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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

  • Friday, September 15, 2017 4:00 AM
    When Eugene Warrington died at the age of 95 last week, hundreds of people laid flowers at his site. Not the site of his grave, but of his grill. Walter’s Hot Dog Stand in Mamaroneck, New York, just 20 minutes from where I grew up in Westchester County, was founded by Eugene’s father, Walter. It was—and remains, according to many—the home of the greatest hot dog money can buy.
    When I was a kid, it didn’t take much money: two dogs for a quarter and a watery orangeade for another dime. The line began forming about 10 a.m. in front of the food stand, inexplicably a Chinese pagoda (it’s worth a Google search). While waiting, customers could read postcards affixed to the outside of the building from locals traveling abroad who missed their Walter’s fix. 
    The coveted fare was a dog, a bun, and some mustard. So what was the magic? Maybe it was Eugene’s cooks (always his immediate family) who meticulously lined up the franks on the grill in order to keep an accurate account of the orders. Each hot dog was butterflied with a small knife so two sides of the meat could simmer on the well-oiled sizzling surface.
    The buns were carefully laid out on another grill, which was lightly drizzled with butter. While the hot dog was cooking to perfection, customers selected their toppings. You had two choices: mustard or extra mustard. I suppose “no mustard” was an option, but an abstainer would be scorned the same way a St. Elmo’s customer would be for ordering the shrimp cocktail without the sauce.
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  • Friday, September 08, 2017 4:00 AM
    “It really hurts,” I said to my wife as my knee buckled under me.
    “Good,” said Mary Ellen.
    That’s not the kind of support you expect from your spouse. It’s bad enough I have virtually no support from my knee, which is why I’m getting a new one next week. Unlike a heart or kidney, you do not get someone else’s knee: it pretty much comes in a box like a pair of shoes from Amazon Prime. You just have to pray it’s going to fit. And there’s a lousy return policy.
    Now let me explain my wife’s apparent lack of sympathy. Every time I’ve had a couple of pain-free days, I’ve started to question whether I really need this operation. This drives Mary Ellen nuts. When we go on vacation, my wife wants to hike all morning and go to museums in the afternoon, and I usually hurt too much to tag along. To end this agony, I’ll need a new knee. To avoid going shopping, I’ll need a new excuse. 
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  • Friday, September 01, 2017 4:00 AM
    I dedicated my performance at Indy Fringe last week to the late Jerry Lewis. Born Jerry Levtich, he traced his ancestry back to Eastern Europe, the origins of classic Jewish literature and the humor that came as a response to the repression Jews experienced for millennia. I never met Jerry Lewis, but my closest friend for almost 60 years, Burt Dubrow (now an independent TV producer in LA), worked with Jerry on several of his Muscular Dystrophy telethons. Burt and Jerry knew each other for three decades. I talked to Burt about his hero and mine.
    How would Jerry like to be remembered?
    He’d want to be remembered as someone who made a difference. I don’t think he felt appreciated for what he did for MD. He raised billions of dollars for kids with neuromuscular diseases.
    Did other comics recognize his value?
    My favorite quote was from Jim Carey, who said in so many words after he heard about Jerry’s death, that there would be no Jim Carey without Jerry Lewis. 
    Jerry studied all the great comics and spent time with the genius Stan Laurel; he revered him. It tells you a lot about a person when you look at who they idolize. There was a parallel, too: Stan Laurel did all the work on the movies while Oliver Hardy went and played golf. Dean spent time on the links, while Jerry labored on the films—every aspect of them.
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  • Friday, August 25, 2017 4:00 AM
    Whenever I pick up the newspaper, I find medical news contrary to previously reported findings.
    It’s just a matter of time, for example, before someone discovers that deep-fried Oreos are an excellent source of anti-oxidants and a possible preventative for heart disease. I pray for that news to come, but why couldn’t the New England Journal of Medicine have released the research before the State Fair began?
