Helping the Little Old Ladies

Scout

I write this with apologies to my writers group, The Parkland Writers Café, as many of my friends there are indeed little in stature, of a certain age, and most certainly ladies. I have to refer them to the Boy Scouts of America who, for generations, have perpetuated a stereotype of gallant uniformed boys assisting the aforementioned ‘little old ladies’ across the streets of America.

While on our daily walk this morning, a woman approached my wife. She asked if she could accompany us for a bit. It seems that she had just gotten off of one bus from her late shift job and was walking to another stop for her connecting bus home. She said that a young man, whom she did not recognize, also got off of the bus and she was concerned about his behavior. She described his body language and even had taken her umbrella out of her bag in case she needed to defend herself.

This reminded me of previous incidents in my life. I thought about my history as a helper and where I learned to be one. I did not learn it from the Boy Scouts, rather from my grandmother. My grandmother actually discouraged the scouting. She didn’t mind me being outdoors, but she did recognize it as an overly right-wing organization with too much of a military structure for her taste.

Her teaching was more in the form of a role model. For seven years of Kindergarten through sixth grade, my grandmother drove me the mile to my elementary school before turning around and heading back toward her school in the next town where she served as Principal. Each day, as we neared my school, she would stop at the bus stop and pick up Mrs. Reynolds, who worked as a cashier at our local Shop-Rite supermarket. I asked her once if she was friends with Mrs. Reynolds as I’d never seen her anywhere else. My grandmother told me that she knew that Mrs. Reynolds worked in a store that she would be passing each day, and that if she could save this woman the bus fare why shouldn’t she?

As I grew older, I too found such opportunities. I am not a believer in Karma or in preparing for some afterlife. The Golden Rule is good enough for me. It also was a good example for my children. One day, I had my three kids at the town swimming pool. We were loading the car to go home to meet my wife for some event when I saw a woman walking nearby. She clearly looked confused. I asked if she needed help. She spoke little English, but I was able to determine that she was looking for a bus to take her to New York City. I explained that she was in the wrong place, and that at this time of the day, she would be better off taking the train. I took her to the train station, but got home late as a result. My wife was angry, but I was delighted to watch my kids all come to my defense explaining the care I took with this woman in obvious trouble. I was proud to have passed my grandmother’s legacy on to my children.

This morning, my wife and I walked this woman over to her bus stop and sat with her until some of the other regulars arrived. She spoke of how she didn’t know if this kid was trouble, and didn’t want him to be inappropriately hassled by the police. Still, she sees the poor work ethic of young people where she works and the aimless ones where she lives. After we left, my wife and I talked about how blessed we were to not have to take a bus at an advanced age to a midnight shift and then to have to worry about our safety while doing it. Most importantly, we felt blessed that in even the smallest way, we were still able to be of help. Soon, we will possibly be in a position to depend on the kindness of strangers and I sincerely hope that sharing this story will inspire others to be those strangers.

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Game Day

Presidents

George Washington is lining up four chairs facing the audience as though in front an imaginary television.  Thomas Jefferson walks into the room from a doorway at stage left. He places a bowl of popcorn on the sideboard. There is an exterior door at stage right.

JEFFERSON

Where the hell are they? Kickoff is in just a few minutes.

WASHINGTON

Relax, Tom. James had to pick up Johnny. You know he’s never ready on time.

JEFFERSON

I don’t know why you had to invite him anyway, particularly for a Patriots game. As it is, he never shuts up.

WASHINGTON

Maybe if you could go thirty seconds without needling him…

There is a knock at the door.

WASHINGTON

See, they’re here.

Washington walks over and opens the door. Adams and Madison walk in and shake hands with Washington.

WASHINGTON

Welcome, gentlemen.

ADAMS

Thanks for having me, George.

MADISON

(waving)   George, Tom.

JEFFERSON

James, John. You guys sit in the middle. They’re about to kick off.

Madison takes the popcorn bowl. Jefferson sits on the left, then Madison, Adams, and Washington on the right. Jefferson leans back and smiles and  winks at George. They simultaneously slide their chairs forward and over in front of Madison and  Adams. They sit down, blocking the view of the much shorter men.

ADAMS

(leaning to the side to look around Washington)  What the hell is this all about?

Jefferson bursts out laughing and gives Washington a high five

MADISON

Seriously, guys? Every week it’s the same bit. Forget about it, John. I guess being tall isn’t sufficient for these clowns. I just can’t believe that they still think it’s funny.

Jefferson and Washington move their chairs back,  laughing the whole time.

WASHINGTON

Come on, lighten up, fellas. Look, the ‘Skins are about to receive.

ADAMS

Five bucks he kicks it out of the end zone. What? no  takers? Look, he fielded it six yards deep. You’d have won. Don’t tell me you’re all afraid of a little wager.

