Burt's Eye View
Read Burton W. Cole's award-winning weekly humor column, Burt's Eye View, which appears in the Tribune Chronicle in Warren, Ohio, The Star Beacon in Ashtabula, Ohio, and The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio.
Here are excerpts from recent hits, with links to the full columns. Or find Burt's Eye View here:
Lessons learned in the driver’s seat of an old Allis-Chalmers
Everything I needed to know in life, I learned driving an orange Allis-Chalmers tractor.
At the time, it felt like some of the most boring, sweat-soaked days of my teenaged life. Dad refused to trade in the old Allis for a modern farm tractor with an air-conditioned cab and built-in stereo sound system.
The old cheapskate claimed that an honest day’s work in the sun with nothing but my own thoughts jouncing around my brain built character.
Catering to kids’ whims and wishes as a parenting technique hadn’t been invented yet. When I self-expressed about the AC and FM, Dad barked, “Wear a hat and stop sassing me or things will get a whole lot hotter.”
It was never specified exactly what things, nor was I that curious to find out. I pulled on my red Farmall cap to shade my eyes, beat it to the barn and fired up the Allis.
… I never understood why Dad insisted that I putz along when the tractor was built to fly at speeds upward of 30 mph in road gear. Old people are so slow.
One afternoon, Dad told me to run the manure spreader. This was a wagon loaded up with cow droppings from the barn. A track clanking across the bed of the spreader pulled the load to the back, where a series of rotating iron teeth and blades flung the gunky organic fertilizer in wide swaths across the field.
The track and blades ran off the tractor’s power take off, which meant the more you punched the gas, the faster the blades whirled. I wasn’t in the mood to be pokey that day. And since there were no dull adults around, I gunned it. The tractor shot forward. The blades whooshed. Yes sir, I’d have this job done in no …
Whap! Splat! Splot! The gooshy contents of the spreader pelted my back, neck and head.
The tractor taught me that grown-ups are slowpokes for a reason — they don’t care to be covered in cow manure. I also learned a bit more about math and science and complicated formulae involving rotation speed and mass flow.
I also learned another reason why to wear a hat. And one about how many showers it takes to removed the stench of cow droppings.
Hop on the tractor for the full-length column from April 4, 2021, here: https://www.tribtoday.com/life/burtseyeview/2021/04/lessons-learned-in-the-drivers-seat-of-an-old-allis-chalmers/
Life smoother in the bumpy days of dirt roads
Dirt roads were our most prolific crop out in the country where I grew up.
My family lived across the road from one. My siblings and I and the neighbor kids churned up clouds of “smoke” on our bicycles as we practically jarred out our brains with hours of rough riding on the crater-pocked thrill that was a dirt road.
Life was slower in the era of dirt roads. It had to be. Otherwise motorists would lose wheels and gas tanks and such. Those were necessary and valuable, unlike our brains, which we hardly used anyway. It didn’t take brains to wipe out and skid into the ditch when popping a wheelie on a dirt road.
When you lived on a dirt road, your whole property was covered by a fine sheen of good clean dirt. It was like living inside a giant chalkboard, only instead of chalk, you drew funny faces on the house siding with your finger.
Every once in a while, the township or county would spread what looked like tar and used motor oil on the dirt roads as a form of dust control.
If you thought moms threw fits at kids tracking dirt into the house, they really blew up at oily tar sneaker prints tracked all over the living room carpet.
… Our bus driver, Smokey, had the reputation of being a fast driver. We kids loved her as she bounced and jounced us home without unnecessary delay. We didn’t have to go to the dentist. All our baby teeth rattled out to and from school.
Some busybody claimed she was endangering our lives. So one day the superintendent of schools showed up at our elementary building in his expensive fancy car to follow Smokey on her route. He essentially became a traffic cop in suit and tie with a luxury car.
Our little miniature parade of big yellow school bus No. 17 and a shiny white Cadillac poked along the asphalt of the “improved road” in front of the school until we finally got to the dirt roads. Even at pokey speeds, dirt roads are bumpy and, well, dirty. The fancy schmancy car gasped and whimpered back toward smoother, paved sailing. Smokey punched the gas pedal, kicking up clouds of dust and gravel as we tore down the dirt road determined to make up for lost time. It was awesome!
