Saturday, May 31, 2008

the darndest thing

Art Linkletter is alive and kicking, as far as I know. Although I had my doubts yesterday when I saw an online obituary for the very talented Harvey Korman. Some fool put Linkletter's photo alongside Korman's obit.

eFluxMedia has been turning up a lot lately in the Google News headlines that I scan. Dumb mistakes like this will keep me from clicking on their links in the future.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

feng shui

This meeting of the Waffle House Board of Directors is called to order. Any new ideas?

We could serve fried chicken with every waffle!

I have no idea what you're talking about.

We should buy the empty lot next to our restaurant on Papermill Drive.

Yeah, we could use it as parking for eighteen wheelers.

No, let's keep thinking. What would Marshal Andy do?

Maybe we could enlarge our restaurant to serve twice as many customers.

No, I want to hear some more ideas.

Let's build a brand new Waffle House, exactly the same size as the old one.

Okay, but why?

Because the new one will be rotated 90° to the right!

You know that sounds crazy, don't you?

Not if our business plan is to get more northern exposure.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

everybody loves Philip

Everybody gets into a bad mood occasionally. I was having a particularly cranky day about a month ago. I wanted to take a nap before going downtown to the Dogwood Arts Festival Parade. As it turned out, I needed to take care of some family stuff that involved going to Loudon County, waiting for two hours and coming back. Right before we left, I grabbed a book off my nightstand that turned my day around.

Earlier that week, I had only just started "The Road." It was not the right day for me to dig into something that dark and heavy. Instead I picked up something light and frothy to read in the car while I waited. My mood improver was "You're Lucky You're Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom" by Phil Rosenthal. The book kept me entertained through my tiredness that day. It stayed on top of the stack until I finally finished it about a week ago.

Rosenthal describes many of the real-life anecdotes that got turned into episodes of "Everybody Loves Raymond." There's some autobiographical stuff too. Phil doesn't name too many names as he mentions the bad shows he worked on before "Raymond." He has enough credits on his IMDB page to keep me guessing which show was which.

The term "sitcom" has gotten abused by half-hour comedies that are just a series of setups and punchlines. The great thing about "Raymond" is the way they put the emphasis on the situation part of a situation comedy. The characters are so well defined that the audience could get a laugh by knowing what Marie or Debra must be thinking as they walked in on Ray, Robert or Frank. Rosenthal's description of the process gave me a feeling of "oh that's what I thought he was doing" when I wrote a brief essay about characters back in the pre-blog days.

Reading the book was made all the more enjoyable by the bargain-basement price I paid for it. Back in March, I was ordering a Jane Austen-y DVD as a birthday gift for my wife. It cost about $20, which is five dollars under's free-shipping threshold. So I clicked over to my personal Wish List and sorted by price. Rosenthal's book rose to the top because it was on sale for just over $5. Bingo! If you are similarly stymied, Les Jones has posted about a site that will help you find super-cheap items to get to the $25 mark.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

fallout boys and girls

Given the choice, would you have left your baby teeth for the Tooth Fairy or donated them to science? The owners of almost 300,000 baby teeth in the St. Louis area chose science. The St. Louis Baby Teeth Survey collected primary teeth from 1959 to 1970. The teeth were measured for radioactivity to see if humans were affected by above-ground atomic bomb tests. The results were a factor in the ending of those tests in 1963.

In 2001, a bunch of the old baby teeth turned up in an ammunition bunker at the Tyson Research Center of Washington University in St. Louis. I don't know why a university needs an ammunition bunker but I'm sure they have a good reason.

An article in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that researchers will track down hundreds of the baby teeth donors to see how healthy they are as adults. They wonder if kids with more strontium-90 in their teeth will have a higher rate of cancer.

Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, told the newspaper:
"For this first year, we will be studying only male tooth donors. First, it is much easier to locate males at current addresses, since many girls donating teeth in the 1960s have changed their names. Second, the death rate is much higher for males, and may yield a larger sample of donors who are either living with cancer or have died of the disease. Seven percent of males and 3 percent of females who were young children in the 1960s are now deceased."

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

ridin' the whip

The opening weekend crowds didn't deter us from going to see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" yesterday. It may not be the best in the series but it is certainly not the worst either. I think it's just as good as "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." The new movie is a feel-good thrill ride that hits all the points you would expect. The plot twists didn't surprise me but they didn't disappoint me either. From big ants to atom bombs to UFOs, it is filled with nods to science fiction movies of the 1950s. Many of reviewers who had no problem with the supernatural elements of the first three movies found the plot of this fourth movie to be far-fetched. Without giving too much away, it shouldn't shock anyone that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are big believers in space aliens. They probably read "Chariots of the Gods" back in the '70s too. I thought it would have been funny if the creature in the body bag at the beginning of the film looked just like E.T.

I went to my TiVo to see what Roeper & Phillips (a/k/a Not Siskel & Not Ebert) had to say about the latest Jones saga. Unfortunately some basketball game ran late and WATE joined the show in progress. Naturally, Indiana Jones was the first movie they reviewed, so I missed it. The episode is still not on their website as I write this. For what it's worth, I think Michael Phillips should get the job as Roger Ebert's permanent on-camera replacement, even if he didn't like "IJatKotCK." There is a review of "The Last Crusade" in the Siskel & Ebert archives. I didn't expect Gene Siskel to give it a thumbs down.

