One shining moment
Sis writes: “Subject: Diva.
“I can hear my longtime friends scoff: ‘Say that again! You sang in the world-famous opera house La Scala, in Milan? Impossible! You can’t sing, period. Sister Edeltrude trained the Grade 6 choir. She let you stand on stage with your pals as long as you just moved your lips. Let’s face it, Sis, you can’t carry a tune.”
“In the parlance of our former schoolyard, I would reply with hauteur: ‘Did, too.’
“Years ago, I was in Milan, Italy, on a baking-hot August day. The inhabitants of the city had closed up shop and headed to the beach.
“I hired a private tour guide to take us (my aunt, a neighbor, and me) around the city. We met Mr. N. on a street corner — an elderly man in his late 70s. He was wearing a tweed jacket and mopping his face with a large, white handkerchief. After brief forays into numerous churches, I became alarmed at Mr. N.’s appearance. I thought he might keel over from the heat at any moment.
“I spoke up. ‘Sir, please take off your jacket. The weather’s too warm.’
“Being old-school and punctilious, he replied: ‘Thank you. I was waiting for your permission.’
“‘Permission! Egad! In 90-degree heat!’
“He said: ‘I have a surprise for you. I think you’ll enjoy it.’
“We were coming to the end of the tour when he led us to the back door of La Scala. It turned out the custodian at the door was a friend. The custodian smiled, we entered, and we found ourselves backstage in a spacious corridor, lit by a series of chandeliers.
“We peered into Maria Callas’s and Renata Tebaldi’s dressing rooms before we hit the main stage. There was no production on at the moment.
“The custodian turned on the footlights. There were seats on the ground floor. Cream and gold box seats in tiers ringed the stage. It was beautiful. The custodian saw my look of awe. With a wink to me, he said: ‘Go on out there and sing.’
“I thought he was kidding. But no, the footlights came on. I was standing where the opera stars of yore accepted world acclaim. It was thrilling.
“I picked a song out of thin air.
“‘Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
“‘And the deer and the antelope play,
“‘Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
“‘And the skies are not cloudy all day.’
“At the end, the crew backstage — my aunt, my neighbor, Mr. N. and the custodian — applauded wildly, shouting ‘Bravo, bravo — encore!’
“I declined the latter, bowing to my right, to my left, and a knee-grazing bow to the main auditorium. For once, I understood what it was like to be an opera star.
“On the way out, the custodian reached up to a chandelier, pinched off a crystal and handed it to me with the immortal words: ‘For you, Mademoiselle, on your debut at La Scala.’
“I floated out the door — ecstatic. Looking back, I whispered: ‘Watch out, Maria and Renata — a third Diva has joined your ranks.”
“The scoffers’ words came back: ‘You never sang at La Scala, Sis. You just imagined you did.’
“I sighed and wearily responded: ‘Did, too.'”
Then & Now
Tom Swift, Electric Cars and Failing Banks Division
Gregory J. of Dayton’s Bluff writes: “Tom Swift was a clever and inventive lad, as we see again in the 1910 book ‘Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout’ — a runabout being a sporty two-seater automobile.
“Early in the book, Tom tells his father that he wants to build, you guessed it, an electric runabout.
“This is what Mr. Swift has to say: ‘I don’t take much stock in electric autos, Tom. Gasolene [as gasoline was spelled in the book] seems to be the best, or perhaps steam, generated by gasolene. I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. All the electric runabouts I ever saw, while they were very nice cars, didn’t seem to be able to go very fast, or very far.’ To which Tom replies: ‘That’s true but it’s because they didn’t have the right kind of a battery.’
“A friend wants to know more about the battery Tom would be using. ‘What system do you use; lead plates and sulphuric acid?’ ‘Oh, that’s out of date long ago,’ Tom tells him. Yes and no. We still use lead-acid batteries in cars, but for a number of technical reasons they were never practical to power electric vehicles.
“Tom has another conversation with his father. ‘What will you do when your battery runs out?’ ‘Recharge it.’ ‘Suppose you’re not near a charging station?’ ‘Well, dad, of course those are some of the details I’ve got to work out.’ After describing various methods of charging a battery, Tom adds: ‘My battery will be capable of being recharged very quickly.’
