Happy Birthday From Marlboro

IMG_0990Today my secretary walked into my office and said, “I didn’t know you smoked.”

“I don’t,” I responded.

“Marlboro apparently thinks differently,” she replied with a laugh, and then handed me a black box that I’d gotten in the mail.

I looked at it, and sure enough, the return address on the label said it was from Marlboro.  I removed the black cardboard outer sleeve, and inside was a black flip-top box with “Happy Birthday” written all over it.  Not exactly festive birthday colors, there, Marlboro!  It was almost like Dr. Kevorkian was sending me birthday greetings.

And then I realized that, coming from Marlboro, black was probably a pretty appropriate color.  But what the hell kind of birthday present would Marlboro send?  A black carved wooden figure of the Grim Reaper?  A black cigarette lighter?  A black ashtray with a laughing skull or a blood red caduceus in the center?

Nope.  Underneath a card that showed a cowboy pitching horseshoes somewhere out west were some ear buds for an iPod, with different sized plugs depending on your earhole size.  Customized ear buds!  Pretty weird, Marlboro.  Pretty darned weird.

It didn’t make me want to go out and buy a pack of cigarettes, by the way.

Happy Mother’s Day!


I’ve been very lucky in the mothers department, so to help mark Mother’s Day, 2016, I wrote this bit of doggerel:

Thanks to the Mothers

Thanks to the mothers in all of our lives

Who loved us, hugged us and gave us high fives

Who bundled us up against every chill

00020295And helped push us to the top of the hill

Who dressed us up for the special occasions

And offered advice and friendly persuasions

Who kissed the boo-boos and wiped the tears

And endured the sullen teenage years

Who fretted and worried about every ill 

And somewhere, we know, are doing so still

Be they Grandma, or Mom, or my lovely wife

I’m grateful for the mothers I’ve had in my life!


Seeking Help On The Grilliousity Front

When we sold our house in New Albany in November 2014, we got rid of our old outdoor grill.  It made sense, because we were moving into a rental place for a few weeks while we were getting our new house ready and our grill was a 20-year-old Weber kettle that had served us well but was starting to show some serious signs of age.

Last summer, we were grill-free.  With everything else that was going on, I just didn’t get around to buying a replacement grill.

544fc96bc51f0_one-touch-original-22This year, though, I have an itch to get a grill and do some outdoor cooking in the backyard that we enjoy so much.  As last year’s interregnum reflects, though, I’m not one of those guys who prides himself on his grilling talents and counts outdoor cooking as one of the core foundational elements of his being.  I enjoy grilling out mostly because I really like the taste of food cooked fresh on a grill and served piping hot.  I like to mess around with sauces of my own devising when Kish and I are the only guinea pigs for my creative efforts, but mostly I stick to basic burgers, hot dogs, brats, chicken and the occasional steak.  And I’ve always gone with actual charcoal, not propane or one of the other options, because I’m admittedly anal about risk and I would always be nervous that I haven’t properly hooked up the gas tank or shut it off properly.

I’ve started to look around for a grill, but there are so many choices on the internet the decision seems almost overwhelming.  I’m leaning toward a new charcoal-fueled Weber kettle, because that’s what I know and it would make the decision a heck of a lot easier.  I’m curious, though, about any recommendations or thoughts on alternatives.

I’m not really interested in one of those huge grilling stations, with fold-back lids and multiple levels and metal tops to each side and hooks where you can hang dozens of grilling implements, because our back yard is small and my grilling efforts aren’t robust enough to justify that kind of investment.  If you’ve got that kind of complex set-up, you need to be doing more than flipping an occasional burger.  I’m thinking of something smaller, and I’m interested in getting some feedback on the charcoal versus gas issue.  Any thoughts that could help to satisfy my grilliousity would be welcome.

Wallet Load

The Bus-Riding Conservative has long been a proponent of zerOz wallets — a local business, found just a few doors down from the firm, that makes a very snappy alternative to the regular male wallet.  His persistent advocacy has encouraged many of the members of our lunch bunch to become converts, and now they too tout the many advantages of the zerOz option.  It’s almost to the point that we can’t go to lunch without somebody boasting about the coolness of their particular zerOz.

IMG_0949I’ve resisted, mostly due to inertia, but when Kish became a committed zerOz proselyte and got me one for my birthday I knew further resistance was futile.  Like a new member of the Borg, it was time for me to throw in the towel and be assimilated into the zerOz Nation.  Yesterday I emptied out my old wallet and tried to decide what I really needed in my new zerOz — because the whole idea is to get rid of all of the random crap that you’ve stored in the old wallet and skinny down to what is really needed.

My old wallet wasn’t quite in Costanza territory, but it was pretty bulky, and I got a laugh out of the amazing amount of stuff that came out of its many nooks and crannies.  Two different grocery store “advantage cards,” three hotel rewards cards, and three health care cards.  Long-forgotten cards from shops and restaurants where you get a free lunch or pound of coffee after ten punch-outs.  Countless heavily creased and well-worn handwritten scraps of paper that was supposed to remind me of where I parked in the blue lot at the airport.  Random business cards from people I’ve met over the years and not met or spoken to since.  The band I took off a cigar that I particularly enjoyed.  And a handwritten note from the host of the Belvedere Ice Room in Whistler, Canada with the name of the Polish vodka that tasted like pure water.  (It’s Uluvka, for the record.)

