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State and municipal governments are in bad shape financially.  With an election coming up, I’ve written a little fantasy about Local Campaigning ... for the important office of Parent.



A couple of years ago, I wrote about trying to open a jar of olives.  It required maximum effort and a couple of rubber wrenches, but I was finally able to twist the lid off.  Only a small amount of pimiento juice was spilled.

Yesterday I faced a new challenge:  opening a glass jar of imported red cabbage.

Holding the jar under hot water didn’t work this time.  Not even my wrenches could unscrew the top.  The Germans had sealed it tight.

Well, I thought, if I want to reach the food I might have to break the glass!  Or maybe I could punch a hole in the metal lid.

I started rummaging around for the proper tool.  And then I found it:  a simple, almost obsolete gadget.

You see, in olden times when I was young, bottles didn't have screw-off caps.  Cans didn't have pull-tab tops.  Those hadn't been invented yet.

To open bottles and cans, we actually had to bend some metal.  And the metalworking tool of choice was called a “church key.”

This version looks like it could, in fact, be the key to a church.  The business end is designed to hook under the edge of a bottle cap and uncrimp it.

At the other end of a church key is a sharp point.  Hooking it under the rim of a can, you can pierce triangular holes in the lid.  One hole lets the liquid out.  On the opposite side of the lid, another hole (perhaps smaller) lets in air to relieve the pressure and allow the liquid to pour smoothly rather than gluggingly.

Nowadays we have little need for church keys.  But my drawer of kitchen gadgets still contains one.

I tried to use it to punch holes in the cabbage lid, but the key was too small to hook under the edge of the lid for leverage. 

However, the non-pointed end was not too small.  With it, I was able to pry the bottom edge of the lid away from the glass, bending it outward about a millimeter.  Then I moved to another part of the lid and pried it out, and so on all the way around the circumference.  The seal was broken, and the lid unscrewed easily.

Another victory over packaging!  (And later I found this additional use for the church key.)



Today marks the 10th anniversary of this website!  On October 25, 2000, I first tentatively uploaded articles to the Internet for the whole world to see.

As I recall, I began with two pages.  One was this secret contemplation, which I had at last been given the audacity to publish.  The other was this account, which has since been revised several times.

Because few people had high-speed Internet connections back then, I kept the format simple and the bit count low.  I included only a few small pictures that wouldn't take forever to download through a dial-up modem.  For the first six years this home page, which directs you to the various articles, was generally updated only once a month.

The world kept on turning, so I kept uploading.  At last count, I've posted 691 pages to this website.

I’m slowly beginning to exhaust my supply of raw material from those boxes in the basement.  But many of my earlier articles were posted so long ago that they may have been forgotten.  Therefore, in honor of the anniversary, I’m launching a project called “100 Moons.”

Starting in November, from time to time I’ll direct your attention to a classic article that has been on this site for over a hundred months (8.3 years).  These will be pages that I deem deserving of a second reading.  Stay tuned!



I've colorized and composited the image at the right, but I do remember watching something like this take place.  It was back in the 1970s.

Was it all a dream?  A slapstick fantasy?  No, now I have photos to prove that it happened.  And a reasonable explanation.

See the new article Here's Pie in Your Eye.

OCTOBER 18, 2010     NOW I GET IT

STARVING FOR RELEASE  I never really understood why a prisoner would go on a hunger strike.  He has already lost his freedom; for what purpose would he then refuse to eat, thus losing his health as well?  Is he merely trying to be a martyr to draw attention to his cause?

Perhaps, but he might also be trying to get out of jail.

The current edition of Old News tells of the WSPU, a group of English women who agitated for the right to vote under the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst a century ago.

On July 2, 1909, a suffragette “named Marion Wallace Dunlop, who had been arrested for defacing a wall, decided on her own initiative to go on a hunger strike.  After refusing all food for 91 hours, she was released from prison.  Emmeline Pankhurst was delighted by this result, and she encouraged all WSPU members to imitate Dunlop by staging hunger strikes whenever they were imprisoned.

