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Friday, June 23, 2017

  • 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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  • Friday, June 02, 2017 4:00 AM
    As soon as Mary Ellen made plans for our last vacation, I made an appointment with the orthopedist. My left knee was killing me and I didn't want to be a drag on our daily activities. My knee problem goes back to an old football injury in college. I was drunk and fell out of the stands during Homecoming. 
    When I arrived at my appointment, I asked why my former doctor had unexpectedly retired. The receptionist said he wanted to devote more time to running triathlons and skiing, which is really nice for him but for the patients who were scheduled for knee surgery, this is kind of rubbing it in. 
    My new doctor said he needed to take a few pictures of my knee. I told him that wouldn’t be necessary and showed him some great shots of myself in Bermuda shorts on my iPhone from our recent New Orleans trip. But X-rays were still required. They clearly showed the reason for my discomfort and surgery would be my only option for relief. 
    "Dick," said Dr. Estes, "I understand you and your wife are going on vacation. Not too strenuous, I hope, considering your knee."
    "She wants to go to Canada and go hiking."
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  • Friday, May 26, 2017 4:00 AM
    Despite being on TV in Indianapolis for almost 40 years, people constantly confuse me with other people with a similar name. Here are letters I have actually received in the mail or by email along with a few I just made up for fun. Can you guess which are which?
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  • Friday, May 19, 2017 12:17 AM
    There should be a law against having phone numbers that denote words instead of, well, numbers. Hello! It’s a phone number, not a phone word. I hosted a TV segment last week for a national organization that is dedicated to educating people about a common, but potentially serious, illness. Their phone number spells the name of the disease. 
    That makes the number easy to remember, but impossible to dial on your cell phone if you are in the car and have to watch the road, balance your coffee, and try to figure out where the PQRS button is.
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  • Friday, May 12, 2017 4:00 AM
    Mary Ellen went to a conference last week in Chicago and left me at home. Alone. When she abandoned me last year, I realized I did not know how to run the dishwasher or operate the convection oven. I felt guilty about all the dirty dishes she came home to, but I am really good with the clothes washer, so to make up for the mess in the kitchen, I went through Mary Ellen’s laundry basket and washed everything. I don’t know what she ate in Chicago, but when she got home two days later and took everything out of the dryer, nothing fit.
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  • Friday, May 05, 2017 4:00 AM
    Arriving in my mailbox today was the mid-spring edition of the Hammacher Schlemmer gift catalog, packed with previously advertised items they still can’t unload (which I have probably made fun of in past columns), along with some brand new items I am about to skewer.
    On the cover is what HS calls a Hypnotic Jellyfish Aquarium. It contains two synthetic jellyfish that provide "mesmerizing ambience.” Really? Jellyfish use their tentacles to capture prey, emitting deadly toxins in a very painful sting. Maybe "mesmerizing ambience” was leftover copy from last year’s flop, The Teddy Bear Aquarium.
    Inside the cover is the customary introductory letter from their current chairman, John McArthur, welcoming you to his world of unique and unusual products. In the past, I chided him for opening remarks that were poorly expressed. Although Mr. McArthur does not have a gift for writing, he makes up for it with about 200 gifts in other areas, like inside the catalog. In his letter, Mr. McArthur reveals his favorite items: The Mosquito Zapping Light Bulb (page 10) and the Flameless Candle Lighter (page 55), but those nifty products are not on those pages. If HS can’t get their stuff on the right page, how, in two weeks, can they deliver your stuff on the right doorstep?
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  • Friday, April 28, 2017 4:00 AM
    Since my wife and I are semi-retired, we are taking more frequent vacations. When we travel, our favorite activities are parasailing, hang gliding, and whitewater rafting. But watching other people risk their lives has become a little stressful. We knew it was time for a change.
    We spent this past week in New Orleans with our friends John and Jane Murphy. We decided to forgo the extreme spectator sports and opt for some more intellectual and culinary activities. By the way, we did not go during Mardi Gras. As Yogi Berra once aptly noted in another context, “No one goes there that time of year: it's way too crowded.” We did go to a Mardi Gras museum. Mary Ellen and I don't usually like the same kinds of exhibits, but this museum was filled with the kind of stuff both men and women can both enjoy. Ironic, because in the thousands of photos displayed, you can't even tell the difference between the men and the women. 
    If you have any plans to visit the Crescent City, I submit the following warnings regarding the French Quarter, the hub of all tourist activity. 
    Cover charges: During one dinner, a three-piece combo played jazz. The restaurant tacked on a six-dollar cover charge per person for the music. “Wait a second,” I said to the server, “we came here to eat and talk. We didn’t even know about the music.”