After watching the new movie yesterday, I tried to think about how it compared to the first three. That's when I realized that I had absolutely no recollection of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." The synopsis on didn't help either. Thuggees? Doesn't ring a bell. It's like I have amnesia. I'm positive that I saw "Temple of Doom" in a theatre. I'm pretty sure that it was a midnight screening on the day it first opened. Did I fall asleep? Last night after dinner we popped in the DVD of "Temple of Doom." It was really bad. No wonder I had blocked it out. Did you remember that "Temple of Doom" was a prequel to "Raiders of the Lost Ark"? I didn't.

My friend Richard Cheese sent an email plugging his version of the Indiana Jones Theme, now available on iTunes. I heard it on his MySpace page. The instrumental tune sounds like something from the soundtrack of "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

My matinée ticket cost $6.50 at West Town Mall, 25 cents cheaper than a ticket at the Pinnacle at Turkey Creek. Evening tickets cost two dollars more at each place. An article in the Kansas City Star points out that many theaters raise their ticket prices on Memorial Day weekend. An executive at the AMC Theatres chain said that their most recent ticket price increase was due to the rising cost of corn. Corn! An executive with Regal Cinemas says that movie tickets would cost $20 if not for the concessions. I don't buy popcorn and therefore I don't mind that high concession prices help keep my ticket price lower. But I don't want my ticket price to go up just to keep the popcorn price from rising. It's a double standard, I know.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

kingdom of the plastic skull

In our last interview back in February, the writing team of Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass told me that their next novel will be set in Oak Ridge, local home to the Manhattan Project. Now one of their sources has revealed some juicy details in the Oak Ridger. A drowning scene is likely to be set at the Alexander Inn, the hotel that housed Enrico Fermi and J. Robert Oppenheimer.

While I eagerly await the next Body Farm novel, I have a few other books stacked up on my nightstand. I'm currently reading a copy of "Dexter in the Dark" that I borrowed from Terry Morrow. Next, I will either get to "The Road" or "Book of the Dead," both of which I received for Christmas.

On Saturday, my wife and I stopped by McKay's to peruse their selection of audio books. We're starting to look for something to entertain us on our next long car trip, later this summer. I saw a few selections by Kathy Reichs, whose life is the inspiration for the TV show "Bones." I have never read any of her books nor seen "Bones" but I am thinking about giving both a try after receiving perhaps the greatest promotional item ever. Fox 43 sent me a replica of a human skull in an evidence bag. The accompanying note said the skull was just like the one Dr. Temperance Brennan keeps on her desk. It now proudly rests on a top shelf in my home office. Or maybe I should say "she proudly rests." As best as I can tell from what I learned from Dr. Bass, the lack of a pronounced supraorbital ridge indicates that it's a female skull.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

faith of our fathers

Writing about my father's birthday yesterday got me wondering what he would look like if he were still alive. He would be about the same age as Ted Kennedy, Gene Shalit and Casey Kasem. Of the three, he would probably look most like Kennedy. On this Memorial Day weekend, I can make a virtual visit to the cemetery where my father is buried, thanks to a blog entry I posted two years ago.

A blog post I read this past week mentioned a priest named Fr. Michael Whelan of Australia. Seeing that last name reminded me that my father had a friend named Fr. Charlie Whelan (of New York). Like my father, Fr. Whelan was a writer. He worked for a Catholic magazine called America. A quick search revealed that Fr. Whelan retired from the magazine a year ago after 40 years of service. Best of all, they have posted a video of Fr. Whelan speaking about the first article he wrote for America. I can see and hear what one of my father's contemporaries looks and sounds like today. I didn't realize until now that Fr. Whelan was about five or six years older than my father.

In the video, Fr. Whelan mentions President John F. Kennedy and the relationship between church and state. That became his area of expertise both as a writer and as a professor at Fordham Law School. He successfully argued before the United States Supreme Court in 1971 on behalf of a Baptist church. The Fordham Law Review published a couple of tributes to him last May.

This morning at church I picked up a free copy of a newsletter called Catholic Update. The June issue deals with church and state too. It emphasizes that the Church does not endorse candidates or tell people how to vote. It merely reminds voters of the 7 key themes to keep in mind when making their own choices. Catholics are not single-issue voters. One sentence summed up my problem with politics:
In today’s environment, Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised, sensing that no party and few candidates fully share our comprehensive commitment to human life and dignity.
The newsletter directed me to a website on Faithful Citizenship that will warrant further reading on my part.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

spirit of seventy-six

For most of his career, my late father was a public relations executive. If you asked him to describe himself, he would simply say that he was a writer. He had a journalism degree and worked as a reporter for a newspaper and for a wire service before going into p.r. Last week I posted a letter he wrote to the White House in 1978. In honor of his birthday, I will post another one today. As before, I am as interested in his writing style as in the content of the letter.

My parents listened to "Rambling With Gambling" every morning on WOR-AM. This letter is addressed to the show's sportscaster, Don Criqui. In his spare time, my father sang with the Glee Club of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. You'll need to know that when you get to the last paragraph.
April 19, 1977

Mr. Don Criqui
1440 Broadway
New York, NY 10036

Dear Don:

It may be the advent of spring, retrogressive insomnia, or simple weakness of bladder as age advances that caused me to be awake this morn at 5:45 to hear your commentary concerning baseball as seen by two faculty members of the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce.

