Category Archives: new life

Politics Are Damaging to Our Health

A study has found that 11.5 percent of U.S. respondents believe politics is damaging their physical health.

                                                                          Rosie McCall

                                                                          Newsweek September 25, 2019

Crazy uncle Izzy (the one with the plate in his head that allows him to get Conelrad and police scanner dispatches to his brain) is taking all us kids on a Sunday drive in his Ford Country Squire station wagon. It is 1957 and America is great for the first time. There are ten of us, and we are rattling around, climbing over each other, spilling our burgers and strawberry shakes as Izzy roars down the highway, driving (in his estimation) “perfectly” despite spending a considerable amount of time on the shoulder, then surprising other drivers by passing them on the right as we head for the far left lane. We often hit 90 mph “because speed limits are for squares.”  Why did our parents let us go? He promised a nice short, safe drive to get lunch.  Where are the police? 

Adam and Nancy are screaming for him to stop, which only goads him to accelerate and drive more recklessly.  Somehow a couple of french fries with ketchup get stuck in Izzy’s hair and he goes even more berserk.  His left foot on the gas, he is sweating, swearing and rooting around in the back seat trying to quell the rebellion. He seems genuinely hurt that we do not appreciate the burgers (although our parents supplied the money and he pocketed the change) or that no one has ever driven from the Twin Cities to Brainerd faster.  We are three quarters of the way there.  We have forced three cars off the road. Hundreds of drivers have honked at us. We and the naugahyde are covered in vomit.  Little Caroline’s shrieks and cries will haunt me into my forties.  If we get to Brainerd alive, we will kiss the ground and hug each other. Of course Izzy will want us to get back in the car with him for another term.  

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

I won’t pretend to know how this all ends or if it ever does.  My fantasy is based upon the last episode of Seinfeld.  Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer are called out on their lives of privilege and casual disregard for the feelings of others.  They face a jury of their peers; Babu (the failed restauranteur) and many more get to air their grievances in court.

Our democracy badly needs aPeople’s Court for this president.  An open hearing for those who have been personally cheated, violated, defrauded, intimidated and slandered. They would have an opportunity for a face-to-face redress of their grievances. We know the president lacks the empathy and self awareness found in most humans and higher animals; that is how we got into this mess in the first place. Of course he will not change. But this televised event (he will gloat over the ratings) will not be aimed at altering his behavior or seeking enlightenment or contrition. Funerals are for the living, and we need this catharsis.

The fairest way is to line everyone up chronologically, beginning with nannies and governesses he terrorized as a child. They can come forward and talk about his tantrums and cruelty. Classmates in private and military school can share stories about the “Richie Rich” bully and braggart.  Next would come tutors paid to do his work at Fordham University. Bribing his way into Penn and graduating without cracking a book did not happen without witnesses; they will be up next. Bone spurs is well documented. The Roy Cohn years are a cesspool of Studio 54 exploitation of young women. Let them have their say.  Next are the scores of plumbers, carpenters and laborers he refused to pay, including the honest contractors he drove out of business. “Sue me,” he would say. The women he grabbed, the contracts he defaulted on…  already there are hundreds of aggrieved New Yorkers and he is not yet thirty. There is even a book documenting his life-long cheating at golf. Coming up, The Art of The Deal, Atlantic City bankruptcies, German banks, Trump U. and Marla Maples!

We are going to need a bigger courtroom.

How many firsthand victims/survivors are there?  We must be well into four figures. The line would stretch double file from Congress to the White House.  Imagine the visual, and the interviews with those waiting to be heard. Franklin Graham would be called on to view the assembled mass of humanity and attempt to justify how these hundreds of people are all mistaken and the president really is a swell guy. Then he will be asked to name which of the seven deadly sins and Ten Commandments the president has not broken.    

Tom H. Cook would not be invited to this twisted This Is Your Life spectacle.  But every one of us who merely lost sleep, gnashed teeth, or saw our ideals shattered will be able to watch it on every channel except Fox.   

Pickle Ball

image by Tom Cassidy

Friend:  “So what you been up to?”

Me:  “I started pickleball classes.”

Friend:  “Congratulations!

Me:  “It’s not a big deal…”

Friend:  It just means you are officially old.”

