Snowy Origin of Grocery Hoarding Panic


American Graffiti was on TV for the very first time on a Sunday night in February, 1979. The next day was President’s Day, originally a school holiday but restored to the calendar because we already had missed some dozen days for snow that winter. The scroll across the bottom of the screen reminded us of a “Winter Weather Advisory” and that 2 to 4 inches had been forecast to fall overnight.

It was snowing a little as I went to bed (wishing to meet someone like Cindy Williams, Ron Howard’s girlfriend in the film), and I woke up in the morning to find (rather than over two inches), over two feet!


School was closed all week-long, and with the low-slung passenger cars popular at that time, we and everyone else around were literally snowbound at home for many days.


A full five days later, a plow finally came down our street, bearing the logo of a County roads department a couple of hundred miles south of us. They had come to help. I still remember the brand new song, by the brand new music group, I heard on the car radio when I finally could drive again.  Songs stamp moments in time, you know.


This “President’s Day Snowstorm” in Baltimore and its consequent snowbound conditions spawned an ongoing local tradition of milk, eggs, bread and toilet paper flying off the grocery store shelves if it is cloudy and below 40 degrees.


People remember being stuck at home without french toast ingredients and personal hygiene products, and vowed never again. Sort of like the Baltimore Colts suddenly and dramatically moving away to Indianapolis, the memory of this indignity and challenge remains fresh, until we all are in the ground.


So that tradition of grocery store depletions of these commodities was born right here and right then, and this (just being stuck at home for several days without the capability to make french toast) is just why.


Now the best part of the story unfolded some weeks later. I was a graduating high school senior in 1979, with a pre-scheduled graduation scheduled the week after Memorial Day. For us, the last day of class was May 31st.


When Baltimore County announced the extension of the school year into the last week of June to make up all the missed snow days, we were 100% exempt from that as we had graduated four weeks earlier. We let our younger siblings “enjoy” (with taunts) the misery of snow make-up days deep into summer, while we went on for some measure of an American Graffiti experience on our own.

snow day

Immigration & The Wall; Facts Please?


So having had the obligatory Chinese dinner on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day found my analytical brain pondering the motivations for the governmental shutdown, The Wall, and more broadly, the alleged perils posed by immigrants.  Endeavoring not to be biased regarding the purported need to defend my safety, security and nest egg, I wielded the foremost weapon of truth at my immediate disposal:  the Google search.


I started by Googling “statistics illegal immigration crime border wall”, to see if facts and/or scholarly accounts support (or otherwise discuss) some sort of causal correlation between illegal immigration and crime, or at least violent crime.  I restricted the results to the last 90 days, then the last 30 days, after the all-time results were unsupportive of the President’s basic contention.  I changed up the search words, but the finding was inescapable.


The readily available facts do not support the President’s argument that illegal immigrants are people to be feared and loathed. Articles within the last 90 days in such centrist publications as “Business Insider“,  “The Sociological Quarterly“, “The CATO Institute” and the emag “Politico” failed to demonstrate or present any facts in support of the President’s premise.  In fact, as laid bare in the hyperlinked articles, the opposite seems true, at least statistically.
Still seeking to give a President and his Administration the benefit of the doubt, I used my Googling skills to dig further. Trying not to be pejorative about it, I Googled “Evidence supporting Trump border wall necessity.”  I tried that over different date ranges too. A December 11, 2018 Washington Post op-ed summed up the collective upshot of some half-dozen scholarly articles published within the last 30 days, that no facts exist to support the basic contention that illegal immigrants brng an increase in crime and other sociological ills.

I know that some allege that President Trump’s views originate from thinly veiled racism and xenophobia.  Google searches with those words yield rich rewards and many cogent interpretations.  Many people apparently have written about his alleged racism and/or xenophobia. Fairness and balance are hard to find with those words in the search, though I did try articles saying he was not a racist or xenophobe.

Back to the wall.  I am not and never will be a politician.  I do not viscerally understand political promises, their importance and the failure of their lack of fulfillment in the eyes of one’s supporters.  Seemingly the Trump campaign promise of a border wall remains important to certain members of the conservative media and thus, to him.  For otherwise, his position has not been logically supported and defended with any facts I can find in a Google search.


