Category Archives: teaching


We have met the enemy and he is us.                    —Walt Kelly

For a long time I have been railing at friends, and even total strangers trapped in slow moving bank or grocery checkout lines, about the nearly universal use of ear buds.  Without sounding too much like the late Andy Rooney, I was against them, almost to the point of producing spittle.  I viewed the ubiquitous ivory colored plugs as more than a minor distraction or fashion statement, but an antisocial act.  By choosing to seal ourselves in an audio bubble, we not only erect additional barriers with others, but we may stifle our own thoughts.  A brimming haiku, a stinging letter to the editor, a snappy retort for the next tailgating yahoo in a monster truck…snuffed out by a medley of The Grass Roots Greatest Hits.

When I really got going I could verbally Evil Knievel the Snake River Canyon of logic and extrapolate a world of isolated Bee Gees listening zombies, anesthetized and ripe for totalitarian picking.  We walk the lakes and hike the wilderness for the quiet and ambient sounds.  Nature does not require a soundtrack.  Thoreau cruising around Walden with an iPod?  Blasphemy!

Profound alienation, a diss to the environment, issues of safety (distractibility and what that can entail), and the risk of hearing loss to the wearer.  That was my platform, shared with anyone who would listen, and a few that merely turned up the volume to mute my diatribe.  I now see these views as more than a tad extreme, but not without merit.  Nonetheless I have done almost a complete 180 degree turn.  I still do not know what others were listening to, but I always assumed it was music.  I enjoy music, but I do not need it piped over a loudspeaker in a mega mall (another topic) or in my ears.

Podcasts are another story.  I can go for a walk with Ira Glass (This American Life) and not need to hold up my end of the conversation.  I do not watch sports very often, but I am hooked on the soap opera which is Peyton Manning, Jeremy Lin, and Ryan Braun.  Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd, Mike and Mike, are my podcast pals that make going to the post office or to buying gas (ouch) more interesting.

I have the zeal of a convert.  Do I want to invite a friend on a walk or for tea, and risk a possibly tearful/angst ridden/ intimate/messy/galvanizing/soul-baring/cathartic/breakthrough/bonding/heartfelt exploration of the preciousness of life, the impossible pain of unrequited love, the existential barrenness of possessions, and the hollowness of unfulfilled dreams? Or do I want to go out alone, but with the voice of Keith Olbermann updating me on the latest hijinks of fools in high places?

Tom H. Cook is a very longtime writer for this paper, which is not an excuse, but perhaps an explanation.  He will probably return next month unless someone tells him to stop.


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. 


Know Thyself

Know thyself.                –Ancient Greek aphorism

This above all: to thine own self be true.             –(from Hamlet) William Shakespeare

 We are sure to be losers when we quarrel with ourselves; it is civil war.             –Charles Caleb Colton


Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.             –Emile Coue


I have never been able to psych myself into believing that I am a child of the universe and locked inside me is the potential to be a mountain-moving, charismatic, chronically positive life force.  I am not quaking with untapped energy, brimming with the milk of human kindness, or overflowing with love for others.  I do not hold the key to anyone’s happiness, least of all mine.  I rarely leap out of bed (I have weak ankles) eager to face the day’s challenges, turn over new leaves, make a friend of Dale Carnegie, let a smile be my umbrella, keep my sunny side up, or even direct my feet to the sunny side of the street.

Despite my rather meager credentials, twisted wretch that I am, I have stumbled onto a way to accomplish tasks that would have bedeviled me years ago.  I still rely on my twin defenses (delegation and denial), but there are errands, chores, and obligations that simply cannot be weaseled out of.  Many of you already practice this surefire technique, but I have the zeal of a convert and feel I must share it with my fellow procrastinators.


Disclaimer: This strategy is unnecessary, simplistic, and laughable for inner directed, Type A, self-motivated, goal oriented, list makers.  Stop reading. Go back to Stephen Covey and your iPad.

