Shorpy, a favorite photo site, ran this picture with this caption today:

February 1939. Brawley, Imperial County, California. “In Farm Security Administration migrant labor camp during pea harvest. Family from Oklahoma with eleven children. Father, eldest daughter and eldest son working. She: ‘I want to go back to where we can live happy, live decent, and grow what we eat.’ He: ‘I’ve made my mistake and now we can’t go back. I’ve got nothing to farm with’.” Photo by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration. **

Now the father may think he’d made a mistake, but having read about the Dust Bowl, the hundreds or thousands of children who died of dust pneumonia, and how awful life was back where they came from, I think he’s being way too hard on himself.

And the “she” statement. she wants to grow what they eat. A sentiment from a different world! Today, most of us are suspicious of anything that hasn’t been processed through a factory first.

Just as I was wondering, “What ever happened to that family? Their great-grandkids are probably having kids now. How did they all survive? DID thy all survive? Did they become auto mechanics, cooks, what? Did their grandchildren go to college? Do they all keep in touch; do they realize that Dorothea Lange took family photos of them?”

Which takes little time to think, because it all comes at once.

And just at that moment my eyes strayed down to this ad, right underneath the family.

Hey, maybe that’s a great-great granddaughter of the man who has nothing!

Would he be proud, if it is? That the beautiful woman in the photo has likely never done what he would call work in her entire life? (Hardly a fair statement, because I’m sure that woman works hard at her craft. But we’ve all met tough old guys that value people by their physical labor output, and that’s what I meant.)

Unlike the family who went without food often, this woman likely deprives herself to maintain that heedless, svelte look so that she will be worshiped and sought after. Everyone wants to be her or have her. No one would want to be in that Depression-era family.

I remember a Dick Cavett Show episode in the early 70s, in which a Greek actress brought or talked about a Greek woman who had been tortured by the ruling Junta. Terribly intense, gut-wrenching conversation. Then they cut to a commercial that began “The heartbreak of psoriasis.”

Cavett apologized for the ad when they came back, and made a small joke about its inappropriateness. Back then, ads were consistent wherever the show ran. But I kinda feel the same way looking at the Shorpy page (which does change, and the ad you see might not be this one. They rotate.)

It’s just a weird juxtaposition of images, that makes you think philosophically and ironically. Hardscrabble, starving family with nothing, not even hope. Airbrushed beauty that cannot stand up to the light of day.  What’s the meaning of life?

** I don’t think I’m violating any rights of Shorpy’s, since the photos Dorothea Lange took are in the Library of Congress and I believe are public domain, as are the captions. But if you like crazy old photos, some rescued from 2nd-hand stores, you really should follow Shorpy!


It seems that someone at Kohl’s assumes I am too overwhelmed by their incredible selection to figure out for myself how to keep track of the clothes I want to buy. How thoughtful of them to provide these guides:

Can I ask something naive?
What is attractive about this picture?  Or, in what alternate universe is this attractive?

This photo ad came up on my email. It’s for a not-so-cheap health club; I assume it’s aimed at men and women in their 20s and 30s. Maybe 40s. I would assume that Equinox and its ad agency feels the male and female bodies in the center of the photo are attractive to such potential customers.

So, male first:

In fact, let’s spend a short paragraph on the male to the far left. Do his six-pack abs look sprayed-on to you?

But the guy in the center … What is splattered across his chest to start with? And face? Mud? Blood? And while his arms and trunk show muscle tone, is it not verging on way-too-thin to be healthy? And the belt, so low, perhaps about to fall. Is this considered erotic? Because to me, an old lady, it looks pathetic. Like the guy is oblivious to his pants falling off.

Now the woman: compared to the men, she’s overdressed! So I assume this photo is aimed at those who like the male form.

Now the phones obscuring every face, and the magenta glare reflecting off every forehead. What is the point of all that?

How does anything in this photo contribute or uphold the phrase, “Commit to something?”

Commit to starvation? To enjoying a trance of oblivion instead of taking photos?

And what is the giant eye overhead supposed to mean?

And the phrase “Experience Equinox” cannot possibly mean that one would experience anything like what these people are undergoing and snapping at a gym.

This picture might be a good prompt for a creative writing group, but how does it pull me or anyone into an Equinox Fitness Club?

Don’t get it. Not sure I want to. Ads like this make me glad to be old; I don’t think I’d enjoy this performance scene even if I were 25.

Trump and Bill Clinton are sassing each other on Twitter. Who cares?

Well, apparently a lot of us. Among the 11 “Top Stories” on CNN this morning are these three:


I love the second one: Opinion: Why Trump keeps tweeting.

Why? Because he gets three of the top 11 stories by doing so, on a world stage! Duh.