Facts I can find.  Via a Google search.  Yeah, maybe I have a wee methodology problem.  So tonight, I innocently asked my family at dinner, “Do you think a Google search is intrinsically politically biased?”  I got a resounding chorus of, “Have you had your head in the sand?  It’s a common allegation by the President and his political allies.”  So circular as it may be, I set about to Googling the bias of a Google search.
“Is Google biased?”, sure enough, returned a plethora of web sites, articles, views and opinions.  Sifting through might be the topic for another blog. For now, my son’s view (he is a Computer Science major) seems fair enough: Google searches reflect the cross-section of their user population.  People who search on Google may be younger and more educated, and therefore possibly more liberal, than society as a whole. Maybe.


Meanwhile, we still have a government shutdown over an expensive political promise not kept, given that Mexico will not pay for it after all. Alas.



Lifelong Love-Affair

Psychologists say that our earliest childhood memories usually are lost to the sepia tones of time, or through a process called “childhood amnesia” that relates to the relatively slow development of the part of the human brain that we use for long-term memory. 

childhood amnesia

That said, now age 57, I have long possessed snippets of memories (not reconstructed from stories or photos, but actual memories) from my third year and even one from late in my second year.

childhood 2

In the early 60s, my parents were technological trend-setters (I imagine my sister’s giggles as I type this), but there was a time when our 19-inch black-and-white Philco  console TV, complete with round screen and feet, was one of the better sets in the neighborhood.  As such, our next door neighbors came over to watch the JFK funeral procession in our living room.


This was an indelible memory for me because the Saturday morning telecast preempted my cartoons, and because I was not allowed to play on the floor in front of the TV. See, as the oldest child at the age of 2 1/2, my universe was my playground, which included the fraying gray carpet in front of the Philco.  I was displeased to say the least, and I do remember this.


Many of my early childhood memories were of pieces of vacations, astronaut missions and Orioles baseball.  I grew up an ardent, avid, passionate (some would say obsessed) baseball fan. The 60’s and 70’s were good times to be a baseball fan in the Baltimore area – that was the Golden Age of the Orioles to be certain. Broadly we took winning for granted; losing was uncommon and inexplicable.


Whether we finished with a World Championship or not, we just knew we possessed the best team in all of baseball. Statistics – “w’s” and “l’s” proved it, generally over the period 1960-85. By the time I hit adulthood, I had amassed quite a large collection of World Series tickets from games I actually attended and seats in which I actually sat. The Orioles have never lost a World Series game with me in the stands. Of course, I took it all for granted.


Many of these experiences and recollections were the basis of a lifetime of positive memories associated with baseball and my Dad. My parents gave me my own radio for my own room for my birthday in perhaps 1965, at the age of four. We would listen to spring training games from Florida. By the time the season started, I knew the names of all of the players on the 1965 Orioles, and many of the opposing stars on other teams.


Through the 1960s and 1970s, I must have listened to between 120 and 150 games per season on the radio.  Chuck and (later) Bill O’Donnell were the background soundtrack of every childhood memory from elementary school onward. In 1966, my Dad took me to the first Orioles game I recall; it also was Game 4 of the World Series.


I was 5 years old, and all I really remember about the experience was the popcorn megaphone.  I did understand that it was special, especially when regular people ran onto the field afterward.  We were in the lower deck and could have, but Dad’s fatherhood instinct kicked in and he said “Don’t even think about it.”


Though I attended that game, being five years old my recollections are fuzzy at best. The real dawn of my baseball fandom came the following year.   Injuries and cockiness had doomed our championship defense but the American League pennant race (one league, no divisions) was one for the ages. Dad would make breakfast in our house on Sunday mornings, and on that last Sunday of September, French toast (swimming in real maple syrup – yum) was on the menu. Dad sliced my piece into quarters. He named each of them “Boston”, “Minnesota” , “Detroit” and “Chicago.”


By sliding those quarters around through their ocean of syrup, he proceeded to patiently illustrate the two-way and three-way ties and tie-breaker playoffs that still were possible going into that last day of the regular season. I was hooked! (on the syrup too).


I woke up the next day and asked Dad what had happened (one of the west-coast double-headers had concluded after my bedtime). He said “A man called Yaz…”. Baseball fans, you know that Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox went 7 for 8 in their double-header and propelled Boston to their “Impossible Dream” World Series…

red sox

Dad and I attended World Series games in 1969 (Game 1 vs. the Mets – the only one we won), Game 5 vs. Cincinnati (and another championship winning game and another time that running onto the field was a parental no-no) and two games in 1971 (Games 1 and 6).


