O ur first grandchild was born this past winter, so my wife and I did the only sensible thing we could and bought the house next door to her. It came with eight acres of land which was more land than I wanted to own, but one loses all perspective where grandchildren are concerned. The property includes a pole barn, five apple trees, two persimmon trees, and four stone columns in need of repair, which I need to do soon before a stone dislodges and conks my granddaughter on the noodle. I had no idea the birth of a grandchild would lead to masonry, but there you have it.
We gave a good chunk of the land to my son, the father of said grandchild, who, thinking we were doing him a favor, was profoundly grateful. Gifts of land are always welcomed in the winter, but come summer grass needs mowing, which can test our gratitude. My son is no fan of cutting grass and might be tempted to return that present. His daughter is only three months old, but he’s already grooming her to mow.
For many years my wife and I rented a place to live, then somehow ended up owning three houses and nearly 100 acres of land. I feel the way old kings must have felt, and sometimes wish I had a peasant or two to help me out.
The bulk of our acreage is turned over to cows that wander the pastures and woodlots, dining al fresco. Of the 100 acres, I keep five of them mowed. A boy down the road mows when I can’t, but that’s hardly a break since overseeing a boy is as much work as mowing.
My son and I are alike in many ways, except when it comes to mowing. I enjoy it, if only for its prompt gratification. My other paydays lie down the road — the book that takes two years to see the light of day, the Sunday sermon that hits home five years after its delivery. But when I mow, the fruit of my labor is immediately savored. The clipped rows follow in my wake; the scent of cut grass transports me to childhood. Nothing smells like it used to except fresh-mown grass.
Everything else has changed on the grass front. When I was growing up, cutting the grass was a kid’s job. Fathers only mowed until their sons were old enough to assume the job, usually around 9 or 10. But my generation of fathers has ruined things for boys by doing the mowing ourselves. A neatly trimmed lawn has become more important than a carefully formed boy. Plus, there is a fear to mowing today that wasn’t present when I was a kid. Mowers now come festooned with warnings cautioning the user against sticking their hands and feet under the mower deck while the blades are spinning. Have we gotten so stupid we need to warn one another not to do that? When I was a boy, if you got your foot lopped off by a lawn mower, your father told you to walk it off. He maybe even cuffed you upside the head and told you not to be an idiot. The last thing he would have done is take over the mowing. I could have severed both my legs above the knees and my dad would have said, “That grass isn’t going to cut itself. Better get busy.”
I’m using the words father and boy on purpose, since mothers and girls never mowed when I was a kid. Occasionally, one might see a farm wife mowing the yard, but even that was rare. My sister is 59 and has never, not once, mowed a single strip of grass. I’m all for equal rights and equal pay and would happily throw out all the men in public office and replace them with women, but I draw the line at women cutting grass. I know plenty of women mow grass nowadays, but it seems wrong, like women playing football. Having said that, I’ll probably change my mind when I’m too old to mow and my granddaughter offers to cut my grass.
The phenomenally successful chain’s corporate policy, of which it’s proud, is to only stock the most popular 3,000-3,500 items in your particular region. “If an item doesn’t pull its weight in our stores, it goes away to gangway for something else,” reads the company’s website.
It sounds great the way they put it. Until you realize that every item you have come to rely upon as a staple for your family is in constant danger of being discontinued and replaced with something you don’t need.
Trader Joe’s is Top 40 grocery radio. Don’t you like these songs we play? Well, you should because everyone else does.
My 3-year-old daughter loved Trader Joe’s Organic Silver Dollar Pancakes. She wanted-to-marry-them loved them. They were whole wheat and bite sized, so she could specify how many for me to pop into the microwave to satiate her variable toddler hunger.
Three months ago, my Trader Joe’s sold out of them. Or so we thought. Two shopping trips later, I realized that my daughter would probably never see her favorite food again. And they weren’t replaced by anything similar.
“Try our Handmade Pork & Red Sauce Tamales,” the sample lady suggested as she handed out little plates of them with the vacant smile of a Portlandia character. (A lot of things about Trader Joe’s strike me as vaguely cultish. For instance, asking how something tastes will inevitably cause the Trader Joe’s team member to reply with some variation on “I tried it for the first time last night and it was awesome.” I’m not exaggerating about this. Test it yourself. I suspect it’s part of their training.)
Every time I see a new item at Trader Joe’s, instead of celebrating it like the employees all want me to, my first reaction is to wonder what other important item on my grocery list I now have to buy elsewhere.
I discovered Trader Joe’s policy by accident when a new location opened closer to me and with 750 extra square feet. Wow! Not only would we have to drive less, but my daughter would get her Organic Silver Dollar Pancakes back!
(Buzzer sound.) There were the waffles she doesn’t like and the same exact everything else, but nothing additional — just 750 square feet more room to display it and more space between the aisles.
When I complained, I was referred, politely, to customer service. Here, I filled out a photocopied form asking what discontinued item I wanted brought back. I’m told it got forwarded to the regional buying group and that was that. A company executive, who would only speak anonymously, told me that these requests are usually not acted upon because Trader Joe’s is “not looking to be a one-stop shopping experience, to carry diapers and kitty litter.”
I will still shop at Trader Joe’s, because the prices are so much lower than, say, Whole Foods for similar high-quality items. And it will continue irking me. The experience reminds me a lot of Sara, a slightly abusive former girlfriend of mine. She was beautiful and smart and I was in love with her, so I kept coming back, but she never treated me right. And, as soon as something better came along, I bailed and never looked back.
Oh, wait. Just as this was going to press, Trader Joe’s brought back Organic Silver Dollar Pancakes. That would be terrific news for my daughter if they didn’t simultaneously stop stocking the prepackaged Mediterranean Feast with the falafel balls that she loves even more.
It was too early to eat ice cream when I pulled into Velvet Cream, better known locally as “The Dip,” in Hernando, Mississippi. But I had some anyway. Because at 29 years, 10 months, and 23 days, I had made it to my 50th state, just under the wire of my 30th birthday. It felt like a momentous occasion, as if I’d suddenly joined a club of adventurous, well-traveled people who’d trekked to every corner of our inarguably vast country to take a peek. (And that’s as good a reason for ice cream as any!)
My accomplishment is nothing compared to those for whom just stepping foot into all 50 states isn’t enough. Some set more ambitious goals — tighter time limits or specific criteria, such as a night spent in each of the capital cities. Lance Longwell learned something new in each state by visiting a national park, a museum, or an educational institution, and he did it all before he was old enough to get his driver’s license. Cari Sheets drove a golf cart, inspired by her father, Bud, who knocked off his 50 by playing golf in every state. Bob Bentz made it his goal to either see a professional baseball game in each state or walk onto an infield and touch home plate. North Dakota was the last piece of the puzzle. “Since it was February, it was tough to find home plate, but I did it,” he says.
Why do people take on missions like this? “People who set very ambitious travel goals tie the goal to personal fulfillment,” says Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today. “It becomes a kind of obsession.”
And once you’re finished, what next? For some, the impulse is to do it all again, as in the case of Frank Bartocci, who ran a marathon in every state a total of nine times. For others, once around the loop is enough to satisfy their sense of adventure and their craving to know their beloved country a little more deeply. “There’s always something in every state that makes it worth visiting,” says Paula Boone, expressing a feeling common to many 50-staters. “You never know what’s going to be around the bend.”
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In 1898, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody led a spectacular parade down Fifth Avenue in New York. A troupe of hundreds of performers — American Indians in traditional headdresses, cowboys in 10-gallon hats, and military men from Europe, the Middle East, and other countries who were known as the Congress of Rough Riders of the World in colorful regalia — marched down the broad avenue, accompanied by hundreds of horses, buffalo, and other animals.
The parade was designed to entice the public to attend performances of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which played across the country and Europe in grand outdoor arenas holding as many as 10,000 to 20,000 ticket holders. Between 1883 and 1913, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West toured every year from April through October, preparing a full program of entertainment: feats of horsemanship, marksmanship, and reenactments of Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn, the Battle of Summit Springs, the Deadwood Stagecoach robbery, and an “Attack on the Settler’s Cabin.”
Cody and his partners marketed the Wild West program as an educational exhibition and experience, introducing audiences to the American frontier and cowboy life, American Indians, and later, internationally acclaimed military and equestrian teams. Ticketed patrons could visit the Wild West village, the camp where Cody and all of his performers lived at each tour stop.
Cody befriended many of the American Indian men performing with his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, but the daily programs depicted American Indians in the most stereotypical of situations, relentlessly attacking white American settlers or soldiers.
