Thursday, May 31, 2012

Throwing money down the toilet

Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, "Why in the hell can't someone invent a toilet that works?"

Our house has four toilets. At any given moment, one of them is broken.

Right now, the toilet in our downstairs bathroom is on the fritz. Water is running into the bowl from the tank. Not gushing. Trickling. Tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle. Drives me nuts.

This particular toilet, naturally, isn't a standard toilet. None of them are. All our toilets are as different from one another as Angelina's and Brad's kids. I removed the lid and on the left side is something that looks like a plastic bottle of anti-freeze. Its purpose? Haven't a clue.

After watching five You Tube videos on DIY toilet repair -- none of which featured toilet innards vaguely resembling this one -- I decided the problem had to be the rubber flap that is supposed to fall over the hole in the base of the tank that allows water to flow into the bowl. So I shut off the water, removed the flap, and went to the hardware store to find one just like it. I couldn't, of course, but one of the dozen or so flaps in stock looked like it would work.

But it didn't. Nor did the one I went back to buy an hour later. Or the one I bought the next day when I drove 10 miles to Home Depot. The flap may not even be the cause of the problem, but I'm not about to try to replace the entire mechanism because, whenever I have attempted that, I wind up with leftover parts and the damn toilet continues running.

In my heart I know the flap I'm looking for doesn't exist. The old one was a one-of-a-kind. Every toilet and every toilet part Kohler and/or American Standard makes is a one-of-a-kind. They do this because they secretly own a stake in every mom and pop plumbing company in the U.S., and the revenue they earn from toilet service calls more than offsets the cost of individually molding parts.

So, tomorrow, I'll call a plumber who will spend exactly 51 seconds installing a flimsy plastic part and charge me $150, handing over the bill with a snicker as he announces, "My 7-year-old could have fixed that."

Later that afternoon, just after he leaves, the part he replaced will emit an invisible beam that will destroy a one-of-a-kind part in one of our other toilets, which will start running.

Never fails.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Television for the attention-addled

I get sick of those dumbed-down television investigative "news magazines" that assume everyone watching has ADD.

You know the shows I'm talking about -- programs like CBS's 48 Hours Mystery and NBC's Dateline that rehash true crime stories which, by their nature, tend to be complicated, with lots of characters, twists and turns.

The folks who put these shows together know that millions of viewers aren't really concentrating; they're channel surfing, cruising the internet and/or texting. It is for the benefit of those attention-addled viewers that the producers feel compelled, after every commercial break, to recap what they have already told us.

It's annoying. It wastes time. Worst of all, it insults the intelligence of viewers who have followed the story from the beginning of the show.

Most of these programs unfold something like this:

Segment One: High school sweethearts Dick and Jane have a huge wedding but, upon returning from their honeymoon, Jane disappears. Jane's sister, Sally, is suspicious because Jane has confided she fears Dick is having an affair. When Sally confronts Dick, he claims Jane is in Guam attending a bowling tournament. (Commercial Break)

Segment Two: Dick and Jane's storybook marriage, her sister Sally has reason to believe, is troubled. And, suddenly, Jane is missing. Dick's explanation -- that Jane is on a remote Pacific island -- seems implausible.

Visiting Dick, ostensibly to bring him a home-cooked meal, Sally spots blood on the kitchen floor. Dick says he cut himself slicing rare roast beef. While he is in the bathroom, Sally finds a million dollar insurance policy on Jane's life, naming Dick as beneficiary. (Commercial Break)

Segment Three: Knowing her vanished sister, Jane, believes her husband, Dick, is having an affair, Sally discovers signs of a bloody struggle. Sally fears Dick has killed Jane to collect insurance. But where, oh where, is the body?

Sally goes to the police to file a missing persons report. They tell Sally to mind her own business. Sally remembers Dick's father is chief of police. (Commercial Break)

Segment Four: Beside herself with worry because her sister Jane has disappeared, Sally suspects that Jane's husband, Dick, who stands to gain one million dollars, knows more than he is telling. The police department, overseen by none other than Dick's father, refuses to cooperate.

Dick moves in with his bimbo girlfriend who begins driving around town in a new pink Cadillac. Sally assumes Dick bought it for her, knowing he will soon be coming into insurance money. Sally meets with the local newspaper editor, who declines to investigate. Sally remembers Dick's mother is the paper's publisher. (Commercial Break)

Segment Five: Sally has become obsessed by what she believes to be a cover-up by her brother-in-law, Dick, and his parents, who control the town. Her sister Jane, who looked so radiant the day she married Dick, is missing. Vanished into thin air. It's as if Jane never existed! And Dick? Why, Dick doesn't seem to care. Dick has a new love and is living the high life.