I was personally undefeated at World Series games as a fan, but for reasons still inexplicable, in 1979 I judged college more important than the Series, did not drive up from College Park despite having a car, and you all now realize that I am personally to blame for that “We are Family” defeat at the hands of the Pirates.


By the time the 1983 World Series rolled around, Dad was ill (he had both a stroke and a heart attack in 1980) and the Orioles were still great, family health concerns notwithstanding. I had not gotten playoff or World Series tickets in Baltimore, as my name was not drawn out of a hat (which is how the Orioles allocated tickets, then).


I also was not living in Baltimore, as I was attending graduate school at the time in Newark, Delaware, which is between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Both the Orioles and the Phillies were in their league’s respective playoffs, but Newark is much more Phillies territory than O’s territory.


I had traveled home on an October Saturday to watch Game 4 of the ALCS with Dad, and together we saw Tito Landrum hit a dramatic pinch-hit home run late in the game to beat the White Sox and propel us to yet another World Series.


That evening, as I was driving up I-95 (the Kennedy Highway) back to Newark, I was listing to the NLCS game on the car radio. The Phillies announcer said “This again is a reminder that World Series tickets to games 3, 4 and 5 will go on sale at the Veterans Stadium box office immediately following the conclusion of tonight’s game, should the Phillies hold on and win. A plan formed…


I stopped at Wilmington Trust, withdrew all the money I had to my name ($100) from the (brand new at that time) ATM machine and proceeded to drive to Philly. I reasoned that if I could find the Goodyear Blimp I could find the stadium, which worked. I got in the longest line in the universe, bought four tickets at 4:30AM (two for game four and two for game five- nosebleed seats at $25 each – face value in 1983) and called Dad to let him know that this time I was taking HIM to the World Series.


A week later we both were in attendance to see the magic in person, once again. I wore my black-and-orange “Tonight Let it Be Lowenstein” sweatshirt. It was surreal and a wonderful memory I will always have. I bought season tickets in 1984 and have had them since, vowing never again to be shut out of at-home World Series tickets. I guess that joke remains on me.



Dad’s been gone for more than a quarter century now and a new generation of Orioles fans exist in our house, possessing some of his DNA.  For them, the defining moment of their fandom has been and remains “Delmon’s Double.”


Of course, this was when pinch-hitter Delmon Young cleared the basis in a thrilling comeback in Game 2 of the 2014 American League Division Series. I used to plan that one day I would take them to a World Series game at Camden Yards.  That seems no time soon, after a near miss in 2014. At least, I hope I’m still around when they take me.


Betting on Better Bed-Buying

Few industries are more full of customer confusion, deception and trickery than bedding sales.  We try to venture into a mattress store as little as possible.  In fact, when last we visited one it was for a “Y2K” sale. January 1, 2000 found us buying a mattress to replace a waterbed that had sprung leaks thanks to the claws of an aggressive and somewhat mean-spirited cat.
Despite advertised so-called sales, on that first day of new millennium we needed a new mattress and felt the sharp salesman had far too much of the upper hand.  The terminology required an insider’s knowledge to ferret fact from fiction, the names of the manufacturers all sounded similar (they all started with “S” like “sleep”) and up-selling and other pressurizing tactics ruled the day.  We swore we would never buy a mattress again.
Nearly 18 years later, we slowly reasoned that our now-aging Triple-S-Sensual-Sleep-Slumberland-Supreme no longer owed us anything.  For one thing, it no longer seemed all that rectangular, in part because we may have been lazy about occasionally flipping it as suggested. We recalled our foreboding sense of “gotcha” at the mattress store two decades previously and reasoned there had to be a better way.
Consumer Reports (which covers only cars more extensively than mattresses) affirmed the accuracy of our worst nightmares: trickery, thievery and buyer deception abound in a yesteryear industry chock full of sharp, commissioned salespeople desperate to hit the quota that qualifies them for the cruise (or whatever). Comparison shopping on price, store-to-store, is all but impossible because model names and numbers change for the deliberate purpose of thwarting such efforts.  Worse, many times the mattress one picks on the showroom floor and the one that arrives at your home differ in materials, workmanship, durability, feel, etc. (with no way to prove it).