Which refutes the first story: Trump’s still going wrong on Twitter. Whose definition of “wrong” are we using? I think by Trump’s standards (and most celebrities would agree) whatever gets you in the headlines is not wrong, it’s right.

CNN, you’re silly.

enhanced-buzz-28238-1360941672-9According to CNN, the “iconic talking bear from the late 80s, is back — and he’s flaunting some timely upgrades.”

eyechartcolorTimely upgrades, in this case, means LCD eyes that flash forty expressions, including turning into stars or hearts. C-Net calls them Emoji Eyes.

The new version won’t be available for close to a year, however: August 2017.

Here’s my Teddy Ruxpin story. I was working at a smallish car stereo company, small enough that everyone knew each other and often ate lunch together. And it was in Southern California, so the chief technician (there were only two) was gorgeous part-time actor who actually had a small part in Howard the Duck.

And everyone was a little silly in the 80s.

Someone brought their child’s Teddy Ruxpin in to see if it could be fixed — I forget what the problem was. But soon, we were shrieking and moaning because it turns out you could put any cassette into Teddy and make him move, not just an official Teddy Ruxpin storytime cassette.

So of course our nerdish rock stars had to load Teddy up with AC/DC and a few other choice bands and let him loose. A Big Bird doll with the same type of cassette player in his well-padded posterior also go the acid-rock treatment.

We laughed till our orifices leaked. Good times.

You know the five-second rule (or the three-second rule, or the seven-second rule), right? If something yummy falls on the ground and you pick it up in five (or three or seven) seconds and blow on it, no germs adhere.

The blowing is part of the fun. And the rule was always and ever a joke.

I first heard the rule in the 80s, I think. It made me laugh, as jokes do.

I want to emphasize that: the five-second rule was always a joke. No one ever took it seriously. It was ridiculous, like claiming that cookies (Oreos, specifically) lost their calories during the breakage process. Cookie pieces, therefore, are not fattening.

We laughed over such inanities. Oh, how we laughed.

But now, science has addressed the issue. It was an Issue, you see. Money had to be invested to prove or disprove it.

National Geographic defines the rule: “t’s been the subject of household debates and innumerable science fair projects, with some claiming it’s real and others denouncing it as bunk.”

Household debates? Some claiming it’s real? WTF? IT WAS A JOKE!

A peer-reviewed study from a scientist/professor at Rutgers with a flair for publicity proves that food, especially wet food, picks up dirt and germs immediately, not in five seconds. One of the food items used in the thousands of experiments was watermelon.

Go get a piece of watermelon right now. Or honeydew, or cantaloupe. Drop in on the floor. Drop it anywhere! Pick it up immediately! Unless you have just sanitized the surface, of course you will see all sorts of crap clinging to it. Dog hair, grit, coffee grounds (OK, I’m a slob).

A three-year-old might plop that piece of melon into her mouth, scientific studies be damned. A four-year-old would not.

The five-second rule was always intended to apply to dry food, like M&Ms. Peanut M&Ms. Maybe Oreos. And at the risk of being redundant, it was a joke.

I think this study proves something else entirely. This study proves that what mothers tell their small children becomes dogma. In the 1980s, Moms picked up candies and blueberries and peanuts with a cry of “Five-second rule!” Then they blew on it, handed it to their child, and the child grew up believing that this five-second rule was an immutable law of nature.

Frightening, huh? I may have just rediscovered a major principal of mind control.

So scientists had to use their time and lab equipment to disprove the magical theory that was never supposed to be believed. Let’s hope they didn’t appropriate too much money. . . . oh, maybe that’s why we can’t afford Zika research.

Just kidding. Pathetic, that I have to announce that. What is the world coming to?

I propose a 25-year-rule. After 25 years, whatever we repeat often becomes true, no matter how silly.

I have kept these paragraphs short because I’m holding an unopened bag of Oreos. Every time I finish a paragraph I pitch it across the room and it hits the wall, breaking up the cookies.

Then I jump up and retrieve the bag.

Once I’ve posted this, I will gorge myself on cookie pieces that have no calories, because I learned in the 90s that calories are lost in the breakage process. And until someone produces a peer-reviewed study proving otherwise, I will not gain an ounce.


“He drank the Kool Aid.”

People say that when they’re describing very mundane things. A guy who falls in line with corporate policy. A woman who excuses some aberrant behavior in her candidate. A teenager who goes along to get along. Google the phrase and you’re told it means “demonstrate unquestioning obedience or loyalty to someone or something.”

This bugs me. That’s not what it means. Google gives  no mention of the origin of the phrase, which is very dark . The saying should not be used lightly..

It’s like calling your nasty boss Hitler. Unless your boss plans to take the world to war and exterminate whole classes and races of people, she or he is not Hitler.