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The letter that would change my father’s life — and eventually lead to his recent induction into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame — arrived in 1964, at his high school in Nara, Japan. Addressed to Yoshi Hayasaki, it was from an American.
My father, 17 at the time, could not make out a single sentence typed by Eric Hughes, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. He asked a campus English teacher to translate. “It sounds like he is trying to invite you to come to America,” the teacher told my father.
Hughes, as it turned out, had started a men’s gymnastics team at the University of Washington in 1956, a time when the sport in the U.S. lagged behind Japan and the Soviet Union. While on sabbatical in Japan 1964, Hughes scouted for talent. That was when he first spotted my dad, a 5-foot-3 city and regional champion, ranked as one of the top five gymnasts in Japan.
The letter stated that if my dad earned admittance to the University of Washington, he would be guaranteed a scholarship to the school, and could compete on its team. All my father really knew of America at the time came from watching translated episodes of Rawhide. Coaches and teammates could not understand why my dad would even consider competing in another country — in the U.S. of all places — when Japan was already the gymnastics superpower. Everybody was against the idea, including his father.
Still, the thought of America electrified my dad. He had been offered scholarships to Japanese universities, and saw that many former champions became physical education teachers, while others became foot soldiers for corporations. “I saw my future,” he told me. “It was like a blueprint.”
There is a Japanese proverb: “The nail that sticks out will be hammered down.” It is a saying I’ve thought about throughout my own life, as someone who feels like I’ve at times stuck out, even in America. Here, however, it is possible to find your own way, and embrace the road less taken. Back then, in Japan, my dad could practically see the hammer’s face.
For him, America was uncharted territory that seemed to offer an escape, or at least an adventure. Grudgingly, my grandfather assented, telling Dad: “Do not come back until you have accomplished something.”
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Is your tech life comfy? Smartphone, tablet, and laptop working the way they should? That’s swell, but it’s always good to learn something new. These seven tips for your myriad devices will make your life just a little bit easier.
1. Name that tune. How often do you hear a song and wish you knew its name? On the iPhone, ask Siri: “What song is playing?” Within seconds, the name and artist of the track appears, as well as a link to iTunes. Windows Phone assistant, Cortana, works similarly. Android users can download the free Google Play Sound Search, which lets you ID a track by pressing the “What’s this song?” widget on the phone’s home screen.
2. Share Kindle e-books. A Kindle e-reader or tablet is handy for storing an entire literary library, but not for sharing books with family and friends. That’s changing, thanks to an Amazon feature called Family Library that lets a user share Kindle books, audiobooks, apps, and games with another adult and up to four children. Each adult needs an Amazon account; kids’ profiles are set up through adult accounts. (Items not downloaded through the Amazon Appstore aren’t sharable “at this time,” Amazon says.)
3. Use a picture password. Passwords are a pain to remember. Newer iOS and Android devices let you use a fingerprint instead to unlock devices. If you don’t have fingerprint reader, there’s an easy way to log in to Windows without a password: Use a picture. Hold down the Windows key and press I to display the Settings window. Select Change PC settings, then Accounts and Sign-in options. Under Picture Password, select Add. Choose a picture, then use your finger or stylus to “draw” three gestures on it — any combination of circles, straight lines, and taps. The next time you sign into Windows, the picture will appear. Log in by drawing the gestures on the photo. If you forget the three gestures, your password will still work.
4. Shake to undo on the iPhone. Though it’s not new, many iOS users still aren’t aware of this feature. Say you’ve started typing an email or text and want to delete it. Simply give your iPhone or iPad a quick shake, then tap Undo Typing in the pop-up box.
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Trisha Yearwood’s personal theme song seems to be “Do It All — with Love and Maybe a Great Sauce.” As much of a force in the kitchen as she is on stage, Trisha shares healthy twists on homestyle Southern favorites (along with a smattering of indulgences) in her newest book, Trisha’s Table: My Feel-Good Favorites for a Balanced Life. The balanced life she cooks up for herself and husband, Garth Brooks, includes their recent concert tour together that broke ticket-sale records across the country. Trisha’s a country superstar on her own with more than 15 million albums sold worldwide and a shelf full of awards, but her family is still the main course. Her sister, Beth, co-wrote Trisha’s Table and is a big part of Trisha’s Southern Kitchen on the Food Network. Trisha calls herself a “bonus mom” to Garth’s three daughters and, despite her mega-star status, makes the rest of us feel like she’s inviting us over for a good meal and a great talk.
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Have you ever sent an email, and a few seconds after hitting the Send button you sigh because you forgot to include something in the email? Or maybe you wanted to send someone a rant about your horrible boss and you accidentally sent the email to the very boss you were talking about because the auto fill put in his name? Now you can grab that email before the other person gets it.
Gmail’s “Undo Send” feature has been available in Google Labs for several years but now Google has made it a regular feature of their Gmail service. You can set it to delay sending your email by 5, 10, 20, even 30 seconds. So really, it’s not a “hey Google, stop that email!” but rather more of a “let me think about this for a few moments before the email is actually sent” (though hopefully you can take those few moments to think about it before you hit send).
Five seconds? If you’re going to use it, I’d suggest setting it to 30. You’ll need all the time you can get when you panic and rush to correct your horrible mistake. If you’ve been drinking late at night, you’ll probably wish it was 30 hours.
Goodbye, Artificial Colors and Flavors
Everybody is getting rid of the artificial in their food these days. Hershey, Nestle, Panera Bread, Pizza Hut, and Subway have all announced that they are changing the recipes of some or all of the food they sell. Now General Mills has announced that by 2016 artificial colors and flavors will be gone from 90 percent of their cereals, a list that includes Cocoa Puffs, Reese’s Puffs, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch (Cheerios and some others are already artificial-free). It’s part of a bigger plan by General Mills to make their products healthier. They’ve also taken the sugar out of their Yoplait yogurt and are reducing the amount of trans fats in some products.
Fans of Trix might not be happy though. While General Mills says that fruit juices and natural coloring can duplicate most of the colors and tastes in the cereal, they don’t have any natural way to get the exact color of the blue and green pieces. Maybe they should sell two different types of Trix. You can call the new, healthier one Trix and the other one Classic Trix. Put it in a retro box and people will buy it like crazy.
RIP, James Horner and Dick Van Patten
If you are a casual watcher of movies, there are probably two composers you know. The first is, obviously, John Williams, who has done the music for movies like the Star Wars series, Superman, Jaws, Jurassic Park, and the Indiana Jones films (among many others), and the second is James Horner, who had an impressive resume as well. He did the music for Titanic, Apollo 13, Braveheart, Glory, Avatar, Aliens, The Perfect Storm, some of the Star Trek films, and a whole lot more over the past 40 years (just take a look at his impressive resume). Some of his best work was for the underrated Robert Redford movie Sneakers .
Horner, a veteran pilot, died Monday in a plane crash in the Los Padres National Forest area of Southern California . He was 61.
Dick Van Patten was probably best known as the dad on ABC’s Eight is Enough, but he had a huge resume too, appearing in such TV shows as I Remember Mama and Rawhide in the 1950s to more recent shows like Arrested Development and Hot in Cleveland. He passed away from complications of diabetes at the age of 86.
What are the 50 Greatest Progressive Rock Albums of All Time?
I don’t follow music as much as I used to. You’ll find me listening to Sinatra or Marshall Crenshaw before I’ll listen to whatever is on the Billboard charts these days. I just took a look at the top 10 on the Hot 100 and it’s like a foreign language to me. What’s a Fetty Wap?
I wonder if younger people will know what progressive rock is. (Actually, do younger people even call new releases “albums” anymore?) Rolling Stone has their list of the 50 best prog rock albums. Some of the groups you’d expect to be on such a list are there, including Jethro Tull, Yes, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and Genesis, along with some interesting choices, like Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s One Size Fits All.
Of course, lists like this always miss something and open things up to debate (read the comments section on the article, for example). I’m just happy that U.K. is included, though I would have picked Danger Money over their first album.
It’s Take Your Dog to Work Day
When you work from home and own a dog, every day is Take Your Dog to Work Day. But today is the official day for people who work in offices to bring their canines to work. And I say offices because I don’t think this will work if you wait tables or you’re the lifeguard at a pool.
But what about people who don’t have dogs? Can’t they bring their cat or gerbil or snake to work today? It might be funny to bring a cage with your gerbil and put it on your desk, though I’m going to assume we’re never going to see a Take Your Snake to Work Day.
Upcoming Events and Anniversaries
Wimbledon starts (June 29)
The oldest tennis tournament in the world starts Monday and can be seen on ESPN and ESPN 2 (with highlights every night on The Tennis Channel).
