Asked and answered
Or: Then & Now
Gregory J. of Dayton’s Bluff: “I asked a question and received an answer. That isn’t unusual, except that there was a gap of about 55 years between the question and the answer.
“At a very young age, I developed a liking for science fiction. My grade-school library had a good but small collection of this genre, and it didn’t take me long to burn through it. I then set my sights on the downtown St. Paul Public Library and was disheartened to learn there was little or no science fiction in either the Children’s Room or the Skinner Young People’s Room. This was around 1962.
“I remember specifically asking a librarian for the Tom Swift Jr. series. I was told they didn’t carry it. I then asked the question: ‘Why not?’ I did not get an answer, and that was that. One didn’t argue with librarians.
“Fast-forward to 2017. The Pioneer Press runs an editorial column titled ‘Friday Opinuendo.’ Earlier this year, the writer frequently referenced the book ‘A Noble Task — The Saint Paul Public Library Celebrates 125!’ Being a lifelong fan of the library, I bought a copy and read it for myself. In it I found a section concerning librarians over the years. One in particular caught my eye. Her name was Della McGregor, and she headed the Children’s Room and Youth Services at the Central Library for 47 years until her retirement in the 1960s.
“I came across this particularly telling passage: ‘She [Della McGregor] had strong views on what was appropriate children’s literature. She did not approve of such popular books as the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Bobbsey Twins series. She called them “fluff” and would not purchase them for the library.’ Obviously the Tom Swift Jr. series would have been included in this list. Thus, after all these years, my question was finally answered. There were no Tom Swift Jr. books in the library because Della McGregor did not think they were proper reading material for children.
“If the library wouldn’t carry these type of books, my friends and I had no choice but to get them on the streets, or in this case purchased from stores, as birthday and Christmas presents, and from each other. No one had all the series, but we traded Tom Swift, Hardy Boys and Chip Hilton books back and forth. I assume girls did the same with Nancy Drew and similar ‘girl’ books.
“I still have my collection of Tom Swift Jr. books and look them over from time to time. While they may not rank among the great works of world literature as defined by the Harvard Classics, they aren’t fluff. They were a source of good reading material, with decent stories and a robust vocabulary. Plus, they had some cool cover art.
“Here are a couple of Tom Swift Jr. books from my collection.
“This postcard of the Children’s Room in the Central Library dates back to around 1950, but the room changed very little over the decades that followed.
“The same can be said of the James H. Skinner Memorial Room for Young People, as seen in this postcard.”
The Permanent Sonly Record
The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “Some of our kids could form their words early and put them all together into a sentence. Some of them took longer, but it was always worth waiting for whenever it happened.
“It was 1961. We had moved to our new home in the suburbs the year before, and I had finally gotten around to using the beauty-shop coupon from the Welcome Wagon Lady. I walked in the door wearing my new look — a Jackie Kennedy bouffant style. Our 22-month-old was sitting in the playpen looking at pictures of Little Boy Blue in his favorite nursery-story book. He gave me a stunned look and then did a classic double-take, looking from me to the picture in his book and back at me again. Holding his book in one hand, he pulled himself slowly to his feet and uttered his first complete sentence: ‘Mama, you look like a haystack.'”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: It was June in 1993. We were watching the United States Open (at Baltusrol) on the television set at the northwest corner of our family room. A 22-month-old girl we knew (and know) very well was playing with her little toy cars on the floor behind us — but was apparently enjoying the golf, too. We had no idea she was watching with us.
We believe it was Tom Lehman who missed the short putt that produced the little girl’s first noun/verb/direct object sentence: “He missed the putt.”
Our head spun around, and we said: “What did you say?”
“He missed the putt,” she said.
Just a coincidence that she grew up to be a very fine golfer?
The Permanent Granddaughtersly Record (responsorial)
DebK of Rosemount: “Vertically Challenged recently submitted a charming photo of a trio of tiny ballerinas, which took me back to my daughters’ initial efforts to master the plié and the pas de chat in Betty Jo’s basement studio. No talent was required. But a diploma in potty-training was. Diaper-related lumps under teeny leotards were not permitted.
“In those days, parents were not indentured to their children’s activities. My only involvement was to deliver our daughters to and retrieve them from Betty Jo’s house once a week, to stitch up two costumes a piece each spring, and to show up at the annual recital for an opportunity to appreciate the progress the girls and boy (always a solitary student of the male persuasion) had made under Betty Jo’s tutelage. Once I was assured that the costumes I’d sewn weren’t that much worse than those stitched up by the other moms, I was able to relax and enjoy the performance, which constituted the cultural high-water mark of the year for us. That said, the aesthetic elevation provided by our daughters’ dance experiences never banished the dark associations this particular art form has held for me ever since my first year in college.
