Essays & Other Scribbling
Boys and Weather Life and Death on the Toad Farm Cats & Toast
What's in a Container? Everyone Should Have a Computer(?) (updated 2000, 2008 & 2014) Body Count (fiction)
Trans-Mississippi Exposition Stamps The Legend of Coyote 29 and Beautiful
Bluegrass Love What I Do Dead Cat Spotting
Names on TV Shows The Demise of Tower Records   What Cats Eat
Being a Dick TV Plots (11/04) (updated 9/05, 1/07, 9/08 & 5/11) My New Haircut (updated 12/10 and 02/12)

In Tune: For a year or so during 1987 and 1988 I wrote a column about music and records for the employee newsletter at the Fresno County Department of Social Services. This next section contains most of these "In Tune" columns.

The Discovery of Mozart Best Albums of 1987 Trio (Harris, Ronstadt, Parton)
Desert Island Disks   The Musical Rainbow

The Discovery of Mozart

One of the most fascinating sights I have witnessed was that of 13-year old boy, a confirmed fan of Motley Crue and other hard rock groups, completely absorbed in the movie Amadeus. Of course, this fictionalized biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has a compelling storyline, but I like to think that the magic melodies of Mozart played a part in soothing this potentially savage beast.

My own contact with classical music in my early years was very limited. Probably the first things I was aware of were popularized classic themes like Freddy Martin's treatment of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, which was a hit many years ago under the title "Tonight We Love." I also enjoyed Ray Conniff's albums of famous classical themes, Concert in Rhythm Volume I and II in the late '50's. My exposure to these brief samples led me ultimately to seek out the real thing, and over the years I made an occasional purchase, and listened to classical radio stations off and on. Although my classical listening is only a part of my total musical enjoyment, watching "Amadeus" also encouraged me to explore the work of this youthful genius, with delightful results.

Through the crystal clarity of compact discs, I have come to appreciate more than ever the brilliance of the great composers. Although Mozart died at the age of 35, he created hundreds of works, and any major record store will have a large selection. I have found my favorite to be Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and recently I have been listening frequently to his Divertimento for string trio.

If you have occasionally enjoyed the sounds of the classics, but are not yet a serious listener, you may want to explore this fascinating realm of pleasure by starting with something by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.



Best Albums of 1987

A danger of making up a list of the best of anything for 1987 or any year is looking at it two years later and saying to yourself, "Why in the world did I ever put that on the list?" Ever willing to face self-criticism, I present the best records of last year. This is my own personal selection, having nothing to do with commercial or critical success. Also, since I don't always know exactly when something was released, I used a simple test to decide if something belonged in 1987--it's an '87 record if that's when I bought it.

Although these are not listed in any particular order, my best of the best for 1987 has to be Paul Simon's Graceland. A collection of Simon originals that incorporate bits of popular African music and features musicians from several African countries, Graceland was a critical and commercial success, as well as a popular feature on the Showtime cable channel. It reaffirmed Simon's status as one of the finest and most innovative musicians of our time.

Two other commercially successful records this past year were Dwight Yoakam's Hillbilly Deluxe, and Trio, which I discussed in this column during the year. Yoakam has had two hit albums reviving the west coast hillbilly sound best typified in the '50's and '60's by Buck Owens. Trio combined the very major talents of Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris for some sweet country harmony on a collection of songs old and new.

Two big favorites of mine, both very recent acquisitions, will be far less familiar than the first three albums. Sleepy LaBeef has been working the rockabilly circuit since the early days of Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, but never with the kind of success enjoyed by other rock pioneers. His new album Nothin' But the Truth, recorded live, points out how a major talent can be entirely overlooked by the mass market. Sleepy plays simple, basic rock and roll and sings in a deep, powerful voice that probably scares major record label executives away. At this point in his career it's unlikely that he will enjoy a major breakthrough. But if you enjoy this kind of music, check him out.

Another, much younger artist who also has worked mainly in the country/rockabilly area is Joe Ely. His latest, Lord of the Highway, is a slight change of direction, combining a more up-to-date basic rock and roll sound with some slow but no less intense performances.

One other musical event of the past year deserves special mention--the release of the Beatles on compact disc. When properly remixed, performances of the past can attain new life and reveal some amazing sounds that were previously not audible due to the technical limitations inherent in record production at the time they were originally released. Although there has been a lot of negative comment about the fact that the first four discs are in mono, the Beatles CD reissues for the most part take full advantage of what this new technology can do for the music. Abbey Road in particular sounds spectacular. Beatles fans contemplating replacing their worn out LP's with the CDs should be aware that what was issued so far has been the English versions of all the Beatles albums, which do not contain such hits as "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You." However, these are available on good English compilation albums, and if things go as they should, they will also come out on CD.*

If there was a trend in '87 it might have been the lack of any specific trend. Traditional style country music and rock and roll with it's early roots clearly visible enjoyed increasing popularity, and fans of almost every kind of music found more than enough to choose from. Ownership of compact disc players approached the 10 million mark, a situation which has been good for record sales in general, but cassettes and black vinyl LP's do not appear to be candidates for the endangered species list any time in the near future.** Fifty's rock received a major shot in the arm with the giant success of "La Bamba," the Ritchie Valens film biography, but that is likely to be short term since the appeal of the film hinged as much on a strong storyline as it did on the music. It seems likely that music fans can look forward to enjoying as much of their favorite type of music as they want, with sound quality limited only by the individual's budget.


*These missing hits and other goodies became available on two CDs, Past Masters Volume I and II.

**Along with many better known music "experts," I did not foresee the quick demise of vinyl--this traditional record format has been virtually unavailable since about 1990. Although cassette popularity remains strong, CD unit sales took the undisputed lead not long after that. (As of 2012 it's hard to find cassettes or even cassette players sold commercially, but a limited number of vinyl albums are still being released.)

(Original footnotes as of 1994)


Parton, Ronstadt and Harris: a "Trio" Worth Waiting For

Nearly ten years ago music magazines began printing tantalizing items about a joint recording project by Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. The complexities of three busy careers prevented their joint project from getting off the ground until last year, while all three artists enjoyed success in both country and pop recording. The album, entitled "Trio" and released several months ago, was well worth the wait.

Each of these artists has a unique sound, and as expected, each takes lead vocal on several songs. However, all of them have solid credentials as harmony singers, too, and it's when they sing together that this disc takes on its special quality.

The songs are a mix of traditional, such as the old spiritual "Farther Along," plus old and new country and folk compositions, including Jimmie Rodgers' "Hobo's Meditation" and Kate McGarrigle's "I've Had Enough." The overall sound is mellow, traditional country, helped along by prime session pickers like Ry Cooder, David Lindley and Albert Lee.

If you listen to country radio, you're hearing "Telling Me Lies" in the top twenty, but my favorites are "Wildflowers" and "The Pain of Loving You," both written by Parton (the latter with her former singing partner, Porter Wagoner). Every cut on the album is a delight, and the ladies enjoyed the project enough that they're already talking about a follow-up. Let's hope we don't have to wait another ten years!

(July, 1987)

The 1994 update: Well, it's been seven years, and still no Trio II. Recently Dolly Parton joined with Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn to create an album called "Honky Tonk Angels." It'll have to satisfy till she gets together with Harris and Ronstadt again.

The 2000 update: Trio II finally appeared in 1999 (a 12 year wait!) Linda and Emmylou also recorded an album together this year that has received good reviews.


Music for a Desert Island

An English disc jockey is credited with having originated the term, "desert island disc" in the 1960's. Abbreviated to DID's, these are records/tapes/CDs to take if stranded on a desert island--ten albums to get you through a lifetime. A now defunct music publication, Pulse, used to print readers' lists of DID's in its letter section for a couple of years, inspiring me to try to come up with my own choices.

If you're a music fan, the impossibility of selecting ten favorites becomes obvious the minute you try it. I don't think there'd be a problem with getting tired of what you took along. I could easily list ten albums I wouldn't mind hearing once a week--it's the pain of leaving all that other wonderful stuff behind.

Here then, is my list today--in no particular order, subject to change tomorrow, and using only commercially available albums (multiple sets count as one):

CHRISTOPHER HOGWOOD AND THE ACADEMY OF ANCIENT MUSIC: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Mozart) - This ensemble plays authentic antique instruments in the performance style of Mozart's time, a technique that has both fans and detractors. I find it creates a crisp, open sound that helps make this my favorite classical selection.