Much of what you reported they said appears to be sound and, from what I know of baseball through an association with it last year during its labor difficulties, a fair assessment of its problems. There is no doubt that fuller stadia and better television markets produce richer teams. Whether the 2.2 million break-even attendance figure holds for every team, it certainly seems a fair projection of what is needed through the turnstile to stay out of the red.

If you consider that last year's total major league attendance was 31,318,331 for 24 clubs, each then averaged only 1,304,930 or 895,070 below their estimated break-even level.

As politicians and marketing experts know, trying to get two million people to commit themselves to anything is a tough assignment.

It has been argued that the season is already too long, but the main part of the season still only runs from the second week in April to the end of September and has for many years. It is only the playoff system that extends it into mid-October, and this frankly is a creature of television. By playoff time, the season has already ended for 22 of the 26 teams, even though national attention (and highest television revenue) is focused intensely upon the remaining four divisional and then two league champions for the following three weekends.

The one idea the Wharton guys had that amused me, however, was their suggestion that baseball should rely more upon colleges to develop their player talent.

Are they, in effect, saying that the baseball industry should rely upon a government subsidy to train their entry level personnel?

Why not, you say, doesn't football and basketball? And what's this government subsidy stuff?

Well, isn't it? After all, a glance over the player rosters of major professional teams reveals that most of the players (as is true of most of the collegiate graduates) are from state supported colleges and universities. And those athletes that generally qualify for professional ranks do so because they have been outstanding athletes in high school and college. As such, they have been on athletic scholarships, which means that the taxpayers have been picking up their tuition, books, laboratory, and room and board costs.

As skilled athletes entering the labor field of professional sports, have they not been coached, trained, supported, and apprenticed with government funds at taxpayer expense? Isn't that a subsidy?

Sure scholarships come out of athletic department funds that are supposed to be self-supporting. But the institution that they attend isn't self-supporting. The facilities they use, the fields they play on, the classes they attend, the libraries (hopefully) they study in are all parts of the state supported institution.

It is hyperbole, of course, to talk in terms of direct government subsidy to baseball for player development. But there is an element of that existing in other sports.

In any event, government subsidized minor leagues have as much chance of catching on as does the idea of electronic voting on managerial decisions. I never viewed a ballpark crowd as an unbiased audience or considered it to hold a typical random sample of American opinion. Secondly, can you see Billy Martin reacting to the second guesser in the announcers' booth who puts the question to the crowd? I think it would make the Atlanta walk-off by the umpires last week seem like a casual perambulation. And finally, how long would those fancy electronic terminals at each seat hold up among our turf-gathering fanatics.

There is no question that baseball is faced with problems, but it strikes me that their source might be more easily traced to contracts with long-term deferred compensation clauses which can lead to the bankruptcy of franchises as the only means of getting those monkeys off the backs of a new ownership.

That doesn't bode well for the best interests of the players, the fans, or the sport. As the municipal unions in New York are learning and as the "city fathers" found out at the bond market, you can milk a good thing just so long until the day of reckoning. And that day always seems to arrive just when you are least prepared for it.

Incidentally, on the 2.2 million figure, only three clubs reached that total last year -- Cincinnati at 2.6, Philadelphia at 2.5, and Los Angeles at 2.4. The Yankees, who led the league practically all season, in a brand new ballpark managed to edge across the two million mark at 2.012, marking the first time in baseball history that four clubs had scaled the two million summit.

In the event you hadn't seen it, I am enclosing an article from Forbes magazine on this topic, and because I enjoy hearing you in the mornings, I thought (boastfully) you might like to hear some others at night. So I'm sending along two complimentary tickets to a glee club concert I am associated with. As a product of that South Bend Muscle Academy, you must have some Irish in you.

Best regards,

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Friday, May 23, 2008

nothin' like the face

Some country singer is pushing s'mores on TV. Since when do smore's need to advertise? The three ingredients were also featured in this week's Wal-Mart sales flyer. Photos of smore's cupcakes have been catching my eye lately too. A few weeks back I spotted a new Little Debbie version of S'mores, right next to their Devil Dog look-alike.

Tonight I'll have to satisfy my sweet tooth cravings with a Special K Protein Bar.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

pick it and click it

Tonight seemed like a good night to try the new DirecTV DVR Scheduler. I only learned of it recently when a short training film about it turned up in my list of recorded programs.

I was upstairs and online while my wife, son, mother-in-law and brother-in-law were all downstairs watching the HD screen. I thought I could schedule the DVR to record "Last Comic Standing" without disturbing whatever movie they had on. I logged on to my DirecTV account, chose My TV Schedule and clicked on "Last Comic Standing." Here is a screen shot:

The only choice for WBIR was the satellite-delivered channel 10. There was no option to record channel 10-1, the over-the-air digital channel that I use. The local channels have been giving me some trouble lately. Last night I recorded "American Idol." The first hour is mostly unwatchable due to digital drop-off and pixelization. I adjusted my antenna around 9:00 p.m. and at least got the second hour. I remembered to add time for the traditional Idol finale overrun.

Back to tonight. As it turned out, I had to ask my son to pause "Transformers," go to the on-screen guide and record channel 10-1 for me. After all that, "Last Comic Standing" wasn't even in HD. C'mon NBC. Get with it.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

retirement fund

The A&P was synonymous for "grocery store" when I was growing up even though my mother also shopped at Finast, Waldbaum's and Grand Union. In fact, she would usually compare the sales flyers in advance and then go to two or three supermarkets in one trip to get the best deals from each.

