Plus: In memoriam
DebK of Rosemount: (1) “My nephew Sam is about to graduate from his San Francisco public middle school. In what has apparently become a new rite of passage, the entire eighth-grade class will be treated, at (mostly) taxpayer expense, to a class trip which begins with jetting to Washington, D.C. After four days spent taking in the wonders of our nation’s capital, the entire bunch — kids and chaperones — will fly on to New York City for further educational and cultural improvement, there apparently being nothing of worth to experience in the Bay Area or elsewhere on the West Coast.
“Taxman and I were initially alerted to this remarkable development — the evolution of the lavish Eighth Grade Class Trip, that is — a month or so ago, when Favorite Son shamefacedly revealed that Sweet Caroline’s North Shore (of Chicago) middle-school graduates are part of the same kind of . . . (story interrupted by the arrival of Lucille, our pileated woodpecker, at the feeder . . . now, where was I?) . . . ‘educational adventure’ — a trip with the identical itinerary (and organized by the same outfit that sold the bill of goods to the San Francisco public schools, incidentally).
“Taxman and I personally consider this all to be foolishness of a very high order, but we concede that patrons of well-heeled school districts should be free to fritter away educational dollars as they choose. That said, we are endlessly (and ruefully) amused that our family’s eighth-grade graduates are both attending schools which arduously preach the Gospel of Environmentalism but are blind to the carbon footprint they will be leaving with all this travel.
“Considering the delicious ironies of this situation got Cousin Linda and me to thinking about class trips we experienced in the rural Northwest Iowa of our growing-up years, when sixth-graders were ritually hauled by school bus to Sioux City for the lofty pedagogical purpose of viewing the Shrine Circus. Cousin Linda argues that so modest an outing ought to be classified as a field trip rather than a class trip. I’m not sure where I come down on that thorny question. I’m unclear, too, about how to categorize the other school-related trips we took. Cousin Linda’s two trips to the Iowa State Science Fair, for example. She was treated to a car ride to (and from) Des Moines, where one year (she’s not sure which) she showed off her project — a recording device made of aluminum cans and tin foil — and shared not just the same hotel room but the same bed with Mrs. Alice Schaar, our junior-high science teacher, who is otherwise renowned for having named her only son ‘H.’ Just ‘H.’
“School-district finances must’ve been on more solid footing when I was in high school, for our four-person varsity debate team took two or three overnight trips to face off against the powerhouse teams of South Dakota. As far as I recall, none of us had to sleep with Mr. Carlson. But we did have to work summers for Mr. Carlson, selling vacuum-cleaner bags door-to-door to earn our families’ contributions to the debate-team travel budget. My selection to the 1968 Iowa All-State Choir — which occasioned my first visit to Des Moines and my first restaurant meal — didn’t provide time or opportunity for private fundraising, so I shared a hotel room — though definitely not a bed — with Mrs. Riemersma, wife of my high-school choir director. Mr. Riemersma was bunking with our school’s All-State baritone.”
(2) “Subject: Don’t miss it!
“Take time to read the obit for Mary Kay (Mooney) Olson in the Pioneer Press. We enjoyed every telling of the story of the years when she and her husband were newlyweds (their marriage ceremony having been presided over by a young Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, who opined that ‘it would never last’), newly settled in Chicago, in an apartment building across the street from the mother of Al Capone. Mary Kay said she never felt so safe in her life!”
(3) “I forgot to mention that Mary Kay was a devoted BB reader, until her sight went AWOL. After that, she had it the print edition read to her, we’re told.”
From our Doris Day: “R.I.P., D.D.
“I shall continue to honor the memory of my sunshine-y namesake as appropriate. Rest in Peace, Doris Day. You brought happiness to many.”
Now & Then
Rusty of St. Paul: “My son just booked a plane ticket to return to Ithaca, N.Y., where he is in grad school. He did it from the deck of our home in Northern Wisconsin, using his laptop.
“Just like that. A few clicks, a credit-card number, and he is all set to return east.
