Category Archives: games

Cedar Water

The swimming season is coming to a close. Whether in Cedar Lake or the Pacific Ocean, the subtle shift has begun. Pockets of very cold water, previously a refreshing anomaly, are now asserting themselves like Trump followers. The vanguard will soon become the establishment and while “The Donald” will likely leave the race entranced and distracted by a new shiny object, the water will turn cold.

This saddens me because swimming is what I laughingly refer to as my exercise. I splash, guy4paddle, and tread water with joyous abandon. Between pretending I am Lloyd Bridges in “Sea Hunt” and frolicking underwater, I feel energized, youthful and refreshed. A jogger friend scoffed at the number of carbs I burn and how little cardio effect I gain from my water play. I was going to let his criticism pass or more correctly roll off my back, but when he added I looked childish, I was stung enough to retort, “At least when I finish my workout I’m not all sweaty.”

One of the few things I took from Camp Ockanickon (aside from a lifetime hatred of oatmeal and singing “Mamma’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin‘ Bread”) is feeling comfortable in the water. Camp was deep in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey on a dark, picturesque, spring fed cedar lake. Even at 4’ 4” I could not see my feet standing in waist deep water. This unnerved me and I failed the deep water swimming test (jump in and swim 25 yards any stroke) I was sent to remedial swim class every day after breakfast. As a non swimmers I could not join any other activity until I passed. Too terrified to leap into the ink colored water, I generally needed to be pushed. After splashing around frantically I would grab the pole and be fished out in tears.

In the afternoon during compulsory free swim time my stigma, wearing a red non-swimmer string around my wrist, confined me to the shallow area. Much worse, the caste system carried over to the mess hall, the cabin, and all non-water activities. Blue stringers (50 yards) and white stringers (100 yards) heaped scorn on us (“Red stringers, red stringers why are you here? Red stringers, red stringers have some beer!”). We would then be doused with whatever non-beer beverage was available.

I have been dancing around the most embarrassing part. I was the lowest of the red stringers: I wore nose plugs! Decades later I have difficulty admitting it. Even other non-swimmers scorned me. The plugs, pink to simulate a flesh tone I have never seen on a living person, was the only way I could navigate in the water. Blue and white stringers might deign to come into the shallow end but I quickly and painfully learned they were on a mission to pull back and snap the rubber strap. The sting subsides long before the red mark on the back of my neck. Perhaps that is why I never became a bra snapper in my adolescence.

Some of the counselors were college kids ready for “Hi Jinx” (it was the 50s) like sneaking out to the girls’ camp across the lake after lights out, then regale us with their exploits the next morning. Joey was different. He was an east Camden (N.J.) tough guy who someone (possibly a judge) thought could benefit from a summer of sunshine and fresh air. Even as a child I sensed his anger and despair marooned in a wholesome woodsy setting with a cabin full of brats. His surliness made what happened all the more surprising.

Joey was on lifeguard duty, supervising the shallow (red string/loser)area. Standing on the dock he beckoned me over. I’ll never forget his words. “Hey squirt! Yeah you, dum dum with the nose plugs. Blow a little stream of air out your nose when you go under. Just a trickle. Then you won’t need that stupid s_ _ _ on your nose.”

It was not a Hallmark moment, but I did it and it worked! It might have helped knowing Joey couldn’t care less. Other counselors had more patiently told me to blow air out. When I tried for them, I either panicked and, seeking to please them, blew all the air out at once, or I accidentally inhaled. With the breathing mastered my fear diminished and I was able to enjoy the water. Thanks to Joey I left camp a blue stringer.

My “instruction” was a momentary distraction for a bored, sullen teenager. Joey, if he is living could not possibly comprehend that I still give him thanks every time I wade into the water. “Blow it out your nose slow, dum dum!”

I am not talking about mentoring, adoption, or huge life changing sacrifices and good deeds. My focus is “Joey moments.” Serendipitous chance encounters where a word, an act, a small gesture made a huge difference. The classic is “The Lone Ranger” leaving before he can be thanked unaware of how he has altered history. I am not so grandiose but I really hope I have done small anonymous kindnesses that have been meaningful to others.

