Questions to Ponder 7

Some more questions that seem to float to the surface in the middle of the night:

Will pre-nuptial agreements ever filter down to tykes who will argue over who gets to keep the Tootsie Rolls?

How would magazines printed with soy ink go with egg rolls and chow mein?

Why is it the Presley imitators sound like El?

Am I the only one who thinks Soy Lecithin belongs on a marquee in the Borscht Belt?

If my aunt cracked her wrists while looking for the Loch Ness monster, would she let me write “Auntie Loch breaks” on her casts?

What company will be the first to offer the Frisbee Channel?

Did the charlatans who claimed their potions would grow hair on a billiard ball also sell blue chalk to rub on the scalp?

Why is it that the people who call and ask “How are you today?” are more interested in my money than my health?

How would they find the UPC barcode on a chameleon in a pet store?

Considering the state of our oceans, wouldn’t it be best to avoid eating oysters in months with vowels?


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Reading the Future

Among the many legendary tales associated with the screen career of Orson Welles, perhaps the most intriguing story concerns the genesis of one of his most notable films. In 1946 Welles, perpetually short of money to fund projects bubbling out of his teeming brain, needed financing to keep a theatrical version of Around the World in 80 Days afloat. According to Orson, he promised Harry Cohn over the phone that if the Columbia kingpin sent the cash needed to keep the musical in tryouts, Welles would direct a picture based on a great book he had been reading. Asked for the name of the novel, resourceful Orson grabbed the first book that caught his eye and said, “If I Die Before I Wake.” Although crafty Cohn may have sensed a ruse, he sent the money. 80 Days hardly ran that long so Welles was on the hook to make some kind of a film out of a book he had not read. The movie was eventually released in 1948 as The Lady from Shanghai.

One (at least this one) cannot help but wonder what kind of picture would have resulted had Welles spotted a book with just a slightly different title. For instance, If I Cry Before I Wake might have been scripted as Lady, Weep for Me. If I Fly Before I Wake becomes The Lady Takes Wings. If I Dry Before I Wake turns into The Lady Comes Clean. If I Buy Before I Wake hits the screen as The Lady at Macy’s. If I Spy Before I Wake becomes the caper flick The Lady in the Closet. If I Wry Before I Wake has a comic twist as The Lady Makes a Face. If I Vie Before I Wake hits the courts as The Lady Meets Her Match. If I Sigh Before I Wake pauses as The Lady Takes a Breather. If I Pry Before I Wake has her back in action as The Lady Fixes a Flat. If I Guy Before I Wake crosses the line as The Lady Changes Gender. If I Lie Before I Wake sets up the predictable sequel The Lady Meets Fibber McGee. The fitting end to the series would be based on If I Fry Before I Wake as she walks the last mile in The Lady in the Death House.




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The Thorny Grove of Academe

In the September/October Midwest Living readers are encouraged to pack their bags for autumn college getaways to Miami, Michigan State, and Indiana University. A sample attribute of one campus is worth nothing or worth noting, depending on one’s level of irascibility: “Ample wooded areas make Indiana University the fifth most forested campus in the United States.” That seems to be a rather mediocre distinction, causing one to wonder if arborists at IU will shuffle their way through leaves this fall to the susurrant rhythm of “We’re number five! We’re number five!”

Miami, of course, has two identity problems: Miami of Florida gets all the press (and football players) and Ole Miss’s Oxford is the college town with all the literary panache. But apparently Robert Frost was so enraptured with Miami of Ohio that he called it “the most beautiful campus that ever there was” so the alumni would be wise to play a Frost warning along the lines of “You come too” because “We’ve been here already.”

MSU, described as the cut-loose campus, could easily describe itself as the most footloose college in East Lansing without fear of contradiction.

What other hard-to-disprove honors can be bestowed upon Old Mains across the country?

Louisiana State University has the eight largest accumulation of Spanish moss and the fourth highest concentration of skinks that know how to get down and do the Bogalusa.

The University of Wyoming has the third-most terrifying standing dinosaur lookalike this side of Jurassic Park.

Cal Tech owns the sixth most useless accumulation of rusted spark plugs.

Alabama State University, located near Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, has the fourth largest collection of bent horseshoes.

Brigham Young University has the largest deposit of petrified salt marsh taffy.

North Dakota State University proudly displays the third largest collection of grand forks and bland spoons.

At the University of Nevada-Reno green-shaded curators display the second largest collection of discarded wedding rings.

Florida A&M is home to the nation’s foremost collection of defunct springs.

Visitors to Idaho State can see the sorriest set of sawed teeth and fossil beds anywhere.

