Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Negotiating a Ransom

I had been reading about some of the more famous kidnapping cases in which huge ransoms were paid.  Then I got to wondering how my wife Bev would handle such a situation if some bad guys grabbed me.

“First of all,” she said, “no one would kidnap you because you are not famous, and even more importantly, you’re not rich.  A crook would have to be pretty stupid to kidnap a retired school teacher.  You don’t see too many of your kind driving Cadillacs, living in mansions, and owning yachts.”

”But the economy hasn’t been so hot lately,” I retorted.  “Maybe there aren’t enough millionaires to go around.”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” my better half replied.  “No kidnappers are that desperate.”

“Okay, just for the sake of conversation let’s say that I’m kidnapped and you receive a note demanding $500,000 for my release.”

“That would be like trying to get blood out of a turnip.”

“So what would you do?” I asked.

“Naturally, I’d negotiate.  Since we don’t have any money maybe the bad guys would settle for a batch of my famous mint brownies.”

“That’s all I mean to you?  A batch of brownies?”

“Well, if they were polite I’d throw in a few homemade cookies. You know, the ones with the cherry fillings.”

“Would you be willing to give up our big-screen TV?”

“Well, husbands are a dime a dozen, but a good TV is expensive, and like I said, retired teachers aren’t exactly rolling in the dough.”

“Couldn’t you take a second mortgage on the house?”

“My mother told me never to remortgage the house unless it was an emergency.”

“My kidnapping wouldn’t be an emergency?”

“My mother wouldn’t think so.  As a matter of fact, she might throw in some cash if the bad guys would keep you.  Don’t worry, honey;  I would get you rescued safely and soundly.”


“ Simple.  I would use delaying tactics.”

“What do you mean?”

“After having you for one full day they would get pretty tired of hearing your old jokes.”

“I call them classics.”

“On the second day of your captivity you’d probably bore them to tears with those goofy political arguments.”

“I can’t help it because I’m an informed citizen.”

“I figure that by the third day they’d be plugging their ears with toilet tissue as you rambled on about all those trivial sports facts.”

“Come on; what crooks wouldn’t want to know Babe Ruth’s lifetime batting average?  So what’s your point?”

“After holding you for three days the bad guys would start negotiating with me.  I figure that I could stiff them for $500,000 just to take you off their hands.”

“You’d do that?”

“Why not?  We have bills to pay.  You were a school teacher, you know.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Husbands can Prepare Elaborate Meals (We just don't want to)

My wife Bev and I share the workload around the house.  There is one area, however, that she  monopolizes.  From her point of view, the kitchen is her personal property.  Bev insists on doing the cooking (but she graciously allows me to clean up the mess afterwards).  Sadly, she does not appreciate my cooking skills, or perhaps she is a little jealous.  Therefore, the only time I get to show my masterful and creative culinary abilities is whenever she is out of town.
A few weeks ago Bev took a trip with our son, leaving me behind to feed our cats and look after her aged father.  Although I missed her, I was excited to get the opportunity to be a master chef.  Unlike our wives, we men know how to prepare delicious meals without spending a bunch of time slaving away in the kitchen.

I decided to start out with something that is complicated to make but is well worth the effort.  Digging into the back of the refrigerator, I found the remaining pieces of pizza left over from watching “Monday Night Football.” Served cold, they make a wonderful breakfast treat.  To top things off, I washed the pizza down with an ice- cold Coke.  Now that’s living!

For lunch I prepared a delicious peanut butter sandwich.  Just take two slices of bread, smear them with butter, and then cover the butter with lots and lots of peanut butter.  The sandwich was so delicious that I treated myself to  a second one.

For supper I rustled up  a half-used bag of potato chips, some lunch meat, a few slices of bread, and an apple.  For dessert I consumed a tasty chocolate bar. Now that’s good eating!

The next morning, upon discovering that the two remaining boxes of cereal-one consisting of oats and the other of corn flakes- were almost empty, I simply poured the contents of both into a bowl and added milk.  Not bad!  A master chef must be creative!

Lunch began with a delicious bag of cheese curls.  Then I devoured about five girl scout cookies.  This was washed down by some cider that had been sitting in the refrigerator for some time.  It had a kick to it.