JEFFERSON

Here in Virginia, we don’t bet with liars, cheaters, lawyers, or Patriots fans, and you’re at least two of the four.

WASHINGTON

I’ll take the over at three on that one. Anybody who thinks the ’Skins are gonna murder the Pats, raise your hand.

Washington, Jefferson, and Madison raise their  hands.

MADISON

John, how can you even root for the Pats anyway? You were president for God’s sake.

ADAMS

Not in DC, I wasn’t. Thomas was the first inaugurated here. Besides, we also were all patriots. It’s a much better name than that horribly racist “Redskins”.

Washington, Jefferson, and Madison look at each other in confusion.

ADAMS

(Shakes his head in disgust) Oh, I get it. Anybody who never owned anyone, raise your hand.

Adams raises his hand

WASHINGTON

Hilarious, Johnny, but you may have noticed the other part of my team’s name. Wash-ing-ton. I notice it’s not the “Adams” Patriots.

MADISON

Anyone who has a capital named after them, raise your hand.

Madison and Washington raise their hands. Madison looks at Jefferson and gives him a slap on the  arm. Jefferson raises his arm.

JEFFERSON

Oh, yeah. Jefferson City. They were showing the cheerleaders.

ADAMS

You’re counting Missouri and Wisconsin, now?

WASHINGTON

You’re right, Johnny. Anyone who was father of his country? (Raises his hand)

MADISON

Oh yeah, Georgie? Anyone who wrote the Declaration of Independence or the God damned Constitution, raise your hand.

Adams, Jefferson, and Madison raise their hands.

JEFFERSON

(Looking at the television) Oh, come on! Third and eight, he throws a three yard swing pass. Every damn time!

ADAMS

Fourth and five. First a punt and then it’s Brady time!

MADISON

Anyone who hates Tom Brady…

Washington, Jefferson, and Madison raise their hands.

ADAMS

Anyone who’s won four Superbowls…(he raises his hand while the others scowl) Hey, fellas. We got the Eagles coming to Foxboro later this season. I was thinking of inviting Franklin over.

WASHINGTON

No, Johnny!

MADISON

Don’t do it!

JEFFERSON

Oh, hell to the no! That honky be trippin’.

Silence. Adams, Washington, and Madison stare at Jefferson in shock.

ADAMS

What the hell was that, Thomas?

JEFFERSON

Sorry about that. It’s just some slang I picked  up…from a..uh..from a friend.

WASHINGTON

A friend, huh? Johnny, Eagles fans are the worst, particularly Franklin. We get the Eagles every season. Last year, we made the mistake of inviting Ben to Tom’s at Monticello.

JEFFERSON

He practically trashed the place. Martha was pissed at me for a week.

MADISON

Do you know he actually showed up with his face painted green? Do yourself a favor. Leave Franklin out of your plans. After all, anyone who was President of the United States…

They all raise their hands and subsequently high five.

WASHINGTON

(Pointing to the television) Holy crap! Is it too much to ask to get a little pressure on the quarterback? I could complete passes with all of that time.

ADAMS

It’s Belichick’s system. The guys a coaching genius.

Jefferson and Madison wince as Washing turns angrily to face Adams.

WASHINGTON

(Angrily)  Anyone who was able to manage a second term as president, raise your hand.

Jefferson and Madison grudgingly raise their hands along with Washington. 

MADISON

Come on, George, lighten up, man. It’s only a football game. Johnny didn’t mean anything.

WASHINGTON

Really James? Anyone who doesn’t have a giant-ass monument in the nation’s capital, raise your hand. (He raises his hand and looks at Jefferson.) You want to try me, Tom? (Jefferson raises his hand.)

ADAMS

So, George, how’s your Martha?

WASHINGTON

Sorry, Johnny. I guess it’s easy to get carried away when the team is named Washington. Martha’s upstairs lying down with yet another headache.

MADISON

I hear you, brother. Dolly is currently afflicted with the crimson banderole, if you know what I mean. John, do you want to grab dinner after the game?

ADAMS

Gee, I don’t know. I imagine Abigail will be expecting me.

JEFFERSON

You guys kill me. You all treat women like they’re voters or something. Women may only be good for one thing, but they’re really, really good at it.

MADISON

Tom, you are such a pig. You should have the monument that looks like a giant phallus, not George.

JEFFERSON

That’s not a bad idea. Wanna trade, George?

WASHINGTON

No thanks. “Father of the Country” is more of a ceremonial term. You’d make it a reality.

MADISON

Oh, great, an interception. Patriots get the ball back and we’re already down ten-zip.

WASHINGTON

And bang, there it is, Brady to Gronk, seventeen to nothing. (He reaches over and grabs a handful of popcorn. He throws it toward the television.) I hate Brady, Gronkowski, Belichick, and the entirety of New England. Anyone who’s face is on money, get ’em up.