“At the time, a degree from Cornell College required the (graded) completion of four semesters of physical education. Having suffered through one semester of bowling, which required me to appear at the Mt. Vernon Bowl, located a mile or so off campus, by 8:10 every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, I was willing to consider the only other option that meshed with my second-semester schedule: Modern Dance, conveniently held at the Women’s Gym at a civilized 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. (Yes, we had classes on Saturday mornings. Those were the days when colleges delivered your money’s worth.)
“I felt my G.P.A. imploding at the inaugural meeting of the class, when the instructor, a recently retired professional dancer in her first college teaching assignment, flitted onto the gym floor. Her appearance gave evidence of years-long disciplined dedication to dance — and of very good genes. There was no denying the contrast ‘Madame’ made with us students, a group which was (ahem) weighted heavily to well-nourished farm girls. I’m sure she made a herculean effort to hide her disgust as she eyeballed us, but that effort fell short. In particular, her disdain fell on me, for I had failed to obtain the requisite short-sleeved, black leotard in time for the first class. If I’d had a moment in private with Madame, I’d have explained that I was not currently in a financial position to add that garment to my wardrobe and, further, that I did not judge that a leotard was likely to enhance my best features.
“I never got that chance. Instead, Madame rolled her heavily mascaraed eyes and assaulted us — my leotard-clad sisters and moi — with a barrage of instructions, the gist of which was to get us to cling to a makeshift barre while we did unspeakable things to our calves and thighs. Despite our dogged efforts to hang in there, a handful of us (myself notably included) were so inept that Madame’s silken red tresses were in some danger of being torn from her perfectly formed skull. A good 10 minutes before that first session was scheduled to conclude, Madame threw in the towel, dismissing the lot of us with a frenzied shriek: ‘SOME of us must return to our dorm rooms to consider WHICH is our right foot and WHICH is our left.'”
Our birds, ourselves
Al B of Hartland writes: ” I watched the goldfinches at the feeders. When they weren’t eating, they were singing. Their joyful songs were captivating.
“I like Vivaldi’s music, too. I like it because it makes me happy.
“Vivaldi named his 1729 flute concerto for a bird: the goldfinch — the European goldfinch.
“The cheery sounds of the American goldfinch make me happy, too.”
Our butterflies, ourselves
Ask Al B (or Someone Else) Division
Hugo Woman writes: “I’ve been wondering if BB’s resident ornithologist, Al B of Hartland, has any answer as to why we have had such a fabulous hatching of Painted Ladies (butterflies) this fall?
“His voluminous knowledge of flora and fauna in the natural world is amazing, and I thought if anyone might be able to tell us, maybe he could, Or, if we have an entomologist in the BB ranks of readers/writers, maybe she or he might know the reason?
“I just bought a new plant with purple flowers that actually is for Zone 5, and the Painted Ladies have been having a ball landing on it and doing their thing!”
Our flora, ourselves
Mounds View Swede reports: “When I went to the nearby Ramsey County compost site with food scraps, it was afternoon, and the Morning Glory flowers were closed for the day. I didn’t know they did that and that Morning Glory was a literal name for them.
“So I went back this morning. The site manager said there were 12 blossoms open this morning when she got there.
“And the phlox were blooming away, also.
“And the Forget-me-nots.
“It took me a while to remember their name, and I chastised myself for not remembering. Now I forget them not.”
Tim Torkildson writes: “Subject: A clown on Capitol Hill.
“I can do no better than to quote the first few paragraphs verbatim from the September 18th edition of The Washington Post:
“‘An Ohio man who tried to discipline his 6-year-old daughter by chasing her around in a clown mask has been charged after she ran screaming to a stranger’s apartment — prompting that neighbor to fire a gunshot into the air, police say.
“‘The incident occurred just before 10 p.m. Saturday, when 25-year-old Vernon Barrett Jr. donned a clown mask and began chasing his young daughter outside their apartment in Boardman Township, a suburb of Youngstown, Ohio.
“‘It was supposed to be a prank, Barrett later told police, a way to get the child to behave without resorting to spanking. A police report did not specify why he was trying to discipline his daughter that day.
“‘Instead, the frightened child ran to a female stranger’s car nearby, jumped inside and said she was being chased by a clown, police said. That woman later told police that the man wearing the clown mask pulled the child out of her car. Unsure of what was happening, the woman called 911. (“I don’t want to be named,” the witness told The Washington Post on Monday when reached by phone, “but I can tell you it scared the bejeezus out of me.”)’
“It’s idiots like Barrett Junior who give clowns a bad name (to say nothing of those in Congress).
“It’s just not safe to show up anywhere unannounced as a clown. In the good old days, you could don the motley and stroll about spreading cheer without much fear of being tossed in the hoosegow.
