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ArchiveAPRIL 2020



As I noted earlier this month, face masks are hard to find, so I made my own.  I used rubber bands and safety pins to suspend a folded handkerchief from my ears and eyeglasses.

I received at least one compliment for my ingenuity, but I longed for a real mask.  I felt I really ought to be wearing an actual professionally-made protective device.

Last Wednesday afternoon, two well-known Pittsburghers spread the word that the local company CommonWealth Press, which prints T-shirts and such, “is now making and selling a fantastic-looking ten-pack of face masks.”

Support local small business, yinz!” tweeted Virginia Montanez.  Great idea,” added Randy Baumann; “@cwpress does great stuff always.”

I ordered a pack the next morning.  CWP responded immediately, adding a nice thank-you note.  By that afternoon they were sold out, but my masks were already in the mail.  The package arrived yesterday.

The straps are long enough to tie behind my head, but I prefer to merely knot them behind my ears for easier donning and doffing.

Despite the dangling ties, this looks much better, don't you think?

Other masks have been modeled online by a couple of my colleagues from the world of TV sports graphics, Linda P and Mark Vidonic.

Mark somehow got his hands on an N95, but I'm not sure he's wearing it right.



The Spanish flu hit the San Francisco Bay Area in September 1918.  Face masks were required, and there was 80% compliance.

By November, cases were down,” writes Tim Mak of NPR, “and public health officials recommended re-opening the city.  Residents rushed to entertainment venues.”

Adapted from Mill Valley Public Library photo

But there was a second wave in December, and San Francisco's public health officer, Dr. William C. Hassler, urged people to once again wear masks.  Most refused.  Citizens were tired of the nuisance, and businesses were worried about the Christmas shopping season.

On December 18, a bomb was discovered, addressed to Hassler.  The next day, “officials voted down a mandatory mask order. ‘The dollar sign is exalted above the health sign,’ sighed the public health officer.  By far the worst day of flu/pneumonia deaths followed on December 30.”  Nevertheless, an Anti-Mask League event drew thousands.

In Marysville, Ohio, near my future hometown, schools and saloons were affected not only by the 1918 flu but by a polio outbreak in 1952.  Folks were Sheltering in Place for months. 



When Madonna's “Virgin Tour” came to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in May 1985, the Post-Gazette's Jeff Sewald took note of the opening act.  “The Beastie Boys, a ‘hip-hop’ band from the bowels of New York City, began the evening with 30 minutes of nasties.  With a DJ who ‘scratched’ his way into the heads of listeners and three other talentless urchins who pranced about making lewd gestures, the Beasties succeeded only in their quest to be obnoxious.”

The next spring and again in 1987, the Boys were featured on MTV's “Spring Break” coverage from Daytona Beach.  I was there both years, safely ensconced inside a TCS television production truck where I was insulated from the madness.

I remember the Boys trying to lip-sync to one of their records.  During the sung portions they were able to keep up, more or less, but in the rap portions everything fell apart.  The words we were hearing and the mouths we were seeing didn't match at all.  Chaos.

Why do I mention this?  I see that a new Spike Jonze documentary about the Beastie Boys is now streaming, if anyone is interested.


APRIL 22, 2010 flashback   THIRTY-TWO YEARS AGO

It was on this night in the year 1978 that Saturday Night Live aired its best episode ever, according to writer Tom Davis in his book Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss.  Steve Martin did “Dancing in the Dark” with Gilda Radner.  He portrayed “Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber” and one of the “wild and crazy guys.”  He dressed up as King Tut for a memorable production number.

To open the show, Paul Shaffer (impersonating Don Kirshner) introduced a new act, the Blues Brothers.  When John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd walked onstage in black suits, I remember thinking, “this is rather creative.”  Apparently their hats and dark glasses were in homage to John Lee Hooker, though I didn’t know that then.

We next saw the Brothers on SNL seven months later, introduced by Garrett Morris.  Aykroyd unlocked a briefcase to retrieve his priceless harmonica, and then they started to dance and sing.  “They’ve written a good song, too,” I thought.  “Pretty catchy.”  Apparently I had never before heard Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man.”