Consumer Reports also advised that it is both possible and increasingly popular to buy bedding online.  Before you say “How can I buy a bed without flopping myself onto it in the mattress store,” rarely do you get the time to really experience how it might be, the mattresses on the showroom floor may differ from the ones delivered to your home, and at the store you have the salesman pressure as well as the press of other customers hurry your decision.  Trying it in the store simply does not provide the objective insight one thinks.
Online direct-to-consumer manufacturers also can provide a higher-quality mattress at less cost because the costs of floor planning inventory, bricks-and-mortar rent, on-premises sales staff and the like are not built into the price. There are many, and the reviews are right-on-top-of-one-another, scores-wise. After much research online, we came to select the Ghost Bed Luxe.
Now why there are competing on-line brands “Ghost Bed” and “Casper” (as in the “friendly ghost”) is something it probably takes an industry insider to know; my patience stopped before researching this unlikely coincidence. Later I learned that several of the e-commerce bedding manufacturers have been warring with one another legally – see Casper Sues the Friendly Ghost? No matter, three days after completing the online purchase (with the very helpful chat box person, who steered me to certain unpublished promotions which lessened the cost some $150), our Ghost Bed arrived.

ghost bed

Though Queen Bed in size, somehow the air within its memory foam had been evacuated for shipping.  It came in a box (an 89 pound box) about the size of two cases of office copy paper.  Inside the box was the bed, tightly wrapped in much heavy plastic.  We positioned the bed where it would be (atop our existing box spring), cut the plastic wrapping and watched a miraculous re-inflation process (now I know how those under-seat life preservers work on airplanes). In a minute or two, the mattress was 8 or 10 times its volume, within an hour it was over 95% full size, and in less than 24 hours was full size and firmness.  Looking at it, sitting, lying or sleeping on it, you simply never would know it was shipped compressed like that.
A few nights ago, our Ghost Bed had its maiden voyage. We are total fans. Summer will tell whether its embedded cooling gel makes it cooler to sleep on, but we believe the advertising.  So yes, you can safely and confidently buy bedding online. Total fan; overslept as evidence. We heartily recommend Ghost Bed (both Luxe model and not) if you are in the market for a new mattress. The pillows (made of the same synthetic marshmallow-like fluff) are outstanding too.

ghost pillow.JPG

Big Brother is Selling All Day, Every Day

The internet truly is a wondrous invention; nearly all of us owe a continuing debt to Al Gore for having invented it in the first place.


Many of us realize that not only is it a means to research and gather information about news, interests, activities and hobbies, but also it is handy for any distraction from shopping to reading books, magazines, editorials and (as was the case for me yesterday), everything from a curiosity about what happened to the venerable hotels of the “Borscht Belt” in the Catskills  – some have reopened as religious retreats – , to whether the F-14 Tomcat of “Top Gun” fame still is in active service as a military jet fighter (overseas yes, but here, no).

tomcat So at some point yesterday afternoon, I was Googling reviews of Broadway shows.  Specifically, one called “On Your Feet” which is supposed to be a biographical musical of Gloria Estefan. Not so much a fan the first time around, her music captivated me as the background soundtrack to one of my favorite all-time Disney World attractions; the Enchanted Tiki Room (which I understand now to be gone). The whole skit by the Tiki Bird animatronic puppets was set to her music, including Conga, One-Two-Three, Turn the Beat Around, etc.   It was a special time-and-place for this then 43-year-old little boy.


So “On Your Feet” is coming to the Kennedy Center, and thought about getting tickets.  However, I wanted to read a review of the show. I clicked through from my Google search, onto a review of the Broadway version of the show, on the New York Times web site, from two years ago.  Well, one of those “the internet is not as free as you were led to believe” things happened, and my review-reading was interrupted by a splash screen asking me to subscribe to the New York Times. Hmm…
Now I knew that I could dump my cookies and clear my cache and restart that NYT cookie counter, but doing so usually is a pain because you have to log back into some half dozen or whatever web pages I use regularly (WordPress, here, among them).  So while contemplating whether to bother going through all of that, I read the Times advertising come-on, which presented the following subscription options:

  1. I could pay $8 per month for a basic NYT subscription, which would entitle me to articles and whatnot, but not their crossword puzzle or recipes.  Already I am a paid subscriber to online Washington Post (also $8 per month or so) and enjoy it; I also believe that people who work at the paper deserve a roof over their heads and the capability to pay for housing. So I knew $8 was not out of line, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted the puzzle and recipes too, so I read on.
  2. I ALSO could spend only $8 a month and get the puzzles and recipes included.  This was the NYT “Black Friday Special”, which came with its very own asterisk.  I was intrigued for a moment, as this seemed like a better value. Of course, I also knew that asterisks can be bad, as anyone who ever has read a car dealership ad knows.  So I searched for the asterisk and its fine print.  I found that $8/month would balloon to $27 a month, automatically and without telling me, once a year (at $8 per month) was complete.  Of course, I could “cancel anytime”, if I remembered to and figured out how.