Tom H. Cook has often imagined writing a letter of support for Joey to his probation officer or appearing in court on his behalf

Words With Friends

Playing “bop” is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing.      –Duke Ellington

I was peacefully enjoying the prime of my senility.  Content to watch the carnival of politicians wreathe, contort, and embarrass themselves, turning into figures of pity and scorn as they shamelessly pander and grovel for the highest office in the land.  A friend, perhaps concerned about my increasing interest in my other hobby (looking for two identical salt crystals), challenged me to play WORDS WITH FRIENDS, a bastardized form of Scrabble.  WWF is an app for those who find talking on the phone, shaving, and making breakfast, all while driving, not challenging enough.  Young Type A multi-taskers may squeeze in games with up to twenty opponents during spare seconds of their busy days,or at night as a way to unwind during the slow parts of action movies, or romantic dinners.

For me it is all I am able to do.  I have become frustrated, enthralled, and addicted to this silly exercise.  I live in a world where vice ((11 points) is better than nice (9 points). and a quarter (17 points) is worth almost twice as much as a dollar (9 points).  You can play with strangers of all skill levels to sharpen your game.  I prefer to be humiliated by those closest to me.  I am not being modest when I say I am not very good.  “The Scrabble Book” by Derryn Hinch states that the game is only 12 percent luck, I prefer to believe that I have just been slow to adjust to the bare knuckles reality of WWF.

Hinch suggests there are two approaches.  With thinly veiled disdain, he describes expansive play, laying down long words that may impress your partner but produce few points.  The rest of the chapter is devoted to playing tight which sadly does not involve drinking.  A tight strategy focuses on hooks (like plumbers’ elbow joints) that redirect the game to triple letter and triple word squares.  The point total of a well placed pluralizing “S” or a prefix or suffix can dwarf the original offering.  Just yesterday my cleverly arranged CAVORT (13 pts.) was eclipsed by my opponent’s added “S” in a triple word square.  The skillful player then sandwiched my word with parallel two and three letter words. I am not sure if “words” like (EF, TA, XU, EFS, PFT, SUQ) are vocabulary building, but 93 points later I was in no mood to cavort.

The tight approach is more than making words/points; it features a defensive plan of attack.  Like the game Stalingrad (which I have never played but witnessed a roommate’s two year battle in college), WWF requires blocking your opponent with words that cannot be added to, and capturing the triple letter and triple word squares. It is also imperative to memorize small obscure words that do not come up in polite conversation like crwth (an ancient stringed instrument), phpht (an alternative form of pht), and cwm (Welsh for valley).  I have yet to use glycls (a residue present in a polypeptide), or thymy (fragrant smell of thyme) but I am ready.

WWF also records when moves are made.  I know more of the sleep and work habits of my friends than I care to.  The game is something of a Rorschach test.  Liberal arts majors lay down different words than engineers.  I play with my son Ben, whose final scores almost double mine.  This is fine with me as he will someday be providing my care.  I watch the window for my neighbor.  She and her kids are blithely unloading their Costco run, not realizing I have the drawn the “Z” to make the word SYZYGY!  One friend called to make sure our relationship would survive our fervent long distance war of words.

Besides working my brain a little, playing has helped exorcise some negative feelings I had buried about competition.  Scrabble games of my youth began with harmless bluffing and degenerated into loud altercations.  Some boor would think that if you slowly enunciated the word but in a sufficiently loud and menacing tone it would jog the memory of the other players.  Invariably Noah Webster’s name would be impugned, and the dictionary thrown across the room. A pleasant element of WWF is the immediate (no appeal) scoring feature.  This is not Scrabble, there are word discrepancies, omissions and head scratching inclusions, but the resulting peace, as the commercial says, is priceless.

Tom H. Cook currently holds a record of 5-12 (single play high score of 76 points) since devoting most of his waking hours to Words With Friends.  He is beginning to like non-Scrabble playing people better.

Tom in Miata

Let’s Be Careful Out There!

Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?
—Jack Kerouac from “On The Road”

Road rage is the expression of the amateur sociopath in all of us, cured by running into a professional.
—Robert Brault

The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers
 —Dave Barry

Hey! Let’s be careful out there!
  –Sargent Phil Esterhaus (Hill Street Blues)

Could the fault lay in our Google-driven need for immediate (though incomplete) answers and instant gratification?  Maybe we can saddle the blame on the coming of age graduates of a sabotaged public education system.  Perhaps the anomie and stark realization that we are a polarized, hopelessly divided nation facing a grim future of diminished expectations is getting to all of us.  Some suggest it is the powerless grasping for any semblance of control.  Whatever the reason, whether inane or tragically poignant, the roads are becoming more dangerous, and our fellow motorists less civil.  Rather than attempt to understand or make a citizen’s arrest, here are my “fab five” of least favorite transgressors.