All day I had been thinking about the special treat I had planned for supper.  After opening the can, I sliced the Spam into several pieces and piled some of the slices between two pieces of bread.  After adding a piece of cheese and lots of ketchup my masterpiece was complete.  After eating this sandwich I opened a can of tomato soup, poured it into a pan, and heated it for a few minutes.  Then I crushed about fifteen crackers into the soup, creating a mushy substance that was quite good.  And, of course, all of this was washed down with a cold brew.

The next morning, since there was no cereal or pizza left, I had to be creative, so while exploring the freezer in the basement, I discovered a box full of ice cream bars.  Unfortunately, they were small, so I ate about six of them before I was satisfied. 

A good chef must think outside the box.  With that in mind, for lunch  I made a peanut butter sandwich and then added copious amounts of grape jelly!  There was a banana lying on the shelf that had seen better days, but it was still edible.  Well, I ate it, anyway.

For supper I decided to dine out, so heading to my favorite eatery, I ordered two cream-filled doughnuts and something called a cinnamon twist.  These were washed down by three cups of hot coffee.

Getting out of bed the next morning, I realized that this would be my last time to be the head chef for awhile,  for Bev was due home sometime before lunch.  Looking into the refrigerator, I discovered half of a pumpkin pie.  I hate to brag, but it made a wonderful and memorable breakfast.

When Bev arrived home she was surprised not to find dishes stacked all over the kitchen.  She was also surprised to discover that I could more than hold my own in the culinary department.  “It looks like you’ve even gained a little weight while I was gone, “ she observed.  Good cooking will do that to you.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Tar and Feather Justice"

*This article appeared in newspapers across the country in July of 1902.  Evidently, back in those days folks administered their own brand of justice.

Sterling, Illinois- “An incident that is probably without a parallel in the history of the world transpired near here today, delaying a funeral and causing the biggest sensation ever known in this state.

“Two days ago Mrs. John Seibert of Morris, after being nursed through a long illness by her husband, John Seibert, and her sister, Mrs. Theodore Wolf, died and all preparations were made for the funeral at 1 o’clock this afternoon.

“Shortly before the funeral cortege was to leave the house and while those who had gathered to accompany the remains to the church and the cemetery were taking their last look at Mrs. Siebert’s remains , one of the mourners happened to enter the private apartment of Mr. Siebert and found him hugging and kissing Mrs. Wolf, the dead woman’s sister.

“Within an hour the cortege started to the church and it was while on the way to the sanctuary that the discoverer ventured to tell of his discovery.  There was an outburst of indignation from the occupants of the vehicle.  The procession was halted and other mourners were told. 

“The result was that the whole cortege was delayed while the guilty man and woman were taken into a neighboring corn field and a coat of tar and feathers administered to them.  They were then driven from the village and ordered never to return, after which the funeral procession wended its way to the church and the obsequies were conducted as quietly as the state of excitement into which everyone had been thrown, would admit. 

“The dead woman was highly respected and her husband and sister had never been suspected of sustaining other than proper relations.”

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Back to School at 65

Recently I read an article in which the author argued that folks can actually slow the aging process if they stay active.  That is why, despite arthritic joints, each day I take enough steps to cover five miles.  All this exercise has indeed kept my legs slim and muscular, but it has done little for my stomach, which over the years has gotten bigger and rounder.  Maybe I should change my walking route so that I will no longer be passing by a certain wonderful doughnut shop! 

There are some studies that argue for an inverse correlation between actively using your brain and getting some form of dementia.  It’s the old “use it or lose it” argument.  So taking these studies into consideration, I decided at the age of 65 to go back to school.

Ohio has a wonderful program in which senior citizens 60 years and older may take classes for free at state supported colleges as long as those classes are not full.  Having been a history teacher for thirty years, I began looking at the nearby branch college’s offerings.  One that caught my eye was an American history course that begins with Reconstruction and ends in the present time.

After applying I had to wait a few months, but the professor graciously allowed me to be part of the class.  Here’s the good news: I don’t have to take the tests or do the projects! 

My wife warned me to more or less keep my big mouth shut: “You do not want to take over his class,” she exclaimed.  “Just watch, listen, and enjoy.”  That’s great advice, but I must admit that so far there have been several times when I wanted to put in my two cents or lead the discussion into another direction, but my wife’s command has kept me in line.

