Category Archives: gossip

Of Sickness and Health

guy1It’s no longer a question of staying healthy. It’s a question of finding a sickness you like.
—Jackie Mason

The best thing about getting a flu shot is that you never again need to wash your hands. That’s how I see it.
—Chuck Palahniuk

I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.
—Benjamin Franklin

This column required so many disclaimers it almost did not get written, which may not have been a bad thing. How can I possibly complain about being ill when famine, pestilence, drought, and disease strike so many? There are natural disasters like the earthquake in Nepal and man-made tragedies like plane and train crashes in the news. We have all suffered the premature loss of loved ones, friends and acquaintances to cruel accidents and catastrophic illness.

Let me gingerly state that my “suffering” does not even register on a scale of one being Vexed and ten being Death. I was sick, not life flashing before me, writhing in pain, praying to die, or iron lung, do not resuscitate, gather the children, last rites sick. I had what felt like a 24-hour flu and while there was no writhing, it went on (and on) for over a month. It was finally diagnosed as a mycoplasma infection (walking pneumonia). Bless my family, friends, casual acquaintances, and the kindly woman at Costco who witnessed my coughing and were ready with consolation and advice.

The consolation was great. But the “getting all up in my grill,” as we young people say, is tiring. People from many walks of life attempted to diagnose and fix me. Unfortunately none of them had any medical training. A jewelry maker I know thought it was viral, but a leather importer was not convinced it was respiratory. I am sure their inquiries were genuine, but as I entered the third week of ill health I became more of a Sudoku to be solved. My continued hacking seemed to be a refutation of one friend’s medical training (a B- in high school Biology).

When I am in a weakened state, I do not want play Twenty Questions, even it is for my own good. Had there been a change in my diet? Have I been drinking dank water? Moving my bowels regularly? Any foreign travel? Was I getting enough ruffage? Was it viral or bacterial? Was I eating plenty of garlic, had I done the chest rubs, run the humidifier, drunk the 8 glasses of water, kept up on my medications, consumed the soup? Like Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, one friend hovered. Despite his extensive accounting background, I was not improving. My illness was his failure. Trying to suppress a cough in his presence only made it worse. Was I being passive aggressive? I don’t think so, though I will cop to cranky.

When I am ill, my life is a game of Chutes and Ladders. Friends, neighbors, necessary errands, and even fun activities are obstacles taking me away from the goal, which is to be home, where I can wallow in my own germs. When my mind is foggy, everything and everyone seems to be keeping me from being horizontal.

Writing this after recovering, it seems obvious: Why didn’t I just stay in bed until I felt better? But as the days pile up I feel that I should be better by now and I continue to drag myself around, perhaps fearing the unspoken scorn of, “Are you still sick!?”

In Annie Hall Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) opines to Annie (Diane Keaton) that life is divided into two groups, the horrible (those in constant pain and facing terminal illness) and the miserable, which is everyone else. He advises her to be grateful she is only miserable.

Tom H. Cook a formerly local writer is able to take even large gel capsule medications without water!

So How About That Twitter!

It would be convenient to blame age for my initial wariness and reluctance to try new things.  Unfortunately it is more a lifetime pattern.  A local fast food restaurant nearly ground to a halt because as a seven year old I would not abide even the hint of a condiment on my hamburger.  In those days special orders did upset them, as well as my parents who were less than pleased when I, years later, not only saw the light but became a ketchup pusher, extolling its virtue at nearly every meal.  Not only am I late getting into the pool, but once I am wet I become a secular Billy Graham urging others to join me.

So how about that Twitter!  Now that there are over 500 million users I have decided to tweet.  Previously the few social media comments I read were hopelessly banal: “I just had a peach, yum!”  T.S. Eliot mused about daring to eat a peach in “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”; everyone else need not bother.  If someone had told me that Twitter is a way to make snarky irreverent comments about fools in high places without getting punched in the arm I would have joined years ago.  The haymaker came from a self righteous classmate at Pennsauken High.  The PA had come on in homeroom and the office secretary began, “May I have your attention please…Mr. P___ has an important announcement.”  “Yeah,” I said, “if he doesn’t spill it.”