Right turn tinted window guy.    You are approaching an intersection at the posted speed with a green light beckoning.  At the crossroads is an impatient cretin who remembers something from driver training class about being able to make a right hand turn on a red light.  Forgotten is the part about proceeding only if no one coming.  The light is green and there will not be a better or more legal time for you to cross, and besides, the driver in the car behind you seems to have his heart set on both of you making the light.  Right turn guy is a sphinx with his tinted windows.  The front third of his car is directly in your path as he decides whether to jack rabbit before you get there, or watch you frantically navigate oncoming traffic.  Neither he nor his car have a reverse gear.  He will not retreat; failure is not an option!  Either way, your rigid adherence to the law is a terrible inconvenience to him.

The tailgater/weaver.  Put simply, their life and time is more important than yours.  Every second counts, and they are losing valuable billable hours marooned behind you on a one lane road.  Their design of an information retrieval system that will render the Internet obsolete is behind schedule.  Some are on the med/surg. team at the Mayo Clinic doing groundbreaking research on the use of hamster bile to treat post myocardial infarctions.  One can feel the telegraphed shaming vibe and aggravating vitriol emanating as they race ahead like Pac Man in search of their next morsel.  If they are so important, why do they tend to drive rusty Dodge Chargers?  (I believe when they get to their destination they scratch themselves, turn on the tube and grab a “brewski.”)

The four way non-stopper  It doesn’t matter who goes first — perhaps it’s the car closest to the equator — but once begun there is a natural and legal order: counterclockwise.  I suspect the same rapscallions who budged the lunch line in grade school are still doing it today.  Perhaps they are unaware or scornful of the corollary to the counterclockwise rule which states “something before nothing.”  In our social contract, we pass to the right but a late arriver must wait for a full rotation to go.  The egregious will “me too” or “piggy back” behind a crossing vehicle.

The “It’s like barely red” dude/dudette  Red is stop; green is go.  Wrong!  After the light turns from red to green, do not proceed with caution but with trepidation.  You may even consider getting out of the car or at least taking a long look to your left and right.  The odds are good that a barreling “entitlement express” will be trying to make the light that has already passed through the autumn colors of yellow and red.  Since it was only yellow/orange the last time they peeked, it seems reasonable that accelerating will get them through the pesky intersection.  Fortunately there is often the sound of a pounding bass guitar to signal their arrival.  Their logic (using the term loosely) seems to be, “I came through this light yesterday at this time and it was green, so I should be able to go, and besides, if I am late again, my manager will kill me.”  The same applies for long left turns across four lanes of traffic.

The “What’s it to you?” non-turn signaler    You would like to make a left turn before all the traffic on your right is unleashed, but there is a vehicle approaching from your left at a speed that would make crossing in front dicey.  Waiting patiently you hope the car will pass before the onslaught.  Oh wait, they are turning right just in front of you.  Miffed or a bit stronger, you look at the driver as he/she completes the turn.  You are feet away, close enough to read their look.  Between arrogance and cluelessness, implied is Where and when I choose to turn is none of your business.”  There is ample time to mull this affront as the window for a left turn has closed and the gaggle of autos, ox carts and rickshaws streaming past right to left now appears to be unending.

Tom H. Cook is aware that he sounds like an old crank.  His defense is that he has always been like this.  He remains an above average driver and vehicular parliamentarian.



Minnesota Summer Quiz

It is finally real summer and what could be more fun than relaxing on the veranda at your lake place up north, or in a hammock at home?  You have the Twins game on in the background, your cold drink nearby, a dog or small child curled up at your feet, and you are working on the Minnesota Summer Quiz.