 All right it’s just us now, and I am ready to reveal the secret.  (Don’t worry, I don’t want money. I have no idea how to set up a PayPal account, and you’d never get it together to send it to me anyway.)  Here it is: Talk honestly to your future self.  For decades I held the mistaken notion that in time I would improve, have better posture, floss regularly, listen to Rosetta Stone, and generally be more competent and responsible.  It was the oil slick on the highway, ever over the next rise.

America has been built on the premise of perspiration/inspiration, bootstraps, hard work, luck and pluck, evolution, or divine intervention.  I must have felt my future self would be more willing and able to do my book reports, take out the trash, and write thank you notes. I bought thick books I planned to read and Guthrie season tickets for when I became more sophisticated.  I could go on.  Everything was based on the premise of my forthcoming maturation.

Greater insight, intellectual curiosity, and work ethic … they never came!  Age has not brought wisdom, only liver spots.  Like Popeye, I yam what I yam.  It is sobering but also liberating to know I am unlikely to become any better.  I now have brutally frank conversations with my future self.  “When am I/you going to want to clean the yard, pull the tax stuff together, or wash the dogs?”  Future Me’s short answer is “Never.”  Present Self replies, “In that case, I might as well do it now.”

This also cuts down on misplacing checkbooks, and car keys.  I ask myself, “Will Future Me remember to look in the candy dish for my wallet when I am racing out the door in the morning?”  For years I tortured Future Self with my unfounded faith in his abilities.   Now I take pity on my poor future self and do him favors like returning phone calls and working on my column before the deadline.

Tom H. Cook is a writer of sorts.  It is Day 24 since Keith Olbermann left MSNBC.

Learning the Hard Way

Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.              —Michael Corleone (The Godfather III)

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nathaniel West, Natty Bumppo, James Fenimore Cooper, Henry James, James Thurber, James Joyce, Joyce Kilmer.  The Crucible, Arthur Miller, Henry Miller, The Mill and the Floss, Silas Marner, George Eliot, T.S. Eliot, J. Alfred Prufrock.  Bret Harte, Hart Crane, Stephen Crane, Ichabod Crane, Washington Irving, John Irving.  It is all mushing together.

In my fourth final retirement, someone with a sense of humor thought it would be amusing for me to teach English full-time for three months while the bonafide teacher is on maternity leave. I just finished my second month and am totally immersed in the curriculum of high school juniors and seniors.  We are cramming for the SAT’s, reading short stories, and beginning The Great Gatsby.  Soon I will be worrying about acne, passing the road test for my driver’s license, curfew, and getting a date for the Spring Fling.

I am not quite sure why I am here.  Perhaps my function is to serve as a placeholder because I have no ambition or designs on a tenured position.  A younger job seeker may not have wanted to commit and risk losing out on a steadier gig.  It may also be the work of the mischievous gods and sprites that hide car keys, cell phones, and important papers.  I also suspect that I have, as the psychologists say, “unfinished business” around this stage in my life.

When I was sixteen, only a few close friends knew that my mother had become bedridden with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder that, combined with cancer, would soon take her.  High school was the lowest point in my life.  As a self-absorbed adolescent, I felt my mother’s illness made me different, and I was the holder of an embarrassing secret.  Many wince at recalling their high school years, but I squint, grimace, and change the subject.

It is odd but cathartic to walk the crowded, locker-filled hallways, albeit 3,000 miles and light years away.   It feels wonderful to be surrounded by so much youth, hope, energy, and anxiety.  I feel empathy for my students and the complexity of their lives. Searching for an example of irony in honors literature, I shared that my first foray into any kind of an advanced class was as their teacher.  It is great to have age, experience, maturity, and the teacher’s edition of the text.  Like returning to a long-neglected crossword puzzle with fresh eyes, I am able to interpret poems, short stories, and novels that were a jumble to me when I was in school.