bait and switch

It did not take long to feel that I hated gimmicky intro ads. What I quickly realized too, was that I simply expected more from the New York Times than such a transparent call-to-action. I was reminded of the Columbia House record club, for which I always had distaste.
columbia house
Never having even begun to place an online order (no user name, password, email address, etc.), and I closed that tab and left the web site of the New York Times, my purpose (to read their review of “On Your Feet” unfulfilled). I thought that the episode of my being marketed to by the Old Gray Lady of the news media was concluded the moment I closed that tab in Chrome.  I was, um, wrong.

gray lady

Wouldn’t you know it, but bright and early this morning I was greeted with an unsolicited email from the circulation and subscription desk of the New York Times.  Seems they noticed that I had an “uncompleted order” and they were here (in cyberspace) to help separate me from my money via email, online chat or telephone.

Mind you, once again, I offered no self-identification or contact information of any sort.  They just “knew” it was me. Um, I should not really be surprised, but still, wow.

buy now

I believe that my active Google account must be the culprit, but its too inconvenient to spend my life in incognito mode, online.  So I have acquiesced to the reality that every time I touch a button or click on a link, 192,463 different guys (no doubt all living in someplace like Mumbai and all named Patel) are adding me to yet another database they then endeavor to sell to companies worldwide for 5,000,000 names per rupee (2,200,000 per rupee if accompanied by a live email address).  Sadly, it’s either to accept this uncomfortable reality than to actively fight against it.

I never did read that review.  But I still think On Your Feet might be a good one to see.


Small Business Health Insurance Jenga

Every year our business faces its version of open enrollment. Every year the cost of providing health insurance to our employees rises a few percent, which we always chalked off as the cost of doing business. Many things go up a few percent a year.
This year seems different and not in a good way. A couple of weeks ago I learned that if we do nothing (in terms of changing companies, policies, how-much-the-company-pays and the like), our cost will go up by over 11%. A little of that is aging, but a lot of that is well, both political and the fact that the insurers have us all by the you-know-what.stress

So within the little part of the insurance universe that we actually control, all 3,000ish square feet of it, we set about somehow limiting the damage to our employees, their dependents and ourselves. Screaming at Congress was quickly found to be ineffective, and hollering at our insurance carrier was met only with profit-glazed giggles. They know they have won. The only question is, by how much.


Armed with spreadsheets and some out-of-the-box thinking, this morning we unveiled a new set of company policies, practices and explained in detail, their underlying rationale. Rather than hoots, hollers and a flurry of resignation letters, the discussion went quite well. Looks like I lucked into the ’employer mensch” award once again with the following:

boss cup

1. Sticking with the traditional Blues. We’re not rocking employees’ worlds by making them find new doctors and other health care providers.


2. Offering a cafeteria of plans, which the Blues call “Bronze” up through “Platinum” like Olympic Medals. Getting past the gallows humor that they should be called things like “transparent” and “wiffle ball” for what they seemingly do not cover, employees like choice and I like not making theirs for them.


3.  We did away with all the silly formulas that determined employer contribution and payroll deduction.  No longer is how much anyone does or does not pay dependent on their marital status, the color of their car, the phases of the moon or which plan they deign to choose.  There is one variable, that is fair, equitable and objective and it works like this:

As the employer, we pay a certain fixed percentage of your gross pay toward your health insurance.  If you choose an affordable plan, our contribution covers most.  If you choose a lavish plan, our contribution helps some, but payroll deduction makes up the difference.  That percentage is the same for all employees.


So far, no one has rushed to quit, scream or stage a sit-in by the coffee pot.  As the employer, we have certainty of expense, and perhaps, a relatively happy work force. It easily could have been worse. Maybe we’ve dodged this bullet for one more year.



The “Monopoly” Approach to the Federal Budget


Like perhaps many of us, I played a lot of “Monopoly” as a kid.  For the fat part of my personal bell-shaped curve of board-game playing (perhaps ages 8 to 13 or so), it was my favorite game.  Of course, my friends and I thought it was only a game and not a metaphor for real-life adult decision-making we make as individuals, business owners or even governments.  Well, it was, it was and it was.  Big time.