Rank the following summer activities, all occurring next weekend, in order of importance:

  1. A surprise seventy-fourth birthday party for great-uncle Gustav at the Muskrat Lodge in Boldfinger, MN (a 9-hour drive).
  2. The fourth anniversary of the third communion of your second cousin’s stepchild in Chaska.  To be held in the church parking lot on the 107 degree asphalt.
  3. Lisa Goodman-initiated two-day community retreat/workshop on the advantages and disadvantages of Minnesota establishing a unicameral state legislature.  Emile Mullen, Nebraska State auditor (and amateur mime), will provide a Power Point presentation and lead what promises to be a spirited discussion.
  4. Interfaith car wash and scrap metal drive.  Volunteers from most of the world’s greatest religions (monotheists only — sorry), through sweat and hard labor will raise funds and awareness.

Short essay: Explain how, despite your better judgement and every fiber of your being, you will end up spending one of your precious summer weekends at one or more of the above events.

If Billy (age 9) takes his X-Box and hides under the house, is he following your suggestion to “Get out and get some fresh air!”  Why or why not?  (Short answer).

Billy (still 9) would be better off at Camp Whitchebehomac.  The cost is $1,200.00.  Canceling Billy’s tuba lessons for the summer would save $200.00.  You have another $380.00 from lottery winnings.  Billy’s Aunt Ethel says she will donate two times the amount Billy raises from collecting cans.  Uncle Jasper says he will pay Billy $17.00 to detail his truck and $4,000.00 to move his hunting shack from Elk River to Big Spider Bay (Wisconsin).  Billy has no desire to go to camp or even leave the house.  How old will Billy be when he goes to camp?

  1. Uncle Jasper has a screw loose.  Nobody wants his glorified outhouse up in Big Spider Bay!
  2. Billy hates the tuba, hates Aunt Ethel, and will be shaving and able to drive himself to camp by the time he gets the money.
  3. Aunt Ethel has more money than God! She spends more on electrolysis every year than his camp tuition would cost!  If she doesn’t want to help the kid she should just say so!!!
  4. Billy is lactose intolerant and allergic to cows, cowboys, milkmaids, leather, got milk ads, rawhide chewtoys, cowlicks, and “The Cowsills.”

Is it morally wrong to watch television indoors on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the summer? (Short answer).  (Hint Leviticus 7: 3-14)

What is the span of time between the last possible day of the snow season and the first of the next?  (Answer in hours)_______.

Do you wish you had gone to a friend’s cabin while you are sitting at the Lake Harriet Bandshell?  When you are “antiquing” in Stillwater do you wish you were napping in your hammock on Humboldt? Explain this phenomena.  (Essay)

Neighbor Lance bikes 20 miles if it is between 60 and 70 degrees.  If it is between 71 and 90 degrees he travels 15 miles.  If it is above 90 degrees he plays X-Box under the house.  During a typical July, how many miles will Lance ride?  (Hint, July has 31 days).

  1. Is it the Lance on Fremont who practically lives in those lime green bike shorts?
  2. Is it miles or square miles? (There may be a difference.)178
  3. Does Lance (L) come home at night (L-1/2) or does he keep going  (L+20 or L+30 X31)?

If he keeps going south he would reach Winona on July 17th.

Aunt Edna is over for dinner but says she will remain in the back yard drinking Cutty Sark until she receives > 4 mosquito bites per hour.  If she comes in at 9:30 PM, how much has she drunk?

  1. Who can tell? She has a hollow leg.
  2. I still can’t believe she wouldn’t buy Billy an X-Box.
  3. She waters down the drinks.  I doubt it’s Cutty Sark.
  4. Wrap her dinner in aluminum foil and leave it in the refrigerator!!!

Which is the worst nonfatal family reunion summer picnic extravaganza memory?

  1. “Bike shorts” Lance crashes the party and tries to put a move on your recently divorced niece.
  2. Uncle Jasper offers Billy $5.00 if he will come out from under the house and have some ice cream.
  3. Aunt Edna claims she doesn’t want to miss anything so she squats behind the neighbors’ shrubs rather than use the house bathroom all the way on the second floor.
  4. The meat runs out early and many of the late arrivals are offered yummy grilled potato salad patties.
  5. After being discharged from the hospital, Billy resumes his summer vigil under the house and refuses Aunt Edna’s offer of a little Cutty Sark in a Star Wars glass.


Tom H. Cook has begun plotting a fall visit to the Twin Cities.