On the grassy campus of the University of Notre Dame are the third most walkways and the second most mishy walkas.

The traveling miniaturist should stop by the University of Maine to peer at the tiniest collection of milli nockets to be found anywhere.

Wichita State University can boast of having the fourth most scenic drives to go along with the second most cattle drives.

And for those who have not received enough thrills from the Great Lakes State, they can stop at the Flint campus of the University of Michigan to marvel at the multitude of bad axes and glad stones.

We can only hope that the concept of lackluster superlatives does not catch on with recruiters at Edgewood College which is near the Arboretum in Madison. It would be a shame if their long-standing motto of “Heart Speaks to Heart” was exchanged for “We’re the woods edgiest.”






























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In the Doggerel House 6

Here are some verses on the writing life in the wake of the lukewarm reception to the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.

Publishers send out books with great haste
And for two copies of reviews they yearn;
If the critic is kind, they cut and paste;
If the critic is caustic, they rip and burn.

“Portions of this book
Appeared in different form.”
“What form?” I often wonder:
“Swamp gas or hailstorm?”

Do writers with the Hemingway Montblanc
Treat it like a bat when the muse casts no vapor?
“To get out of this slump I’ve got to choke up a bit,
Keep my head down, and just meet the paper.”

Why do authors’ hearts cease to beat
When set to dash off one last heat?
Why don’t writers finish what they start?
Sometimes the hearse gets put before the dart.

A boy in Random Harvest likes math so much
He cries when he reads the binomial theorem;
Some folks may find that quaint and such,
But personally I wouldn’t get near him.

Authors now sing this tune within their range:
“Many people today are exceedingly strange.
The evens must live across the ocean wide
Because the odds are all on our side.”

There are novels that never get finished,
But that is no reason to pout or yell;
Far better a good book that’s left undone
Than one that’s done but none too well.

Today’s heroes find it tough to cope,
For 300 pages they do little but mope;
If I’m offered one more tale of angst,
I think I will say, “No thankst.”

Wilde said George Moore showed one great sin:
He led readers to the latrine and locked them in;
Now writers and readers do their worst
To see which of them can get there first.

Some books have been censored in France,
I thought the French gave everything a kiss;
Here’s the only question they say “No” to:
“Have you had enough of this?”

A famous author “hated school as a boy.”
That makes the mind start to whirl;
I don’t think he would have liked it any better
If he had been a girl.

Those at the top are always writing
“With” an author who really does “most.”
When these celebs breathe their last,
They really do give up the ghost.

Some books of sayings don’t have noble goals
As when John Bartlett first took notes;
Soon to be on the best-seller lists
Is The Book of Generic Quotes.

All good authors should get a big hand,
They make living with books a happy fate;
But buyers and sellers belong in that band:
They also deserve who only plan and rate.

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The Plateful Dead 5

While most drivers are pondering over what the combination of seven letters and/or numbers mean on vanity plates, 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 more plates coming into view right now…

John Forsythe: BACHDAD

Donna Douglas: ELLYMAY

Eddie Anderson: ROCHSTR

Jim Ed Brown: 3 BELLS

Claude King: WVRTNMT

Mike Nichols: GRADMAN

Anne Meara: LIZDOYL

Dennis Weaver: MCCLOUD

James Best: ROSCO

Ernie Banks: MR CUB

Charles Schulz: PNUTDAD

Mary Ann Mobley: MISAM59

Edgar Kennedy: SLOBURN

Perry Como: LOVEUSO

Leo Durocher: LIPPY

Dick Martin: BIPPY

Betsy Palmer: IGOTCRT

Jimmy Dickens: TATER

Ben E. King: SPNHRLM

Jayne Meadows: LADYNLK

Lizabeth Scott: 2LT4TRS

Burt Lancaster: ELMGANT

Bonnie Franklin: 1DA@TIM

Joe Cocker: ROCKER

Leonard Nimoy: SPOCKER

Dayton Allen: Y NOT

Lesley Gore: MYPARTY

Hedy Lamarr: DELILAH

Omar Sharif: DOCZHIV

Christopher Lee: DRACRSN

Jerry Tarkanian: SHARK

Verne Gagne: SLEEPER

Ray Walston: UNCMART

Bob Hastings: LT CARP

Eddie Lawrence: OLPHLOS

Joan Rivers: CNWETLK

Perez Prado: PATRISH


Anita Ekberg: SWEDISH

Curtis Lee: ANGEYES

Stan Freberg: DRAGONT

Peter Sellers: CLOULES

Doug Sahm: ABTAMVR

Roger Miller: ENGINE9

Otis Redding: DOCOBAY

Vivien Leigh: SCARLET

Rod Taylor: HGEORGE


Roy Orbison: ITSOVER

Rod Serling: TWIZONE



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Bargain Hunter’s Delight II

I still ignore most of the coupon flyers to be found just inside grocery stores, preferring to pick up one of the free weekly papers on my way out for perusing at home. The lively ads for quirky services are interesting, yet it is the fun facts running along the bottom of certain pages meant to edify, entertain, or amaze that fascinate me the most. Below are some of these statements and the logical questions they raise in this reader.          