    Now there is some perplexing medical news for me to digest. I read that the sleeping pill I take may not be effective in getting me a better night’s rest, but may, in fact, only have an amnesia effect. In other words, I may be up all night pounding the pillows, tossing and turning, but when I awaken the next morning, I don’t remember having trouble staying asleep. Just what I need: something else to keep me up all night.
    The more I thought about this, the crazier it made me. I then read that patients who take the prescription may sleepwalk, as well, which means I could be wandering throughout the house getting in all sorts of trouble, then in the morning not remembering anything.
    I experienced this in college on occasion. You know, up all night cramming for a test, then not recalling a thing the next morning. (And I was drug free then.)
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  • Friday, August 18, 2017 4:00 AM
    I just returned from this year’s Indiana State Fair. It was very bad timing, because I had just seen the government’s reissued dietary guidelines online. I am not a fan of the current administration, but I did think in this one area they were going to cut us some slack . . . or a least a big piece of chocolate cake.
    I can exercise five times a week. I can cut down on carbs. I can eat three fruits a day. I can even choke down eight glasses of water (if I get to count scotch and water). I can eat cod once a week for the omega fat benefits. But I can’t do 11 vegetables a day. No way. No how. Yet that’s what the government is recommending.
    This new nutritional food pyramid, a structure that would make pharaohs roll over in their graves, assuming they weren’t too fat to do that, now suggests that the average person needs almost a dozen servings of the green (and yellow and orange) stuff every day.
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  • Tuesday, August 08, 2017 4:00 AM
    The Ropkey Armor Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana has closed after more than 35 years. It was one of the finest private collections in the country. The contents will find homes in various museums around the country.
    The founder, military historian and Korean War Veteran Fred Ropkey, passed away four years ago. As a tribute, I am re-running remarks I made at his funeral service in 2013. Check out my interview at with Lani, Fred’s wife of over 30 years in the next week or so.
    Fred Ropkey was no fan of war. Few people are. Yet he knew that every tank, aircraft and piece of artillery he recovered was not only a work of exquisite design, but combined they represented the hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives that had been lost—or saved. 
    His passion got its roots early. At age eight, his parents gave him a WWI sword and a Civil War pistol belonging to his great-grandfather. At 16 he bought an armored WWII scout car and drove it to school. He stood up in the auditorium at Pike High School the day after Pearl Harbor and “reported” the Japanese attack to his fellow students. He tried to enlist in the Marines, but he was too young. He would later serve during the Korean conflict as a battalion commander.
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  • Friday, August 04, 2017 4:00 AM
    What has happened to the art of sitting? People nowadays don’t just sit; they have to be involved in some activity like emailing, blogging, tweeting, reading, or watching TV.
    When I was a kid, people in my neighborhood sat on their front porch. Since this was New York, they were mostly protecting their valuables or waiting for the police to arrive. They were sitting, nonetheless. You see people sitting in a doctor’s office—but these people are waiting. Big difference.
    In some of those old English manors, there were sitting rooms. But if you ever saw a movie or read a book about life in those days, you’d know that people also did a lot of yakking to each other while they were sitting. They would converse about the murder that just occurred in the sewing room or speculate about why the downstairs maid was spending so much time upstairs. In reality, these were talking rooms, not sitting rooms.
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  • Friday, July 28, 2017 4:00 AM
    On Friday, Aug. 18, at 7:30 in the evening, I will be stepping onto the stage at the Phoenix Theatre . . . and out of my comfort zone. The Phoenix is one of several venues for this year’s IndyFringe Festival, part of an Indianapolis tradition that originated in 2005. Entertainers from all parts of the U.S. will offer hour-long acts in venues along the Mass Avenue corridor over an 11-day period, with more than 72 artists, giving in total more than 400 performances. There is something for everyone: cabaret, comedy, dance, drama, magic and music.
    My performance is called “The Art of the Jewish Joke.” I have read or heard thousands of them, and while I have no idea where my keys or glasses are, I remember (and can repeat) just about all of them. When I buy books of Jewish humor, I read the first line of an anecdote, then I anticipate the last line, skipping to the end to confirm my prediction. I usually nail it, but I always go back and read the whole thing again, anyway. Why? Because just like “The Star-Spangled Banner,” there’s lots of ways to “sing” it, and occasionally the new version is an improvement. Or, as many of my Jewish friends say when I tell one, “I’ve heard it already, and you’re telling it wrong.”