Playing exactly as the rules stated resulted in long and occasionally boring games.  The chief reason for this was inadequate cash flow for all players.  Properties, utilities, mortgaging and home construction all cost money.  Sometimes they cost a lot of money and one had to make tough but judicious decisions, not unlike a how a family lives within its budget without going into credit card debt.  There were no millionaires and usually no paupers, until boredom or the hour prompted deliberate reckless playing just to force a conclusion.


We came to experiment with the rules of Monopoly.  This might be like rewriting the tax-code or having Congress pass an entitlement mandate bill, metaphorically speaking. We did not understand or bother thinking about the consequence of our rules alteration, but we catered to our base instincts (which usually meant finding ways to infuse more cash into the game). The most obvious of these, known to many, is the “Free Parking” rule. There was a crispy, goldenrod $500 for whomever landed there, for doing nothing!  The state lottery had come to Monopoly.


We came to modify the rules further, again in the interest of wildly accumulating wealth without concern for the consequences.  We waived mortgage interest, real estate taxes and the various other niggling rules that generally required some form of Math higher than adding the pips on two dice.  These rules were deflationary, and their absence increased income.  For everyone, including for the Monopoly holders.


Monopoly came to teach us to be careful what we wished for, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Quick rises in earnings made it possible to purchase and construct houses before the conventional rules otherwise would permit because of the game’s intrinsic cash flow limitations.  This was the 2000’s real estate bubble, of course.


In time, we were infusing the game with so much capital because we were tinkering with the rules.  Cash accumulated beyond the wildest dreams of players accustomed to the conventional rules.  Not only did the scads of expensive hotels seem as unsustainable as a pre-hurricane resort, but it placed a real constraint on the money available in the bank.  Players would pass Go and be unable to collect $200 because the bank was bankrupt; all of its cash was in play.


So we did exactly what the federal government has done from time to time, when its expenditures greatly exceed its revenues:  we printed more.  We got some goldenrod and canary paper, cut or tore the sheets into Monopoly bill sized rectangles, and within a few minutes, we had infused our economy with more currency.  No muss, no fuss, and not a care in the world for the devaluation of the dollars already in play.


We had cut taxes to the bone (income and luxury tax spaces had other effects), we removed the “Chance” cards (which assessed real estate taxes for street repairs) from the deck, and made other rules customization because PACs and special interests (our own collective greed) trumped all reason and discretion.  Any suggestion to renew limits on income growth was met with howls of derision. We thought we were having fun, but what was lost in these rules modifications was any sense of balance, perspective and compromise.

house rules

We came to assess a tax on ourselves to re-fund the bank.  Recall how each player starts with $1,500?  Our tax was simple:  everyone pays back to the bank half of all holdings greater than $15,000, $1,000 for each owned hotel and $100 for each owned house. Wealthier players paid back more, kind of like our progressive tax code.  No one liked it and the wealthy liked it least of all, but the special tax assessment enabled everyone to keep playing and having fun.


Now from Washington comes stories of plans for tax cuts and corresponding spending increases. I went about trying to find a one-graph, does-it-all illustration of the present tax code and how it works.  I found one online.  It’s far form perfect, but I must admit that I kind of like the tax code as it is, However, the graphic does not illustrate the effect of loopholes, which would be interesting if complicated. I concluded that it would be far easier to mess it up the existing tax code than to effectuate meaningful improvement.


My Monopoly experience teaches that the money has to come from somewhere, if not from the taxpayers themselves, including the wealthiest among us (with the greatest capability to afford taxes without meaningful quality of life impacts). If we are unwilling to tax ourselves sufficiently to “keep money in the bank” (i.e., allow the Federal government to operate), the government merely will print money from the ream of goldenrod paper in Congress’ playroom closet, which will lessen the buying power of all of our bankrolls.