“My first airplane trip was in fifth grade, in 1968. Western Airlines to Tucson. I was 11 years old. My Great-Aunt Babe (her real name was Olive, but she went by Babe, as she was the youngest in her family . . . and do you really want to be named after a fruit that swims in a martini?) purchased the tickets for my mom, brother, me and three of my cousins. Her treat. I saw the bill; it was $749, and I was gobsmacked at that extravagant total. Aunt Babe was married to a banker, though was a widow by that time. She was stunningly beautiful, so of course a banker fell hard for her.
“She had a nice home in Tucson. We could see the Catalina Mountains from her rear windows. She had a swimming pool which a man dressed in white would come to clean, a grapefruit tree (the fruit of which we ate at breakfast) and a peppercorn tree. She also had hired maids who wore uniforms, and if we pushed the button under the dining-room table, the bell would ring in the kitchen and the maid would come out and ask what we wanted. I rang the bell and requested a chocolate milk shake, and one arrived shortly thereafter. (I am so pained by this thought now that I, as an 11-year-old, could ask the hired help, an adult woman, to mix me up a shake on her time. Even if this was her job.) [Bulletin Board says: Time to give yourself a break, Rusty. You were an 11-year-old boy! What 11-year-old boy wouldn’t have ordered up a chocolate milk shake, given the opportunity?]
“For this plane trip, we had to get all dressed up in our Sunday clothes. It was just what you did then. (I recall the first time I saw an overweight guy on a plane in shorts and T-shirt and thinking: ‘Dude! This is so not right. Have some dignity on this flight!’)
“I was nervous to fly, as I did not care for heights. When we hit the Rockies, we hit severe turbulence. We sank hundreds, maybe thousands of feet in a matter of seconds and then G-forced upwards against it. The doors of the overhead compartments opened up. Pillows flew through the cabin. The oxygen-mask-compartment doors flew open, and the masks come down — not because of a loss of pressure, but because of the force of the turbulence. The stewardesses (they were not ‘flight attendants,’ then) told us later it was the worst air pocket they had ever experienced.
“I squeezed the hand of my mom so tight. Later I looked at my cupped palm, and it had a pool of sweat in it. I asked Mom: ‘Are we going to die?’ Her job as a mother was to reassure me and say: ‘No, son, we will be all right.’ But my mother was honest to a fault and could not tell a lie (thanks, Grandpa Mac!). She said: ‘I don’t know.’ So of course I thought we were going to die.
‘But we survived and made it to Tucson International.
“RFK was assassinated when I was on that trip in June, and I awoke to the maid crying in the kitchen. RFK was a beacon of hope for her people, for better circumstances — such as not having to work for a rich white lady and make milk shakes for a white 11-year-old.
“When I was 3 years old, my family drove Aunt Babe’s Cadillac back to Tucson from Minnesota for her and then took the train back to Minnesota on her dime. I don’t remember much about that train trip, other than crisp white sheets in the cramped sleeper compartments and a toilet (I think stainless, and it opened up over fast-moving tracks?) that was unusual for me, plus the landscape of Texas and Oklahoma. It would have arrived at Union Depot, which I don’t recall, but I take comfort in that history and that the Depot is still with us. Also: There was no turbulence.”
Our theater of seasons
Mounds View Swede has been out and about on multiple occasions, camera in hand: (1) “Subject: 5 welcome spring changes photos.
“My son sent another rhododendron photo from Oregon, with the blossoms open. I enjoy looking at it in anticipation of flowers blooming here.
“Some of the leaves opening up are very distinctive, with shiny red colors and hairy edges.
“This spring bloom with its floppy petals caught my eye while driving by, so I returned with my camera to take a closer look.
“A younger blossom, I think, still had more pink in it and was set off nicely by the blue sky.
“Last Friday, the duck’s eggs hatched, and she walked off with the ducklings to a nearby lake.
“This happened after I had already left, so I didn’t get a chance to see any of it. I would have enjoyed watching the process and getting photos of it to share with BB readers.”
(2) Subject: 6 spring variety photos.
“I drove past some neighborhood blooming shrubs and came back to take a closer look. The first was all pinkish blooms . . .
“. . . and the second was all white. I was very happy to see things blooming again.