ELVIS PRESLEY: Elvis' Golden Records - Although this collection does not include any of the great early recordings from Sun Records, it covers the king when he was at his peak, before the army and Las Vegas changed him forever.

NEIL YOUNG: Decade - One of the hardest things about taking only ten records would be leaving behind Neil's classics, Harvest and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. This three-record set includes the best from those albums plus a good sampling of other work by this unique musician.

HANK WILLIAMS SR.: The Great Hits of Hank Williams - The man who wrote the definition of country music for our time.

THE PLATTERS: Golden Hits - The smooth, polished rhythm and blues sound of this group was my introduction to record collecting and to my generation's music as a whole.

EMMYLOU HARRIS: Profile - A greatest hits collection by a singer whose voice fits country, pop and soft rock with equally delightful results.

BOB DYLAN: Biograph - A real bargain for DID list-makers, this three-CD set contains 53 songs--over two and a half hours of entertainment from one of the legends of contemporary music.

JOHNNY MATHIS: The First 25 Years - or maybe I'd choose the CD Sixteen Most Requested Songs. The latter has more of his early hits, but the anniversary album is a double and has a fantastic rendition of "Begin the Beguine."

DAVE BRUBECK: Jazz Impressions of Eurasia -The album that made a jazz fan out of me--with the incomparable saxophone sounds of Paul Desmond.

THE WHO: Who's Next - It's hard to pick a band to represent the best of "second generation" rock and roll. With the Rolling Stones a close second, The Who win out for their incredible use of dynamics.

What? That's ten already? But what about the Beatles, and Flatt & Scruggs, and Tom Petty and Hank Jr., and the Moody Blues and Chuck Berry and Simon & Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers and........


How about a 1994 update? The recent release of a multitude of retrospective, multi-CD packages takes some of the sting out of choosing from an artist's many good single albums. I think everyone on that list except Neil Young and Emmylou Harris have boxed sets available, and they're sure to join this bandwagon. And did I mention the best part about boxed sets? Most individual CDs are around 70 minutes long, nearly twice the length of a typical vinyl record.

Today's list:

HOGWOOD: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

PRESLEY: The King of Rock & Roll - The Complete 50's Masters (5 CDs)...and there's another box set with his recordings of the 60's!

LOS LOBOS: Just Another Band from East L.A. - The best rock & roll band in America today.

MATHIS: A Personal Collection (4 CDs--but sadly without "Begin the Beguine.")

NEIL YOUNG: Decade (but can I wait for the boxed set before I have to go?)

U2: The Joshua Tree - "Alternative" rock joins the list. When I first bought this CD it stayed in my player for a week straight, and I could still listen to it every week.

TOM PETTY: Greatest Hits (or maybe You're Gonna Get It. Make that probably.)

BUCK OWENS: The Buck Owens Collection (3 CDs).

DAVE BRUBECK: Jazz Impressions of Eurasia.

THE PLATTERS: The Magic Touch (2 CDs).

What? That's ten already? But what about REM, and Johnny Cash, and Dwight Yoakam, and Nanci Griffith and Marty Stuart and Joe Ely and Ray Charles and Credence Clearwater and John Prine and.......

Forget it, I'm not going!


Looks like time for another update, jumping ahead an unbelievable 18 years since I last revised this entry. During that time my musical interests have changed - most of my listening now is bluegrass, classic country (1940s through 1960s), and early rock. Still love the Who, Tom Petty, certain jazz and classical artists.

Since taking ten disks or CDs or whatever assumes a device to play them on and power to run it, the problem has been solved for all time if we can take our iPods. But just in case we're limited to ten artists:

HOGWOOD: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

FLATT & SCRUGGS: Flatt & Scruggs 1948-1959 (4 CD Set) (I'd like to pretend that the two other Flatt & Scruggs sets, 1959-63 and 1964-69 are all part of the same set)

MERLE HAGGARD: Down Every Road (4 CDs)

NEIL YOUNG: Decade (STILL no box set!)

DAVE BRUBECK: Jazz Impressions of Eurasia

THE PLATTERS: The Magic Touch (2 CDs)

PRESLEY: The King of Rock & Roll - The Complete 50's Masters (5 CDs)

HANK WILLIAMS: 40 Greatest Hits (A big improvement over the 12-song vinyl)

TOM PETTY: Playback (6 CDs)

MATHIS: A Personal Collection (4 CDs)

Ten already? Again!!?? But what about Ralph Stanley and Jim & Jesse McReynolds and Snap Jackson and Buddy Holly and ....

Forget it...I DEMAND to take my iPod!



The Musical Rainbow

It's round, has a hole in the middle, and stores information that can be converted into sound waves. Otherwise, Compact Discs are very different from the familiar vinyl record album that has dominated the recorded music market for 40 years. Compact discs (CDs), the digital, laser-read recording medium introduced in 1983, mark the most significant advance in music reproduction since the advent of the LP in 1948.

The CD is a thin, aluminum-coated plastic disc, not quite five inches in diameter, that reflects the colors of the rainbow from its tough, smooth surface. In a greatly simplified explanation of CD technology, the musical waveform is sampled thousands of times every second. Each sample is assigned a numeric value, represented by tiny pits molded into the plastic base of the disc (over five billion pits per disc!) A laser beam reflects the presence or absence of pits as it moves across the surface of the disc, and this information is converted by computer logic into electrical signals that are in turn changed to audible sound by the loudspeaker.

Touted as the ultimate in improved sound reproduction, CDs for the most part live up to expectations. It is possible to find some specially-made tapes or LP's that sound as good as a CD made from the same master tape. But CDs have one major advantage over the best vinyl pressing--there is no physical contact between the laser and the disc, eliminating the surface noise and wear problems that have plagued records from their inception. CDs are much more resistant to damage from handling, dust or scratches than any vinyl disc.

Consider the lack of any background noise, better better stereo separation, and a greater dynamic range, and the sonic advantages of the CD become clear. Another important feature for most users is the ability to program the playing of selected tracks from the disc. A few simple touches of the correct buttons allow you to play any desired selections on a disc, in any order. One company sells a player which an be programmed to "remember" your favorite selections from each of over 700 discs. Another model holds five discs, and allows you to program selections from all five in any desired order.

The CD format's one true disadvantage is expense. The discs currently sell for $12.99 to $14.99 for most non-classical titles, a hefty boost from the $7.99 price of a standard LP. In addition, there's the temptation for CD owners to replace their favorite albums with the CD version. The rate at which older albums are being released on CD indicates that this is happening on a widespread basis. (On the other hand, CD players have dropped in price from around $1,000 to under $200 for some models.)

Is the resulting musical experience worth the price? That's an individual decision. For me it is. Certainly there's enough choice, in hardware and software, for anyone who decides to invest in a CD system to get years of enjoyment from it. Will CDs dominate the market as LP's have? The horizon is clouded by the digital audio tape system--in existence in several formats, but not in commercial production. From the number of players sold and the increasing selection of CDs in stores, the recording industry is betting on CDs as one of the primary formats of the future.


The 1994 update: CD prices have crept up only slightly--but there are hundreds available at discount prices--around $9 to $10 for older but popular titles; $3 and $4 for titles that had poor sales. The CD (along with cassettes) has virtually eliminated vinyl records, much more quickly than anyone expected. CD recording techniques have improved, allowing better reproduction of older material. A good CD player can be had for $150 to $200. You can also find them for thousands. There's a model out that handles 100-disk magazines, in a juke-box like approach. Digital audio tape is a miniscule part of the music market.

The 2012 update: My current CD player, bought in 1998, holds 200 CDs, in a carousel design. This is a mixed blessing; if it gives out, I will probably go back to a 5-disk player. I have a 6-disk changer in my car, and most vehicles in the last ten years come with CD, not cassette. Prices have held fairly stable, and the majority of music sales are or soon will be digital downloads. In vehicles, the iPod dock is likely to replace the CD player over the next few years.


Life and Death at the Toad Farm

It's hard to imagine anything more grim than going outside barefoot on a summer night and stepping on a slug. That greenish brown stain comes off only after several scrubbings. Sure, nuclear war and the Mideast crisis are really grimmer--but they don't hit so close to home.

