Sunday, December 31, 2023

Gone But Not Forgotten: Celebrities Who Left Us in 2023

Jimmy Buffet (foto Gary Firstenberg)
They danced, they sang, they made us laugh, they made us think. And sometimes they made us wince... As 2023 closes out, newspapers and magazines around the world will assemble a veritable list of iconic figures and pop culture makers whose lives are now gone, but not forgotten.

This morning I read that actor Tom Wilkinson, who played major roles in two of my favorite films--The Ghostwriter and Michael Clayton--died yesterday. This prompted me to see who else left us behind this year.

Entertainment Week has a very long page of celebs with photos and mini-bios, which I skimmed through just now. Many who left us were in their 80s and 90s, and a few over 100. It's sad to read of others who died in their fifties, or earlier.

Here are some of the many whom we no longer have among us, with a comment or two of my own as they relate to my own life.

Bob Barker was the host of The Price Is Right for oh so many years, an all around nice guy, so it was hilarious when he got into a rough-and-tumble fist fight with a hot-headed Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore. Barker was 99 when he died.

Tony Bennett was one of many crooners who emerged before my time, whom I actually had little interest. But like the little engine that could, his longevity and vocal chords resulted in many accolades. It caught my attention when he recorded with Amy Winehouse, whose music was introduced to me by my son.

I discovered author Cormac McCarthy via a pair of audiobooks at our Duluth Public Library, one of these being No Country For Old Men which I read ten months before it became a film. This fall I devoured Blood Meridian, a book like no other that I have ever read, brutal and dazzling. McCarthy was 89.

There were two Robertsons who passed this year. Pat Robertson, the Christian media personality/founder of the 700 Club, and Robbie Robertson, who made a name for himself with The Band, Bob Dylan's backing group during that famous mid-Sixties world tour. Controversies swirled around each, but I'm not going to get into it.

Tina Turner died this year, definitely a force. She overcame a lot to get where she got.

Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown was my hero as a kid growing up in Cleveland and one of the NFL's greatest running backs. (I could make a case that he was indeed the greatest.) In 1963 I got a Jimmy Brown football card for the first time in years of trying. Unfortunately, my brother Ron was shoplifting football cards from the Klir's store and my mother punished him by burning ALL of our football cards. I saved Jim Brown from the fire and slid the card between the cinder blocks in the wall of the garage. Though irretrievable, he was at least preserved from being burned.

Gordon Lightfoot died this year. A Canadian singer/songwriter he never achieved the acclaim of a Bob Dylan, but definitely wrote a lot of excellent songs. In college "If You Could Read My Mind" was a track that repeated itself in my mind. Gord's Gold was listened to much over the years.

Actor and singer Harry Belafonte was born in Harlem to Jamaican-born parents. His daughter produced a documentary about his career, which included his work in the civil rights movement. Bob Dylan played harmonica on one of Belafonte's albums, Dylan's first paid recording gig in the Big Apple.

Al Jaffee was a cartoonist for Mad Magazine for six decades. When I was a kid the satirical mag only cost a quarter. One time in the early Sixties I bought a box of them for a penny apiece at a sidewalk sale in Mapletown. How cool is that? Jaffee was 102 when he passed.

Raquel Welch was one of those sex symbol heart throbs that Hollywood would thrust onto posters to the delight of teenage boys. She was 82 when she died this year.

Gina Lollobrigida was an Italian sex symbol from a decade earlier who died at age 95 this year. I doubt I ever saw her in a movie and couldn't even say I knew what she looked like, nor did I have any fantasies about her. I only recall that her name sounded sexy.

David Crosby of CSN&Y passed away this year. If you ever compete in a Bob Dylan Trivia Contest, DC is the answer to the question, Who was Bob referring to in his song "Day of the Locusts"? Crosby was 81.

Lisa Marie Presley was only 54 when she died this year. Only child of The King, it must have been hard growing up in that world.

Jeff Beck was once dubbed one of the most influential guitar players in rock history by Rolling Stone magazine. Eight or ten years I go I obtained permission from Beck to use one of his collector cars in one of my ads for AMSOIL. I'm half curious where his car collection is today.

My brother Ron and I used to enjoy watching the TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I would pretend I was the Robert Vaughn character Napoleon Solo, and he would be Illya Kuryakin, played by David McCallum who died this year just six days after his 90th birthday.