During my teaching days I found that many 7th and 8th graders cared nothing about social studies in general and history in particular.  I had to “con” them into liking it by developing an American “living history” course.  We played sports as they were initially created.  We had musicians come to our school to play the music that was most popular during the era we were studying.  During the study of the 1950s we had a sock hop.  The master of ceremonies was none other than Elvis Presley (well, actually it was one of our teachers dressed in a wild jump suit). The students read old newspaper articles and picked period clothing from old catalogues.  We ate popular foods from each era; the students especially liked our Depression era soup kitchen.

So naturally, I was eager to discover if college kids, unlike my middle school crew, would take an interest in history.  One of the students is quite knowledgeable and is constantly involved in the discussions.  Another three or four occasionally put in their two cents’ worth.  The others do not speak much unless they are asked a question, but they answer intelligently. 

There must be some level of interest here, for I have not seen a single student play with his cell phone, doodle on his paper, or stare out the window, and unlike during certain church sermons, no one has yawned or fallen asleep.

For my part, I’m having a ball.  Of course, there’s a downside; I’m being reminded that not all things in our history are positive.  For example, the treatment of Native Americans, African Americans, Chinese immigrants and other minority groups is rather shameful. 

Yet, this class also reminds me that in many ways, at our best this nation can be a positive role model for mankind.  Even as an old person it is a good thing to remember our nation’s ideals and to keep reaching for them. 

My wife playfully suggested that next semester I should take a sewing class.  Somewhere down below will freeze over before that happens, but I might be interested in a woodworking or photography class.  Just so I keep using those little gray cells.  And I’ll try to stay away from that doughnut shop.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dad's Words of Wisdom

Dad did not have much formal education, but he graduated “from the school of hard knocks,” as he so often said.  Somewhat of an earthy philosopher, he had many sayings that I still vividly remember.

*  “That guy couldn’t poor whiskey out of a boot with instructions on the heel. “  Since women and children might be reading this I’ve cleaned it up a little.  Basically, he’s saying that some guy  isn’t very intelligent or competent.

* “If you could buy him for what he’s worth and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth, you’d make a fortune.”  This is a case of an individual vastly overestimating his abilities and skills.

* “His opinion and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee.”  The guy’s opinions are worthless.

* “ He isn’t worth the powder to blow himself up.”  He’s lazy and thus worthless as a worker.

* “They’d be further ahead by paying him to stay home.”  He is such a lazy, negative influence around the workplace that it makes sense to pay him to stay away.

* “She has a face that could stop a clock.”  The lady is not exactly a raving beauty.

* “She has a face only a mother could love.”  Ditto.

* “He’s not the brightest bulb in the pack.”  He isn’t very smart.

* “He waits for  others like a pig waits for others”  He’s selfish and has no manners.

* “All politicians are crooks, but thankfully, not all crooks are politicians.”  Self-explanatory.

* “Democrats care about the average man; Republicans care about their rich buddies.” Not quite true, but Dad was a die-hard Democrat.

* “He puts his pants on one leg at a time.”  Although rich, famous, and powerful,  he is just like each of us-a fallible human being.

* “You’re a little too big for your britches.”  You are a little too full of yourself.

* “He doesn’t have the good sense that God gave a goose.”  He doesn’t have any common sense.

* “Common sense is not so common.”  If it’s so common, then why do so many of us lack it?

* “In this house we will all work together, and then we will all play together.”  Somehow, I can’t recall the playing times.

* “He’s the south end of a north-bound horse.” In other words, he’s a horse’s rear end.

Friday, August 12, 2016

School Daze

The folks in charge at our middle school decided that all staff members should have elementary certification.  Today, with an emphasis on state testing, school officials want expertise in each subject area.  Back then, however, the idea was for each teacher to know a little about every subject (and not a lot about any?).

Therefore, three of us were given a certain amount of time to get recertified.  Several courses and several dollars later, I did indeed have a new certificate.  Unfortunately, none of my newly acquired knowledge had anything to do with what I was teaching. 

One of the first subjects  I took was  a statistics class .  The instructor, a cranky old man if there ever was one, informed the students that he was there to flunk as many of us as possible.  For some reason, I had assumed that he was there to help us learn the subject matter. Go figure.