You Got To Have Friends

But you got to have friends
The feeling’s oh so strong
You got to have friends
To make that day last long                          Friends written by Klingman and Linhart, sung by Bette Midler

In our lives we cross paths with thousands of people.  At some level, particularly when we are young, we seek to define ourselves by those who will be our friends.  We have childhood playmates, school chums, Little League teammates, Camp Kowahitchi sisters, fellow thespians, fraternity brothers, work cube colleagues, or next door neighbors.  We meet through our children, the Twirling Circles (square dance) Club, Young Life, Habitat for Humanity, Girl Scouts, Kiwanis, B’nai B’rith, the Junior League, the Anchor Bar bowling league, Toastmasters, the Army Reserve, or a county-run third strike diversion program.

We may find each other on-line, or at an Anti-Satan Book Burning and S’mores Rally, or while attending a local school fundraiser on “All You Can Eat Kelp Night!”.  There are many occasions to meet new people, but the pace of change is daunting.  We grow up, enroll, matriculate, transfer, graduate, re-up, remarry, resign, relocate, and retire.  Alas we grow apart.

In my twenties it felt like there would always be a new crop of people to meet and annoy.  As I get older, even without altering my routine in any way, budding relationships tend to expire.  Months after an initial meeting, if I see my new friend out of context, there is usually mutual confusion, guilt, and a wane awkward handshake followed by uneasiness and painful banter.  We frequently part ways with each of us muttering, “Who the hell was that?”

I am not a socially adept person.  To learn the name of a new acquaintance, I will need to give up something, perhaps the words to the Kingston Trio song Tom Dooley, my locker combination at the “Y” I no longer belong to, or Chico Fernandez’s lifetime batting average.  Consequently most of my friendships predate 1995.  I use that year because it is approximately the time we began forwarding pictures of cats doing the backstroke to each others’ personal computers.

Since my friendships were essentially set in the pre-Internet era, I had no way of telling who would emerge as a Facebook friend, a Twitter devotee, or a fanatic forwarder of Congressional ineptness.  I am uncomfortable with upbeat, well-scrubbed, self-righteous, glass is half-full, Hummel figure-loving, whistle a happy tune people.  Thankfully, I receive very few too-cute-for-Hallmark messages reminding me of my specialness.

I seem to have always been attracted to wary, sarcastic, cynical, black humored, glass is half dirty types.  We have enjoyed many years of gallows humor over fools in high places and, until recently, the wardrobe of Emperor Bush.  It is no surprise that most of what I receive from friends is skeptical, irreverent, sardonic, or about dogs.

Now I worry that because I rely so much on my peer network, I am not receiving a good cross section of the really cool and hip stuff being forwarded on-line these days.  JoAnne urges me to quit complaining and strike out on my own. Find what interests me, and not wait for others to send me the link. Do not be a passive receiver, but an explorer!  I’ve done some poking about on the Net, and let me tell you, it is not all rainbow colored ponies.  As much as I want to be “out there,” I am more comfortable with prescreened forwards from old friends.  So keep those links coming.

Tom H. Cook is more Internet savvy than he lets on, but then he would have to be.




Multiple Choice

Now that I am teaching English in a high school, every situation is a potential multiple-choice question.  For example:

  1.  Tom and JoAnne live in a small beach house near the Pacific Ocean.  What would most enhance their appreciation of Southern California living
    a.  two one-speed bubble tire “beach cruiser” bicycle
    b.   a six-person hot tub set in a secluded back yard
    c.   a blue Miata convertible circa 1990
    d.   a backyard chimenea (fireplace) for ocean-cooled evenings
    e.   Teresa, JoAnne’s mother, taking up permanent residence in the guest room

If you answered “e” to Question 1, please proceed to Questions 2-10.

2. Teresa is a sweet 80 year old grandmother whose hobbies include

a.  folding plastic bags
b.  ironing
c.  collecting string
d.  cutting strips of cloth into string
e.  all of the above

3.  Her ideal room temperature is

a.  98.6
b.  the same as curing ham
c.  not calculable in Celsius
d.  warm, for anyone not living directly on the Equator
e.  one that would produce Cumulous clouds and aerographic precipitation

4.  As a child of the Great Depression she is

a.  thrifty
b.  economical
c.  adverse to throwing anything away
d.  able to find multiple uses for old stockings
e.  so tight she squeaks

5.   A hearty lunch consists of

a.  the bruised portion of a pear and one half of a Grape Nuts individual cereal pack
b.  the heel of a loaf of whole wheat bread with every seed carefully removed
c.  the doggie bag from a restaurant meal
d.  the doggie bag leftovers Part II
e.  half a breakfast bar carefully saved from an airplane flight (2002)

6.   If you need a calendar (to keep track of your medication) it is best to

a.  attempt to draw one on scrap paper
b.  have someone drive you from bank to bank to see if anyone is giving them out
c.  use a discarded one from 2003 , figure out the formula and hope it is not Leap Year
d.  wait until they are almost free in April and look for a damaged one the store will deep        discount
e.  work clockwise and find seven flat surfaces.  Put a day’s worth of pills on each.  If this is      the dresser it must be Tuesday

7.  If  I am napping soundly on the couch, Teresa will

a.  tiptoe and hover about so quietly I wake up
b.  wake me to ask if I am comfortable or would I like a firmer pillow
c.  state that I do not look comfortable and would I like my feet tucked in
d.  wake me from a dead sleep to ask if I want the television turned off
e.  wake me to ask if I know I am sleeping as she wouldn’t want me to get in trouble for            missing something.  She does not realize it is Sunday because the cat has knocked her        pills off of the end table and I forgot to bring home a calendar from work.

8.  If you spill a small amount of salt it can be saved in

a.  a square of wax paper
b.  an empty pre-rinsed individual mustard container
c.  a corner of aluminum foil
d.  a tiny Tupperware container
e.  almost anything.  The problem is someone else finding it and not knowing what it is and throwing it away only to be asked the next time you are taking a nap where the little bit of salt that was in the cabinet could be.

9.  Teresa is saving her money for

a.  her old age
b.  my old age
c.  the Chinese Year of The Dog
d.  the Apocalypse
e.  the next George Bush administration

10.  A bowl of ice cream must be eaten until

a.  sparks fly from the eating utensil
b.  much of the glaze in the bowl has been loosened
c.  DNA testing could no longer determine the flavor ice cream
d.  the bowl is cleaner than most dishwashers could get it
e.  the bowl is forcibly wrenched from her hands and filled again with ice cream

Tom H. Cook, a long time Minnesotan, has escaped to sunny California, along with his wife, his mother-in-law and the two boxers Stella and Cowboy. 


I delight in the idea of a party but find no pleasure in the reality.  The result is that I can neither keep away from parties nor enjoy them.                                                        -J.B. Priestly

Him: “So, you ever been to Nairobi?”

Me: “No, but I have the feeling that if I don’t make a break for the cheese dip, I am about to spend the rest of the evening hearing about it.

The above conversation never took place.  In truth it was Guam and my response was an innocent, “no.”  As a result I found myself engaged in a rather one-sided discussion of Guam’s natural resources, customs, and currency for the next two-and-one-half hours not counting the forty-five minutes I spent hiding in the pantry.  Yes, I had been to another ‘party.’

Despite many personal experiences to the contrary a party announcement still conjures up images of merriment and spontaneous carefree good times.  It is a high school era vision complete with prom queens and football players.  We are all cavorting and having (PG-13 rated) fin.  Whenever I am invited to a party that is not at the Guthrie or does not feature Tupperware, I still flashback to this admittedly adolescent notion, and hope beyond hope.  What is remarkable is not that I graduated from high school nearly twenty years ago, but that I was never invited to these parties in the first place.  Nevertheless my perceptions of what there ‘happenings’ were probably like has not dimmed.

I sat behind “Fast” Eddie Coleman in home room in ninth grade until his expulsion in eleventh grade.  I believe that Eddie was born with chest hair and a three day beard.  The gray Italian shoes and gold ID bracelet were with him the first day of ninth grade, so I can only speculate as to their origin.  Whatever, the effect worked.  Eddie had a deep voice and could do the WahTusi sitting down.  Everyone liked Eddie.  He was a party guy.  He clearly had experienced it all and thanks to the gods of alphabetical order I was right behind him, literally, on Monday morning to hear about it.

Since Eddie was invariably late (I was amazed he could stand), I became the keeper of the little presents-gum, homework, lunch money that rolled in.  I refused to accept contraband (cigarettes), but Friday mornings I became the center for all the party information.  I knew whose parents were out of town before the cat burglars.  Laura Pennsinger, tired of waiting, finally told me hat she had gotten her period.  I actually held Margie Fennimore’s private phone number written in pink magic marker for a whole day.  Judy Walters called me a doll-as in, “be a doll and be sure Eddie gets this.”  My life was complete.