My friend may tease me all she wants.  We have been close since the mid-80s and she always has a spare bed or couch for me when I return to Minneapolis.  She is also right about the makeup of my classmates.  They are old but, as I learned, feisty and competitive.  Sharing informally before our first session almost everyone was describing and displaying the scars from their past life in real sports.  Most were former jocks: skiers, golfers, equestrians and tennis players, not to mention contact sport veterans.  All had succumbed to broken patellas, bad rotator cuffs, mangled meniscus’s, cracked ulna’s, slipped disks, hip replacements, fractured fibula’s, or pin-filled ankles.  The scars are their badge of honor.  They speak with an air of sadness and pride as they recount accidents and crazy risks undertaken in their ”hell for leather” days.

I started to say something about being a collection of broken toys but thought better of it.  Our pickleball class was a mix of beginners and intermediates.  It was high school all over again, and not in a good way.  Nothing like being tisk-tisked by a 75 year old grandmother because I was unable to learn the scoring system which was laid out by Hammurabi.  It became clear that I wasn’t there because of a competitive fire to compete. I never laid my body out on the gridiron for old Pennsauken High, reasoning that an institution that sanctioned bullying, assigned homework and detention was not going to get my 5’6” 125-pound body for practice fodder.  I hadn’t “earned my (bone) spurs” from a debilitating sports injury because I was always picked near the end. While decently coordinated, I was not as tough as my teammates even on our championship co-ed slow pitch softball teams in college.   

Our instructor (a former tennis player with an impressive scar running across her shoulder and upper arm) rode me pretty hard.  We were not just hitting a whiffle ball with a paddle.  Pickleball was a game of strategy, teamwork and occasional power.  After a miscue she raised her voice at me.  I didn’t respond, so she goaded me. “What’s the matter? Do I sound like your ex- wife?”  “No” I responded “You are actually much nicer.”  She smiled and while she continued to be firm it did not bother me. Besides learning to score, stay out of the kitchen (a pickleball court area), and move in tandem with a partner, I was happy to have the four week session end.  The group felt cold and unfriendly.

To my astonishment I re-upped for the second term in part because a friend was in it but I mostly because I wanted a Groundhog’s Day do over.  This group was much warmer and supportive.  They “got me.”  As I have done my whole life, I used humor to build bridges.  I was the foil for many of the instructor’s jibes: “Karen, come on, you’re hitting like Tom!  Racket up!”   A number of my fellow students spoke with me out of teacher earshot and thanked me for bringing lightness and humor to the class.  I am glad I stayed with it.   Perhaps some late life maturity is finally kicking in.

Tennis, while beautiful and requiring great skill, can be a bombastic grunting dialogue with an exchange of 100 mph serves.  It is often like cable news with two loudmouth blowhards trying to “hold serve” by screaming over each other.  Pickleball is a fun, challenging mental game.   A player may not cross the seven foot line (the kitchen) which runs parallel to the net and just slam shots back.  Pickleball is like the parry and thrust of fencing.  It is stimulating dinner party conversation with all participants encouraging each other.  After a long rally with many artful saves, all four players feel they have contributed and the point winner is secondary.  Pickleball is mysterious.  Every evening is not Camelot, but even the most competitive players seem to respond to the synergy that the sport provides.      

Tom H. Cook is always promoting something.  This month it is Netflix.  Huge in France  is a comedy series about a famous French comedian who seeks to escape the Parisian celebrity limelight.  He does too good a job and can’t get a break or a cab in L.A.  

Thief River Falls Chronicle

Dear Flo,
I’m a proud rural single mom with a problem. I wrote to you two decades ago, saying that although “Floyd” and I were still in high school, we had found true love. You told me love is a rare dove that some search the world over for and never find. (I thought you might have been talking about yourself.) Well, Floyd was a bird alright and he took flight. Off and on he’d come back to the nest (my parents basement) ‘til my daddy finally ran him off at gunpoint. (Thank you Second Amendment! ) Money is tight but I have three wonderful children. I don’t know how any God-fearing woman could do it any different. My choices are my own. But that is not why I am writing.

