Some secrets are best left secret

Meet Besse Cooper. Besse once worked as a schoolteacher in Georgia. Doesn’t she look like a nice old lady?

I don’t mean old. I mean OLD. Besse is sitting in front of her birthday cake. Those candles add up to 116 years. And that, spelled out, is One Hundred and Sixteen years.

Besse is one of only eight people in the world, one of only four Americans, to reach the overly-ripe old age of 116. At this time she is officially the oldest person in the world.

They’ve named a bridge after her. That humbled her, sort of. “I’m glad I gave them a reason to name it,” she quipped.

And, just as what happens to every oldest person on Earth who ends up within earshot of a reporter, she too was asked the same old, age-old question: What’s the secret of your longevity?

“I mind my own business – and I don’t eat junk food.”

I could be wrong, but I think the old bird cut the reporter down to size and answered the question – in the same sentence.

Now, Besse here, made me smile as well as made me think. I’m 54 years old. I would have to live another 62 years to reach 116 years old. And that, spelled out, is Sixty-two years.

Sheesh. It’s going to take a long time to get to that point in my life. Even longer than it’s taken me to get to this point in my life. But gee, just think of all the things I can look forward to.

  • I’ll have to fill out a federal income tax form 62 more times. And I’ll have to come up with 62 more creative ways to claim my pets as dependents.
  • I’ll get to live through 2016, 2020, 2024, 2028, 2032, 2036, 2040, 2044, 2048, 2052, 2056, 2060, 2064, 2068 and 2072. And that means I’ll also have to live through watching 124 more Republican and Democratic National Conventions on television. And maybe only once, stay awake during one of them.
  • I’ve got 62 more years to say to myself that this is the year I’m going to open that 401K account and start saving for my retirement. After all, I’m not going to want to work forever, right?
  • I’ll be able to shovel snow during 62 more winters, mow grass during 62 more summers, rake leaves during 62 more autumns and slip in mud during 62 more springs.
  • I’ll have 62 more years to work on solving one of the world’s greatest riddles: When two socks go into a clothes dryer, why does only one come out?
  • I’ll have plenty of time to come up with a cleverly snide answer to the question: What’s your secret to longevity?

Wow. So much to live through, and so much time to do it in. I know what I’m going to do first-thing tomorrow.

Go right out and buy myself 116 Big Macs.


Allowances?! There are no allowances in childhood!

Today I stumbled upon a small news item that hit me in the head like Moe. According to a recent survey conducted by the American Institute of CPAs, the average allowance for the average American kid is $15 a week.

They score for chores? Taking out the trash, walking the dog, mowing the lawn … $15 a week. Sheesh. I was an average American kid. I had chores. I never got an allowance.

What’s worse, according to the survey, only 1 percent of the parents said their children save any of that parental payout. According to the rest, their kids immediately blow their weekly wad on toys and entertainment.

That seals it. Today’s tadpoles are … soft. And a quick flip through my stash of childhood photos proves it. When I was a kid, when you needed something, you worked for it.

Let’s say you needed a new t-shirt. Ask your parents to take you to the mall and give you the money to buy it? Yeah, right. Not quite.

First, we had to plant the cotton.

That’s me on the right. Oh, and that plow? I had to whittle that out of a tree trunk. With a butter knife.

Then, we had to pick it.

You may notice that we have no shoes on here. We ate them for lunch.

Oh, but we weren’t done yet. You can’t wear a bunch of cotton balls. We had to turn that cottton into thread. And then into cloth.

Yup, that’s me. I think I was making new underwear here.

OK,  so you’ve made your cloth, now what?

The adults on the left used sewing machines to make their clothes. And as for me there? I had to sharpen my fingernail to use it as a needle.

I even had to clean up the place at the end of the day.

That guy behind me is there to make sure I don’t run off with the broom and pawn it.

See what I mean? Kids today … soft, soft, soft.

And another thing. I noticed a school bus drive by the house today and realized that the new school year’s about to start.

School buses. To take the kids to school every day. And bring them home again.

Hell, when I was a kid and had to go to school …

I’m not dead … I’m feeling better!

“It’s going to take at least three months.”

“You never told me that.”

“Yes, I did. You’ve had two total knee replacements done within the span of six weeks time. That’s two major surgeries, one nearly right after another. That means a lot of muscle, bone and nerve pain and healing. And all that takes time, at least three months, and that’s on the optimistic side.”

“You never told me that.”

“Yes, I did. The pain and discomfort will be with you for quite a while. Your rehab and return to normal is going to take a long time. You know it’s getting better, but it often can be a slow process.”

“You never told me that.”

“Yes, I did. You knew it would take time, which is why you need to be more patient. And also that there’s no reason for you to be concerned about asking for refills of your pain meds.”

“Thank God you told me that. Tell me again.”

I mean, really, in the grand scope of things, what I had done can’t even be called a flesh wound.

Well, hello there.

So nice to be feeling alive, nearly human and almost funny enough to be writing again. Today, logging back on here for the first time in forever, I discovered a profoundly gratifying thing – many of you have continued to visit and have been reading old bits of my blog often and regularly, despite my far-too-long MIA status.

To everyone, thank you. Seeing something like this tells me two things. One, that I better get writing right away before the crap in the archives gets so old it’s beyond mold, and no one ever comes back.

And two, some of you must have even better drugs than I do.

Thank God for that.

Of bulls and bulldogs

It’s July 7th and for Pamplona, in Spain’s north region, that means the San Fermin Festival is into it first full day of wild celebration to commemorate St. Fermin, the city’s patron saint. But also more famously, or infamously, this long-running annual fiesta is well-known for … the running of the bulls.

As always, it draws people from not only Spain but everywhere in the world.

A photo taken not too far from the maddened crowd. (Susana Vera / Reuters)

Thousands and thousands of people are happy enough to just drink the wine and revel for nine days. But a few hundred are not completely happy unless they drink the wine, revel and then run away from a bunch of bulls.

A photograph taken far above the maddened bulls and the mad running revelers. (NBC news)

Ironically, July 7th just happens to be one day in another long-running festival that is celebrated daily in my neck of the woods – the Sealy Posturepedic Siesta Fiesta. And while there’s no wine, very little reveling and no patron, matron or New Orleans saints commemorated, it is well-known for … the sleeping of the bulldogs.

You run around these guys and you could trip and hurt yourself.

Not surprisingly, it’s also a festivity that draws its fair share of fanatical followers.

Who needs wine? Could use a couple pillows though.

Just goes to show you that no matter where you look, you can find a spectacle. Party hearty, world.

Farewell, my plasma

Germany: In a study of 2,200 Germans commissioned by the Hamburg-based Foundation for Future Studies, 57 percent of the women surveyed said they’d rather give up sex than television for an entire year.

United States: An iVillage-commissioned study found that 63 percent of the married women surveyed would rather read, sleep or watch a movie than have sex with their spouse.

Britain: A QVC poll surveyed 3,000 Brits and found that one in 10 actually love the television more than they love their partner. According to the Daily Mail, more than a tenth of those polled said they’d rather split up with their significant other than give up watching television.

Any City, Anywhere:

I saw him just as I’d reached the top of the stairs; he was leaning on the wall, right next to the locked door to my office. He looked like he’d been waiting for a while and he probably had, since it was more than two hours past the open-for-business hour painted on my door.

I had two good reasons for being late. The first was I hadn’t had any new work in more than a month. The second was a little closer to home. I’d been at war with the residue  of the previous night, doing my best to exorcise a demon of a hangover that had jumped me as soon as I’d opened my eyes that morning. Six aspirins and a Bromo hadn’t tamed it. Didn’t even slow it down.

But as bad as I felt, it looked like he had me beat – he looked worse. By my guess the last time he’d had a good night’s sleep, Reagan was still in the White House. By the looks of his clothes, that probably also was the last time he’d ironed them.

But rather than feel sorry for him, what was I thinking? Great, another “client” going to use my bill to light his cigarette instead of sending it back with a check. The thought made that damn demon bouncing between my temples start tap-dancing.

“Mr. Harlowe? Philip Harlowe, the private eye?”

“Guilty on both counts,” I mumbled as I shoved my key into the door lock, turning it and the knob and pushing the door open. “Thanks for holding up the wall there.”

“Mr. Harlowe, I need your help.”

“Well, this is your lucky day,” I said as I headed to the coffee maker. “It’s Wednesday and Wednesday is Help Day around here. Had you come tomorrow, you’d be pitching in and folding my laundry. What can I do for you?”

“I need you to find my wife.”

“When you’d lose her? And it might help if I knew your name. After all, you know mine.”

“It’s George, George Finley. She’s been gone for more than two days now,” he said.

“What have you got that I can work with? She leave a note, got a girlfriend, a place or a boyfriend she might run to?”

“Not that I know of,” he said, looking down at a wad of crumpled papers clutched in his hands. “All she, her name’s Beulah, all she left behind were these.” He handed them to me as I sat down at my desk. I motioned for him to take a chair.

I separated the stack. Credit card receipts. For purchases made over a period of a few days and all charged at the same store. Best Buy. Electronics, every single one.

I doubted there were enough Beulahs in the world to equal all of the scribbled Beulahs scattered across my desk.

“You got any idea what she was buying and why she was buying so many of them?”

“Not a clue,” he said. “We, we weren’t talking much lately. She just seemed to want to watch TV rather than even look at me. I haven’t had my hands on the remote in months. She’d just growl if I got near it and snatch it away.”

“Hmmm, odd. What she’d take with her?”

“That’s the strange thing,” he said, the question seemingly shocking him alert. “Just a few clothes, as far as I can figure. But every TV in the house is gone, along with all of the extension cords in the garage.”

“Well, let me look around, ask around and see what I can find out. Now go home and get some sleep and let me get to work.”

“Thank you Mr. Harlowe,” he said as he raised himself up from the chair. “I don’t care what she’s done or who she’s done it with. I just want my Beulah to come home. And hopefully bring along the 42-inch flatscreen too.”

It turned out not to be too hard to track Beulah down. A trip to the Best Buy and a $20 bill slipped to the clerk got me the address she’d given for the delivery of all of her purchases.

The motel owner was only too glad to show me the room she’d rented, as well as give me a copy of the electric bill he’d just received since she’d moved in. I pulled the plugs on the extension cords running out of the room, slid the bill under the door, went back to my car and waited.

Within an hour, a U-Haul truck pulled up outside the room. In less than another one, the cords, the TVs and Beulah were out of there. And on their way home to George, I figured.

I gave George a call and told him he’d soon see a U-Haul backing into his driveway and to take it as a sign that his Beulah would soon return. A few minutes later he called back and told me I was better than Nostradamus. I told him the service was no extra charge.

I didn’t mention his flatscreen. He’d just have to find it on his own, somewhere among the 27 other ones he and Beulah now owned.

A rock is a rock is … art?

I’m in the wrong damn business. You’re probably in the wrong damn business. Unless you’re Michael Heizer, we’re all in the wrong damn business.

Why is Michael Heizer so special? Got me. Oh, he’s an artist, a sculptor. Of sorts. His latest creation is called Levitated Mass. It’s on the campus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Did I say “creation”? Sorry, poor choice of words. It’s more correctly described as an “installation”. It consists of a 340-ton boulder affixed above a concrete trench through which visitors may walk.

Why the heck did Michelangelo waste time carving a marble chunk to make David?

Feast your eyes on that for a minute. Captivating, ain’t it? Ought to be … for a reported $10 million pricetag, it should do at least that. All the while dancing a jig and whistling Dixie, backwards.

Now, before you begin to wonder aloud how is it that Los Angeles County could pay for this “art” work, when it’s doubtful the entire state of California can scrape together $10 million in spare change, the bill was paid entirely by private donations.

Which illustrates yet another difference between people like you and me, and the rich: They will pay a lot of money for a rock. You and I don’t have that kind of money … nor possess that much stupidity.

There are some advantages to being poor.

But if that’s the way of the world – well, no sense in fighting it. We might as well work it to our advantage, correct?

So, if there are any rich people out there who think it’s downright over-the-top extravagant to pay $10 million for a big rock on top of a concrete ditch, but still wish you could possess some true art, have I got good news for you. Not only have I got some art, but you can own it and still have millions left in your wallets.

Mounditated Mass – $100,000

There is dirt and there is dirt, but this is … dirt. Just imagine this pile, dug from the very center of Ye Olde New England and artistically arranged by a native Nutmegger as only a Ye Olde Nutmegger can pile, in the front yard of your manse. Yes, your neighbors will be more than envious of your obvious creative eye. And just beside themselves as well once you mention that not only did Gen. George Washington sleep on this Revolutionary War-era dirt, but his horse probably plopped on it too.

 UnMounditated UnMass – $50,000

Hey, if you decide to own the Mounditated Mass – why not display the hole it came from? And for a dirt-cheap price, even. A perfect artistic set, no?

Leaveitated Mass – $25,000

If you’ve seen the movie, “Monty Python’s The Holy Grail”, there’s no need to explain to you the artistic aura that emanates from the beauty of one of the most desired natural artworks of the world … the shubbery. Why, its allure harkens back to the times of Camelot. So, you too must be of truly royal artistic stock, of course. Of King Arthur’s creed, I presume? And now, for a measly $25,000 you too can own what was so demanded by the Knights Who Say Ecky-ecky-ecky-ecky-pikang-zoom-boing-mumble-mumble, formerly known as the Knights Who Say Nee!

Gee, all of this artworking is not only potentially lucrative, it’s transforming. Anybody know where I can get a French beret cheap?

And now, the news most fowl and furry

I don’t know about you, but I get a little tired of following the news day in and day out, night in and night out, and seeing that it would appear, from the overwhelming bulk of it, that anything newsworthy has something to do with people.

People doing the crime, people making the laws, people breaking the laws, people waging the wars, people making the peace … people, people, people, people.

Bores me to death, to tell you the truth. Motley bunch of attention-mongers, aren’t we?

Having spent some years in the news business, I know that while people may be the root cause of most of each day’s news – few do anything really interesting when they make it.

Take, for example, an event such as … 5,000 people crossing the street. Stop the presses to report it? Interrupt the afternoon talk shows to break the news? Hardly.

On the other hand, say it was 5,000 …

If it walks like 5,000 ducks, if it quacks like 5,000 ducks, it must be …

… ducks, Yes, you read me right – DUCKS. Now THAT’S news.

A few roads in the Chinese city of Taizhou today were jammed when a farmer relocated his enormous flock of ducks to a nearby pond, with help from only a long wooden pole and a couple of assistants. According to local media, the farmer boasted that he didn’t lose a single duck on the three-quarters-of-a-mile journey.

Just him, a few assistants and a stick moved 5,000 ducks? And he didn’t lose one? Amazing. Try that with an entire day-care staff and 5,000 kids and I’ll bet you’ll lose a couple hundred.

And, of course, that story would lead the evening TV news. See what I mean? Sheesh.

Here’s another example. Say, you’re playing softball at the local park. While making a no-seeum throw to the plate, stopping that tying run from scoring and making the last out, you feel the urge to purge.

Game over and you run off the field and straight to a big plastic porta-poo booth – the only one in the park. You reach for the door handle, give it a tug and it’s … locked, a.k.a. in use. And you’re sure it’s the same guy you saw go in, two innings ago. Do you call the local TV news station and get yourself into the 11 p.m. lineup? I doubt it.

But, let’s say you’re a Canadian black bear, sitting outside an occupied outhouse in the forests of Winnipeg? Maybe at a picnic table, calmly waiting your turn, like the well-mannered, sophisticated fellow below …

A picture-perfect picture of patience …

Now, you’ve been patient. Though Gord Shurvell, a 65-year-old Winnipeg man staying with friends in a nearby hunting cabin, has been in there since you arrived. Well, you have to go, but you don’t have to go that bad. You can wait.

Seconds tick to minutes, which clump into many minutes. You gotta go – now. Gord’s got to be finished, for holy Molson’s sake. So why the hell is he still farting around in there?

“I’d already done my business,” Shurvell recalled, when suddenly an angry black bear entered the outhouse, grabbed him and dragged him half-naked into the woods. “All the [defense] I had was a … piece of [toilet] paper in this hand.”

A friend heard the commotion, got his gun and shot the bear. Oh and I’ll bet that’s what those Canadian reporters thought was the news.