“There follows a discussion about various materials that could be used to make the sort of battery Tom needs. But the material he picks is — wait for it — lithium. And as we know, lithium batteries are what power today’s electric vehicles. For being over 100 years old, much of this book is still relevant today. It seems that everything old is new again. I have a feeling that Elon Musk might have read this book when he was young.
“A rather strange subplot involves the local bank and how an evil rich man has tried to destroy it so he could start a bank of his own. We then get a detailed explanation of how banks operate, what conditions might create a run on a bank, and how this would cause the bank to fail.
“Tom Swift leaps into action by driving his speedy runabout to another town, picking up a load of cash, and racing back home in the nick of time to save the bank. During the trip, he is slowed down by roads with ruts and large holes, and is nearly carjacked. This all seems rather quaint because, as we know, roads are great and banks don’t fail in the 21st century. And then a few days after I read the book, Silicon Valley Bank self-destructed, probably because it didn’t have Tom Swift to save it.
“Tom has many other adventures and misadventures with his electric runabout, and the book ends with his winning a 500-mile race. His battery worked great, although the car’s tires were a problem.”
The Permanent Friendly Record
The Astronomer of Nininger reports: “The weekly gathering of the Car Guys on Friday morning found 20 or so vintage car enthusiasts [Bulletin Board interjects: Vintage cars — or vintage enthusiasts? Both, we’re guessing!] with their winter driving machines lined up in order so the cars and/or pickups faced outwards. It must be a ‘guy’ thing, because I did not see even one of the vehicles facing inwards towards the curb. Everyone seemed ready for a quick getaway. But then, it was a lot like they were lined up for an auto show.
“The doors of the American Legion opened sharply at 0800 hours. Guys were lined up, ready for breakfast and conversation. The coffee was already placed on the tables in the Gold Room (what you would probably call the back room). We distributed the cups around the tables, and the carafes of coffee as well, until everyone was holding a warm, steaming brew. Keith declined, as he wanted hot chocolate instead.
“Nate, a first-time guy to the group, dared to join in the sharing of stories and add what he could to the revelry. These guys are, in a way, historians who preserve, follow and share the development of various automobiles. Like other segments of society, changes in the human condition are pervaded by new technologies. Understanding the technologies, improving on them, and visioning new ones advances Western civilization and that of the world.
“One gentleman brought in some old photos, possibly 60 or 70 years old. They depicted life when most of these guys were youngsters, and the vehicles that seemed front and center reminded us of what life was like then. They brought back good times, too. Some guys recalled first dates and back seats of those old cars. Another fellow passed around a glass container with a screened metallic lid. We tried to guess what it was. Some of us had no idea. Someone said it might even be a sex toy. But it was one of the first fuel filters available as an aftermarket device. It didn’t look at all like a modern fuel filter, but that chronologizes the advancement of technology.
“Guys do seem to care about each other’s health and well-being. Hadn’t seen Kenny there for a while, but Tom assured us that he is recovering from a fall and improving. Keith came, even though he needed a cane until he gets a hip replacement in May. And any leftovers went into a box for Hank’s dog. The car-show season is just starting, and we’ll have some really good stories to share.”
Now & Then
Cherie D of Inver Grove Heights: “My dear friend Brandy gave me a gift she knew would touch my heart in many ways. She gave me a pair of handmade earrings made from pieces of an old beer bottle.
“The bottle once held Schlitz beer.
“In the late ’40s and early ’50s, Schlitz asked Anchor Hocking to make beer bottles out of Anchor’s special Royal Ruby red glass.
“Brandy knows I have three pieces of that special glassware in my collection. Brandy knows, too, that I enjoy history, so this particular red glass used for the earrings obviously has some fun historical links. (I wonder if anyone remembers those bottles.)
“The person who made the earrings specializes in creating things from reclaimed antique glass and bottles, a practice dear to my heart because I love seeing things being reused and repurposed rather than being thrown into the trash.
“Thank you, dear friend Brandy, for my brand new beer-rings!”
Unclear on the concept?
Or: The self-incriminators
The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “Subject: Do as I say . . .
“The lead character on the TV show ‘Lucky Hank’ is the head of the English department at a small college.
“During a recent episode, he made these comments:
“In response to someone telling him that a table was reserved, he asked: ‘For who?’
“During a conversation with his wife about a decision regarding the future of his son and daughter-in-law, he stated: ‘Without you and I dragging him down.’”