Jefferson and Monroe shake their heads and raise their arms to join Washington. 

ADAMS

James, what money are you on?

MADISON

The five-thousand dollar bill. It’s a lot more impressive than these two.

JEFFERSON

Dude, they don’t even make it anymore.

MADISON

And who uses the two-dollar bill?

WASHINGTON

Don’t forget that Tom and I are also on coins. They tried to make an Adams penny once, but his fat head didn’t fit on the coin.

ADAMS

Oh, look, another three and out by the Redskins. It looks like we’ll get the ball again before halftime.

JEFFERSON

At least we’re getting beat by a good team.

MADISON

True, we had that jerk Alexander Hamilton over to my place for the Giants game a few weeks back. What a tool.

ADAMS

You don’t need to tell me. Every time I see him, the first thing out of his mouth is “eighteen and one”.

WASHINGTON

He’s a whiny wannabe nobody. If he hadn’t wormed his way onto the ten-dollar bill, he’d be completely forgotten by now.

MADISON

(Laughing)  I’ll say. I heard some doofus was trying to write some sort of show about him.

JEFFERSON

I hope there’s rapping in it. I’ve been diggin’ those  beats lately.

ADAMS

(Laughing) What if it goes on to be a big hit and wins a Pulitzer and a bunch of Tony awards?

WASHINGTON

Hey, anyone who thinks that can happen, raise your hand.

Silence. They all demonstratively look around for a beat before they all burst out laughing and high five each other.

Fade out.

 

 

Bipolar America

I came home to South Florida yesterday from a weekend visit to see my daughter in Orlando. Yes, it was that weekend. As I tried to sleep, I reflected on the wide range of positivity and negativity I experienced over the three days.

Friday began with promise. My wife got a ride to work, so I could pick her up in the afternoon for our three hour drive to Orlando. Out daughter’s fiancé was out of town at a bachelor party for a friend and my wife wanted to help our daughter out with a few minor details regarding her upcoming September wedding. I would find out later that this trip also included an opportunity for them to go shopping for a dress for my wife to wear to the rehearsal dinner.

I finished packing, loaded the car, ran the dishwasher and headed out to my writers group at the Parkland Library. It was a pleasant meeting with a light summer turnout and a lot of interesting material. I read an elegy I had written for my blog about Muhammad Ali, whose funeral would be later that day. I had such a nice time that I treated myself to lunch with five other members of my group. While I normally hate eating in restaurants with televisions in them, on this day, I could occasionally watch the funeral processional. I was touched by the masses of people lining the streets of Louisville, many tossing flowers onto the hearse. I could not recall ever seeing so many people at the funeral of someone who was neither a head of state nor a Princess. I felt good about myself and about America.

After lunch, I headed north to Boca Raton to pick up my wife. It was raining, so I parked the car and walked to the entrance to her building to provide cover for her. Even I was aware of the shocking rarity of such a kind and romantic gesture on my part. I was feeling pretty good. While I waited for her, I got a phone call from my nephew who I rarely get a chance to talk to. My wife soon came out and although my being on the phone wrecked the impact of my umbrella-related heroism, I had a nice conversation with my nephew. He’s in a new relationship that he is very happy about coming on the heels of an awkward break-up. “It’s funny how things work out,” we both said. I had no idea how funny.

On Saturday morning, my wife and I went for a walk. We discussed the changes of fortune that these young women had faced without having the slightest clue about what was to come. We returned to the apartment. I checked the news to find that a 22-year old singer had been murdered the previous night by a deranged stalker in Orlando. My wife and daughter discussed this as they rode around Orlando doing wedding-related errands and shopping. We went out to dinner that evening and later to a stationery store. Along the way, we passed near the venue of the previous night’s shooting. “What is the world coming to?” and “How do you prevent this madness?” were among our questions.

By morning, we realized that things could get much worse. The news was sketchy early. My wife and I let my daughter sleep in while we drove out to a flea market to get our walk in. We knew that there were twenty casualties at a club overnight, but no specific deaths had been reported. The market was a pleasant slice of working America. There were people of all ethnicities negotiating over prices in a calm and peaceful way. People knew what they wanted to spend and vendors knew what they needed to get. When those two things were in concert, commerce took place. By the time we left, there were twenty confirmed deaths and reports of terrorism and hate crimes.

I really don’t get the term “hate crime”. While I could go the rest of my days without hearing the term “bias crime”, it is at least more apt. To me, anything involving murder is by definition a hate crime. There was a small amount of brightness shining through the blackness of this horrific event. We went to a mall parking lot to give blood later in the afternoon. There were already over 300 people lined up at the bus in the Florida heat. Local stores were donating umbrellas, water and Gatorade.