You don’t need to bounce off to an amusement park for roller coaster rides when you live around dirt roads.
Here’s to dirt in your eye.
Drive the full-length dirt trail from March 7, 2021, here: https://www.tribtoday.com/life/burtseyeview/2021/03/life-smoother-in-the-bumpy-days-of-dirt-roads/
Frogs inspire hoppy thoughts
We tiptoed to the ditch, then counted the number of frogs leaping from the grassy bank into the water. We always stopped to study the frog ditch on our summer walks.
“That was the life,” I sighed. “Sunning myself in the grass, snapping flies out of mid-air, and snoozing underwater.”
My wife, Terry, felt my forehead. “You were a frog?”
“Sure, don’t you remember? You kissed me and turned me into a handsome prince.”
She eyed me. “My lips must have slipped.”
“We can learn a lot from frogs,” I said. “They’ve been ribbiting erudition and peeping wisdom since I was but a tadpole.”
“You were educated by amphibians?” She nodded. “That explains a lot.”
“I’ll never forget what the great frog philosopher once told us: ‘I think the very best part of creativity is collaborating with friends and colleagues. Admittedly, mine happen to be bears, pigs, rats, chickens and penguins, but you go with whatever works for you.'”
“The great frog philosopher said that?”
“Yep. Kermit the Frog. Possibly the most prominent pundit of all polliwogs.”
“Uh-huh.” She took my hand and headed us toward home. “Maybe you should lie down for a little while.”
Which had been my plan all along instead of croaking under the load of housework she had lined up for me after our walk.
Get-out-of-work scams aside, frogs do inspire thoughts of greatness. Don’t take my word for it. Here are some observations from other great philosophers:
“Frogs have it made — they get to eat what bugs them.” — Anonymous
“Theories pass. The frog remains.” — Jean Rostand
“I’d kiss a frog even if there was no promise of a Prince Charming popping out of it. I love frogs.” — Cameron Diaz
“These days when you kiss a prince, you often run the risk of turning him into a frog.” — Anthon St. Maarten
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” — Mark Twain
“You cannot eat every tadpole and frog in the pond, but you can eat the biggest and ugliest one, and that will be enough, at least for the time being.” — Brian Tracy, “Eat That Frog!”
“My parents used to call me ‘The Little Frog,’ because whenever they asked how I knew something, I’d say, ‘Read it,’ which sounds a bit like a frog croak.” — Talulah Riley
“Just because you haven’t found your talent yet doesn’t mean you don’t have one.” — Kermit the Frog
Always stop to study the frog ditch. — Me.
Read the rest of this hoppy, Feb. 21, 2021, column at this link: https://www.tribtoday.com/life/burtseyeview/2021/02/frogs-inspire-hoppy-thoughts/
Oh look, a horse and a truck — here comes an idea
“How do you come up with an idea for your column every week?” she asked as we walked to our cars.
I tried to blush. “You’re amazed by all my great ideas?”
She shook her head. “If you have great ideas, how come you don’t use those instead?”
“Yes, well…” I cleared my throat. “Anyway, the secret is that I think more weirdly than most people.”
“You’re telling me.”
“I’m trying to, but you keep interrupting.” I glared. “Anyway, when I saw horses in a pasture today, do you know what popped into my mind?”
“How much it hurt that time you fell off a pony?”
“That wasn’t my fault, and no.” I patted the hood of my car. “What I wondered was who was the horse that determined the power of an engine?”
“The specs claim that this vehicle commands 140 horsepower. But I don’t think there’s any way this little thing can tow as much as 140 horses.” I scratched my beard. “Also, what kind of harness system would you need to hitch 140 horses? Could the lead horse even hear the driver hollering, ‘Giddyup,’ from way back on the sled?”
“I don’t think that’s what horsepower means,” she said.