Gone with the Wind published (June 30, 1936)
In 1940, The Saturday Evening Post got an envelope from author Margaret Mitchell containing the sequel to her classic novel … or was it?
The Battle of San Juan Hill (July 1, 1898)
Eyewitness to History has a report from a journalist who observed the battle in Cuba.
President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act (July 2, 1964)
SEP Archives Director Jeff Nilsson on how the country was divided in 1964.
President Garfield shot (July 2, 1881)
CBS Sunday Morning’s Mo Rocca has an interesting story on how the doctors treating Garfield actually helped kill him.
Independence Day (July 4)
Here’s a collection of July 4th-themed covers that The Saturday Evening Post has done over the years. I particularly like how John Falter depicted the sun in his painting.
She knocked again at the door. If necessary, she could knock all day.
In the 15 years that Eleanor Kappleman had been the president of her condo’s board of directors, she never missed a monthly meeting. She cooked dinner seven days a week, played mahjong three days a week, and kept the books for her son’s exterminating business. She brushed her teeth for at least three minutes every night and creamed the creases in her elbows and her knees. Eleanor was a serious person.
But there was no job she took more seriously than enforcing the rules of her community. In three months’ time, the residents would either vote to re-elect her or give the seat to Lotty Plotkin. Lotty Plotkin! A woman who neglected her begonias and left her trash out on the curb! Some days it seemed like the future of South Florida, perhaps the future of the world, rested on Eleanor’s shoulders. It was up to her to tackle the dirty jobs no one else wanted to do.
Through the slit in her living room curtains, she kept track of her neighbors’ comings and goings. If a workman stayed past 5 o’clock, expect a call. If your grandson parked his motorcycle in your driveway, anticipate an email. Forget to bring in your garbage can? Three times and you’d be fined.
Now a new neighbor was tormenting her. Three townhouses down across the street from the Schwartz’s. Somewhere from China or Vietnam or the Philippines — Eleanor could only guess. Bent like a question mark. Papery skin. She appeared to be friendless but you never knew.
The 60-foot walk had become a daily occurrence. It wasn’t easy but someone had to do it. Fisting her hand, Eleanor rapped on Margaret Soon’s door. Her chin bobbed while the flab in her forearm shook. Knocking louder now. The old woman was hard of hearing; hoisting herself up from the couch and inching through the foyer could take at least five minutes maybe 10.
The door opened a few inches, tethered by a chain. “What can I do for you today, Eleanor?”
An eternity spent unlatching the chain. Eleanor pictured the gnarled arthritic fingers. Clawing. Groping. The beady eyes not working too good either. Missing where the metal knob fell into the hole. The door was wide open now. The smell of boiling cabbage, of mildewed sweaters and thrift-shop furniture curled out like a finger.
“So good to see you, Eleanor. Would you like a cup of tea?”
Of all the seniors in the hundred-home development, Margaret Soon was probably the oldest. Living alone, traipsing up and down those stairs, schlepping three blocks in the Miami heat to get her groceries and pulling the cart behind her like she was playing golf. Smiling. Always smiling. Missing half of her teeth and smiling like she won the lottery.
Eleanor narrowed her aim and delivered her speech.
“You’re only allowed three cats, Margaret.” She waved the papers in the elderly woman’s face. “Three cats. That’s what the condo documents say. More than three cats and we fine you. First $50. Then $100. Then $200. You’re gonna bankrupt yourself, Margaret, is that what you want to do?”
When the old woman blinked, Eleanor spoke louder.
“I counted eight cats, this morning, Margaret! Eight feral cats in front of your house!”
Still the blinking.
Eleanor held up eight fingers. “Eight! Eight!” she screamed. “Ocho!”
“You’re going to the boat show?” asked Margaret.
“STOP FEEDING ALL THESE CATS, Margaret!” shouted Eleanor. “IT’S DRIVING US ALL CRAZY!”
Eleanor looked to her right and looked to her left. Good grief! She could have wakened the dead and given herself a stroke to boot. It must have been ninety degrees in the shade. Every sane human being was indoors, pickled in a brine of air-conditioning. Eleanor was ready to reload when the old woman stepped backward. She clutched her hand to her cheek as if she had been hit.
“I leave out a little food. A little water. What’s the harm? I can’t see — what’s the harm.”
A large white cat walked out of the shadows of the old woman’s foyer as if on cue. It leaned against Margaret’s shin, purred. Hunching over, wincing while she bent, Margaret scooped the cat and cradled it in the crook of her arms. Its eyes were the color of cornflowers, the color of the sky on a cloudless day.
“Angel, meet Eleanor. Eleanor, Angel.”
Now it was Eleanor’s turn to step backward. Arguing was so much easier. Mr. Schwartz with his garbage cans rolling down the street. The Hochmans with their teenaged sons who drove too fast. Yelling was easy. Negotiation was hard.
“If it was up to me, Margaret, I wouldn’t mind.” The lies rolled out. Who could look at this woman with her apple face and raisin eyes and tell the truth? “But the board of directors has a strict policy. Three cats inside a house. Period. No feeding of feral cats. End of story.”
The old woman had rheumy eyes, cataract eyes; she was always carrying a handkerchief in a pocket just to wipe them. So it was hard to tell if Eleanor’s arrows had struck their mark. The women faced each other for a full minute. Then, without saying goodbye or have a nice day or maybe you should check your blood pressure at the CVS, Margaret, you’re looking a little peaked, Eleanor turned. Looking back, she should have said something. Instead she walked the 20 yards back to her home.
Even if Eleanor wanted to ignore the problem, others refused to. At least a dozen cats of every size, shape, and color squeezed through the community’s entrance gates or vaulted over them. And on their way to Margaret’s door, they traipsed over her neighbors’ flowers or peed on potted plants. When a stray cat jumped into Herb Edelstein’s gold Camry, an emergency meeting was called. As usual, they met in the card room of the clubhouse. A pot of decaf was percolating. A plate of fresh rugelach sat next to a bowl of perfectly scooped and rounded melon.
“First I had the cockroaches and palmetto bugs. Now it’s these filthy cats!” shouted Mavis Schwartz. “They’re trying to get into my home. I open the door with a broom in one hand and a can of Raid in the other!”
“I’m allergic,” complained Herb. “A single cat can give me asthma. If I had an attack, it would be on your shoulders. A medical emergency. Maybe a lawsuit. My hand to God I tell you that right now.”
The list of complaints was a yard long. People imagined an onslaught of rabid raccoons, of vermin of every shape and size. And all because of the cat food Margaret left in two Tupperware bowls discreetly hidden under her front hedge.
The biggest complainer was Lotty Plotkin. There were homes that needed painting. The monthly maintenance fees needed to be raised. Important business needed attending to! But just like a shifty politician, Lotty zeroed in on an irrelevant issue that gave a few loudmouths heartburn. Margaret, she claimed, had extended her reach. She was aiding and abetting all the feral animals between St. Augustine and Everglades City.
“She’s feeding them from that grocery cart!” screamed Lotty. Her dentures didn’t fit quite right so she sprayed as she spoke. “That woman’s like the Piped Piper — luring every stray cat in Dade County. Either we get rid of the cats …” she pounded a card table theatrically “or we get rid of her!”
There was an abundance of throat clearing and shoe shuffling. Eleanor stood up.
“I’ve done a little Internet research.”
Many of the elderly homeowners didn’t own a computer let alone know how to work one. A dozen faces looked up, listening.
“There are several possible solutions to the problem. Fox urine, for example. Cats seem to hate fox urine.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Lotty. Herb Edelstein snorted. Moogie Schwartz got out of his chair and appraised the remaining cookies.
“Then there’s a device called Cat Stop,” continued Eleanor. “You stick it in your yard. High frequency sounds chase away the cats.”
“And the dogs? What about dogs?” asked Mavis. “It would drive my Bitsy crazy.”
Eleanor set her jaw, closed her eyes, and counted to 10. Mavis’ miniature schnauzer regularly terrorized the mailman. It yipped incessantly. When Eleanor’s grandchildren came to visit, if she saw that dog, she grabbed their sweaty little hands and ran the other way.
“Then there’s the Cat Network,” said Eleanor. “For $25, the Meow Mobile will come to the complex, spay a cat, give it shots, and release it.”
“Can they release them someplace else?” asked Lotty. Working the crowd now. On her feet, walking up and down the aisles. “Like Century Village? Can they release them at Century Village?” She shrugged her shoulders and lifted her palms like a borscht belt comedian. Then that mouth full of horse teeth broke into a grin.
