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I once snapped this Polaroid picture of an intramural basketball game at my high school gym.

That's the venue where, late in 1961, I first pressed buttons to make the numbers change on a sports graphics display.  In other words, a scoreboard.

The details are in this month's 100 Moons article.

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It’s time to get the stadium ready for the high school kickoff!

In the late summer of 1962, Richwood High School’s football players practiced in the morning behind the grade school.  Classes hadn’t started yet; the Richwood Fair ran through Labor Day, and school always reopened the day after.

Over at Memorial Field, the custodians had fired up the tractor and mowed the grass.  As a team manager, I was assigned to rake up the clippings.  Someone took my picture near the visitors’ sideline.

Notice my short hairstyle.  I used to visit the local barber shop fairly frequently.  Nowadays it’s at least two months between my haircuts.  Also nowadays, schools open in August.

It’s also time to get the fans ready for the college kickoff!

There’s a story in the local paper almost every day about another school’s prospects as it wraps up its scrimmage games and training camp, preparing to open the season.  I often find myself reading such articles without being completely up to date on the personalities involved.

This Monday, there was such an article labeled “Duquesne.”  Duquesne is a local university that as recently as 1992 played lowly Division III football, though they’re now in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision. 

Apparently it’s a well-financed university, as we shall see.  The story began:

In a strange way, Jim Ferry was too focused on his own team to fully process some of the absurd scores by which it was winning.

I guessed this Ferry person might be the Duquesne football coach.  I’ve heard his name before.

On its four-game trip to Ireland earlier this month, a program that has endured three consecutive losing seasons didn’t look the part.

I wondered how they’d managed to find four Irish teams that knew how to play American football.

The Dukes didn’t just beat their opponents, but eviscerated them, winning matchups by an average of 38.8 points.  A team that struggled to clamp down on even middle-of-the pack Atlantic 10 teams held its foes to 48.8 points per game.

That’s a lot of touchdowns for a defense to allow.  And for some reason, they seem to be proud of it.

Ferry admitted the competition was suspect, but the things Duquesne hoped to achieve — an extra 10 days of practice, a chance for team bonding, an opportunity to work on a new defensive scheme — it largely did, even without taking into account the lopsided wins it registered.

“Everything we wanted to get out of the trip, we got it and more,” coach Jim Ferry said.  “It was a great experience.”

Sounds like he’s looking forward to kicking off the season next week.

Playing without sharpshooting guard Micah Mason ....

Aha!  That changes everything!  A sharpshooting guard doesn’t play football.  No rifles are permitted on the offensive line.  A sharpshooting guard might be a member of the security detail or the basketball team.  That suggests Ferry is probably a basketball coach, and because “Micah” sounds like a boy’s name, Ferry must be the men’s basketball coach.

Now I understand — though I still wonder why the article couldn’t specify the sport up front, and why a team would fly across the Atlantic to practice hoops in August. 



Construction began 2,327 years ago on the famous Appian Way.  In Italy, the old road leading south from Rome is lined with monuments and tombs of ancient patrician families.

I found a miniature modern version in Union Cemetery, on a hilltop across the river from my apartment.

These family tombs face the rising sun.  They bear the names, from left to right, of Paletta, DeMao, Innocenzi, Ciappetta, Roperti-Dancsecs, Mazziotti, and Santoro.


Not the whole cemetery is like that.  Many of the 20,000 residents aren’t even Italian, judging from their names.  Most have opted for conventional below-ground interment.

But there’s the occasional family that has invested in a private funerary temple, such as this obsidian-like mausoleum.

Requiescat in pace.



Sprouting from a crack in the sidewalk next to my apartment, a lowly weed has reached unprecedented heights.  Why did it grow so tall?

Back in 1979, I described an article I’d read about the seemingly intelligent behavior of certain jungle vines in Costa Rica.  I think something similar is taking place in my own back yard.