Sally shoots Dick to death in an Olive Garden parking lot as his girlfriend looks on in horror. The girlfriend seems particularly upset that Sally shot a hole in her new Cadillac, which, it turns out, she won for being a top Mary Kay representative. The next day, Jane returns with a bowling trophy. Sally is now on death row.

Sound familiar?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Pope needs a new butler. Are you up for the job?

As the world knows by now, the Pope’s butler has been fired for leaking secret documents to Italian journalists.  A new butler is required ASAP. has obtained a copy of the job application in case you want to apply.  


LISTING BUTL-HH-402  (Butler to His Holiness)

Thank you for applying for this vital position to help advance Christianity worldwide.

Kindly complete the brief quiz below to help us determine your worthiness.

An hour before His Holiness is to appear on the balcony to bless the poor, you notice the Holy Father's dress has a wrinkle. What do you do?
( ) Steam it using SteamBuddy Multi-Use Garment Steamer
( ) Iron it on “rayon” setting
( ) Send it to One Hour Martinizing but tell them you need it back in 50 minutes
( ) Any or all of the above but ask His Holiness to slip out of it first

In the middle of the night His Holiness buzzes you and says he can’t sleep. What should you bring him?
( ) A glass of White Zin from Vatican vineyards
( ) His favorite Vienna Boys’ Choir video
( ) Bowl of milk toast
( ) Tylenol PM

As the Papal plane is about to land, the pilot warns it is raining at your destination. You (choose all applicable answers):
( ) Locate umbrella to hold above the Holy Father as he descends the plane's steps
( ) Pray it stops
( ) Call ahead to order advance workers to erect portable pavilion to protect His Holiness
( ) Make sure moonroof of Popemobile will be closed upon landing

Which one of these does not belong on the Holy Father's bedside table?
( ) Bible
( ) Picture of Jesus in solid gold frame
( ) Copy of The DaVinci Code
( ) Secret papers detailing Vatican Bank dealings

The Holy Father is about to travel to a hot humid climate and you are packing his bags. Which one of the following is His Holiness most unlikely to need?
( ) Right Guard
( ) Summer linen dress
( ) Mist bottle containing Evian
( ) Hitler Youth membership card

Enclose recent photo of yourself and digital copy of Confirmation Certificate and email to Vatican Human Resources.
If you don’t hear from us within 24 hours, you can assume the position has been filled. Thank you and have a blessed day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The boy in the oval picture frame

Atop a table in our guest room is a hand-tinted photograph, taken in the summer of 1933.

The photo is of my grandparents, Burton and Judith Tate, and the first four of what would eventually become a brood of 14 grandchildren.

On my grandfather's lap is my cousin Robert, six months old. Robert grew up to be a computer specialist.

Grandma is holding another baby, my cousin Nancy. She grew up to be an R.N.

Kneeling in front of them is my six-year-old cousin Paul. Paul grew up to marry his childhood sweetheart and became an Army General.

Next to Paul is my cousin Jimmy, a boy of four.

Jimmy was killed in Korea when he was 21.

I wonder what he would have become?

Nancy, Paul and Jimmy were the children of my mother's sister, Margaret, a tiny wisp of a woman. In 1923, Margaret married a giant of a man, Pat Timmerberg, who stood six feet three inches tall. Pat's parents had immigrated to Missouri from Germany and settled on a farm near Mineola. When America entered World War I, Pat joined up and was shipped off to fight his own people in the fields of France. When he returned, he was a soldier through and through, who loved to sing war songs and tell war stories.

Margaret and Pat's oldest, Paul, joined the army in 1945, the year he graduated from Montgomery City High School, just in time for VJ Day. Like his father, Paul showed a natural aptitude for soldiering. He was selected for Officer Candidate School and, shortly thereafter, was a Second Lieutenant, on his way to earning his stars.

Jimmy, who graduated from high school in 1947, enlisted in the army the next year, when he was 19. After basic training, he was sent to Colorado, where he captained the 21st Engineer's basketball team. He was shipped to the Yukon for eight months, back to Colorado and, in August, 1950, to Korea, where he was a machine gunner with the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division.

Jimmy was killed in action near Changgong-Ni on April 28, 1951. His tour of duty was almost over.

When they received word of Jimmy's death, the Timmerbergs were preparing for Nancy's high school graduation. She had graduated first in her class, and was looking forward to giving the valedictorian's speech.

She went ahead and delivered it, though her heart was broken and the audience knew it.

In those days before jet planes, families often had to wait months for their loved ones to arrive home for burial. Jimmy's flag-draped casket arrived in Montgomery City on a Wabash train on November 20, and he was buried with full military honors. According to his obituary posted on cousin Robert's family web site, a quartet sang "In The Sweet By and By" and "Safe In The Arms of Jesus." A solo, "God Understands," was also performed.

My mother couldn't attend. She was in the hospital, having given birth to me three
days earlier.