Everyone remembers Burt Young as Paulie in the Rocky series of films starring Sly Stallone. I remember him for his role in the perfectly crafted Polanski film Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.

I once performed Margaritaville, by Jimmy Buffet in a celebrity fundraiser at the Sports Garden here in Duluth. Backed by a live band and patterned after one of those TV shows where you're critiqued (lacerated) publicly, I chose the song that Roger Reinert had intended to select. Roger, a state legislator, is now Mayor of Duluth. I wasn't the first time I competed against local mayors. 15 or more years ago I beat the mayors of Hermantown, Duluth and Superior in a celebrity race at Proctor Speedway. Buffet, who was born on Christmas Day, would have been 77 had he not passed away in September.

* * * 

For a more complete list of Celebrities We Lost in 2023 visit EW.

The Problem of Hate

"Luke! Don't give in to hate. That leads to the dark side."
--Obi-Wan Kenobi

One of the memorable features in Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 was a seven-day period of orchestrated mass hysteria directed towards the Party's current enemy. It served as a crucial element in maintaining the Party's control over the population by suppressing individuality and critical thought, strengthening social cohesion and loyalty, and channeling emotional energy towards the Party's goals.

Hate Week was a constant bombardment of propaganda and mass manipulation. Rallying against a common enemy not only served as a convenient outlet for negative emotions, it also prevented questioning of the Party or its policies.

It also facilitated an "us vs. them" mindset that strengthened the Party's rule by making dissenters seem like traitors and outcasts. 

Despite Orwell's warnings against being manipulated by the media as a mouthpiece for the State, the general public seems ever willing to be swept along in the current. For me, personally, all this hate saddens me. 

* * * 

One morning twenty or so years ago I decided to write some thoughts in my journal about hate.  What follows are the statements I recorded. 

Hate is used as a tool to manipulate masses, unite people.

Hate is used by hate-mongers to move people to action.

Hate makes people feel good (Having strong feelings makes them feel alive.)

Hate makes people feel bad (For hating, for being so controlled by it.)

Hate damages the hater.

Hate damages the hated.

Hate makes us irrational, difficult to reason with.

Hate will never solve interpersonal or international problems.

Hate is a form of slavery (to which we become chained.)

Hate can be a form of addiction (which makes us feel good about ourselves by deceiving us into thinking we are better than the hated.)

Hate is a serious problem in our world today.

Hate is evil.

Hate breaks things, damages and stains.

Hate produces great sadness in God’s heart.

* * * 

Returning to Orwell, here are some of the features of Hate Week:

Intense Propaganda Hate Week involved relentless exposure to propaganda through posters, banners, speeches, films, and even music, all demonizing the chosen enemy.

Two Minutes Hate This cathartic daily ritual forced the entire population to focus their rage and fear towards the enemy through televised images and orchestrated chanting. Public Displays Mass rallies, parades, and even physical attacks on effigies of the enemy fueled the emotional frenzy.

Loss of Reason and Critical Thinking During Hate Week, individuals were encouraged to abandon logic and embrace unbridled hatred, further solidifying the Party's control over their minds.

In Orwell's 1984, Hate Week serves as a powerful symbol of a ruling regimes' manipulation of mass emotions and the dangers of uncritical conformity. It underscores the importance of maintaining independent thought, which is also why keeping a journal, as Winston did, was forbidden.

I'll close with this comment I saw recently at the end of an article on Unherd: "Open hatred of people unlike you has become normalized. It’s the sort of thing that eventually, escalates into violence. Meet the new Jacobins, no different from the old ones."

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Committees, Yuck

While paging through David Ogilvy's wisdom-filled Ogilvy On Advertising again recently, I came across this pointed aphorism, "Search the world and all its cities, you'll find no statues to committees." Though I've been quoting it for decades, I never knew its source, so this moning I asked Google Bard. The Bard replied.

The quote "Search the world and all its cities, you'll find no statues to committees" comes from the song "A Committee Has Made a Man!" by American singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer. Written in 1958, the song satirizes bureaucracy and the limitations of decision-making by committee.

