.
Finally, I screw up my resolve and remove the app entirely.
Actually, semi-finally–the next morning, I put it back on and play again. Amazingly, I easily pass the level on which I’d spent the whole previous day. See, it knows when you’re leaving and acts sweet, like an abusive boyfriend. It wants you dependent and passive. It acts indifferent, but wants you there.
It understands you. It wants you.
One day I quit, cold turkey. I post on Facebook, I’m done with the world’s most addictive game. Later, friends tell me they started playing because of my post, addictive being the highest recommendation.
JUST WHY DOES JIM CANTORE RISK LIFE AND LIMB TO REPORT LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINE OF SEVERE WEATHER EVENTS?
His answer is simple: “I want the ball.” For The Weather Channel storm tracker, famous for being buffeted, pelted, and drenched on the air, confronting a hurricane or blizzard is like suiting up for the big game. “When you’re in the Super Bowl, you want to score the winning touchdown, catch the winning pass, kick the winning field goal,” he explains.
Score one for the weather team. In Cantore you have science and show business all wrapped up in one spiffy Gore-Tex package. A highly trained, telegenic broadcast meteorologist facing down danger in HD in order to inform and protect you and me. And according to his boss David Kenny, the CEO of The Weather Company (The Weather Channel is one of many “brands” under The Weather Company umbrella, but more on that later), that’s exactly what Americans now want and expect.
“People want to see what’s going on. They don’t want the map,” he says. “They want to feel the power of the weather.”
Folks, we’ve come a long, long way from forecasts drawn with markers on plexiglass over a Rand McNally map. “Technology has brought the weather into our living rooms,” says Cantore. “Now you’re watching it in high-definition, unthinkable images. That’s what weather is today: the quintessential reality TV.”
In other words, it’s entertainment. Albeit, entertainment with life and death consequences for those sitting in the path of a Category 4 hurricane or an EF5 tornado. A hybrid of entertainment and public service that seemingly weather-obsessed Americans can’t get enough of these days. And for good reason, suggests Kenny: “It’s storytelling, and weather stories have a kind of drama, a contest between man and Mother Nature. People are interested in that. They want the humans to win.”
IN HIS DELIGHTFUL AND INSTRUCTIVE Weather Book, the late Eric Sloane wrote, “The weather is with us wherever we are, yet nothing is more taken for granted than the daily drama of the sky.” Sloane was spot-on about the ubiquity of weather in our lives. From what to wear to when to plant, the morning commute to the price of food, weather affects us in myriad ways in the short term and the long term. But Sloane was writing in 1949, the dawn of television meteorology, and his second observation, that nothing is more taken for granted, doesn’t hold true today.
Perhaps you’ve noticed how the weather almost always leads the local news; how it is promo’d during the broadcast day and in between scheduled programs; how on the morning, noon, evening, and night news the forecast is dished out in two-minute increments, like appetizers, amid the rest of the hour’s reports; how meteorologists withhold the complete seven-day forecast until the end of the show (“more on that in just a few minutes”), all the while animatedly tracking and analyzing pressure fronts and precipitation from every angle and direction on chroma-keyed color Super Doppler radar graphics that shift back and forth behind them. It may be a sunny day without a cloud in the sky, and half the news program is still devoted to the weather.
Not surprisingly, there’s a reason for this beyond a simple desire to keep the viewers informed. The television business is a constant quest for eyeballs, and weather delivers them. “We know from research all across the country that weather content is a key driver for consumption of news of any kind,” says Laura Clark, senior vice president at Frank N. Magid Associates, a prestigious consulting firm that has advised local and national media for 57 years. “Of course, severe weather is even more of a driver.”
Which means, if it wasn’t for weather, local news programs could find themselves tanking in ratings. But it’s not as though viewers were coming for the news anyway; weather was the top reason given for tuning into local news 80 to 90 percent of the time in a Magid study. What’s more, a station’s chief meteorologist can be the most popular talent on the air, with a large, loyal following, especially in markets along Tornado Alley or the Gulf Coast, where weather can be life or death. All good reasons to keep those long-range forecasts and cutting-edge graphics coming, and coming, and coming.