We visited Aunt Margaret and Uncle Pat often when I was growing up. They were always full of news about Paul and Nancy and their growing families. But I was always aware of the presence of a third Timmerberg cousin -- a handsome dark-haired boy of 18 or so with a fixed broad smile, who peered from a gold oval frame on the dining room wall.

Of him, never a word was spoken.

Pat died in 1963 and Margaret, who lived alone, began spending a lot of time at our house with my mother. They spent hours discussing the family and events of the past. But they would never mention Jimmy. Every Memorial Day, my mother took Margaret, who never learned to drive, to the cemetery, and they would return looking grim.

As a teenager, I used to accuse Aunt Margaret of being a pessimist. She wasn't much fun to be around. She always seemed to look on the dark side, to expect the worst out of life.

I take it all back, Aunt Margaret.

Now that I have held my own sons in my arms and have seen them grow into young men with their own hopes and dreams, I understand.

And I want to tell you this: You were amazing. I don't know how you were able to go on, but you did. You even managed to laugh on occasion. I can't help but wonder if, every time you saw me, you were reminded of the son you buried the week I was born. I hope not, but I don't see how you couldn't have been.

Margaret died in 1988, and was laid to rest next to Jimmy and Pat, near my grandparents. My mother, now 99, made the trek to the cemetery every Memorial Day until a few years ago when she stopped driving.

Paul died in 2008 and was buried at Arlington in an impressive military ceremony with a
13-cannon salute befitting his rank. He was inducted into the Military Police Hall of Fame and there is a building named for him at Ft. Leonard Wood.

Mom talks often with the last of my Timmerberg cousins, Nancy, who, at 79, just had a knee replacement.

But nobody in our family ever speaks of Jimmy. I don't think those who knew him can. Though his headstone has faded, the horror of his loss never will, until the last person who loved him is gone. And there aren't that many of them left.

Many of my grandparents' 14 grandchildren accomplished great things. One became a math professor. One graduated from West Point, as did Paul's son, their great-grandson. The youngest, named for his cousin Jimmy, is president of a major music company. All of us married, most had children and grandchildren, and two are even great-grandparents.

Scattered from Connecticut to California, the ten of us who are left will celebrate Memorial Day. We'll enjoy the sunshine and picnics.

And I guarantee that all of us will remember the boy in the oval picture frame on Aunt Margaret's dining room wall, the boy who, unlike the rest of us, never grew old.

I hope that, whatever else you have planned, you will also take the time to remember Jimmy Timmerberg ... the hundreds of thousands of other young men and women who paid for our freedom with their lives ... and their parents, who buried the best of themselves with them.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Driving Miss Bonnie

Are we there yet? Billy Ray (top) and Bonnie.
I'm in Florida. It's our official domicile, where we spend most of our time. We bought this house five years ago with the idea that, when I eased out of my job, we would sell the house in Connecticut we have owned since 1991 and move here full time.

Then the real estate bubble burst and the market dried up.

So, for the foreseeable future, we have two homes we shuttle between.

Tonight I'll pack up the car and tomorrow, bright and early, we'll be on our way up north for the summer.

It would be easier, faster and cheaper to fly but for our neurotic dachshunds, Bonnie and Billy Ray. They behave so badly on planes that we drive -- especially after that unfortunate incident four years ago.

Freaked out by the roar of the engines as the plane was thundering down the runway, Bonnie clawed her way out of the soft-sided doggie carrier in which she was stashed under the seat in front of us, and ran up the aisle. At the moment of lift-off, she jumped onto the lap of an elderly passenger, who screamed like she had been attacked by a knife-wielding towel head. An angry flight attendant threatened to have the pilot land the plane and have us arrested. I actually think we're on JetBlue's "no fly" list.

So we drive. And drive. And drive. It's a 1,342-mile route we could probably drive blindfolded. We stop at the same gas stations, the same McDonald's, the same Arby's (where the dogs split a medium Beef 'N Cheddar, hold the cheddar and the bun), the same Dunkin' Donuts, and overnight in the same fleabag Best Western.

Billy likes the car. He nods off by the time we reach the interstate and wakes up only when we stop.

But Bonnie, who is the better behaved of the two when not in a vehicle, is the very definition of hell on wheels. She whines for 121 miles until the first rest stop near Tampa, then spends the rest of the trip climbing back and forth every three or four minutes between the comfort of her bed in the back seat and the security of my wife's lap in the front, nudging the gear selector each time she shifts position. If I have to turn on the wipers, she goes bat-shit, barking, growling, lunging and drooling like Cujo, apparently under the impression a monster is trying to break through the windshield to kill us.

She barks at trucks. And motorcycles. And bridges. And toll collectors. And McDonald's drive-thru windows. When I was stopped for speeding in South Carolina, she tried to bite the cop as he handed me a ticket. He told me I needed to get my dog under control. Fat chance.

