A Matchless Collection

Picking up matches from merchants is a common habit. Eventually, when a glass bowl or drawer becomes full, it is likely some people throw the books away or leave just a few to form the base layer for a new pile when next they empty their pockets. Yet others keep the souvenirs from visits to other states and picturesque eateries in folders. The H. Bells Fire Protection Co. Book Match Album in the shape of a 17×11 matchbook that I found at an antique show contains an assortment of books accumulated by one collector.

The Thrifty Market in Fairbanks, Alaska points inside the flap for its motto: “We don’t sell cheap merchandise. We sell good merchandise cheap.” Other grocery stores from Grosskopf’s in Swan Lake, Wisconsin to the Sunset Grocery in Cody, Wyoming claim to be “Always happy to serve you.”

Restaurants favored by this collector included George Diamonds in Milwaukee’s Republican Hotel, Moxie’s in Ripon, the Wonder Bar in Green Lake, and the Darboy Club, “where our chicken dinners are worth crowing about.”

The matchbook for a county park garners the prize for most clever wording with added graphics. Starting on the back and working toward the message on the front, it reads “The Queen of [club symbol]/says to the King of [spade symbol]/Have a big [heart symbol]/I don’t want your [diamond symbol]. Just take me to Shawano County Park.” That this is a vintage piece is noted by the Park’s succinct phone number of J-I-X.

It was also a time when Riponites frequented friendly local shops like Butch’s Shoe Hospital and Jack’s Service Station. The book of another business in Ripon was most subdued as befitting its line of business. The cover bears just the name of the firm (Butzin) and a terse phone number (BLack 217). Opening the cover reveals the Butzin profession: Funeral Directors.

Certainly Digby O’Dell, the dark-humored undertaker heard on The Life of Riley, would find items of interest in this collection before “shoveling along” on his moribundant way.

One can safely ignore the “close cover before striking” admonition on the cover of the album and instead quietly close the cover after reading the 89 mini-books inside.

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The Plateful Dead 10

     Almost every trip to a local store will bring us into contact with vehicles bearing vanity plates. While most drivers are pondering over what the combination of seven letters and/or numbers mean, my thoughts are far away as I ruminate about the famous folks no longer with us. Surely in some aery realm the status-conscious who reached earthly heights must be navigating from cloud to cloud or sphere to sphere bearing a badge of identification fore and aft. Look up instead of down and see the plates coming into view right now…    

Nancy Wilson: GLADIAM

Ken Curtis: FESTUS

Johnny Paycheck: ALLIGOT

Vaughn Monroe: RIDNSKY

Arthur Q. Bryan: ELMFUDD

Dick Dale: SURFGTR

Gene Tierney: LAURA

Lee Iacocca: FORDPRS

Herman Wouk: WAR&REM

Valerie Harper: RHODA

Cyril Ritchard: CAPHOOK

Frank Robinson: ALMVPNL

Louise Erickson: MARJFOR

Jim Morrison: LTEFIRE

Natalie Wood: SPLENDOR


Audrey Meadows: ALICEKR

Arte Johnson: VERYINT

Carol Channing: HIDOLLY

Porter Wagoner: TELRLES

Jeff Chandler: BIG GRAY

Rip Taylor: R.I.P. RIP

Ralph Edwards: TRUOCON

Tommy Overstreet: GWENCON

Eddie Money: 2TC2PAR

Greer Garson: MRS MIN

Dolores O’Riordan: LINGER

Al Wilson: SHO&TEL

Tim Conway: DORF

Harland Sanders: SECRECP

Frankie Laine: MYDESIR

Agnes Moorehead: SORWRN#

Daryl Dragon: CAPTAIN

Doris Day: QUE SERA

Gordie Tapp: CUSCLEM

Gahan Wilson: OUTTHER

Noel Coward: BLISPRT

Hal Blaine: WRKCRDR

Bobby Fuller: LETRDNC

Jim Jordan: FIBBER

Marian Jordan: MOLLY

Carol Lynley: BLUDENM

Ginger Baker: WHTROOM

Garry Moore: CREWCUT

James Baskett: GABYGIB

Ric Ocasek: LETSGO

Rip Torn: PAYDAY

Jimmy Nelson: ODAYMAN

Jack Scott: WAIWALK

Anton Karas: 3RD MAN

John Havlicek: 6TH MAN

Margot Kidder: LOLANE2

Eddie Rabbitt: RANYNTE

Jan Merlin: ROGMANN

Diahann Carroll: NO STRNG


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A Quaint Notion

One of the first items to catch my eye in a catalog I received recently is a Russian marine rescue signal horn shown on the back cover because this description of the object caught my ear: “Loud as all get out.”