What will I do without all of this unused stuff in my wallet?  Walk a little taller and without listing to the wallet side, I guess.


We learned some things so long ago that we have no recollection of the process.  The words “Mom” and “Dad” and the names of our siblings.  That you don’t stick your hand into an open flame or onto a glowing red burner.  Simple temporal concepts, like “today” and “yesterday” and “tomorrow” and “later.”

And basic words.  Anybody who has children knows that kids typically learn the words “yes” and “no” some time before the age of two and then stubbornly and infuriatingly speak, shout, or scream the word “no” exclusively for the next 12 months.

countingBut counting comes later, along with learning your ABCs.  Counting is a building block for math, just like learning the alphabet is a building block for reading and spelling.  When you think about it, counting is a fairly sophisticated concept.  First you grasp the difference between none, one, and many — and then you learn that specific words and symbols represent precise numbers of, say, the little meatballs in the Chef Boyardee spaghetti that your Mom served for lunch.

One of the challenges of counting, of course, is that the words that represent the numbers, and their progression, aren’t intuitive.  I thought of counting and its challenges when I stumbled across this article about the words “eleven” and “twelve” and their history.  For many kids, the numbers between 10 and 20 are the big challenge because they’re weird and not consistent with the concepts that come before (between 1 and 10) or after (for 20 and up).  To this day, I think the only reason I know the world “delve” is because of the rhyme I learned about counting as a kid.  (“Eleven, twelve, dig and delve.”)

So where did eleven and twelve come from?  According to etymologists, both come from the root word “lif,” which apparently meant “to leave” — the concept being that 11 would mean one left after 10, and 12 would mean two left after 10.  It’s weird, and something that would forever after cause kids learning to count to stumble and hesitate after then got to 10, but it’s not unique to English — when you learn how to count in French, at least, you encounter the same issue and strange words just after “dix”.

That suggests that, in the early days among the common folk, most people didn’t need to routinely count up to 573, or for that matter much past ten.  That makes sense, because we’ve got ten fingers and kids learning to count often do so using their fingers.  Our ancestors created special words for the numbers just past ten, but at a certain point they probably just shrugged and settled for “many” rather than going for precision.

Lots of kids learning to count would like to have taken the same approach.

Prince’s Passing

It was a shock to hear yesterday about the death of Prince, at age 57.  The musical star was found dead in an elevator in his home, and the cause of his death is not yet known.  It’s a huge hit to the music world, which has been reeling in the wake of a series of deaths — David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard, and now Prince — that make it seem like 2016 is the Grim Reaper’s year to swing that scythe of his through the ranks of iconic figures in different branches of the music world.

I first heard of Prince and his music back in the ’80s, during the early days of MTV, when that channel still played music.  During Richard’s infant days I spent some nights sitting in our rocking chair, with Richard’s belly pressed against my shoulder, rocking during the wee hours of the early morning and hoping he would fall back asleep.  Richard seemed to do better with some background noise, so we often turned the cable channel to MTV and listened to the music of the mid-80s.

prince-ctcOne of the frequent songs on the MTV late night/early morning playlist in those days was Prince’s Raspberry Beret, and another was the Bangles’ Manic Monday, which the MTV VJs noted was written by Prince. They were both frothy pop songs, catchy but lightweight, the kind of songs where the melody and lyrics seemed to get injected directly into your brain cells and you can’t get them out no matter how hard you tried.  Those songs defined and informed my views of Prince, and I dismissed him as a talented but somewhat insubstantial pop star.  When Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and started to get into battles with record companies and others I added egotistical to the list of adjectives I associated with him.

Ironically, it was Richard who reintroduced me to Prince.  Perhaps it was his exposure to Raspberry Beret during his infancy — OK, maybe not — but Richard became a huge fan of Prince, and during his college days at Northwestern he hosted a weekly, multi-episode show on the campus radio station that was devoted to Prince’s career and songs.  Perhaps fittingly, it was broadcast during the wee hours in Evanston, and aired, I think, during the 5-6 a.m. slot, Eastern time.  If I woke up early, as I usually do, I could catch it live via web radio.  It was fun and sort of weird to hear Richard’s voice on radio first thing in the morning, so I tried to listen to the show whenever I could.

Through Richard and his radio show I learned a lot more about Prince — and realized that my casual dismissal of him on the basis of two songs was far off base.  His music was a lot more thoughtful and interesting and ground-breaking than I had given him credit for, and I added a lot of it to my iPod playlist where it has stayed ever since.  I’m sorry to hear of Prince’s untimely death, and sorry to know that Richard has lost a favorite artist — and I’m also sorry that I didn’t appreciate a great talent for so many years.  The creative world is poorer without Prince in its ranks.