In high school terms, athletes talk about when they are “in a groove” and playing well: the game “slows down.”  They feel poised and confident even when the ball and other players are moving at breakneck speed.  Teaching can be that way.  Thirty young people in a small room for 55 minutes can feel chaotic.  Mastering the curriculum and presenting it with appropriate respect and more than occasional irreverence is a challenge.  Apologies to William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus” but I feel that in football jargon, I am the wizened, grizzled quarterback.  “My head is bloody but unbowed.”  I am now able to call a smart play, and deliver a floating spiral to the right spot downfield.  My students are running mental patterns everywhere but toward Willa Cather.  I do not control the outcome but often above the din and indifference…touchdown!!!

Sharing what I have learned the long hard way is very fulfilling.  It also doesn’t hurt to have the answer key.


Tom H. Cook is still befuddled by Booth Tarkington, Thomas B. Costain, and Eudora Welty.   He is able to distinguish Sinclair Lewis from Upton Sinclair.

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.




Mr. Minnick

Angles equal to the same angle are equal.               —Robert Minnick

If Mr. Minnick had been a dog, he would have been a basset hound.  He was a forlorn man who, while not short and squat like a basset, possessed a basset’s appearance of profound sadness and resignation to life.  It was the 1960s, of which too much has been written already, and he was clearly too muddled in life to hop in a psychedelic van and head to California.  He seemed to spend most of our geometry classes wondering what door he stumbled through that landed him a $4-thou a year teaching gig in Pennsauken, New Jersey.

Mr. Minnick had some memorable traits.  He wore a tie and jacket, as required, but with a white short sleeved shirt so that he could play with the golf ball-sized growth under his left elbow.  While we worked on our assignment he would bend his elbow to compress the lump and then straighten his arm to jiggle the fleshy protrusion.  Perhaps he was pondering the paucity of his school district healthcare coverage as he pawed the tumor.  It seemed to be his only friend.  One could only speculate on how they amused themselves in the privacy of his one bedroom apartment in east Pennsauken.

A hairy, stocky, somber man, Minnick spent much of the class period lecturing (he was a pretty good teacher) and searching for an uneven surface to stand against and rub his probably very hairy back.  Leaning against a chalk board brought him little relief, although he never stopped trying.  Classmate Linda Browning was very pretty but Minnick’s interests were more primal.  With Linda solving problems at the board, he could retreat to his favorite spot near the back of the room where the spackling was uneven and he could scratch and instruct simultaneously.

I remember his stating the Transitive Property of Equality as proof of a formula.  “If A=B and B=C, then A=C.”  Minnick, the chalk-stained wretch, had established one of the founding logic principles on which Amazon, Netflix, and Pandora built empires.  If you liked this book, movie, song, you will quite likely enjoy the works of this unknown artist.  Ordinarily, these programs seem to say, this artist would unhinge your precariously balanced paradigm and terrify you because you are old and set in your ways.  But 41,000 people whose taste agrees with yours 82% of the time really liked it, and you need not be afraid. Thus we can move with reassurance from the known to the unknown.  

You will notice I slipped Pandora in as if I were a long time user of the free music service rather than just hearing about it a week ago from my son Ben.  If you are as unhip as I am, Pandora is the result of the Music Genome Project founded by Tim Westergren in January 2000.  The goal of the hundreds of artists, musicians, and computer savvy music lovers affiliated with it is to tease out and identify the essence of a song at its most fundamental level.  The team has listened to tens of thousands of artists and analyzed the musical qualities of each song.  They have assembled hundreds of attributes or “genes.”  Their work has produced a comprehensive analysis of music.  What a person likes may be personal, but it is also fairly quantifiable.

Pandora Internet Radio continues to stream full songs to which you can vote thumbs up or down.  The up signal emboldens Pandora to find you similar songs or musicians you might like; a couple thumbs down sends the artist to music Gitmo.  You can swap your play list with others.  I found out I am not the only James Talley fan out there.  I have enjoyed assembling my personal music stations, which are commercial-free if you are able to ignore the pop up (but silent) ads and suggestions to buy the music on CD on Amazon.

Simply begin with a song or an artist.  Norah Jones took me to Cleo Laine, Linda Ronstadt, and Sarah McLachlan, all of whom I knew.  Pandora also suggested I would enjoy John Mayer, Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz. Why? Because I enjoy “contrapuntal melodic presentation, acoustic sonority, mild rhythmic syncopations, meandering melodic phrasing, and major key tonality.”  I have no idea what any of that means, but Pandora and Mr. Minnick are right.