Last summer I did not step on a single slug, and saw hardly any. What I did see was toads...whose diet, the Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia tells us, includes those slimy disgusting creatures. My six year old grandson and I made many forays out by the dripping cooler with a flashlight to spot the lumpy little least eight or ten of them, one a real bruiser at least four inches long.

There have regularly been toads in my Mayfair district yard for years, but this summer was a prime season for them. One reason is that my grandson and I imported a half dozen or so from a nearby toad farm, also known as the bottom of the Millbrook canal. When the water was turned off and the bottom dried out in the fall of '89, we ventured down among the twisted supermarket carts and old bedsprings, and there in the green grass that springs up the week after the water flow stops, the ground was alive with tiny toads, most barely an inch long.

This year we started checking the "farm" in September. No toads yet, but the water was full of tadpoles. A couple of months ago my grandson and his buddy each collected a bucket of slimy water and five or six of the creatures. I thought these tadpoles would probably be gone soon, but they are still alive and well in their little buckets.

Ironically, they may be the only toads to emerge from that stretch of the canal this year. The remaining water has evaporated, and dozens of tadpoles and fish lie in little pools of death where the final puddles trapped them, then left them high and dry.

In a town with artificial lakes and decorative fountains, the drought seems unreal--something to fill newspaper space. In the bottom of Millbrook canal it's a very real matter of life and death.

I think I'll wear shoes outside next summer.



Boys and Weather

I've come to the conclusion that boys are incapable of experiencing weather. I'm talking about boys aged about five to twelve. (After that, an interest in the opposite sex dictates a consideration for fashion, including cool-looking cold weather wear.)

As long as weather conditions are not severe enough to actually freeze the boy in his tracks or blow him into the next county, it is neither too cold nor too wet for a boy to play outside.

Recently my 10 year old neighbor B.J. knocked on my door and asked if he could play in the yard. Since it was raining, I said "You'll get wet, won't you?"

"I already am," he replied, and indeed, upon inspection I saw that he was damp from top to bottom.

Reflecting on this phenomenon I considered the fact that our ancient ancestors probably spent a fair amount of time out in the rain, snow and wind. On the other hand, our ancient ancestors also did some other rather unpleasant things, such as eating raw mammoth haunch and dying at age 29.

But despite the usual colds and sniffles, it does not seem that playing outside in inclement weather does any lasting damage to a healthy boy. After all, it's a standard rule that the time for a kid to put on a jacket is when his parent feels cold. The boy is usually active enough to generate his own warmth in all but the most severe climates.

Whenever you find yourself thinking it would be nice to be twelve years old again, ask yourself if you're ready to spend that much time out in the cold. Then fix yourself a cup of coffee or a hot toddy and settle down by the fireplace with a good book, preferably one about people who go out and do rugged and adventurous things in cold weather.



Cats and Toast


If toast always lands butter-side down, and cats always land on their feet, what happens if you strap toast on the back of a cat and drop it?


The cat will twist in the harness such that the toast is under its feet, butter-side down when it lands, and will walk around the house tracking butter over everything that will stain.


Logically, the cat will eat the toast on the way down, land on its feet, then go and barf up the toast in some location where you can't see it until you step in it, to get even with you for dropping it in the first place.

(Author unknown)


What’s in a Container?

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, I'd like to say few words about the things other things come in. Take pull top aluminum cans. I'll be among the first to quietly hum their praises. Most of us old enough to remember when they didn't exist can recall being caught 17 miles from the nearest bottle opener with a six pack of tightly crimp-capped bottles.

But who ever thought the pull-top should be applied to everything else? On at least three occasions I have opened a pull-top can of peanuts and had the ring break off. The only thing to do then is get a pair of pliers and peel the top off. But what if you're camping or even at work, where you usually don't have a pair of pliers handy?

Then take the wonderful new envelopes that some mad genius has given us. Bad enough are the very common return envelopes our creditors send us in which we must insert the bill just so in order for the address to show through the window. Some put their address on the back, some on the front. Just so there's no uniformity--that seems to be the rule.

The very worst one is the atrocity some paper company has foisted on my car insurance company. There is an early warning of the problems ahead when the envelope strictly warns you to "open carefully!"

It then requires you to pull out a folded up flap, tear off the part of the envelope that seals in the bill, and fold the flap just right to create a new, "inside-out" envelope for returning your payment. No wonder electronic banking is the wave of the future!

All I want is to open up the thing containing the thing I wanted in the first place without cutting myself or taking more than three minutes. Is that too much to ask?


Why Everyone Should (Or Should Not) Have a Home Computer (First written in 1988)

(After succumbing to the home computer craze in the fall of 1987, I started working on the following article, which was eventually published in slightly different form in the newsletter of Fresno Commodore User Group/64UM, a computer user group that I joined in 1988.)

It is very probable that I never uttered the word "computer" before I graduated from high school. My four year old grandson is making visible progress in learning to use one.

About a year ago I became one of the millions of people in the world who now own a home computer. Not only can a computer make your life easier and more fun, it can also make you crazy, frustrated, angry and filled with self-doubt in less time than any other technological achievement in all of human history.

There are quite a few people who use one of the small "personal computers" owned by the county department where I work, and probably several dozen of us who have one at home. These small computers are a very different beast from THE COMPUTER that we all know and love--the giant mainframe located somewhere in that mysterious temple known as "Computer Services." Nearly everyone at the department uses this giant and virtually none of us knows anything about programming it or even the limited technical information needed to make use of a PC. We go to a dumb terminal, tap a few keys, and the information we need is there.

There are as many reasons people buy home computers as there are buyers, but very few of us know exactly what we're going to do with them, or even whether they'll do what we want. Ever since Radio Shack came out with a $500 PC in about 1979, I have felt I would own one some day. I am enjoying and using mine a lot--but the main thing I expected to do with it is something that it is not really suited for. 

I will illustrate by describing my dream of using a home computer: I have a large number of records and tapes, dating back to the mid 1950's. I want to be able to see what I have by Elvis Presley. More specifically, I want to see if I have the song "Little Sister," and whether it is on an album, or a tape, and if so, what tape number. I step to my keyboard, enter "Presley, Elvis," and there on the screen is a complete listing of all song titles and albums and tapes, and the tape numbers, and what section the albums are filed in.

The reality: I turn on the keyboard, monitor, and disk drive. I insert a program disk and load it into the computer's memory (30 seconds to 2 minutes). I remove the program disk and insert the disk containing my data files. I enter a one letter code, then the name "Presley." On the screen appears information regarding one Elvis Presley album. I press two keys and the screen changes to show information about another album. I continue doing this through 8 or 12 or 20 album listings. I do not know what songs are on the albums. I can create a separate file of song titles if I want, which will take hours to make and minutes to use.

Realistic alternative: I continue to use my old card catalog, which sits near my stereo, is always "on," and takes 5 seconds to locate the needed information.

The lesson: For some uses, the old-fashioned way is best. Of course, if I had a COMPUTER, like the one we all use at work, I could indeed set up a program which would accomplish my dream. Using this monster spoils us a little as far as our expectations of what a computer can do. I could also spend a bundle on an IBM compatible and software that would come close to my "dream" program, but it still would not be as instantaneous as the mainframe.

On the other hand, my $800 system has a $12 word processing program that, for my needs, is virtually as good as the jillion dollar WANG word-processor in use at the department.

Overall, I'm delighted with my computer and amazed at its abilities, even if it is not everything I hoped. With computers, the old adage "you get what you pay for" does not entirely apply. You get what you get. A little homework in advance determines whether what you get is what you need.


Year 2000 Update: PCs made significant inroads at work, reaching all supervisors desks about two years ago. By the end of 2000, every staff member will have one. I am on my fourth (3 1/2, actually) IBM compatible PC at home. I discovered that the best data base for most of my purposes is a word processor. I don’t maintain my card catalog, but I have not had the ambition to enter every title from every one of my 1,000 CDs and 400 vinyl albums. I did enter a dozen or so favorite artists, so now I can quickly find that "Little Sister" is on volume 2 of Elvis’ Top Ten Hits CD. (This means that I didn’t even have it when I first wrote this article in 1988. But due to the lack of an instant-access data base, I didn’t know it.)