The heir to the A&P fortune didn't care too much about getting the best deals. Huntington Hartford's obituaries are the most interesting things I've read all day. According to the reports, he squandered $80 million of his $90 million inheritance. I don't know about you, but I could certainly get by on the leftover $10 million.

Let me share some of the best parts with you. From The New York Times:
Huntington went to Harvard, studying English literature and graduating in 1934. He went to work for his uncles at the company’s headquarters, then housed in the Graybar Building next to Grand Central Terminal, where his job was to keep track of sales of bread and pound cake. But he was often absent. In 1934 he defiantly took a day off to attend the Harvard-Yale football game. That ended his career in the family business. Yale won, 14-0.

In 1940, Mr. Hartford tried being a reporter for the New York newspaper PM, after putting up $100,000 to help get the paper started. If nothing else, the experience produced one of the all-time great excuses for missing deadline: he once sailed his yacht to cover an assignment on Long Island, and upon returning to the city could find no place to tie up and come ashore with the story.

With the start of World War II, he donated the yacht to the Coast Guard. In return he was given the command of a modest supply ship in the Pacific. He ran it aground twice — once, he said later, because his navigational charts were out of date, the other time because "I mistook feet for fathoms."
From The Washington Post:
His excesses cost him financially and personally. He had unexpectedly ascetic habits in some pockets of his life, such as a disinclination to drink alcohol. But his fourth marriage, in the 1970s, marked a turning point. According to a 2004 Vanity Fair magazine report, that last wife, a Fort Lauderdale hairdresser a decade his junior, introduced Mr. Hartford to cocaine, amphetamines and quaaludes.

He was hospitalized at least once for an overdose, and his fourth wife remained a destructive presence in his life for years. His apartment at One Beekman Place in New York became the site of violent encounters involving transient visitors. He was once left for hours writhing in pain after falling and breaking a hip.

When he made the news, it was usually for something unsavory, such as the fourth wife's assault on his secretary.
It looks like Hartford had one good idea that could have increased his wealth if he had been able to get a gambling license for Paradise Island. From the Times again:
Costlier still was Mr. Hartford’s makeover of Hog Island, in the Bahamas. After buying four-fifths of the place in 1959 and having it renamed Paradise Island, he set about developing a resort with the construction of the Ocean Club and other amenities. Advisers persuaded him to stop short of exotic attractions like chariot races, but, overextended and unable to get a gambling license, he wound up losing an estimated $25 million to $30 million.
Missed it by that much.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

hell or high water

Let's see, where did we leave off? After attending our daughter's college convocation on Friday afternoon, we were desperate to get home to Knoxville in time for our son's high school graduation on Saturday morning.

The lady at the airline ticket counter asked a supervisor what he thought about our delayed flight. He flippantly said that whatever was on the screen was all they knew. I had hoped for their advice about the chances of our flight being canceled or not. When he left, the woman shook her head as if to apologize for his attitude. She then told us that if she were in our shoes, she would go ahead and rent a car.

Another man on the same flight had joined us at the counter. We asked if he wanted to go in on a rental car with us. He was trying to get to Knoxville to play golf and decided it wasn't worth staying up all night.

Our daughter had decided to forgo her graduation ceremony in order to come with us to her brother's. She had booked her flights independently of ours, using the frequent flyer miles of a generous family friend.

The three of us headed downstairs to the baggage claim area in search of the car rental counters. All we found were some phones that connected us to the companies' toll-free reservation numbers. The phone I used had a three minute limit unless I pushed a button that gave me more time. I noticed the button just in time during a conversation with a clerk from one of the companies with an inexpensive sounding name. Meanwhile, my wife tried calling one of the major brands to see who had the cheapest rate. The phones were especially frustrating because some had no buttons to push at all. When the computerized voice asked us to press 1 for English and to press 1 for reservations, there was nothing to do but wait through the entire menu. Meanwhile I failed to press the "more time" button on my phone and got cut off mid-stream. This was a waste of time. I decided that we would head out to the shuttle buses and try our luck out at the drop-off and pick-up lots.

During my abbreviated conversation with the reservation clerk, I learned that they definitely had cars available. It would cost about $30 for the rental and about $158 to drop the car off in Knoxville. Even I wasn't worried about the price, it was more important to get home. We looked for their bus but only saw buses from the other companies. Some of the drivers tried to get us to ride with them instead but we waited for what we thought would be a sure thing.

We were still waiting when the buses from the other companies started coming around a second time. I was reminded of our trips to Walt Disney World when we would wait at the resort bus stop for a ride to a specific theme park. Meanwhile bus after bus passed by headed to all the other parks. Then I remembered the story about the guy on the roof in a flood. Two men in rowboats offered him a ride but he refused, saying that God would save him. When he reached the pearly gates, he asked God why he hadn't been saved. And then God says, "I sent you two rowboats."

I told my wife and daughter that we would forget about the rental company I had called and get into the rowboat shuttle bus in front of us. It had an LED sign that said "Cars Available." When we got to the rental lot, the guys in the office said a one-way rental would only cost us about $100. Wow. I had just saved about $88 by getting on the other bus. I initialed the contract to decline additional insurance and roadside assistance. That gave me the idea to ask for the AAA discount, which took another 5 bucks or so off the price.