“They never say what kind of horse. See that 350-horsepower Super Duty pickup truck over there?” I pointed across the lot at the gleaming aluminum-alloy beast. “Is that 350 Budweiser Clydesdales, 350 Seabiscuits or 350 Pokeys?”
She blinked. “You mean Gumby’s horse? The one made of modeling clay?”
I nodded. “I saw one of those big pickups stuck in the mud once. It spun and spun, sinking deeper and deeper. A farmer brought over his team of draft horses. Those two Belgians yanked that stuck truck free, something all 350 of those horses under the hood couldn’t do.” I leaned against my car and studied the truck. “It must mean 350 rocking horses power.”
“I think hooves versus tires might have something to do with that.”
“Three hundred fifty stick ponies?”
“You’ve got this horsepower thing all wrong,” She scrolled through her cellphone. “Scottish engineer James Watt compared steam engines to the power of draft horses. One mechanical horsepower lifts 550 pounds one foot in one second.”
I waved off this interruption. “How come horsepower is always listed in neat, rounded off numbers, like 140 or 200 or 250? How come it’s never something more precise, like 143 horses and three sheep? Or 317 horses, two squirrels and a chipmunk with a limp? Answer me that.”
She edged away. “You’re not normal.”
Read the full Feb. 7 column at this link: https://www.tribtoday.com/life/burtseyeview/2021/02/oh-look-a-horse-and-a-truck-here-comes-an-idea/
Scouring the planet for a lick of common sense
I don’t suppose you’ve noticed, but the world’s gone crazy.
I suspect that’s because we’ve misplaced our common sense and can’t find it anywhere. We’ve checked under the rug, behind the dresser, in the couch cushions, even on the floor of the car, and there isn’t a scrap of common sense to be found. The results aren’t pretty.
There was a time when we held certain truths to be self-evident, such as if you stand in the rain, you’ll get wet. Or if you take hold of the wrong end of a chain saw, you’ll experience moderate to severe discomfort.
Not today. Things that used to be considered common sense take us by surprise.
Why wasn’t our umbrella equipped with a warning bell to tell us that is was raining? Why didn’t the weatherman call us personally to let us know that the rain today happened to be of the wet variety? How were we supposed to know that?
As a great philosopher once said, “Common sense is a flower that doesn’t grow in everyone’s garden.”
Instead, we just want to sue everybody for everything because nothing could possibly be our own fault.
That’s why car manuals that used to tell you how to do things like change the valves evolved into documents that said, “Don’t drink the battery fluid.” Car makers hate getting blamed for our stupidity, er, lack of common sense, the rarest of all commodities.
Most warning labels were added because someone actually tried doing the thing. Here are a few of the ridiculous warning labels you can find today, none of which, sadly, am I making up:
Next to a stairwell: “In case of fire, exit building BEFORE tweeting about it.”
On an iron-on patch package: “Do not iron while wearing shirt.”
On a reflective cardboard sun shade: “Do not drive with sun shield in place.”
On a bottle of dog medication: “May cause drowsiness. Use care when operating a car.” (But when Rover can drive again, remind him to remove the sun shield.)
Read the full Jan. 17, 2021, column at this link: https://www.tribtoday.com/life/burtseyeview/2021/01/scouring-the-planet-for-a-lick-of-common-sense/
The cat claims me as her household pet
We have a cat. Rather, my wife has a pet.
The cat has me.
Last night, I sat in my easy chair watching wildlife on Animal Planet when our all-white, barely-more-than-a-kitten named Coconut issued an order.
“Ah, listen to her cute little meow,” Terry said.
There was nothing cute or little about it. Coconut’s eyes blazed holes at the closed door. She turned and blazed away at me. And meowed again.
“Right.” I wriggled from chair and opened the door. “Sorry for making you wait.”
Coconut zipped away in a streak of white without the courtesy of a thank you.
On TV, a skinny lady not much more than 5 feet tall cooed. A 10-foot-tall, 13,000-pound elephant lifted its foot and presented it to the lady. The largest land mammal in the world cheerfully took direction from the tiny lady.
And I, the largest land mammal in our household, take direction — not cheerfully — from an 8-pound, whiskered queen.