AS IT IS, LOCAL NEWS STATIONS and weathercasters are scrambling to keep up with the times and demand. Thanks to digital technology, the means of accessing and delivering the weather are changing, expanding. Nowadays, there are websites, smartphones, mobile apps, blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, all being employed to satisfy a seemingly unquenchable demand for weather news.
Nobody understands this better than James Spann at ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, Alabama. An Emmy Award-winning broadcast meteorologist who was named Broadcaster of the Year by the National Weather Association (NWA) in 2012, Spann has covered severe tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods in his 35-year television career. He also now blogs, tweets, and hosts a popular weekly podcast, WeatherBrains. “The times have changed–just like the print business–so we have to deliver weather across a variety of digital platforms in different ways,” he says.
According to Spann, the ABC 33/40 Weather Blog has “gone over 2 million page views in a 24-hour period multiple times.” In addition, he boasts 124,435 Twitter followers and 149,112 Facebook “likes.”
“There’s a really good chance that I’m reaching more people on social media than television on a normal day, which is mind boggling,” he says.
“If you’d told me that five years ago, I would have said you’re crazy.”
Here’s another number to consider: 300 billion. According to a nationwide survey conducted in 2006 and released in 2009 by NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) in Boulder, Colorado, adults in America obtain an estimated 300 billion weather forecasts, an average of 3.8 forecasts a day per person. “What we found is that weather permeates almost everybody’s lives, it is kind of like an infrastructure,” says project lead Jeff Lazo. “Weather information is a fundamental thing, we use it multiple times every single time. So it really is ubiquitous.”
Now keep in mind that this survey was conducted in 2006, before the boom in smartphones, apps, and social media. “We didn’t ask them about Twitter and Facebook and stuff, because those didn’t really exist as much then,” says Lazo. Aware that a sea change was underway, NCAR conducted a second survey in 2010. NCAR associate scientist Julie Demuth is currently crunching the numbers on that report, but she ventures that it’ll show a definite uptick in the use of smartphones and the like to obtain forecasts.
As the weathercaster would say: Stay tuned for that report. It should be an invaluable window into our weather-watching habits.
SO, WHAT IS IT WITH AMERICANS AND WEATHER? How did it become a life-and-death entertainment, a mix of science and show business that enthralls us, the ultimate reality television, an indispensable part of our lives? Let’s step into the Wayback Machine for a quick whirl through weather, American style.
And why shouldn’t I go to Kinsale? says Jan as we cross over the River Liffey for the third, maybe the fourth time, muddling our way out of Dublin in our wee rental car. What occurred there was years ago, says she.
I don’t ever think about it.
I’m just saying we don’t have to go there, says I. We could go to Cork. Or Galway.
Worst idea I’ve ever had, this side trip to Kinsale. A lovely week in Dublin, getting things between us back on track, and then this idjit–me–suggests renting a car and driving down to Kinsale. You’ll love it, says I. Very romantic. Gawd, what an arse.
Watch the road now! yells Jan. You’re crossing the line again!
I will yeah, thanks, says I sarcastically.
Silence the rest of the way.
We pull into Kinsale five hours later, eventually find our hotel, and, though worn out, decide before dinner to go for a walk just to get out of the room. It’s a fine summer evening. Calm, brisk, moist. Seagulls swoop through a pale blue sky. Children play along the low wall of the harbor. An older gent sitting in a sunken lawn chair on the bow of his decrepit sailboat sips a whiskey. Red face, purple nose, threadbare sweater the color of new hay. Drinking by himself. Still. Not a half-bad life.
I wouldn’t mind doing something like that, I say, trying to make peace.