It's a good thing I read the contract or I wouldn't have noticed that I was promising to return the car within 24 hours to the Nashville airport. Huh? Nashville is another 3 hours west of my house. My wife and I both instantly thought of how difficult it would be to take two cars to Nashville and to add another 6 hours of driving to the all-night marathon that was ahead of us. When the clerk changed our destination to Knoxville, the price dropped to about $72. Sweet.

The rental agents told us that we could pick any car from the middle row in the parking lot. We were excited, thinking that perhaps we were getting some kind of upgrade. Turns out the guys were joking. There was only one car in the middle row. Whether we were punchy or just relieved from stress, we laughed hard at the clerks' comedy.

We finally hit the road at 11:00 p.m. My wife and I split the driving as the two drivers who were over 25. We stopped several times for water and diet soda. I even had my first caffeinated soda in about 15 years. I found something better than the mild stimulant in my Diet Dr Pepper to keep me awake. The car had a satellite radio with lots of talk stations. The shows were all repeats from earlier in the day but I didn't care. I flipped between comedy routines, a show about BBQ and some political talk from both sides of the spectrum. Most of all, we were filled with determination to not to miss our son's graduation no matter what.

We pulled into our driveway just after 7:00 a.m. Our son was already dressed and waiting for us. I took a quick shower and put on my suit. I even had time to grab some food from the refrigerator for breakfast. Our son needed to be at the hall by 8:00. We got him there at 7:55, which was early enough for us to get front row seats.

After the long, logistical nightmare, it all finally felt real when we saw our son take the stage in his cap and gown. The exhaustion didn't kick in until later.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

two places at once

This story will probably be told and retold at our family gatherings for years to come. By typing it here, all I'll have to do in the future is Google it and read aloud.

My wife and I needed to be in the Washington area for our daughter's college convocation ceremony on Friday afternoon and then back in Knoxville for our son's high school graduation on Saturday morning. The convocation was like a graduation except just for the students in our daughter's field of study. We chose to miss our son's baccalaureate Mass on Friday evening and to skip our daughter's massive university-wide graduation ceremony on Saturday because of the scheduling conflict. Only one flight on the schedule left Dulles Airport after the college convocation but before the high school graduation. I booked two tickets on it months ago.

We spent the morning helping our daughter move out of her dorm room. We had lunch with several members of our extended family and got to the arena with time to spare. After the convocation, we headed out to Dulles for our 9:55 p.m. flight to Knoxville. En route, I called the airline's toll-free number and found out that the departure was delayed until 10:54. They somehow think it's better to claim the flight is only going to be 59 minutes late instead of an hour. When we got to the airport, our flight was missing from the "Departures" board. Gone. Not there. No mention. It was as if our plane didn't exist. We went to the ticket counter and waited. Another traveler was asking about the same flight. It was about 9:15 p.m. when we were told that our flight was now estimated to depart at 12:05 a.m. We needed a guarantee that the flight would not be canceled, which they couldn't give us. The clerk told us that the plane was not yet at Dulles. In fact, it had not even left whatever city it was coming from. Manchester, perhaps? The clerk told us to come back in half an hour for an update. We found some unoccupied chairs near a rest room and sat down to wait.

Half an hour later, we returned to the ticket counter. The message on the kiosk screens said that they had closed at 9:45. It would have been nice if the ticket clerk had mentioned that to me at 9:15. After a few minutes I caught the attention of another ticket clerk who was just passing by the counter. She said they were in fact closed and that she really couldn't help me but after listening to our pathetic story she would see what she could find out. She said our flight had been pushed back even more. They were now estimating that it would depart around 12:30 or 1:00 a.m.

We had to make a tough decision. Do we rent a car and start driving? It's an eight-hour drive. It would take us the better part of an hour to get a rental car. It's now 10:00, which means we could be on the road by 11:00 and home in Knoxville around 7:00 a.m. It's already been a long day and could be a very long night. Or we could put all our eggs in the airline basket and wait and hope and pray that the flight doesn't get canceled. At this point, a plane would theoretically put us at McGhee Tyson Airport around 2:30 a.m. and back home by 3:00.

To be continued...

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

where do I send my dollar?

How is it possible that Adam West, TV's Batman, doesn't already have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? KROQ's Kevin & Bean talked to Adam on Friday. They hope to right this wrong, as you can hear in their interview. They had previously gotten behind the efforts to get a star for James Doohan, who played Scotty on "Star Trek."

How do you get a star? The nomination process is detailed online. There are certainly enough "Batman" fans out there to help raise the $25,000 fee. It would make a great birthday gift for Adam, who turns 80 on September 19. If they can make the May 31 deadline, Adam could get his recognition in 2009.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

weakly reader

The only magazine subscription I have is to Entertainment Weekly. I enjoy reading about the latest movies, books, DVDs, television shows and more. I especially like their coverage of the business side of the industry.

I knew I would have about two hours to wait before the start of my son's graduation ceremony this morning. I grabbed the new Entertainment Weekly out of the mailbox and brought it with me. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that almost the entire issue is devoted to "Sex and the City." The front cover boasts that they have 63 pages worth of articles and photos. Why do I need 63 pages of that?