Lehrer's witty lyric highlights the irony that while individuals who achieve great things are often commemorated with statues, committees, despite their influence and decisions that shape entire cities, rarely receive such recognition. This adds a humorous touch to his critique of committee processes, often marked by inefficiency, compromise, and lack of individual accountability.

During my career in advertising I've had more than one bad experiences associated with committees. Rather than go there, I thought it might be more interesting to share what I've learned about the song that this saying was extracted from.

The song itself was written in 1958, a time marked by rapid scientific progress and anxieties about the growing influence of bureaucracy and technology. Despite the nostalgic images we've been fed about the innocence of that era (eg. Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best, Ozzie & Harriet), there was plenty of anxiety that people carried inside, not least of which was the Cold War.

The concept of the "committee-made man" mirrored concerns about conformity and lack of individual expression. Lehrer's song tapped into these anxieties, criticizing the potential pitfalls of unbridled scientific progress and unchecked group decision-making.

The song opens with a sarcastic boast about a scientific breakthrough achieved by a committee – creating a man in a vat. This immediately sets the tone of satire with the absurdity of such a complex feat attributed to a group decision-making process.

Search the world and all its cities, you'll find no statues to committees,

Though they raise our taxes high and steal our civil liberties.

But today they've reached the summit of their bureaucratic plan,

They've finally done it, boys, they've made a man!

The chorus expounds on this "marvel of the modern age" comprised of perfect features and a plastic brain, who doesn't smoke, drink, gamble or lie, who is always wise and "never, ever dry."

The second verse digs into the committee's meticulous, bureaucratic procedure, emphasizing the endless meetings, compromises, and revisions that lead to a bland, predictable outcome – a "perfect average man." Lehrer lampoons the limitations of group decision-making that prioritizes consensus over innovation or risk-taking.

In the third verse Lehrer takes a darker turn, hinting at the potential dangers of a committee-made man. With no individual conscience or responsibility, he becomes a potential tool for manipulation and control, raising concerns about the ethical implications of such scientific advancements.

Perhaps the best part of committee work is that no one can be held responsible for the unintended consequences of a committee's decisions.

In the end, what does the committee-made man think of all this? Lehrer answer in the bridge:

But sometimes, late at night, I stare into the sterile sky,

And wonder if there's something more, a reason why I cry.

I feel a longing for a past I never knew,

A whisper of a life, a dream, of me and you.

* * * 

While reading about Tom Lehrer I learned of his influence on two other songwriters from our generation: Weird Al Yankovich and Stephen Sondheim. To which I can honestly say, "I never knew that" and one can learn something new every day.

* * *

What are your thoughts about committees? Feel free to reply in the comments.

Monday, December 25, 2023

A Christmas Anecdote from A World Undone, G.J. Meyer's History of the Great War

This is an incident that took place during the first Christmas of World War I. I came across this story in G.J. Meyer's excellent history titled A World Undone. I find the story simultaneously beautiful and sad.

In Flanders, where there had been so much horror, 1914 ended with a strange spontaneous eruption of fellow feeling. On Christmas morning, in their trenches opposite the British near Ypres, German troops began singing carols and displaying bits of evergreen decorated in observance of the occasion. The Tommies too began to sing. Cautiously, unarmed Germans began showing themselves atop their defenses. Some of the British did the same. Step by step this led to a gathering in no-man's-land of soldiers from both sides, to exchanges of food and cigarettes, even to games of soccer.

This was the Christmas Truce of 1914, and in places it continued for more than a day. The generals, indignant when they learned of it, made certain that nothing of the kind would happen again.

* * * 

As we celebrate this holiday season, let us remember those in less than ideal circumstances. Two wars are currently tearing apart many hearts. Countless others are experiencing their first Christmas without a special loved one--parent, child, spouse, close friend. May 2024 be a year of healing for each of you.

Marry Christmas and the very best to all in the year to come. 

Friday, December 22, 2023

False Presence of the Kingdom: Notes and Quotes

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) was a French writer whom I found influential and thought provoking. Sociologist, lay theologian, and professor, Ellul made significant contributions across various fields. As a social critic and philosopher of technology, his books provided keen insights into the challenges of a modern world in transition. Many of his books were founded in a Christian worldview that was at odds with the secular world dominated by technology and mass culture. His writings often referenced biblical themes and explored the tensions between faith and modern society.

Now out of print, Ellul's False Presence of the Kingdom made an impression on me when I first read it 40 or more years ago. It's unlikely you will find a copy so I offer you glimpses of its contents by means of the extracts quoted below. The book is a strong anti-dote to the seduction of political power.

 * * * 

False Presence of the Kingdom
by Jacques Ellul

"Similarly, modern man makes happiness the primary aim of life, and how many articles have been written by Christians expressing approval of that principle.... that the pursuit of happiness (a pagan attitude) is entirely legitimate." - p. 31

The whole Bible tells us that these people in the world are enslaved by the world. They belong to it. They are slaves of the political, economic, and intellectual forces. The Church is there to proclaim and to bring them freedom. But if she is an agent of those forces, and shares in them herself, she cannot be for people at all..." - p. 39

"The Protestant lives like everybody else, thinks like everybody else and reacts like everybody else. He is seduced by technology. He shares the same hopes and fears as everyone... and follows the news feverishly. Thus he participates in the hopes and terrors of all." - p. 46

"Incompetence is inadmissible on the part of Christians... when providing others with a sense of direction, speaking with authority and encouraging young people to become involved... But Christians allow themselves to be taken in by the prevailing vogue. They see everybody expressing his own ideas so why shouldn't they do the same? That's all right as far as I'm concerned... only let them be less pretentious about it, less authoritative, less inclined to expect everyone to follow in their wake. And let them not claim to be representing Jesus Christ!" - p. 155-6

"Political questions can be burning questions in the world, but if they are burning questions, that is the spirit of the world. The One-who-divides, the Deceiver, he it is who makes them that way." - p. 98

"When a person has no responsibility to exercise power, and has no direct share in it, that person should be moderate in his judgments, and should first of all make an attempt to understand the difficulties, the actual problems, which surround the struggle of those in power. That would be a good exercise in keeping the commandment to honor the power*."
*Rom. 13:7 I Pe 2:17 - p. 174

"There is a great temptation today to confuse sociological evolution with spiritual progress, and Christians are the first to succomb to that temptation." - p. 20

"This Christian who brings the world into the Church is also a man who, like everyone else, is up-to-the-minute. He has undergone that bias of modern man...(which) causes him to be interested in only the latest news. Moreover, he forgets it as soon as something else comes along. In consequence of this up-to-the-minute attitude, he no longer exhibits any interest in the eternal, in that which endures, in the reading of the Bible, which at least we must by all means apply to present day "problems", otherwise he cannot see what good it is." - p. 48

"That does not mean that we are to be indifferent to the sufferings of mankind. But it does mean that my only actual concern is the one which is near enough to me, and close enough to my size, so I might really do something about it. Revelation, in its rigorous realism, doesn't ask us to torture ourselves over universal ideas and information, nor to lose sleep over news items from everywhere." - ibid. p. 70-1

 * * * 

The Need: a demonstration of Christian love ~ incarnational, personal, local...
"What, in truth, the person of our day can find most helpful is a break in his loneliness, in his psychological misery, through agape. That is much more important than political action." - ibid p. 70

On Making Statements
"Everyone knows full well that these statements are of no practical use. They are not a way of influencing the government or public opinion. Neither are they a Christian witness." - ibid. p. 92

"For a great many of the participants in congresses, synods, and committee meetings, there is a feeling of not having accomplished anything unless a 'statement' has been made." - ibid. p. 92

"Now statements are never issued except as occasion by recent events, which means their value declines as rapidly as the events in question are forgotten." - ibid. p. 93

It is a false conception to think that "at every moment the Church should know exactly what to say about every exciting occurrence." - ibid. p. 94

Our True Calling
"Against all this [making of political statements], we must insist rigorously that the preaching of the gospel has as its sole meaning the hope that a person should come to know the grace available to him in Jesus Christ, that through this he should come to recognize that Jesus is truly the Christ, the Savior, the Lord, in other words, that this person might be converted to the True God." - ibid. p. 105

The fact is "that Christians adopt all the possible political positions, and we have no right to suspect their good faith, nor their Christian faith... That must mean, therefore, that the choices are made for reasons which have nothing to do with the faith... purely personal factors."
ibid. p. 142

Examples cited:
1. Temperament
2. Sensitivity to importance of certain values (justice, freedom, peace...)
3. Past personal experiences, circumstances
4. Present milieu and station in life

* * *

Ellul's legacy remains relevant today: His critique of technology and modern society continues to resonate with those concerned about the negative impacts of technological advancement and the increasing homogenization of global culture. His call for individual responsibility, ethical reflection, and engagement in social issues remains a valuable message for navigating the complexities of our world.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Cashflow Diaries Part Two: Things I Did to Make Money (The Transition Years)


8. Bridgewater JayCees Art Contest
I took art classes with Mr. Sebes my last two years of high school. During my senior year there was a contest to create a cover illustration for the Bridgewater JayCees Winter Program. I'm not sure how many schools or students were competing, but my illustration was selected and I received a check for $25. I enjoyed coming up with a concept, and it was especially rewarding to win the prize. 
Chief Lesson: You can't win if you don't play. I personally feel that many people don't try because they think there are so many others competing that they can't win. You never really know, so have fun and go for it.

9. Tri-County Plumbing
The summer after my senior year, my brother Ron and friend Tom worked for a team of plumbing contractors doing an assortment of odd jobs and learning a little about life. We did things like wrap pipes with asbestos insulation, drilled holes for pipes in crawl spaces, installed baseboard heaters, learned how to weld copper pipes, and the basic essential discipline of showing up to work on time and doing what you're asked to do. 

Three of the men who worked there (we were primarily working on apartment complexes) were a drag racing team. I believe they raced in the highest division of the Funny Car class. It seemed amazing to me that they would drive all the way to Brainerd, Minnesota, to race over a weekend. Little did I know that I would one day be living in Northern Minnesota myself. 

10. DiMartino Landscaping
The summer after my freshman year in college my father made arrangements for me to work with a landscaper who took care of the needs for 17 companies around Central Jersey. I was primarily pushing a lawnmower. When I learned that he was going to fire the other kid I worked with, I decided to quit. I was unjustly critical of a few things I witnessed, most specifically the demeaning names he was called by his neighbor one day. He was Italian and I did not understand the the insults. It was a lesson I understood only later.

11. Colgate-Palmoolive Dishwasher/Potwasher
The day I quit my job the headline in the newspaper exclaimed that there were 100,000 unemployed people in New Jersey, the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. I walked in the house, told my mom I had quit, and she said, "Oh, Eddie," and handed me the newspaper. 
I was employed within a week.

The father of a girl I was friends with worked at Colgate-Palmolive. He said they chef was in need of a dishwasher/potwasher. The fellow who had been doing it for three years was a little crazy. (He believed that computers controlled the world and when he ran a red light, it was not his fault. The computers were trying to get him.) The first two replacements quit within a week. If I wanted the job it was mine. 

He made breakfast and lunch for the staff who wanted it. My role was to assist in every way necessary, plus run the dishwasher and wash the pots. Tasks included peeling potatoes, removing shells from hard boiled eggs, running downstairs to the walk-in refrigerator to fetch gallon sized cans of this or that ingredient.

The company employed 400, many of them scientists and engineers. Every once in a while the men in white lab coats would show up and have me use some new dishsoap concoction for the week. I would then give a report on how long the water remained soapy, how well it cut grease, etc. 

The two sink basins where I washed pots were located in back of the oven. The temperature must have been 150 to 160 degrees at times so that when I got off work at five, I'd step outside where it was 85 and would feel cool and refreshed.

The chef's name was Mike. He had been in the navy and was very personable. Everyone liked and respected him. He was still only in his 20s and we seemed to hit it off. When I headed back to college in September he said he would give me a fifty cent an hour raise if I came back the next summer. I came back and offered me the job again at the same two dollars an hour. I reminded him of his promise, but could see that he would have to get permission from higher up. He got it approved and it was another fine summer. He'd gone through a number of dishwashers while I was gone and was happy to have me back. 

12. Artist -- Sold 10 paintings
Though I started 
Ohio University in the direction of philosophy, I soon aimed toward an art major. During my four years I sold ten paintings. I never became rich through my art, but my art background contributed to my being selected to create an ad for the company I worked for as a writer years later, which proved to be the beginning of my career in advertising.


Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Top Ten Ennyman's Territory Blog Posts of 2023, Plus Bonus Tracks

With the conclusion of 2023 on the horizon, it's inevitable that we'll be treated to numerous reflections on yet another rollercoaster year, featuring highs, lows, and everything in between. Some pundits will call it the Year of ChatGPT. No doubt many will write about the year beginning with one war and ending with two. 

In keeping with tradition, here are the top ten stories from Ennyman's Territory from the year we're leaving behind.

Day 8 of Duluth Dylan Fest 2023, Plus Google Bard and ChatGPT Weigh In On Why Bob Dylan Was Labeled the "Voice of His Generation"
As usual, Duluth Dylan Fest generated several stories including this one and a few of the following.

Jeff Slate, Revisited -- Celebrating Dylan and More

Five Minutes with Bobcat Podcaster / Minnesota Dylan Fan Matt Steichen

Dylan's "No Time To Think"-- The Mercenary as Metaphor

A Visit with Seth Rogovoy: On Looking at Dylan Through a Jewish Lens

Excitement Reigns! The Mummy's Curse™️ Board Game

30 Miscellaneous Dylan Clippings Discovered While Doing Research for Bob Dylan in Minnesota

15 Questions for Bob Dylan, Plus an Anecdote

Bob Dylan in Italy

What Does Charles Trenet's "La Mer" Have to Do with Dylan's Philosophy of Song?

* * * 

Bonus Track #1
Wall Street Journal Year in Review

Bonus Track #2
16 Blog Posts About My April Italy Adventure

Bonus Track #3
Bob Dylan in Minnesota was published this spring, I being one of the contributors. You can find it locally at Zenith Books on Central Avenue in West Duluth, or online:

* * * 

"Meantime, life goes on all around you."--Bob Dylan

Monday, December 18, 2023

Cashflow Diaries Part One: Things I Did to Make Money (Wiith Lessons Learned along the Way)

The other evening I was lying awake thinking about the various ways I put money in my pocket as I was growing up. As I wrote the list I saw a number of interesting lessons I'd learned. Special recognition (and thanks) goes to my parents who were involved with our lives and not absentee landlords. 

My grandson Wally's plant sale, 2023
1. Popsicle stand. Age 6 or 7 
We were living in a relatively new suburban development in Maple Heights. I have no idea whose idea the popsicle stand was, but it was most likely my mom's, New neighborhoods generally have new families and lots of kids. The Popsicle Truck was a regularly feature on our street and I'm sure he made a killing. 

As for me, I would set up a little table at the end of the driveway along with a little sign, and Mom would bring out an ice cube tray that had been converted to popsicle making. It was one of those metal kinds. She would use Kool-Aid (double strength if I recall correctly) and place popsicle sticks in each slot. I must have had some reasonable price because on those hot summer days we always sold out.  

(EdNote: It was so much fun being with my five year old grandson Wally as he set up a "plant sale" at the front of his yard this fall. It's that same adventurous spirit. He even had a little cash register as well as marketing support!)

2. Good Grades On Report Card and an Allowance.
Our parents rewarded us when we got an A on our report card. At that time we'd get a dime for each A. (I'm not the dimes were what motivated me to do well in school. It was my nature to please, and the monetary reward was just a bonus.) We also got a quarter each week for taking out the garbage or whatever other chores we were assigned. 

Around this period I opened a bank account and began saving, though not big time because once a month I would buy a Mad magazine, which was a quarter, and by saving two quarters I could buy a Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Dad would drive us to Lawson's to pick up milk and I'm sure, in part, it was to watch our excitement over buying a magazine.

Before long I discovered that by saving four weeks of allowance I could buy a model airplane or some kind of navy vessel. At a very early age I was learning about deferred gratification.

3. Grotto Circus Contest (1960)
In 1960, when the Grotto Circus was coming to town, they had a contest as a means of publicizing the event. The contest involved guessing how many people and animals were in the circus that was coming to Cleveland. The winner would win $250 and 8 tickets to the circus, which was quite a big deal for an 8 year old. As soon as I heard  I entered the contest. I remember lying on the living room carpet with a pad of paper trying to guess how many of each kind of animals there might be. And of course how many clowns and workers behind the scenes.

As I added up my numbers, I asked my mom what other animals might be there and she suggested pigs. I asked how many pigs would be in a circus and she guessed 32. So I had 32 pigs and every other kind of animal that I thought might be in a circus, including lions and tigers, of course.

To my amazement, our family was contacted by the newspaper to say that I won the contest. Or rather, I and three others tied with the exact match. They would be sending a journalist to do a story on me and within the week I was front page news.

There were two big headscratchers for me, though. First, when we went to the circus there were no pigs. In retrospect, I think my mother must have been thinking of 4-H and the County Fair. The second mystery was the way they divided the money. $250 divided by four would be $62.50. I would not have complained about that. But to my surprise the check I receive was for $87.50. Either they were not that competent at math, or they felt a little bonus was in order lest they look like cheapskates. I will never know.

4. My Paper Route
In 1964 our family moved to New Jersey. Once more our family was in a new development, this time on much larger lots. As before, the neighborhood was primarily populated with lots of new kids. With the move there was also a new opportunity: I could start a paper route and make money.

There were two main papers, the Courier-News and the Newark News. The kid up the street--Mike Martin--had already begun hitting up the neighborhood for the Courier-News, so I nook up the slack with the Newark News. I learned about responsibility, having to get up early and do my route before school. I also learned a little about dealing with money. When I moved on to the next phase of my career, the person who took my route lost quite a few of the customers I'd accumulated by being pushy about getting tipped. I was saddened to hear that. 

5. Shoveling Snow. 
We didn't get half as much snow in New Jersey as we see here in Minnesota, but we did get enough to make extra money if you took the initiative. The driveways weren't that long so most folks didn't have snowblowers. A couple kids with shovels could tack up some bucks if they took the initiative. It didn't take long to know who did and din't need the driveways cleared, and who gave the best tips, too.

* * * 

The key lesson in four of these early experiences was initiative. There were opportunities there. Being motivated, I pursued opportunities that provided instructive experiences that became lessons for life. I didn't make a lot of money, but learned responsibility as well as dealing with the public. 

* * * 

6. Caddy at the Green Knoll Country Club
Mr. McAvoy, who lived down the street and had been my Little League coach, asked if I would be interested in being a caddy at the Green Knoll Country Club. He explained what's involved and we--my friend and next-door-neighbor Tom Browne--we soon carrying golf clubs around and learning some new skills with regards to dealing with the public. The other caddies were an interesting cross-section of humanity. We were clean cut kids and once we were "broken in" we did pretty well for ourselves. Fave perk for me: Free golf on Mondays for caddies. 

There's another lesson here. After lugging golf bags around all day we would walk over to the strip mall to call mom and eat a slice of Dominick's pizza while waiting to be picked up. Dominick was an import from Italy and his thin crust pizzas were super tasty. The pizza joint was a small place at the strip mall nearby and though Dominick spoke little to no English, he managed to do a brisk business, so much so that by the time I graduated college I believe he owned 8 pizza places and was a millionaire. 

A key lesson here is that we were noticed by an adult who had the connections to open a door for us. His reputation was on the line since he was the one vouching for us to the golf pro. We didn't disappoint and were welcomed back the following year, as veterans.

* * * 

7. Bus Boy at Fiddler's Elbow
Fiddler's Elbow was an elite country club in the rolling hills of Bedminster, NJ, where the upper crust were encamped. Bernardsville, Peapack-Glladstone, Basking Ridge, Far Hills. When I was in Little League with the ragtag Pluckemin team, these were the communities we played against.  Malcolm Forbes, John DeLorean, and Jackie O lived there, among countless others with the same clout.

I started on Mother's Day weekend 1969 and left after Mother's Day weekend 1970 at the end of my senior year. Many, many lessons from that year. And stories.


Sunday, December 17, 2023

Which Is It: Always Be Doing? Or Always Do Being?

The string section is playing now. 
Here comes that mournful clarinet
finishing it off with a brief flourish
as the strings glide away
into the clouds.

The music re-emerges
beginning with piano rolls,
palatial skies, lazy streams of splendor,
while underneath 
an anguish lies.


Don't let the world's applause define your worth. Let your heart be lifted, comforted, by the symphony within. Can you hear it?

Friday, December 15, 2023

Is Inflation Getting Better or Worse?

My father-in-law did an amazing job of downsizing. Over a period of years he moved from a farmhouse with two barns, greenhouse and five or so other out-buildings to a two-room apartment. Much of what he was unable to get rid of through rummage sales became firewood. Some of the items, primarily those with sentimental value, ended up in our garage or basement. Included in these things was a stack of old Life magazines from the 19940s and 50s. 

Looking through these magazines was both entertaining and educational. This was a slice of our history. The photos and stories featured the events that shaped our generation. The weekly magazine had influence.

They also had advertising, aimed at both selling products and  to some extent also shaping behavior. One of the ads that made an impression on me featured an executive seated behind a desk with a big smile on his face, feet up on top of the desk as he leaned back in his chair. The reason he was happy was because he was retiring. Not only that, but he would be getting a Social Security check for $147 a month for the rest of his life.

That was the headline. "For the rest of my life I will be getting $147 a month!"

This image came to mind as I read this week's announcement regarding consumer prices and the Consumer Price Index (CPI). According to the powers that be, CPI inflation has dropped to 3.1%

And yet, even though the CPI this month is down, there are certainly a lot of things that seem disconcerting by way of contrast. When you look at the inflation rates on this list of basic necessities, does it make you wonder where thy pull their numbers from?

1. Car Insurance Inflation: 19.2% 2. Transportation Inflation: 10.1% 3. Car Repair Inflation: 8.5% 4. Rent Inflation: 6.9% 5. Homeowner Inflation: 6.7% 6. Food Away From Home Inflation: 5.3% 7. Electricity Inflation: 3.4%

A lot of people seem to think that when the CPI index drops, inflation is down. In reality, prices are still rising and affordability for the have nots is getting worse.

Because of the rising costs of raw materials, the cost for new housing has also risen. As a result, supply is not keeping up with demand. (Which makes me curious regarding where those 11 million unauthorized immigrants are living these days.)

That guy in the Life magazine ad is smiling, but if he lives a couple decades after retiring he won't see that $147-a-month check won't do all that much. Nowadays, it wouldn't cover your food, let alone rent, car, gas, car insurance, utilities and all the rest.

Alas, let the good times roll.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Of Oracles and Wisdom-Keepers, Then and Now

We're all familiar with the notion of the wise old guru who lives in a cave on the mountain. Seekers of wisdom would set aside time to make their journey to the East to find that mountain, climb to its apex and ask the burning question on their hearts. 

In Greek mythology that wisdom was found by making a journey to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. In contrast to directly asking the guru, who was considered a repository of wisdom, seekers would make their inquiries to the god Apollo via a medium known as the Oracle of Delphi. 

In both examples, the wisdom being sought required a journey with a quest. In both cases, the wisdom proffered was frequently veiled, a riddle that needed to be solved, a puzzle to be pieced together, a cryptic conundrum to be de-coded. In short, profound truths required engagement and effort to be laid bare.

* * * 

I woke this morning thinking about the contrast between those ancients and our modern world. Instead of the wisdom being privately pursued by seekers who make sacrifices to obtain it, the self-proclaimed gurus hire PR firms to promote their books or start podcasts and shout it from the mountaintops via social media platforms. 

Those thoughts brought to mind an anecdote which I shared in a blog post titled Dali: Madman or Genius? It went like this: According to the Masterpiece Paintings Gallery website, "Dali's ego and need for attention were never satisfied. His thirst for scandal was unquenchable. And 'the thought of not being recognized was unbearable', he said. He used to walk through the streets of New York ringing a bell whenever he felt people were not paying him enough attention. 'Every morning when I wake up I experience an exquisite joy -- the joy of being Salvador Dali -- and I ask myself in rapture what wonderful things this Salvador Dali is going to accomplish today.'”

What's going on here? Dali's behavior was preposterous, but.... but what's really going on?

At the center of it, the difference may well be contentment. I've read about Hollywood stars who are never content. Their whole lives revolved around ratings, or being acknowledged, or being seen with the right people. Is that really the meaning of my life, what others think of me? Or more specifically, what others whom I don't even know think of me. 

Teenagers struggle with this because they are immature. At a certain point, it's time to grow up and move on, isn't it?

* * * 

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Play Ball! Six AI Interpretations of an Ennyman Illustration

As many of you know I have been experimenting 
with an AI art app, exploring the various outcomes 
I get using my own original work as a prompt.
Here are six images based on my illustration "Play Ball!"

And here is my original illustration:

Pretty cool, huh?

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