My growing up years were wonderful. Daddy worked maintenance at the Northland Community Vo-Tech in Thief River Falls. He’s gone now, as is the union. I could have basically gone to school for free but that’s another story (thank you Floyd Jr.). Muslims and Mexicans (I’m not prejudice) who don’t speak English and work cheap have all the jobs and I don’t feel safe on campus. Thanks to Obama, men can dress up as women and rape you in a public restroom, and Beyonce is telling me how to vote. (Whew, don’t know where all that came from!)

Here’s my reason for writing. I had a friend “Lynne” in high school. I was homecoming queen and she was in my court. She went right to the Twin Cities after graduation and I stayed up here for my boys. Fast forward twenty years and I run into Lynne at the market! I may have come on a bit strong but I was so excited to see her. I asked her if she is moving home. First she laughs and then looks at me like I had stepped in something (I hadn’t, I checked). She let me know that she and her husband are both doctors in Minneapolis and their kids are in prep school out East. They have purchased some property here, a little getaway from their stressful careers.

I figure even a part-time friend is better than nothing. I kidded her about how she couldn’t get out of here fast enough back in the day. I told her about my oldest starting technical school over in town. I’m babbling and flustered cause she doesn’t volunteer anything about herself or ask about me, not that there’s much to tell. While I’m in the middle of trying to catch her up on the old gang, she’s getting nervous about her frozen food. I suggested she and her hubby come out to visit. After that she ran out to her fancy Lexus.

A week later I drove out to her new lake “cabin” (a three story monster house) to take her some homemade brownies. There was no answer but I thought I heard whispering. I tried friending her on Facebook and no reply.

Should I try again to make contact, let her know how insignificant she made me feel, or just ignore her?

P.S. I left the brownies on my best tray on her porch, and I would like it back.

Proud Maryguy by Tom Cassidy

Dear Flo,
I have a problem and I remembered your homespun country wisdom when I was a girl. I had written you a turgid, vitriolic condemnation of my hometown dubbed “Gopher Flats.” You advised me to spread my wings and move to the city. Thanks to some government grants, scholarships, and working three jobs I completed med school at the U, where I also met my future husband, Arthur (not his real name). We have a nice home on Lake of the Isles and have two exceptional children.

Arthur teases me about being Homecoming Queen of the Corn. We came back up north (something I vowed never to do) for my uncle’s funeral. Arthur, who grew up in a big city, fell in love with the area! I showed him the lake where a bunch of us used to skinny dip. As a surprise, he bought the lake, or most of it. He would hum the theme from “Green Acres” and threaten to open a practice up here. I asked him if he would be willing to accept chickens as payment as no one here has any money or insurance!

The compromise Arthur and I struck was to use the land to build a holistic retreat center. I can continue my volunteer work with domestic abuse victims and Arthur and his colleagues can use it to conduct seminars. We can do some good and at the same time gain a significant tax advantage. I have agreed to come up one week a month.

Fast forward to this month: the construction is done and I am grocery shopping to pick up items the caterers missed for our housewarming/Hillary fundraiser for eighty people. I am running around the store like a mad woman and who starts hugging me but “Easy Susie” from high school! No tiara but same hairdo, plus 30 pounds. (They must not have pilates in the woods.) She starts yakking like I’m back home to stay and we can be “buds.” She is dangling participles, saying “these ones,” and beginning every sentence with the word “actually.” She goes on about her oldest child. I have no idea how large her brood is, but I am starting to hear banjo music and the sorbet is melting. She invites me out to see her double-wide and bring “the old man.”

On reflection I treated her brusquely. If I am honest, she reminds me of a vulnerable time in my life. I witnessed abuse here as a child and I vowed to get as far away as possible. My professional status and money is a firewall as much as the 300 miles. Susie was sweet but she crashed through all of my defenses and now I cannot face her. Arthur, bless him, still does not understand why I freaked out when he bought the property.

Susie knows where I live and has started leaving unwanted food on my doorstep. She is harassing me on-line about wanting her valuable tray back (it’s silver plate). A lawyer friend has offered to draft something but I think that is overkill. The simple truth is we live in different worlds and have nothing in common. How do I say that nicely?

Blue Lady

Dear Mary and Blue,
Mary, you are correct, I think of my readers as my children! I will confess that you have always been two of my favorites and I am very proud of you. I am publishing both of your letters together and hoping you can bridge this gap between you.