Year 2008 Update: I'm not sure what generation Windows PC I have, but I bought it after I retired in 2002, and it's about five years old, still works good and does most of what I want most of the time. I'm on my second laptop, which has Vista and Office 2005, which SUCK. It's the slowest computer I've owned since my first Commodore, which I think is mostly caused by the layers of protection Microsoft has seen fit to give us, but which slow things down considerably.

The grandson referenced above is 25, married, enrolled in a master's program, and using his second or third desktop PC and at least his second laptop. His wife also has a laptop, this time by Apple, and I am one of several people I know thinking of moving to Apple next time I get a new PC. Be warned, Bill Gates - like most software developers, you've "improved" your product until you've ruined it.

A newer grandson, age 11, is comfortable with nearly all aspects of computer use, including the Internet and has my old laptop which he rarely uses. His preferred computer-related activity is playing games on the Wii. He also enjoys an occasional game of Pacman on my old Commodore.

As to my music data base, I've finally come up with a "Song Index" in Excel, which has a lot of great data base features and is far less complicated than Access. A series of columns shows the artist, song title, CD or album title, catalog number, genre, and remarks. I can sort on any column; select a specific item from any column and display only matching items (for example, all listings of the song "Don't Be Cruel," or all songs by Elvis Presley, or all songs on the album "Elvis Is Back." It's as close to my original vision as I ever expect to get, and works fine for my needs. 

Year 2014 Update: In 2010 I purchased a newer desktop computer, custom assembled at a local shop, with Windows 7, which is pretty good. The laptop also now has Windows 7, but is just as slow. I also have an iPad, which I use for Email on trips. I only take the laptop on long trips, for writing my travel reports. The grandsons are older, still using computers. The older one is married, and I think he and his wife both use Apple computers. They have a 20-month old son who can find and open his favorite song (Old McDonald) on the iPad. We all have smart phones, for better or worse. I use mine mostly for calling and text messaging. Even though it has a huge screen (Samsung Galaxy Note 3), it's still too small for comfortable web browsing and only good for short text emails. One of my sons-in-law has a Windows 8 PC with touch screen, which he learned to use skillfully in a short time.

Year 2020 Update: With the 2010 PC getting slower, I bought a new Dell with Windows 10 in 2017. It has a few features that make it better than the last one, but I still use the  2002 version of Office. Microsoft ruined that package with their next upgrade after that. I now have two great grandsons, age 6 and 8. They cannot conceive of being without a tablet or smart phone.


Body Count

"Body Count" is a work of fiction dealing with the Viet Nam war. It is not obscene, but contains adult situations and "bad" words, and may not be suitable for children under 13. Click here to continue.


The Trans-Mississippi Exposition Stamps

Recently I discovered a remarkable collection of artwork. It was created long before the existence of computers, but it takes a computer to really appreciate it.

A set of nine postage stamps designed by Raymond Ostrander Smith was issued in support of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition held in Omaha, NE, from June 1 to Nov. 1, 1898. The exposition was staged to further the progress and development of the resources and land west of the Mississippi River.

The stamps consist of nine different vignettes illustrating America's westward expansion, surrounded by intricately engraved borders.

The original Trans-Mississippi stamps were intended to be printed as two-color designs, but due to increased demands of printing revenue stamps for the Spanish-American War, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing reallocated resources and printed the stamps as single-color designs.

Described by Postmaster General Marvin Runyon as "perhaps the greatest examples of the timeless craftsmanship and artistry involved in the engraving of postage stamps," the stamps were reissued in the summer of 1998, with the borders printed in nine different colors as originally intended. A second sheet, featuring only the one-dollar Western Cattle in Storm design, was issued in conjunction with the nine-stamp sheets.

The reissues were printed by The Banknote Corporation of America (BCA) using production plates manufactured from the only existing set of original dies, created 100 years ago.

With face values ranging from one cent to two dollars, the reissue sheet is a bargain at $3.80. The originals, despite the single color, are somewhat higher. I purchased an unused one cent 1898 in average condition for $14 via an on-line auction (computers again!) I also found listings that showed the 4 cent valued at $37 to $208; and a die proof at auction for $1700, which I passed up.

As a stamp collector in my youth, I coveted this set, whose price 40 years ago was well beyond my means. I quickly snapped up a set of the reissues, which are framed and hanging on my wall. But before framing them, I scanned them into the computer. This was where the true skill of the artist was revealed. Even the sharpest eye cannot make out the details very well in the stamps themselves. Scanned at 600 DPI, the amazing craftsmanship of artist and engraver is brought to life in exquisite detail.

In researching the stamps I heard of a book (which I have not seen), "The United States Trans-Mississippi Issue of 1898" (copyright 1997), by Randy L. Neil with Jack Rosenthal (available from Amazon).

The original Marquette 1 cent green


Full sheet of reissues (large file)

Mississippi Bridge reissue

Marquette reissue

(pictures open in a new window)

The Legend of Coyote

Long, long ago, when the people still lived near the big dome rock, Coyote walked upright, and was called Coyote-Man, and had no fur.

Now Coyote-Man could not run as fast as he can now, and he had a hard time in the winter. So one day Coyote-Man came to the wise old woman of the village to ask for help.

"Grandmother," he said, "please make a fur coat for me, for I get very cold in the winter. With my paws I cannot hold a bone needle, and you are known all over the mountain for your beautiful sewing work."

"Very well, Coyote-Man," said the old woman. "Bring me the skin of five rabbits, and I will sew a coat for you."

"I also have a hard time catching food," said Coyote-Man. "Could I possibly have some of that deer I see hanging in the tree there?"

So Grandmother gave Coyote-Man a piece of venison, and he went off to catch the rabbits.

In a week he returned, with the rabbit furs.

"Well, Coyote-Man, you have done well. You have the furs, and you must have had plenty to eat also."

"Yes, Grandmother," he answered, "but it was so hard, and my paws are very sore."

Grandmother picked up the furs. "I will start tomorrow, for I have other work I must do today. When the moon comes up over the big rock just after sundown, come again and your coat will be ready."

"Thank you, Grandmother; you are very kind," said Coyote-Man, and he went off.

Later that day Grandmother went to fix dinner for her family, and she found that most of the deer was missing. "Hmmm," she said, "it looks like Coyote-Man has turned into a thief. Well, I’ll fix him."

Over the next weeks Grandmother worked cutting the furs and fitting them together, and sewing with her skillful hand. And on the night when the moon came up over the rock just after sundown, Coyote-Man appeared in the camp.

"Greetings, Grandmother; I have come to see if my coat is ready."

"It is indeed, Coyote-Man," she said. "Here, put it on."

As he did so, he saw that it was beautiful; the pieces were sewed so no one could see where they were fitted together, and it was warm and fit him wonderfully.

"Now," said Grandmother, "I have to do just a bit more sewing to finish it. Bend down so I can work on it." Coyote-Man did so, and she worked with her needle and thread for a few minutes.

When she stepped back, Coyote-Man tried to stand up, but found he could not.

"Grandmother," he cried, "what have you done to me? I cannot stand up!"

"That is your reward for being a thief, Coyote-Man," she said. "You are not fit to walk among men anymore. From now on you can walk around on all fours. But at least you will be able to run fast, and you can catch your food and you will not have to steal."

So Coyote-Man went away, feeling very sad. He went over by the big dome rock, and sat down, and began to cry in a strange mournful howl. And all his friends and relations came out to see what was going on, and they found out that they were now like him; and they all sat and began to howl.

And that is why Coyote-Man walks on all fours, and how he got his fur coat, and why he make his strange cry.


Twenty-nine and Beautiful

Lew, who has lived in Huntsville AL for many years now, was a live, in-person friend in Fresno, where I still live. When my Christmas card to him came back one year, I did the logical thing. I sent Email to a woman in Huntsville, whom I knew through Commodore newsletter exchanges and Q-Link (AOL’s predecessor), and asked her to see if she could find a new address in the Huntsville phone book.

She did, and I got back in touch with Lew; when I told him how I got his address, he asked if the woman was single and attractive. "Lew," I replied, "on line everyone is 29 and beautiful."


Those of us who use Email and are involved in some activity that interests a wide group of people, have enjoyed "meeting" and "knowing" some very special people only in cyberspace. I would never claim that on-line friendships equal those we make in person. I believe human beings need human contact, and the deepest bonds of love and friendship must be forged face to face. Body language, tone of voice, and many other aspects go into in-person communication. So also do pre-conceived notions, prejudices and assumptions.