“At room temperature, the average molecule travels at the speed of a rifle bullet.” How does one account for unexpected shooting pains?

“Jack-o-Lanterns were originally made of turnips.” Why did no poet ever pen the lines “When the frost is on the root and Father’s in toxic shock”?

“A male cricket’s ear is located on the tibia of its leg.” Why does Jiminy Cricket laugh so much when he hears a knee-slapper?

“Flying fish can leap out of the water at 20 mph or more and can glide for over 500 feet.” Why are more fisherman saying that the one that got away did so by knocking them down?

“In one day a full-grown tree expels seven tons of water through its leaves.” Why are more hikers singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anything Less Than a Raincoat?”

“Thomas Jefferson invented the coat hanger.” Why are so many hatcheck girls complaining that the only tips they get are in nickels?

“A snail has four noses and 25,000 teeth.” Why are restaurants now serving escargots in two different ways, snotty or extra crunchy?

“Poison ivy’s not ivy and poison oak is not oak. They are both part of the cashew family.” Why can’t some people cure their itch for nuts?

“Dolphins sleep with one eye open.” Why is it that some creatures can’t sleep a wink and others wink when they sleep?

“You burn more calories sleeping than watching television.” How many calories do people burn while dreaming they are watching I Dream of Jeannie?

“The plastic things on the ends of shoelaces are called aglets.” Then what does one call small rooms for rent by the Agriculture Department?

“You transfer more germs by shaking hands than kissing.” Why is it always better at a carnival to bypass the salesmen and head directly for the kissing booth?

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Take the Bidder With the Sweet

     Few periodicals to be found anywhere have a more alluring title than Heritage Magazine for the Intelligent Collector, the last two words calling out in large letters with a brazen compliment along the lines of “Hey, big spender.” (At $7.99 a copy, the magazine is likely to attract more quick-flipping browsers than well-heeled buyers.) Within its 100 pages Heritage promotes upcoming auctions and focuses on gems from recent sales in the categories of numismatics, art, movie posters, history, comics, philately, literature, sports memorabilia, and celebrity collectibles.

Because items Heritage accepts generally open with a bid in five figures and a fair share of their artifacts sell for over $100,000, most people with eight bucks in their pockets who purchase the magazine cannot hope to land one of the prizes being displayed inside its stiff covers. Those citizens of modest means aching to part with cash so as to add to their stash are therefore invited to do a comparison by glancing through the pages of Whereitages Magazine for the Insensate Consumer.

Let others bid $26, 290 for a game-used old jersey Paul Hornung wore at Notre Dame. At Whereitages a very, very worn map of New Jersey once touched by Eli Manning can be had for $74.50.

A dweller among the marble halls of a mansion snatched a 1927D Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle from Heritage for $1.9 million. A golf ball that Jack Nicklaus flung into a water trap in 1972 after a double bogey is a soggy Whereitages steal for $87.95.

A copy of Spider-Man #1 certified 9.4 and encapsulated by CGC was worth $83, 650 to some wealthy collector. For just $119.85 some fortunate soul can display a real spider’s masterwork preserved between two panes of glass taken from E.B. White’s basement which the staff at Whereitages believe may have served as the inspiration for Charlotte’s Web.

Lenny Dykstra’s 1986 World Series ring was worth $56,762, probably to a loyal fan of the New York Mets. But the folks at Whereitages caution “Don’t let this one get by you: for just $179.50 try on a boot charged to Bill Buckner.”

A Rolex watch that traveled to the moon on Apollo 17 landed nicely for $131,450, pricey territory for most collectors. Closer to home at just $229.99 is the tablecloth Jackie Gleason pounded on while playing Ralph Kramden before promising to send Alice on a lunar flight.

A wooden gun which (so relatives of John Dillinger claim) was carved by the bank robber realized $19,120. Less notorious and more affordable is a Whereitages wooden nickel once given as a tip to a cab driver by Jack Benny that can be easily added to anyone’s vault for $39.39.

The style F one-sheet poster for Dracula, of which there are only three known copies, was purchased to reside in some rich person’s den for $370,700. The common man can grab patches of hair, of which there are many in the Whereitages warehouse, from Ray Corrigan’s ape costume used in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla at $17.50 a clump.

Collectors who wanted to go way into the past anted up $250,950 for a Triceratops skull and $334,600 for the head of a saber tooth tiger. For a more affordable $3,499.95 Wild West fans can corral a bison skull signed “William” and then boast to friends of owning a genuine Buffalo Bill.

The late Forrest Ackerman, dean of collectors of horror memorabilia, might have envied the person who acquired the black outfit Boris Karloff wore in The Black Cat for $89, 625. Not to be left out of the hunt for all things Universal left over from the 1930s, Whereitages will assume all shipping costs when it sends unlimited numbers of the title prop from Karloff’s 1936 classic The Invisible Ray at the rate of $19.95 per ray.

A first edition of The Astronauts, signed by all members aboard Mercury 7, brought a bid of $5,078. Paperback copies of The Carpetbaggers, signed by Scott Carpenter’s barber, who owned seven Mercurys, are available at $59.99 each.

One of Dat-So-La-Lee’s intricate Indian baskets bearing the title “Let’s forget. Bury our troubles in this basket” did not find a buyer, perhaps because the opening bid was too high. Such is not the case with modern artisan Dough-So-For-Me whose clay pots are signed in Chinese characters which, when translated, mean “Bury your money in Zhejiang Province at $150.00 a throw.”

Ken Norton’s heavyweight boxing title belt carried an estimated value of $60,000+ into the auction ring in 2010. The flexibelt of competitive eating champion Irving Ledbelly wore on the day he ingested 71 hot dogs is priced at $87.50. (Specks of ketchup stains and traces of bicarbonate found on the buckle and leather add to the authenticity of the belt.)

The price range for the famous Ben Franklin “Join or Die” snake cartoon from 1754 was $100,000-$200,000 in 2011. For just $102.85 a handful of lucky folks can have brass knuckles wielded by Marty Krackinbone when he echoed Franklin’s words while selling protection in Chicago during the 1950s.

A David Crockett signature on a letter written while he served in Congress brought a winning bid of ­­$28,680 in 2012. A more impressive souvenir at a very reasonable price of $475.95 is an authentic Davy Crockett coonskin cap. (Whereitages has not been able to determine if Crockett wrote the message “Don’t Mess with Fess” in the lining of the cap.)

A silver denarius struck by Brutus certainly is worth $546, 250. But for only $187.65 anyone can bag a Franklin 1958 half dollar flung by Stephen Boyd at Charlton Heston during the frenetic chariot race in Ben-Hur. (Because of the many retakes required, stock of authentic coins is plentiful. Ask a Whereitages representative for special pricing on rolls of 50 coins.)

A well-heeled collector paid $537,750 for Black Betsy, the slab of hickory “Shoeless Joe” Jackson used throughout his baseball career. For just $245.99 pedagogue fanciers can own the Black and Blue Buster, the fabled hickory stick wielded for 37 years by switch-hitting grammar teacher Shirley “Sock ‘Em” Sternwheeler.

A presentation copy of Three Stories & Ten Poems, Ernest Hemingway’s first book, was sold by Heritage for $68,500. Only one fortunate person with $999.99 will be able to take home the manuscript of one Billy Faulkner dated 1904 and found in a hayloft near Oxford, Mississippi. Called Two Mules & a Jackdaw, the nine- page story scribbled in pencil on lined paper, is bound in genuine squirrel skin.

A 1962 cancelled check made out simply to “Pilgrim” bearing Marilyn Monroe’s signature sold for $15,000. How about a check signed by John Wayne with his pet name on the payee line? Whereitages has a supply of checks payable to “Hay Pilgrim Grain & Feed” signed by a real John Wayne (not a Marion Morrison in Hollywood makeup) of Keokuk, Iowa for just $33.50 each. Ask for closeout discounts on checks signed by Norma J. Mortenson which are made out to the Bus Stop Cafe and drawn on a Niagara (Wisconsin) bank.

A 1949 Bigsby solid-body guitar hit a high note of $266,500 with Heritage. At Whereitages a 1970s no body guitar swept up from a concert by the Who, Them, or Those can be had for a mere $478.95.

A Wall Street executive shelled out $825,000 in 2007 for an Inverted Jenny postage stamp. For those consumers over the age of 18, Whereitages offers a number of French postcards supplied by Perverted Penny at the reasonable rate of $99.50 per dozen. Police officers posing as juveniles need not respond; adults acting like juveniles are always welcome.

Auction results continue to prove the maxim that there will always be people willing to pay just about anything for just about anything. The question marketers of the past should now be asking is not “How high will they bid?” but rather “How low will we go?”


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