Sure I'm cranky. Maybe it's from exhaustion.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

more to come

The tune of Bruce Springsteen's "Prove It All Night" keeps running through my head while we're waiting at Dulles Airport. The lyrics don't exactly fit our situation but if our flight gets delayed any later we will have to prove it all night by renting a car and driving to Knoxville.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

the more things change

Tonight's entry comes from a very special guest blogger, my father. How is that possible, you ask, considering that he's been dead for twenty-five years? My mother recently gave me copies of some letters he wrote during the mid to late 1970s. He's no Ted L. Nancy but I was amused nevertheless. I am as much interested in his style of writing as I am in the content of the letters. I plan to eventually share three with you. Look for a missive to a member of the New York Giants this fall and a baseball related letter later this spring.

We'll start with a thirty-year-old message to Jimmy Carter's press secretary, Jody Powell. I don't have the clipping that was originally enclosed. We'll have to guess what it was about.

March 16, 1978

Mr. Jody Powell
Press Secretary
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr.Powell:

I know you are overwhelmed with problems, and I hesitate to send you "just another clipping," but I thought this letter to The New York Times is particularly significant in light of the many issues that confront our society today.

I have not attempted to target on any specific piece of legislation or advance any similar cause, but I do wish to direct your attention to the increasing burden that the middle class -- that is, the producer group -- is being asked to carry for those others in our society who are solely consumers.

If the size of the middle class continues to diminish, if its ability to function and educate its children is further inhibited by ever increasing tax burdens and government programs, the ability of our economy to create sufficient wealth to take care of the needs of all will be critically undermined.

I seriously do not think I overstate the case.


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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

two great tastes

With the closing of the Fuddruckers in Salem, my wife and I had to find a different place to stop for dinner on our last trip. We picked a random Cracker Barrel along I-81 in Virginia and were immediately disappointed by the question: "smoking or non-smoking?" Our non-smoking table was in a direct line of sight and smell from the smokers. Even though the non-smoking section was much larger, we had to wait for a table. There was no waiting for a smoking table.

Cracker Barrel has a country store where we could bide our time. One corner of the store had a display that showed they know about the current popularity of cupcakes. In addition to the cookbooks and standard muffin pans, they had a pretty neat Ice Cream Cone Cupcake Pan. The cake looks like a cone. The frosting takes the place of ice cream.

Rather than cupcakes that just look like ice cream cones, some people will be celebrating summer with cupcakes that are mini ice cream cakes. You can make your own or buy some at a place called MaggieMoo's that I will have to try sometime when I'm out at Turkey Creek. The ladies at Cupcakes Take the Cake taste tested a brand called PhillySwirl that is available at Sam's Club. I agree with their assessment that these seem to stretch the limits of what we call cupcakes. Not that it's a bad thing.

Ice cream cupcakes would be great but what we really need for this weekend are some graduation cupcakes. Or the time to make them.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

where are they now?

The best summer job I ever had was working in the box office at Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts. We worked ten-hour shifts, four days a week. Almost all the employees were college students, like me. One of my friends, Jim Glancy, stayed with the business and worked his way up to a job in the programming department, hiring the various music acts who played concerts at the venue. Jim's best friend, Joe Kelliher, also worked a couple of summers at Wolf Trap. I've mentioned Joe before.

My favorite memory of Jim is a college radio show he once did at WGMU. All the songs were by rock stars who had died, grouped by cause of death. I think Jimi Hendrix may have been the transition from drug-related to food-related deaths. Or vice versa. At the end of the show, Jim gave honorable mention to Jerry Lee Lewis. Classic.

Eventually Jim moved to New York and took a job doing the same thing at Radio City Music Hall. He and I have lost touch over the years. I'm big on email, he said he would never get an email address. The last time I saw him was on a business trip to New York for the MTV Video Music Awards, which were held at Radio City that year. Before long he was president of Ron Delsner Presents. That company got bought a couple of times and is now part of Live Nation.

Over the weekend I got a new LinkedIn connection from another former WGMU colleague. Thinking about the old days prompted me to type Jim Glancy's name into Google. I was impressed to learn that he had left his job as president of Live Nation to become a partner in The Bowery Presents. He was featured in a New York Times article last year and recently won the Pollstar Concert Industry Award for Talent Buyer of the Year. Gothamist says he's part of the New York music mafia.

So what type of acts is Jim buying for the venues under his control? Mostly artists catering to the New York hipster crowd. I only recognized a handful of names on the Bowery calendar. The one that jumped off the page to me is scheduled for June 21 at Webster Hall. My friend Richard Cheese and his band will make the place swing.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

that time again

Several more of the television shows I enjoy have gotten their cancellation notices this week. The LA Times Show Tracker has an updated list. Good-bye to "New Amsterdam," "Welcome to the Captain" and "Miss Guided." We already knew that "Journeyman" was done. I found out about "Back to You" and "Aliens in America" on Saturday.

This is the week that the networks announce their new fall schedules. As in the past, I will be clicking daily on various sites for updates. In addition to Show Tracker, I like TV Squad and the coverage by The New York Times, USA Today and The Hollywood Reporter.

Today's big story was the formal announcement that Jimmy Fallon will replace Conan O'Brien when Conan leaves "Late Night" to take over the "Tonight Show." Many people are wondering what will happen with Jay Leno when his "Tonight Show" run ends. My friend Bean came up with a great idea months ago. NBC should put Leno on at 10:00 p.m. Why not?