Most of Eddie’s party stories were intended to impress Annie Cresthull who sat behind me.  I was free to listen, although our alliterative brotherhood did not extend beyond homeroom.  I don’t know whether it was propinquity, or the ease by which I was impressed by stories of nurses, local DJs, and dudes doing wheelies on girls’ front lawns, but I fancied that Eddie was not far from inviting me along, when he was expelled.  (Something about Miss Epps in Social Studies.)  I spent my senior year seated behind Alan Cohen whose life was only slightly more interesting than mine.

I suffer from vicarious interruptions.  The word party is a misnomer.  To make things even worse, in the 1980s the noun party had become a verb.  Forty-year-old actuaries and women that sell Amway out of their garages speak of ‘partying.’  “We are partying all weekend at the VFW.”  Serious parties like Eddie and I knew are rare.

‘Parties’ I am invited to are usually in older homes where the owners have restored most of the wood work (‘…WE STRIPPED EVERYTING BUT THE LANDING, I never want to see another container of Zip Strip…”).  There are between five and twenty three other guests not counting the mystery couple.  The mystery couple is the hook.  They become larger than life as the party drags on.  Usually he is a friend of the guy who manages Prince, and she poses for art magazines and used to live with Roman Polanski.  They are laving for Rio of Cannes in the morning, but will try to drip by.  The mystery couple never comes.

Who does come are bearded Hegelians and women that did their undergraduate work in Chaucer.  The host and hostess play only Gustav Mahler records.  Their other friends are people that aside from living on land, and bearing live young, I have nothing in common with.  The talk of evening is usually about famine, oppression, and bad television reception. Most of the other guests do not want to discuss The Shirelles of the works of Eddie Arcaro (many believe he was just a jockey).  Consequently I spent a lot of time alone, near the cheese dip.

When I talk about a Party, I don’t mean scoring some brews and hanging out with bleached blondes and dudes that listen to KQRS.  I am more mature and responsible.  How about renting a mechanical bull, or mud wrestling?  Despite my slight frame, I believe I could hold a medium-sized woman on my shoulders if we were to have chicken fights – We could pit the physics department against the lawyers!  Bizarre you say, but so is standing elbow to elbow with total strangers for three hours discussing the failure of mass transit, and coming home with seven business cards and six continuing education units.

Tom H. Cook, is an incredibly quiet local resident who has not been to a party since Watergate.  He enjoys discussing the 1975 World Series and arranging his sugar cube collection.




Tom with the kids

Throwing Things


How about a fireplace/good cheer/apple cheeked/Rockwell/ jewel neighborhood/leaf- bagging/amber lit/home for the holidays number? Lose the edge/ angst/adolescence lost/fumbling everyman/ irony paradigm schtick.  Don’t forget our talk:  More !!! and less ??

Ciao, Babe,
Your editors at HLP

The holidays are special.  Many of us resolve to work less, be home more, and “cocoon” with family and friends as the weather turns colder.  It is a warm and appealing notion.  If a family is a cordless phone (and even if it is not), it is a good time to return it to the base and recharge.  Holidays are a time for reflection.  It is an opportunity for introspection, to go back to childhood or a simpler era.  What we leave out in the way of conveniences and gadgetry is as important as the candied yams that we include for the sake of tradition, not taste.

 On the maybe list is the modern invention, the VCR.  Videotapes, particularly old black and white movies rented from Panorama, qualify for inclusion, along with cable TV (grudgingly).  But this is nostalgia time, everyone under one roof.  No isolated “Net surfer” coming out for food every ten hours.  No faxed holiday cards or emailed Season’s Greetings.  It is an opportunity to express our gratitude for our good fortune.  It is quality time, with egg nog, a good book and DNA test-confirmed relatives.

The problem with so much indoor togetherness is that quirks and habits, overlooked in the rush of the faster paced work-a-day world now take center stage as the snow flies.  Magnanimously, I will not reveal the foibles of close friends and family members.  Trust me, they have them.  Instead I will model self-disclosure and use myself as an example.