However, on-line these issues are stripped away. We do not know if the person we are "talking" to is black, white or green; young or old; physically disabled or any of the other many things that sometimes get in the way. We judge strictly on the person’s words, and the intellect and personality that comes across through them.

It’s not that everyone lies about their physical attributes, social status, money and abilities on line, although that certainly happens. Rather these things just don’t come up, and the polite correspondent does not care. On line we can have that world free of prejudice and preconception that people of good will everywhere desire.


Bluegrass Love

The first rule of bluegrass songwriting is that two people may never love each other at the same time. If they do, someone’s gonna die.

With that in mind, we present a summary of the various types of bluegrass love:

1. Boy meets girl; boy loves girl; girl loves someone else. Boy pines away.

2. Boy meets girl; they fall in love. Boy kills girl for no discernible reason. Boy pines away regretting  his misdeed for 99 years or till his hanging day, whichever comes first.

3. Boy meets girl; they fall in love and marry. She is untrue, and he kills her and buries her on the farm. No one finds out. Pining optional.

4. Boy meets girl and falls in love; she marries another and lives in a mansion. Boy pines away in his cabin.

5. Boy meets girl; they fall in love and marry. She dies in childbirth or otherwise; boy pines away.

6. Boy leaves the old cabin home and goes to the big city, where he pines away for the old cabin.

7. Boy leaves the old cabin home and goes to the big city. Comes back; everyone is dead and everything is changed.

8. Boy meets girl; they fall in love. Her parents disapprove of the marriage. Boy kills self. Girl kills self. 

9. Boy loves mom, but he’s in prison, or in the big city, or somewhere else far away, pining away.

10. Everybody loves little Suzy or little Billy, but he/she is called up yonder; everyone pines away.


What I Do (Updated September 21, 2006 and other dates as indicated)

Since I am retired, people who are still working often ask me what I do with my time. Usually I can’t remember everything, but I know I am never bored.

First, if you are working, ask yourself this: Has there ever been a time when you were able to get everything done you want to? I’m betting no.

Well, it gets better when you’re retired, but you still don’t get everything done you want to. Here is a brief description of what I do (and don’t do).

Playing with grandchildren: Actually the older one at age 22 does not play the way he used to. He has a job, a girlfriend and goes to college, so our visits are sandwiched in between those activities, and are like social contact between adult friends. We do try to go out to lunch once a month or so.

The little one turned nine in July 2006, and is in fourth grade, but he spends quite a few nights with me while his parents are busy with their activities. He likes to go camping, and unlike his brother, even thinks bluegrass festivals are cool. In 2004 he went with me on a trip across the country, and one of his regular questions now is “where are you going to take me next summer?” This year the answer is probably Lassen National Park; other plans preclude a longer trip. I’m hoping to make a trip across the south in 2008, but I’m not sure he’ll want to be gone as long as it will take. 

2/23/12: As it turned out, we did the southern trip in 2009 and Lassen in 2010.

9/18/14: The younger grandson is rushing into adulthood (age 17 right now), but the older one has provided a great grandson, with another due in October. Great times, and lots of years of playing with the great ones ahead. 

8/16/16: So, not surprisingly, the grandsons keep getting older, with the younger one now 19 and in his second year of college. The great grandsons are approaching two and four, and are a delight, but not old enough to travel with me yet. I've enjoyed camping with them along with my daughter and/or their parents.

11/7/20: The younger grandson is now 23 and started on a career. The little ones keep getting bigger - 6 and 8 this year. Meanwhile I'm getting younger.

: When I retired in April 2002, I had some unread magazines that were at least a year old. I read the local newspaper every day; and I read and re-read quite a few books. When it was clear that I was not going to catch up on my magazines, I let three of them expire. In July 2003, I finally got caught up enough on my day to day reading to make a dent in the backlog. Then over the last couple of years I have bought and received as gifts a fair number of books. So my pile of reading to do is still pretty good size.

I have a great morning reading spot in my back yard…it’s shady in the summer and sunny in the winter. If I have nothing scheduled, I sit and read the paper and enjoy a Bloody Mary or orange juice.

I also read certain things on the Internet on a fairly regular basis. I get a summary of major stories in the New York Times each day, and usually read two or three of them. I subscribe to a number of comic strips which I read on line each day (three of The Fresno Bee ’s comic strips are among the best available; the rest are generally lame). I receive several articles a week via Email from Slate, an on-line magazine, and occasionally check their home page and read one or two other articles a week.

9/18/14: And then, along came Kindle, and I don't know how many unread books that I can take with me wherever I go. Of course, the paper book collection has grown also.

11/7/20: All magazine and hard copy newspaper subscriptions are in the past. I still read about the same amount from the same sources on line. I focus mostly on books, both paper and digital.

: No one who knows me will be surprised that I work (actually I play) on my computer quite a bit. I have compiled a lot of family genealogy information and entered it in a computer program; I have a bunch more to enter, but haven’t worked on it much lately.

I have a large collection of vinyl LP albums and 45 RPM records. I have wanted to put some of this music on CD, and I finally have a computer and programs that let me do it. This involves importing the music into the computer, putting together the desired songs for a CD, and burning the CD. I also make nice labels for the CD and box. All of this is quite time consuming. I did quite a few of these a couple of years ago, but other things have intruded. I still intend to do more.

8/16/16: Technology marches on, and the arrival of MP3s, iPods, iTunes, etc. has made it no longer necessary to make my own CDs. My car has an iPod dock, so I have 20,000 songs at my disposal (which is too many).

(Here’s how the next paragraph originally read): I have a lot of home video tapes that I would like to put on DVD. My computer will also do this, and I have just barely started working on it. It is even more time consuming than audio CDs, and I have not yet produced a DVD, so I don’t know how it will work out. This is a project that could take several years to complete, working when I can and want to.

(Here’s what has really happened): Transferring video to DVD via the computer proved to be unsatisfactory (very poor quality), so I ended up buying a DVD recorder. It’s connected to my satellite system (previously to cable). I can record DVDs from videotapes, and I have done quite a few. However, my DirecTV satellite service includes a TIVO digital video recorder (DVR), which records with much greater quality than videotape. I have been collecting a few of my favorite series via the DVR, then transferring them to DVD. So I now have on DVD the complete Home Improvement, That 70s Show, and a few others. I have also been collecting some new series, my favorites being House and How I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory.

Of course, I check my Email every day, and visit various Internet sites. I do a lot of my shopping on-line, especially music CDs (and later music MP3 downloads). I use the computer for various kinds of record keeping – a checkbook program, data base of my CDs, records, tapes and other things, and miscellaneous writing projects. As many of you know, I have been doing reports on my trips to bluegrass festivals and other destinations, and after several years of procrastination, I finally put together several pages about some long ago trips.

In the last month or so (as of September 2006), I have been doing a lot of work on my web site. I have a bunch of pages relating to music, a bunch relating to genealogy, and numerous others (you can get to any or all of them via I completely re-did all my music and genealogy pages because they did not look that great. I also have been creating pages for all my trip reports. This way I can include photos right there with the text.

Travel: I started off with a bang, taking a two-month, cross-country trip during the summer of 2002, starting less than two months after I retired. In 2004 my younger grandson and I went to Ohio and points in between, visiting some old friends who used to live in Fresno. My other trips have been less ambitious, but have taken me to Utah, Nevada and Arizona, usually for bluegrass festivals, but also to Arches, Canyonlands and Grand Canyon National Parks. I also go on camping trips to the mountains, anywhere from three days to a week. And I visit my mother in Mariposa regularly – not much of a “trip,” since it’s just an hour and fifteen minutes each way.

Longer trips require a fair amount of preparation time, and the destination affects what I do to get ready. If I’m going to be gone a month or more, I’ll take equipment and ingredients for making salsa, hot fudge, etc. But I don’t have to worry about food – I can find a grocery store anywhere I go. For a week-long camping trip, I have to take all necessary food and water, as well as other things you don’t find in the mountains.

Besides packing, the trailer itself needs some attention – checking air in tires, filling the water tank, making sure supplies I keep in it all the time are adequate (napkins, salt & pepper, etc.). I put gas in my generator and fill up the extra 5-gallon can I take with me.