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Sunday, May 11, 2008


The librarian at my grammar school was a 90-year old Christian Brother. Once a week we would go to a religion class with him. He showed us ancient glass slides of religious art and taught us several short prayers. I think he called them either aspirations or invocations.

As an aside, I was looking for those prayers online and found some at on a webpage maintained by Father John the Carnival Priest. His site says, he's been "serving the needs of the outdoor amusement business industry since 1969!"

Anyhow, one of the prayers I memorized long ago came to mind while I was taking a walk around the neighborhood. You can see why I thought of the Prayer to Your Guardian Angel. Or should it be the Gardenin' Angel?

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

something happening somewhere

Some heavy thunderstorms in the area knocked out our electricity for a few hours last night. Everything went dark except the glowing screen of my laptop. We used it to help us find a flashlight and a little battery-powered lantern. By the time I called KUB for an update, the automated voice told me there were still about 3,000 customers without power.

Rather than just sit there, we watched two old TV shows that had been saved on my computer for almost a year. When my TiVo starts to get full, I will transfer some shows to my laptop using the TiVo Desktop software. I don't always get around to watching them, although I did make a dent in my archived collection during the writers strike.

My son and I watched an episode of "The Loop." The single-camera comedy was a short-lived favorite of ours that was never given a chance to find an audience. In almost every episode, the airline employees are asked to find ways to cut costs. Maybe the show was ahead of its time.

Then my wife and I watched an episode of "Monk," a good show that I rarely see. I only recorded this episode because it was about a radio host suspected of murder. That idea has been used before, going back to "Matlock" and "Perry Mason." I thought that Steven Weber was very convincing as a modern-day shock jock. And I should know.

When the new fall schedules are announced at the upfronts next week, a couple of shows that I had picked last year will be gone. "Back to You" and "Aliens in America" got the bad news this weekend. I'm all caught up on "Back to You" but there are quite a few "Aliens in America" episodes on my TiVo. I'll move them over to my laptop in case the power goes out again.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

lowering the bar

All the Barenaked Ladies songs that I can think of are uptempo tunes with verbose lyrics. After a couple of listens, I tire of them and tune away when they come on the radio. "One Week" is a perfect example. You might also know "If I Had $1000000."

Given their penchant for clever lyrics, I was interested in hearing their new children's song, "Snacktime." I had read that the song named the favorite snacks of several celebrities including Lyle Lovett (watermelon) and Weird Al Yankovic (honey roasted peanuts). Plus, I enjoy a good snack as much as anybody. The song can be heard on BNL's MySpace page. Instead of intricate rhymes, the song is a sleepy number that repeats the hook: "Snack time, snack time, oh snack time." The celebrities literally phone in their snack choices. Janeane Garofalo likes microwaved chocolate donuts and Gordon Lightfoot enjoys pasta, which is more of a meal than a snack.

Most of the snacks of the rich and famous in the song would fail the "rules to eat by" that were on "Nightline" last night. A proponent of organic foods says we shouldn't eat anything our great-great-grandmothers wouldn't recognize as food. I know that Michael Pollan's point is to get us to eat mostly plants but my favorite part of the report (four and a half minutes in) was the old Twinkies commercial that claimed the snack cake gave your child "energy to go on and protein to grow on."

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

artful dodger

Stories about animal cruelty often evoke a greater response than stories about cruelty to humans. The news about a box turtle in Brooklyn has gotten my attention. Myrtle was found covered in the same orange paint used at construction sites. I thought everyone knew that you aren't supposed to put paint on a turtle.

When I was a kid, we would visit my grandparents' house on Long Island every summer. I loved walking through the nearby woods to look for toads and box turtles. Sometimes I would bring one back to the house and feed it some wild raspberries before eventually letting it go. There's at least one box turtle who lives near my house here in Knoxville. Perhaps you remember the time I saved it from drowning in my pool.

Myrtle's story was first reported on Monday by a Brooklyn blog called Gowanus Lounge. Since then it's been picked up by the wire services and the local media. WCBS-TV has a video report you can watch.

The outlook is good for Myrtle. A painted shell is much more harmful to baby turtles than to one that's full grown. The Gowanus Lounge readers posted links to the Turtle Rescue of Long Island, which may be able to help. Another reader suggested using a product which worked for a turtle named Goldie. It would be fitting for the orange paint to be removed by a product called Fast Orange.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

corpuscle crunch

Ben & Jerry's had their Free Cone Day and Baskin-Robbins had their 31 Cent Scoop Night last week. Today our local Bruster's offered free pints! Well, almost free. You had to donate a pint of blood to get the pint of ice cream.

My wife's blood is always in demand. She gets postcards and phone calls from Medic Regional Blood Center about all the blood drives in our area. She's a universal donor. I'm a universal recipient. How appropriate for our relationship.

We both gave blood and got ice cream and a t-shirt. Unfortunately all they had were XL shirts. I only need a large. My wife had to go to choir practice so I took home her pint of Turtle and some Chocolate Oreo for myself. The girl at the window asked if I wanted a bag or a spoon. A spoon? C'mon! Doesn't she realize that I don't wear XL shirts anymore?

My day started with some sad ice cream news. One of the first things I read this morning was the obituary of Irv Robbins, as in half of Baskin-Robbins. The Los Angeles Times had a link to test your flavor knowledge. For me, it was more like a reading comprehension quiz. I scored 100% because all the answers were in the articles I had just read.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

thirty-nine and counting

Three guys from Utah are in the middle of their Great American Road Trip this week. They will pass through all 48 contiguous states in only five days. I also want to visit all the states but not the way these guys are doing it. In many cases, they are only driving across a state line, taking a picture of their GPS unit as proof, and turning around.