Coconut cuddles with my wife. Coconut loves, adores and cherishes Terry.
The cat’s only use for me is to open doors and cans of cat food. After that — dismissed!
I’ve never had a pet. That would imply that I was in charge. I never am.
I had no problem with 800- and 1,000-pound cows, which as a skinny, half-grown kid, I showed at the county fair. Dad taught me early that once I showed the cow who was boss, I could lead her anywhere. I did. Easily. Cows ate out of the palm of my hand.
But a tiny little kitty cat … not so much.
Read the full column, originally published Dec. 27, 2020:
Clothes trauma can be traced back to Smelly Ralph’s hand-me-downs
“Would you like to shop for your own clothes?”
My wife asked this with a straight face. I waited for the punchline. None came.
“I’ve got stuff,” I said.
“No, I mean we could go shopping together for new shirts and pants for you,” Terry said.
She couldn’t be serious. Could she?
“I don’t wear half of what I have now.” I flapped my newspaper to indicate that I was too busy reading the comics to talk about silly stuff. She missed the hint.
“Exactly,” Terry said. “Picking out your own clothes means you’d own things that you would wear.”
“I already have clothes that I wear.” I rustled the newspaper pages. “I’ve worn some of them for 10, 15, 20 years. They’re comfy. Molded to my shape. Ventilated.”
“But what if you need a new pullover?”
“That’s what Christmases and birthdays are for.”
… She rolled her eyes. “What, were you traumatized by clothing as a kid?”
… “I grew up with scads of cousins. Every so often, an aunt would jam all the clothes her boys had outgrown into big ol’ bags and drop them off at our house.”
“Sweet,” Terry said.
“Torture,” I corrected. “I was forced to try them on. Every. Single. Thing. When they get too old for Barbie dolls, grownup girls play dress-up with their little boys. Yuck.”
“Didn’t you want to know if the clothes fit?”
“Not all at once.” I shivered. “One time, Grandma was over when the dump came. Mom and Grandma giggled like school girls. ‘These are from your rich cousins,’ Grandma cooed. ‘Finally, you’ll have decent clothes to wear.'”
“That sounds nice,” Terry said.
“You never met my cousin Smelly Ralph. Mom and Grandma shucked me into every single one of Smelly Ralph’s old T-shirts. All 37 of them. It was the only night I didn’t argue about taking a bath.”
Read the full column, originally published Nov. 1, 2020:
If you’re reading this, bring coyote repellent and Pop-Tarts
I’m going camping.
Actually, by the time you read this, I should have re-emerged from the deep and dark of the woods. If you don’t see me, please send a search party. Armed with chocolate and Pop-Tarts.
“Relax, Pop Pops,” my camping guide says. “I’ll teach you everything you need to know.”
My fate is in the hands of my 11-year-old grandson. I hope he isn’t still holding a grudge over last Christmas.
Like most errors in judgment, the camping trip seemed like a good idea at the time. Mixing with nature. Escaping technology. Grilling our food over an open flame.
Now that I leave in a couple of hours for the great outdoors, it occurs to me that:
• Nature means bears and mosquitoes. OK, so there aren’t too many bear sightings where we are going. But that sign that proclaims “Caution: Coyote Denning Area” makes me nervous.
• No technology means we’re hiking through Hansel and Gretel’s woods without a GPS. I’m left with a compass that points slightly northeast no matter which way I face. I would have thought for what I paid for that box of Choco Chunk Sugar Goodness cereal it came in that the dial would shiver once in a while.
• I don’t know how to start an open flame in the rain. Rule No. 1 of camping — it always rains.
“Relax, Pop Pops,” my camping guide says. “Mom has waterproof matches.”
My fate is also in the hands of my daughter. I hope she isn’t still holding a grudge over Christmas.
Read the full column, originally published Sept. 20, 2020:
This sewing class dropout just wants cake
I am a sewing class dropout.
I fought the sewing machine and the sewing machine won. Snapped thread, torqued pins and cloth snarled in balls of stitches lay in my wake. I eked out one kitchen boa and one cinch bag, both inflicted with some of the most meandering drunken seams ever known to domestic suturing.