Much love,

Tom H. Cook is a writer on occasion and not a political savant.

Don’t mourn; organize.
—Joe Hill, labor organizer, executed by Utah firing squad 1915


guy2 by Tom CassidyI am often asked (all right, twice) where my ideas come from. Much more frequently the question is why I still write for the HLP despite living two thousand miles west of Hennepin Avenue. It is a valid point, given the preponderance of young hipsters who could do a much more ironic job. Let me somewhat answer the former question and totally ignore the latter.

An event will trigger an idea, or a random thought will occur to me, and rather than trumble, flashstrip, or instasnap it to everyone I know (“Just had pancakes, yum!”), I will write it down on a scrap of paper and put it in my shirt pocket. When my column is due I need only go through my clothes and see if I am able to decipher what “people not a cucumber” means. Laundry day often wipes out much of my best stuff, but here are a few unrelated snippets that escaped the washing machine.

* * * * * * *
Many political progressives of both genders use the term grandfathered (an action exempting a person or law from a new regulation). When I asked a PC friend why the gender specific word was still accepted, they stammered and finally said it must have been grandfathered in.

* * * * * * *
The phrase “I am/am not a(n)___________________person.” The fill-in could be animal, goat cheese, cucumber, or ragtime. It is very British, tweedy, snippy, and fussy. I do not miss it. “No worries,” which has a Jamaican, Rastafarian, island, Bobby McFerrin feel, is probably on the way out. My accountant used it when I forgot to provide a 1099 form.

* * * * * *
The last remaining group we are permitted to make fun of is the people of Appalachia. Within ten years the term “hillbilly” will not be acceptable. I won’t say the Beverly Hillbillies were Amos and Andy, but the still syndicated show from my childhood is embarrassing. Comedians and film makers still feast on the fodder of lower intelligence, inbreeding and promiscuity with resultant large families for cheap laughs. It must be tough for young people in that region to live down the media image. Isn’t it nice that we are running out of groups to stereotype and scapegoat.

* * * * * *
Every time there is a mass shooting we wring our hands and ask why it continues to happen. Even the hint of gun control legislation sends weapon sales sky rocketing. After each tragedy we shuffle into religious services, hat in hand, for the eulogies, sitting passively, mumbling platitudes, alone in our private thoughts. Along with the moment of silence to remember the fallen, why not an expression of rage at everything the victims lost and was senselessly taken from us all? This is not a call for vigilante justice or an Orwellian hate week, but a way to share our hurt. Rather than feeling like victims in our Sunday best, let us have a cathartic scream at the injustice and rail at the insanity the second amendment has wrought. I picture Howard Beale in Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more!” The uproar will go viral.

* * * * * * *

The massive denial of humanity’s role in climate change. Cigarette smoking and the link to cancer. Football on all levels and the increased risk of traumatic brain injury and resulting memory loss, depression, dementia, and death. In all three cases there has been an orchestrated cover-up to preserve company profits and our own naivete. We have made science the villain, proving what we already deeply suspected. The arguments of the “deniers” on all three causes are uncannily similar. Rooted in denial and nostalgia, we do not want to know the consequences of our actions. We cry out for our loss, curse the messenger and whoever changed the rules mid-game. Enjoying a Sunday drive with the whole family in the gas hog, relaxing with a cigarette (and a drink) while watching the Packers and Vikings knock each other silly seems like solace, and a well earned reward for raising a family, sacrificing, and working way more than 9 to 5. “Can’t I just watch the game?” I no longer can.

Tom H. Cook does not understand why his phone is more interested in his exact location than his wife is. He wishes all a happy and safe holiday season.


There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.
—Steven Wright

There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.
—Simon Sinek

Tommy, how many times do I have to tell you? Do not interrupt when someone is talking!
—Mildred Cook (mother)

The no-longer-new technology can be flattering. After a few key strokes Amazon and their like are ready to make rather heavy-handed suggestions. One of the goals of living is to be understood, and they know me! Like a very solicitous butler, their educated guesses can be eerily insightful. Their memory is long and persistent. If you have ever, even in passing, considered a move to Buenos Aires to become a gaucho, or be in a gaucho-related field (rustling, branding or pampas real estate), beware. Years later, despite switching computers, changing passwords and altering my name, there are still sites convinced I need a bolo tie.