But then, there was the hate. Every screwball and vile hater came out from under their rock to spew their particular venom.  Then, the return salvo from the self-proclaimed righteous came in waves. Are we really shocked when politicians use events as political capital? Isn’t that kind of their job? I fully admit to being a liberal democrat far to the left on most issues. I also have many friends who are equally ensconced on the right of the same issues. So what? These people and I still agree on ninety-five percent of all issues. Even when we don’t, we certainly are mature enough to set out differences aside to allow for help and healing, aren’t we?

Several years ago, when my Brother-in-law was living near us in South Florida, he invited me to attend his bible-study group. It seems that they were discussing how to make their points to atheists. Since I qualified, I was invited. I didn’t go to challenge these people, but felt I might learn something. What I learned was that these people were a lot more like me than not. Even though we were one hundred and eighty degrees apart on some core beliefs, we actually all wanted pretty much the same thing…Personal responsibility.

I don’t believe that the Ten Commandments are from the hand of God, but I’d be an idiot to argue that they are not a pretty damn good set of rules or standards for civilized living. If anything, I’d take the half of them that honor God, and use them to beef up the behavior and personal conduct section. Sure, there was one guy at the bible-study group that I thought was dangerous. He used fear, intimidation and misinformation in the most irrational way possible to bully followers. I’d fight this guy at every turn. Most of the guys were rational people, some men of science and reason, who just had a different approach than I did. Mission accomplished…I did learn. I learned a lot.

What really confuses me is the gun issue. To me, this seems to be one of the easier things to fix. Here, there is no doubt that nearly all people can agree that public safety is paramount and that a gun in the hand of anyone who does not agree, is a danger to every aspect of society. I have been far to the left for every minute of my fifty-seven years and I have never heard of any legitimate or rational threat to any rational gun owner’s right to own and use a gun. The second amendment issue is nonsense in my eyes, but even for those who don’t agree, this is not, nor has ever been even a minimal threat.

My next door neighbor has guns. He’s a veteran who is trained. He has and continues to train his kids to use guns, including his two boys in middle school and high school. My neighbor seems rational and serious about gun safety. I don’t like guns. I’ve shot a few and know that I will never own one or allow one in my home. I’ll admit that I’m not crazy about a ten-year-old in the house twenty feet away having access to one. I also know that it’s quite frankly none of my business, and would also be knocking on his door in a second were I to need protection.

Here’s the thing. He does not want a mentally ill, steroid fueled, angry person to have a gun any more than I do. Neither of us effectively stopped this guy in Orlando, and we can discuss until doomsday which of us has the better approach. But for now, we absolutely can agree that this perpetrator was able to maximize his damage because of his access to guns. We also know that he didn’t need ISIS of Muslim extremism to fuel his hate. This guy would have been able to convince himself to shoot up a workplace, movie theater or elementary school just as easily. He was an American, born and educated here, and this was domestic terror.

Anyone who considers themselves a responsible gun owner, including NRA members whose mission includes firearm safety, has to agree that there are some people who just are not safe with guns. I actually want these people to be the ones to help decide what that level of public safety is and how to test for it. I sure as hell don’t know. My neighbor would be happy to be certified and tested regularly. He’s smart enough to know that we all pay some price for freedom. Certainly an increase in public safety is worth an inconvenience no more that airport screening or seat belt laws. Can we at least discuss it without someone being convinced that I am going to shred the constitution?

My wife found a dress for the rehearsal dinner and we kissed our daughter goodbye and headed for home. Along the way, we tried to make sense of the extreme highs and lows of our weekend in Orlando. We tried to temper the good wishes on Facebook intermixed with vile extremism and the suckers who felt compelled to respond to it. I mentioned to my wife that I felt it odd that one of the greatest symbols of peace that we have in America was laid to rest just two days earlier. Thousands came out to honor his legacy and his impact on their lives. Muhammad Ali was Muslim. Forty-eight hours later, we were back to hate.

The ninety-five percent of the rational people who all want personal responsibility cannot spend another second fighting about this. We MUST talk about this. We have more in common than not. You know where to find me.

Let’s talk.

 

 

For your reading pleasure…

Owl Books

Please consider trying out my books. They are all available at Amazon.com. Find out more at http://www.flashmobthenovel.com. I am always looking for readers, reviewers, and sharers. Thanks for your continues support!