In short, cross “tailor” off my list of possible second career choices.
When I was in junior high, schools automatically enrolled boys in shop class and girls in home economics. Boys built things and girls baked stuff.
Political correctness had not yet been invented. Science has since proved that “Y” chromosome doesn’t contain the plans for rebuilding manifolds and drive shafts.
I can’t remember the proper names of all the insidious devices filling the shop at the far end of the school building where they couldn’t hear you scream. There was the Poundy Thing That Blackens Fingernails, the Pointy Thing That Punches Holes in Your Hands, the Flat Bladed Thing That Filets Your Chest When You Go the Wrong Way, and the Whirring Toothy Thing That Slices Fingers Clean Off.
It was exciting.
Then there was Tom, who finagled his way into home ec. He was a farm kid who could teach the teacher all about machinery. So he took cooking and stitching classes instead.
We razzed Tom for being a wimpy, sissy traitor to guy stuff. Tom didn’t care. “For an hour each day, I’m the only guy surrounded by 30 gorgeous girls. And we all bake cakes.”
Tom was a genius.
Read the full column, originally published Aug. 30, 2020:
Memories were better before everything was on YouTube
“Remember that time you fell out of the tree in the cow pasture?” Cousin Ollie gasped in merriment — his, not mine. “You looked like a walrus scaling a cactus.”
“I believe you refer to the time I saved the life of that poor, stranded kitty that you ignored.”
Ollie hooted. “Cuz, your old-man memory always improves the details in your favor.”
I grew up in a world before cellphone videos. But there are days when video evidence of our childhood adventures would come in handy. Age has eroded the memories of certain cousins of mine.
“Yeah, I’d like to see that video myself,” Ollie chortled. “That was hilarious.”
No, it was fearless.
As I vividly recall, we skirted the far side of the pasture, keeping watch for the bull, when I heard a mournful caterwaul. In a calm and reasonable voice, I inquired, “Do you happen to know the origin of that unpleasant noise?”
“Wow! You hurtled even higher that time than the day the snake slithered across your bare foot.”
“I did not jump,” I said. “Now let me off your shoulders and tell me what screamed.”
“You did.” He dumped me onto the ground. “The yowl was the cat in the tree.”
I peered into the foliage. A trembling cat clung to a branch halfway up the hickory.
“She’s stuck,” I said. “We need to save her.”
“Nah.” Ollie shook his brain-challenged head. “She chases birds up that tree every day. Then she complains for a while about missing them before jumping down.”
The cat looked frightened. Ollie might be heartless, but not me. “I’m going to go get her.”
I shimmied up the tree, a brave feat in itself. Hickory bark is rough. I peeled off about three layers of skin by the time I reached the branch where the cat perched. Had there been video, I’m sure it would prove that my climb was executed with grace, skill and resilience.
“That,” I reminded Ollie as I recounted the true story, “was when I helped the cat from the tree.”
“You wish.” My bothersome cousin collapsed in another paroxysm of unexplained guffaws. “The cat swiped her claws across your nose for interrupting her concert. Then she climbed down your back. It was when she swatted you on the backside that you fell out of the tree the first time.”
“I believe a video would prove that after I rescued the cat, I hopped down and decided to take your pet bull for a walk.”
Ollie whooped. “When Exterminator bounded across the pasture, snorting and frothing because of your shrieking, you shot back up the tree so fast that I thought you’d squirt right out the top. When the ol’ bull bumped the hickory, you lost your grip and dropped right onto his back. You must have rocketed around the pasture three times before Exterminator bucked you over the fence into the pricker patch.”
Just before he passed out from laughing too hard, my cousin howled, “Oh, how I wish cellphones had been invented back then. We’d show that video at every family picnic and holiday meal. What a ruckus.”
I grew up in primitive days before every action you took ended up on YouTube or livestream. Good. I prefer to savor events the way I remember them.
This column was originally published Aug. 16, 2020:
Only two constants in life — birthdays and sales tax
Like all my other schemes to get rich, this one collapsed due to circumstances no one could have predicted. At least, I didn’t.