“I did my last professional clown gig back in 2013, and it nearly resulted in a trip to Devil’s Island thanks to Homeland Security. Here’s how it went down:
“The year 2013 started out on a sour note when I had to leave Thailand suddenly, owing to a visa snafu. I made arrangements to rent a room from my daughter just outside of Washington, D.C., and settled down to teaching English online through my former employer back in Thailand. But that job went kerflooey after a few months, and I had to find another gig, pronto.
“It came to me that I might as well put on the old clown costume and do some street performing, as I had done a few years earlier back in Minneapolis. That had garnered me the grubstake that took me to Thailand in the first place.
“And what better place for a little street theater than Capitol Hill? So one bright spring morning, I marched over to the Senate Rotunda bearing a placard that read: ‘UNEMPLOYED Circus Clown — Please Help Put me in Congress, where I Belong!’
“I planted myself under one of the expansive plane trees on the promenade and began a little pantomime show, with juggling and my musical saw. All went well for about an hour, with little knots of tourists stopping to take a photo with me and my sign and then dropping a few bucks into my hat.
“Then all hell broke loose when a detail of Homeland Security guards, guns drawn, surrounded me. Their leader, a tall, slim blonde in a dull black uniform, sporting reflective sunglasses, yelled at me through a bullhorn to drop the weapon. What weapon? Oh, she meant my musical saw! I gingerly put it down, and the circle drew in tighter. In the meantime, I had lost my mind with fear, so when Blondie began questioning me about who I was and where I came from, I fell back on my old pantomime training, gesturing and mouthing words but unable to actually say anything. I think that may have saved my skin, because Blondie became intrigued with my frantic body language and actually smiled.
“‘Doesn’t your clown character talk, Bozo?’ she finally asked me, after looking through my wallet.
“I nodded like a demented bobblehead.
“‘I guess he’s OK, boys,’ she said to her coterie of gun-totting minions. ‘Just don’t ask for money,’ she said sternly to me. I mimed an eloquent affirmation that I would never do such a heinous thing. The Homeland Security thugs dispersed, and, after using the donniker over at the Botanical Gardens, I resumed my performance — careful not to overtly ask for any money. But my sign made it clear that I wouldn’t turn down any donations to my campaign fund, so I continued to do OK while keeping to the letter of the law as laid down by Blondie.
“I became a fixture there at Capitol Hill that summer. A few senators and representatives even stopped by to have their pictures taken with me, and the local cops started addressing me as ‘Senator Dusty.’
“There were other nutjobs who inhabited Capitol Hill along with me, carrying various signs about their imaginary grievances. One gentleman, I remember very well; his sign ran into several hundred words — the gist of it was that the CIA had stolen his wife, and he wanted her back. Another guy dressed up like Uncle Sam and passed out cheap copies of the Constitution while cheerfully warning everyone that fluoride was a terrorist plot.
“I made out pretty well, especially when a group of school kids came by and their teacher stiffly warned them against stopping to read my sign or interact with me. That just spurred them on, and they emptied their pockets for me. The Chinese tourist groups, usually about 50 in a pack, all demanded photographs with me, and then loaded me down with quarters. I never broke my silence, but carried a pad and pen so I could write down whatever I couldn’t convey via pantomime. Most of the questions revolved around if I was a real circus clown, so I always wrote down ‘Ringling Brothers, starting in 1971!’
“It was a sad day in my professional life as a clown when Blondie showed up again that fall to tell me: ‘Sorry, Bozo, but the rules have been tightened. You can’t loiter around here anymore unless you can prove you’re on official business. I’ve gotta ask you to leave.’ So much for free speech in America.
“But she did give me a $5 bill prior to sending me away. Some of those people are all right.”
The highfalutin amusements
Wayne Nelson of Forest Lake sends “MINNESOTA NEWS”: “Subject: NORWEGIAN LOGIC.
“After having dug to a depth of 10 feet last year outside of Buffalo, New York, scientists found traces of copper cable dating back 120 years. They came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 100 years ago.
“Not to be outdone by the New Yorkers, in the weeks that followed, a Los Angeles, California, archaeologist dug to a depth of 20 feet somewhere just outside Oceanside. Shortly after, a story in the Los Angeles Times read, ‘California archaeologists, reporting a finding of 200-year-old copper cable, have concluded that their ancestors already had an advanced high-tech communications network a hundred years earlier than the New Yorkers.’
“One week later, a local newspaper in St. Paul, Minnesota, reported the following: ‘After digging down about 30 feet deep in his pasture near the community of Bloomington,
Ole Olson, a hell of an engineer and a self-taught archaeologist, reported that he found absolutely nothing. Ole has therefore concluded that 300 years ago, Minnesota had already gone wireless.’
“Just makes a person proud to be from Minnesota!”
Band Name of the Day: The Chip Hiltons
Website of the Day, from Double Bogey Mike: