Tag Archives: American Life

Questioning My “Self(s)”

The total self of me, being as it were duplex, partly known and partly know-er, partly object and partly subject, must have two aspects discriminated in it, of which, for shortness, we may call one the “me” and the other the “I.”
—William James (The Principles of Psychology)

I was brushing up on my Descartes the other day, particularly his classification of two worlds, one of mental objects and one of material things. That led me to William James, Piaget, Winnicott, and of course Wittgenstein. I added the “of course” as kind of a joke, but philosophers have been puzzling and grappling with the duality of self for hundreds of years. Despite their huge head start, after thinking for just a few hours I was coming up with insights and original ideas that, modesty side, could be game-changers in the field of dualism. Unfortunately “game-changer” reminded me the Super Bowl pre-pre-game show was on. Hours later I was so glazed over, my only thoughts were of nachos, switching my Internet provider, lite beer, and getting my hands on a Ram truck that I could drive up the side of a mountain.

I am not usually a deep thinker but a recent vacation had me questioning my “self” or “selves.” I was going to be gone for less than a week. This is like a gimme putt for golfers, easy to overlook but deceptively complex in its simplicity. I was packed and out the door in fifteen minutes. My other self was in charge of unpacking that evening. Someone had brought a stalk of bananas, three bags of cookies, two jars of peanut butter, enough medications for me to visit Albert Schweitzer in Africa, eight pair of underwear, five sets of earbuds, two shirts, and one pair of socks. My other self had to make do with the random assortment. (Neither of my selves would go to a local Target to supplement my wardrobe.)

This creature of the moment is often at war with my future self. At dinnertime there is only enough butter scrapings for one item. Do I garnish my evening baked potato or save the last bits, tucked deep in the foil, for a piece of toast in the morning? (Even though it might add clarity, I am reluctant to name my various selves, or speak in the third person.)

Whoever I/we are there seems to be agreement that all media is to be saved for just the right moment. I will start a magazine article, book, or television show and decide that it is so entertaining that it would be better appreciated at another time. I have a stockpile of shows to watch, but will often suggest watching a marginal program to free up space on the DVR. This greatly vexes JoAnne (the editor) and she gets mad at us (oops, me) until future me retrieves an episode of Homeland or The Good Wife a couple nights later when there is nothing on.

The relationship is complicated. Present self squirrels away desserts in the freezer to be savored at a future date, yet the here and now self puts future me on the spot continually. For example, the deadline on this column is today. Do you think anyone got an early start on it?

Tom H. Cook is a former Fuller Brush scholar, linguist, and pipe cleaner artist. He is currently seeking investors for a fantasy jai alai league.

Considering Gift Giving

I think somewhere in Leviticus is the first mention of Black Friday sales. In ancient times there were far fewer people to line up outside the bazaar and no electronics to speak of but still it was a thou shalt not. Whether it was because of graven images or false gods before me, I am not a biblical scholar. I do recall reading that God (or the management) would smite line cutters. Shopping was easier in ancient times as there were only about forty-three things, and everyone needed most of them. Once the classic gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and pecan nut roll went out of fashion, holiday gift giving became problematic.

To me a gift should say: I know you. I know your soul. You are already a complete human being. May this artifact or act of kindness I bring to you brighten your day and ease your burden. May the thoughtfulness of my gift touch you and remind you of me every time you use it. May we be forever linked by my insightful offering that, despite my professed modesty, gives you a rare glimpse into the profound regard in which you are held. Let me tell you it is hard to do life-changing and stay under twenty bucks!

Perhaps I am a hopeless romantic who sets the bar so high I am forced to slink under it, or I am a clueless, self-involved sloth. Either way I do not exchange gifts. If I find someone’s “Rosebud” (spoiler alert: it is a sled), it will probably be at a garage sale in June. I will not wait six months but instead give it right away, leaving me empty handed for the holidays. When I say I do not need anything I am not being coy. If I need an external hard drive I will not drop subtle hints to friends and family, I will just go get it.

Practical people mystify me. If friend Agnes (not her real name) wants a a cranberry merino sweater from Macy’s she will send her brother Jeff (that is his real name) the link so he can one-click purchase it and Sara (oops) gets exactly what she wants. Granted this is no Gift of The Magi, but it is smart, efficient, and no one has to wander around the mall with a bunch of cretinous mouth breathers or suffer receiving another of Jeff’s beer steins. Still it robs Christmas morning of a certain spontaneity until it is revealed that the color was sold out (because Jeff waited) and he was forced to scramble. “Can you believe I was able to luck into the last one left?” he crows, “and it is mostly purple –go Vikes!”

It was probably 1982 and a couple we knew very well were moving from Minnesota to Pierre, South Dakota. Unencumbered by children and many possessions, they had rented a van and filled it to the brim. Before they could leave my friend’s teenage brother brought her and her husband a going away present, a very large over stuffed chair. He was 17 and had strapped it to the roof of his car and driven from Illinois. Sometimes presents are not practical but the gesture is so sweet. The couple are no longer together but I believe she still has the chair.

Tom H. Cook is a somewhat local writer and a complete washout the one time he agreed to participate in a Secret Santa program at work. (He resorted to “gifting” office supplies from his own desk.)fixit

Sand Upon the Waters is on the Web

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work…I want to achieve immortality through not dying                                   —Woody Allen

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.                     —Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Walking with a much younger friend the other day, I shared the news that I am developing a web presence.  My sister Nanci, a web designer visiting from British Columbia, was organizing my HLP columns and composing a website.  “I never thought of you as narcissistic” was my friend’s response.  It gave me pause.  

Granted, I subject old friends and former neighbors to my struggles and missteps on a monthly basis, but my portrayals rarely cast me in a positive light.  Of the seven deadly sins I mostly exhibit sloth, impulsivity, and a tenuous relationship between cause and effect.  I do not crave attention, but rather serve as a cautionary tale. I hope for, if not universality, at least  a faint recognition. My goal is to write about the important issues of the day, like garage sales, the conspiracy of objects, and what happens if you have nine dogs over for Christmas dinner.  Heady stuff.

Do my columns merely serve as a buffer between real estate ads in a community newspaper, or are they, as one reader suggested, a desperate cry for help?  The real question is Are they worth preserving?  I am not talking Smithsonian, but JoAnne is tired of the boxes of newspapers that I seem incapable of discarding or organizing.  (An aside: the word fire hazard is tossed around entirely too blithely in contemporary culture.) 

I have written more than three hundred columns since 1980 and a compromise seems to be storing them in “The Cloud,” not in the basement, which we don’t have.  Nanci to the rescue.  She has searched for themes, added photos, and put together through wizardry and hard work a web site.  Might a book publisher or Hollywood literary type decide that my collected columns would make a best seller and a vehicle for Ben Stiller? I am more likely to attract a bored actuary from Dayton. 

As to the original charge of self absorption, I fear my motives are even more grandiose.  I do not paint, sculpt, or create in any meaningful way.  My website may be more like a futile grasp for immortality.  I get no money for clicks or visitors, but humor me and check it out at sanduponthewaters.net.

Tom H. Cook is grateful to The Hill and Lake Press for untold patience and friendship.

 

 

Football

Some people think football is a matter of life and death.  I assure you, it is much more serious than that.

—Bill Shankly

Nobody in football should be called a genius.  A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.

—Joe Theismann (former quarterback)

 Football is a mistake.  It combines the two worst elements of American life.  Violence and committee meetings.

—George F. Will

I take no solace in reading that some hulking, swaggering, high school hot shots and big men on college campuses that used to stuff people like me into lockers are now suffering from football related injuries.  Many of these men who succeeded in the professional ranks were my childhood heroes and it saddens me they have such a high rate of dementia, physical afflictions, and premature death.  It sounds hollow, like claiming to read “Playboy” for the articles, but I never enjoyed the “big hits” and violence of the sport.

Some four thousand retired professionals recently settled a lawsuit against the National Football League claiming that the full ramifications of head injuries was known by the owners but not shared with the players.  Much like the suits against “Big Tobacco” a generation ago, there was intuition that slamming your head into a crazed 300 pound opponent running full speed, and inhaling smoke were both bad for you.

Tobacco companies secretly manipulated the amounts of addictive nicotine and the risk of cancer.  NFL coaches, general managers, and owners (from their plush sky boxes) questioned the courage of any concussed player who just had their “bell rung” and displayed no obvious broken bones.  The crux of the players’ argument was that while exhorting them on and relying on their loyalty to each other (like soldiers in an unpopular war), team honchos knew more than they disclosed of the long term hazards to their charges.  That a former player shot himself in the heart, leaving a directive that his brain be used for medical research, is sobering.

In my youth the strategy, artistry, and pure athleticism of football on a perfect autumn afternoon captivated me.  A running back juking past three defenders leaving them grasping at air.  A sixty yard touchdown pass that perfectly leads a streaking receiver.  A stout band of brothers of all races, shoulder to shoulder, bloody but unbowed in a desperate goal line defense on fourth down, bunched up, unwilling to grant the invaders even an inch of ground.  These are the elements of football that I miss.

I was never big or talented enough to make even the junior varsity, mighty mite midget, pee wee, Pop Warner traveling squad. Growing up, I watched the Philadelphia Eagles with my father, wrote a sports column (“Cook’s Corner”) for my high school paper, and went to the University of Michigan (Go Blue).  Is my exile, going on twenty years, just a case of sour grapes?  I do not believe so.  I was a fan.  I wasted thousands of hours on beautiful fall days watching Nichols State get trounced by North Carolina A&T, or the Phoenix Cardinals handle the St. Louis Rams.

Every year there are rookies who are bigger, stronger, faster… until they are not.  They are blithely discarded for the next new thing.  We are a consumer culture not only of products, but human lives.  The only match for our thirst for violence is the greed of the owners.  Between product licensing, alcohol sales, television revenue, and gate receipts, the NFL brand is a billionaires’ club.   It still amazes me that I once cared so deeply about the sport.

Re-watch “The Magnificent Seven.”  The Seven arrive as saviors, to defend a village from ruthless invaders (from Green Bay)?  The farmers welcome them but wisely hide their women.  The children idolize the gladiators whose lives appear more glamorous than the back-breaking labor of their parents.  Yul Brynner, the leader of the hired guns, realizes that he and his cohorts risk their lives, but in the end have nothing.  Then consider this: Three quarters of professional football players are bankrupt within five years of their retirement.

Free Clipart Illustrations at http://www.ClipartOf.com/

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer wondering who is advocating for the high school and college players who have suffered post career concussion symptoms.  He is delighted that the Gophers have given up plans to field a serious football team.

 

Dogs Outnumber the People

Generally it makes sense to write about a family holiday event after it happens, if at all.   Crazy Uncle Louie face down making snow angels on the shag carpet.  Teetotaling Aunt Bessie accidentally getting into the spiked punch and using her false teeth as castanets, or the kids making a surprise skating rink by damming up and flooding the garage.  This is good stuff you cannot make up.  A few humorous anecdotes, a bit of wit and wisdom, an encompassing comment on the universality of humankind, and wishes of peace and prosperity in the new year.  These columns practically write themselves.

My family and friends are less colorful.  These are nice folks, and I love them all, but I cannot remember any of them doing anything zany enough for me to write about.  This year may be different, as there are a few added ingredients.  The “perfect storm” analogy has become so cliched it is used to explain school board election results, a pot luck with only potato salads, or an entire HR department getting matching tattoos.

Still, while it may not be a storm, or close to perfect, my doppler radar indicates this may be a memorable holiday.  I have always been one to surprise JoAnne with extra people for dinner because I thought the resultant mix would provide either kumbaya warmth or degenerate into an uncomfortable evening of back biting and name calling.  As a fan of chaos, I am looking forward to this holiday season.

I am writing now because I will probably be involved in home repair, or at the very least, carpet cleaning and will certainly not be in a reflective mood by this time next month.  If all goes according to plan, we will have eight dogs beginning the third week of December and through New Year’s Day.

The “cousins” are coming!  They are daughter Rachael’s three rather large and very friendly dogs.  She and her husband Daniel are wisely leaving the country and we get the kids.  Our boxer and border collie (Cowboy and Hannah) love to romp through our very small house with their cousin.  Henry and Jane are a sweet puggle and border collie pair that come over most days as they live nearby with their mom, a close friend.

These seven know each other well, but the piece de resistance will be Sadie, a chocolate lab from Minneapolis who will be the surprise guest of honor.  Our dear friends Jay and Cheryl have just retired (Cheryl from the U of M) and are coming to stay with us.  They are driving Miss Sadie.  Our son Ben and daughter-in-law Erin have real lives and will sadly arrive dogless.  A few brave human friends are invited, but much of the time we will balance on the tipping point with the dogs outnumbering the people, which is fine with us.

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Tom H. Cook is a sometimes writer who lives on a busy street in Redondo Beach, where firetrucks are not uncommon.   AAAARROOOOO!   

 

 

We Need Money!