Flash Mob

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll dance. You’ll die! Home from graduate school for Christmas, Tommasina “Tommy” Pastor is filled with the holiday spirit—of dread. The thought of quality time with her overbearing and mob-connected North Jersey family drives Tommy to seek escape in Montclair’s New Year’s Eve Flash Mob, organized by Scotty, a local schoolteacher. Tommy’s grandfather, an aging mob legend, has something very incriminating to him sitting in a safety deposit box in the Montclair town center bank, to be opened by the FBI when the new year starts. While Scotty’s two best friends try to prevent him from screwing up yet another romance, Tommy’s brother concocts a scheme to use the flash mob as a diversion to protect the family secret. As the countdown to the New Year begins, everyone is in for a hilarious and romantic adventure where the only thing for certain is that family will always be there for you—like it or not.

Available on Amazon.com in print and for kindle

 https://www.amazon.com/Flash-Mob-Robert-OConnell/dp/0615914233

 Cruise Mob

 Comedy!

Romance!

Mystery!

and a Midnight Buffet!

The Pastor family from Flash Mob is back for another adventure!  When Tomasso “The Wolf” Pastor, retired fixer for a major New Jersey organized crime syndicate, decides to take a cruise you can expect rough seas.  A sudden change of plans result in his grandson Elmo being on board as well.  It’s all hands on deck, when Elmo stumbles into a scheme involving stolen art.  With the help of friends old and new, Grandpa and the family will go to any lengths to protect their own.

 

Available on Amazon.com in print and for kindle

 https://www.amazon.com/Cruise-Mob-Pastor-Family-Book-ebook/dp/B00P6MULYW

 Campus Mob

Rah!

Rah!

Sis-boom-bah-da-bing!

The Pastor Family from Flash Mob and Cruise Mob is going back to college. As family and friends gather at the Jersey Shore for a special occasion, learn the incredible story of how Robert and Ramona meet, and follow them as they dive into the world of mainframe computing to help his father, Tommaso “The Wolf,” out of yet another jam. Meet are new friends and join in new adventures as the Pastors relive the 1970s, family style.

Available on Amazon.com in print and for kindle

 https://www.amazon.com/Campus-Mob-Pastor-Family-Book-ebook/dp/B01FYRHX6W

 The Day I Dressed Better Than My Wife

 You’ll laugh out loud at this collection of essays, plays, and short stories.

Bob Gets Cast Out of Hell – Strange Jew in a Strange Land – Slur Wars – Why I Can’t Run for President – Miracle Bra – Pumpkin Time – Tyrone was Right

Available on Amazon.com in print and for kindle

 https://www.amazon.com/Day-Dressed-Better-Than-Wife-ebook/dp/B00YPCWYDK

Cereal Killer

Trix

One recent Thursday morning, I was on my computer perusing the weekly Publix circular. I am a highly organized shopper who bookmarks all of the local supermarket sites. On the morning that a new circular and sale starts, I am diligently looking for sales, savings, interesting items, and meal ideas. I can’t eat much these days as I am on yet another diet, but I still like to keep abreast of the trends in one of my favorite pastimes…accumulating and consuming food. This day, I spotted something that caused a stirring from the distant past in my food loins. Trix cereal was buy one, get one, free.

I love breakfast cereal. I always have and suspect that I always will. This may seem odd as I very rarely eat the stuff. Cereal is crawling with carbohydrates. Like many older and overweight Americans, I have blood glucose issues and need to avoid carbs in mass quantities. “But what if you don’t consume mass quantities?” you may ask. Anyone who would ask such a question is certainly no cereal lover. If you ever measured out the proper serving size based on the side of the box, you’d be shocked by how little cereal barely covers the bottom of your bowl. That’s the problem. Cereal is not terribly filling, can be shoveled in rapidly through the use of a spoon, and comes in nearly infinite varieties. Whether killing an entire box or having a smorgasbord of multiple boxes, it is just not made for moderation.

Let me take you back about fifty years. I used to go with my grandmother to Shop-Rite on her weekly food shopping excursions. As soon as I helped her choose a cart and we entered the store, I would give her the anticipatory glance. She would smile and give me the nod of approval and I would dash off to Aisle 6, my heaven on earth. I understand that today, my grandmother would be arrested for leaving a seven-year-old unsupervised lest I climb into a gorilla enclosure, but I was actually here for business.

Cereal aisle

Aisle 6 was the cereal aisle. One hundred feet long and seven feet high, it was 700 square feet of crunchy deliciousness. I had carte blanche to choose whatever sugary treat that I wanted to eat that week. I didn’t specify breakfast as my grandmother typically cooked a hot breakfast for us every morning. For me, cereal was as often an after school treat or a late night snack. I was preparing for a future as an obese American at an early age.

Fortunately, I was not biased by any health concerns as I tried to make my weekly choice. These days, once I eliminate all the cereals with high sugar (any kid’s cereal), high fat (most granola), high carbs (everything else), I am left with Publix store brand of high-fiber cereal. This looks like something you would expect horses to eat. As a matter of fact, it looks identical to the kind of food that you find in a converted gumball machine at a petting zoo. I hear that goats love the stuff. Another advantage of the bran cereal is that it is impossible to overindulge. It is inedible as a snack food. I use it primarily to add a bit of crunch to my daily dollop of cottage cheese or yogurt with fruit. This is the first cereal that I ever was able to keep long enough to get soggy. At least I crap six times a day.