Autocorrect can sometimes produce strange results. A humorous example in “Damn You Auto Correct” is between brothers. One is asking to borrow $300 dollars for Mott’s Apple Juice. His sibling is ready to lend the money, but is concerned that there is an apple juice problem. Alas, the money was for a mortgage payment. Be very careful if you are writing about Swedish cars or pencils.

But this is not an anti-technology rant about privacy lines being crossed and trampled in the name of expediency and commerce.

After being presumptively bullied by my computer as if herded by a border collie (if you have one, you know the feeling), I began thinking about how I often steer conversations with friends. The more I reflected on it, the more uncomfortable I became. I often interrupt, under the guise of empathy and identifying with the story or emotion. I try to be an active listener. (“Wow I would have been terrified if I’d been there!”) Sometimes I am viewed as a true friend, someone who understands a fear of rodents or lavender soap. Too often, however, I have acted like a rabid autocorrect, finishing sentences for others and leaping to conclusions the speaker was fully capable of reaching without my help.

I am likely to volunteer the name of the actress, restaurant, or song before my friends can come up with it. It is a bad habit to presume where a story is going and beat the teller to the punch to show off under the guise of being helpful. I have made progress in letting others finish their own ideas and anecdotes. In a group setting it has been interesting to purposely step back and let the conversation go in a different direction. I still step over the line and become a nudge now and then, but any progress I have made is attributable to the example set by the bossy people at Amazon.

by Tom Cassidy

Earby owl by Tom Cassidy

Tom H. Cook has two border collies and has not had to make an independent decision in four years.

“The Glitch”

Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.                                                                     ––Freidrich Nietzsche

If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.                                                                       —Edgar Allan Poe

Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I have forgotten this before.

—Steven Wright

 I am not perfect. As an opening line this is not up there with Dickens’ “It was the best of times,” Melville’s “Call me Ishmael” or even “It was a dark and stormy night,” but it did get your attention. My follies, foibles and slothful habits are well documented (see HLP 1985-present) or have a brief conversation with JoAnne (wife/editor) or any of the dwindling number of people who grudgingly admit to some shared level of friendship.

Around the house I have always considered myself a gazelle, frolicking from room to room, not creating a stir or upsetting the order of things. In my mind I put the top back on the toothpaste, refold the newspaper after reading, and place my empty tea cup in the dishwasher.   I see myself as a good person because my religion preaches that while we are all God’s children, He/She grades on a curve. As long as I can stay ahead of the troubled people who appear on reality television or hold political office, I am fine. I do, however, have a quirk known as “The Glitch.”

“The Glitch” is a lifetime malady not related to being in the prime of my senility. It is this: clearly imagine myself completing a simple task, such as making a peanut butter sandwich. I picture myself replacing the lid on the jar. I have done this literally thousands of times. (I am old and I really like peanut butter.) When someone, usually the editor, finds the open jar, I am baffled and at a loss to explain why it is missing.

Sitting at my desk, I see a wadded up Visa bill under a chair on the other side of the room. I distinctly remember the shot I launched with 00:04 seconds left in the half (a rainbow sky hook from 9 feet out) that nestled into the wastepaper basket. The crowd went wild, and then I returned to bill paying. However, there on the floor is the balled up paper mocking me. I also imagine and remember putting dirty clothes found under the bed into the hanmper, shutting open cupboards, and turning off lights before bed. The Glitch tells me I have done these things because on countless occasions I have.

Never mind my carbon footprint, someone is leaving muddy ones on the living room carpet although I distinctly remember checking my shoes before coming in. My “come to Jesus” moment came a few weeks ago when the editor was in Minneapolis for a weaving conference.   With no one to blame, I began to notice how many jobs were partially completed despite my clear recollection to the contrary. Dinner dishes I washed carefully took on grease and chunks of food overnight!

The Internet, a fairly good resource for many questions, is strangely silent on “The Glitch.”   After ruling out that I am distracted, lazy, careless, or preoccupied, what remains is a mystery.

guy4Tom H. Cook still feels like a Minnesotan. If everyone who visits him in southern California brings the TSA-permitted three ounces of liquid, his lawn will still die.