That’s surprising, because I had been a DJ at my college radio station ten years before, and our popular music playlist did include soul music.  Somehow this 1967 hit never got airtime on our station, or if it did, it never registered with me.

In 1981 I was taken with a different new song, Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning.”  Only recently have I discovered that it was a remake of another record that I should have known from my college days.

The original was written by Chip Taylor, brother of actor Jon Voight.  Recorded in 1968 by Merrilee Rush (right), it was quite similar to the later remake, except that its orchestration was a little less lush; a lone trombone played the introductory line.

Merrilee’s version rose to #7 on the charts.  That happened during the summer between my junior and senior years, which might explain how I missed it.

I’ve begun tuning my cable TV to the “Solid Gold Oldies” channel of the Music Choice service in an effort to fill such gaps in my knowledge of the music of my youth.



APRIL 21, 2020    MARION'S #1

Fifteen miles from my old hometown of Richwood is the city of Marion, Ohio.  I ran a cable TV studio there from 1970 to 1974.

On the outskirts of the city, the Marion Correctional Institution houses over 2,600 minimum- and medium-security inmates.  Nearly 2,000 of them have tested positive for COVID-19.  That makes MCI the largest-known source of coronavirus infections in the United States!

The first case was reported March 29.  Three weeks later, 74% of the prisoners have tested positive (including 38 who've been hospitalized) as well as 154 staff members (one of whom has died).  The National Guard has been called in to assist.

Expanded testing is part of the reason, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.  “Because we are testing everyone — including those who are not showing symptoms — we are getting positive test results on individuals who otherwise would have never been tested because they were asymptomatic.”

Once COVID-19 gets inside the gate,” says Gov. Mike DeWine, “it spreads, and it spreads very significantly.”  Christopher Mabe of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association notes, “It's virtually impossible to social-distance in a prison.”  Of course, the same goes for other crowded, confined spaces, such as cruise ships and nursing homes.


APRIL 20, 2020    SPECIAL WRAP 1

Bored with dining at home, I “eat out” two or three times a week, donning my face mask and driving a mile to a take-out or drive-through.

Saturday I got a Reuben sandwich at Arby's.  Though not nearly as huge as one I had decades ago at a Manhattan deli, it was very good.  It came in a brown paper wrapper labeled REUBEN.

Bored with dining in my car, I began reverse-engineering the wrapper, which measured 15½" square when unfolded.  The outside was printed with the names of eight different specialty sandwiches in four different colors with and without underlining.  The underlined labels were near the four edges of the wrapper, and the other four were in the corners.  The wrapper had been folded so REUBEN was the only label visible.

Further investigation revealed a small pinwheel in the center of the wrapper circled by the same eight names, except they had been printed in reverse.  Because the paper was translucent, they could be read correctly when viewed from the “inner” side.

The sandwich artist must have started with a sheet of paper — inner side uppermost — rotated until the correct name was at the top of the pinwheel.  That's where she built the sandwich.  Then she used one of two folding procedures (depending on whether an edge or a corner was at the top) to wrap her creation and deliver it to the window, properly identified.

Wouldn't it have been much easier to wrap all my Christmas presents and birthday presents if sheets and sheets of paper had been pre-printed with my name?



The weather hasn't warmed enough for me to activate the air conditioner that hangs just outside my kitchen window, so just after sunrise each day, it's become sort of a lover's lane for mourning doves like the one shown here.

One bird lands atop the A/C unit.  He fluffs up his feathers, waggles his tail, and begins the lonesome call that my mother used to identify as a “rain crow.”  Before long his mate flies in to join him, whereupon the cooing stops and the billing begins.  Then they fly off to who knows where.



I love exploring Google Earth to learn more about places near and far.  It can answer all kinds of questions.

For example, social distancing is somewhat easier because the door of my parked car is less than 30 feet from the door of my apartment.

How do I know that distance?  I could have paced it off or fumbled with a tape measure, but rain was falling, so I simply called up the satellite view (right) and traced the path.

From the view below, I recently was surprised to discover that only three miles from my apartment (lower left), there's an airport (upper right)!


Zooming in reveals that it's called Heineman Airport, and it also reveals why I've never heard of it.  There are no runways.

It's actually a former seaplane base, dating back many decades.