And so, off we go. Hopefully we'll arrive around around 7 p.m. Thursday in Connecticut where, Accuweather reports, it was 55 degrees this morning. Last time I experienced temperatures that cold I was in Connecticut. In July. The weather up there sucks.

But what the hell. It's home.

At least for the next few months.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A case for educational reform

Twenty-something cashier in Las Vegas hotel gift shop, ringing up my purchase of a Chapstick: That will be $3.28.

TD (reaching into wallet and handing her a $50 bill): Here you go.

Cashier (punching "$50" into cash register): OK, your change will be $46.72.

TD (realizing I have a smaller bill, taking the $50 from the counter and replacing it with a $10 bill): Wait a sec, here's a ten.

Cashier: I can't do that.

TD: Why?

Cashier (pointing to LCD display on cash register): Because it says here I have to give you $46.72 back.

TD: Well, this is easier. Take the $10 and give me $6.72.

Cashier: I can't. The numbers wouldn't add up at the end of my shift.

TD: Yes they would.

Cashier: No they wouldn't, I'd get in trouble.

TD: At the end of the day you'd have the same amount of money in the register.

Cashier (hesitantly): I don't think so.

TD (replacing the $10 bill with the original $50): OK, here's the fifty back.

Cashier: I'm out of large bills. I'm going to have to give you dollars.

TD: I don't have room for forty-six ones in my wallet. Why not take my ten? You'd only have to give me three bills back that way.

Cashier: I just explained. I'd get in trouble.

TD: Fine.

Cashier (slowly counting out bills): One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty, forty-one, forty-two, forty-three, forty-four, forty-five, forty-six, forty-six twenty-five, forty-six fifty, forty-six sixty, forty-six seventy and two pennies...forty-six seventy-two.

TD: How long have you been doing this?

Cashier: Ever since I graduated college last year.

TD: Where did you go?

Cashier: UNLV. University of Nevada Las Vegas.

TD: What did you major in?

Cashier: Business.

TD: I see.

Cashier: Have a nice day.

TD: You, too.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hey kids, shave a moose of leather

We are having a swell time in Las Vegas. We're eating in fine restaurants. Playing lots of blackjack. And being entertained nonstop.

Two nights ago we saw "Viva Elvis" at the Aria. Last night it was a tribute to the Bee Gees at the Excalibur. Tonight we saw Elton John and His Million Dollar Piano at Caesar's Palace.

Elton has sold more than a quarter billion records over his 45 year career. Billboard ranks him as the #1 solo male rock performer of all times. He is, hands down, the most gifted rock pianist ever. He's a humanitarian, who has raised tens of millions for AIDS and other causes. He's a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. And at 65, he hasn't lost even a shimmer of star quality. He's the consummate showman, as energetic and talented as ever.

I just wish I could understand what the hell he's singing half the time, because
he mumbles.

I have no trouble when he sings slow songs like Tiny Dancer, Candle in the Wind and Circle of Life.

But when it comes to frantic-paced songs like Philadelphia Freedom, Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting and The Bitch Is Back, he might as well be singing in Bulgarian for all I can understand. I've always thought that Bernie Taupin, his lyricist, must have the most frustrating job in the world.

That said, even I was on my feet along the rest of the crowd, singing along as Elton performed his immortal Bennie and the Jets.

Hey kids, shave a moose of leather
Da spouse is missin' someone
Iguana's name is Heather
Wiggle your fat ass calves tonight.
So stick around,
You're gonna hear
Electron Rick music.
Salad bowls are round.

OK, I know those aren't the precise lyrics Taupin wrote but they're the ones I've been signing for 35 years and they make no less sense than Elton's. Check out the official
lyrics below.

On second look, mine actually make more sense.

B-b-b-bye for now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I've been robbed. Again.

Greetings from Las Vegas. Arrived last night and, I'm sorry to report, I've been robbed.

Somewhere between my house and here, someone etherized me and stole my cell phone. A brand new iPhone 4S. I bought it Saturday to replace the one that was stolen last week.

It was in my pants pocket. I'm 100 percent sure of that because I carefully placed it there so I'd be able to use it to tell the time. I no longer have a watch because someone broke into our house one night last week and stole it. I spent hours looking for it, but it's gone. It has probably been pawned by now. Our idiot dachshunds slept right through the burglary. Some watchdogs they are.

My wife and I were never out of each others' sight yesterday, except for a few minutes when I got up to use the bathroom on the second leg of our flight. It must have happened then. You'd think some other passenger would have noticed a guy with a bottle of ether and a cloth following me into the bathroom but I guess not. I don't remember a thing but then, I was etherized, so that's not surprising.

When I unpacked my bag, I was further discouraged to discover that a baggage handler had stolen one of my sandals. Not both. Just one. Weird. The lock doesn't appear to have been tampered with. I can't imagine what he's going to do with one sandal. Perhaps he just has one leg but that doesn't make sense because a one-legged baggage handler would have trouble keeping his balance.