It certainly seemed better than the time I set up a roadside stand to sell cow pies fresh from the pasture. Who could have known that wasn’t how city gardeners wanted to buy fertilizer?
Nor did it have the drawbacks of the time I stuck a for-sale sign in the front yard.
“But Mom,” I said afterward. “I wasn’t trying to sell the whole house. Just MY room.”
This time, I had perfected the get-rich plan. And the icing on the cake was the birthday cake itself.
The idea began with my third birthday. I opened a card and three $1 bills fluttered to the floor. I snatched them up in fat little fists — and stuffed the bills in my mouth.
“No, no, Burton,” Mom said. “These aren’t candy. You save them.”
She slid the slobbery singles into a bank shaped like a bear, where she could borrow them later when she needed eggs.
On my fourth birthday, there were four dollar bills. I crammed them into the bear bank all by myself.
By the time I was 5, I understood that if you handed these greenish pieces of paper to store clerks, they smiled and gave you Hershey bars and Matchbox cars. I couldn’t fathom why they preferred colored paper to toys and candy, but I dug out my green Crayolas and set out to make us all happy.
“No, Burton,” Dad said. “You can’t draw your own money.”
Another strategy unstrung.
On my sixth birthday, I tore open the card already knowing exactly what to do with the six $1 bills — invest in comic books.
Back then, a Donald Duck or a Beetle Bailey or a Batman cost 10 cents. My new angle was simple: Buy a big stack of 60 comic books (minus sales tax) with my $6 and let other kids read them for a nickel. I have tons of cousins. I was going to be RICH! … My folks decreed that the cousins could borrow them rent-free.
… Every year brought another birthday, more birthday cake and an even-thicker birthday card. So by the time I turned 60, I could load up SIX HUNDRED comic books (minus sales tax). And since I’d be a grownup, my parents couldn’t stop me. It was perfect.
Or so I thought. Only one part of the program held up — I turned 60. ... The whole dollar-a-year thing dried up after my 12th birthday. Comic books — excuse me, GRAPHIC NOVELS — cost $4 to $5 an issue today. … By the time I’m 100, I won’t even be able to rent a single issue from any of my cousins.
Read the full column, originally published June 7, 2020:
My hat is lost forever! Wait, Terry moved it again
“I need a new knit hat for winter,” I told Terry. “Mine disappeared.”
“Isn’t it on the hat holder by the door?” she said.
“That’s where I put it. But it’s not there.”
Terry walked to the back door. She plucked my knit cap from the far left side of the tray. She dropped it into my hands. “Right where it’s always been.”
“No, it wasn’t.” I shook my head. “You’ve been moving my things again.”
“It was on the hat tray.”
“Way over there.” I patted a spot in the middle of the holder. “I left it right here.”
“What, you couldn’t see it 12 inches to the left?”
I crossed my arms. “It wasn’t where I left it.”
“Men!” She spat “men” in the way women say it when they wish to express volumes of frustration in a single word.
Yes, I am a man. More than that, I am a man who loses things. Or I did until I applied male logic to solve the problem: Now I place everything in a designated spot so that I always know where it’s at.
Then Terry will move them to places “that make sense.” Which means I can never find my stuff because it’s not exactly where it’s supposed to be.
Read the full column, originally published Jan. 5, 2020:
Cow therapy costs a lot of moola
People pay up to $300 to calm their nerves by cuddling with a cow just like that one over —
Sorry. I’ve been a bit jittery around bovines since one jumped on me.
It was at our farm, and teenage me bent over the watering trough to clean out floating bits of hay — cows are messy critters — when this Jersey heifer tried to drown me.
Now people squirt out buckets full of milk money to chill out with cows, at least one of which I suspected of murderous intent. For $300, you can spend 90 minutes cuddling, brushing and playing with cows. There’s also a 60-minute lesser option for a mere $75.
Proponents say that humans find a cow’s slightly higher body temperature and its slower heart rate relaxing.