The meaning of this peculiar expression is quite clear: blowing on the horn produces a blast of sound that can be heard over waves and wind. But what does noise have to do with everyone getting out? I have never heard anyone utter the opposite admonition “Quiet as all come in.”

I begin to wonder if we have ignored an alternate universe where clichés have taken a very odd twist. In such a place words whisper softer than actions and people subtract injury from insult. Complainers grumble about the worst thing since breaded dice. No one is cool as a cucumber there; the best one can hope for is to be as lukewarm as a leek.

Here, the hearty claim to be as fit as a fiddle. There, the sickly are as ill as an alligator. Locals do not mind their p’s and q’s. Instead, they disregard their ABCs.

There, the focus is on the young, not the elderly. No person is said to be long in the tooth or having one foot in the grave. Infants are described as being short in the gums and having ten toesies in the crib.

“Neat as a pin” is as pointless in conveying tidiness as an unsharpened pencil whereas “Sloppy as a jalopy” does paint a precise word picture. The description of another vehicle featured in a weekly periodical issued this month suggests that peculiar expressions are here to stay. A 1966 Ford Fairlane Custom 500 which sold at auction for $35,500 in September “Runs and drives like a top!” Somehow, here, there, or anywhere, a car that runs like an automobile seems preferable to taking a spin on a dervish.

Rather than go to the other extreme, simple phrases that convey the exact meaning of the speaker or author seem to be best. As for an overworked idiom or cliché, it goes–without saying.



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A Breath of Hydroxphopylated Air

There must have been a time when one could remove an item from the medicine cabinet and recognize most of the ingredients on the back of the package. Surely, I thought, as I turned over the unopened tin of peppermint breath strips, the list would be short and sweet so I could read, mark, and inwardly digest them before actually consuming the product.

Instead a sesquipedalian parade marched before my eyes: Hydroxpropyl methycellulose, flavor, maltodextrin, corn starch modified, hydroxpropyl cellulose, triacetin, polysorbate 80, ethyl alcohol, sucralose, titanium dioxide, potassium acesulfame.

The manufacturer could have done us a flavor favor by identifying what gave the mint its tang and explaining how the plot grew thicker with modifications to the corn starch. A bullet point on the package promotes the “sugar free” attribute. It would be nice if the company could lose the sucralose.

Most of the other compounds appear to have descended from alembics and cloudy bottles in Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory. Substances used for humectants, sunscreens, excipients, and solvents belong in places other than alimentary canals.

A safety warning on the package states that “the tin may present a choking hazard.” My addendum to that caution: “Ditto for the contents of the tin.”

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The Name That Goes with the Title

Because autumn is when automobile manufacturers release their models for the following year, I offer names for models to replace some of the tired brands that have outlived their usefulness. I have also provided a catchphrase after the model name to capture the fancy of car shoppers.

Palaver: The car everyone is talking about

Relief: For a soothing ride

Benison: Owning one is a blessing

Apex: You can’t get any higher

Deposit: Sure to draw interest

Apparition: You have to see it to believe it

Magnet: Sure to attract attention

Trellis: Bound to grow on you

Octave: Above all the rest

Sleuth: Solves your transportation needs

Zeal: For a spirited ride

Ratchet: Tightens your grip on the road

Fulcrum: A car that lets you know where you stand

Pedestal: All others will look up to you

Oblique: Looks good from any angle

Beacon: Outshines all the rest

Crevice: Fills your every need

Orbit: Be seen in the best circles

Boulder: A solid performer

Python: It will grab your attention and won’t let go

Placate: Sure to please

Cravat: For the suave set

Noblesse: Take the high ground

Gallivant: Step out in style

Caliper: Measures up to expectations

Quill: Write your own deal

Glabella: It will hit you between the eyes

Meerkat: Stands out from all the rest

Joust: Challenges all competitors

Palette: Grab hold of a real work of art

Stentorian: Speaks volumes

Panache: Travel with a flair

Vista: The car to be seen in

Cloche: Rings the bell every time

Palindrome: Looks great coming and going

Monarch: Rule the road

Serape: Wrap yourself in luxury

Lariat: One look and you’ll be pulled in

Lagniappe: Loaded with extras

Monocle: Worth looking into

Sunset: Drive one and you’re golden

Linear: Puts it all on the line

Welkin: The sky’s the limit

Abode: The car that feels like home


For the burly, no-nonsense types who want to rent big motor vehicles for hauling bulky items, try finding this company: Truculent


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Phase of the Dead

This is an age in which people are offended by real or imagined slights regarding gender, race, nationality, body shape, occupation, disability, hairdos, styles of dress, and forms of address. Homeowners who decorate their property with images or figures of overweight waitresses, slant-eyed Orientals, effeminate males or burly females, dark-skinned mannequins with Afro wigs, blind beggars with cups for alms, paralyzed children in wheelchairs, or farmers dressed like rubes in overalls would almost certainly invite protests from neighbors and other citizens.

     Yet at this time of the year many front lawns are filled with simulacra of dismembered bodies, skeletons, severed heads with contorted faces, zombies, sepulchral witches, ghouls with parts of their faces eaten away, tombstones and open graves, ghosts floating in the wind, butchers with reddened hatchets, leather-faced menaces with chainsaws, and corpses hanging by the neck from trees. Passersby do not even raise eyebrows at such grisly sights. Instead, they may pass compliments such as “The Smiths are really going all out this year.”

And families really do go all out—out of their neighborhoods to intensify the experience of Halloween. They visit haunted houses where they might be shocked by electric current or take ghost walks and stumble through corn mazes on fright hikes where costumed goblins, zombies, and vampires lunge out at them from parts of the haunted trail. Photos from previous Octobers appearing in newspapers which promote the events show wary parents holding the hands of their eager-eyed children as they walk apprehensively through the spooky surroundings. The screams heard when the made-up monsters spring out of hiding are only the precursor to what dreams may come in the form of nightmares on Elm Street in the months to come.               

The fabricated dead may leap, lurk, fly, or creep, but the truly deceased are incapable of protesting the flagrant manner in which they are portrayed at this time of year. Fortunately, the craze only lasts a month so come November when the pretenders have shuffled off to Buffalo the dearly departed who have shuffled off this mortal coil can again rest in peace.


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Serenade for Sarah

The October issue of Old-House Journal proves again that it is the most informative and interesting of the restoration magazines. Eight times a year subscribers are happy to say “How do” to this welcome “How to” periodical.

Among the features in the current issue are a school house makeover, retrofits using modern ductwork to make older homes more comfortable and energy-efficient, a primer on treated wood, tips on repairing cane chairs and patching shingled roofs, a visit to a 1760 home that once served as an inn during the Revolutionary War, and bits of history on trade signs and tramp art.

But by far the most fascinating article to this reader is a tour of the fabled and multi-gabled Winchester Mystery House. The mansion, which cost over $5 million and took 38 years to build, was the brainchild of Sarah Winchester to serve as a haven for spirits killed by Winchester firearms. With 160 rooms spread over 24,000 square feet, the showplace is one of the major tourist attractions in San Jose.

Although the rambling structure does not have a unifying theme, these lyrics to the tune of the 1966 hit by the New Vaudeville Band might serve as its theme song.


Winchester enigma,

You’re furrowing my brow.

I wonder about the why

And also about the how.


Fishy scales aplenty

We see at the top.

There’s something surprising

Along every stop.


Doors that go up

And open to nowhere

Make visitors scratch heads,

Open mouths, and stare.


It could have been whim

Or just a batch of gall

To build spiral staircases

That end in a wall.


One wonders if Sarah

Ate badly tainted bass

Causing her to hide away

So much pretty stained glass.


And the rolls that are there

Of unused Lincrusta­–

Was it due to some spirits

She really didn’t trusta?


Carved mantels are beauties,

Redwood arches a treat.

Wraparound porches with columns

Really are a feat.


All that art for art’s sake

Is there in this Queen Anne.

A joy to behold,

Though bizarre the plan.




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