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  • Monday, July 17, 2017 4:00 PM
    I’m a loser. I lose everything. Most people lose golf balls on a course; I lose clubs. One time, I lost the golf cart. People lose their wallets; I lose my pants. Don’t ask. It’s a long story.
    My wife, Mary Ellen, agrees that I’m a loser. Like most people, I misplace things occasionally, but the problem is that my wife says I’m not very good looking. Wait, that doesn’t sound right. What she means is, I don’t look well. No, that’s wrong, too. I, I, I…wow, I’m even at a loss for words.
    I recently reported on the Wolfsies’ trip to Banff, in the Canadian Rockies, where I spent most of the time waiting in the car due to my bad knee. I managed to snap some great photos of my son, Brett, and Mary Ellen, as they headed out for a hike each morning, and I got some more scenic pics in the evenings when we were in the city having dinner.
    I’m a good photographer, but at the airport before our flight home, I started to lose focus. I put my digital camera in the large grey plastic tray to go through the scanner at security. Then I forgot to retrieve it when it exited the conveyor. When I went back five minutes later, it was gone. Yes, my Konica had been stolen, along with the pictures showing all the fun we had, although most of the photos were of Mary Ellen and Brett walking away from the car and heading off without me.
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  • Saturday, July 15, 2017 4:00 AM
    Hal Fryar passed away recently at age 90. If you don’t know who he is, maybe the name Harlow Hickenlooper will ring a bell. Harlow Hickenlooper is tough to say. Hal Fryar will be tough to forget. They are one in the same.
    Hal was the host of several children’s television shows in Indianapolis over his 43-year career, including a longtime gig on WFBM-TV (now WRTV-6) where he introduced Three Stooges movie shorts. In 1965, Fryar was cast in the original Three Stooges movie, The Outlaws Is Coming, playing the part of Johnny Ringo. In 2008, he was inducted into the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame.
    Hal loved performing on live TV, a passion he and I shared. But there was a strain in our relationship—a mock competition between us. It began when Hal boasted that the Three Stooges hit him in the face with a pie, citing it as proof of his friendship with the trio.
    Not to be outdone, I proudly proclaimed that I had once been similarly victimized by the one and only Soupy Sales when he came to Indy to perform at Crackers Comedy Club. Soupy agreed to do a live WISH-TV shoot from his hotel. That morning, as we planned, I waited at the elevator until he exited to the lobby. I mentioned to Soupy how much older he looked. When a waiter walked by carrying a pie, Soupy nabbed it and smooshed it squarely in my face.
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  • Friday, July 07, 2017 4:00 AM
    I just returned from my brother’s wedding in New York City, and I am happy to report that things went off without a hitch . . . except for Peter. He got hitched for the first time, which was about the last thing I expected him to do at age 66. Mary Ellen and I stayed at my sister’s condo instead of a hotel, allowing us all to share memories and spend extra time together—but most importantly, saving us $500 a night.
    We were strolling along Sixth Avenue on Thursday, and I stopped to recall a favorite memory from when I was a kid. In that area of town once sat a Horn and Hardart Automat. It was, I always thought, the world’s biggest vending machine. Inside the restaurant was a giant wall that reminded me of the inside of an old post office. It was covered with hundreds of small compartments, each with shiny glass doors. Customers would put in coins, slide the door open and grab a serving of creamed spinach, Salisbury steak, meatloaf, roast chicken or fresh, hot apple pie. At one time, the slots only took nickels. I’m not old enough to remember back quite that far.
    Behind those little doors was a mammoth kitchen. If you negotiated your gaze just right and peered past the candied yams, you’d see dozens of bustling men and women in starched white uniforms sliding the cherry cobbler into the oven or basting the huge birds that would be roasted and made into turkey a la king.