Largest private university donations (2009): 
Stanford $640.1 million
Harvard $601.6 million   — LA Times February 4, 2010

 Kennedy Center receives $22.5 million in single gift.
— Jim Handly, NBS News May 4, 2010

U.S. Treasury Department operating balance: $73.76 billion
Apple Corporation operating balance: $76.156 billion
–Matt Hartley, The Financial Post July 28, 2011

Health club membership: $1,238.56; Hair care: $333.87; Gift shop allowance: $1,666.73; Use of Foreign Currency: $44,164; Miscellaneous costs: $135,249.22.  A few of the perks for each U.S. Senator which, coupled with salary, benefits, retirement, total $8,162,000 per Senator each year!
–Joshua M. Brown, The Christian Science Monitor July 29. 2011

Since The Hill and Lake Press is a monthly newspaper, pressing issues of the day may resolve themselves, which is why I tend to write about garage sales and dogs.  At the risk of belaboring old news, as I write, the debt ceiling has been grudgingly and sloppily raised with the result being Standard and Poor’s downgrading the U.S. economy from a AAA rating to AA+.  S&P warns that we may lose our + and possibly an A if we do not figure out a way to increase our revenue.  In the meantime Americans have been ordered to tighten their belts, stop talking smack about Uruguay, and put away their giant foam fingers that proclaim “We’re # 1.”

In spite of evidence to the contrary I have always believed that a nation capable of producing Abraham Lincoln, Silly Putty, and baseball cards will prevail.  Lately I am having serious doubts.  We seem hopelessly paralyzed politically and philosophically between militant, uncompromising forces that decry as treasonous even the mention of shifting the tax burden toward the wealthy, and more moderate Americans who spend much of their time seeking deductions, underreporting income, and searching for loopholes to avoid paying taxes.

We need money, and unless the government can quickly create a better iPad it appears our economy is in for very difficult times.  Searching for ways to cut spending, we against all logic turn to the people who have the least to sacrifice.  We blithely raise the public transportation fees for those who cannot afford cars, cut back on free and reduced lunch programs (ketchup as a vegetable is ready for a revival), reduce aid to dependent children, and trim Medicare for seniors.  There are relative pennies to be saved.

As first-hand survivors of The Great Depression dwindle, there are too many public officials who seem to have no sense of history.  Their simplistic ideas are at best naive and more likely mean-spirited.  They seem inured to the number of lives their rhetoric could effect.  Aside for money for foreign wars, they believe in a small “g” government in providing aid to our citizens.  Their take on A Christmas Carol is that if Jacob Marley had only lived, he and Ebenezer Scrooge could have taken the company public, moved it to Belize, inflated stock prices and sold short before Tiny Tim died of consumption.  For a final touch, they have persuaded contemporary Bob Cratchit to refuse government medical aid as socialism, even as Tim’s leg is deemed a preexisting condition and therefore not covered by insurance.

How can we raise revenue and get back on par with Finland when we have so little trust in the politicians that allowed this to happen? Who can blame us?  Our hard earned money seems to go for unpopular wars, even less popular defense contractors, bank bailouts, and Senate haircuts.

If Apple won’t lend us the money, we can only cut expenditures so far.  The poor and the middle class have done more than their share.  On the whole we are a generous people.  Some of the most fervent opponents of raising taxes privately spend more than their progressive tax share would be in funding organizations and candidates to beat back the dreaded tax man.   A further irony is that many hardline tax opponents give very generously (and tax deductably) to their alma mater, the arts, hospitals, disease research, the disadvantaged, and religious organizations.

Many of us believe in helping others but resent paying taxes to the weasels in Washington.

If we are unable to get the Bush tax cuts eliminated, can we at least find appealing ways to interest the super wealthy in helping to support their government?  Hospital wings, art museums, opera houses, and college buildings are named for their benefactors.  The local Kiwanis club sponsors a mile of highway clean up. We need a few philanthropists to step forward and adopt an underfunded federal government Department in exchange for naming rights.  Imagine The Warren Buffet Department of Commerce. The Mark Zuckerberg Department of Education or, my favorite, The Steve Jobs Department of Labor.

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer who remains in exile.  He will be returning home and reading stuff like this with the poet Tom Cassidy on September 17th at Black Forest Inn (26th and Nicollet).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Reflections

An amazing invention, but who would ever use one?