“I also took a look at the variety of ways plants do their first leaves. I don\t know if that middle cluster of buds with white fuzzy outlines will bloom or not. Perhaps it\s just the way leaves are before they open.
“These solid green new leaves are more what I expect to see.
“And this plant combines the red and the green.
“I also saw this pair of mallards walking across a yard. The owner puts out food for them, but they are still wary of people, as they should be.
“For some reason, each day of real spring brings more joy as I get older. Or maybe I am just paying more attention now that I am retired and have time to look.”
(3) “Subject: 4 more spring progress photos.
“Yesterday morning, I noticed that the oak trees in my yard are starting to do something — finally. I was happy to see leaves starting to come out.
“The early leaves on my North Woods Maple look old already. I assume the recent rains will pep them up.
“The aspen or birch in my neighbor’s yard looks as though it has leaves like they are supposed to be: green!
“And one of my volunteer ferns looked like it was celebrating with its ‘arms’ outstretched. That’s the spirit I also feel as spring awakens in the plants around me.”
The Permanent Girlfriendsly Record
Helena Handbasket reports: “The girlfriends shared a good laugh when we realized I wore the same outfit to our May Day lunch date as I did to our Christmas outing, sans Santa cat pin.”
Life imitates “art”
John in Highland: “I admit it: I am a sucker for old sappy movies. Whenever a rerun of ‘Field of Dreams’ comes on, I love to watch it, in spite of the fact that the plot is so unreal.
“One year, taking our kids to visit Grandpa in Illinois, we stopped in Dyersville, Iowa. We had seen the movie and just had to see the field, run the bases, and walk into the corn in left field.”
Our birds, our pets, ourselves
The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “Subject: Swallow-Meow-Oh!
“The cold, rainy and windy day here on the Wisconsin Riviera resulted in unexpected visitors perching on the sheltered screen door to our deck. Cute as they are, hopefully they are just temporarily seeking shelter and not scouting out locations for homesites.
“Buzz the cat was transfixed. If looks could kill . . .”
Twitty of Como: “Subject: Only a ________ would notice.
“It’s appalling to me: the ignorance of people who write commercial ads. You’d think companies buying the ad would want it to be accurate, at least minimally.
“There’s a commercial currently running on TV for the local power-and-light company that grates on me. It starts with a fella paddling a cedar-strip canoe across still waters. As he nears shore, you see the canoe is pointing toward a concrete boat ramp. To my dismay (and grinding teeth), he runs the canoe right up onto the concrete ramp.
“It’s a wood canoe.
“You don’t run wood canoes onto concrete ramps. Not if you value the canoe, which any experienced canoeist would. Most of us wouldn’t even run our aluminum or fiberglass canoes onto concrete. Sheesh. The noise alone grates, not to mention the wear on the bottom of the canoe.
“Must have been scripted by a big-city adman [Bulletin Board notes: or, of course, big-city adwoman] who’s never canoed.”
Semi-Legend: “Subject: Random language generator.
“I had read somewhere recently that young people were enlivening the language by applying new definitions to words.
“Riding the Hiawatha light rail to the first day of the Wordplay book festival, I sat near two young women looking at a cellphone.
“’That’s the most random picture I’ve ever seen,’ one said.
“Did she mean it was poorly framed?
“A standard dictionary was no help. So I checked the Urban Dictionary at https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Random.
“The top definition began ‘The most annoying word ever’ — hardly an encouraging start. The consensus among the other entries is that the word had no precise meaning.
“That might encourage its random use.”
Now & Then
The Astronomer of Nininger: “Subject: The Good Doctor’s Clock.
“The Good Wife and I moved our family to Minnesota some 40 years ago. Our home was next door to a surgeon who, with his family, had migrated here from Indonesia, escaping political and religious persecution. But he was refined. We, on occasion, would go together to Orchestra Hall, where Beethoven or Mozart could be performed by an instrumental ensemble that engaged the audience completely. Sometimes we ventured out to dinner, sampling many of the tasty Chinese food offerings around the Twin Cities. We were disappointed when he retired from private practice, but he continued to use his hands to manipulate, to cut and join — now pieces of wood instead of human body parts. For years, he was the only microsurgeon in this farming community who could save fingers and hands of farmers caught in agricultural machinery.