One thing that made my trips to Aisle 6 most difficult was that this was back in the day when cereal boxes came with premium items inside, like TOYS! My introduction to the concepts of algebra and trigonometry took place during these visits to Shop-rite. I would mentally graph all of the cereals on a scale of deliciousness. I would also do the same to the prizes contained in the boxes. This graph was trickier as while the taste of the cereals was known, the quality of the prize was not. It was also important to keep one’s cool. Occasionally, I would get so excited about a prize that I would grab the cereal, only to find out when I got home, that it was a send away prize and not actually contained in the box. It was like eating it with sour milk.

What’s odd is that while I can remember the taste of nearly every cereal, I have little recollection of any of the prizes. Big mistake…a quick check on eBay showed the following prices recently realized for some of these items.

Lone Ranger ring from Kix cereal, $714

Space Beanie from Quisp cereal, $540

Leaping Lava Game Ring from Quake cereal, $450

Snap, Crackle, and Pop rings from Rice Krispies, $400

You get the idea. Since I mentioned Quisp and Quake, I want to mention their brilliant marketing strategy. Coming out in 1965, both cereals were made by Quaker and were basically identical, other than the shape. Quisp (he was space alien) looked vaguely like flying saucers, while Quake (he was some sort of very strong miner with a cape)was supposed to look like some sort of mining equipment, possibly gears. Some sources claim them to be Qs. The artwork on the boxes and the character voices for their cartoons was created and voiced by the Jay Ward studio, the same people who produced Rocky and Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-right, and George of the Jungle.

Quisp Quake

The commercials showed a series of competitions between Quisp and Quake encouraging kids to take sides. It turned out that my brother Tim was the eight-year-old physical embodiment of Quake. Of course, he always took his side in the commercials. Quisp, on the other hand, was kind of a wise-ass, and I was in his camp all the way. I’m quite sure that we had many arguments over this as well as a few fistfights. While my grandmother tried to explain that we were the products of mass-marketing, even she eventually threw up her hands and purchased both. Hilda Weissberg rarely got beat. Hats off to Quaker Oats!

By the time my grandmother was finished with the other fifteen aisles (I had no idea what was even in them), I had matched up the two graphs and chosen a cereal. As soon as I got it home, I would engage in a bit of engineering by trying to extract the prize from the bottom of the full box. After mutilating a few, my grandmother showed me how to tilt the box at a slight angle and to gently squeeze it. By carefully shaking it, the smaller cereal would fill up the space underneath while the larger prize would rise to the top. Physics in action! Usually I would just jam my narrow kid arm into the opening and haphazardly fish around until I found it.

Anyhow, back to the Trix. No discussion of cereal would be complete without listing my favorites. Feel free to contact me with your own clearly wrong opinions.

  1. Trix by General Mills. My favorite, hands down. Raspberry red, lemon yellow, and orange orange. Today, they are a multi-hued abomination of sugar and artificial flavors and coloring…and they still tast exactly the same. It’s like taking a bite of childhood. They rarely had decent prizes, which was a good thing. Otherwise, I’d have eaten nothing else and would most likely be dead by now. Still, to anyone who questions my choice, there is only one possible response: Silly Rabbit…Trix are for kids!

 

  1. Sugar Smacks by Kelloggs. These are identical to Sugar Crisp by Post, but I give Smacks the nod because Sugar Bear kind of creeped me out. They were similar enough to swap for a better prize, however. I also should address the sugar issue. The sugar content of all of these cereals is identical to what it always has been, but the companies marketed them all as healthier by changing the name. Sugar Pops became Pops, Sugar Crisp became Golden Crisp, and Sugar Smacks went to Smacks then ultimately to Golden Crisp. It should also be noted that this was the only cereal to be packaged I a foil-lined inner bag rather than the waxy paper. I probably don’t want to know why.

 

  1. Cocoa Puffs by General Mills. Seriously? Chocolate cereal? ‘Nuff said. Due to the texture and the floatability, these were far superior to Cocoa Crisp. Drinking the leftover brown milk was an added bonus.

 

  1. Alpha-bits by Post. Not the best in any one category, but high marks across the board. It has the added feature of letting you spell out words while you eat. I recall “poop” being popular as a child…and even with my own children. They are at least the second generation of my family to do a letter distribution analysis or just try to complete the alphabet. We would argue about using malformed letters as other letters. This was my wife’s second favorite after Frosted Flakes (formerly Sugar Frosted Flakes). I wonder what people thought they were frosted with after they dropped the “sugar”. Angel dust, maybe?