In ignorance and while trying to sound smart, we trivialize things that should never be trivialized,

In 1977, a religious cult  moved to Guyana because they felt threatened in the USA. They set up a compound called Jonestown, after their leader. Around a thousand people lived there, including many families.

A year later they all died horribly. Over 900 Americans, who had followed their “savior” to South America, drank cyanide-laced Kool Aid. They died within five minutes.

Almost a third of those killed at Jonestown were children. Parents squirted the Kool Aid into their children’s mouths.

A few followers of Jim Jones, the cult leader, fled into the jungle and survived. They and others said that Jones held rehearsals of mass poisonings, and that most people did not realize they were truly going to die, or that they were killing their children. In other words, it was mass murder.Jonestown-Newsweek1978

Of course there are many more details. Before the deaths, Leo Ryan, a US Representative from California, led a delegation to Guyana to investigate claims of abuse and brainwashing by family members. He came with journalists and aides, and left with several defectors who wanted to escape the cult. Congressman Ryan and all these people were ambushed on the airstrip while trying to leave Guyana. Ryan was killed, as were three journalists and at least one defector, and many others were wounded in the gunfire.

That’s when Jones started passing out the poison.

I remember this magazine cover. It was unimaginable. Below is another picture, showing what authorities found when they got to Jonestown.


This is where the phrase “drinking the Kool Aid” comes from. Don’t say it anymore


Imagination is a good thing, but right now  I’m thankful for its limits.

Can I imagine a loud, pounding, neon-lit nightclub full of kids fresh out school, everyone laughing and dancing, drinking and flirting? No problem. But not the rest.

When I first heard about Orlando, I thought of a club like those here in the West (where those under 21 are not allowed inside if alcohol is served), and a sudden burst of violence and gunfire, like an explosion, taking fifty lives outright. That was bad.

But the interviews and details show that it was much, much worse. The shooting went on for three hours. People were huddled in bathrooms, soaked in blood, feeling each other die. The survivors endured through those long, dark hours before the killer was brought down and they were taken to safety.

(Safety? Will any one of them will ever feel safe again?)

The truly worst part: These people were 19 or 20 years old, for the most part. 19 or 20.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to go through horrific hours of terror, pain, and death  But when I try to factor in 19 or 20 year old, sense and thinking rebel. That just can’t happen.

In 1984, a gunman opened fire in a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, CA, killing 21. That included children, even a boy on a bicycle. I don’t think such a shooting had ever happened before. A fast food restaurant in the afternoon? Children and families as targets? Unbelievable shock came with the idea that this would happen again, because now people knew that it COULD happen. The genie was out of the bottle.

So we’ve got Columbine and Sandy Hook, and now Orlando. Terrorist tie-in or not, a guy goes sickly crazed, arms himself, and targets the innocent.

I wonder how people who want to preserve the right to own assault rifles can sleep at night.**

How will the survivors ever sleep soundly at night?

A takeaway that should be mentioned: a bouncer at the club, a young ex-marine, broke open a door and helped up to 70 people get out. He credits his training and experience in Afghanistan for his quick reaction, and doesn’t think of himself as a hero. He lost several friends that night. His name is Imram Yousef.

a PS

** I’ve given more thought to the remark about “how do people who want to preserve the right to own assault rifles sleep at night.” It was arrogant. Of course they sleep at night, because they believe they are right,  just as I believe I’m right in thinking that such arms should be banned. The fact that a weapon exists does not mean we all have the right to buy one and keep it. If we were talking about nuclear warheads, everyone would agree that private citizens don’t have the right to own them. So, we draw the line over what we have a right to own in a different place.

Right now, I think we all have to reconsider where we are putting that line.

My copy of Travels with Charley in Search of America is declared to be, by some effusive back-cover writer, “a moving elegy for more innocent times.”

No, it’s not.

It’s not, because the book is not an elegy. An elegy is a lament for the dead. This book is quite the opposite.

It’s also not a moving elegy for more innocent times because the year 1960, when John Steinbeck took off in search of American, was not more innocent. No way no how.

America in 1960 was about to see the rise of Martin Luther King and other leaders, demanding to be included in America. The fact that much of the country was treated differently than white males testifies that innocent — which I believe means “not guilty of a crime or offense” — is not an accurate adjective to be applied here.

I am impatient to the point of offensiveness with lavender-scented pablum being smeared over the past so that we can all pretend it was better than now. Not true! And if you are ever tempted to buy into such a distorted picture, please step back. Take a good look at all the horrors you are excluding from your nostalgic remembrances of olden times. You may have been an innocent child, but the times were not innocent. There were predators. There was cruelty. Men abused their authority. People stole and called others names. Racism and sexism were the status quo. Our sins had not piled up to the point that they could no longer be ignored, but they were there. Maybe you were sheltered, but that doesn’t make the epoch innocent.

I’m glad I got that off my chest. I’ll go read more of my book now.