Now some in the White House or Congress may seek to “pay for” the planned tax cuts with sharp slashes to “entitlement spending” on programs such as welfare, Medicaid and social security.  You thought health care reform lacked consensus and resulted in a whole lot of governmental paralysis?  You haven’t experienced the collective, desperate stupidity  of teenage Monopoly players.  It won’t be pretty. I have a better idea.

eat the rich

How to Blow Your Diet for the Super Bowl

I’m quite the fair weather football fan. I am not planning to celebrate, to attend a party or to host one, to even watch the game or otherwise to be even cognizant of who plays or wins until Sports-center at the gym Monday morning. I’m a baseball fan, in case you missed it. Between the end of October and about another month from now, its “wait for baseball.” I’m waiting.

baseball withdrawal.JPG

So Super Bowl Sunday is no more dangerous for me than any other day at home, in the presence of Susan’s delectable cooking. However, if football is your thing and if in your home the Super Bowl is treated like a national and religious holiday all rolled into one (Christmas, raised to the 4th-of-July power or something), I’ve got a recipe for you. Like some say, go big or go home. Here we go:

go big


one 2-ounce bag of original Fritos
Pot of chili, homemade or canned (I am told that Texans swear by Wolf Brand.)
Grated cheddar cheese
Diced white onion

Optional ingredients: sour cream, avocado (as guacamole or otherwise), jalapenos, etc.)


Take a knife or some scissors and split the bag down the front. Leave Fritos in the open bag.
Ladle in a large scoop of chili, making sure to capture as much meat in the ladle as possible.
Top with a mound of cheese (think ice cream scooper) and a heap of onion.
Festoon your creation to your heart’s content with the optional ingredients.


Eat it straight out of the bag, doing so with your fingers is more then permissible.

By the way, eating this mess on a plate (china or paper) is for sissies. Real football fans consume their Frito Pie with their fingers, with the food in their laps perched atop a pile of really cheap paper napkins.

frito pie

Enjoy the game! See you at the gym, Monday morning.



Being Raised With, and By, Television


When I was a baby, my parents very dutifully documented every occurrence in my life and the world around me, in a rag-tag scrapbook they called a “baby book.”  There are lots of black-and-white snapshots documenting those early days, weeks, months and years (in logarithmic fashion, as my Dad tired of being the family photographer). Some of these have stood the test of time well, but many of them less so as the stains from poorly manufactured, yellowed Scotch tape will attest.
There are newspaper clippings about the Orioles (they had pennant aspirations in 1961 with a crew of young pitchers called the “Baby Birds), popular cars (the Ford Thunderbird seemed to catch my Dad’s fancy), fashions (have some plaid with your plaid) and technology’s impact on everyday life.  As Dad documented, “Well, it looks like both air conditioning and television are here to stay.”Television.

baby bird

As the years have gone by, what I have come to cherish the most about this homespun photo-journalistic effort is the narrative written in my Dad’s longhand.  He wrote about television a little bit, and the shows he said we watched together.  I vaguely recall watching Dragnet, The FBI, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  Yep, Dad and I were all about the ABC lineup on Sunday nights.