Tom H. Cook is a Johnny Hartman and Little Jimmy Scott fan and was delighted to discover another jazz balladeer, Arthur Prysock by going to









Tom’s Unabridged Version of History

Judge not, that ye be not judged.                       — Mathew, chapter 7 verse 1

 I am waist-deep in my four-month stint as a teacher of U.S. History at a local high school.  The work is challenging, exciting, and exhausting.  Evaluating student performance is a daunting task.  An amusing side effect of the job is that I now continually think in questions.  Whether clumsily attempting to be Socratic, or merely hoping to probe what my students know my students, I am continually offering options of which at least one is absurd.  In this case they all are.  This is an abridged version of the history that runs through my brain and is never uttered to my students because, with my luck, it would be all that they remember.

 The Great Wall of China is

  1. now offering take-out service
  2. plastered with advertisements for “The Gap” and J. Crew
  3. 447 feet to dead center
  4. merely a metaphor for Paul Simon’s neurotic musings about relationships

Ferdinand de Lesseps is

  1. a useful alias when traveling incognito
  2. not to be confused with Fernando Llamas
  3. likely to stir a vague connection to a bull with those over forty
  4. chairman of your high school reunion and coincidentally an Allstate representative

Aaron Burr

  1. is also known as “Ironsides”
  2. has had Minnesota vanity  plates since before cars
  3. was the first vice president to play with firearms
  4. played physician Thad Wheatley on the long-running soap “Not Quite Right”

 Washington Irving  

  1. is a power forward accounting major at Michigan State  
  2. was traded by the Chicago Bulls for Gunnar Myrdalc.        
  3. sued to keep a Baltimore suburb from naming a housing development after his best known works
  4. is very dyslexic     
  5. has nothing on David Lloyd George

The Treaty of Ghent (1814)

  1. featured a ban on the usage of silent letters in future agreements
  2. called for unlimited barbeque sauce with any entrée $14.95 or more
  3. was costly to the Hapsburgs, who had agreed to host the signing and were forced to forfeit their down payment on a hall
  4. was a ruse initiated by Josephine to throw Napoleon a surprise birthday party                                                                                

Which name does not belong with the others?

  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. George Washington
  3. Thomas Jefferson
  4. Kublai Khan
  5. George W. Bush
  6. 4 and 5 but mostly 5

This landmark Supreme Court decision established the precedent of judicial review

  1. Marbury v. Madison (1803)     
  2. Paper v. Plastic (1957) 
  3. Ostrogoths v. Visigoths (372)   
  4. E. Post v. M. Manners (1990)

Winfrey v. J. Franzen (2000)“Jacksonian Democracy” is associated with which figure?

  1. Jesse Jackson
  2. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson 
  3.   “Action” Jackson
  4. Jackson Pollock
  5. Janet Jackson


Tom H. Cook waxes nostalgic for fall in Minnesota.  Just like forty years ago, he doesn’t have a date for the big homecoming game.   











A Visit From Jane and Jean

On January 25th Jane Johnson and Jean Deatrick appeared at my door in Redondo Beach, California.  What follows is my recollection of the visit.

Me:  Jean, Jane, what a surprise!  Do come in.

Jane:  (With proper British accent) We are sorry to pop in on you this way.

Jean:  “We hate to intrude, it is just that we need to do some fact checking…”

Me:  Is this because of the Oprah thing with James Frey and  “A Million Little Pieces?

Jane:  Yes we realize it is a frightful bother, but we need to confirm some of your stories.

Me:  I never claimed to have been in prison, used drugs, had a root canal without an anesthetic, bled all over an airplane, had a girlfriend die on me, or been befriended by a mobster…

Jean:  (Wistfully) Yes that would sell papers… 

Jane:  Yes, that would be smashing, but a number of our readers wonder if anyone can be as…

Jean:  Boring…

Jane:  Yes, frightfully sorry Tom.  Frey was not as wild and troubled as he portrayed himself, but you must be understating your drive and intellect.