BULLETIN BOARD NOTES: Of course, a perfectly grammatical version — “Without your and my dragging him down” — would sound every bit as wrong!
Life as we know it
The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “Subject: To each their own. [Bulletin Board interjects: The modern marriage of singular and plural will never stop bugging us!]
“My snowbird friends love to send me pictures of their tropical vacations and tell of the relaxing sounds of waves petting the warm sandy beaches. It’s lost on me these winter days, as I love the sound of the snowplow on pavement. It reminds me that I’m safe and secure at home.”
Our theater of seasons
Mounds View Swede: “Subject: Mother Nature’s April Fools Joke?
“Like most, I thought we were putting winter behind us. Mother Nature had other ideas.
“Our front-yard Bridal Wreath was pretty heavily covered.
“And icicles made a brief appearance, including one the needed a diet.
“The sun made interesting abstract patterns on the fresh white snow.
“More potential jigsaw-puzzle pictures.
“With the warming temperatures helping clear some stubborn spots on the driveway, it will soon be spring-ready again. I can picture Mother Nature saying: ‘You thought winter was over? April Fools!'”
The verbing of America
Donald: “Subject: I’ve always enjoyed his music.
“One of the pundits on a cable news show made this comment: ‘They want to murky the water.’”
Ask Bulletin Board
Red’s Offspring, north of St. Paul: “Oh mighty seer, sage, soothsayer — oh, wait, that’s Carnac.
“On Page B4 of the Sports section in the March 22 edition of the Pioneer Press, this appeared in the ‘Sports briefing’ column:
“‘Gophers demolish Illinois St., bring all starters home’
“‘The University of Minnesota defeated Illinois State 10-3 on Tuesday, bringing all nine starters back to base safely.’”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: Your guess is as good as ours. Ours: Each of the nine starters scored at least one run. Perhaps one scored two!
Could be verse!
Tim Torkildson: “They took a poll and that poll said
“job satisfaction has not fled
“from over half of those surveyed.
“(The other half will need first aid.)
“At work I never felt content
“except for time in napping spent.”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: You certainly seem to have enjoyed your clowning days! But perhaps those don’t count as “work.”
Including: Today’s helpful(ness) hint
Kathy S. of St. Paul writes: “Subject: Supporting our neighbors.
“A note re: the shutdown we went through due to COVID:
“Our ability to enter stores was limited, and some restaurants had to limit our access to them. I picked out three places to support. They were Camdi in Dinkytown (by the U), my local deli, and Bread and Chocolate on Grand Avenue.
“Camdi was a Vietnamese restaurant — literally run by a Mom and a Pop. It might have lasted another year or more in normal times, but these were not. I still miss it.
“When ‘my’ deli reopened, I bought quarts of sweet-and-sour cole slaw. I figured the vinegar would kill any darn virus it came in contact with. Eventually I bought my favorite potato salad; later, I got food from the restaurant. I always tip as generously as I can — both in the deli and in the restaurant. I myself went through unemployment and semi-employment, so I know how important even small tips may be. Plus, local delis employ a lot of our neighbors — and that ain’t cheap.
“My third haunt is Bread and Chocolate. I am addicted to the gingerbread cookies — and lately, other bakery goods. During the shutdown, parking on the street was a breeze. Now, despite my Handicapped parking placard, it is far more difficult. I can’t always find close enough parking, so I give up on their baked goods for that week. But the store itself seems to have returned to normal. A lot of folks seem happy to eat there.
“One other note on Bread and Chocolate, though: On Christmas Eve of 2020, I walked into it late in the day. The bakery cases were still full — probably because many people thought of it as a restaurant rather than a bakery. But I dined well that Christmas, on croissants that reminded me of France.
“Yesterday I heard of a Greek restaurant closing after 40 years of business. So maybe we are still not out of the woods, restaurant-wise. But I want to remind everyone of a saying about teeth: that you only need to take care of the ones you want to keep. Because that also goes for restaurants and other small businesses run by our neighbors, not some billionaires who don’t live here.
“Here’s hoping ‘my’ places live long and prosper.”
Department of Duh
Elvis writes: “Subject: The lowest common denominator.
“Elvis made a decision awhile ago that one small way he could make the world a slightly better place was to take care of his shopping carts.
“This includes being mindful around other people’s vehicles, not leaving trash in them, and always returning them to their proper place — usually a cart corral of some sort in the parking lot.