Unloading and cleaning up at the end of a trip also takes quite a bit of time and energy. After a recent trip, I washed the trailer, which involves dragging out a huge, heavy stepladder, and using a long-handled brush to reach the roof and upper sides (it’s a job for a warm day; I got thoroughly soaked).

Clearly, I would never have time to get ready or unpack at the end if I was working!

11/7/20: In 2008 I traded in the trailer for a motor home, which took me to Ohio and Michigan one year, and across the south as far as Florida another, plus lots of camping and bluegrass festivals. In 2019 I sold the motor home and reverted to truck camping and motels for "civilized" locations.

Getting Organized: We’re all going to get organized, just as soon as we have some time, right? I come from a long line of savers, and I have too much stuff, a lot of it paper. My mother has clippings, photos, books, and who knows what all – two houses full. There also used to be a small mobile home, but it was emptied and sold in November 2005. One of the “houses” is a 600 square foot duplex. Still there’s a lot of stuff that I don’t want to inherit. And I have a lot of stuff my kids don’t want to inherit. So I am trying very hard to go through it, get rid of 50%, and organize the rest. Some day I’ll have to do this with my mother’s stuff, which includes a bunch of my grandmother’s stuff, since she will never get it all done (and I assume she will live to be 100, another 12 years).

I have had mixed success with this project. I’ve cleaned up some areas, only to let others pile up (see above to find out what I’m really doing). A bunch of work related stuff got tossed out with no regret and very little time spent looking at it.

But among the junk there are jewels. We have diaries my grandmother kept when she and my grandfather and my father came to California from Ohio in 1934. We have photos going back to the 1880s. It’s just so hard to find the good stuff under all that other stuff. But I’m working on it – and next year, when I have more time, I really will get organized.

8/16/16: My mother passed away in 2007 at the age of 89. I spent a day or two every week the next six months sorting through her stuff. My sister come out from Minnesota and helped for a week. This inspired both of us to start getting rid of more of our own stuff. Of course, I kept a significant amount of my mother's stuff. And I'm still planning to get REALLY organized, just as soon as I have time.

Looking at the stars: For many years, I have tried go outside shortly after dark every night and check out the stars. I can locate and identify a dozen or so named stars. Then I go out again between 2 and 4 a.m. for another look, since the movement of everything in the universe brings new objects into view.

When I was in Duluth in the summer of 2002, my sister gave me a small telescope that she had picked up at a yard sale. In 2003 I upgraded to a better one, so now I can take an even closer look at things in the sky. This new hobby requires some research on the Internet and takes up another portion of my time. However, because of the excess light pollution in the neighborhood and general laziness, I haven’t had the telescope out for a year or so. One neighbor found it necessary to install a huge bright light out on the roof overhang which shines into my yard and is really annoying. (Ultimately I sold the telescope and went back to naked eye gazing.)

Being lazy:
Sometimes I just take advantage of being retired. One morning I got up, didn’t exercise, didn’t walk, didn’t get dressed till noon, and had ice cream for breakfast. Of course, later that day I scrubbed and rearranged the kitchen counters, and cleaned out the pantry (a major “getting organized” project, but sadly, as of September 2006, it needs to be done again), so I am still not that good at pure laziness.

Besides all this, I go to retirement association lunches, lunches for people who are retiring, and stop by my old work place now and then to annoy the people who are still trying to work. I also go to lunch about once a month with a bunch of working and retired friends, and somehow I have been given the job of organizing this lunch. In all fairness, all it amounts to is sending a few Emails and figuring out which day has the fewest conflicts for everyone. I also got invited to join another group of retirees that goes to lunch every Friday, but someone else is in charge of what little organization is involved.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really MUST get busy doing all the things I mentioned above!

The Demise of Tower Records (posted November 6, 2006)

October 2006: The news that Tower Records is closing down brought a touch of sadness. A lot has been written about this once highly successful chain in recent weeks, not all of it accurate.

An article in The Fresno (CA) Bee states:

“[Russ] Solomon…opened the first Tower store…in 1960. ‘There were no stores devoted to music at the time that Russ Solomon came along,’ said Sacramento musician Mick Martin, a former Tower employee. ‘You went to Woolworth’s.’”

Mr. Martin is probably too young to know how wrong he is. I moved to Fresno in the fall of 1957 to attend Fresno State College, but prior to that I remember patronizing music stores in downtown Fresno. Back when Fulton was a street instead of a pedestrian mall, there were at least three stores which focused on music. They were Hockett-Cowan, Sherman-Clay, and I can no longer remember the name of the third one. They carried all the popular records of the day, although it’s true that their focus was on musical instruments.

However, prior to 1960 we had Record Outlet in Fresno, where LP albums were a dollar or more cheaper than the regular retail price. Also pre-1960, Record Rendezvous in Merced focused on records, and I remember shopping there several times prior to moving to Fresno.

None of this takes away from the cultural and commercial phenomenon that was Tower Records, and it will be a sad day when they close the doors for the last time.

However, changing tastes and a changing market make it inevitable. I certainly helped drive the nails in Tower’s coffin. I buy virtually all my CDs on line or directly from the artists at music festivals. However, it’s also true that Tower does not carry most of the CDs I buy.

(Update November 6, 2020): "Nothing is constant except change." Music consumption has gone from mail order CDs through downloads to streaming services. Of course, all the old legacy methods remain available to some extent. On a happy note, vinyl has made a modest come-back.


What Cats Eat (posted 9/25/07) (updates at bottom 9/28/07, 3/31/09, 7/5/10, 6/22/12 and 5/15/17)

One morning I was peeling some par-boiled potatoes to make hash browns. My cat, Furry Lewis, came up and started begging. “OK,” I said. “Have some potato peels if you insist.”

To my surprise, he downed the piece I dropped on the floor, and immediately requested more. I gave him several pieces of the cooked peel, and he ate them all. From then on, hash brown day was a shared experience for Furry and me.

This inspired me to ask other people if their cats had any unusual food cravings. Jamie reported that Spot was big on watermelon – clearly begging for it and going berserk until he gets a share. Snowflake went way over the line, dining on dill pickles, and yogurt and ice cream (though not all at the same time). In fact, Snowflake was pretty much happy with any human food.

Debra reports that her old cat liked cornbread. The new one has a much wider list of favorites, including carrot cake (preferably with cream cheese icing), canned corn and peas, cream of wheat, and a sip of eggnog with brandy on Christmas Eve.

Erna’s cat had a Homer Simpson-like craving for Mexican-style pork rinds – he could smell them through the grocery sacks, and would tear into the bag. She had to hide them in a tightly closed cupboard.  

Jeff reports that his white and black male cat Buster is fond of lettuce. He will go so far as to snatch it from the countertop or the kitchen trash. Julie reports on a couple of cats: “One of my friend’s cats always has a slice of cantaloupe in the morning. Hard to find in the off season but it was always there. She would put her paw in the center and eat it down to the rind. My other friend, Lee and I taught their cat to eat popcorn, unbuttered. Bud would go nuts when he smelled it and sit up and take the popcorn from your fingers.”

This reminded me of my parents cat Lani, who would push his face into ours when we were eating popcorn, and required his own bowl before he would be satisfied.

Jennifer writes, “Kitten was crazy about Nacho Cheese Doritos and popcorn. And we almost had to hide to eat beef jerky when Fridge was with us! She'd hunt you down and hound you for nibbles. Sausage loved corn! Since we often eat in the living room (over carpet), Rod would put the corn kernels on top of his shoe for Sausage.” And later: “We found out on Sunday that Giblet loves lasagna! I guess, considering the cheese content, that that's no surprise! But she really went ape.” (Remember, this was one of Garfield’s favorites too.)

In an Email, Bob reports that his cat Huntsie (a real female hunter of all animals) loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She will jump up in his lap when he is at his desk and eat the sandwich out of Bob’s hand, and takes big bites.  

Susan from Florida checks in with this message: “One of my girls likes crackers, toast, fruit (a lot of cats eat melons).”  

In the category of what cat’s don’t eat, here’s what Tina has to say: “My cat Chewy, hates dry cat food that comes in a 5 pound bag. He prefers the canned food in those silly little cans. He hates dry food so much that he travels the neighborhood in search of canned cat food. Then when I get around to buying the canned food again, he refuses to leave the house. True story - you would not believe how many neighbors have called us asking what to do with Chewy (his collar has our address and phone number) as he walks into open houses and begins eating the current resident's cat food. Mando and I say he is a cat whore.”

