Thursday, December 29, 2022

The triumph of George Santos is the failure of America's media


I am sure you have read or heard about George Santos, a Republican who last month won a seat representing New York's 3rd Congressional District. On second thought, maybe you haven't because you, like millions of Americans, no longer consume news "reported" by the mainstream media.

During his campaign, Santos, a native of Brazil where he is wanted for elder fraud and check forgery, told voters he held multiple degrees and had been an executive at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup before leaving to start his own successful business. He said he was Jewish and that his grandparents were Holocaust survivors, that several of his employees died in the Pulse nightclub shooting, that he had attended the prestigious Horace Mann prep school but had to drop out because of family financial woes, and that his mother died of cancer as an indirect result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks which she somehow survived when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. 

The New York Times last week revealed that none of those claims, and many others Santos has made, are true.

My question is this: Where the hell was The New York Times when this clown was running for office? The answer: Publishing story after story about the incompetence of, and lies told by, a former president it fears and despises while ignoring the incompetence of, and lies told by, the current president whose political party it worships. If Santos were a Democrat and the NYT discovered his lies post-election, I doubt that any of them would have been published and that Santos would be sworn in next month with his hand on a Gutenberg Bible (the earliest of which, by the way, I recently purchased from a private dealer). 

Santos’ election was a triumph for him but represents everything that’s wrong with The New York Times and, by extension, America’s media which considers the Times to be the gold standard in journalism. Not. One. Single. Reporter from the Times or any other mainstream media ever took it upon himself/herself/themself to investigate Santos while he was running around making claims that were patently untrue.  

As the former managing editor of the Associated Press, a position I assumed after I sold to Elon Musk the plans I had drawn up for the first mass-produced electric car, I know a thing or two about journalistic integrity and am outraged at the arrogance and laziness of The New York Times and the rest of the media who apparently sit on their duff eating bon-bons while obsessing about Trump who has been out of office for nearly two years. My advice for them: Get over Trump. He’s yesterday’s news. Do your job and report news that’s relevant today. Be advised that doing so may require you to actually log off the internet and make a few phone calls.

When I was working on my PhD in journalism at Harvard, whose journalism school was endowed by, and named after, my Iranian-born grandfather who made his fortune mining diamonds, my professors instilled in me the importance of reporters actually getting out in the field and digging out stories that help readers make informed decisions.

The New York Times, as it has repeatedly in the last few years as it has obsessed about Trump, has once again failed its readers and its mission. Which is why I am today announcing my intention to make an offer to purchase substantially all of its voting stock. I have hired Goldman Sachs (disclosure: Goldman is run by my wife) to handle the deal and while I am constrained from revealing details at this point, suffice it to say the NYT’s shareholders won’t be able to refuse the price I’m willing to pay. 

I assure you that once I’m in charge, The New York Times’ credibility will be restored because I intend to fire its entire staff of TDS-addled editors and reporters and hire honest-to-God journalists. 

Assuming that in today’s America, I can find any.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Tommy can you hear me?


Lab assistant, reviewing a checklist at radiology center where I am about to have an MRI: Do you have a pacemaker?

TD: No

Lab assistant:  Any other electronic implants or devices?

TD: No.

Lab assistant: Stents?

TD: No.

Lab assistant: Shunts?

TD: No.

Lab assistant: Body piercings?

TD: Nope. 

Lab assistant: Hand grenades?

TD: Hand grenades? Do I look like a terrorist? I'm a grandfather. I have white hair for Chrissakes!

Lab assistant: I said "hearing aids."

TD: Oh. I'm sorry I raised my voice. Yes, I do ... but I'm not wearing them today.

Clerk: Obviously.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

An important message from your insurance company

Dear Valued Policyholder: 

As you may be aware, Tropical Storm Ian is predicted to impact the Florida peninsula as a major hurricane sometime over the next few days. As your homeowner’s insurance provider, our first concern is the safety of our policyholders and their loved ones — the $20 billion or so we might have to pay out to cover damage claims is barely on our radar at this point. 