“Elvis shops at a store that uses two sizes of carts, and their corral system is set up with one side for the smaller carts, and one side for the larger ones. They are marked and, of course, appropriately sized.
“The other morning, Elvis found the situation in this photo.
“Someone had tried to jam a large cart into the smaller side. It wouldn’t go all the way in, but they tried. Someone else came along and just sort of put their large cart near the other one, also on the wrong side. Then two other shoppers left their smaller carts on the larger side.
“Elvis would not be surprised that the employee who brings the carts in must see this a lot. Pretty simple, people!”
Then & Now
Big Eek of Southeast Minneapolis: “Subject: Thin Mints.
“When I was in first grade, my best friend was Albert C. We were both big on hockey. In second grade, I organized my own hockey team of six players. We beat the nearby public-school second-graders 1-0.
“Also in second grade, Albert invited me to his birthday party when he turned 7. We walked to his home together after school. The other guests were from his extended family. My birthday present for him was a 29-cent box of Thin Mints.
“The guests our age and Albert and I played in his back yard until the brothers from across the alley, Stan and Bill, started throwing rocks at us. Mrs. C. called us into the house, where she had prepared a wonderful party treat of hot cocoa, cake and ice cream.
“When Albert saw the cocoa, he called out: ‘Mother, you didn’t . . . !’ Albert thought she had used his Thin Mints to make the cocoa.
“’No, Albert,’ she said. ‘Your Thin Mints are safe on the mantel.’
“I shared this story with my weekly writers’ group at Episcopal Church Homes. The Middle Daughter brought Girl Scout Thin Mints to pass around.”
Where we live
Including: They’re out there!
Friendly Bob of Fridley: “Subject: Our Minnesota winters.
“I am a lifelong resident of Minnesota (except for the 4-1/2 years I spent in Guantanamo Bay while in the U.S. Navy), so I have driven in just about every possible kind of winter weather. My twin sister, Betty, lives w-a-y out west in Montevideo, and I do not get to see her as often as I did when she lived in Kenyon. In good weather, it is about a 2-1/2 hour drive each way.
“Betty invited me out to have corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, and I thought that a swell idea. As we approached the day, I kept a close watch on the weather, especially what was forecast for my route (west on Highway 7 from the west side of the Metro). It was not very encouraging: lots of snow Wednesday night and Thursday, tailing off a bit by Friday, but very windy. I was lucky on this end, as I got only a bit of rain, but it did get very cold. The roads in the Metro (and, in fact, pretty much the whole way to Hutchinson — about halfway there) were in good condition, but the 25 MPH wind howling from the northwest was no fun.
“Before I left, Betty sent me a text to not be in a hurry to leave, as the roads out her way were VERY bad. She had already invited me to stay overnight, and that soon became obvious as the best choice. Once I was past Hutch, the roads were generally ice-covered, with lots of snow blowing across. Traffic mostly moved along about 35 to 45 MPH (slightly faster in the few areas where there was neither ice nor blowing snow) . . . except for one driver I can only describe as a durn FOOL. I knew things were treacherous, as a couple of times the wind almost blew me right off the road while I was on on an icy section — but this d-F was driving a pickup truck, and I saw him (yes, I checked!) come barreling up in the left lane behind me as I thought: ‘He cannot possibly be thinking of passing the line of traffic I was in.’ Wanna bet? I could see maybe as far as the front end of the vehicle directly in front of me, and the pickup disappeared into the wall of blowing snow, probably in excess of 60 MPH. As I waited for a resounding crash, it never came, and I thought that he had to be the luckiest person around. At Monte, it looked like they had gotten maybe 6 to 8 inches of snow.
“After my overnight stay (and after a wonderful St. Pat’s meal), the trip back was much better. On the way out, my car thermometer read +7 F., and I had learned that the ‘feels like’ temperature (formerly the ‘wind chill’) was -7 F. Now the temp was in the mid-teens, and the wind had let up a little, so there was not so much blowing snow. From Monte to Hutch, there was still a lot of ice on the roads, but there was much less traffic, so I made pretty good time. Hutch to Fridley was just fine. It was definitely nice to pull back into Fridley while it was still light out.
“Come on, spring!”
Band Name of the Day: Murky Waters and the Runabouts
Website of the Day: The Joy of Tom Swifties