Eleanor smiled back. Whatever Lotty was selling she already had. She stood up a little straighter and made herself a mental note to buy a gavel. She always wanted a gavel. If she had one in her hand, she’d aim it right for Lotty’s skull. “The point is,” said Eleanor. Margaret’s face popped into her head. The rheumy eyes. The knobby hands. “If the cats were healthy, if we can get them spayed and vaccinated, are they really hurting anyone?”
“We’re not the zoo, Eleanor,” said Lotty. “We’re not the ASPCA.”
Eleanor waited a full week to break the news to Margaret. Mr. Lopez, a longtime renter, had died three days earlier. Eleanor, as always, planned on going to the funeral home to pay her respects. This was one part of her job that she hated. When her husband, Morty, got sick, Eleanor spent a whole year watching him deteriorate. Like a piece of fruit left in the sun, he withered, dried up, turned into a husk of his former self. Lopez, like most Cubans, would have an open casket. Eleanor hated open caskets. She figured she’d get both unpleasant tasks out of the way.
Dressed in her cemetery outfit, a tasteful black cardigan with matching slacks and pumps, Eleanor rolled back her shoulders and again marched down the sidewalk. Once more she knocked on Margaret’s door. When it finally opened, the woman looked even older. Her eyes were black specks, pinpoints. The white cat nestled in her arms.
“Margaret, the board of directors is going to start sending you fines. Do you hear me? Fines!”
“Thank you, Eleanor. You look fine as well. Is that a new outfit?”
“This is what I wear to funerals, Margaret. I’m going to a funeral.”
“Did someone die?”
“Of course someone died. It’s not like people have dress rehearsals. Mr. Lopez died. The man in 409.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. No one told me. I must bring a bundt. A nice banana bread. Some cake.”
Lopez’s son was the local handyman. Everyone knew Lopez. A parade of wheelchairs and walkers were heading to the funeral but no one had thought of telling Margaret. A flush of guilt coursed through Eleanor. Gossip usually flew through the community. There was a phone tree. Postings. Emails. But some people were on the fringes, standing on the outside, always looking in. Once an immigrant always an immigrant. They talked funny. They acted differently. They sucked up people’s patience, and patience was always in short supply.
“If you don’t mind me asking, Margaret, where are you from?”
The sun peeked out from the clouds. Margaret shielded her face with her hand. “From Milwaukee. My family’s from Milwaukee. You know Milwaukee?”
The woman was a magician, thought Eleanor. The way she twisted everything around. Up was down. Down was up.
“My arthritis always acted up in Milwaukee. It’s such as pleasure to live here. The weather. The water. And I’ve met so many wonderful people.”
Eleanor slowly inched away from the doorway while nodding her head. Margaret could have been a commercial for adult congregate communities.
“The shopping. The malls. The early-bird specials …”
“You bake that bundt cake, Margaret. I’m sure Mrs. Lopez will appreciate it.” Then Eleanor turned around and sprinted toward her home.
They found the dead cats the following week. One was under the Schwartz’s car. Another was hidden under the arboricola bushes. It didn’t take Eleanor’s son long to figure out that someone had put rat poison in the Tupperware bowls. The job wasn’t professional, he told Eleanor. Anyone could have bought the stuff. There were so many suspects Eleanor could only guess who the vigilante was.
Again she had to knock on Margaret’s door. This time she waited longer. Inside a TV was blaring. A light shone in an upstairs window. She knocked so loud her knuckles turned red, the veins in her wrist bulging. People Margaret’s age keeled over all the time. A bad meal. A little upset. It didn’t take much. And who did the old woman have to turn to? From her lookout station behind the curtains, Eleanor had never seen a relative or even a friend walk up Margaret’s driveway. A sheet of sweat rolled down Eleanor’s face. She was one minute from calling the rescue squad to break down the door when it finally opened.
Margaret squinted in the sun.
“I want to tell you that I’m sorry,” said Eleanor. “We didn’t mean to … I didn’t mean to …”
“Angel. My Angel. Something terrible has happened to Angel.”
Of course, thought Eleanor. The food. How hard would it be for a cat to sneak one bite, to lick one sip?
The next month Margaret moved out. She didn’t tell anyone. One afternoon a moving van showed up and a few hours later she was all packed. The neighbors peeked from their windows. First the couch. Then a bed. A set of bureaus. The detritus of a life stored in cardboard containers. No one ever saw Margaret leave. One minute she was there, and the next she was gone. A for-sale sign popped up the following day.
The only item left behind was the grocery cart. It was the practical kind that folded flat. The four wheels needed a little oil. The handle was a little bent. At first glance Eleanor thought about tossing it in the dumpster, but for some reason she parked it in her own garage. A few days later she bought the cat food. And then it was only a matter of time.
Here’s a story for you.
Very early one morning, I couldn’t sleep so I went on Facebook. I was scanning the feed, looking for something to connect to, hold on to, perhaps transport me.
I happened upon a friend’s post of this painting depicting a boy in bed. It immediately drew me in. It’s evening, and he’s sitting up in bed, intently reading. Completely absorbed. So focused on his book that he tilts the lamp to directly shine its light so no text is obscured, and shuts out all distractions. Who painted this? I wondered.
I had somehow overlooked the signature. It was so early in the morning; my experience was one of falling into the reality of the painting — I was as absorbed by it as the boy was with his book. There seemed to be all these secrets in that room waiting to be revealed.
I started to explore all the details. I noticed the subtle, gentle way the view outside his window was painted; the welcoming lights of the next-door neighbor’s, the first stars peaking out of the sky. The cord of the window shade inexplicably caught in the drapes — this detail fascinated me. A quiet, off-kilter wink that directs your attention back to the boy instead of out the window. I noticed the hilt of the sword stuck behind the painting on the wall above him, difficult to make out at first. An indication of adventure. Some sort of animal and a man are pictured in the painting — the man appears to be backing away from the beast. Deep shadows against the wall create a powerful silhouette of the boy and contrast with the very strong light of the lamp. I almost missed the dog, sleeping contentedly, one with the quilt and the line of the boy’s propped up legs. Then I noticed the worn shoes, one resting on the other, mirroring the dog resting on the boy’s feet.
Those look like Pop’s shoes, the kind he would draw. Pop loved careworn shoes of all kinds. I was puzzled. Again I thought, Who painted this?
I noticed the books on the side table, and the lamp cord falling into shadow beyond the light’s reach. The dog’s markings reflect the pattern in the quilt mirroring the pattern of the glass lampshade. And what is the boy eating – is that a box of crackers?
The magic of the painting held me for quite a while. I didn’t want to leave the comfort and safety of that room, the boy’s world and that private moment.
I went back to my friend’s page and saw that he had credited the image in another post. It was a Norman Rockwell! How could I not have known?! It was an epiphany. Never before had I seen my grandfather’s work with fresh eyes — for the first time I didn’t bring my history into viewing it. I had complete purity of vision, and I now understood what people have always said to me — that to enter into the magic of one of his paintings, the world he created, is to be truly transported.
This painting is part of the Edison Mazda series that my grandfather painted from 1920 to 1927. I mentioned this series in my last post on Young Valedictorian. I particularly love this series — it speaks to the adventure, enchantment, and safety of childhood.
P.S. It is titled And Every Lad May Be Aladdin (Crackers in Bed), Edison Mazda advertisement, 1920. Now we know what’s he’s eating!
Issues of The Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s and 1930s feature “1776” on the front, marking the year the Declaration of Independence had its final changes made. The Fourth of July has been written in history since 1776, but it wasn’t until 15 to 20 years later that the holiday was actually celebrated.
It would be almost 100 years later — in 1870 — that Congress declared July 4 a national holiday. Americans have continued to celebrate the holiday with red, white, and blue over the years. Later issues of the Post highlight the parades and fireworks that fill this U.S. celebration.
The Fourth of July on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post (click on the covers to see larger image):
Marc Maron defines what he does as “comedy of introspection and personal struggle.” He obsesses over other comics who get network shows or on the cover of magazines, where he feels he belongs. He describes himself as an “abusive, selfish, needy, angry a-hole” who is “bitter and misunderstood.” But with all his complaining, he’s doing very well. He travels the country doing stand-up. His half-million listeners make his WTF podcast one of the most successful on the Internet. His IFC show Maron is in its second year. He’s written a successful memoir, Attempting Normal. And he’s enormously popular with people in their late 20s and 30s who can relate to his rants.
The Saturday Evening Post: In your book you write that you grew up in an emotionally crippling household. Is that the fuel that fed your desire to become a stand-up comedian?