My young weed looked around and saw the dark vertical bars of the metal railing only inches away.  It reacted as though those were rival plants.  It would have to become tall to outreach them for the light, so it quickly grew long stem segments with only one leaf apiece, dozens of them.  It grew straight up, and it grew and grew until it had reached a height of three feet, taller than the competition.  Only then did it bend to the right toward the sun and begin producing buds.

Would you know enough to optimize your growth like this?

Who says animals are smarter than plants?

Speaking of biology, associate professor PZ Myers is a biologist way up in Minnesota.  He had a high school experience not unlike mine, according to his blog from August 16:

I attended my 40 year high school reunion last night.  It was interesting and strange.  But mostly pleasant.  I know many people have horrible memories of their school years, and all too often public schools are nightmarish mills of cliques and bullying and ugly social oppression, but I was lucky.  I was the wimpy nerd, I would have been the easy target for bullying, but it didn’t really happen, and I had friends among all the little petty in-groups — the jocks, the cheerleaders, the stoners, the AV weirdos, everyone — and they were always pretty porous and accepting.  Dang it, I don’t have any good horror stories to tell from those years!  I went through high school without getting beat up (which, I know, is a low bar to set, but still...)  I think the thing is my high school class was generally just a decent group of people. I was lucky that way.



The anniversary of the Woodstock music festival rolled around again this weekend, which reminds me again of Melanie Safka.

I wrote about her in 2008 and again in 2009.  She looks like this now, but in 1969, she was there on stage, in the rain, singing.

Afterwards she recalled:

We all had caught the same disease,
And we all sang the songs of peace.
Some came to sing, some came to pray, 
Some came to keep the dark away.

Little sisters of the sun
     Lit candles in the rain.
Fed the world on oats and raisins,
     Candles in the rain.
Lit the fire to the soul,
     Candles in the rain.

To be there is to remember,
     So lay it down again.
Lay down, lay down,
     Lay it down again.
I think that men can live as brothers!
     Candles in the rain.

I’m still finding out more about Melanie.  I recommend this performance of Gary White’s sad ballad, rawer and more evocative than Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 hit.  And I also recommend these remarkable 2015 duets with a current music star.  “C’est la seule chose que je peux faire.”

When my song becomes a part of the river,
I cry out to keep me just the way I am.

Will our blood become a part of the river?
All of the rivers
     are givers
          to the ocean
according to plan, according to man.

There's a chance
    peace will come
        in your life.

Please buy one.



My pastor from the 1960s, John C. Wagner, has passed away at the age of 84.

      I’ve written about him elsewhere on this website: 
  the experiment to make sermons more interactive,
   the trip to Mississippi to integrate churches there,
     the communion service in our living room,
       the going-away party, and
         his efforts to include Muslims in the “one great fellowship of love.”

“It was partly because of his suggestion that I went to Oberlin College,” I recalled to his son John Jr. this week, “and it was partly because of his example that I adopted Oberlin’s attitudes of peace and inclusiveness towards all humanity.”

What I haven’t described here was his paralysis.  He was 14 years old when he contracted polio in 1945, yet he continued to smile while getting around with crutches.  By 1955, he was married (to Miriam, seen here in Richwood) and had a B.D. from Yale Divinity School.  He later earned a Ph.D. from Ohio State and studied at the Sorbonne and two other institutions.

I learned these details from his obituary, which continues, “As a young pastor, he asked to be appointed to ‘a small church in a small town where I could learn to be a minister.’  He served United Methodist congregations in Green Camp and Richwood, Ohio.”  He was in Richwood from 1961 to 1965, when I was in high school and he was in his early thirties.

After leaving Richwood, Rev. Wagner left the pulpit.  He was on the United Methodist Church conference staff and then served as an administrator and professor at United Theological Seminary before retiring at the age of 65.