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!

The Secret to Humor

The secret to humor is surprise.

Unlike the scholarly, well footnoted opuses I usually bring to this space, I have decided to foresake the dusty library stacks and my arduous original research to celebrate summer’s last gasp. Join me in a hammock with a lemonade (although it may get crowded) for a few vignettes that make me smile and laugh out loud. Although on disparate subjects, each features a wry twist.

The early 1970s comedy The Odd Couple featured divorcee and sportswriter slob Oscar Madison sharing a Manhattan apartment with Felix Unger, a commercial photographer (portraits a specialty), neat freak and meddler. A favorite episode has Oscar going on and on lamenting a lost romance of his youth. Felix, ever the nudge, tracks down Judy, Oscar’s former flame, and sets up a surprise meeting. The show’s final scene is Judy, all 450 pounds of her, rushing into Oscar’s arms. Will this be an awkward moment? The show is saved and will always remain in my memory because an equally delighted Oscar rushes toward her and blurts out, “Judy, you lost weight!”

* * *

Science class at my junior high school in Pennsauken, NJ. We are watching a black and white educational film about insects. Our teacher Miss Grover, who was rumored to have lost a fiancee in the Spanish American War, is presiding. In this era almost any diversion from “the lecture” was appreciated, note the word almost. A few minutes into the film we become aware that this screen gem is funded by a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company, whose answer to almost every question is DDT. (This is pre-Vietnam and today’s target is termites.) The film takes an ominous turn. “You may see a half dozen termites chewing on a baseboard.” I recognize the narrator’s voice from his work on “Russia: Threat or Menace?”, but today his crusade is to warn of another kind of vermin. In a voice usually reserved for fellow travelers and Hollywood types he implores us, “Do not be fooled if you see a few termites. There may be thousands doing damage on the other side of the wall!” The camera cuts to a spot that is black with termites! Those of us who are not sound asleep are terrified. There was silence. Finally my friend Steve crinkles his nose and naively wonders aloud, “I have thousands of termites in my garage. Does that mean that there are two or three on the other side of the wall?”
* * *

Who can forget our own Lake of the Isles’ Mary Tyler Moore Show ? Late in the series Ted Baxter and Georgette get married and quickly become adoptive parents to a 10 year old son. The boy is struggling in school and the Baxters turn to newsroom gang for advice. The whole WJM crew offers words of encouragement and vague suggestions to Georgette and Ted, who are crestfallen and clearly out of their depth. An elderly relative of Lou’s happens to be visiting the newsroom, and he gets drawn into the discussion. After witnessing the hand wringing, he asks if he might offer an observation. “I’m an old man and I’ve seen one or two things in my lifetime. Sometimes there’s a reason why a child is not doing well in school…and it’s very simple, but no one ever thinks of it! He could be stupid.”

* * *earby owl

The scene is the locker room of a very exclusive English club, think dark oak, chandeliers. Three older members have just emerged from the showers when a number of women appear, having clearly walked through the wrong door on their tour of the facilities. There are shrieks and laughter as the men race to cover themselves. Two of the men grab towels to rap around their waists. The third man hastily places a towel over his head. After the women depart the first two men ask their comrade to explain his unusual behavior. He pauses briefly and then responds, “I cannot speak for you chaps, but in this town I am better known by my face.”

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer. Unlike those spouting the cliche du jour, his next rodeo would be his first.




The Yarn Sale

He who dies with the most toys wins.        Malcolm Forbes

Now everything ‘s a little upside down,  As a matter of fact the wheels have stopped.  What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top.  You’re on the bottom.
                         Idiot Wind (Blood On The Tracks) Bob Dylan

Existence is bigger, deeper, more profound and meaningful than the following revelation.  Life is like a card game. Early on the strategy is to win all the “pots” and collect all the stray cards possible.  Many years ago a tea set left by a great aunt spurred a fierce family competition.  Decades later the ubiquitous tea set is still rattling around the family.  No longer coveted, it is too fragile and memory-filled to put on eBay, but no one wants to dust and display it.  The hope is to foist it off on an unsuspecting newly married young niece. My generation is realizing extra cards (and sugar bowls) are a burden and count as points against in the big game.

