Category Archives: secrets

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. 


House Finish Man Die

You must never stop building the house.  If you continue to build you will live forever.  But if you stop, then you will die too.                                –The Boston Medium


It was on the advice of her psychic that Sarah Winchester contacted The Boston Medium. Winchester had lost both her young daughter and husband.  The medium suggested that the souls of those killed by her husband’s rifles were angry and that she seek a way to appease them. Rather than establish a relief fund or a charity for the victims’ families she abandoned the comforts of New Haven, Connecticut in 1844.  Armed (no pun intended) with a mere $20,500,000 and half ownership in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, the plucky if delusional widow moved west to San Jose, California.

The mansion she built is renowned for its size and utter lack of a master building plan.  Begun on her arrival, it has approximately 160 rooms (ample quarters for the spirits of the dead), 10,000 window panes, 40 bedrooms, 47 fireplaces and doors and stairways that lead nowhere.  A paint job required 20,500 gallons of paint and could never be finished because the early work would need re-doing before the last portion could be completed.  Crews needed to work around the clock to forestall Mrs. Winchester’s death.  The second ballroom was under construction when the aged and arthritic matron passed away in 1922.

I do not believe I have the same quest for immortality.  I have not even added a bird feeder in the seven years I have been in California or adopted an exercise regime that will extend my life, but I have no other explanation for my growing collections.  Like Mrs. Winchester, I can not see dying before I have read all of the books that line my walls.  I have hundreds of CDs, many that I have yet to listen to because the cover art does not look as good as the twelve I play for all occasions.  Still I plan to enjoy each and every one of them someday.

I am currently 306 podcasts or one week and 37 hours of non-stop This American Life and The Dan Patrick Show behind on my iPod, with more being downloaded everyday.  I will listen to them.  My DVR is set to record everything from old Bob Newhart episodes to Countdown with Keith Olbermann.  I watch just enough to keep the recorder at 90 % of capacity, but not overflowing. I rarely play any of my 500+ DVDs that I plan to watch, as the Netflix shipments cut into my available viewing time.

At this point you may be thinking Sure, he has a lot of books, music, and videos, but he has not crossed that all important line that separates the collector/hobbyist from the obsessive pack rat.  You are probably thinking nothing of the sort and I am being easy on myself. But if that were the extent of my “collections” I could rationalize it as a remnant of misplaced 1960s reverence for the media.

What catapults me over the line and into a world of delusion is my shirt collection.  I am ready to come out of the closet and admit to owning over 300 shirts.  I worry that I will spill things on my shirt…things that will not come out. (You would think I lived on grape juice.)  Or I will have another laundry mishap (see HLP May, 1999).  Consequently, when I am at a garage sale, I feel the need for backup, so I browse the men’s shirts.  I am a very common size, and too often there are shirts just calling me.  I have tried raising the bar and buying only all cotton, linen, or silk, freshly dry cleaned shirts selling for $1.00 a piece or less.  Still they find me.  Something comes over me, and I cannot walk away.

It will be handy to have dress shirts if I ever get a job again.  The dark silk ones are for my next (first) ultra swanky cocktail party.  These shirts are not to be confused with my “clubbing wardrobe” where Bianca or Simone may accidentally spill a drink on my clearly expensive outfit and I can laugh it off.  I have fancy golf shirts (I don’t play) and yacht party attire which I would undoubtedly ruin as I get seasick in the harbor.  If I am invited to a luau or a surprise party for Don Ho I have about 25 Hawaiian shirts to choose from. Don’t even get me started on my Scottish wool lumberjack shirts for ski trips and hikes in the great north woods with my chums that look like they star in beer commercials.

I have shirts for almost all occasions.  Shirts I plan not only to wear, but to wear out in my lifetime!  This will take a while because I currently keep them safely ensconced in my closet.  I tend to wear the same weather- and peanut butter-beaten T-shirts every day because I spend most of my waking hours with dogs who are notoriously forgiving of my attire.

I cannot wait for the occasion so special that I put on my silk shirt, pack the unread book I have been hoarding, throw some new CDs on my car stereo and head up the coast for a rockin’ weekend.  In the meantime I’ll be at a garage sale building up inventory or else at the dog park.


Tom H. Cook is an ex-HLP loiterer.  He will miss the editorship and friendship of Jane Johnson who is returning to England.