Not with me, says Jan. I could never live on a boat. Everything damp, wet. Closed quarters.
Anyway, the drink looks inviting, I say. Shall we find a bar before dinner? Jan shrugs.
On the corner is a white building with a little mural of a waiter in black vest and bow tie carrying a glass of wine. Apéritif, says the sign. Pop in. Nice-looking place. But nobody here. What time is it, anyway? After five. When do they start drinking in Kinsale?
The lone woman inside, standing behind the bar holding a glass of white wine, has the most shocking bright red hair I’ve ever seen. The color of a candy apple. Pale, freckled skin. Maybe 40. Maybe 50. Never good at guessing women’s ages. Twinkle in her green eyes.
Do you serve wine by the glass? I ask.
We’d better; we’re a wine bar, she says, laughing. Sticks her thin, pale hand out. Kate, she says. I run the place, although there’s not much to run at the moment. Laughs at her own joke, takes a sip of wine.
What is it you’re drinking? I ask her.
Pinot gris. It’s not much but it’s all right. Fancy a glass?
Kate grabs a bottle stuck in a tub of ice and gives us hefty pours.
Awfully quiet in town, I say.
It’s a bit early, says Kate. Not for me, of course, she says, sipping her wine. Where are you from then?
California, says Jan.
I love California, says Kate. Palm Springs! Lived there for a year with husband No. 2. Or maybe it was No. 3. Doesn’t matter, does it!
This brings a smile to Jan’s face. The three of us get to talking and suddenly Jan is telling stories about how I got us lost today just looking for our hotel in town, even though you could walk the whole thing from one end to the other in 10 minutes. Kate laughs and slaps the bar. Says, I don’t believe you! Lost in Kinsale?
It’s true, it’s true, says Jan and the two of them look at me and laugh, conspirators already. We finish our drinks and I ask for the bill. Kate grabs the bottle of wine from behind the bar and says, Let me just top this off a bit–on the house. What are you doing in Kinsale, then?
We came to Dublin to celebrate our anniversary, says Jan. Then this one decided we should come to Kinsale because he once met a girl here.
No! says Kate. I don’t believe you!
It’s true, says Jan. Kate makes a horrified face and shakes her head. Oh, I don’t mind, says Jan. It’s nothing to me.
I tell Jan we should probably be going. Kate puts a hand on top of Jan’s arm and tops off both of our glasses again.
More stories pass between Jan and Kate. More wine. An hour later I tell Kate we really do have to go or I’ll never make it through dinner since I’m already half-sozzled.
Oh, that’s a good one, isn’t it? says Kate. Sozzled! Haven’t heard that in ages! Listen, she says, giving Jan a long hug, if you haven’t anything to do after dinner, there’s a trad session at Daltons tonight. Good craic. You might even find me there.
What’s a trad session? asks Jan.
Traditional Irish music. The real thing. Not something brought in for tourists. Good craic, she says again.
Damn if I can understand how it is I keep getting us lost in a small town where I spent an entire summer. We walk up a hill over the harbor, neighbors sitting on their stoops smoking a fag or just enjoying the fine evening. I ask one old gent taking the air how to get to Max’s restaurant. Down them stoney steps, he says. Pass that house there.
I thought you knew this town? says Jan.
I did then, says I. Now I’m a bit lost.
This is the sixth installment of our series “Reconstructing Kennedy.”
Hollywood couldn’t have dreamed up two better characters than John and Jacqueline Kennedy to portray America’s ideal, romantic couple. She was elegant, poised, and incredibly well dressed. He was the newly elected president of the United States. Young, sophisticated and good looking, they seemed like the polar opposites of the previous residents of the White House, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower. The Kennedy’s attractiveness quotient rose even higher just two weeks after the election when Jacqueline gave birth to a son.
Many Americans only got their first look at Jackie during the inaugural ceremonies. She’d remained at home during the campaign under her obstetrician’s order, though she was still giving interviews, taping TV commercials, and writing a weekly newspaper column called “Campaign Wife.”