A mile away, there's an overgrown spot on the riverbank called Kikkatuck Ii; at one time it may have been another place to dock a floatplane.  And eight miles further up the Allegheny you'll find Kikkatuck Airport.

According to a website, you can charter a jet to take you to Kikkatuck Ii, though I rather doubt it.  “The largest runway at PS88 is 0 feet long.”

Moving further afield, I notice that Google puts labels on other historic sites that are no longer actually active aerodromes.

These two appear to have once been private grass landing strips that are now overgrown.

However, I find some locations unlikely.


Within a dense forest?  Next to a school in Painesville?  Perhaps in recent decades the forest and the residential area have overtaken the airstrips.

In the early 1960s another Casement Airport, PVZ, was established two miles to the northeast from this one.  It has its own Google symbol.



APRIL 15, 2010 flashback   A HALO FOR BABY

For most of my life I’ve used the thick emerald-green shampoo in the unbreakable plastic container, Prell.  Like me, this product was introduced to the world in 1947.

But newborn children are apparently slow to learn that they must keep their eyes closed while their heads are being washed.

That would explain the registered trademark for Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, a gentler formulation which has long proclaimed “No More Tears.”

As an alternative, when I was growing up in the 1950s my mother bought a tear-prevention gadget.  I've tried to re-create it in this drawing.

Imagine a hoop of stiff wire, maybe 15 inches in diameter.  Around the inside of the circle, attach a strip of waterproof material, similar to a vinyl shower curtain.  To the inner side of this strip, attach a ring of elastic.  Slip this ring over the top of the child's head, like a sweatband.  Gravity will cause the outer wire hoop to sag down below nose level.  Then shampoo the child's hair.  The soapy water will be deflected by the elastic band and will run down the vinyl curtain, well away from the child's face.

I soon learned to shut my eyes.


APRIL 12, 2020    WIND HER UP!

So what was my friend Jennifer doing 50 years ago?  Sunbathing.  Also writing graduate-level papers about American public education, and working at a radio station during the day, and volunteering for a U.S. Senatorial campaign during the evening.

What was I doing?  Giving her a car for her
21st birthday.

I explain in the third chapter of my collection
of excerpts from our correspondence, called
Jenny & Me: Moving On in 1970



Isolating ourselves indoors to thwart a lethal illness has a long history.

I shall bring one last plague upon Pharaoh and Egypt,” God warned in Exodus 11.  In the next chapter, Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and issued a stay-at-home order.

“Go at once, procure lambs for your families, and prepare the Passover.  Then ... nobody may go out through the door of his house until morning.

“The Lord will go throughout Egypt and strike it, but ... he will pass over that door and not let the destroyer enter to strike you.”

By dawn, death had visited all the non-Israelite houses.

The tradition of the Passover meal is still being observed.  This is a detail from a painting attributed to the Italian artist Cimabue (1240-1302).  I imagine the disciple on the right exclaiming, “Hey, Johnny, stop leaning on the Master!  We're supposed to be six feet apart.  And if you want to dip your bread in the oil, don't just reach over; ask for the dish to be passed.  I realize this is our final dinner together, but let's mind our table manners!”

The Last Supper has been depicted by many artists.  The most famous:  Leonardo di Vinci, who crowded everybody together on one side of the table like the head table at a banquet (below).

But Cimabue's version was painted two centuries before Leonardo.  He employed a dramatic angle to show us the Apostles of the Round Table, all twelve of them with saintly gold-leaf halos.  Even St. Judas.



I've taken nearly two dozen stories from the Bible and rewritten each of them in the first person, from the point of view of a character who realizes that the remarkable events are mostly magic tricks or self-deceptions — not supernatural acts of God.  For example, I imagined that a psychedelic drug might have been used to stage the “miracle” of the Transfiguration.

Now I have another such tale, except this one doesn't debunk any supposed burning bushes.  It's simply about Cleaning House.


APRIL 6, 2010 flashback   DEMAND YO'URE FEEDOM!

At this site I’ve observed a large number of erudite protest signs.  The placards are being carried by white middle-class conservatives who “cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy to people who aren't like them.”  These citizens bitterly long for the ouster of the liberal, multicultural leaders whom the rest of America has elected.  They dream of taking the country back for people like themselves.