Marc Maron: My father was erratic and absent. My mother was self-consumed. She and I fought a lot. She was very obsessed with her appearance and with weight and her own place in life and who she was. A lot of that was projected onto me. Most of my concerns as a child were how fat I was getting and what pant size I was going to wear and how embarrassed I would be about my mother’s behavior, her peculiar eating habits, her weird vanity, her sexuality. She never did anything right — like pick me up on time. It was always embarrassing. So I often sought negative attention just to get attention. Humor was something I used when I wasn’t paralyzed with discomfort or not feeling like I fit in.
SEP: Your early career was a struggle. People didn’t “get” you. What made you continue on when it must have been so tough along the way?
MM: Once I started defining my comic personality, it was aggressive. I wanted to provoke, to make people uncomfortable. I believe life is fundamentally unfair. You reach almost daily, if you let yourself, a sense of futility. So raging against that was something I thought everyone could relate to. As it turned out, it’s a very fine line between raging and self-pity. And that’s not compelling. The struggle is to overcome that. Being self-effacing, on the other hand, is a popular comedic archetype: the shlub. But if you add anger and a sense of entitlement to that, it becomes repugnant. My curiosity, my humor, has always been driven by the fact that I was missing something. Or that someone else had figured something out that I hadn’t. Or why is it easier for that guy than for me? It really isn’t fundamentally easier for anybody — a lot of time luck or opportunity plays into it. Some people are luckier than other people. Some people deserve things other people don’t. It isn’t that complicated.
SEP: How did you eventually find your audience?
MM: What happened with me is I gave up. I had to assess who I was and realize that maybe I’m not going to be an important comic. Maybe I’m not going to get a TV show. That was heartbreaking. After being divorced twice and assessing the flaws that I had that hobbled me, I started thinking, Who the %$#& are you? So acknowledging that I had failed and not thinking of anything else I could do, I turned to this [making podcasts]. I can’t help but be raw and honest and this format lends itself beautifully to that. [The podcast] seems to have a profound effect on people. Ultimately, I wasn’t looking for money or to be a rock star, I was looking to be relevant and to be seen.
I’m on my hands and knees scouring the beach for diamonds. It’s a picture-perfect summer day: sunny and warm, with practically no humidity and maybe the biggest blue sky I’ve ever seen. The beach is heavenly, with that sugar sand you find in the tropics, framed by a dune forest protecting the scrub-shrub habitats of nesting songbirds.
Diamonds — well, actually, beautiful, translucent pieces of quartz — are abundant, but that’s only a small part of the draw. There’s the privacy (it’s one of the region’s most sparsely populated beaches); the splendid bird watching (rated by Audubon as one of the best birding sites in the nation), and that special sand. Who knew that this slice of paradise — Higbee Beach in Cape May, New Jersey — is within a five-hour drive of one-third of the U.S. population?
The plain truth is the United States is a treasure trove of these magnificent hideaways. Following are some of the best in the country, selected with a bias toward geological uniqueness, magic, and unspoiled beauty. All you need bring is a towel and a picnic.
1 Pauoa Beach
Where: Kohala Coast, Hawaii
Wow factor: Ever dream of bathing in champagne? The beach fronts a postcard-worthy coral reef cove, where cooling freshwater springs bubble up from the bottom of the warm Pacific Ocean, making you feel like you are swimming in a bathtub filled with Fizzies. Later, while lounging on the warm sand, dig your feet down deep and feel the freshwater spritzing up.
Sand: The expanse of soft, pearl-white granules is flecked with colorful bits of coral, shells, and lava.
What to collect: Souvenir photos. Removing the lava that has bubbled up along the beach is illegal; worse, doing so is cursed by Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire.
Local lore: A five-minute walk from the beach is the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve with over 3,000 engravings. Archaeologists believe these petroglyphs depict life events of the local culture thousands of years ago.
When to go: Anytime. Daytime temperatures hover in the 70s and 80s year-round.
Stay: The beach resides on the grounds of the Fairmont Orchid (fairmont.com/orchid), which offers rooms with ocean views and private lanais.
Eat: Innovative farm-to-fork Pacific Rim fare is almost beside the point compared to a sunset show at Napua Restaurant (napuarestaurant.com); dinnertime guests get to watch stars light up the Kohala coastline after seeing the sun melt into the Pacific Ocean.
2 Bandon Beach
Where: Bandon, Oregon
Wow factor: Sandwiched between dense forest and the Pacific, the beach offers dramatic views of rock pillars (known as sea stacks) jutting from the ocean, as well as small islands inhabited by nesting seabirds, birthing seals, and more. Don’t be surprised if you happen upon a sea lion having a splash.
Sand: Fine heather-toned grains pack well for castle building.
What to collect: Agates. At least 20 varieties including carnelian, moss, and cloud.
Local lore: According to legend, the curious rock formations along the beach were formed when a mountain chief brought his daughter to the shore for the first time. Ignoring the warning that looking at the evil ocean spirit Seatco would turn her to stone, the daughter wandered the beach and was frozen in place.
When to go: Year-round. Frigid water and wind prohibit this from being a swimming beach; come dressed in layers as storms can kick up unexpectedly.
Stay: Every room and private cottage at Windermere on the Beach (windermereonthebeach.com) have beach access and panoramic views of the Southern Oregon coastline.
Eat: Bandon’s best scene for a sunset cocktail is The Loft (theloftofbandon.com), which sits atop the High Dock building and serves exquisite Pacific Coast-fusion cuisine.
3 Pfeiffer Beach
Where: Big Sur, California
Wow factor: Front and center in the crashing surf is Keyhole Rock, a gargantuan arch with waves hurtling through the center split. In winter, catch it just before dusk and see the setting sun cast its final rays through the keyhole.
Sand: The purple sand, located at the north end of the beach, draws its unusual color from manganese garnet fragments, eroded from deposits in the hills, that become finely ground as they wash onto the beach from the creek above.
What to Collect: Well, the sand, for starters. Diligent beachcombers can often find sizable chunks of manganese garnet that has been washed from the cliffs above onto the beach. But note: Digging into the rock face is prohibited.
When To Go: Wind gusts are common here year-round, but less harsh during the drier months, June–October.
Local lore: Big Sur’s dramatic landscape has been the setting for countless feature films, including according to Hollywood legend the famous kiss between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity.
Stay: For comfort and panoramic views, you can’t go wrong with Post Ranch Inn (postranchinn.com). The more adventurous will stay in the treehouse lodgings stilted nine-feet above the forest floor, where there’s still plenty of luxe with spa baths, fireplaces, and wood decks facing the forest.
Eat: Cliff-dwelling eatery Nepenthe (nepenthebigsur.com) was once a cabin owned by Orson Wells and Rita Hayworth. Now it’s the ideal spot for mojitos at sunset.
4 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Beach
Where: Buxton, North Carolina
Wow factor: The beach is part of a narrow barrier island jutting 30 miles into the Atlantic, so its landmass is forever changing. What’s most striking, however, is the “magic fairy dust” that gets kicked up with each shuffling step in the sand. At night, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a spellbinding blue-green sparkle caused by microscopic phytoplankton that glow when disturbed.
Sand: The cape is a convergence of two major ocean currents, the cold Labrador Current from the north and the warm Gulf Stream, which grind bivalve shells into fine, soft particles.
What To Collect: Shells galore — knobbed whelks, Scotch bonnets, augers, baby’s ears, and more.
Local lore: The Grey Man of Hatteras is a shadowy ghost who walks the beaches. As the story goes, he’s the spirit of a sailor who perished at sea.
When To go: Beach weather here spans spring, summer, and fall, thanks to the Gulf Stream that blows warm breezes in chillier months. Locals especially love autumn, with its lazy Indian summer afternoons, but the threat of hurricanes lurks through September.
Stay: The waterfront Inn on Pamlico Sound (innonpamlicosound.com) is a boutique hotel with island-style guest rooms, an oceanfront swimming pool, complimentary kayaks, and a gourmet restaurant.
Eat: Come to Dinky’s (villagemarinahatteras.com/DinkysGenInfo.html) for the local catch, and you’ll be treated to the best show on the island — sunset.
5 The Beach at Sunken Forest
Where: Fire Island, New York
Wow factor: Just over the dunes behind this uninhabited beach on the famous barrier island between Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean is a rare maritime forest of stunted plant clusters, visible from a boardwalk. This stunted, or “sunken,” effect is caused by saline mists from the ocean.
Sand: The soft, reddish sand is made up of fine white quartz, laced with minute red garnet and black flecks of magnetite.
What to Collect: Sand. If you want to amuse your kids, take a magnet to it and show them how the particles magically float up.