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  • Friday, April 21, 2017 4:00 AM
    Remember Arshid Chowdhury? I wrote about him years ago when he invented something called a sleep pod, a high-tech structure that can still be seen in several airports around the country. Crawl into the enclosure, and you can catch 40 winks in the middle of the day for about 20 bucks, or about 50 cents a wink. (Before we all got so politically correct, I’d have made a funny joke about my reputation of innocently—and inexpensively—flirting with the ladies.)
    Chowdhury has enjoyed great financial success since I first wrote about him, despite problems in the beginning: many customers could not successfully nod off while nesting. Some travelers just stared into space with their eyes wide open, something most people can already do at their place of employment and actually get paid for it.
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  • Friday, April 14, 2017 4:00 AM
    We hear a lot about frivolous lawsuits, but we don’t hear nearly enough about the delicious ones, so here’s a tasty bit of gossip: A guy from Kentucky is suing the company that makes Oreo cookies. He asserts that Oreos are slowly killing him. So what’s the problem? This sounds like a fun way to die.
    It’s probably not the first-cookie related suit on record. I myself debated legal action against the Girl Scouts in the ’80s when I became addicted to Thin Mints. I’m not saying I bought too many boxes, but one year while I was at work, my wife was selling cookies back to the Girl Scouts at a substantial discount.
    The Nabisco company claims that 450 billion of these treats have been eaten in the last 100 years and no autopsy has ever listed the cause of death as Oreo cookies. Now that’s a record Nabisco can be proud of. I’m not sure the Slim Jim people can claim the same. A Slim Jim, by the way, is 98 percent fat, has no nutritional value whatsoever, and makes you want to drink a six-pack of beer. On second thought, let’s cut them some slack, also.
    I’ve been eating Oreo cookies for 65 years. I think we all know the ritual. You get a huge glass of cold milk, plus 20 or 30 Oreos, and then you start twisting them apart. Some people eat the side with cream frosting first; some just eat the frosting. Others start with the plain chocolate wafer. Some dip the cookie in milk; some guzzle the milk after the cookie. How can you sue a company that has given you so many wonderful options in your life? It’s un-American. 
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  • Friday, April 07, 2017 4:00 AM
    The nice lady offering free samples at Costco asked if I wanted to actually buy a box of the quiche I was nibbling on (after I had eaten six pieces). I’m kind of a health nut, so I didn’t purchase any; they just had way too much sodium and saturated fat.
    An hour later, my Costco cart was laden with soft drinks, garbage bags, a snow tire and a year’s supply of salsa. I was in a good mood because I had managed to circle around several of the other demo tables and inhale a dozen different offerings without being fingered as a “repeat sampler.”
    I went through the check-out but when I got to the exit, the employee at the door looked me over from head to toe. He was holding something behind his back. Could it have been some kind of breath-analyzer to detect whether I had eaten too much free food? I was a little embarrassed about possibly being caught with egg on my face. I should have finished with the chicken wings instead of the quiche. 
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  • Friday, March 31, 2017 4:00 AM
    My mother, rest her soul, drove her 1997 Buick until almost 90…and sometimes faster. She was in great health at age 87, but it irked her that many of her friends had handicap license plates that allowed them to park closer to the grocery store. She’d get out of her car and drag her foot along the ground to appear disabled. The A&P manager overlooked it. He wasn’t as lenient on the shoplifting charges, though.
    In memory of Mom, I’m going to admit to something that will probably generate a lot of hate mail filling my inbox. Two or three times at the supermarket over the last 10 years—when I’ve been in a huge rush—I parked in the space that said:
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  • Friday, March 24, 2017 4:00 AM
    Mary Ellen is planning our 2017 summer vacation. She wants to go to the Canadian Rockies. I get nervous about trips like this. Sometimes we get on each other’s nerves when we travel together and it looks like this time we’re going to have a particularly rocky start . . . and finish. 
    Back in 2007, we took a trip to the Grand Canyon, the only place in America where you’re allowed to drag your kid to the precipice of one of the world’s deepest chasms, but they put you in the slammer if you feed a squirrel.
    In the gift shop on the South Rim, the clerk recommended a book called—hold on to your hat (actually, hold on to anything you can): Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon. What a charming choice for fans of light summer reading.
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  • Friday, March 17, 2017 4:00 AM
    I gave my wife a Fitbit this past Christmas. In her attempt to reach that 10,000-step goal, she is continually checking the wristband and monitoring her progress. The other day I walked into the living room and she was shaking her arms wildly back and forth while watching TV. “What are you doing?” I asked.
    “Very unfair . . . bad,” she said, which sounded just like a Trump tweet. “It only registers steps when your arms are moving. When I pushed the cart around Costco for an hour, I didn’t get any credit for my effort. So now I am trying to fool the Fitbit.”
    I was shocked by this. Mary Ellen is the most honest person in America, having nudged an entire convent of nuns out of first place. Trying to put something over on your Fitbit is about as low as a human being can go.
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