According to the obituary, “In retirement, he continued teaching at the Church of the Messiah in Westerville and the Methodist Theological School in Ohio.  He was a wise, brave and compassionate man who took genuine risks for social justice.  Against the wishes of his bishop and superintendent, he protested the segregation of churches in Mississippi in 1963, and the Columbus Athletic Club.   He demonstrated against the wars in Vietnam, Nicaragua, and Iraq, and was an advocate for the full inclusion of all persons and perspectives in the UMC.   Deeply Christian, he cherished his relationships with people of all faiths.  He was intuitively kind.

“Polio kept taking its toll on his muscles, his mobility, and finally, his breathing, but he never wavered in using his voice for love, justice, wry wit, and endless puns.”  A few years ago Yale reported, “Since 2000 he has used an electric wheelchair and scooter. With Miriam's help John gets around very well and hasn’t hit anybody.”  The obituary notes, “John leaves behind Miriam, his wife of 62 years, who made his long life and ministry possible.”

The funeral is tomorrow in Delaware, Ohio.



In the foreground:  the Stony Creek Mill Pond, built in Michigan in 2003.  Across the pond:  a weaving shop, built in Georgia before the Civil War.

No, this isn’t a photoshopped composite.  It’s a picture I took in a place called Greenfield Village during a vacation trip I took last month.

Since then, I've been arranging my photos and researching the places I visited.  I saw a roundhouse and a round house. I pondered playing a contrabass triangle.  I ate schnitzel, watched wind make electricity, and bought a blue Santa.

All the exciting details are in my new article Revisiting Michigan.



I described in this article how, as a high school student, I experienced the sudden termination of the John F. Kennedy era in 1963.

The next Presidency, that of Lyndon Johnson, ended when LBJ announced he would not be a candidate for re-election.

I was on a brief break from college and was at home with my parents that Sunday night, March 31, 1968.  We watched the President’s televised Oval Office speech.  For more than half an hour he discussed the ongoing Vietnam War.  Eventually he turned to America’s increasing doubts about what we were doing there.

There is division in the American house now. There is divisiveness among us all tonight.  ...What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, distrust, selfishness, and politics among any of our people.  Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.

In other words, I realized, Johnson doesn’t want to get entangled in the upcoming Presidential campaign.  He’s not going to run for re-election.  But it took him another half minute to get around to saying it.

With America's sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office — the Presidency of your country.

Yes, I thought, I’m correct.  He’s obviously bowing out. 

Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.

It was this last sentence that apparently shocked everybody, but not those of us who were still paying attention after 40 minutes.  We could see it coming.

Then the next Presidency, that of Richard Nixon, ended in his resignation.

Like most people, I had been annoyed by the occasional news reports casting suspicion on the leader of the free world following a relatively unimportant 1972 burglary at the Watergate.  You can listen here to a caller on our morning show in 1973.  Author Rick Perlstein explained, “People want to trust the king.  People don’t want to believe this about their President.”  But eventually the revelations forced us to believe it, and Nixon had to quit.

On Thursday, August 8, 1974 — 41 years ago today — it was announced that the President would be addressing the nation at nine o’clock that night.  They didn’t say he would be resigning, but everybody knew it.  In Washington, Pennsylvania, that afternoon, our TV3 crew was taping a Bronco League baseball game for a delayed cablecast starting at eight PM.  We decided that when nine o’clock rolled around, anybody watching our game would be switching channels to see Nixon quit.  Therefore, we might as well interrupt the baseball playback and put him on our channel as well.

As we recorded the game at Washington Park’s Bronco Field, during the first hour sportscaster Larry Schwingel explained to the viewers that they could stay with us and not miss the historic speech nor any of the ball game.  That night during playback, Tim Verderber was at the controls.  The game was playing on a U-Matic videocassette recorder which had audio/video inputs but also an RF tuner.  We set the tuner to Channel 11.  I was monitoring NBC on another TV set in the back of the control room.  When NBC switched to the White House at 9:01, I cued Tim.  He waited a second, maybe to let Larry finish a sentence, and then pressed the Stop button.  The VCR’s output switched from tape playback to tuner input, and Nixon was on TV3 — as well as virtually all the other eleven channels of our cable system.  When he finished 15 minutes later, Tim merely pressed Play again, and the baseball game resumed.