Jean:  You have set up this image of a middlebrow underachiever who goes to garage sales and reads The New Yorker for the cartoons.

Me:  That’s about it.  Care for a Poptart ?

Jane:  We know for example you were in the Noodleman book group in Minneapolis and they regularly discuss Noam Chomsky…

Me:  Cubs, third baseman, hits lefty…

Jean:  See it’s that feigned ignorance but then the political allusion.  Tom, if you are smarter and more worldly than you have told us, then there has been a breach of trust with our readership and action will be required.

Me:  Well, come on in and look around.

Jane:  (Scanning book shelves and my music collection).  One of the reasons we have kept you on staff all of these years is that many in the neighborhood enjoys having a hoot at your expense

Jean:  (Also rummaging around) People are not laughing with you…Let me start again.  You know how high status much of the west of Hennepin crowd is?  You make people feel better about themselves.  If it ever came out that you are a closet intellectual and were misleading us and that your column was some sort of parody…I know a number of advertisers would not take this well.

Jane:  What are we listening to?

Me: ”Vanilla Fudge’s Greatest Hits” and before that a vintage “Strawberry Alarm Clock” CD.

Jean:  (In amazement) And nobody told you we were coming…

Jane:  (Gazing at my library) It’s mostly sports and true crime books…

Jean:  (Noticing the furnishings) So there must be a lot of garage sales out here too.

Me:  (Modestly) Yes, we’ve been lucky.  The chair you’re sitting in, $10.00!

Jean:  (Rising quickly to go) Yikes, look at the time.  We must rush.

Me:  Don’t you want to stay and hang out with the dogs? Stella and Cowboy will be disappointed to miss you.

Jane:  Tom, let me say you are doing a smashing job!  We shan’t worry about any fraud or deception on your part.

Jean:  Our best to JoAnne. She is a remarkable woman.


In the spirit of full disclosure, JoAnne did join us for a wonderful outdoor lunch, a walk on the beach, and a lot of laughs.  Thank you, Jean and Jane.  It was great to see Minnesota friends again.



Minnesota Winter Quiz

What follows is a Minnesota quiz.  Answers will be printed in the spring or when we feel the promised “trickle down” of Super Bowl money, whichever comes first.  Be sure to choose the answer that is most correct.

Example:  Which of the following could be termed the worst natural disaster?

  1. Hurricane Camille, 1969, (Louisiana, Mississippi)
  2. San Francisco Earthquake, 1906, (California)
  3. Galveston Flood, 1900, (Texas)
  4. Any Minnesota Winter


Hurricane Camille killed 24 and left 20,000 homeless.  The San Francisco earthquake destroyed much of the beautiful city, killed 600, and left 300,000 homeless.  Six thousand died and property damage exceeded $17 Million in the Galveston flood.  Remember, though, the question asked was which was the worst disaster.  A, B, and C, were horrible disasters in their time, but they were one shot deals.  Visit all four of these areas this February and you will see that the answer is D.

There is a heavy snowfall on Friday evening commencing at 11:00 pm.  You should

              1. Remain in your car until on official snow emergency is declared.
              2. Park on the odd-numbered side of an East/West street.
              3. Leave your car where it is but be prepared to move it before 7:00 am Saturday.
              4. Park on the even side of the street because your license plate ends in a vowel.
              5. Insufficient information.

Mr. Johnson, 48, has recently purchased a Toro Snowblower Model DLC-X for $479.00.  If Richie (age 12) charged $3.00 to shovel Mr. Johnson’s walk, how many years will it take Mr. Johnson’s heirs to recoup the investment if gas remains at $1.20 per gallon?