Local lore: Historians and locals have debated the origin of the name Fire Island for decades. Many believe that it was a misspelled translation of Five Barrier Islands from a 17th-century Dutch map. (The number of inlets changes periodically with the weather.)
When To Go: Late spring to early fall is when the beach is warm and the forest in bloom. The ferry from Sayville, Long Island, to Sailors Haven runs only mid-May–mid-October.
Stay: No hotels in Sunken Forest. But a few miles (and short water taxi ride) down the island is the chic Palms Hotel in Ocean Beach (palmshotelfireisland.com).
Eat: If you stay in Ocean Beach, try Maguire’s Bayfront Restaurant (maguiresbayfrontrestaurant.com), as much for the spectacular sunset views as for the cuisine.
6 Peterson Beach
Where: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Wow factor: Once named “the most beautiful place in America” by Good Morning America, Peterson Beach fronts Lake Michigan’s crystal blue Platte Bay. From the shoreline are unobstructed views of Sleeping Bear Point and Empire Bluff’s billowy sand dunes, formed during the last ice age. Some dunes soar as high as 450 feet.
Sand: While most of the Great Lakes have rocky shorelines, this beach is known for its powdery, golden sand.
What To Collect: You’ll find plentiful samples of Michigan’s state stone, the mottled Petoskey stone (fossilized rugose coral). Take pictures; the National Park Service doesn’t allow removing natural elements from the park without a permit.
Local lore: The Native American-inspired Legend of Sleeping Bear holds that a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a forest fire. After swimming for hours, mother bear reached the shore first and perched on a bluff to await the cubs, but they soon tired and drowned. The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and a solitary bluff representing the mother bear.
When To Go: While each season brings distinctive hues and vistas, summertime offers the most tolerable water temps (up to mid-60s) for swimming.
Stay: The lakefront Homestead (thehomesteadresort.com) offers a range of resort activities and lodging options.
Eat: Blu (glenarborblu.com), with panoramic views of Sleeping Bear Bay, incorporates local provisions into its eclectic menu.
7 Padre Island National Seashore
Where: North Padre Island, Texas
Wow factor: The longest undeveloped barrier island in the world stretches 113 miles between the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre, one of the world’s few hypersaline coastal lagoons. Unlike kitschy and crowded South Padre Island, no hotels or businesses clutter the untainted seashore bordered by a narrow dune ridge, coastal prairie, and tidal flats. The beaches are quite desolate, populated by rare, protected wildlife, including endangered turtles and some 380 species of birds. The highway ends 10 miles in, so adventurers in four-wheel-drive vehicles must cross the sand from one beach to the next.
Sand: Billowy white sand, laden with exquisite shells.
What To Collect: Shells — common arks, cockles, and quahogs — and colorful coquina mostly found on Big and Little Shell beaches. Park Service permits the removal of up to five gallons of shells per day.
Local lore: Padre Island is reported to be a prime hiding spot for pirate gold. (Too bad the National Park Service prohibits the use of metal detectors.)
When To Go: As one of the southern-most spots on the mainland U.S., even December can bring warm days. Considering the staggering heat and humidity of summertime and hurricane threat into the fall, locals prefer the months of February–April when precipitation is low and temperatures often hover around 70 degrees.
Stay: The modern oceanfront Sandpiper Condominium (sandpiperportaransas.com) is a welcome respite after a day of trekking around Padre’s primitive shoreline. The resort offers well-stocked units with kitchens and balconies, a pool, and beach loungers.
Eat: Snoopy’s Pier (snoopyspier.com) is a family-owned, beachfront eatery serving local catch prepared with family recipes.
8 Higbee Beach
Where: Cape May, New Jersey
Wow factor: Cape May’s sugar-sand beaches are considered among the cleanest in the nation, sparkling clean, in fact. Some of that sparkle comes from sand laced with Cape May Diamonds — gorgeous, translucent quartz. The stones wash up on Higbee Beach from the upper reaches of the Delaware River. Higbee, at the tip of Cape Island, also contains the area’s only remnants of coastal forest, protected by dunes up to 35 feet high.
Sand: The shoreline is blanketed with that downy white-blond sand normally associated with Caribbean beaches.
What To Collect: Those diamonds, of course. The largest wash ashore during winter months, when the current is strongest.
Local lore: Kechemeche tribe believed the diamonds possess supernatural powers.
When To Go: May–mid-October.
Stay: Congress Hall (caperesorts.com/hotels/capemay/congresshall) is a sprawling, historic beach resort still operating in grand style.
Eat: The Washington Inn (washingtoninn.com), in a restored 1840s plantation house, features a menu of continental fare that changes daily to incorporate the local harvest.
9 Moshup Beach
Where: Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Wow factor: Moshup (aka Gay Head or Aquinnah) is one of the few places on the East Coast where you can catch the sunset — rather than sunrise — from a sandy beach. This secluded shoreline of white sand and crystal-clear water is sometimes tinged red by the surrounding russet-colored clay Aquinnah Cliffs, encasing eons of ancient animal and marine fossils — whales, horses, even camels — in their auburn grooves. Smattered around the beach are age-old rocks worn smooth by the crashing tide, and pieces of lignite — scientists say from the Cretaceous period. The most scenic time is sunset, when the cliffs glow with terracotta hues.
Sand: Surrounded by multi-hued rocks and clay cliffs, the soft, white sand takes on a variety of shades throughout the day.
What To Collect: The brightly striated glacial rocks, fossils, and mud (with legendary healing powers) are protected property, so capture them with your camera only.
Local lore: Native Wampanoag tribal folklore attributes the unique geology to a giant named Moshup. He hunted whales and threw them against the cliffs; their blood turned the clay red and their remains are those fossils found today.
When To Go: Most visitors and businesses operate around the seasonal ferry schedules, which run from Woods Hole or Falmouth with regular service mid-May–mid-October.
Stay: The cozy guest rooms of the cliff-dwelling Outermost Inn (outermostinn.com), owned by musician James Taylor’s brother Hugh, provide spectacular three-way vistas spanning the Nantucket Sound.
Eat: In a rural garden overlooking the ocean, Beach Plum Inn (beachpluminn.com) incorporates local provisions into imaginative dishes.
10 Henderson Beach State Park
Where: Destin, Florida
Wow factor: The beach here is known for its whitest-of-white, sugary sand. Plus, great fishing.
Sand: The ground-quartz sand washes down from the Appalachian Mountains via the Apalachicola River out into the Gulf of Mexico. From there, the sand drifts west in the currents, much of it settling here.
What To Collect: Dune rosemary, an edible, non-endangered Florida scrub, that sprouts fragrant lavender flowers in springtime.
Local lore: Destin calls itself the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village. Perhaps that’s because the continental shelf comes closer to shore in Destin than anywhere else in the state, allowing anglers to reach every depth of fishable waters more easily.
When To Go: April–May and September–November are when ocean temperatures range a comfortable 60–80 degrees.
Stay: Henderson Park Inn (hendersonparkinn.com), Destin’s only B&B on the beach offers romantic guest rooms overlooking the beach, gourmet breakfasts, box lunches, beach chairs, umbrellas, and bicycles.
Eat: For Gulf-shore gastronomy, accented with a Creole flair Louisiana Lagniappe (thelouisianalagniappe.com/destin) is a longtime local favorite. Hush puppies, jambalaya, blackened shrimp etouffee, it’s all here.
What’s the Deal with Jerry Seinfeld?
If you were to make a list of the 1,000 most controversial comedians, Jerry Seinfeld would come in at 1,001. But apparently a lot of people are irritated by the veteran comic lately. During interviews with ESPN’s Colin Cowherd and Seth Meyers on Late Night, Seinfeld remarked that he no longer performed at colleges because of a “creepy PC thing.” Seinfeld has discovered that younger people — including his daughter — “just want to use these words. That’s racist, that’s sexist, that’s prejudice. They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”
Of course, many people (mostly on the left) have jumped on Seinfeld’s comments and declared him “bizarro” and “sad,” “cranky,” and they’ve even said that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he’s just a rich white guy. They’re saying that he’s getting this push back because his jokes just aren’t that funny, which isn’t true and also really misses the point. He even got a lesson in comedy (yes) from a college student. Because it’s up to someone in their early 20s to not only tell Jerry Seinfeld how to be a comic these days, but how to be a comic in the right way for the right reasons.