In my life I have wasted afternoons, days, and weekends.  I have squandered my youth.  I spent cities like a handful of change.  This isn’t even the confession part.  I just want to establish that I am not a robotized, time-obsessed Type A efficiency expert out to make every minute count.  I was also never an athlete, although I enjoy sports, particularly basketball.  Somehow these two unrelated non-talents have caused me more trouble in my home, workplace and community that I care to admit.  It is exaggerated around the holidays because I am home and in the way a lot.

I do not revere Time the way I should.  My “bal skills” in sports are at best average.  Still, any time I am holding an object smaller than a filing cabinet that needs to be disposed of, something comes over me.  There is a Voice I hear.  We are not talking psychosis or Brigham Young in the desert.  There is no vision or insight.  The Voice never has stock tips, clever palindromes, my cash machine code number or the name of a colleague as I fumble through introductions.

The Voice simply believes that I, a shy, unimposing, rumpled, average-looking sort, was put on earth to amaze those around me with my savant-like ability to send empty half-pint milk containers into trash cans so far away that I need my glasses to distinguish them from the family cat.  In the world of grey flannel bureaucrats, I am a scoring machine, an amalgam of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in their prime,

In this maddening, solution-less world of consensus politics, less of evils, and amorphous long-range goals, it is gratifying to take, say, a hoagie wrapper and wad it up into a tight ball (for maximum velocity and control) and launch it toward a receptacle.  As the missile leaves my hand I can tell first whether it has a chance, and then if it is “in” or not.  (Yelling “Short!” or “Left!” is little consolation to my wife, who is more concerned about the potential hoagie oil that may land anywhere on the flight path trajectory.)  Still, there is closure and the immediate resolution, unlike poverty, Bosnian politics, the deficit, or race relations.  “The shot is up…It’s good!”  The clarity is satisfying.

People ask what comes over me.  Their tonal range is anything from solicitous to nervously condescending.  Family members take another tact, more like Albert Elis on a bad day.  I tell everyone the same thing The Voice seduces me. When I sense the presence of an object that needs to be discarded, I am Zeus, invincible and confident in a manner that eludes me in other aspects of my life.

The Voice begins quite rationally with a plea to my favorite motivators, logic and guilt.  “You are 30 feet from the receptacle.  It seems kind of silly to walk all the way to the trash can, drop the paper, egg shells or banana peel into the can and then come all the way back again.  You’ve made this shot before.  Remember that coleslaw last week?  Nothing but net.  You have hit Dixie cup lids in from further out than this.  Here is an opportunity to “get well” and reclaim some of the time you lost reading Wink Martindale’s life story.  Besides, you need to 1) get back to work or 2) yikes, Friends is coming out of commercial.”

If I do not succumb, the ante is upped.  I am flattered and cajoled.  My manhood is questioned.  I get into a zone.  I feel I cannot miss.  The Voice prods me.  “Remember that game winner back in Wayne Price’s driveway.  You were on fire!  This is a gift shot; you are OPEN, take it!  Come on, a 3-pointer and you are back in.  From this spot your keys will land softly in the drawer, your socks will break their fall, you won’t chip the buffet, your wallet won’t roll behind the bookcase.  Give it a little spin; it will slow like a chip shot onto a wet green.  Shoot!  Shoot!  Shoot!”

 I am suddenly at the Palestra in Philadelphia, home of Big Five basketball and the best rivalries ever — Penn State vs Villanova, or Temple vs St. Joe’s or LaSalle.  The crowd is up. I am left of the key, 35 feet out.  The laundry basket sits, with only my wife reading the newspaper and drinking a very hot cup to tea to clear.  Dirty sweat socks in hand, I fake left and launch a rainbow. It is short…

 The Voice is gone, and it is me alone, apologizing profusely and running for a paper towel.  Yet even as I am wiping up the Early Grey and hurrying toward the trash can to dispose of the wet Bounty, The Voice returns.  Have I learned my lesson?  I do realize that I do not want to again stain the white wall with a bank shot, yet from this spot a perfectly launched jumper would restore my confidence in my shooting eye…

So bring on the Holidays, and all of that time spent trapped indoors while we watch pretenders like the Gophers and Timberwolves.  My family is skeptical, but if basketball were played on shag carpeting instead of hardwood, and the court was not 90 feet long but instead shaped more like my study, I would be a star.

Tom H. Cook cannot stop flipping things in the hopes of hearing the roar of the crowd.  He holds a lifetime .582 shooting percentage from the floor.  His walls and baseboards show it.