After I went to Alaska, I set a personal goal of visiting all 50 states. I want to do more than just drive through them. I want to see an historical location, a tourist attraction or the world's largest something. Last summer I knocked another four states off my to do list. I only have eleven to go.

This summer I may be able to tackle either Arkansas or Iowa. The decision depends on what type of fun destinations I can find on Roadside America or other tourism sites. And on gas prices.

This week "Good Morning America" is revealing their 7 Wonders of America. So far they've picked the National Mall and the ANWR. I wonder if the rest of the list will have obvious choices like the Grand Canyon or a quirky choice like the World's Largest Ball of Twine. I also wonder how many of the Wonders I will have visited or can still visit before I die.

At first the well-publicized list of "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" didn't appeal to me. Too many of the locations were in far off corners of the globe that are well beyond my budget. Over the weekend I saw a book for sale at a Cracker Barrel that has now shot to the top of my wish list. "1,000 Places to See in the U.S.A. and Canada Before You Die" is a lot more realistic for me. If author Patricia Schultz happens to be available for a podcast interview, I might be able to get a free review copy out of the deal. Hint, hint.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

not a spoonerism

What makes a place one of your "regular" restaurants? Do you have to go there once a week? Once a month? Once a year? I thought about that question yesterday when my wife and I saw that our regular Fuddruckers had closed. I wonder what they did with all the wall decorations.

We drove by it yesterday on our way home from Grandma's birthday party in Fairfax County, Virginia. The restaurant was in Salem, about halfway between our house and Northern Virginia. My wife and I could each get a salad and split a burger or a chicken sandwich while taking a break from the eight-hour road trip. I'm pretty sure I had been to the Salem Fuddruckers more often than the one near my house in Knoxville, which is still open.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

behind the scenes

Fr. Augustine Idra brought home a special souvenir from the Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium. As one of the priests distributing the Eucharist, he received a commemorative stole.

I asked him about the safety video I had seen prior to the Mass. Fr. Gus said he was in the upper deck and did have to steady himself on a handrail. I wondered how they got the hosts from the altar to the far-reaching sections of the stadium in such a short time. The priests who were seen along the first and third base lines each held a ciborium full of hosts that were consecrated right there during the Mass. They served communion to people on the field and lower levels of the stadium. Fr. Gus got the hosts he served from a tabernacle that had been set up on the upper concourse in a specially decorated room. Several nuns stayed with the Blessed Sacrament in adoration. Those hosts had been consecrated the day before during Pope Benedict's Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Happy Ascension Thursday, I mean Sunday, by the way.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

wake the kids and call the neighbors

During May sweeps, you would expect to see my pal Jimmy Kimmel turn up on "Good Morning America" and "Live with Regis & Kelly," especially since he has to be in New York to host ABC's upfront presentation again. It's a lot more surprising to learn that Jimmy will be a guest on "Late Show with David Letterman" this coming Monday. When Jimmy and Jay Leno appeared on each other's shows, I was reminded that Leno used to be a great talk show guest. No one expects Letterman to show up on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" however.

On April 3rd Jimmy reached the 1000 shows milestone. had an impressive section on Kimmel's 1000th show. Of the thousand, I have watched all but about five or ten shows due to an occasional DVR error or sporting event that pushed the show out of its regular timeslot.

For a while, Jimmy has had his Uncle Frank and parking lot security guard Guillermo do pre-recorded commercials during the show. Now Jimmy and Guillermo are doing "live" commercials for Pontiac in the middle of the show. Whenever one of these commercials come on, I stop fast-forwarding and watch it. Similarly the only commercial I ever watch on "American Idol" is the weekly Ford spot that looks like a music video.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

solid, liquid or gas?

Obviously the sign is supposed to say "Clean Smart." And it does. Yet every time I go past the new Middlebrook Station strip mall, I see something else. The letter M looks like an H to me. They must specialize in stain removal. From pants.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

move 'em on, head 'em up

When there are changes to my blogroll or the sidebar, I try to make them on the first of the month. It's because I started my blog on the first of a month and somehow it makes sense in my mind.

I found Cupcakes Take the Cake when they posted entries about some local bakeries. They did it again today with a great story about a cupcake just like the one I tried last week except that it was mistaken for a bomb at the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge.

Slashfood is a site I've been visiting regularly for some time. Yesterday they showed us how to make cake-sicles, although they look more like cookie-sicles.

Amelia's Space often has a peek behind the scenes at WVLT. Today she posted about their coverage of the closure of I-40 through downtown. One day last month she took us to the farewell party for Jessa Goddard and Kim Bedford.

At last month's Blogfest gathering, I enjoyed visiting with Doug of Reality Me and his wife Cathy of Domestic Psychology. Her funny post about trying to find the bathroom that night made me want to check back periodically.

After the recent Papal visit, a friend reminded me to check Whispers in the Loggia for their intense coverage. When the Pope gets close to naming a new bishop for Knoxville, we will probably read about it first on their site.

Can anybody recommend a blog about improv? It would be great to find one that I like and to add it to the blogroll on June 1. That date has some improv significance to me.

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