The world’s gone mad. What is so wrong about what Seinfeld is saying? And is it even a big deal to begin with? Has Seinfeld ever even been political in his humor, either in his standup or his TV show? He’s not coming from the right on this (and it’s funny that the right is suddenly trying to adopt Seinfeld as one of their own, as if Seinfeld had been a “liberal icon” or something). Not everything has to be “political,” even if the “P” in “PC” stands for that word. He’s simply making a personal observation, the same one fellow comic Chris Rock made not too long ago. I don’t even think that Seinfeld was being incredibly specific in his criticism. There’s a bigger point to be made — even if Seinfeld doesn’t realize he was making it — about how the world is now in general. And all of those articles I linked to above and the TV commentaries and all the snark being thrown at Seinfeld on social media right now simply prove his point. And I wonder if the critics even understand that.
This isn’t the first time Seinfeld has been involved in a controversy like this. Last year he was criticized for not having enough women and minorities on his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee series. Never mind that the criticism was instantly made ridiculous by simply watching the show. Seinfeld said at the time that he didn’t do comedy “by census,” as if everybody had to be represented all the time, like a checklist. He got the people he knew and the people he thought were funny, saying he had “no interest in gender or race or anything like that.” There was no agenda behind it at all. Of course, the nuttier regions of the Web twisted around what he meant and went after him for that too.
So much yada, yada, yada.
The First Day of Summer
Summer is the only season where it feels like the season before it even officially starts. It’s already been rather warm, I bet you’ve either had a cookout or gone to the beach, and we’ve put in our screen doors and air conditioners already. You don’t really get that with fall, winter, and spring. They don’t “feel” like their seasons fully until the seasons actually arrive.
Anyway, the first day of summer is this Sunday. And if you’re keeping track and like countdowns, the exact time it starts is 12:38 p.m. EDT.
Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Turn On Your TV …
… comes another Sharknado flick. The third one is set in Washington, D.C., and Orlando, Florida, and it’s called Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!
The cast lists for these movies are getting bigger and more elaborate. Sure, this one has Ian Ziering and Tara Reid (who were in the first two), but we also get David Hasselhoff! Frankie Muniz! Penn & Teller! Kathie Lee & Hoda! Mark Cuban! Ann Coulter! Jerry Springer! Dame Judi Dench! Okay, she’s not in it. But there is Bo Derek!
At this point these movies are strictly being made for people to have a ball with on Twitter. Please note that in this movie, Mark Cuban and Ann Coulter play the president and vice president of the United States. That might be a more unrealistic scenario than killer sharks inside a tornado. It premieres July 22 on Syfy.
Robot Wakes Up on Comet, Phones Home, Tweets
The robot Philae, which landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko back in November, surprised scientists this week by waking up and sending a transmission back to Earth.
Hello Earth! Can you hear me? #WakeUpPhilae
— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) June 14, 2015
After a harder-than-expected landing on the comet, the battery lasted for 60 hours and then ran out of juice. Turns out, the robot has a solar-powered backup battery that finally got enough sunlight. Now scientists are rushing to get information from the robot because they don’t know how long it’s going to stay active.
Monica Lewis: 1922–2015
You might not be able to place the name right away, but you knew Monica Lewis. Besides being the voice of Chiquita Banana for many years, Lewis was an acclaimed singer and actress. She was one of the guests on the very first episode of The Ed Sullivan Show in 1948 (along with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis), performed at The Stork Club, sang with Frank Sinatra, turned down Ronald Reagan’s marriage proposal, and appeared in such movies as Earthquake, Charley Varrick, and Airport ‘77 and TV shows Make Room For Daddy, Peter Gunn, Remington Steele, and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Lewis passed away last week at the age of 93. Her autobiography, Hollywood Through My Eyes, came out in 2011 and might be a book to add to the summer reading list below.
Lewis was very active online too. Just a few weeks ago, I exchanged messages with Monica on Twitter. It’s always sad when the years go by and more and more of classic Hollywood is going away. RIP, Monica.
Is there really a difference in the books we read during the summer and the books we read in the winter? There’s this common wisdom, almost a default position, that the books we bring to the beach or vacation or read on our decks should be “lighter” or “less serious” than the books we read other times of the year. I don’t know if that has to be true, though. I mean, I’m not going to drag a giant Webster’s Dictionary to the beach (if you’d even find me on a beach in the first place), but just because it’s summer doesn’t mean we have to put our brains on vacation too.
Some new books you might want to check out:
- One Man Against the World, Tim Weiner’s look at the life and political career of Richard Nixon.
- David McCullough has a look at The Wright Brothers.
- Jeff Shaara’s The Fateful Lightning, the final book in his Civil War trilogy.
- Neal Stephenson speculates on what would happen if we knew when the world was going to end in his new novel, Seveneves.
- Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, about the sinking of the Lusitania, is out tomorrow.
- Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, the prequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, comes out on July 14.
- And Sue Grafton is up to the letter X in her Kinsey Milhone private-eye series, and the new novel, actually titled X, will be released on August 25.
Oh, and if you do want something you don’t have to think about that much, the newest Fifty Shades of Grey book came out yesterday.
Today is National Martini Day
Sure, you could make the classic James Bond martini, but the original martini was made with gin. You can also try a Dirty Martini, a Chocolate Martini, or an Earl Grey Martini, made with Earl Grey tea.
You could try a variation on the martini, created by Bond himself in the 1953 novel Casino Royale (and in the 2006 movie of the same name). It’s called the Vesper, named after Vesper Lynd, the woman Bond works with in the story.
Like his traditional martini, it’s shaken, not stirred.
Upcoming Anniversaries and Events
Father’s Day (June 21)
It’s this Sunday, so don’t forget! There’s even an official Father’s Day website set up by the U.S. government.
U.S. Constitution ratified (June 21, 1788)
Wikipedia has a detailed timeline on how the Constitution was drafted and ratified, including pictures of the original document.
President Franklin Roosevelt signs the G.I. Bill (June 22, 1944)
SEP Archives Director Jeff Nilsson has a look at the bill FDR signed during World War II, originally called the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act.
George Orwell born (June 25, 1903)
The Guardian has an intriguing look at how Orwell’s classic novel 1984 was written.
Pearl Buck born (June 26, 1892)
You can read Buck’s most famous novel The Good Earth for free at the Internet Archive.
President Truman orders troops to Korea (June 27, 1950)
The New York Times On This Day section has the front page story on Truman’s ordering of U.S. troops to Korea.
“Mom, how was Grampa today?”
“Well, Jake, he’s not feeling too well.”
“Does he have a cold?”
“No,” answered Jacob’s mother as she pulled the comforter up to his chin. “No, he has a different kind of illness.”
“Like the flu?” Jacob’s eyes were wide as he watched his mother in the low light.
“He has trouble remembering things. Sometimes he forgets where he is. Other times he forgets peoples’ names…”
“Does he forget your name, Mom?”
“Sometimes, yes.” Jacob’s mother got up from the edge of the bed and stooped by the door to switch on the fish nightlight. A dull glow fought to be seen, then won the battle when the ceiling light turned off, sending a long shadow across the bed as Jacob’s mother walked over to his small desk.
“How can he forget a name like Mom?”
“I don’t know how he forgets. Some people just forget when they grow older.”
“Oh.” Jacob watched as his mother tidied up his desktop and put his folders into his backpack. She plucked from one of the pockets a plastic pencil sharpener which she popped open over the trash can, tapping the side to release the day’s shavings.
“Will you tell me a story about Grampa?”
“Maybe another night.”
“Please.” Jacob shuffled beneath the blankets, acting restless to get his mother’s attention.
“Will you tell me one about when he was your dad?”
“He still is my dad, Jacob.” The blankets were straightened once more.
“I mean when you were a little girl.”
“Maybe if you tell me, I can remember it for Grampa.” Jacob’s mother sat back down on the bed and brushed the hair from his forehead before folding her hands in her lap. Her face bore the sadness of her father; the sweetness of her son.
“Well, I guess I can tell you one quick story. You know the old playhouse at Grandma and Grampa’s house? The one where Goliath lived?”
“Yeah,” Jacob’s face lit up at the name of the Rottweiler.
“Well, when your aunts and I were little girls, I guess I was about 5, Grampa told us he was going to build us our very own log cabin. It was going to have real windows and a door, which locked and a shelf inside for each of us. He had already built us a little table with chairs, and we were all so excited that we could finally have tea in our own little cottage with our own little garden beside. Well, one Sunday Grandma took us to church, and we stopped at my grandma’s house and ate lunch before going home. When we got home, Grampa had all four walls up and the roof nearly done.”
“Grampa didn’t go to church?” Jacob asked.
“No,” his mother replied, “Grampa didn’t go to church back then.”
“Was he Jewish?”
“Why would you think Grampa was Jewish?”