Sure, if she’s not standing on your foot. That’s a half-ton of solid indifference who won’t move until the fancy strikes her.
Basically, a cow is like a supersized cat. Sometimes she’ll follow you wherever you go with a frisky jump (turning around to see a herd of 1,000-pound beasts with horns bounding after you teaches a nervous kid how to hurdle a barbed-wire fence).
While it might seem like cows are great listeners, mostly they’re soaking up the sun and ignoring everything you say. If cows could purr, the satisfied rumble probably would rock the barn.
I’m glad this relaxation technique didn’t surface when I was a kid. It would have made me a nervous wreck.
We kids trudged out to the barn every morning and evening to tend to the cattle. If we procrastinated — a common tactic of young boys — Dad would insist we do our chores because, “I feed you, I clothe you and I put a roof over your head.” If cow cuddling had been a thing, Dad would add, “And you each owe me another $300!”
At something like $219,000 a year, I’d never be out of debt.
Read the full column, published Sept. 8, 2019:
Silly Old Burt learns life lessons from old toys
Alfred, Lord Tennyson once opined, “In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
Burton, Columnist Cole’s Corollary asserts, “At Christmastime, an old man’s fancy heavily turns to thoughts of lost toys.”
It’s true. Every year, I sort through the piles of high-tech loot my grandson hauls in and I sigh — because visions of the gloriously simple wonders of my youth dance in my head (technology hadn’t been invented yet).
The “Get Smart” secret decoder, the Creepy Crawlers Thingmaker, the Spirograph, the Secret Squirrel push-up puppet, the G.I. Joe frogman… Where did they all go?
I haven’t met a guy yet who hasn’t lamented the millions of dollars’ worth of baseball cards his mom threw out in a fit of cleaning. Whenever we see a story on the news about a rare card being discovered, every one of us is positive we had several copies of those very same cards scattered on our bedroom floors. I personally seem to recall that I had six Honus Wagner cards, three Babe Ruth rookie cards and an autographed Bob Uecker (I signed it myself).
We lost our youthful toys and our fortunes.
Researchers say we all had that one thing that became our security blanket. Sometimes, it was an actual blanket.
… Scientists claim that we fixate on toys that stoke our imaginations and help our brains develop into adulthood.
Many of us still have toys of significance stashed away for those distressing adult moments when we need our blankies.
Read the full column, originally printed Dec. 23, 2018:
Ocean critter, space alien or sea spider — octopus debate rages
Octopuses — or possibly octopi — came from outer space.
That’s the word from 33 scientists who postulated their octopus ponderings in the March issue of “Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology.”
My wife, Terry, has another theory — octopuses are spiders that fell into the sea and adapted.
The scientific community as a whole remains rather skeptical about the space alien theory. Terry, too.
“I’m telling you, they’re spiders,” Terry said.
The thing about octopi — or possibly octopuses, or even octopodes — is there’s so much we don’t know about them. We don’t even know what the real plural of “octopus” is.
“‘Too many sea spiders’, that’s the plural,” Terry said.
The maverick space alien camp points out that unlike other cephalopods, octopuses possess big, sophisticated brains. They navigate any maze, and solve puzzles quickly, from opening screw-top jars to disassembling fancy research equipment. The personality-plus ‘puses possess camera-like eyes and flexible bodies. They change colors instantly for camouflage or to show emotion, and they can jet-spray water or squirt poison.
“Remember that daddy longlegs that crawled up our bedroom wall?” Terry said. “He focused his eyes on me and was calculating in his sophisticated brain the trajectory for his poison death ray blast. Until I smashed him! Eight legs and sneaky — land or sea, they’re spiders.”
… I remember another treatise by the great philosopher Ringo Starr: “I’d like to be under the sea / In an octopus’s garden in the shade / He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been … We would sing and dance around / Because we know we can’t be found.”
That’s probably because those sneaky octopi-octopuses-octopodes would load their garden visitors onto a spaceship and rocket them to the mysterious cephalopod planet.
“Squash them,” my wife said. “They’re creepy sea spiders.”
Read the full column, originally published July 29, 2018: