R.I.P., Stephen Hawking.

In memoriam

A couple of days ago, we heard from Kathy S. of St Paul: “Subject: Stephen’s Spirit.

“Stephen Hawking died today.

“He said science explained everything without theology (i.e., a supreme being). We won’t know if he was right until we join him. My first thought, upon hearing he is now free of all gravity, is from John Gillespie Magee, Jr.: ‘I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth . . . and touched the face of God.’


“Hawking accomplished amazing things, both in science and in our thoughts about it. Many people would have given up when facing a fraction of his challenges. But he (and all who made ‘him’ work) kept tying knots and going on. Until they couldn’t.

“Hawking’s disability might have made him a better physicist, because he could no longer pursue random distractions. I believe my autism has made me a better storyteller. Because I ‘fail to fit in’ in places, I have bounced from one to the next — and experienced more stories, whose import I understand best when I find words to link and explain them.

“Given a choice, I think I’d like to be ‘normal’ — though that might not be all it is cracked up to be. And I believe in making the best of what we’re given.

“They say life is what you make of it. Stephen Hawking’s incredible spirit accomplished so much, even when he couldn’t control much of anything.

“He might not have believed in souls, but I think Stephen is Inside so many of us. Always.”

Life imitates comedy (responsorial)

Jim Fitzsimons of St. Paul: “Subject: John Cleese’s treatment of a fan.

“This tale may be apocryphal, but with John Cleese coming up the other day, I thought I’d share it anyway.

“A fan spotted Mr. Cleese walking along in London, and just had to stop the legendary actor/comedian/writer to let him know how much his work meant to him. The fan told of how much he enjoyed ‘Monty Python’ and ‘Fawlty Towers’ and all of Cleese’s work. He was so pleased to meet his hero and tell him how much he was appreciated.

“Cleese, who can be a rather imposing fellow at 6-foot-5, looked this young fan up and down and then proceeded to let him know how presumptuous and rude he had been. How dare he take such liberties? Cleese really let this fan have it for a good 10 to 15 seconds in front of a gathering crowd.

“The fan was crushed and stood in stunned silence. What’s that they say about meeting ones heroes?

“Then Cleese turned and walked away . . . doing the silly walk.

“Boy! I hope this story is true.”

Perchance, to dream
Fellow Travelers Division

IGHGrampa: “I was on a motor trip with a friend and his son, and we came upon what looked like a huge boulder by the side of the road. It was like a smaller version of Ayers Rock, in Australia. It was actually two boulders, because one boulder was split vertically into two, and the two halves were separated by about three feet. It looked so interesting that we decided to stop and look at more closely.

“We discovered then that it wasn’t a boulder at all, but two large buildings. One side was made to look like a huge split boulder. The other side looked like a smooth rock face with a rounded roof line. A sign above the door said ‘Split Boulder Beer.’ It was a brewery.

“We entered the building to explore a little. A woman who was like a receptionist greeted us. I noticed right away that on one wall was a large road map of North Dakota. It was really big, about 15 feet high and twice that in length, mounted on a frame. I like to collect road maps when I go on motor trips and told her that.

“‘Oh, would you like to have this one?’ she asked me. ‘We’re going to take this down and replace it with a new poster. Someone is coming later to do it.’

“‘You bet I would,’ I eagerly answered.

“So, while we waited, she got a stepladder and climbed up to unfasten the clips holding it up. When it was down, I helped remove it from the frame and fold it up. It was printed on heavy paper and still had folds from when it first came to them. I was looking forward to studying my billboard-size map in the car while my friend drove.

“The dream ended then. I wonder how I would have managed to unfold and examine such a large map in the car.”

Our theater of seasons

Mounds View Swede: “Snow melt patterns.

“I like to glance out the back windows each day to see how things are progressing with the snow.

“I noticed in this first photo unexplained patterns and wondered how this would come about. This is snow on our deck closest to the east side of our house. I am wondering if reflections from the deck door back on the snow pile could cause something like this.


“Our one red oak tree is dropping leaves occasionally. They seem to absorb the heat of the sun and then sink out of sight.


“Our hosta blossom stems seem to do the same thing and melt the snow around them.


“This raised area of snow is caused by the deck railing blocking the sun just at that point, so the snow either side of the shadow melts more quickly.


“It seems there is something new to see almost every day, and it has been fun to have the sun out and doing its work. I feel like I am walking around with a smile inside each sunny day.”