I’ve learned much from reading their very creative signs.  At the risk of crashing my spell-check program, I’m going to write this commentary in Teabonics.

That’s the native tongue of those who insist that English must be are-country’s offical lanaguage.  Above all, we must preserve the sactity of our Constution!  Our forefathes wrote that document in English, did’nt they?  But now alliens are crossing the boarder speaking some strange foreign gibberish.  And Barock Hussien Obama, who won’t even show us his own birth certifiet, wants to give them amesty or amensty or amnety.  Enoungh is enoungh!

Every Tea Party member, without excetion, is a hard-wroking American like Joe the Plummer.  Joe believes tax’s are rediculously high.  To him, any goverment stimulas program is just waisting currancy, although he once baught a car under “Cash for Clunkkers.”

When Joe losses his job, or when you loose your job, you don’t want to become a borror by going into debt and taking out a mortage.  Yet the lobbyests and polititions are deviding us.  They have saddled us with an extremey hugh national debt.  Meanwhile, what is our Commander en Theif concerned about?  Only the redistribtion of our wealth.  We must impeah this lier!  We must repeel his sociazed health care!

And speaking of socilism, don’t forget our school system.  Those public school teachers lack competnce.  If you send you’r daugter, they’ll teach her thinkgs that aren’t even in the Bible!  Your are much better off useing home-schooling.  Then your child will be as well-infromed as you are.

Wake up, Americans!  Were not slaves.  We shouldn’t be living under tyrany, like Nazi Gemany.  True Americans must be rougues and mavricks, proclaiming resisance and descent.  If your not outraged your not paying attention.   Become a extremest for feedom!



I don't have any coronavirus symptoms, but our leaders now recommend that when going out to buy groceries, everyone should wear a face mask — even a homemade one.  Therefore I've home-made one.

To my backup pair of glasses, I've added a mask consisting of a simple folded handkerchief.  The top corner is supported by a safety pin dangling from the bridge of the glasses.  Two other safety pins on the left and right have giant rubber bands running through them to loop over my ears.  (I'd saved the bands from earlier produce purchases, which is why they're marked Romaine.)

The lenses cover my eyes, and the mask covers my nose and mouth.  It's not a tight seal, but it's better than nothing and should capture whatever droplets I expel.  That's not to protect me, of course.  The purpose is not to keep your germs (if any) away from me, but to keep me from giving my germs (if any) to you.  You're welcome.


APRIL 4, 2020    A 1970 CONVERSATION

I've posted several audio segments that I recorded on this very day 50 years ago.  My guest was the late Terry Rockhold.

Terry, on the right, had been a high school classmate of mine.  But now it was several years later.  In this twenty-minute “podcast” of sorts, we discussed:

• Northern California tourist spots,
• retail stores,
• men's wear, and
• keeping order in a seventh-grade classroom.

I've called it simply Talking with Terry.



“Is God Judging America Today?” asks Ralph Drollinger.  The former  UCLA basketball player (a 7'2" center from the John Wooden era) wondered recently why God is punishing us with a lethal virus.  “A biblically astute evaluation of the situation strongly suggests that America and other countries of the world are reaping what China has sown due to their leaders' recklessness and lack of candor and transparency.”

When he mentions “their leaders' recklessness” and lies and lack of foresight, I think he's referring to China's leaders, not America's.

In fact, Drollinger himself is the leader of the Bible Study Group at the White House, which meets with Trump Cabinet members every Wednesday.

He has railed against environmentalists and “depraved” LGBTQ citizens, arguing that they have infiltrated “high positions in our government, our educational system, our media and our entertainment industry” and “are largely responsible for God's consequential wrath on our nation.” 

Everything happens for a reason, Christians insist, because God is in complete control.  As an evangelical, Drollinger is sure of every reason.  After all, he has a Master of Divinity degree from The Master's Seminary — though it's now under probation by its accrediting institution — and there he was taught that the reason for every disaster is our sinful behavior.

I've imagined that even in prehistoric times, people assumed there was a cause for everything.  Random chance couldn't possibly be involved.  See this month's 100 Moons article.