When the professor finally gave us a break I headed for the exit.  At eighteen I would have put up with such nonsense; at thirty-something I no longer suffered fools so easily.   Instead, I took the same class at another university and passed with flying colors.  Sadly, I NEVER used my newly acquired  statistical knowledge in the classroom.

Art class was fun.  We made face masks, hanging baskets, and clay pots.  Of course, back in my classroom we never made face masks, hanging baskets, or clay pots, but supposedly wiser heads believed that I needed these skills (I still proudly display the basket in my house).

In children’s literature we made storybooks for the young ones.  Evidently the teacher didn’t particularly like my story; I thought it was quite funny. Somehow I passed the course, but unfortunately, this children’s literature class didn’t offer much when it came to teaching middle school children.

The state said I needed one course for teaching music.  The instructor at the local university, when informed that I could neither read music nor play a musical instrument, said that I would need to take two “remedial” courses before I could take the one class that the state said I needed.

Once again I took my talents to another university.  There the professor  agreed that there was no way I could pass the course without taking the two prerequisite classes.  After much haggling, however, he agreed to let me try. 

We would have four evaluations in the class.  The first three grades would come from teaching musical concepts to kindergartners, second graders, and fourth graders.  At first I was at a disadvantage; I simply didn’t understand anything about music.

Going to the library, however, I would pick a concept and then teach it to myself.  Once I understood the material,  the other students were at a disadvantage.  I knew how to prepare a lesson  and I knew  how to teach it.

After the three lessons were taught, I had the best grade in the class.  The final exam, however, was a written test that contained many musical concepts that were way beyond my comprehension.  The professor suggested that I skip the final; I’d still get a “C’’ and pass the course.  Neither the state nor my school cared about my grade so long as I passed.

However, I was too stubborn and perhaps too proud.  Going to the library, I checked out several books on the “nuts and bolts” of music.  That night I tried to learn what should have taken at least a year or so.  Evidently I learned something that night, for I received an A- in a class that the “experts” said I couldn’t pass.  Oh, by the way, did I tell you that I never used these newly acquired musical skills in my classroom?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

In the Country or the Suburbs?

Several months ago Bev and I were excited to hear that our son Todd was bringing home his girlfriend for us to meet.  It didn’t take long to realize that she is intelligent, personable, and very pretty.  However, we also discovered that Todd and Julia have different definitions of just what it means to be “living out in the country.”

Bev and I reside in a quiet community nestled along a meandering, medium-sized river.  We are exactly 4 1/2 miles from a town of no more than 25,000 folks.  When Julia asked Todd if his parents lived in the country, he answered: “No.  They live just outside of town in the suburbs.” Since Julia has lived her life in and around Atlanta, it’s not surprising that her definition of “living in the country”  differs from Todd’s. 

When the couple got to within a half mile of our house Julia’s sense of smell was assaulted by the rather pungent aroma of a pig farm.  Let me tell you, nothing will clean out one’s sinuses like the smell of pig poop. 

“I thought you said your folks lived in the suburbs,” Julia stated.

“They do,” Todd responded.

“I’ve been in Atlanta’s suburbs many times, and I’ve never been hit with a smell like that!” she exclaimed.

While still in our driveway Julia  gathered more evidence that she was now indeed in the middle of nowhere.  “Todd, I hear a cow mooing!”

“We border a large farm, but we don’t live on a a farm.  Notice that we don’t have a barn, a tractor, or any animals with the exception of four cats,” was his rejoinder.

Strolling to the backyard, she was amazed to see what looked like a never-ending field of corn.  Todd explained: “That corn is not on our property.  As you can see, we live in a housing development.”

After dinner Todd fired up his “baby” - a 2000 Mustang - and took Julia for a ride.  Among other things, he showed her his old high school and the best place in town to eat pizza.  While driving through the nearby town Julia found additional ammunition for her argument; a farmer was driving his tractor slowly down one of the main streets.

“You won’t find any farmer driving his tractor down any streets in Atlanta,” she proclaimed.

Todd looked at her and smiled before saying, “You’re right.  The poor guy would get run over!”

So Julia is convinced that Todd’s old folks live out in the country, while Todd still argues that we are typical suburbanites.  I do know this: it’s home and I like it.