 

  1. Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries by Quaker. Cap’n Crunch got gummy rather quickly in milk, but the addition of crunchberries puts it on the list. I have a thing for artificial strawberry flavoring and this stuff was like crack. I was even known to separate the cereal and go full crunchberry, leaving the naked crunch for my brother.

 

  1. Crispix by Kelloggs. This is a more recent entry. It’s low-sugar for me, but still high in carbs. Crispix holds its crunch well and is a great compliment with fruit due to its relatively neutral flavor. Where it really kills is as a snack food. A dry bowl while watching TV in the evening is chock full of bad calories, but goes down so smoothly. As a completely irrelevant extra, my daughter Abby, as a toddler, called these Googax. We all still call it that today.

 

  1. Quisp by Quaker. This was a middle of the road cereal, but I not only loved the character, I was Voiced in the commercials by Daws Butler (Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Elroy Jetson), he was the coolest. I am also happy to note that he eventually defeated Quake, driving him out of production. Take that, brother Tim!

I suppose I should also include some of the cereals at the bottom of my list.

  1. Lucky Charms by General Mills. This really should include anything with marshmallows. Even as a seven-year-old sugar fiend, I knew that cereal with candy in it was a no-no. Even my beloved Alpha-bits came out with a marshmallow version. I wouldn’t eat it, but I liked that they made only the vowels out of marshmallow. By the way, they did include the “Y”.

 

  1. Kaboom by General Mills. Gross cereal, creepy clown mascot, and a horrible name…the bad cereal triple crown. Who would knowingly put something through their digestive system called Kaboom? It reminds me of the Saturday Night Live fake commercial for Colon Blow cereal.

Kaboom

  1. King Vitaman by Quaker. Unremarkable cereal with a less than appealing name, but what made this super-creepy was the human, crown-wearing spokes-mascot. He was worse than the current Burger King with the plastic face. It should have been called pedophilia-Os.

King Vitaman

  1. Reese’s Puffs by General Mills. I like peanut butter, but only on a PB&J sandwich. I can’t stomach it in ice cream, candy, or cereal. Unfortunately, my son sucked this crap down like I used to eat Trix. It turned my stomach to watch him and worst of all, he knew it. Bad memories.

 

  1. Rice Krinkles by Post. Admittedly, I don’t recall this one, but during my research, I found it to be by far, the most offensive. They used a clown at one point, but later used an incredibly insensitive set of Asian mascots. Do a Google image search and see the childhood breakfast of Trump voters.

Krinkles

  1. Froot Loops by General Mills. First of all, they are actually encrusted with sugar. Even a kid who dreams of Wonkaland has to draw the line somewhere. Even more disturbing is the spelling of “Froot” with two Os. Do they actually think that anyone, even a child, would mistake these rings of sugar, wheat, and food dyes as anything relating to something as healthy as fruit?

 

© Robert O’Connell and http://www.thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com, 2011-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell and http://www.thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Farewell to the King of the World

Ali Painting

Muhammad Ali has passed. While saddened, I wasn’t shocked. Certainly I knew that this day would come. As a matter of fact, a friend made a Facebook post asking, “Did you think he would live forever?” As I thought what to make of that question, I realized that in some sense, the Champ had passed several years ago. As he slipped peacefully into his own head, stricken with Parkinson’s syndrome, he was allowed to become almost God-like in my eyes…always present, but silent, a beacon of peace and power.

In a way, I was glad that this disease left him frozen in time as a symbol to so many. I have no doubt that his light would have been strong enough to bring rationality to many of our chaotic problems of today. Whether in Ferguson, the Middle East, our own political arena, I know in my heart that the Champ would have been a voice of sense, strength, and leadership. And he would have been most important, an example.

But I also am aware of the deteriorating level of discourse in our world, particularly in the news media and across social media. Even a giant like the Champ may have been toppled by this self-indulgent monster. It eats up and spits out the imperfect, but is particularly insatiable while stalking the best of us. I’m quite content never having a chance to witness it with the Champ.

Imagine having the opportunity not only to go into a kind of stasis, but to do so as the best ever version of yourself. This poorly educated boy from Louisville rapidly rose through the triviality of sports, particularly the brutal sport of boxing, to become possibly the most recognizable person on the planet. He was also one of the most despised. Overtly polarizing, he used his fame to demonstrate to the world that a man raised in violence could put peace first. Eventually he became one of the most respected and loved.

Ali Plane

When I watched the documentary When We Were Kings, about the George Foreman fight in Zaire, I watched as the Champ walked to the cockpit of the plane and showed the world the black pilots. It was so simple…black people can do anything. It was more powerful than any protest or any slogan. I immediately shared it with my children. I wished I could share it with all children. It was more powerful than any of the extremist noise we hear today from all sides.

Ali

I had the pleasure of meeting the Champ sometime in the late 1980s. He was signing autographs at a show somewhere in New York. I dragged my wife and two-year-old daughter Lilly along. I had been to many autograph signings with many great athletes, but this was different. The Champ transcended sports. Throughout the line snaking around the room, grown men were in awe. Everyone brought their kids and was sharing tales of their best memories relating to the Champ. As impressed as I was to meet Ted Williams, at no point would I ever want to hug him. Every person in the place would have happily traded their autograph for a hug from the Champ.

The loss of a true hero in a world with so few heroes is truly a sad day. Where will our kids learn that even the strongest fighter shows ten times his strength by not fighting? How does one teach that strength of character is more powerful than the strength of fists or guns? I only know that it is up to me and people like me to carry on this ideal.

Goodbye, my champion.

 

Copyright

© Robert O’Connell and http://www.thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com, 2011-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell and http://www.thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Playing Hurt

Bundt

I’m an advocate of playing through pain. My wife might ask, “Shouldn’t you get that looked at?” But I tell her that I’m a gamer, and would continue using the power tool through the blood splatter. My son once told me that I was using the term “gamer” incorrectly as his generation had co-opted it to refer to those who play video games. I told him that when you steal a word and give it a new meaning because of a complete lack of imagination of the video game generation, the old meaning does not go away. For the young people out there, a gamer is an athlete who will play through pain.

I’ve had my share of goofy injuries, but few top my friend Hugh for trips to the ER. We all have a friend or relative who is more accident prone than others, but Hugh gets high points for both frequency and originality. I don’t want to belabor you with an extensive accounting, but an example would be his somehow gashing his leg with scissors while clipping coupons. He didn’t hit an artery or anything, but the injury did require medical attention.

The point of this is that my wife and I recently went to Hugh’s house for a barbecue. When we entered the house, Hugh was coming out of the bathroom unwrapping a Band-aid. This was nothing unusual, but I still felt compelled to ask him how he had injured himself…this time. He told me that he had cut himself while using a Bundt pan.

I moved on to others at the party and didn’t give this a second thought. After all, the kitchen is the most dangerous room in the house. It is completely filled with sharp implements stored willy-nilly in variable-shaped drawers and containers. Even some foods can be dangerous. It also is an area for multitasking and distracted activity. I have had plenty of injuries, both minor and serious, in this chamber of horrors.

As the party moved along, something continued to nag at me. I am a writer and I have written several mystery stories. A Bundt pan…how can one possibly cut themselves on a Bundt pan? I first considered the possibility that Hugh was lying to cover up a more embarrassing injury. This thought was quickly dismissed as I have heard about far more embarrassing injuries from him. Also, why replace an embarrassing story with an only slightly less embarrassing one? Could he be lying to enhance the tale? He did get me to write about it. That’s just not his style. Hugh’s stories are far too interesting to need enhancement.

The thing I couldn’t let go of was the Bundt pan aspect of the affair. I did some research, going as far as searching for the patent information for the Bundt pan. The document was crammed with safety-friendly terms like ring-shaped, dome-shaped, non-stick, round, hollow cavity, hemispherical, well, you get the idea.

As you can see, the nature of the Bundt pan makes it a poor candidate as a weapon or implement for injury. Every surface in every dimension is either gently rounded or parabolic. As a writer, I tried to envision Liam Neeson or Bruce Willis defending the world from hordes of bad guys with foreign accents (Liam’s not included) in a kitchen. I can envision nearly every appliance or implement being credibly used as a weapon. Even the most petite Italian mother can inflict a massive amount of damage with a wooden spoon.

There was only one item in my kitchen that I did not have the imagination to weaponize…the Bundt pan. I even took it outside and tried to throw it like Odd Job threw his derby in Goldfinger. First of all, unlike the killer haberdashery, the Bundt pan did not have a razor-sharp edge. It was quite smoothly rounded as expected from the patent description. It also was disturbingly non-aerodynamic. Even throwing it Frisbee-style, something I highly doubt that Hugh would do in his kitchen, it quickly flopped harmlessly to the ground. The best I could imagine was somehow stuffing someone through the hole in the pan. This would require at a minimum, a rather involved Rube Goldbergian conglomeration of dozens of additional kitchen items.

I guess this will have to get slipped into my list of story ideas that just didn’t make it to print or stage. By now, Hugh has healed and we’ll just have to wait until the next injury to find inspiration. I’ll just never again be able to make a Bundt cake without being aware of the lurking danger, thanks to Hugh. Way to play hurt, gamer!

 

Copyright

© Robert O’Connell and http://www.thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com, 2011-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell and http://www.thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.