“Now his strong yet careful fingers crafted clocks and furniture. He made a number of Grandfather clocks, three of them especially ornate and larger than life. After he died, his lovely wife gave one to us. It was heavy. The Good Doctor used primarily Black Walnut woods to create his massive structures. He did this without reference to any plans. Basically he purchased the movement, in this case a Black Forest German-made one, with polished brass cylinders for chimes. Then he sized the case using only ideas which emerged from within his mind.
“One reason the clock came to us is that the four corners of the huge base were adorned with heads of women. One was the Good Wife, one our daughter, one the Good Wife’s mother, and reluctantly he agreed that the fourth would be his own wife. These were the four women in his life. He created many, many flowers, their petals enclosing pearls and other gems from his wife’s jewelry box. He was Christian, so there were crosses and other symbols carved here and there.
“Space does not permit me to describe all of the exotic details. There were four sides of the clock, with a different clock on each side. We are proud to have this one placed in our entryway, where everyone who visits us can see it. The others are in the City and Town Halls of the communities he served. I swear that as it ticks, it does so with great precision, but also with the love that the Good Doctor put into creating this masterpiece.”
Quite a pair of characters
Zoo Lou of St. Paul writes: “Subject: Top of the World.
“One of my all-time-favorite movies is ‘White Heat,’ a 1949 crime drama starring Jimmy Cagney as Cody Jarrett, a violent, cold-blooded hoodlum. His equally cold-blooded mother, played by Margaret Wycherly (ironically, she was Gary Cooper’s sweet mom in ‘Sergeant York’), is always telling her beloved Cody that one day he’ll be on top of the world.
“In the film’s spectacular climax [Bulletin Board notes: Spoiler alert!], a defiant Jarrett, trapped by police on a huge storage tank at a refinery he and his gang tried to rob, screams ‘Made it, Ma, top of the world!’ just as the bullet-riddled tank explodes in a massive fireball, prompting co-star Edmund O’Brien, playing a federal undercover agent who infiltrates the Jarrett gang, to deadpan: ‘He finally got to the top of the world, and it blew right up in his face.’
“I first saw ‘White Heat’ just before going to work as a copy boy at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch during the summer of 1966. One of the staff members I got to know quite well was the late Bill Diehl, the dapper movie and music critic, and popular radio DJ.
“Despite his hectic schedule, Bill always had a few extra minutes to chat with me about movies and music, patiently answering my incessant questions about the Beatles (he was the emcee when the Liverpool lads played Met Stadium in 1965).
“One day, Bill asked me how the copy boy business was going, and in one of those spontaneous brainstorms, I began grimacing like Jimmy Cagney in ‘White Heat’ and snarled: ‘Top of the world, Bill! Top of the world!’ Bill leaned back in his chair and let out a laugh that echoed all through the newsroom.
“On my last day, in late September, there was a small party and many well-wishes for success in college and as a journalist. But what I remember most is Bill mugging like Cagney and snarling: ‘Top of the world, Lou! Top of the world!’
“Bill Diehl and Jimmy Cagney (a.k.a. Cody Jarrett): two unforgettable characters. And when I think of one, I will always think of the other.”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: When we think of Bill, it is the first day of every month.
We are at our desks in the newsroom on the seventh floor of the Pioneer Press building on Cedar Street.
Bill looks over at us and says: “I think I’ll take a month off.”
Then he rises, walks over to the wall, and tears off the huge calendar’s page for the previous month.
His laugh filled the newsroom. So did ours. It never got old, somehow.
Oh, and by the way, Bill was a big supporter of Bulletin Board — and a not-infrequent contributor, always via telephone. (He liked his big baritone — as did so many radio listeners!) He was Judge Crater of St. Paul. His contributions usually ended with either “Case dismissed” or “Case closed.”
Case, alas, closed.
Band Name of the Day: The Judge Craters
Website of the Day: Judge Crater