                                                                 –President Rutherford B. Hayes

The smell of Fourth of July fireworks is still wafting in the air, and the last black chunk of ice gunk in a Fridley parking lot has been vaporized by the heat.  Bring on summer, the season of rampant hedonism, too loud music, coconut sunscreen, and burnt burgers.  Winter is a time for introspection.  In July if there is navel gazing to be done, it is other peoples’.  Fall, around Thanksgiving, is a time for reflection.   Sitting around a campfire with a bunch of wholesome, toothy, jocular people, that is when you count your blessings.  Nestled in a woodsy cabin trying to figure out who these people in expensive sweaters are, and what they have done with my friends is the more typical time to be thankful.  

My seasonal clock is off kilter.  Despite the blur of fast cars, painful sunburn, and a record heat index, I feel grateful.  I want to thank those of you who wade through my column regularly, and friends and family who put up with my tortured logic in person.  If you know me in print, you may notice a certain circuitous line of reasoning that does not always find its way to the point.  Even after skillful editing (thank you JoAnne) I can begin a column with the perils of skiing and end up on Rutherford B. Hayes, the first president to make a phone call.   

In real life I begin too many conversations with obscure references and fractions of sentences posing as questions.  I am likely to begin out of context with a question. “Who’s the guy?  You know, the one in the film about the woman.  She’s in love with her doctor, or her landlord.  He may not be in that one, but you’ve seen him.  He always plays a corporate type.  He was in cahoots with a counterfeiter.  You said you thought he was real scary…  Come on you know it!”

Thank goodness for family and old friends who understand the thin connection I often have between disparate ideas.  Someone (sane) not schooled (subjected) to my way of processing the world is likely to back away from my stream of (un)consciousness.  Citing a forgotten heart surgery appointment they must run off to, an untied shoelace that may require considerable attention, or a sudden need to convey something to a passing squirrel, many strangers become very busy just when I am getting to the good part of an anecdote.

Ideas, information, and media (social and otherwise) are swirling around.  We all continually have more to take in, and later attempt to recall.  I remember fragments of things and my links are often tenuous.  Thank you for continuing to make the effort.

Tom H. Cook is a law abiding citizen who still practices making up fake names for when he is stopped by the police.  His latest is Hal Lester, a conveyor belt salesman from Ripple Creek, Illinois. 

Tom in Miata

Let’s Be Careful Out There!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

I May Need More Friends

I may need more friends.  I get enough holiday cards and can usually find someone to talk to, but I feel that I am somehow missing out.  I made a few friends growing up, then some more in college, and then many special people when I lived and worked in the Minneapolis community.  The problem is I met most of my dear friends before the Internet explosion.  They are a fine, loyal, and irreverent lot and certainly better than I deserve, but I do not think my circle is providing me with a full range of the spectrum of e-mail attachments.

I am receiving some of the very clever anti-Bush cartoons from my politically active friends, and I do get many of the signage photos like “Bridge Out Slow to 60” from my sardonic peers.   Still I see the stuff being passed via You Tube by admittedly younger, hipper acquaintances and my friends are just light-years behind.  Granted I do not even know how to copy an attachment to send to twenty people, but when I was making life-long friends, who knew the ability to cull interesting snippets from cyberspace would be so important?

Every day I get countless Rogaine and Viagra ads (which JoAnne claims she has nothing to do with) dumped in my in box.  Between that and the insipid quasi-personal notes from someone named Martinique or Gladys that say “Let’s get back in touch”  it is rare to receive an attachment picturing a bulldozer sinking in a swamp.  I like hearing how my friends are doing, but the photo collage sequence of Madonna morphing into Mick Jagger is what you buy a computer for.  My friends are pretty good about finding the photos of a long line of traffic brought to a stand-still by three turtles trudging across the highway, but they are not finding the edgier stuff.

David Brooks wrote a particularly humorous Shouts and Murmurs piece in The New Yorker recently about E-name dropping and status.  Brooks clued me into noticing the other recipients who receive the same correspondence.  Since most people do not use blind copy, you can see who else is receiving it.  I tend to get lumped with grandparents and obscure relatives.  Still, the next time I write to others I may borrow his idea and subtly pad my list of other recipients like bdylan@columbiarec.org and bgates@microsoft.com.  Perhaps if my few remaining friends see they are in the company of nmailer@randomhouse.org, kannan@UN.org hberry@tristarpictures.net, and gclooney@warnerbros.com they will send me better stuff.

Tom H. Cook is planning to go on assignment for The Hill and Lake Press to New Zealand to see if the toilets do flu

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.