old tv

The earliest television set (they were called that then) I can recall was a piece of furniture on legs, finished in blondish wood with a round, greenish screen a little larger than a dinner plate.  Manufactured by a long-since-defunct Baltimore company, it had four-detente channel positions:  2, 11, 13 and off.  UHF channels (14 and above) did not yet exist and the TVs of that era did not have the capacity to pull in stations from far-away locales such as Washington DC. Three channels, beaming from the “Candelabra” tower I could see from our driveway, provided more than all the electronic entertainment I ever could want.  Or so I thought.
The television set itself had peculiarities of interest to little boys, not the least of which was learning the magic behind just how they worked.  Mind you, I was the kid who dismantled his etch-a-sketch and got that silver powder all over the floor, in a quest for technical understanding.  The living room television set had an odd backing made of heavy cardboard with little round air holes for ventilation, but the holes were not big enough to see through clearly.  The TV had vacuum tubes and took awhile to warm up, and during that time something magical clearly was happening behind those little round air holes, but the time of being old enough to understand how to remove the screws holding the cardboard in place also meant that I was old enough to read and understand “Electrical shock hazard.  Death may occur…”  I did open the back for many an inspection, but never touched anything.
I vaguely recall that television stations in the early and mid 60s would not necessarily broadcast all day. They would go dark overnight and sometimes even over the mid-day hours.  “Pete the Pirate” would begin the afternoon telecasts on WMAR for example, which did not broadcast between about 10AM and 3PM because, one supposed, that station managers judged that not enough people would be watching to justify the expense.  Yes, it’s true.  Imagine.
test pattern.JPG
By the mid 60s, the big three Baltimore VHF television stations were on the air from roughly 6AM to midnight, and I would be up at 5:30 or 5:45 watching the test pattern, waiting for the Star Spangled Banner and perhaps thereafter, agricultural reports or something called Sunrise Semester.  It did not matter what and little was aimed at a kid audience – I was hooked.
test pattern 11
Despite this childhood fascination, for most families of my peers the television occupied a position of even greater prominence than in my house.  My parents were decidedly not TV-addicted.  They eschewed mainstream televised entertainment for being insufficiently erudite and lacking in overall artistic value and sophistication.  They generally saw the value of news, public affairs programming and once it came along in the 1970s, public television.  My Dad did have a soft spot for cop procedural dramas; Hawaii Five-O was a weekly staple in our house for that reason.
hawaii five-0
As I got a little older it was cartoons, and then standard-fare network-offered sitcoms and dramas. For me the best part of childhood and teenage television watching was the late afternoon daily airing of a Star Trek rerun. Total escapism for teenage boys. Also, staying home from school for a sick day offered an interesting and rare window of TV reruns from about a decade before my personal awareness: sitcoms and dramas from the 1950s and very early 1960s. No matter what was on, the basic kid TV-watching experience was unchanged: few choices, commercials every 15 minutes or so, and one basically did not do anything else while watching TV. It’s how and my generation still remembers ad jingles of the era, unless the commercial afforded a bathroom break.
In the 60s and early 70s, regularly programmed television could be preempted for large news events.  How I came to be a “fan” of NASA and the space program was through preemption of whatever else I was watching for launches, splashdowns, historical achievements and other “special reports.”  Similarly, even through still a pre-teen, television helped make me aware of the Vietnam War, politics and other world events. I remember cartoons being preempted for the JFK funeral and I remember my Mom glued to the set for the Watergate hearings.  Though I now consider myself politically astute and knowledgeable, at the age of 12 nothing was more boring than senatorial hearings on Nixon’s wrongdoings. But nothing else was on.
I became the household expert at various technological skills lost on the present generation such as the vertical and horizontal hold knobs, aiming and tuning VHF and UHF antennae, and most of all, the deft surgical touch needed to tune in narrow-bandwidth UHF channels including the tight beam of the often-evasive but kid-friendly Channel 45. And, of course, if something went wrong, there was that daunting cardboard backing with the little round air holes.
During my teen years my house had two televisions and still relied on over-the-air broadcasts.  The “big TV” was a 19-inch black-and-white in our living room, that had to be watched with the volume low because Dad ran his home-based real-estate business from the adjacent dining room and often would be on the phone with clients. In my parents’ bedroom upstairs was a 12-inch black-and-white set, on which I can recall watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon at an hour otherwise past my bedtime.
Ultimately and sometime during college, I came home for spring break and found that my parents had lost all control of their anti-TV erudite sensibilities and tumbled hard into the late 20th century, television-wise.  There was a 25-inch color television where the 19-inch black-and-white had been, and there was a channel controller on a long black cord that emanated from a cable box on the floor under the TV.  There also was a new piece of furniture for the TV, for the one on its own legs was gone.  I gamely turned it on, spun the dial, found MTV and my television-watching life instantly had changed forever.
Martha Quinn. Rock music. Color TV. Television had grown up and I had too.






Lament of a Recurrent Gout Sufferer

With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, to the tune of “The Sounds of Silence”

Hello gout flare, my old friend
You’ve come to torment me again
Because high purines softly creeping
Crystals formed while I was sleeping
And these crystals that are planted in my toe
Cause me woe
Now I’m limping, in silence


From restless sleep gout woke me up
Wondering on just what I did sup
‘Neath the halo of a nightlight lamp
My diet I would again revamp
When my toes were stabbed by the flash of a gouty ouch
Made me a grouch
I bit my tongue, in silence
And in the bathroom not that I saw
Ten thousand crystals, maybe more
Gout attacking without speaking
Non-sufferers hearing without listening
We’re writing blogs that people never read
No one indeed
Suffer the gouty, in silence
“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Crystals in joints can grow and grow
Hear my words that I might teach you
Cry my toes that I might need you”
But my words, like silent crystals formed
And echoed
In my joints, in silence
And the sufferers bowed and prayed
For a cure for the dismayed
And the gout flashed out its warning
In the crystals that were forming
And the gout said, “The words of the genes are written in DNA
That is the way”
And they laughed, in the toes of silence
(Time to quit my day job? Or to hire a copyright infringement defense attorney?)