“For several years, the hunger-strike tactic made it difficult for the authorities to jail any WSPU member for longer than a week.  Prison authorities, reluctant to let them die, always released the hunger strikers as soon as their health seemed endangered.  Christabel Pankhurst wrote:  ‘We are feeling proud of having destroyed the government’s weapon of coercion.  ...We have now learnt our power to starve ourselves out of prison — and this power we shall use — unless, of course, the government prefer to let us die.  I hardly think however, that even they would adopt so extreme a course, if only for the reason that it will not pay them politically to do so.’”

However, every tactic has its countermeasures.  The government had refused to give women the right to vote.  The women countered by destroying property; the government countered by jailing them.  The women countered by starving themselves.  Now it was the government’s move:  prison wardens were ordered to force-feed hunger strikers.

Later the government passed the Temporary Discharge of Prisoners for Ill-Health Act:  starving inmates were to be released, but once their health improved, back to jail they went.  Over 18 months in 1913-14, “Emmeline Pankhurst was released and re-arrested on nine occasions.”

The WSPU’s tactics generated publicity, but not legislation.  The cat-and-mouse game ended only when World War I began and Pankhurst turned her organization’s energies to that struggle.

The good will engendered by the women during the war effort proved more effective than their earlier civil disobedience.  At the end of the war in 1918, female property owners were given the right to vote, and the WSPU was dissolved.

UPON WATERS   “Cast thy bread upon the waters:  for thou shalt find it after many days,” we read in Ecclesiastes 11:1-2.  “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.”

This made little sense to me when I was a little boy.  The only time it seemed practical to throw bread into the water was when my mother took me to Richwood Lake to feed the ducks.  Now that I think about it, there were usually seven or eight ducks who swam up to get their portion of the bread crumbs.  But we never miraculously found those crumbs again many days later.

Sometimes preachers use “bread” in its Sixties hippie sense of “money” to arrive at an allegorical interpretation.  “Give your money indiscriminately to the poor.  Many days later, Karma will reward you for your good deed.”

In other verses, the Bible frowns on alcoholic beverages.  “Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle,” commands Leviticus 10:9.  “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise,” warns Proverbs 20:1.

We know what wine is, but what does the Bible mean by “strong drink”?  In the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Michael M. Homan explains that the Hebrew word shekar really should be translated “beer.”

In the ancient world, he writes, “beer was often produced by creating a bread or cake made from malted barley or wheat.  The bread was then placed in water, forming a sweet liquid known as a wort.  In a few days, after adding yeast, the carbohydrates would be converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide.”

This leads to a totally different interpretation of the passage from Ecclesiastes.  “I believe this is a reference to the cakes of bread used in ancient beer production,” writes Homan.  “Cast your bread upon the water and it will return as beer.  Much like the phrase carpe diem, the author advises making beer and drinking it with friends, because you don’t know what evil might be coming.”










But, come to think of it, owls are stupid.

It’s insane to keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

If you didn’t hear what I said, I should not merely repeat it in exactly the same way.










A couple of decades ago, I worked on telecasts of professional wrestling.  But my memories of this form of entertainment go back more than 50 years.  Does anyone else recall the showmanship of Lex Mayers?  I do, in a new article about Rasslin’.



In regard to currency of small denominations, my year is divided into two equal phases.  The Time of Spending has come to an end, and the next six months will be the Time of Collecting.

When I pay for a purchase with a $20 bill, I receive fives and ones in change.  From October through March, more and more of these small bills accumulate in my billfold.  Sometimes it gets so full that I have to remove a dozen fives and a couple dozen ones and put them in a drawer.

But this currency isn’t out of circulation forever.  From April through September, I occasionally have to withdraw a handful of fives and ones from this stash in order to restock my billfold.

Why do the warm months require more small bills?  Blame it on baseball.