The workshop chronicles
Quilting Corollary

Stinky Bananalips of Empire, Minnesota: “The comments about the sanding-out of mistakes on the eight-sided box bring to mind my group of quilting friends and our philosophies on mistakes:

“There are no mistakes, only embellishment opportunities! As in: If your points won’t match up, sew a cute button over them (and throw in some more randomly, so it looks like you meant to do it that way).

“If a pieced block won’t lie flat, it can always be quilted into submission. I like to say I will quilt it into submission in an ominous voice, so my quilt knows I’m the boss.

“And finally: If it can’t be seen from the back of a galloping horse, it’s just fine!

“Our group is more about enjoying the process than achieving perfection, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


The Permanent Sisterly Record
And: What’s in a (pet) name?

The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “My oldest sister, Ruth, entered the world’s stage during a record-breaking Iowa snowstorm in March of 1917. Ruth thrived on laughter — and applause. This photo of her performing in a stage play with her dance partner (and husband of over a half-century) depicts her flamboyant and joyous personality better than words. She brought laughter to all of us who knew and loved her during her life span of over 91 years.


“Ruth loved cats, and when it became time for her to think about moving into senior housing, her main concern was that she had to be allowed to have a cat. Her daughter said shopping for a suitable place was an adventure with Ruth. On noticing the grab bars in the hallways, she flipped her leg up and said: ‘Oooh, lookie. I can practice my ballet on this barre.’

“She looked at several apartments and finally settled on one with the promise that ‘soon’ they would begin allowing the residents to have a cat. Patience was not Ruth’s strong suit, and she grumbled: ‘They tell me “soon.” t’s always the same thing, “soon.” When in the hell will they make up their blankety-blank minds and let me have a cat!’

“After three years,  the decision was finally made and Ruth bought her cat. It was a beautiful little thing, and she named it ‘Soon.'”

You can say that again!

Christine: “My friend Foreign Correspondent, Mpls. would like to share this photo of a sign that is posted at your Friendly Rival Paper, for the Department of Redundancy Department”:


Our birds, ourselves
Ask Al B Division (responsorial)

Kathy S. of St Paul recently asked: “Al B said great horned owls eat skunks.

“Do they eat all except the smell? Or can you smell them coming, when they have dined on skunk?”

Al B — that’s Al B of Hartland, our Official Ornithologist — has now replied: “Dear Kathy S.,

“I have taken injured great horned owls that have had some involvement with a skunk to rehabbers. It made for long and nearly breathless drives. I’ve located a great horned owl nest thanks to the smell of a skunk. You wouldn’t think this would be good for the owl, but it’s much worse for the skunk.

“Thanks for asking.”

Life as we know it

Tim Torkildson: “Subject: The history of my bad back.

“The first fateful injury to my back occurred during the winter of 1960. My brother Billy, 10 years older than I, took advantage of the fact that there had been but negligible snowfall before Christmas to gull me into thinking that Santa Claus would not be visiting our neighborhood that year.

“‘Looks like he won’t be able to drive his sleigh up to our house this year, Timmy,’ he told me dolefully.

“I was panic-stricken. That was the year I had pleaded like Clarence Darrow at the Scopes Monkey Trial for my parents to get me a Mr. Machine — a plastic, wind-up, take-apart mechanical man with a red top hat. Mom said no, they wouldn’t get such a foolish thing for me — but that Santa might bring it, if I ate my peas. I hated peas and wouldn’t touch them if they were covered in gold. But I wanted that Mr. Machine pretty bad, so I shoveled in the peas (which seemed to maliciously turn up at every pickin’ dinner that winter), gagging all the while.

“Now it appeared that my nauseating sacrifice had been in vain! Luckily, it began snowing heavily a week before Christmas, and my mother caught Billy telling me his sacrilegious fibs — she batted him upside the head with the kitchen broom and told him he’d have to take my sisters and me tobogganing at the Columbia Golf Course to make amends.

“At the intersection of Central Avenue and St. Anthony Parkway, the course was a hilly preserve carved from the nearby ‘Nordeast’ Minneapolis rail yards. Billy was a member, so he drove us over the next Saturday and dutifully lugged the family toboggan, made of cheap flexible plywood and padded with a thin veneer of foam rubber, up the steepest grade he could find, then pushed us off into the void.

“The ride down had achieved Mach One speed when the toboggan crashed over a protruding rock, sending a shock up my spine that turned into a persistent dagger thrust. When I got home, I complained about the pain in my lower back to Mom, so she let me lie on the living room couch the rest of the day, with an electric heating pad underneath me, and plied me with St. Joseph’s chewable baby aspirin. I hobbled around a few days like Walter Brennan in a John Wayne Western before straightening up and getting my spinal mojo back. Back then, going to our family pediatrician for a backache was considered pretty wimpy, and expensive (he charged 15 bucks per visit). So I never had it diagnosed or X-rayed. Same deal with my teeth — they were as crooked and impacted as old gravestones in a cemetery, but boys didn’t need braces; they would eventually get their teeth straightened out from the knocks they received playing football.

“My back behaved itself for the next several years, as I recall, right through high school. It stayed loyal and supportive during my attendance at the Ringling Clown College in 1971. But then while the circus was playing Denver in the fall of 1972, it stabbed me in the back again.

“I was in the center-ring gag that season — the only First of May allowed into the august company of the likes of Mark Anthony, Dougie Ashton, Lazlo Donnert, Prince Paul, and the ineffable Swede Johnson. It was a bakery gag. Dougie and Swede were bride and groom, respectively, coming to inspect their wedding cake. I had a bit part where I got a pie in the face and was knocked down by a tray of pastries carried by Prince Paul, a dwarf.

“That first show in Denver when I took my pratfall, something popped in my lower back, and I couldn’t spring back up with my usual energy. Mark Anthony helped me onto my feet, and I finished the gag in agony. As soon as I could get my makeup off, I hobbled out of the arena and hailed a cab to the nearest ER. The doctor X-rayed my sacroiliac and pronounced a bruised coccyx. I would have to stay in bed for a week. At the time I was a member of the American Guild of Variety Artists, and they paid all the medical bills and reimbursed me for my week’s lost pay. I loved that union, and was mortified when old man Feld managed to evict it from the circus several years later by offering his own health plan for the clowns — which, I understand, was less than stellar.

“A few years later, hale and hearty once again, I was an LDS missionary in Thailand, doing clown shows under the auspices of the Thai Red Cross in hospitals, schools, and prisons. But in the dusty town of Khon Kaen up in the Isaan region of Thailand, I bent over to tie my shoes, and my back once again turned Quisling. I couldn’t straighten up. And I had a clown show to do at the local prison in an hour!

“I had my companion, Elder Day, girdle me up in several miles of Ace Bandage, and somehow managed to give the prisoners 45 minutes of buffoonery, while gritting my teeth and muttering ‘riddhi pagliacci’ over and over again.

“After a few days’ bed rest, I was as good as new. I didn’t bother going to a doctor or getting X-rayed again. It just didn’t make any sense — here I was in top physical form (I rode a Chinese-made cast-iron bike that weighed half a ton if it weighed an ounce for miles every day), and yet my back had seized up like I was Methuselah. Well, I was too busy with my performing and proselytizing duties to worry about it — so I blew it off. I had no more episodes during my two years in Thailand.

“A few years later, when I was courting my wife Amy in Williston, North Dakota, I was trying to impress her with a few tricks on old Dr. Maisey’s trampoline in his back yard. He was the Branch President of the LDS Church in Williston, and took a kindly interest in my wooing of Amy Anderson, so he let us use his house and yard whenever we wanted. And wouldn’t you know it, my back played me false once again just after completing a double forward somersault on the trampoline. Amy had to assist me down and drive me back to my basement apartment, where she nursed me gallantly for the next several days.

“The next 15 years were full of sciatica as we married and raised a family. There is a pernicious tradition in the LDS Church that the Elders’ Quorum is to function as a volunteer cartage company for every member moving their residence. And let me tell you, most LDS members own at least one piano. And often two. As a true-blue Mormon, I participated in dozens of these activities, and after each one my back gave out on me. Amy had me going to one chiropractor after another. One told me I had a bone spur on my fifth vertebra; another used a set of electrified chopsticks to poke me like a fondue tidbit; and another, who was enormously fat, used to sit on me when I was spreadeagled on his table — I felt like roadkill. None of them did me much good. The only relief I could find was to have my little daughter Virginia walk up and down my back. Finally, in the summer of 1990, I threw in the towel and refused to lift so much as a box of Kleenex anymore.

“And after that, boys and girls, the volcano I called my spinal cord became blissfully dormant. Until just this morning, when I got out of bed and nearly collapsed into a disjointed pile of misery. I took a mega dose of Ibuprofen and immediately sat down to write this — the sad history of my bad back. Which is going to need a new chapter. Dammit.”

Band Name of the Day: The Silly Walks

Website of the Day: Mr. Machine



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