It was fairly well known that our principal liked to drink, and this was before the era of political correctness.  Most of the class broke up which helped ease the pain of Donnie Cutler’s fist on my bird-like bicep, and the detention I received.  My career of slipping banana peels under the feet of jack booted lock-stepped conformists was born.

I am a long time commentator on the wardrobe of various emperors.  Having worn out most of my friends and family I am delighted to have a new vehicle and hopefully an audience for smart-aleck remarks, wry witticisms, petty digs, and wrong-headed yet trenchant observations.  I will of course save my scurrilous and borderline libelous remarks for The Hill and Lake Press.  If you are willing to indulge me, I am untethered, but my twitter handle is  @tomhowardcook.

Tom H. Cook is (despite the continued presence of Michelle Bachmann) a proud Minnesotan stationed in Southern California.  He hopes that you will friend, follow, or at least attempt to understand him.


Can You Keep a Secret?

Three can keep a secret if two are dead.           —Ben Franklin

To keep a secret is wisdom, to expect others to keep it is folly.                                     —Samuel Johnson

Listen, do you want to know a secret, do you promise not to tell…                                               —Lennon/McCartney

Details, including Rodriguez’s denial, were disclosed by a person familiar with the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcements were authorized.   —ESPN April 2, 2010


Is it just me, or are an increasing number of news stories littered with disclaimers?  “A source with intimate knowledge of the negotiations but not given permission to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the subject revealed under condition of anonymity…”       The unconfirmed rumor could be that Moammar Gadhafi is condo shopping in Miami Beach, or Apple’s futuristic iPhone 7 will run on grass clippings,  or the Minnesota Vikings will play four home games in the Mall of America parking lot in 2014. 

A half-century ago in Mrs. Reese’s third grade class at Roosevelt (Theodore, not FDR) Elementary School (Pennsauken, New Jersey) we had a “source” who ratted us out on a regular basis.  Enough time has passed that I am, while noting the irony, going to reveal his name!  Tommy Connors (the other T.C.) was the snitch who told on us to Mrs. Reese.  He supposedly had asthma and often stayed in at recess to (allegedly) erase the boards and clap the erasers — although neither activity was good for an asthmatic. 

This gave him the opportunity to snitch on us.  We are sure he spilled the beans on whose idea it was to lead a class cough at 11:00 AM (Jerry Chicone).  He probably told about dropping our pencils at the stroke of nine when we had a substitute.  He also refused to back us up when we attempted to convince the same substitute that we routinely got an hour for recess.

We did not like Tommy because he ate paste and stuff he found in his nose, but his worst trait was tattling.  Being a fink (thank you, Mad Magazine) got him pummeled on a regular basis by Mike Fawn and Jimmy Esposito, who were fifth graders but always up for a melee.  Mrs. Reese would give us ultimatums: “You have till the end of the school day to tell me who left the lid off of the tempera paints and dried them all out.  If you don’t want to say it to my face leave the name on my desk, or the whole class will be punished.”  Tommy would always crack at the threat of after-school detention or a parent phone call.  I was not as angry at him as some of the vigilantes, but we all knew squealing was against the code. 

Newspaper stories have become a gauntlet of legal catechisms.  The modern day Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson need to write with a lawyer on their shoulders.  Is the unnamed source a whistle blowing patriot or merely someone with an axe to grind?  Are we suckers, receiving only the supposed “inside information” the principles want us to know?  Are we being fed a steady diet of trial balloons and limited hang-outs?   The original Deep Throat was a hero, but I question the motives of some anonymous tipsters.

I admit I am a fan of gossip, but I am concerned that many modern day leakers are simply self-serving opportunists.   Leaks happen so routinely now, I have trouble believing that an insider who has been vetted to the inner sanctum would leave a top secret meeting, have an attack of conscience and go rogue.  More likely what happens in the boardroom is a clandestine confab devoted to deciding how much has to be divulged and who can get the company the most sympathetic spin. 

Applying revisionist history, perhaps the other Tommy C. was merely an information sharer, ahead of his time and not the two-faced rat, suck-up, wimp, snitch, stoolie teacher’s pet we thought he was.  

Tom H. Cook is a fairly local writer.  He knows who wrote the note Mrs. Reese has weasel breath that found its way to her desk. 



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.