I work on the telecasts of about 80 home Pirates games a year.  I pay $7 for parking each time, and I prefer to speed things along by having a five and two ones ready for the parking attendant.  Then I pay $8 to eat dinner in the press lounge, and again I prefer to give the cashier exact change.  Over the six months of the season, these two daily transactions require 160 five-dollar bills and 400 singles!

But now it’s hockey season.  I pay for parking with a credit card, and dinner in the press lounge is an even $10.  I am now free to resume my hoarding of small bills. 



It’s a sentence we hear too often in farces.  When the lead character’s misguided actions have gotten us into another fine mess, he protests, “I can explain everything!”

But the other night, I heard a fresh reading of this line.  A different word was emphasized.  Perhaps it sounded fresh because it was recorded before the line became so hackneyed in all the subsequent sitcoms on television.

I was listening to a radio comedy from 1949, My Favorite Husband, the forerunner of TV’s I Love Lucy.  When Lucille Ball delivered the line, she pleaded, “Now don’t get upset.  I can explain everything.”  And it didn’t sound trite at all.



Sixscore years ago on this date, on September 19, 1890, the Pittsburgh Alleghenies played a game of Base-Ball against the visiting New York Giants.

At the time, the Alleghenies were in eighth and last place in the National League with a record of 21 wins and 105 losses.  They were 61 games behind the first-place Brooklyn Grays, having lost thrice in one day to the "trolley dodgers" in a Labor Day tripleheader.

However, there was some hope for the Alleghenies on September 19.  Most of their contests that season had been on the road.  So far, they had played only 31 games at Recreation Park, and they had actually won 12 of them!

As they took the field that Friday afternoon, an enthusiastic hometown throng of 100 fans cheered from the grandstand.  (Yes, that’s right, one hundred.  The team’s estimated attendance for the entire season was only 16,064, which also ranked last in the NL.)

Alas, the home team did not win.  And we know what the rooters say about the home team:  if they don’t win, it’s a shame.  The game ended in a 7-7 tie.

In another two weeks, the 1890 season would come to a merciful conclusion.  The Alleghenies finished 23-113, with a road record of 9-88.  That season remains the worst in franchise history, considerably worse than even the current team's record of 50-98 (15-59 on the road).

There was nowhere to go but up.

When the Players’ League folded that fall, Pittsburgh picked up second baseman Lou Bierbauer.  In signing him, they were “pirating” him away from the Philadelphia Athletics, who supposedly still held Bierbauer's National League rights.

The following the spring, the Pittsburgh nine moved into a new home, Exposition Park.  And they embraced their reputation as bad boys by adopting the pejorative nickname Pittsburgh Pirates.  Within another dozen years, they were in the World’s Series!

Maybe the present-day Pirates should try to steal second baseman Chase Utley from the Phillies?  Couldn't hurt.  Anything could happen.

A completely unrelated example:  I was listening to NPR's Car Talk yesterday morning and heard Click and Clack describe their new "puzzler" for the week of 09-20.  It was the same as a question I posed here in 2007.  Those pirates!




In the spring of 1956, I was only nine years old.  At our house we still didn’t have television, but my recently widowed grandmother did have it at her place.  That's her in her rocking chair, with the TV set in the background.

During the daytime she watched soap operas.  Like everyone else, she called them “my shows.”  (How did that possessive term arise?)  A soap opera was a 15-minute serial drama, broadcast live from a studio in New York, accompanied by music improvised on the Hammond organ, and sponsored by a soap company.

On April 2, 1956, one such program upgraded the genre.  Its grand opening theme was played by both organ and piano.  And it was twice as long as the others.  The announcer said, “And now, for the next 30 minutes, As the World Turns, brought to you today by Ivory Snow.”

Ever since then, ATWT has been a daytime fixture on CBS.  After our family finally bought a TV set, my mother watched too.  She may have been watching on November 22, 1963, when Walter Cronkite interrupted with the news that President Kennedy had been shot.