When we were first married, my wife accused me of being an airhead who loses things but, years ago, she accepted the irrefutable fact that she married a guy robbers like to prey on. Nobody has ever stolen anything from her. Just from me and our sons, both of whom inherited my bad luck. These poor kids have been victimized so often it's a wonder they have any faith in mankind whatsoever.

Christmas Eve, our number one son was driving from D.C. to our Connecticut house. I was worried. The weather was crummy -- a mixture of rain and sleet -- and he left late. Around midnight he called from a rest stop at the southern end of the New Jersey Turnpike where he had stopped for coffee and to gas up. He reported someone at Starbucks had pick pocketed him, leaving him with exactly eighty two cents to fill up an empty fuel tank and pay the tolls he would need to exit the turnpike and cross the GW Bridge.

He said his first thought was that he had lost it but, after looking everywhere, he was sure he had been robbed. He said a fellow traveler who overheard him asking the Starbucks manager if he had found a wallet had given him $5 -- enough to buy the gas needed to get to the Vince Lombardi rest stop in northern New Jersey. I told him I'd meet him there, jumped in my car and, an hour and a half later, we met up. I gave him cash to fill up his car and pay the tolls.

The next morning my wife looked in his car and there, between the driver's seat and the gas pedal, was his wallet. The thief had obviously followed us back to Connecticut and, feeling guilty for robbing my son at Christmastime, replaced the wallet and all its contents.

It's good to know there is at least one kind robber out there but I have no illusions the bastards who stole my iPhone, watch or sandal will bring them back.

On the other hand, they might. They often do.

Monday, May 14, 2012

When you're from Auxvasse, you can't go home again

Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel entitled, "You Can't Go Home Again."

Wolfe's title was prophetic for anyone from my hometown, Auxvasse, whose official web site describes it as "the third largest fourth class city in Callaway County, Missouri."

Missouri has many small towns with peculiar names. Peculiar, for instance. Not to mention Blue Eye, Tightwad, Useful and Climax Springs. Strange names to be sure, but at least they are pronounceable.

But Auxvasse is next to impossible for anyone but a native to pronounce.

People try to pronounce it phonetically -- "Ox Vossy." Or, if they know a little French, they'll say,"Oh Vwah." Both are way off base. 

For years I patiently explained, "It's pronounced like the last two words in the title of the movie about Dorothy and Toto, "The Wizard __ __." 

Everyone seems to understand that, but even that's not exactly true. To pronounce it as natives do, say "gauze." Then drop the g, put "Of" in front of that, and. presto, you've got it: "Of auze." 

The town was founded in 1871 as Clinton City. That was fine for a few months until someone figured out the reason nobody had received any mail (other than a "You May Already Be A Winner" letter from Publisher's Clearinghouse) was because there was already a Missouri town named Clinton. The Postal Service insisted on a new name.

At that point, the town fathers, who clearly weren't all that swift when it came to picking names in the first place, decided to give the town the name of a nearby creek. Legend has it the creek was named by French settlers whose wagons had become stuck in its muck. The Frenchies dubbed the creek "Riviere Aux Vases" which supposedly means "river with miry places." But a friend from France tells me it means "to the bottle" which may explain why the town's tavern is one of the few long-time businesses that has survived.

I like to amuse myself on long trips by challenging my car's computerized navigation system to perform complicated tasks.

I will tell it, for example, to route me to Anchorage, Alaska. Within seconds, it calculates the route and is prepared to tell me every turn I need to take.

But no matter how many times I've asked, it can't figure out how to get me to Auxvasse because it, like everyone else, can't comprehend the name.

"Do you want to access navigation?" asks the digital voice.

"Yes," I reply.

"OK, what state?"


"Mizz-her-ee," the voice confirms, sounding just like Rosey, the Jetsons' maid. "What city?"

"Auxvasse," I say.

The screen then displays a list of five possibilities. The choices are different every time but almost always include Augusta, Oakwood or Bogard. Not once has it given me the option of going where I told it to take me.

If I had to rely on my navigation system, I could never go home any more. And as people continue to depend increasingly on computers to tell them how to get from point A to point B, Auxvasse may someday prove impossible for anyone to find unless, of course, the good people of that town change the name again to something a computer can understand.

"Clinton City" contained the name of a future president and was easy to pronounce. Any computer would have no trouble understanding that. So maybe the town can be renamed for another president. Bushville. Obama City. Whatever. Just as long as it's comprehensible.

I finally gave up trying to explain to people where I'm from. It was too complicated. And it's not like anyone ever asked, "Do you know so-and-so from there?" I've spent most of my life in the New York area. New Yorkers have never met anyone from Missouri, much less from Auxvasse.

So now, when people ask where I'm from, I tell them I'm from the nearest town. It's the town I was born in because it, unlike Auxvasse, had a hospital.

"I'm from Mexico," I reply.

"Wow," they say. "Never met a Mexican with blue eyes."

It's easier to leave it at that.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Lessons my TV mothers taught me

This column was originally published May 12, 2000 in
the Wilton Villager.

Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers out there -- especially to Ruby Tate Dryden See, the best mother a guy ever had.

I am the product of many mothers.

My biological mother to this day introduces me as her "baby" and apologizes for not having breast-fed me, as she did my older siblings. For some reason breast-feeding was important to the women in her family.

Her own grandmother, who had 17 children, was so enamored of breast-feeding that she continued to nurse her youngest, Luther, long past the time she should have stopped. When Luther was six, the sheriff came around to inquire why the child wasn't enrolled in school, and found him being breast-fed on the front porch, both of his feet planted firmly on the floor, as his mother rocked back and forth in a chair, smoking a corncob pipe. "He ain't old enough," his mother informed the sheriff.

My mother taught me to love reading, travel, cooking and Scrabble.

Then there were my TV mothers -- mothers with sons roughly my age -- on the shows I watched faithfully. Growing up with my nose pressed to the boob tube, I learned almost as much, maybe more, from those mothers as I did my own.

One of my favorites was Timmy's mom, played by June Lockhart, on Lassie, which I watched every Sunday night.

Timmy's mother, Ruth, lived on a desert ranch with her husband, son, and, of course, Lassie, who was smarter than all of them rolled together. Though their home was little more than a shack, Timmy's mother always wore high heels.

As a child, I wondered why Ruth would raise Timmy in such a godforsaken place, which had tumbleweeds everywhere, abandoned wells to fall into, wild cougars, etc.

As an adult, I think I've figured it out. She had kidnapped Timmy from his real parents, and was hiding out where nobody could find them.

Ruth gave Timmy carte blanche to explore the canyons and rattlesnake-infested gullies of the area, secure in the knowledge that if he fell in a well, Lassie would sound the alarm.

From Ruth, I learned that good mothers give their children rope with plenty of slack to explore the world, and let them figure out for themselves how to get out of any wells they fall into.

Her suburban counterpart was June Cleaver, mother of Beaver and Wally on Leave It To Beaver. June, too, always wore heels, but rarely left her kitchen. Unlike Ruth, June was overly protective of her children and smothered them with so many questions after school as they ate her freshly-baked cookies that you just knew they must hate her and would never visit once they left the nest.

June couldn't cope with her boys and would wait until her husband, Ward, came home so he could deal with their troubled, dim-witted son, Beaver. "Ward, something's bothering the Beaver," she would announce ominously as he came through the door.

I suspect that while Ward talked it over with Beav, June went to the kitchen and drank directly from a bottle of Smirnoff to dull the pain she must have felt from wearing heels all day on a linoleum floor, not to mention the disappointment of giving birth to a loser
son like Beaver.

From June I learned that a mother -- even one who makes cookies from scratch instead of buying Nabisco -- shouldn't be afraid to deal with her kids' problems herself, something poor June refused to do.

In the early '70s, I was intrigued by John Boy's mother on The Waltons. Like me, John Boy was a college student studying to be a writer. Though she had six or seven kids, Olivia Walton clearly preferred John Boy to the others. To her, John Boy, despite a mole the size of Rhode Island, could do no wrong and she would always drop whatever she was doing to talk over his problems with him.

"Mama, mama, Jim Bob's cut his arm off at the sawmill."

"Shut up, can't you see I'm talking with my favorite, John Boy?"

From Olivia, I learned that some mothers have favorites. Every kid likes to hope he is the favorite but, if that's the case, his mother should at least try to hide it, unlike John Boy's.

In the '80s, I spent Friday nights with my rich mom, Miss Ellie, of Dallas. Miss Ellie insisted that her two adult sons and their wives live with her in the same house and share every meal.

Miss Ellie was invariably gracious to her slut of a daughter-in-law, Sue Ellen, who would return home every so often in an alcoholic stupor after a week away in the arms of various lovers. Sue Ellen acted this way to get back at her husband, J.R., who had girlfriends stashed all over town. Not surprisingly, the relationship between J.R. and Sue Ellen was volatile.

Surely Miss Ellie wanted to say something but always bit her lip and let them work it out.
An inspirational example for mothers-in-law everywhere. When my sons bring their future wives home to live with us, I'm going to make sure my wife gives them their privacy, just as
Miss Ellie did.

My current favorite TV mom is the feisty Olivia Soprano of HBO's The Sopranos. Last season Livia tried to arrange to have her middle-aged son, Tony, bumped off by the mob.

From Mrs. Soprano, I've learned that even a mother's supposedly boundless love has its limits and that every mother, ultimately, has an invisible line in the sand her child crosses at his own peril.

As so, as we prepare to celebrate Mother's Day, I would like to extend special greetings across the miles not only to my own mother, whose failure to breast-feed me has ruined my life, but to each of my boob-tube mothers on whose examples I was weaned.

Thank you, Moms. You've made me the man I am today.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Honesty is always -- but always -- the best policy

Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson apologized yesterday for claiming on his resume that he has a computer science degree from Stonehill College when, in fact, he doesn't. He said he is sorry but refuses to resign.

If he won't quit, Yahoo's Board of Directors should summarily fire him. Allow me, if you will, to tell you why I feel so strongly about this matter.

Shortly after earning my Ph.D. in quantum physics from Stanford, I became a silent partner with dear friends Steve Wozniak and Steven Jobs in a start-up firm. Happily, our little company grew quickly and by the summer of 1981, we needed to hire a Human
Resources Director.

In July of that year, while I was in London serving as best man at my friend Charles' wedding (his marriage didn't end happily though the union did produce my godsons, William and Harry, to whom I am close), the two Steves hired the first applicant they interviewed, a young woman I shall call Charlotte. When I returned to the office and saw her resume -- she claimed to have attended "Harverd" -- it was clear she had doctored it. I fired her and brought in a replacement who was still handling the job efficiently at the time I left the company in 1996 to become Bill Clinton's special envoy to the Middle East, a challenging but, ultimately, gratifying role for which I was honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

Imagine my consternation when, shortly after buying the New York Yankees in 2005, I asked to meet with the team's Human Resources Director and discovered it was none other than Charlotte! Though she had apparently done a good job, I quietly took her aside and asked her to leave. She later found work at a Third Avenue firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, where she helped swindle the company's clients including my neighbors, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, out of millions of dollars.

The moral? Those who embellish their resumes may achieve some degree of personal and financial success, but must be prepared to deal with the consequences when the truth eventually comes out. As it always will.

End of story.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Run, Brendon, Run!

It's obvious to any fan of CBS's The Amazing Race that the relationship between Brendon and Rachel, the engaged couple who finished third during last night's season finale, is as doomed as the Hindenburg.

Brendon seems like a nice, even-tempered guy but Rachel makes Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction look like Mother Teresa. She cries. She whines. She wails. She blames Brendon when things go wrong. She throws things, has nasty exchanges with other contestants, then blubbers some more.

The only "I do" Brendon should ever say to Rachel is, "I do believe I'd be happier spending the rest of my life being water boarded at Guantanamo than marrying you."

For his own sake, I hope that, once he and Rachel reached the finish line, Brendon kept on running as far as his legs could carry him and that he has assumed a new identity someplace far away where she can't find him.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Happy Cuatro de Miracle Whip!

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, a day food snobs set aside each year to pay homage to a tasteless, cholesterol-riddled blob of congealed grease they pretend to like because it was invented in France -- mayonnaise.

I say the Hellmann's with them.
I'm proclaiming today, May 4th, as
Cuatro de Miracle Whip.

Miracle Whip is all-American (invented in the 1930s by Kraft), lower in fat and calories and, because it's made with sugar and other good stuff, is tangy and delicious, zipping up anything it's added to. You can eat Miracle Whip right out of the jar. Mayo? No way.

There is no better summer sandwich than fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes slicked thick,
laid over good bread, and slathered with Miracle Whip. Can you imagine making that
with mayo?

I grew up in one of those red states where Miracle Whip reigns supreme. My dad's store didn't even carry mayo. Nobody ever asked for it. But I've spent most of my life in blue states, where folks would no more admit to using Miracle Whip than they would admit voting Republican.

First time I ordered a sandwich in a New York deli, the guy behind the counter asked if I wanted mayo. "Do you have Miracle Whip?" I asked. He looked at me as if I had requested he spread shit on my ham and Swiss. "God, no."

After a few weeks asking for Miracle Whip at other delis, I gave up and had to settle for mayo whenever I ordered a sandwich. But in the privacy of my own home, we use Miracle Whip. (Correction: Miracle Whip Light. Even with less sugar, it has 100 times more flavor than mayo.)

My aunt's sister, Vernetta, was known as one of central Missouri's best cooks. People flocked from miles around whenever she was cooking at a local food festival or church supper. Her advice to aspiring chefs? "If it doesn't taste right, you need to add more chocolate, Velveeta or Miracle Whip."

Great lady. And smart as a Whip.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Look ma, no cavities!

Went to the dentist yesterday for my twice-yearly check-up.

I look forward to her chair like Ted Bundy must have looked forward to Old Sparky.

But, I have to say, my dentist is great. We have interesting conversations.

She: I just got back from a meeting of the Association of Forensic Dentists. Did you know I'm a member?

Me:  I've always wondered, when you're trying to identify a body, do you to have to examine the teeth while they're still inside the victim's skull, or do the cops send you a tooth and ask you to "analyze this?"

She (picking up one of those nutpicker thingies): Open wide. No, I have to examine the victim's mouth, like I'm examining yours. Not that wide. It's gross sometimes. Turn toward me. Especially if the corpse is in an advanced state of decomposition. Perfect, stay just like that. Did you read about that decapitated body they found in the Everglades last month?

Me: Shush mouche schmusgen. Mish vasch.

She: Do you like true crime books?

Me: Mos vorch wersh. Auf hosen schmalz.

She: They wrote a CSI Miami episode about a case I worked on. Do you watch that show?

I don't know how the hell dentists expect you to answer questions when their hands are stuffed down your throat, but I've yet to meet one who didn't ask more of them than a three-year-old.

Dentists scare me shitless. When I was kid I would return from the pediatric dentist my parents sent me to, crying about the pain he had inflicted. They thought I was being dramatic until the state board of dental examiners, responding to dozens of complaints from parents who believed their children, conducted an investigation and declared the old man legally blind. Seeing Laurence Olivier torture Dustin Hoffman with a drill in Marathon Man further reinforced my aversion to the chair. As a result, I tend to put off dental work.

Thirty-some years ago a dentist recommended pulling my wisdom teeth. I finally had them extracted last year. At 59. Losing those teeth completely changed the shape of my face. I had chubby cheeks. Now I look like I'm from Appalachia.

Yesterday's check-up went fine and -- an unexpected bonus -- I learned a lot about forensic dentistry.

"Do you want to go ahead and book your next check-up?" the dentist asked.

"No," I replied. "At my age I'm not making appointments that far into the future."

"OK," she said. "Call if you're around in six months."

I said I would.

I just hope that next time we meet, I'm reclining in her chair, not lying on a slab in some morgue.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

When "Like" doesn't begin to say what you really feel

When Facebook friends post messages, members can respond in one of two ways:

1. By clicking "Comment" and writing a message underneath. Sadly, in our visually-oriented society in which the written word is becoming about as relevant as Huckleberry Hound, most folks don't take the time.

2. By clicking "Like."

Here's my suggestion for Facebook programmers: Give us more buttons. For starters, give us a "Dislike" button. Better yet, a "Hate" button.

And here are more buttons I would like to see:

Who Gives A Shit?: The go-to button for people who post messages like, "Had Del Monte Peas for dinner. They were Buy One, Get One Free."

Now I Remember: As in, "For years we lost touch and I didn't care. Now that Facebook has brought us together again, I remember why."

You Have the IQ of A Deer Tick: The ideal response to idiotic posts like "Drank alot of Bud last night and woke up naked in Branson outside the Lennon Sisters Theater" or "Does anyone know when the 4th of July is this year?"

So Sorry: "Like" is hardly an appropriate response when someone posts unhappy news. My Facebook buddy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, posted last week that his father passed away. Nearly 3,000 members expressed their sympathy by hitting "Like." Those "Likes" came from people too lazy to write, "so sorry." Or, I'd have to guess, from Iran.

Get A Hotel:  Women, in particular, are always posting sappy stuff like, "Thirty years ago today I married the love of my life and he's just as sexy now as he was when he had hair on his head instead of his back." You live with him. Why not tell him in person and save bandwidth?

That said, there are, I'll admit, times when "Like" is a perfect response. For example, when you click on a link to a blog that makes you laugh out loud.

In cases like that, "Like" is perfect.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hilarous? You can Depend on it

Here in Florida, viewers are reminded that half the population is older than Methuselah by an endless barrage of TV commercials targeting the geriatric set. Super Polygrip. Viagra. Aricept. Cialas. Prolia. Boniva. Retirement communities. Hospices. I could go on and on. It is, I have to admit, depressing, but it comes with the territory.

My current favorite is for Depend Silhouette briefs, and features former LA Law star Harry Hamlin and his younger wife, Lisa Rinna.

Hamlin appears gaunt. My theory is that Rinna, who has those massive fish lips so many Hollywood actresses sport these days, is having fat extracted from his body while he sleeps and injected into her lips.

Hamlin and Rinna are walking up a red carpet to some bogus awards gala when a guy rushes up, hands her a Depend, and challenges her to put it on under her gown. For charity of course. He makes sure to point out that Rinna doesn't actually need one.

If it were my wife, I'd deck the guy but Hamlin obviously doesn't have the strength.

"Sure, why not?" Rinna replies.

She rushes off, slips on the Depend, then returns, whirling around like a dervish to demonstrate it leaves no visible panty lines.

"Hey Lisa," a reporter yells. "Who are you wearing?"

"She's wearing the new Depend Silhouette," the guy tells the reporter as Hamlin ogles Rinna.

Makes me laugh so hard I pee in my pants every time I see it.