  1. It depends on if it’s the Mr. Johnson on Emerson Avenue
  2. It depends on if Richie goes to the ‘U’ and lives at home
  3. $1.20 a gallon, I’ll bet!
  4. B and C

 New down gloves for Billy (age 11) cost $22.95.  Billy’s Aunt Harriet says she will pay $5.00 toward the gloves.  Billy’s mother finds a coupon for 15% off on the gloves at Daytons.  Billy’s dad says he will contribute 1-1/2 times as much as Aunt Harriet toward the gloves.  How long will it be until Billy loses the gloves?

____ (answer in hours)

____ (answer in minutes)

Which of the following is the least likely to return to the Twin Citie?

  1. Jack Morris
  2. John Denver
  3. Professional basketball
  4. Professional football

Which novel would best help a Californian relate to (understand) the Minnesota winter experience

  1. Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
  2. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  3. Alive by Paul Piers Reid
  4. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  5. All of the Above

Sam shovels 9” of snow on Friday, 11” on Sunday and 16” on Wednesday.  Why doesn’t he take his brother’s offer to join him in the fabric business in Phoenix?  (short answer)

The current reason that the Vikings can not win the Super Bowl is…

  1. Parity
  2. They would have to put up with Sid Hartman for an extra month.
  3. They have become accustomed to artificial light and can not adapt to ‘natural conditions’.
  4. The other teams in their division are so pathetic that they appear adequate by comparison.

Essay:  Explain the difference between wet cold and dry cold.  Discuss how Minnesotans lived before the wind chill was invented.


 Tom H. Cook is a very local and often chilly humorist.



That they shall know the truth, and the truth shall set them free.      —John 8:31-2

Know thyself.         — Socrates

For years I have harbored the notion that given the opportunity I would be an excellent teacher.  Whether patterned after Peter O’Toole in Good By Mr. Chips, John Houseman in the television series The Paper Chase, or as Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, I felt that my sparkling wit and clever insights would endear me to a special group of urchins who would hang on my every word.  The opportunity actually arrived last summer and I became an eleventh grade English teacher in a parochial school, which I mercifully will not name.

The bad news and the good news are mixed together.   Like licking honey off a thorn, the past year has been sweet and fraught with peril.  It has been a joy and a challenge to face 130 inquiring minds every day.  When we read Death of A Salesman I related to Willy Lowman “out there all alone, on a wing and a prayer.”  The old saw about teaching is true; I learned more than my students.  Never underestimate fear as a motivator.  Limping toward June, I have had an extraordinary experience that I both loved and have no desire to repeat.

I feel able to leave because, although I did better than economics teacher Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  (“Anybody…anybody?”), I learned that I am not a superior educator.  My wayward logic suggested that if I discovered a gift which had been laying dormant for nearly half a century, I would be honor bound to make up for lost time, bear the burden, and ignite as many students as possible with the flame of eternal knowledge.  This would postpone my retirement for many years as I shuffled down the school corridors, my drool cup firmly in place. To find that I possess only a Zippo lighter of wisdom is disappointing, but also freeing.

Modesty aside, there are parts of the job I do very well.  I occasionally approach eloquence when discussing why the act of reading is still important, or quoting from a great writer like Richard Wright, Robert Penn Warren, or Joseph Heller.  I am good at identifying parallels between events or thoughts which appear to be unrelated. And I care deeply for the students and I believe they know it.

I am not a “Big E” English teacher, able to make sense of the symbolism in T.S. Elliott’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, or to help a struggling writer improve their parallel structure.  I long ago conceded being clueless in regard to gerunds, pluperfect tense, and how to compose a five-paragraph essay.  Although I have written many essays, and some pretty good ones, I am powerless to impart the method by which it is done.

I could continue to alternately praise and flog myself, but the end result of this neurotic ping-pong game would be the same. I  know that I am temperamentally unsuited to attack the perilously steep learning curve presented me.  It is sad to realize that I lack the special gift I had believed was in my arsenal.  Like the death of an imaginary friend, I feel a loss.  Still, it is better to know a thing than always wonder, no matter how humbling the truth might be.  My mediocrity is also my freedom.  I am ready to pass my Zippo lighter to someone else.


Tom H. Cook is now ready to pursue his true calling: loitering, reading, going to the beach and complaining about future former President Bush.