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  • Friday, June 30, 2017 4:00 AM
    My home office is downstairs, which was just a cellar when we moved into the house 25 years ago. We invested a little money to fix it up, so then it became a basement. I guess you could call it a finished basement. But apparently it wasn’t finished, because the builder we hired said that for a few extra bucks he could add some decorative touches and then we could call it our lower level. We didn’t have “that” kind of money.
    Our original plan was to make it one, large, beautiful room where we could entertain guests, and sip white wine as we talked about good books and the current movie scene. But now, no humans are allowed downstairs except me and the men from Orkin.
    In the center of the room is a pool table that I bought in 1998 when I wanted to get my son interested in something other than video games. We have never completed a game of pool. I use the cue sticks to wrangle cobwebs from the ceiling. I can store a dozen suitcases under the base, and the top of the table is the perfect nesting area for a year’s supply of Bush’s baked beans. Each side pocket holds a flashlight. Corner pockets? Duct tape, scotch tape, masking tape and electrical tape. And my wife said we’d never use the thing. Geesh, what a pessimist.
    Somewhere under boxes of old paperback books and musty blankets is a futon, which we thought would be a cheap and convenient extra bed. It took three defensive linemen to negotiate the stairwell to get the thing down to the basement. I don’t know what the mattress is made of, but the cat sees the unit as a condo—two beds and a bath, if you know what I mean.
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  • Friday, June 23, 2017 4:00 AM
    I turned 70 this year. And so did a 10-year-old freckled little boy named Howdy Doody. For those too young to remember, The Howdy Doody Show debuted in 1947, its star a convivial wooden marionette whose human partner in the show, Buffalo Bob Smith, lived in my hometown of New Rochelle, New York.
    Each show had a story line featuring Bob and Howdy. Howdy’s voice was actually Bob Smith’s, which had been prerecorded. Within the show was a cast of characters, some human (like Chief Thunderthud and Princess SummerFallWinterSpring) along with several wood-be human marionettes like the grumpy Mr. Bluster and the polymorphous creature Flub-a-Dub, who comprised the characteristics of eight different animals.
    And there was Clarabell, the voiceless clown who communicated with two horns strapped to a box around his waist, one side labeled YES, the other NO. Clarabell uttered not a sound for 13 years until the final show, when he said, almost under his breath, “Goodbye, kids.” For trivia aficionados, Clarabell was played by three different actors. The first was Bob Keeshan, who later became Captain Kangaroo.
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  • Friday, June 16, 2017 4:00 AM
    Last week I had the honor of presenting to Carl Erskine the Heritage Place Award, given to six senior Hoosiers each year for their lifetime service to the Indianapolis community. For those who don’t recognize the name, Carl is a retired banker from Anderson, Indiana. He also previously pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers team that won their first—and only—World Series in l955.
    When I was a grade-schooler in New York, I feigned sleeping at night for six months of the year with a tiny transistor radio hidden under my pillow, praying for a home run by center fielder Duke Snider or another no-hitter by Carl (he had two). If you had told that nine-year-old kid in 1955 that his baseball hero would one day become not just a friend, but a golfing partner, he’d have thought you were nuts.
    Although it has been 62 years, my memory of Oct. 4, 1955, is clear. Even then I knew the majesty of those hallowed words: Seventh game of the World Series. This would have traditionally been a time for Dodger fans to wring their hands and prepare for the inevitable. Da Bums, as they were called, had faced the Yankees in what seemed like a hundred previous World Series games (four, actually) and lost every time. If the Dodgers hadn’t finally won in 1955, I probably wouldn’t be writing this story now. And giving Carl this award would not have felt quite so special.
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  • Friday, June 09, 2017 4:00 AM
    “Are you sitting down?” my sister asked, calling from New York.
    “I’m 70 years old,” I said. “It’s a pretty good bet that I am sitting any time you call.”
    “Well, you need to hear this. Our brother is about to do something a 66-year-old man seldom does at this point in his life.”
    I called out to my wife: “Mary Ellen, start packing. We’re going to New York for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah!”
    “No,” said Linda, “it’s even a little stranger than that. He’s decided to get married.”
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