In the late 1980s, I watched It's Garry Shandling's Show on Showtime.  From this rather offbeat comedy series, I remember one episode in particular which aired live on November 8, 1988 — the night of the presidential election.

Other channels were declaring Republican George H.W. Bush the landslide winner, as shown on this map.

But Garry was presenting his own returns on his own hand-drawn charts, which somehow favored his candidate, Michael Dukakis.  Soul Train host Don Cornelius came on to announce that the Democrat had won.

About 24 minutes into the half-hour, in a happy accident of timing, back in Boston the actual Dukakis appeared at a hotel to concede.  Garry knelt in front of the TV monitor showing the live speech and ad-libbed an anguished plea to his “winning” candidate not to give up.

Then in the next decade, Garry starred on HBO'S The Larry Sanders Show.  As the beleagured host of a late-night talk show, Larry often worried that his network was considering hiring someone else to take his place.  Hey now!

The “someone else,” Larry’s potential successor, kept showing up at the studio with occasional cameos from 1996 to 1998.  I don’t think I’d ever heard of this guest star.  Because he was playing himself rather straight in those six episodes, he did little to impress me.

I’ve since learned, however, that in real life the guest star actually was a finalist to replace more than one late-night host:  David Letterman in 1993 and Tom Snyder in 1999. He did in fact replace Arsenio Hall in 1994.

Finally he came to my attention later in 1999.  Craig Kilborn succeeded Snyder, and this comedian took over Kilborn’s Daily Show on Comedy Central.

Of course, we’re talking about Jon Stewart.



Funny how memory works.  I encounter the word “abalone” and think yes, that’s a type of tuna.  No, I’m wrong.  An abalone does live in the sea, but it’s a shellfish.

What’s the tuna word I’m thinking of?  Anemone?  No, an anemone lives in the sea, but it’s a predatory polyp.  Or an anemone also could be a flower that lives on land.  How confusing.

For a type of tuna, I’m looking for a similar word.  Starts with an a.  Artichoke?  No.  It has a b and an l in it, I think.  Albino?  Abdominal?  Abominable?  Abysmal?  Albanian?  Alabaster?  Ali Baba?  Algebra?  Albuquerque?  Abracadabra?  I finally give up, knowing it’ll come to me later.

And five minutes later it pops into my head, totally unbidden.

Perhaps the difficulty arises from never having looked at the word closely before now.  Obviously, it must have been derived from alba, white, and core, center.  (And don’t try to tell me, Mr. Webster, that it comes from the Arabic for “the precocious camel,” which is al-bakura.  That would only put me back on the abracadabra track.) 



It’s National Tell an Old Joke Day!

Joe Cieply told one at the high school reunion last month.  You see, he and Roxye live in the Bluegrass country near Lexington, Kentucky.  That's horse country.  So Joe said, “I have a horse joke.”  He recited:

A horse walks into a bar.

The bartender asks, “Why the long face?”

Silence.  We had been expecting more.  I remarked, “Seems I’ve heard that before.”  It certainly qualifies as an old one.

I have a horse joke,” offered Nick Taylor, the Episcopal priest.

Let’s hear it.

A horse walks into a bar.

The bartender asks, “Can I get you a beer?”

The horse says “I think not” and vanishes.

Silence again.  Blank looks.  Head-scratching.

Nick had to remind us of the famous saying, “I think, therefore I am.”  You see, his horse had applied the negative corollary:  Non cogito, ergo non sum.  He was “thinking not.”  Therefore he was amming not.

Faint groans.



My favorite Janis Joplin song wasn’t released until after her 1970 death:  “Me and Bobby McGee,” written by Kris Kristofferson.  But I never completely understood the line “Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.”  Freedom means a lot more than that!

Only recently did retired sitcom writer Earl Pomerantz enlighten me on his blog.  In essence:

Having no authority, effective power or insider clout to affect anything, I am therefore free — to argue any position I want to, and fear no consequences whatsoever.