My wife JoAnne is a fiber artist and president of the Southern California Handweavers’ Guild. To suggest she enjoys collecting yarns, silks, linens and fine fabrics is like saying Marco Polo liked to travel.  She has rescued yarn from Miss Havisham-like estates, garage sales of too-busy hobbyists, and countless church basement rummage sales.  We used to joke that she’d been in more churches than Billy Graham.  Our two car garage has always been given over to her passion.   The result has been many beautiful pieces through the years. Along the way she has also mentored and given freely to beginning weavers.

About a month ago she made the decision to divest.  Her goal was to sell 25% of her accumulation.  With the tireless help of her sister, Donna, she turned the garage into a store-for-a-day.  Thanks to Craig’s List and numerous Yahoo groups, word got out that things would be priced to move.  At the opening bell at 9:00 AM the line was thirty people long. The flurry of shoppers continued unabated for three hours before tapering off, followed by a rally in mid-afternoon. The sale left JoAnne and Donna in equal parts exhausted and euphoric.

In the afterglow it looked like orderly locusts had come and spirited off much of forty-plus years of collecting.  I asked JoAnne if she missed the 600 pounds of yarn. “No, I had more than I could possibly weave up in a lifetime.  It was time to let other people enjoy some of it.”

She had the look of someone who had just located the card they needed to complete a winning hand.

The Yarn Sale

Tom H. Cook was not swept up in the whirlwind of cathartic energy enough to part with his Mad magazine collection.  To view previous columns and even comment visit         


Minneapolis in Mid-September

What a wonderful week to come home.  Minneapolis in mid-September has always been one of my favorite times.  The lush trees and cool air, the young families (many with requisite lab or golden retriever), and most everyone’s pace is of hurried optimism.  Winter is coming, but not yet.

I have always loved to show off Minneapolis, whether to stray relatives, old friends from college, or friends of friends.  Even driving somewhere alone I would frequently play tour guide in my mind.  When Rachael returned for a wedding along with her husband Daniel, a New Zealander who had never been to Minnesota, it was the ultimate challenge.  I wanted him to see everything.  Working against my rapidly evolving plan was Rachael’s mortification at me dragging him off, and Daniel’s desperate need for sleep, something he had had almost none of for three days.  The kids also had a commitment with friends and a dash to the airport.  I had one hour.

We began at the old house.  It pays to sell to friends.  Barb and Alan welcomed us to 24th and Humboldt.  Poking around, showing off the still preserved height marks of growing children, and seeing the changes and improvements through Daniel’s eyes was fulfilling, but Tom the Taskmaster had more to point out, and the clock was running.

Flying out the door, we passed Walter and Joan Mondale’s house.  I wanted the Kiwi to see that at least one former U.S. vice president doesn’t need guards, a gated estate, and opulent surroundings.  The lakes impressed him immediately.  By the fourth lake and despite my running narrative and erratic driving he was ready to call a realtor.

JoAnne would have wanted to stop at the elf tree at Lake Harriet, or just walk peacefully around Isles, but she was visiting friends, and I am a quantity over quality guide.  We passed the beautiful mosaic at Lakewood cemetery, but it received short shrift compared to the Lake of the Isles dog park.  We raced and chased on a beautiful late summer afternoon.  Daniel was impressed by the number of people smiling (unlike in LA).  Dropping them off in Uptown as I pointed out Magers and Quinn and the Apple store, the kids forgave my exuberance.  I called out that Minneapolis has free WiFi as they sprinted away.  It is hard to do twenty-five years in an hour.

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The rest of the week was spent more leisurely.  Reminiscing, seeing old friends, going to garage sales, biking the lakes, it was great to be back.  JoAnne returned to The Minnesota Textile Center which has become the finest in the nation in our nine years away.  As a fiber artist it brings her as much joy as I feel watching a baseball game at Target Field.  On the flight back to LA, JoAnne smiled wistfully and said,”I miss Minnesotans.”


Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer now stationed in southern California.  He realizes that he occasionally needs to abandon the bloody pulpit for more local observations.  He was particularly impressed that the (Cursetown) Crosstown/35W no longer does.