However, after this Friday As the World Turns will go off the air.  In more than 54 years, there will have been 13,858 episodes.

That sounds like a very large number, doesn’t it?  But if you want a really large lifetime number, consider retired Pittsburgh baseball announcer Lanny Frattare.  In his 33 seasons of describing 162 games per year, assuming each team threw 143 pitches per game (the current pace), Lanny saw over 1.5 million pitches! 



When I was a manager for our high school football team in the early 1960s, I sometimes had to run out onto the field carrying the trainer's emergency kit.  This was a big metal toolbox painted orange, our team color.  It held first-aid supplies and rolls of tape for patching up athletes.

One item was a scary-looking oral screw, a plastic tool that looked something like this.  As it was explained to me, sometimes an unconscious player would swallow his tongue, leaving him unable to breathe.  In such cases, the coach would have to insert this screw between his teeth and rotate it to force his jaws open, then reach into his mouth and retrieve the tongue.  Fortunately, I never witnessed this procedure.

The kit also contained a handful of smelling salts.  These were little glass ampoules, maybe an inch and a half long, containing aromatic spirits of ammonia.  Each was encased in a loosely woven white sleeve, designed to contain the shards of broken glass that would result from squeezing the ampoule between thumb and forefinger to release its contents.  The coach would hold the strong-smelling ammonia under the nose of a dazed player to shock him back into consciousness.

Nowadays, of course, we’re beginning to realize that when a football player “gets his bell rung,” it’s unwise to merely revive him with a whiff of smelling salts and send him back into action.  Instead, he needs to be checked for a possible concussion.


Back in those days, we didn't understand the importance of hydration, either.  Studies had shown that in marathons, the winners were the ones who lost the most water weight.  Therefore, losing fluids was necessary to maximize performance.  Dehydration was good!

We know better now, of course, but a Richwood Tiger football player wasn't allowed to drink any water on the practice field.  None at all.  He got thirsty, of course.  We managers had these plastic containers of lemon juice that we could squirt into his dry mouth on request.

While a manager, I described the play-by-play for several basketball games, one of them on an actual radio station.  But I never called a football game.  A few months after graduation, I got a chance to try.

It was on this very Friday night, 45 years ago, that I carried my tape recorder up to the roof of the pressbox at Memorial Field.  I had permission from the school to tape a fake radio broadcast.  The next week, I would be in college, and the next year, I would be broadcasting college football games for real.

September 10, 1965, was an historic date.  Richwood High School had consolidated with Byhalia to form the new North Union High School, though they were still using the same Richwood facilities until a new North Union building and football field could be constructed on the north edge of town.  This would be the very first game of the North Union Wildcats!

As I described the event in a letter five days later:

The Wildcats lost, 26-0.  Neither team was any good at running, as the blocking from a pair of underweight offensive lines wasn't working; only once was anyone able to turn the corner on an end sweep.  Marysville gained a good part of its yardage through the air.  North Union tried to pass, but [Jim] Blue was consistently wild; he either led his receivers too much or threw too short.  So, we can't run and we can't pass, and something's going to have to be done.

And [North Union] school spirit?  Well, to me it seems about as little as that of Richwood recently, except that there's less tradition.  No one seems to know the fight song or the Alma Mater; no one knows what a wildcat looks like; there's nothing to be proud of yet, not even a new high school building such as most other newly-consolidated schools have.  It's just a little bit dead.  Things are bound to improve as an NU tradition is formed, but this takes time.

It wasn't until their 45th season that the Wildcats finally qualified for the state playoffs in football, finishing with a 10-0 regular season record in 2009.



Apparently Craig Counsell has been bronzed for posterity, but due to his unique batting stance, they couldn’t fit all of him into the chamber.

Actually, the rather unusual sculpture depicts the grip of Hall of Fame member Ralph Kiner, who hit 301 home runs for the Pirates between 1946 and 1953.  It’s located in the left field rotunda at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.