Jacob thought for a minute, then answered with, “David Schneider is Jewish and he doesn’t go to church. He goes to a temple.”
“Oh, I see. No, Grampa wasn’t Jewish like David Schneider.”
“Did he believe in God?”
“Yes. He just didn’t go to church.”
“Would you like me to finish the story?” his mother asked.
“Okay. Anyway, Grampa had the roof nearly done, and we wanted to go inside and start playing. He told us we had to wait in the house because there could be nails on the ground and he didn’t want us stepping on them. I think he really just wanted to be alone while he worked.” Jacob’s mother looked down at him, snuggled up under the covers.
“So, we went inside as we were told and stood at the back window and watched as he nailed shingles onto the plywood roof. It was so exciting to see that little house coming together. The three of us standing there felt as princesses about to get our very own castle. We watched and waited and soon the door was up, then the windows. When he finished hanging planter boxes in front of the windows, Grampa gathered up his tools and put them back in the garage. Returning, he got down on his hands and knees and picked up any errant nail or splinter he could find. He made his way around the corner of our little log cabin, and we stood there thinking he would jump out and tell us we could come out and play. What happened instead was Grampa came running from behind the cabin doing a strange dance.”
“What happened? Why was he dancing?” Jacob’s eyes, tired as he was, grew wider upon hearing that his grandfather would do anything so wild and untamed.
“Well, Grampa danced around and kicked up dirt and was hootin’ and hollerin’ and swatting his legs. Gramma ran out from the kitchen just before he trampled her vegetable garden. Grandma swatted Grampa’s legs, too, and then Grampa ripped his shirt clean off. We couldn’t see what the problem was from the window, but he was covered in ants. He kicked off his pants and the two of them whirled about as they slapped and swatted and swiped until every last ant was off of him. We had never seen anything like it. We ran to the kitchen door as Grandma and Grampa came in; his legs were covered with red bumps, and he was out of breath. Grandma plopped him down in his seat at the table and fetched him a glass of lemonade.”
“What happened next?” Jacob asked. “Was Grampa okay?”
“Being Grampa, he shrugged off what had to be a lot of pain and discomfort and he went back to the bedroom and threw on some fresh, ant-free clothes before heading down to the barn for something to spray on the ants. Again, playtime was delayed. Grandma didn’t want us getting covered in bug killer.
“A couple hours later, though, when Grandma was doing laundry, Grampa ushered the three of us out to our cabin. We were so excited to see the inside. He had even hung up a couple of pictures for us. Grampa could only stand up without hitting his head on the ceiling in the center of the cabin, but the table he made sat there, so he had to stoop when he was inside. We invited him to tea and he accepted our invitation. We had so much fun as he told us about the ants from his point-of-view. Hearing him tell it, you would have thought it was a comedy act.”
“I wish Grampa could remember that story.”
“Me, too, Jake. He wasn’t having fun when all those ants were biting him, but he told that story every chance he got. It’s not everyday you get ants in your pants.”
Jacob lay there with his head sunk into the pillow as his mother reminisced. She placed her hands on the bed, about to get up, when Jacob spoke.
“Was Grampa always nice before he got sick?”
“He was like any dad, I guess. He was as kind and loving as they come. He spoiled us and made gifts for us in his workshop, and he helped us with our homework. He could be stern, too, if he needed to be. He was a good dad.”
“Was he like Dad?” Jacob rolled onto his side.
“In many ways, yes. In other ways, they are completely different.”
“What ways are they different?”
“Well, your Grampa could play instruments.”
“Dad can’t play any.”
“That’s true now, though your dad played the trombone all the way through high school.”
“Yes. I think that was one of the things Grampa liked about your dad when we first started dating. He thought a man should be able to read and play music.”
“What did Grampa play?”
“Oh, there was the harmonica and the banjo and the mandolin and the piano and, my favorite, the fiddle.” Jacob’s mother played an invisible violin while she spoke. “He would play at parties and family gatherings. My favorite time was always at Christmas. Every year he and I would put on a little show and we would play Christmas carols and hymns. I would play the piano as accompaniment to his fiddle. That was one of those things I had with my dad that my sisters didn’t. It’s kind of like how you and your dad go hiking and camping, while your sister and your dad have the sailboat.
“Anyway, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Grampa and I would practice together whenever we had the chance. We would play for hours some days. Christmas Eve, though, was our big concert. All of the family from all over would come for dinner, and we would play afterward and people would dance and sing along. Even with so many people there, I still had my dad all to myself. Those few weeks every year of practicing together, and that one night performance, are my favorite memories of Grampa.”
Jacob’s mother looked sad and tired as she bent to kiss his forehead. She gave his blankets one last adjustment, and stood up to leave.
“It’s time for you to get to sleep.”
“But, Mom,” Jake paused, waiting for his mother to turn around in the doorway. “I think Grampa will be happy that we won’t forget his stories.”
“Me, too, Jake. Me, too.”
The news from Europe stunned America: On June 22, 1940, France surrendered to Germany.
Just six weeks earlier, Nazi Germany had sent its army into Holland and Belgium. In response, the French army moved north to meet the German advance, and British troops joined the fight. But by June 15, the Germans were marching into Paris. Six days later, the French government signed an armistice with the Nazis.
Americans wondered how this could be. They recalled how during the Great War 25 years earlier, France and Great Britain had stopped an invading German army. The two Allied forces pinned the Germans on a battle line 450 miles long for four years. And despite losing over a million soldiers, France ultimately defeated Germany.
But now, in this new war, Germany’s army pushed Britain’s army all the way back to the English Channel. The British only escaped capture when a hastily assembled fleet of 800 boats withdrew them to England.
Now alone, France struggled on, hoping to avoid the fate of Poland, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Holland, and Belgium. But on June 22, France, too, surrendered to Germany.
In the U.S., the Nazi’s swift victory caused many to reconsider their neutrality. Dismissing the Nazi threat was easy when they presumed France and Great Britain would stop Hitler. But now, with France occupied, one less nation stood between the U.S. and Germany. Great Britain remained defiant and free, but many Americans thought the country had little chance of surviving.
So what had happened to the French?
Post contributor Demaree Bess was in Paris, looking for an explanation. He didn’t find many answers. He didn’t find many Parisians, either. The government fled the capital, along with much of the city’s population. In “With Their Hands in Their Pocket,” Bess describes his days in an eerily empty city awaiting the German conquerors.
Today, you can find several explanations for the French defeat. The most obvious, of course, is the German army, which spent 20 years preparing for the second great war.
When World War I ended, Germany was left with little food, rampant inflation, a government in chaos, and crippling penalties imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. In their grief and anger, many Germans found it easy to believe the myth that Germany had been betrayed by treacherous Germans. As Germans loudly demanded the right to re-arm their nation, the German military began secretly training the next generation of warriors. Given time, training, and weapons, Germany could return to France and defeat it.
Meanwhile, across the border in France, there was no interest in more war. The French found little pleasure in their victory, which they’d purchased at the cost of 1.3 million dead. The nation went back to work, but this proved difficult with so many men missing.
The French government in these years poorly served their citizens. Bitterly divided by political factions, France proved unable to develop an effective policy for national defense. However, it built a massive military structure in anticipation of the next war. It has become the symbol of narrow-minded planning.
It was the Maginot Line; a system of forts, bunkers, and observation posts along the border it shared with Germany. When completed, these hundreds of buildings were considered the most advanced fortifications ever built. France believed the line was impregnable; the country no longer needed to fear German invasion.
Unfortunately, the line left two entry points wide open. At its northern end, its defenses ended where the French border entered the Ardennes Forest. French authorities believed no defense was needed in this area because rivers, broken ground, dense woods, and winding roads made the Ardennes impassible to a modern, mechanized army.
Beyond the Ardenne lay the border with Belgium. The French didn’t extend the Maginot Line into this area because they had a mutual-defense treaty with the Belgians. If Germany invaded Belgium, the French army would cross the border to fight alongside their allies. But as war approached, Belgium declared its neutrality. Hastily, the French and British began extending the Maginot Line to the coast.
On May 10 as French and British troops rushed into Belgium to engage the Germans, another German army group, with a million men and 1,500 tanks, rolled through the impassable Ardennes Forest to strike at the rear of the Allies. The end came soon afterward.
Today some Americans firmly believe France was defeated because it simply did not defend itself. The French army, for the most part, simply surrendered when they saw the Germans. The accusation is conveniently revived whenever Franco-American relations turn hostile.
The problem with the French-didn’t-fight theory is that it doesn’t explain the 290,000 French soldiers who were killed or wounded in only six weeks of fighting.