Accordingly, here are some tips to help you prepare for the storm:

  • Turn off Netflix, and switch to your local TV station. No, not the one that shows reruns of Gunsmoke and Murder She Wrote 24/7, choose one that has “live” news and weather forecasters. If you speak English, choose a station that broadcasts in English. Si hablas español, elige una estación que transmita en español. IF YOU ARE HARD OF HEARING, TURN ON THE CLOSED CAPTIONS. 
  • Secure your property. Bring in outside furniture, plastic flamingoes, your "Biden/Harris '24" and “Hate Has No Place Here” yard signs and anything else that could become a projectile in high winds. 
  • Top off your vehicle’s gasoline tank. While there are only two ways out of the Florida peninsula — I-95 on the east coast and I-75 on the west — and both will be parking lots packed with millions of hysterical residents trying to flee so you’re unlikely to be able to travel more than a few miles before you give up and return home, at least your last thought as the storm surge washes you out to sea will be that you tried to escape.
  • Keep your cell phone fully charged, so you can take videos of trees bending to the ground, your neighbor’s roof being blown away and the water that will flood into your home at the height of the storm and text them to your friends up north. (Tip: Do not stand in front of picture window to shoot video if wind is gusting at more than 100 mph.)
  • Because the power is sure to go out — it always goes out on your street, even for hurricanes that hit Texas 1,000 miles west of you — eat all the food in your freezer because it will spoil. Be sure to thaw and cook meat products before you eat them. 
  • Stock up with water, beer, Pop-Tarts, batteries and anything else you and your family will need to survive the coming days. (Note: Batteries are not intended for human consumption.)
  • Purchase enough baby formula to last a week. If, due to the current shortage, you can’t find any, feed your baby beer which will at least keep him/her/them hydrated and asleep. If you do not have a baby, feel free to ignore this tip.
  • Don’t forget to bring any pets inside before the storm hits. As a reminder, your homeowner’s policy does not cover the cost of replacing pets who blow away, drown or are eaten by hungry alligators displaced from their ponds due to the storm.

Tomorrow we will be sending you an email containing tips for surviving in what's left of your home during the weeks and months after the hurricane while you wait for your check from us which may be delayed due to the U.S. Post Office which no longer cares about delivering anything but Amazon and eBay packages. Provided, of course, your home withstands the winds and/or that giant tree hanging over your house doesn’t come crashing down to destroy it and you. 

Stay safe. Together, we will survive this storm. At least we will — this message is being sent from our headquarters in Illinois. 


Your insurance company

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Living on bread, mashed potatoes and Tootsie Roll Pops

Almost everyone I know has had COVID except for me and my wife and I haven't understood why. While COVID is nothing I've ever aspired to, I'd like to know if I'm one of those people who is apparently immune. I've read that folks with O-negative blood -- my type -- are less likely to get it. And that men with full heads of hair are more resistant than balding men. (Thank you, grandpa, for that gene.) This may sound weird but in ways I have been feeling left out, like the last kid picked for the dodgeball team. 

We were vaccinated in February and March, 2021, and received our first booster in November. My doctor told me to put off having the second booster, and I was glad I followed his advice after friends came down with COVID within weeks after receiving it.

Like most people, we stayed close to home during the early months of the pandemic. But by mid-summer 2020, we were venturing out, selectively, to restaurants and social events. Until a month after our second shot, we wore masks everywhere but as requirements eased, we stopped. I hadn’t worn a mask in months until week before last when I went to DC where Uber and Lyft passengers were required to mask up. (That requirement has since been lifted.)

This year almost everyone in our social circle — all of them vaccinated, many having had their second booster shots — has gotten COVID.  I haven’t understood how Judy and I somehow missed it.

Turns out I didn’t. 

Early this summer, I ran out of Irish Spring in the middle of a shower. I asked my wife to hand me a fresh bar. I love the scent of a brand new bar of soap but couldn’t smell it. To my amazement, I realized I couldn’t smell anything — her perfume, the dogs’ stinky breath, coffee, gasoline when I filled my tank, fresh bread baking in the oven. (Disclosure:  We’ve never made bread but if we had, I couldn’t have smelled it.) Cigars were the only scent I could detect and I smelled them everywhere — at home, at the gym, in the supermarket, at the dentist’s office. Neither I nor anybody I know smokes cigars. 

Around the same time, food began to taste odd. I made a pot of my famous beef vegetable soup and threw it out — it was disgusting. I hadn’t deviated from the recipe so I assumed I’d used spoiled ingredients. We ordered a pizza and I couldn’t finish the first piece. You name it — cheese, meat (especially bacon), eggs, milk, cereal, vegetables, ice cream, basically anything and everything — either tasted gross or had no taste at all. The one exception was fruit-flavored hard candy. Even chocolate tasted awful. 

In early July I visited an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) practice. Naturally, I didn’t get to see the doctor — apparently one gets to see a new doctor these days only if a major appendage has been sawed off and is spurting blood like Old Faithful —  I saw a Nurse Practitioner. She asked if I was aware my symptoms were consistent with COVID. I said of course I was but, to the best of my knowledge, I hadn’t had it. She asked if I had allergies. I said yes. She asked when I had last been tested for allergies. I said four or five years ago. She ordered a CAT scan of my sinuses. It revealed inflammation but nothing alarming. She then ordered new allergy tests. It took a month to get tested because the front office screwed up the preparation instructions. By this point, I was finding food repulsive and was subsisting on mashed potatoes, bread and Tootsie Roll Pops. I couldn’t taste the first two but they didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth like everything else did. The Tootsie Roll Pops tasted pretty much as they had back when they cost two cents each rather than a quarter. 

Once the allergy test results confirmed I wasn’t severely allergic to anything that could be causing my problem, the Nurse Practitioner ordered an MRI of my brain. She said my symptoms might be caused by brain cancer, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Swell. But the front office screwed that up, too. I waited two weeks for the radiology center to call to schedule the MRI, as she said they would. I finally called them and learned they had never gotten the order. Nor had the pharmacy to which the nurse said she had sent my allergy prescriptions. 

Disgusted with the idiot ENT practice, I did what I should have done in the first place and went to my regular GP this past Friday. He drew blood for a COVID Antibody Test and sent it to a testing center. Yesterday I learned that I apparently had asymptomatic COVID. The doctor estimates that, based on the strength of my antibodies, I had it sometime between three and four months ago. Last week, I read in the WSJ that up to 40 percent of those who get COVID have no symptoms at all. I was one of the 40 percent, and was enormously relieved to learn my loss of taste and smell is likely the result of COVID rather than one of the insidious alternatives. Lucky me. The doctor said I should wait a month or more before I get my second booster shot since I still have a high degree of immunity.

A question for my readers who’ve read this far: If you had COVID and lost your smell/taste senses, how long did it take for them to return? Did they, in fact, return?  And if so, did you recover them fully or only partially? I would really appreciate hearing from you so I can manage my own expectations. I'm not complaining about my loss of smell and taste. I know too many people struggling with life-threatening illnesses to complain about something that picayune and I'm grateful I didn't know I had COVID at the time I had it, but I haven’t been able to find reliable statistics about the 20 percent or so of COVID patients who lose their taste/smell and how quickly they recover. If you’re reading this via a Facebook link, you can reply on Facebook. Otherwise, please email me at

While I’ll never get tired of good bread, I never much liked mashed potatoes. And my teeth are going to rot away if I keep eating a dozen Tootsie Roll Pops a day. 

Thanks, and have a good day. 

Saturday, September 10, 2022

My disappointing year

Taken last week, in front of my next residence.


This has been a year of disappointments — my own anus horribilis. (Or is it annus horribilis? I only took one year of high school Latin, so I’ve never been quite sure.)

It started in early February, when I was stunned to learn I had been passed over to become CEO of CNN. Unlike me, Chris Licht, who got the job, didn’t go to the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism, he only went to Syracuse whose J-school, back when I graduated in 1973, was considered second-tier. Take a look at the slogan under my name at the top of this blog page -- America’s Only Objective Journalist. It has been there since my very first post in 2012, back when CNN still had a modicum of journalistic credibility. If you are one of my thousands of loyal readers, you know that I, unlike CNN, have never failed to report accurately and fairly. CNN needed me, but it wasn’t to be.

Later that month, I was gobsmacked when President Biden, without even as much as a courtesy call to tell me I was out of the running, announced that the new Supreme Court justice would be an African-American woman, something I am not and didn’t have time to become before Ketanji Brown’s confirmation hearings began. Having watched every episode of the original Perry Mason … read (nearly) every John Grisham and Scott Turow novel … and served on the board of my community association where I was instrumental in helping adjudicate important disputes among residents about roof colors, landscaping decisions and other life-and-death matters … I was more than qualified. Plus I live just a few miles from Judge Judy who, I’m sure, would have gladly made herself available for consultation when I needed advice.  I’m even the father, son-in-law, uncle and brother-in-law of attorneys.  

This week was, hands-down, the most disappointing of all, when I learned I will not be devoting the rest of the years God grants me to the service of the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth. While I extend both condolences and congratulations to King Charles III, his new job should have been mine. I have more British blood coursing through my veins than he (though mine remains stubbornly red instead of blue). Every single one of my direct ancestors who came to America was born in England, Scotland or Ireland. More than half his direct ancestors are German. And I am younger than Charles III which means I would most likely have more years to dedicate to the service of the realm before passing the crown on to my eldest son who, like the King’s youngest son, has red hair but unlike Harry, wed someone likable.


My beloved wife, who would have become Judith I upon my ascension, is also bitterly disappointed. While I am fairly knowledgeable about British history — I subscribe to both the PBS/Masterpiece and BritBox streaming services— I’m a rank amateur compared to Judy, who can recite all the English monarchs, in order, beginning with William the Conqueror. Knowing the Queen was in failing health, she had already commissioned Lilly Pulitzer, whose clothes she wears almost exclusively, to create a gown for our coronation and it was near completion. I heard her on the phone, shortly after we got the news the Accession Council had named Charles the new monarch. She was choking back tears as she told the factory to stop work on her dress. As Queen Consort, Judith would have made sure the Crown Jewels were displayed in places where the world could see them — atop her head, around her neck and wrists, pinned to her bosom, and on her fingers — rather than behind shatterproof glass in the Tower of London where people have to wait in line to see them.

So yes, it has been a tough year. Frankly, I haven’t felt this discouraged since 2003 when I was passed over for superintendent of the Wilton (Conn.) public schools, a job I wanted despite the fact that, with rare exceptions, I don’t like children much, but was looking forward to writing a witty and engaging “Superintendent’s Corner” column for the local newspaper. 

That said, I remain optimistic because that’s the kind of guy I am. When life gives me a sucker-punch, I pick myself up and soldier on, looking forward to the next opportunity.  Speaking of which, the above photo was taken last week in front of the residence to which I hope to move on January 20, 2025. I’m planning my campaign as we speak. 

And for Judith, two words: Have faith. The gown you had intended to wear at our coronation will someday look great displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of American History next to dresses worn by Dolly Madison, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Melania Trump and other first ladies. 

Call Lilly Pulitzer and tell her to get back to work. 

Friday, July 1, 2022

Having my cake and eating it too

July 4, 1976, on the balcony of 
our first apartment in St. Louis. A red, white and blue Angel Food 
cake in honor of America's bicentennial. We were
having our friends Jeane and Dave for dinner.  I wore that silly pig mask 
at inopportune times whenever possible -- it always made my bride laugh --  
and kept it for 40 years until it fell apart. 

People who didn’t know me as a teenager are often surprised to learn I was heavy. (I started to write “fat” but didn’t want to hurt my feelings.) 

Looking back from my 70-year-old perspective, the reason I was so big is obvious. I ate because I was depressed. Kids today take drugs to self-medicate. My medication came in a box labeled Duncan Hines. 

Up to the time I was 13, when my father got sick, I was a normal size. I had always been required to report for work at his general store immediately after school and that kept me moving — stocking shelves, carrying boxes to customers’ cars, running up and down the stairs between the basement, main floor and mezzanine shoe department. Once he died, shortly after I turned 14, I had nothing better to do than eat after school. And eat. And eat. I would come home, make a cake and eat it. Not a piece or two, the whole cake. Then mom would make dinner and I’d eat that, too. 

I lost 64 pounds my senior year of high school through a combination of exercise and moderation. I’ve regained only about 20 of those pounds in the 54 years since by working out four times a week and keeping a running count of the approximate calories I consume. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I could still happily eat an entire cake every afternoon if I ever decided to let myself go which I just might one of these days.  

My favorite cake, hands down, is Angel Food with boiled seven-minute frosting, like the one Hazel Rudd brought to potluck dinners at the Auxvasse (Mo.) Methodist Church. I make one for every holiday and birthday and always give credit to Hazel, a lovely lady, whenever I serve it. 

I made one this morning, in fact, because we’re having friends over tonight. I’ll serve it topped with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream and, for those who wish, a splash of butterscotch schnapps.

Another Fourth of July red, white and blue cake, 
sometime in the late 1980s, in the kitchen of 
our first Wilton, Conn. house. 

While Hazel’s angel cake was made from scratch, mine comes from a mix. A "real" angel cake requires beating a dozen egg whites and I’d never be able to crack that many open and separate the whites from the yolks without getting some yolk into the mixture and having to start over — so I use a Duncan Hines or Pillsbury mix. Duncan Hines is better in my book, but the cake itself doesn’t really matter. I could probably buy an angel cake sold in the bakery department at my local supermarket because  it’s the seven-minute frosting that makes my cake. 

The frosting takes — duh — about seven minutes to make. I used to follow a recipe that called for combining sugar, water, cream of tarter, salt, vanilla and a couple of egg whites in a double boiler, which I’d beat with the avocado-green GE mixer Aunt Margaret gave us for our wedding. When the mixture turned glossy white with stiff peaks, it was ready to be applied to the cake.

But we just had our kitchen remodeled and installed an induction cooktop which required us to get all-new cookware and our old double boiler doesn’t fit in either of the saucepans that came with the set. When, an hour before company was coming last month and I realized I had no way to make my frosting, I found another recipe that doesn’t require a double boiler. All that's required is to beat the mixture in a pan directly on the stovetop. Amazingly, it is just as good as my old recipe and easier to boot.  

Bonita Springs, Florida. July 1, 2022

I’d write more but I’m supposed to run the vacuum before our friends arrive. Gotta get my exercise in because there’s a freshly frosted cake on the kitchen counter and I intend to eat whatever our guests don’t eat for breakfast tomorrow, minus the ice cream and butterscotch schnapps of course. 

I gotta draw the line somewhere. 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Sweet Revenge

Shortly after Lincoln’s assassination (I was 24),  I landed a job at a Chicago marketing agency whose founder, Lee Flaherty, was brilliant, brash, politically incorrect long before anyone had coined the term, and was chauffeured around town in a Rolls Royce painted in his company’s colors. Lee was a publicity hound — he had his own PR lady — and every Chicago business leader, politician, even the cops, seemed to know him. 

He wore Pucci suits with silk linings custom-woven with the agency’s logo and had a regular table at Eugene’s where he entertained clients, members of Chicago’s high society, Archbishop John Cardinal Cody, and a succession of Chicago mayors. He drank like a fish, but the next morning, would run for miles along the shore of Lake Michigan. He loved running so much that in 1977 he founded the Chicago Marathon which is today one of the world’s six major marathon events. 

Lee started Flair Communications in 1964 with money his widowed mother had raised by mortgaging her house. By the time I was hired in 1976, Flair was one of America’s leading promotional marketing agencies whose clients included Tanqueray Gin, Wells Fargo, Olympia Beer, Borden Foods, Standard Brands and Bristol-Myers. 

Lee wasn’t wishy-washy about anything or anyone. He had strong opinions. If he didn’t like you or, God forbid, you had been stupid enough to cross him, he didn’t just dislike you, he despised you. If he liked you and, luckily, he liked me and my work, he would do anything for you. I was his employee for three years and continued to free-lance for Flair until I started my own agency in 1989. Lee and I remained friends for years after that. Every December he sent me the same holiday gift he sent his clients. I would call to thank him and we’d chat for an hour or two. 

Lee died in April at the age of 90. I wish I had told him how much I learned from him, and how grateful I was that he took a chance on me, a kid from Podunk, Mo. 
Just as Lee either loved or hated you, people either loved or hated him — there was no in-between. Speeding down LaSalle Street one morning, I was stopped by a cop who asked where I was headed. I told him I was late to work. He asked where I worked. When I told him, he handed my license back and said, “Tell Lee Flaherty I said hello.” When I told Lee about it, he laughed and said I got off lucky. “Half the cops in this town would have let you go. The other half would have shot your balls off." 

Among his many traits some found objectionable but those who "got" Lee, including myself, enjoyed, Lee could be as funny as all get-out when he was feeling vengeful. The year after I started, Flair pitched a whiskey brand — I can’t remember the brand, it might have been Jack Daniel’s. Lee and his creative and account teams worked on the pitch for weeks but brand management chose another agency. The day he learned his agency had been rejected, Lee took all the bottles of the client’s product he had placed throughout the building for the presentation and smashed them, one by one, onto the pavement of the alley next to Flair's headquarters. The alley reeked of booze for weeks. Some of my fellow employees were appalled. I thought it was great. 

Which brings me to the video below, produced by another brilliant marketing man who didn’t take rejection from a client lying down. It is four minutes long. Some of my readers will be offended. Others will find it hilarious. There is no in-between. Lee would have definitely loved this guy's response. So do I.  Simply click on the video or, if that doesn't work, visit    


Thursday, April 21, 2022

CNN Plus, we hardly knew ye. And didn't want to.

CNN today pulled the plug on its three-week-old streaming service, CNN Plus, which was supposed to deliver on-demand news.

The idea that CNN executives thought anyone in their right mind would pay money to subscribe to a CNN-branded product as a source for "news" proves how arrogant and out of touch media executives are. So-called news organizations like CNN, Fox and MSNBC, which spend most of the day running opinion shows that deliver wacky, sensational, vitrolic attacks on the political parties they hate, can't be relied upon to deliver usable, trustworthy news during the few hours each day they devote to reporting the news rather than opining about it. Cable networks should either run opinion shows or news shows, but not both and certainly not with the same "reporters." CNN Plus might have succeeded under another brand name but even my dachshund would have known better than to link it to the CNN brand.

From the git-go, Fox News, directed by Republican operative Roger Ailes, made no pretense of being objective but formerly reliable media including CNN, The New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, NBC and CBS are no longer trustworthy news sources either. Although America's media is supposed to be objective, it has never been but, until Trump, did a fairly credible job of presenting multiple sides of key stories and issues. The Amazon-owned Washington Post, which was completely off-the-rails at the thought of Trump in charge, added "Democracy Dies in Darkness" under its masthead shortly after his election, implying what? Trump wants to destroy Democracy but the Post will prevent it by reporting objectively? The dark aspects of Trump's childish, narcissistic personality may have threatened America and the Post certainly reported about those, but democracy also dies when a leading news organization refuses to report unbecoming stories about Biden as the Post is doing.

If the Post and New York Times would actually report critical, balanced news about the current administration, I wouldn't have to go to the UK Daily News web site to find out what's really going on. Yes, it's annoying to have to wade through endless stories about the Kardashians, Meghan Markel and Beckhams, but the Mail's reporting about major news is more honest than the leading American news organizations. This journalism major doesn't know of a single online source that does a better job. (Note: I never worked as a reporter but do recall having to study the Journalist's Creed that called upon budding journalists to report the news fairly. And for the record, I wrote a column in March 2016 predicting that American journalists' obsession with discrediting Trump, whose campaign was starting to pick up steam, would result in their loss of credibility and I was right. To read it, click here.

The news media has failed Americans even more so than our elected representatives. Politicians should want to do what's best for their constituents, but they don't because, to get elected, they have to swear allegiance to one of the two major parties and compromise their integrity. A credible news organization has no obligation to any party or cause other than reporting all sides of issues but most don't even try any more.

And so, I'm glad -- more than glad, ecstatic -- that CNN Plus is going down the toilet. The public's rejection of it will hopefully give a much-needed push in the right direction -- toward the center -- for American journalism and the elite, out-of-touch fat cats who control it and are doing more damage to our country than any politician or political party ever could or will.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

A custard story

I dropped my daughter-in-law and grandkids off at the airport this morning. They have been visiting all week and were supposed to fly home yesterday but JetBlue canceled their flight, giving us an extra day to enjoy our extremely energetic grandsons, 8 and 6. 

Yesterday we took them to our local Culver’s, the Wisconsin-based fast food chain, known for hamburgers served on buttered buns, deep-fried cheese curds (one of my least favorite words), and frozen custard. As we were sitting in our booth,  a message flashed on the closed-circuit TV screen Culver’s uses to promote its menu: “Share your custard story.”

I have a custard story but it's a story Culver’s will never share on its Facebook page or anywhere else. My mother used to tell this story, and it involves one of my four sets of great-grandparents, who were married in the 1870s. I’m not going to identify which set. They’ve been gone more than 100 years, and I don’t want to speak ill of the dead though I’m not above sharing this uber-embarrassing tale if I omit their names. 

My mother heard the story from her mother, who lived in Mineola, a tiny Missouri town where everybody knew everything about everyone. Grandma shouldn’t even have known the details but they were told to her by a gossipy friend, the wife of the town’s only doctor. It wasn’t ethical for the doctor’s wife to reveal intimate details about an unfortunate incident her husband shouldn’t have told her about in the first place but that’s how small towns work.

Culver's patrons may think of custard as a frozen dessert that comes out of a machine and is served in a cone or cup, but that’s not the only way custard is made. My custard story is about an altogether different type of custard, a liquid concoction America’s pioneers, including my great-grandparents’ parents, made for special occasions like their daughter’s wedding. It is made with heavy cream, egg yolks and sugar that is boiled together and served warm, in cups, on cold days. It is thick, meant to be sipped slowly, and tastes a bit like egg nog, but it’s richer, creamier and there’s no nutmeg. Mom always made a pot or two every winter and buried the pressure cooker in which she made it in a snowbank, to keep it fresh so she could warm it up and enjoy it a few cups at a time. I didn’t like mom’s custard as a boy and, once I heard this story, never touched the stuff again. 

At my great-grandparents’ wedding reception that wintry night long ago, guests enjoyed fiddling, dancing, cake and punchbowls filled with warm custard. The reception was, without doubt, one of the highlights of that year’s Mineola social calendar.  

The groom, who was having a particularly good time, downed cup after cup of custard before he and his bride left for the new house he had built on his farm a few miles south of town.

In the middle of the night the doctor and his wife were awakened by a pounding on the door. It was the bride who had fled the farm on horseback and was terribly upset. “Doctor, come quick. My husband is dying.”

When the doctor arrived, he discovered — there’s no delicate way to say it so if you’re eating as you read this, you might want to spit it out now — that the groom, who was so ill he couldn’t raise his head, had lost control of his bowels and squirted custard all over himself and the bed. Whether the marriage had been consummated at this point I have no clue, but it’s a safe bet to say that if it hadn’t been, the groom couldn't have talked his new wife into it even if he felt like getting it on, which he surely didn’t. 


The best part of the story was the punchline my mother delivered which, no matter how many times they had heard it, invariably sent her listeners into uncontrollable laughter. Mom delivered the line in complete seriousness, intent on giving the impression she was concerned, but you just knew she was having trouble not bursting out into a raucous laugh herself: “Grandma always said that her mother (the bride) was depressed her entire life.”

If your spouse had done diarrhea all over the bed on your wedding night, you’d be depressed too.

Luckily for me and their other descendants, the bride wasn’t so grossed out that she refused to allow her husband into their marriage bed ever again, because, over the next 10 years, and despite her melancholia, they had four children. 


When we returned from Culver’s, I called my sister and told her the restaurant chain was inviting customers to share their custard stories. “Do you think I should share our family’s?”

“Uh, I don’t think they’d publish it,” she said. 

“Grandma always said  …“ I said slowly, the way mom used to draw it out for effect. She finished the sentence: “The bride was depressed all her life!” We laughed and laughed until we couldn’t laugh any more although it really wasn't funny that our great-grandmother went through life under a melancholic cloud. 

"What a shitty way to start your married life," my sister said. We laughed some more, and agreed that nobody — nobody — could tell a story better than our mother. 

So that’s my custard story, which I’d like to end with a word of warning. If, by chance you decide to make custard — included below is a link to a recipe that basically replicates mom’s — for God’s sake, pace yourself.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

To the woman who told me to "Turn Away"


You don’t know me, but our paths crossed — sort of — yesterday. Let me tell you a bit about myself. 

Like you, I have tried to do what the experts have advised us to do during the COVID pandemic. 

Until a month after my second vaccination, I wore a mask whenever I ventured out to the supermarket or an appointment. At first, the experts said that cloth masks offered the most protection so I wore one. Now they tell us cloth masks aren’t nearly as effective as paper masks so that’s what I wear. 

For 18 months, I didn’t go to the gym because experts said the virus lived on surfaces. Now that we’ve been informed it doesn’t, I’ve returned but am careful to stay at least six feet away from others.

For the first months of the pandemic, experts told us avoid restaurants. My wife and I continued to patronize our favorites, but ordered carry-out that was delivered to the car by waitstaff wearing masks and rubber gloves. Now that it’s okay to go to restaurants, we have resumed meeting friends for dinner and if they insist on sitting outside, we’ll gladly do so if it makes them feel better. 

In March of last year, the day after we received our second vaccinations and feeling hopeful things would soon be returning to normal, we booked a cruise to celebrate our 70th birthdays. It was scheduled to depart in November, 2021, but in August, after the news that fully vaccinated people were getting COVID anyway, we canceled it. From what I’ve since learned, we were right to cancel. Cruise lines were allowed to resume operating in the fall but it turns out their ships are petri dishes for COVID and experts are now advising they be avoided. 

In October, we received booster shots we were told would extend the protection our first two shots had given us. For a week or two we felt confident, until we read that people with three vaccinations were coming down with COVID anyway. This morning I read that the CDC will be recommending yet another round of booster shots. 

Twenty-two months into this pandemic, I remain cautious and try to follow the latest advice, but no longer have much confidence in the guidance issued by the so-called experts.  

The only routine I’ve refused to change over the last 22 months is my daily walk with our Jack Russell terrier. Those walks are the highlight of Russell’s day and mine. He and I were taking our walk when we met you.

Every morning we walk two or three miles along the sidewalks that run through this beautiful community we are fortunate enough to live in. Come to think of it, perhaps you don’t live here and are a visitor -- Florida is getting lots of visitors these days. Whatever, most residents, like me, are retired and many of them take long walks, too. Not only does it give us a good reason to leave the house, it’s good exercise. I tend to encounter the same walkers day after day and, occasionally, meet one wearing a mask. It seems extreme to wear a mask outside but hey, whatever makes the wearer comfortable is fine by me.  

A COVID protocol has developed among those of us who walk.  When walkers approach each other from the opposite direction, one of them either walks out into the street or steps aside onto a driveway to avoid passing within a few feet of each other on the sidewalk. I haven’t heard of COVID being transmitted by people walking past each other for a split second in the open air — and can’t imagine how people in crowded cities in New York can avoid sharing the same sidewalks  — but everyone in this community gives wide berth to their fellow walkers so I do, too. 

I always acknowledge my fellow walkers by saying “Good morning” or “Howya doing?” or some variation. In recent months I’ve noticed that some no longer acknowledge me back or even look at me as we pass. To be fair, many of them are, as I usually am, listening to music or an audiobook or talking on the phone. I try not to be annoyed by those who don’t return my greeting. Realistically, there’s no reason to say hello to someone you saw the day before and the day before that. And there’s no rule of etiquette that says you should say “hi” to someone you don’t know but I can’t help myself: I grew up in a tiny town where everyone says hello to everyone else whether they know them or not so I continue to say hi or at least smile at my fellow walkers. Many even beat me to it, commenting on Russell, who always struts proudly down the sidewalk like he owns it.  His walk -- his butt sashays from side-to-side as his tail wags furiously -- is the doggie equivalent of Tony Manero’s, John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever. It’s hilarious and makes most people at least smile if not laugh out loud.

Yesterday Russell and I were strolling down the sidewalk when I realized someone was coming up behind us, approaching quickly. I stepped into the next driveway and turned and smiled at you. “I’ll let you pass, you’re faster than we are.” I told you.

“Turn away,” you hissed. A split second later, you added, “Please.” 

You passed us by in a heartbeat. I didn't have time to turn away, you were gone. 

If you had been a man, I would have told you to do something anatomically impossible. But you weren’t. You were a woman about my age, wearing shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers. An old lady. Let me take that back. You are old. I’m not so sure you were ever a lady. 

I was speechless.

As you continued down the sidewalk, I went over the ways I could have — should have — responded. 

I could have replied, “If you’re so afraid you’ll catch COVID walking outdoors, why don’t you get a treadmill and exercise at home?”

Or, “Why didn’t you step out in the street so you could have overtaken us while leaving the social distance you obviously feel is so important?” 

Or,  “Have you ever heard of COVID being transmitted by people ten feet apart in the open air?”

Or, “If you were that afraid you’d catch something from me, why didn’t you turn around and reverse your course?"

Or,  “Would it have been too much trouble to at least nod your head to acknowledge that I was thoughtful enough to step aside for you?”

But no, you walked past and ordered me, who was there first, to turn away. Please.

Are you really that scared you’ll get COVID? 

Did you, by chance, know you have an active case of COVID and told me to turn away because you wanted to protect me? 

Or are you simply an entitled asshole? 

I didn’t acknowledge anyone who didn’t acknowledge me first for the rest of my walk and came home in a bad mood. My wife said she couldn’t believe someone could be that rude.

This morning, after thinking it over, I no longer feel angry or insulted. I’ve decided I pity you. 

I have no idea whether you’re vaccinated or an anti-vaxxer, or whether you have had COVID or not. Whatever your status, unless this disease is miraculously eradicated from the face of the earth — and it’s not going to be any more than the flu is going to disappear forever —  you are going to go through the rest of your life fearing and avoiding contact with strangers, and, let’s face it, there are billions of us.

Those of us you order to turn away (please) may find ourselves in bad moods temporarily but you are likely to be in a bad mood until you die. I imagine you’ve been in a bad mood since the day you were born but somehow managed to conceal that from most people. And you are not alone. This God-awful COVID pandemic has revealed a second, equally noxious pandemic that was lurking below the surface all along, a pandemic of self-absorbed people who lack common sense, courtesy, empathy and basic civility. 

No mask will prevent that pandemic, there’s no vaccination for it, and if there were, it wouldn’t work on people like you anyway.