In the absence of meaningful repercussions, I can say whatever I want to and, unlike the “Dixie Chicks” whose lead singer once told an audience she was ashamed she was from Texas when the sitting president at the time was from Texas, my records will not be banned from country music radio stations for doing so.

Ah, the freedom of having nothing to lose!



Earlier this week, the following situation happened to me for the third time in the last 20 years.  (One remembers such scares.)  That’s me in the red car, merging onto the expressway. 

I match my speed with the 50mph blue car and see that there’s a space for me in front of him, so I switch on my left-turn signal and begin to merge.

But the green car is in a hurry.  He’s closing in on the 55mph orange car in front of him, and he perceives the unoccupied space in the slow lane as an opportunity to zip around the orange car by illegally passing him on the right.

The green car and I head for the same empty spot.  Not expecting an intruder from two lanes over, I don’t notice him until we almost sideswipe!

I swerve violently to the right to avoid a collision, then back to the left and back to the right to regain control, and finally drop in behind the green car just before running out of room on the entrance ramp.

In the future, how do I avoid these near misses?  I don’t know.  I'll just have to continue to be vigilant behind the wheel.



I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Donald Trump quickly shot to the top of the polls in the race for the Republican nomination for President.  For one thing, name recognition is a major factor.  Trump is a celebrity running against politicians (14 of them so far).  At this early stage, low-information voters may not know much about the others, but they have heard of The Donald.

Nevertheless, in a letter to the editor published today, Oren Spiegler of Upper St. Clair does register surprise.  “I find it stunning and sad that Donald Trump, the coarse, crude, arrogant, condescending loudmouth of the Republican Party, has soared to first or second place in polls.”

I’m not that stunned, because I think there’s a second reason.  A significant portion of Republican voters are themselves coarse, crude, arrogant, condescending loudmouths.  Let’s call them CCACLs.  They’ve found in Trump a champion who speaks their language.  He promises easy, simplistic answers.

Mr. Spiegler wonders “whether any candidate is willing to display sufficient courage and decency as to challenge and attempt to disassociate the party from Mr. Trump.”

Some have in fact registered disagreement with Trump’s rantings.  But I suspect his typical opponent doesn’t want to denounce him too strongly, because after Trump drops out of the race, the opponent will need some Trump CCACLs to switch their votes to him.  He doesn’t want those voters to have written him off as a coddler of immigrants, an unpatriotic Donald hater.



Scientists estimate there are 3,800 Americans who, like me, are named Thomas Thomas.  Or maybe it’s 700.  Depends on the methodology.

I think I’ll stay with my original guess of 2,000.

This month’s 100 Moons article lists 100 of us.



On Twitter, for some reason I’ve been following Scott Renshaw, the longtime arts and entertainment editor and film critic for Salt Lake City Weekly.

So the holiday weekend is behind us.  Is the bombardment over?  Has your cat found its way back home after fleeing the noisy celebrations?  Has the dog dared to crawl out from underneath the bed?  Has the all-clear sounded?

Here’s part of what Scott has been griping about lately.

*  *  *  *  JULY 2, EVENING

I wish I had the kind of relationship with my neighbors where I could tell them to knock it the hell off with the fireworks.

*  *  *  *  JULY 4, MORNING

I wonder if my neighbors would be as patient with me setting off fireworks at 8 in the morning as I was with them at 11 last night.

Watch Independence Day today and celebrate the American tradition of making bad choices thinly rationalized by patriotism.

*  *  *  *  JULY 4, AFTERNOON

Sitting out in the heat waiting for the 4th of July parade and fireworks because I love my family more than I love my own comfort.

Parade float throwing peanuts instead of candy:  You're like the Halloween house handing out raisins.  If raisins were a fatal allergen.

O hai!  Ominous clouds!  Gusty winds on the 4th of July, because for a little while there I was worried some moron with homemade bottle rockets wouldn't cause a wildfire.

Marvel must be feeling pretty cocky that Captain America T-shirts have now become acceptable “patriotic” clothing.

*  *  *  *  JULY 4, EVENING

“Boom Boom Pow” has replaced Neil Diamond's “America” in the fireworks show.  I want my country back.

Going to sleep is just a foolish wish at this point, because SPLOSIONS.

Yes, I know you want to be setting off fireworks at 11:30.  But see, your “want to” exists in a world of laws and other people.  Dickhead.

Here's the thing:  I generally think, “How will my behavior affect other people?”  And I foolishly expect it should be a universal principle.  And so I fume impotently on Twitter when I'd love to be sleeping.  Lucky you.

“When you think about it, the 4th of July would be the best time to shoot someone.” —my wife, insuring I will not sleep at all tonight.

[2-minute-long period of silence]  Me:  “Dare I even hope?”  Laura: “You shouldn't. You'll just be even more pissed off.”

You know it's love when someone cares enough to remind you that hope is a futile endeavor.

*  *  *  *  JULY 5, MORNING

Early enough on a Sunday morning after a holiday that I might as well rant into the emptiness.

I make what jokes I can about the “hey I'm launching fireworks at midnight” thing, but it's one of many symptoms of a societal sickness.  It's hardly a brand-new one — I refuse to get all “kids these days” about it — but it feels like it's getting worse all the time.  It's an overwhelming brand of narcissism:  What I want and what I feel are the only thing that exists.

When I see some a-hole weaving through traffic, there's no other conclusion to be drawn but “Nothing else matters but my needs.”

So much public debate seems to revolve around conflicts where people refuse to acknowledge that their position affects others negatively.

I'm rambling.  Sorry.  It just feels sometimes like the idea of a society is waved off as utopian by radical individualists.

No “right” is limitless.  We can disagree on which rights have which parameters, but at least consider that parameters should exist.  You do not have a 1st Amendment right to a religious practice that involves human sacrifice.  You do not have a 2nd Amendment right to a nuke.  Once we acknowledge those things, we can start having reasonable discussions about the responsibilities of living in a society.




Here’s some insight I’ve gathered from the Internet over the past week.

Inspired by a tweet from Mark Evanier . . .

A conservative claims:  “I insist on Freedom of Religion.”

A liberal responds:  “Good.  People of all the different religions should be free to follow their own consciences.”

The conservative actually means:  “I insist on the freedom from being required to live in a world that isn't run in strict accord with my religion.”

So this isn't about "religious freedom."  It's about being free to discriminate against those who have beliefs different from yours.  It is, in fact, the exact opposite of religious freedom:  It is imposition of your religious beliefs on others.

Rev. Shelly Strauss, New Alexandria, PA
Letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 17, 2015 

Inspired by tweets from Eric D. Snider . . .

A conservative claims:  “The truth is, it is in the Bible that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

A liberal responds:  “No, it isn’t!  Stop saying that!”

The conservative actually means:  “I know it’s in there.  Maybe I can’t find the chapter and verse; no scripture specifically, just ‘the Bible.’  Of course, I use ‘the Bible’ and ‘my pastor at church’ interchangeably.”

Inspired by an article from Amanda Marcotte . . .

A conservative claims:  “Same-sex marriage undermines traditional marriage.”

A liberal responds:  “Are you crazy?  How is a straight couple’s marriage threatened just because two other people also get married?”

The conservative actually means:  “Same-sex marriage may not weaken a traditional marriage that already exists, but it does provide another opening for willful people in the future to eschew holy matrimony.  You see, marriage used to be a duty.  When a man became an adult, he was expected to marry the girl arranged for him (or if he selected her himself, he had to obtain her father’s approval).  His wife was obliged to submit to him, to stay home and take care of the house, and above all to bear him many babies.  But the recent Supreme Court decision ‘redefines marriage as an institution of love instead of oppression.’  Freedom has broken out.  People feel free to make other arrangements as they see fit, even arrangements that don't include procreation.  Needless to say, conservatives oppose such freedom.”