Does your cat have a strange craving? Tell us about it and we'll post it here:

New Cat Cravings:

Ruth writes, "When I had a cat, he really liked artichoke leaves."

Linda says: "Right after I read What Cats Eat, I was lamenting the fact that Butch's diet is so boring and then, that same evening, he decided that he wanted to eat some dried mangos. What a guy – always keeps me guessing."

Jennifer adds: "Peas. Yep, canned peas. Rod decided to see if Giblet would like a pea. She got up on her back feet to take the pea like a cat treat! Then a few more."

Katie and Chuck report that Ebee has a Jones for whipped cream. No Cool Whip or other artificial substitutes - just the real thing. But if she hears the hiss of whip cream being applied, she is right there, demanding her share. It doesn't have to be on top of anything...if they put a little pile on the floor, she'll clean it up.

Just in, Jennifer reports that Nibbles likes green olives. No word on whether he wants them in a martini. And in an update, she tells us that the Nibbler also loves sour cream and yogurt. It's true they are dairy products, but she's quite adamant about getting her share (and yours as well).

Jasper, another cat in Jennifer's household ate dry roasted peanuts. "Rod shells a peanut, gives her half, and she munches down."


Names on TV Shows

Earlier I wrote about the recycling of television plots.

Now there’s evidence that TV show creators really don’t pay attention to other shows or what is going on in the industry.

How else can you explain the creators of House giving one of their brilliant doctors the same name as one of the goofball kids on That 70s Show (Eric Foreman/Forman)? It may not be spelled the same, but still….

Now we have two new shows where a key character’s last name is Darling. Kelsey Grammer is Chuck Darling in Back to You. And “the wealthiest family in Manhattan,” headed by Donald Sutherland, is the Darlings in Dirty Sexy Money.

OK, both shows are new this season and maybe secrets were kept. But any true video fan will connect the name Darling with the hillbilly clan headed by Denver Pyle in The Andy Griffith Show.

I guess that old Andrews Sisters song has come true –You Call Everybody Darling.”


Being a Dick (Posted 6/16/08)

Being named Dick carries with it certain burdens. While the teasing pretty much died down after the middle elementary years, the rise of the Internet brought its own problems. Sometimes Email filters will dump my Email or links to my web site ( into the spam folder. The Kings County (CA) School District system won’t let its users accept my Email unless they request special permission.

Once I was entering my name on a web site, and as soon as I typed “Dick” a message popped up that said “enter a correct name.”

I never complained to my mother, since I assumed she had good reasons and liked the name. Richard is, after all, an ancient an honorable name. I’ll bet no one ever teased Richard the Lionhearted more than once!

Late in her life I did mention the issue to my mother, whereupon I found out that this innocent Ohio farm girl had never known the name could have any sexual connotation.

Of course, as my co-worker, Michael Glasscock once said, “it could have been worse.”

So even though I sign my checks “Richard,” you can call me “Dick.”


My New Haircut (Posted 6/18/08)

A few years back, when I worked in the northeast corner of Fresno, I went to a barber shop near my workplace. I didn’t have a special barber, and I suppose the results were mixed, but I’m not a hair stylin’ kind of guy, and as long as people in the street didn’t laugh, I was satisfied.

That job ended in 1973, so I looked for a place close to my home in the northwest, which is when I discovered Faretta’s Barber Shop at West and McKinley. At the time there were two barbers, owner Jim Faretta and a young man named Leonard.

Over the years there were evolutionary changes. The north and the west of Fresno moved farther north and west. Leonard got a job in a hair “styling” shop, so Jim carried on alone. I moved to Salinas for about a year, but since I returned to Fresno every month or so, I usually went to Faretta’s, getting maybe two haircuts in Salinas.

After I returned to Fresno, I got a job in the southeast corner of town, and moved to the central part of town, but I continued to drive across town to Faretta’s. After my brief sojourn in Salinas, I got only one haircut elsewhere, in Ohio during a two-month cross country trip. Meanwhile, Jim cut his work week down to three days a week, Thursday through Saturday.

Faretta’s is what I would call an “old school” shop. The waiting area has the day’s newspaper, along with sporting magazines and Playboys. If you wander in on a Saturday and there are four guys sitting around, it’s probable that not more than one of them is there for a haircut. The rest are people who’ve known Jim since their youth, and have come in to shoot the breeze.

At one point I realized I had been going that that shop for a long time, so I asked Jim if he was planning to retire soon. “How old do you think I am?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “I’ve been coming in here for close to 30 years, so we both must be about 30 years older then when I first came in.”

In fact, he was 75 at the time, and further conversation revealed that he continued to work mainly to get out of the house and have something to do. Keeping the shop open was more a social activity than a job, and I suspect he barely made enough to pay the rent (and probably not enough to drive to work when gas was $4 a gallon).

Not long ago I drove over to West and McKinley on Thursday, only to find a sign in the window “back Friday.” I returned the next day, along with another patron, and we stood looking at the “Friday” sign, along with a “Closed” sign and a locked door. We checked with the people in the mini-mart next door, and they said they thought Jim was sick, but might be back on Saturday.

I was unable to get back the next day, and ordinarily I would have just waited another week or two. But my grandson’s wedding was the following Friday, and there would be no chance to return before that.

With a great deal of hesitation and trepidation, I entered a shop near my new home in Clovis, and got what is probably the 4th haircut not done at Faretta’s in about 35 years. And what a haircut it was.

The shop was no busier than Jim’s, but had a modern, sterile look. There was one barber on duty, a “boy” not much older than my grandson, along with a young lady whose duties seemed to involve walking back and forth a few times.

The young man said my hair was very fine, and hard to cut with his tools, but he worked long and hard, getting it just right. He used a series of plastic guides that he attached to his clippers, which allowed him to make rapid, hard passes while not cutting too deep. “Jim would laugh at this guy,” I thought, but he dispensed with the guides for the finishing touches, and proved to be quite skilled.

To my great surprise, he even trimmed my eyebrows and mustache, and in the end, though my hair looked different, it looked OK to me. I’ve enjoyed a $6 senior citizen price at Jim’s for the last four years, but I thought the $9 charge here was quite reasonable.

Of course, I have realized for some time that I will probably need haircuts past the time that Jim is physically able to give them, even if he goes till the day he dies. I had my eye on a shop close to my home in central Fresno, but long before I had need of it the shopping center it was in was torn down. It was replaced by a big discount grocery store and a row of small stores, which includes a Starbucks, but no barber shop.

So, will I go back to the kid next time, or return to Jim? I’m not sure yet. It partly depends on what people think of my “new” look, if they even notice. I know when the time comes, I will really miss the old school ambiance and the old timers’ stories at Faretta’s.


Post Script: My very first barber was Winnie Williams in Mariposa, who charged one dollar (in the 1940s-50s). After his retirement, Winnie provided free haircuts to the gentlemen in local nursing homes, a service he continued to provide until his final illness in his 90s.

After I left the security of my home and Winnie’s shop, as a poor college student I briefly patronized the barber college in Fresno. Here you could get a haircut from a new student for 25 cents or a more advanced pupil for 50 cents.

Another Post Script (7/10/08): Recently I visited a high school classmate and his brother, who are the sons of my first barber, who passed away a few years ago. In their house they have an old pendulum clock that hung on the wall of Winnie's barber shop as long as it was open. The clock has never been repaired or cleaned, and still keeps good time.

They also have Winnie's old barber chair, in which I (and every other male Mariposan) sat, back in the 1940s and 50s.

February 23, 2012 update: Faretta's has closed. I don't know what happened, but last time I went there it was locked up and empty. Jim had re-married after his wife died, and I suspect the new wife convinced him it was time to hang up the clippers. I had a couple of haircuts at a shop near my new home in Clovis, the second one being unsatisfactory. Then I found more of an "old school" shop in a nearby shopping center. I've been in twice, and so far, it looks like this will be my barber shop for the long term.


Dead Cat Spotting (posted July 1, 2008)

One day (July 12, 1998 to be exact) when I was taking my regular morning walk, I noticed a dead cat in the middle of the street, with a live cat very cautiously checking it out, from a distance of at least eight feet. Only a fool attributes human thoughts to a cat, so let me foolishly propose the following: “Gee, that coulda been me!” “Poor old Tom; we had a lot of good times together.” “I’m glad you’re dead, you tuna stealing scum!” “Hmmm...wonder how I can get that mean Siamese next door to walk in front of a car.” “Hey, I better get out of the street before the same thing happens to me!”