In the following months, Americans read about the dazzling receptions she hosted, how she put international visitors at ease with her command of French and Spanish, and even got on the good side of Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. Newspapers and magazines also ran stories on Jackie’s wardrobe and her French-influenced look. Copies by several domestic designers soon appeared on American women across the country.
But Jackie made her most memorable impression as first lady in 1962, when she conducted a televised tour through the recently refurbished White House.
The makeover had been sorely needed. As the Post reported in 1963 (“How Jackie Restyled the White House”), President Truman had ordered massive renovations to the White House’s structure in 1945 to prevent the building from collapsing. But the interior design had been an afterthought, entrusted to a hotel contractor who gave the rooms a bland, institutional look. One Washington reporter wrote, “The White House is safe, all right, but it has completely lost its charm. The restoration took the heart out of the building…Now it has no more appeal than the Pentagon.”
Arriving at the White House, the Kennedys discovered most of the furnishings dated back only as far as 1902. The paintings were all forgettable works that previous presidents hadn’t bothered to take with them when they left.
What Jackie proposed was more than just a refurnishing. Her intention was to build a collection of White House furnishings that would reflect the long heritage of American design. Under her direction, the Executive Mansion acquired 500 items of furniture and art. Some were former White House furnishings that she bought back from private ownership. Many other items came from wealthy collectors, but several were donated from average Americans who offered up their antique silverware, wallpaper, and chamber pots. When completed, the collection was protected by a law, proposed by Jackie, that would forbid the removal of any items from the White House.
The tour of the completed project was televised on February 14 when Jackie showed the new acquisitions and explained how each room was furnished in the style of a different era. The Lincoln room, for example, contained only furniture of the Civil War period and included Lincoln’s own portrait of Andrew Jackson and a table purchased by his wife, Mary. Jackie was seen that night by over 80 million Americans.
Jackie made her most enduring impression when she was no longer first lady. She remained in the public eye from the death of her husband right up to his burial at Arlington Cemetery. Throughout that time, she displayed a fortitude and courage that few had suspected in her.
Looking back at articles about her in the Post, it’s surprising to see how good a job she did as first lady even though it was a job she never wanted. Interviewed for the Post by an old friend (“An Exclusive Chat With Jackie Kennedy”), she admitted to a chronic shyness. “I can’t stand being out in front. I know it sounds trite, but what I really want is to be behind [John] and to be a good wife and mother.”
It wouldn’t have surprised John Kennedy. His wife had always impressed him with her quiet strength. Years earlier, he told a friend, “My wife is a shy, quiet girl, but when things get rough, she can handle herself pretty well.”
It’s no surprise that even today, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy remains an icon in American history.
Behind the carefree holiday of a cruise—the dancing waiters, the constant shows and events, the spreads of great food, and the escape from daily drudgery—is a serious industry that has changed what people expect out of a vacation. It was built by several entrepreneurs who took advantage of changes in American lifestyles, married the design of a resort with the rhythm of a theme park, put it on a boat, and won sweet deals through giant loopholes in American laws.
As a business model, the cruise industry has been phenomenal, a $40 billion business in the United States alone, and the fastest-growing segment of the global tourist industry. Cruises are the future.
But cutting corners and avoiding laws have had serious downsides. Cruise ships are not subject to the requirement for federal permits covering sewer and waste disposal systems that are de rigueur for the resorts and hotels on land. As a result, all of those millions of passengers and crew members dining and defecating and showering on the oceans have left filthy discharges in their wake. On land, the cruise crowds streaming into foreign ports by the thousands have disfigured beaches and plazas, building resentment among many locals. Many ports have taken on the life of a strip mall. St. Mark’s Square in Venice is now a field of kiosks selling cheap imports and lines of tourists waiting to visit the basilica.