Tom with the paper

Great Writing

Great writing allows us to suspend disbelief and be spirited away to a world of larger than life characters more compelling than our own friends and neighbors. These complex, driven souls (who frequently have fabulous figures, chiseled features, raven hair, piercing eyes or some combination thereof) face staggering challenges. Their dialogue is witty, sardonic, immediate, and intense.  Their decisions are high stakes and life altering.  We rejoice and suffer with them.  Simultaneously admiring their convictions and resourcefulness, yet fearing where their misplaced idealism and naiveté may lead.

A novelist’s artfully chosen words evoke the full range of the human condition.  Their prose is like the dance of the seven veils.  We are left to ponder what part of their tale is autobiographical. Staring at the dust jacket photo of a bespectacled 25year old upper West Side writer from Keokuk, Iowa it seems unfathomable that they are so able to capture the plight of an enfeebled Etruscan shepherd and the poignant longings of his comely daughter.  Yet for 418 pages of laughter and tears we are absorbed: smelling the camel dung, searching for Shekabah, and shivering under the pitch-black desert sky.   Clearly there are didactic truths about the human condition that transcend time, culture, and social standing.

It is just as evident that I have no clue into this world.  I am as unlikely to hold a reader spellbound as I am at gunpoint.  I have examined my work for hidden meaning, prophetic insight, and even Talmudic wisdom.  Sadly none of these elements are present.  I am only able to bump along sharing what it is like to be middle-aged, frugal, rumpled, and reside within walking distance of Lake of the Isles.   The only event that passes for drama in my very pedestrian life is a sudden (if you call three years sudden) move to Southern California.

Six months later numerous friends and e-mailers have asked what life is like in L.A. when JoAnne and I are not hanging out with Kevin Spacey and Bill Clinton (see HLP 10/02).  The best description is the baseball strategy of playing “small ball”.  In baseball terms, it is to be scrappy, execute fundamentals, win close games with defence and hustle, sacrifice for the good of the team, play base to base, take advantage of small opportunities, and play hard.  This is admittedly difficult to translate to a financial planner without them believing you are preparing to live in a bus shelter.  In non-sports terms, “small ball” is making due with less, enjoying the little things in life, devoting fewer hours to work and more time to activities that gratify the soul.

Not the final draft!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was never a big buck, free agent, homerun, and big inning, get by on raw talent over training, swing for the fences type.  This is more a function of a lack of opportunity and initiative rather than a philosophical aversion to money and power.    Nonetheless when someone with my meager assets decides to downscale it is an event that is barely perceptible to some.  Still this is what JoAnne and I are doing.

It is going well.  Stella the insane boxer is actually enjoying living out doors and having a small yard.  The cats, both given away and subsequently returned have adjusted nicely to the California adventure.  Our new place in Redondo Beach at 1,400 square feet is less than half the size of our East Isles home. Rather than drive on freeways, we are able to walk or bike to most anything we need including the ocean.

I miss running into people I know at the local supermarket.  Without young children or steady work we are somewhat isolated, but still well connected to our Minnesota friends.  There is less sense of community living here with the other rootless drifters.  Garage sales are pathetic, but year round.  We find more interesting stuff on our Sunday night trash eve dog walks around the neighborhood.  The local libraries are very good and we are card-carrying members at six of them.

Our modest living room is happily taken up with JoAnne’s very large (48 harness) loom and assorted weaving projects.  She has an amazing capacity for self amusement and her days fly by.  I am ensconced at the lowest rung of the education food chain.  With a bachelor’s degree, a passing grade on the California Basic Education Skills Test (CBEST), and a clear criminal record, I am qualified to substitute teach.

I have joined the less than elite pool of bored housewives, aspiring actors, downsized aerospace engineers, recent college graduates, and faded old duffers willing to trade a day in the sun for $100.00.  The work is challenging, ever changing, and fulfilling.  I live a teacher’s life for a day.  A  5:30 AM call may summon me to five classes of Calculus and Physics in Palos Verdes, or a Special Education setting in Manhattan Beach.  On mornings the phone does not ring I enjoy a day of California vacation.  Lurking below this calm façade there are crucial life decisions, but for now it is as JoAnne says, “A simple life for a simple man”.

Tom H. Cook lacks the power to enthrall.  His goal as a writer is to make the squiggly lines the computer uses to critique his writing disappears.