Obviously he did NOT have this latter thought; when I returned from my walk, the eyewitness was still walking out into the street to check things out. Like gawkers at an accident who get run over by the ambulance, he was paying more attention to me and the dead cat than to the car that was turning the corner and bearing down on the scene. However, he realized the danger in time, and fortunately, there were no further victims.


TV Plots (Moved from The Rant in January 2022)

I have this theory. Somewhere in the vicinity of Greater Hollywood, probably in the industrial section of Cucamonga, there is a huge warehouse where they keep all the TV plots ever conceived. When writers are having trouble coming up with an idea, they just call up the warehouse, and the efficient staff faxes them a plot idea in minutes.

How else to explain the following:


Wonder Years had an episode about a total eclipse.

On a Doogie Howser episode, Doogie meets a girl while waiting for his car to be repaired at a remote desert crossroads. That evening they go out in her pickup to watch a total eclipse of the moon.


On The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob and Laura are caught in a stuck elevator with a robber, played by Don Rickles. Laura is pregnant (but not due for a few weeks yet).

On Doogie Howser M.D., Vinnie (Max Casella) gets stuck in an elevator with his pregnant French teacher, and ends up delivering the baby.

On Love and War, Jack and Dana (Jay Thomas and Annie Potts) are trapped in an elevator in the Empire State Building. I didn't watch this show, just happened to notice it when flipping channels. As far as I know, no one was pregnant.

(Update 7/18/11): On The Suite Life of Zach & Cody the boys are briefly stuck in an elevator with a pregnant woman named Mary on Christmas Eve (talk about ripping off old plots!). They escape before the baby does, although the hotel manager ends up delivering the baby, still in the elevator.

Apparently advertising copywriters have access to the warehouse also. Have you seen the one about the junior employee stuck in an elevator with his bosses? He's bringing his lunch back from a nearby fast food joint, and one of the honchos warns him that he may have to fight them to keep his French fries.


Nakedness is always a favorite topic, on and off TV. An episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show has a story in which Laura Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore) is embarrassed when a nude painting of her surfaces from her past (she wasn't really nude, the artist just "saw" her that way).

An episode of The Hogan Family has a story in which Sandy Hogan (Sandy Dennis) is embarrassed when a nude painting of her surfaces from her past (she really was).

On Barney Miller a woman is arrested for attempting to deface a nude painting in a gallery. It turns out to be a painting of her, which she explains was “never intended for public view.”

On Home Improvement, Tim and his hot-looking sister-in-law see each other naked in a merry shower mix-up.

On a Seinfeld episode, the girl Jerry is dating likes to wander around the apartment nude. This reveals the fact that there is "good naked" and "bad naked."

The kids on That 70s Show decide to go skinny dipping. Their clothes are stolen and they must drive home nude. The girls point out that it’s good for the guys, because they get to look at the girls, but the girls have to look at the boys – and that’s just gross! (In other words, good naked and bad naked.)

(Update 1/23/07): On How I Met Your Mother Marshall is embarrassed when his friends discover a nude painting of him, done several years earlier by his girlfriend (now fiancée).


The intelligence of men vs. women is always good for a laugh. On the original Bob Newhart Show, Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) gives Bob an IQ test. She is reluctant to reveal his score and her own, for good reason. Bob has a lot of trouble with the fact that hers is 29 points higher than his.

On The Wonder Years, Kevin, Winnie and their friends anxiously await the arrival of SAT scores. Kevin has a lot of trouble dealing with the fact that Winnie's total is a couple of hundred points higher than his.

The kids on That 70s Show anxiously await the arrival of their SAT scores. Eric has a lot of trouble dealing with the fact that Donna’s total is several hundred points higher than his own. In fact, he scores below all the gang, including Kelso the handsome doofus.

Husbands cheating on their wives is nothing new, which may explain how two different sets of writers came up with this plot: On M*A*S*H Colonel Potter (Harry Morgan) catches his son-in-law traveling in Korea with another woman.

On The Mary Tyler Moore Show Lou Grant (Edward Asner) goes to the movies, where he discovers his son-in-law with another woman. (You'll be glad to know that dad-in-law's stern warnings resolved the problem in both shows.)

Several shows – Roseanne, Lou Grant, Doogie Howser, Family Ties, and The Cosby Show  – offered similar plots:

In each show, the principle characters encounter an old blues or jazz artist, either down on his luck or long forgotten. They coax him out of retirement or set up a performance, or some similar action. For the most part, none of the characters in any of the shows exhibited any particular interest in the pertinent musical genre before or after the episode in question. However, it makes for some good music and saves the writers from having to come up with another five minutes or so of dialogue. 

The most illustrious guest star is blues legend Brownie McGhee, who appears in Family Ties. Joe Seneca, who plays a forgotten blues singer in  Doogie Howser, originally belonged to a top flight singing group, The Three Riffs.  An all star band brightens the Cosby entry, including Tito Puentes, Jimmy Heath and Art Blakey. Blues Traveler lead singer John Popper guests on Roseanne, as Dan's former bandmate in his pre-marriage days. Lou Grant also swung for the top with Louis Belson and Ray Brown. Lou Grant went it one better by also doing an episode featuring an old folk singer who came back after being blacklisted.

(Update 9/26/08): There are probably more than the three named below, since it's such an obviously funny situation (to the watchers, not the participants) - a couple discovering that they are not really married.

Mad About You - Paul and Jamie were married by ConEd employee/slash minister Lyle Lovett - but when they run into him a year or two later, he tells them he thought it was just a joke, and he was never licensed to perform marriages.

Dave's World - The IRS informs Dave and Beth that their marriage isn't legally valid, an occasion that calls for a visit to the hippie "minister" who married them -- but who never filed their marriage license.

Dick Van Dyke - The validity of the marriage is called into question when Rob discovers that Laura was only 17 at the time.

(Update 9/20/05): Here's a new for the 21st Century plot. In Grounded for Life the dad is looking at porn on the Internet. When he almost gets caught, he manages temporarily to shift the blame to his barely adolescent son. In September 2005, in the second episode of The War at Home, the dad almost gets caught Instant Messaging a women in a sex chat room - but he manages temporarily to shift the blame to his 13-year-old son. (Update 7/26/11): In it's inaugural 2009-10 season, Modern Family had an episode in which the mom discovers a racy photo on the computer. It was sent to dad by a co-worker, but she suspects their 10-year old son, and dad stays quiet until the evidence as to the real culprit mounts.

(Update 5/25/11): On Malcolm in the Middle, a man was discovered to be living in the store where mom Lois works. In a flashback episode of Raising Hope, series protagonist Jimmy Chance lived for a few days in the grocery store where his family shops.

Finally, we have confirmation of sorts for my theory, from Chad B, who writes:

I read your theory on the warehouse full of television plots. That is actually pretty close to the truth. I've noticed a lot of plotlines being reused over the years, and I always figured that they were just written by young writers who had these plots in their subconscious from old shows that they saw when they were kids. However, producer Garry Marshall explains in his book Wake Me When It's Funny where these reused plots actually come from. There are some young writers and some old writers that work on television shows. Here is an excerpt from the book that explains how this worked on Happy Days.

“I've got an idea,” a young writer would say. “Fonzie has fallen for a girl, but her parents want to move the family to New York City.” Harry Crane would interrupt, “Judy Garland, Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944. Here's how the plot goes.” Harry knew all the old movies and would tell the young writers about story structures that were invented before they were even born. Most of the young guys only knew Judy Garland from The Wizard of Oz, but they listened when the veterans talked about plot. Another young writer would say, “Mrs. C gets obsessed with a handsome tennis teacher.” “Did it with Mary Livingston on Jack Benny. It goes like this,” Milt Josefsberg would offer. “Laverne and Shirley have a leak in their overhead plumbing, and they use lots of pots and pans to catch the drips,” a third young voice would say. “Once used a visual like that on Beat the Clock. Here's where the jokes were,” Bob Howard would volunteer.

I guess you were right. There is a warehouse full of old television plots, but it is stuck away in the minds of old television writers. All they need is young writers to retrieve those old plots.



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Updated January 23, 2022