Having fun on a ship sailing in the middle of the ocean requires prosaic essentials recreating all of the systems hotels on land take for granted as well as the underpinnings of the ship: the navigation system, engines, power plant, water filtration and purification plants, sewage plants, photography plants, laundry and dry-cleaning facilities, kitchen galleys, a morgue, and storage lockers for the 100,000 pounds of food required to feed 3,000 people every day on a cruise. Also hidden from view are the below-sea-level accommodations for the 1,200 crew members.
These fun ships grew ever larger to incorporate all the services necessary to run a miniature town, becoming megaships with space for elaborate playthings like the skating rinks and climbing walls. And the passengers keep coming. It is no anomaly that cruises singularly turned a profit in the recent Great Recession of 2008. While Las Vegas and its casinos suffered and the airline industry went into the doldrums, the cruises were the financial rock star of the tourism industry, remaining the most profitable sector of tourism.
One key is the very cheap wages cruise ships pay.
After World War II, American shipping companies began flying foreign flags and registering in foreign lands. They saw this as a lifeline for becoming competitive by circumventing American minimum wages, which meant paying their sailors far less money. Under strong pressure from the shipping industry and its friends, the U.S. Congress upheld the legality of foreign registration.
This supposedly temporary fix to reduce labor costs and avoid expensive regulations became a fixture in the world of maritime transportation. So what if these maritime rules were meant for ships transporting goods, not floating hotels? A ship is a ship. Even though Carnival was an American corporation headquartered in Miami with an American client base, Carnival decided to register and flag its ships in foreign countries that had nothing to do with their business. It didn’t matter where the ships traveled or where they established home ports. Cruise companies could register and flag their ships wherever it was best for their bottom line.
Today the majority of ship owners are based in wealthy maritime nations like the United States, Great Britain, Norway, Greece, and Japan, but their ships are registered and flagged in foreign countries with “open registries” — that essentially have no minimum wages, labor standards, corporate taxes, or environmental regulations and only a flimsy authority over the ships flying their flags. All these countries require is that ship lines pay a handsome registration fee.
Carnival registered its fleet in Panama. Royal Caribbean registered its ships in Liberia. (During its two-decades-long civil war, Liberia earned at least $20 million every year by acting as the off-shore registry for foreign ships.)
Cruise lines gain another enormous advantage by registering as a foreign corporation. The Internal Revenue Code exempts any income from airlines or ships from taxation as long as the foreign nation gives the same benefit to American corporations. Neither Liberia nor Panama nor any other open-registry country levies a corporate income tax.
This business model is every corporation’s dream. Indeed it has been so successful that Carnival and Royal Caribbean have been able to buy out their smaller competitors while expanding their fleets with new ships. Today the two firms account for 66 percent of the global market; Carnival at 45 percent and Royal Caribbean at 21 percent.
As the American lines expanded to the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe and then into Asia, annual passenger load tripled from 500,000 in 1970 to 1.5 million in 1980, and then grew exponentially to 4 million in 1990 to over 13 million in 2010. The cruise industry reached the phenomenal growth rate of 1,000 percent in four decades.
Meanwhile, workers on these ships earned third-world salaries, or worse: many crew members working 10- to 12-hour days with no overtime pay and no days off for months; hourly wages as low as 53 cents; waiters living on tips because their monthly salaries were a token $50.
For decades, American unions tried to fight back against these practices. With a fleet of over 300 ships, the industry employed a lot of waiters, busboys, housekeepers, and laundry workers. When they weren’t happy with the working conditions, crew members jumped ship and told their stories at American ports.
Eventually, Congress held hearings. Representative William Clay Sr., then serving as a Democrat from Missouri, introduced legislation in the early 1990s to require cruise ships to pay minimum wages and provide other U.S. labor protections to workers on cruise ships operating out of American ports.
But the industry won the war over labor handily. Congress even helped the industry’s bottom line by reducing fees paid to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The industry also blocked early bipartisan opposition to cruise companies avoiding corporate income taxes. Representative John Duncan, Republican from Tennessee, argued that “it is totally unfair to let Carnival Cruise Lines pay nothing on profits just because it was incorporated in Panama. … Foreign flag lines are, in effect, getting an indirect subsidy from the U.S. government.”
The industry refuted those charges, saying it pumped billions of dollars into the American economy — upward of $40 billion in 2010 — and created thousands of jobs in the United States.
Adam M. Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, also responds to critics by citing the popularity of cruises. “The single most important driver of our success is how happy we make our customer. So you can talk about other things, you can talk about legal or tax regimes and you can have that conversation, but if we didn’t make our customers really happy on a regular basis at the highest level that we know of in travel and leisure, none of the rest of it would matter.”
Goldstein said that it was wrong to compare cruise wages to American pay. Rather, he said, the pay should be compared to what crew members would receive in their home countries — the Philippines, Turkey, Serbia, or India.
“Typically what they are able to earn from us is significantly greater than what they are earning if they would have stayed where they were,” he said. “So our view, not surprisingly, is that we provide fantastic employment opportunities to people from around the world that would not otherwise exist.”
Goldstein’s argument is what academics call the “race to the bottom” justification, a throwback to the early 20th century before societies mandated minimum wages, improved labor conditions and the right to collective bargaining. While those rights were codified in national laws and are enforced within national boundaries, they are laws that the cruise companies can ignore.
Another great source of revenue, according to Ross A. Klein, the author of several books on the cruise industry, is onboard sales, which “is becoming more profitable than ticket sales. On average, each passenger provides $43 in profits each day to the big cruise companies,” he said. “If you include all the onboard spending, it is now less expensive to stay in an upscale Caribbean resort than to sail there on a cruise ship.”
helley Kubaney didn’t know what was wrong. For months, the 45-year-old oncology nurse from Fairview, Pennsylvania, had not been herself. For starters, she was exhausted. After a day at work it was all she could do to flop into bed where she slept for hours. In addition to relentless fatigue, she started to experience blurriness on the fringe of her vision. It got so bad that she could hardly drive at night when the glare of headlights compounded the problem.
After Kubaney made several trips to different doctors, her perplexed primary care physician ordered a full range of blood tests in February. The results delivered unexpected news—she had type 2 diabetes.
“I was completely stunned,” says Kubaney, a married mom of two teenagers. Stunned because she had no family history of the disease and she considered herself to be in decent shape and was not significantly overweight—all factors that typically play a role in developing type 2 diabetes. Yet as Kubaney quickly learned more about the disease and how it manifests over time, she became convinced that some simple lifestyle changes might have prevented or delayed the onset of full-blown diabetes.
“It was definitely a wakeup call,” she says. “I don’t really like meat and vegetables, so what does that leave? Carbs and sugar. I let myself cry for one night and then the next morning started a new way of eating and living.”
For many of us, diabetes lurks in the shadows, waiting to strike. The number of Americans with diabetes increased from 5.6 million in 1980 to 20.9 million in 2011, according to the CDC. Experts predict it will only get worse. The American Diabetes Association says 26 million adults and children are living with diabetes today. Another 79 million Americans are pre-diabetic, and likely headed for the full-blown disease unless they take swift action to change their health and nutrition habits.
It’s a fate worth avoiding.
Once diagnosed, your risk of heart attack and stroke jumps by more than 50 percent. You’re vulnerable to the leading cause of blindness among adults. And, if diabetes is not managed effectively, your day-to-day quality of life will decline as you grapple with fatigue, blurred vision, more-frequent infections, and slow-healing sores.
Yet, the latest research lays the foundation for a simple diabetes prevention plan that doesn’t require hours at the gym or drastic diet changes. The steps are easy–starting with a healthy breakfast and ending with a good night’s sleep. Taken together, the approach can go a long way toward avoiding diabetes or—if you already have it—managing the disease.
Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, a documentary about the legendary character actor, has recently been released by Swiss filmmaker Sophie Huber. It’s an intimate portrayal of the man who was born in Kentucky in 1926, and went west to become a familiar face in such TV shows as Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Have Gun Will Travel, Bat Masterson, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, The Fugitive, The Untouchables, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and HBO’s Big Love. Among his films are Cool Hand Luke; Alien; Repo Man; Paris, Texas; Pretty in Pink; The Godfather, Part II; The Last Temptation of Christ; and The Green Mile. In the documentary, David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Sam Shepard, Kris Kristofferson, and Deborah Harry talk about working with him, and Stanton responds to questions tersely. But the heart of the documentary is his singing, as he looks straight into the camera with his well-worn face and soulful eyes.
Question: You recently celebrated your 87th birthday—what have you learned, and have you given up any of the old vices?
Harry Dean Stanton: That we’re not in charge of our lives and there are no answers to anything. It’s a divine mystery. Buddhism, Taoism, the Jewish Kabbalah—it’s all the same thing, but once it gets organized it’s over. You have to just accept everything. I’m still smoking a pack a day. I only drink when I go out, which is rarely. And I miss sex, which is down to hardly ever. But I’m in good shape. No problems yet.
Q: Was it Jack Nicholson who gave you your acting credo?
HDS: Yeah. Be yourself and let the wardrobe do the character. [Laughs.] That was good. I’ve been doing it for over 50 years. I’m tired of movies. But I like to do it when I do it. The best directors leave you alone. They know when they hire you what you can do. I used to talk to Marlon Brando for hours on the telephone. He taught me a couple of Shakespeare monologues over the phone. Sometimes he’d hang up on me. Just screwing with me. He had a class he taught with young actors, and he had me teach it one time when he wasn’t there. I was his substitute teacher. What made Brando and Monty Clift so great was they played themselves. That’s what I do, too. It’s easy. No matter what I’m doing, I’m still Harry Dean Stanton. Even if you’re Olivier, you’re still yourself.
Q: How are you spending your days?
HDS: I watch TV a lot. Game shows. The History Channel. Court TV. Biographies. Once in a while sports. I used to play poker but I stopped because I was in this game every week for a long time and I lost a whole lot of money—a couple of hundred thousand dollars over four years. I shouldn’t have played in it. I don’t think the game was all that straight. But it is what it is. There are no answers.
The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) last year admitted to operating a massive data-collection program, PRISM, after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the existence of the top-secret effort. PRISM, launched in 2007, enables the NSA to collect stored online communications, including chat sessions, emails, file transfers, and search histories, from Internet giants such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.
PRISM’s main purpose is to collect foreign intelligence information on suspected terrorists. The program targets Internet users, including American citizens, who reside outside the U.S. and may be communicating with bad guys abroad. The NSA claims the controversial spying program has been successful at preventing acts of terrorism.
Now, you may be thinking, “Hey, I’m no terrorist. Why should I care if the NSA snoops around a bit to catch bad guys?” Well, as you know, history has taught us that authorities don’t always have our best interests at heart, and power has a nasty habit of corrupting the very people we’ve entrusted to protect us. It’s no wonder privacy advocates are up in arms, demanding an end to PRISM and other surveillance programs like it.
“People have a right to exist unobserved, to be left alone,” says Justin Brookman of the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that advocates stronger legal standards to limit government surveillance. “But it’s getting tougher and tougher for everyday people to take steps to exist unobserved online,” Brookman adds. “Practically speaking, it’s really hard to turn off all the spigots of information about yourself. It’s unmanageable today. There aren’t easy ways to exist unobserved.”
That’s certainly true, but with a little effort you can enhance your privacy and make it harder for government, commercial, and even criminal entities to monitor your online activities.
To read the rest of the article, pick up a copy of the Jan/Feb 2014 issue of The Saturday Evening Post on newsstands, or