Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Taking Up Space

The celebrated American writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007) had the unsettling ability to create preposterous, madcap scenarios, usually a blend of satire and gallows humor, then insert elements of catastrophic horror and dread.

To wit, in “Cat’s Cradle,” his 1963 novel about religion and the arms race, the molecules of all the water on the planet simultaneously crystallize into a substance called ice-nine.

Further, “Slaughterhouse Five, his 1969 anti-war/time-travel novel, includes the terrible firebombing of Dresden during WWII. As you may know, Vonnegut was a prisoner there during the Allied bombing. He and other POWs survived by hiding in a meat locker at the slaughterhouse where they were imprisoned.

The short story below is similarly bleak and awful in tone. “2BR02B” (To Be or Naught to Be) tells of a future Earth where aging and death are optional, and strict population control is enforced; to make room for a newborn, someone must volunteer to die.

Vintage Vonnegut.

———

2BR02B

By Kurt Vonnegut
Published in Worlds of If Science Fiction, January 1962

Everything was perfectly swell.

There were no prisons, no slums, no insane asylums, no cripples, no poverty, no wars.

All diseases were conquered. So was old age.

Death, barring accidents, was an adventure for volunteers.

The population of the United States was stabilized at forty-million souls.

One bright morning in the Chicago Lying-in Hospital, a man named Edward K. Wehling, Jr., waited for his wife to give birth. He was the only man waiting. Not many people were born a day any more.

Wehling was fifty-six, a mere stripling in a population whose average age was one hundred and twenty-nine.

X-rays had revealed that his wife was going to have triplets. The children would be his first.

Young Wehling was hunched in his chair, his head in his hand. He was so rumpled, so still and colorless as to be virtually invisible. His camouflage was perfect, since the waiting room had a disorderly and demoralized air, too. Chairs and ashtrays had been moved away from the walls. The floor was paved with spattered dropcloths.

The room was being redecorated. It was being redecorated as a memorial to a man who had volunteered to die.

A sardonic old man, about two hundred years old, sat on a stepladder, painting a mural he did not like. Back in the days when people aged visibly, his age would have been guessed at thirty-five or so. Aging had touched him that much before the cure for aging was found.

The mural he was working on depicted a very neat garden. Men and women in white, doctors and nurses, turned the soil, planted seedlings, sprayed bugs, spread fertilizer.

Men and women in purple uniforms pulled up weeds, cut down plants that were old and sickly, raked leaves, carried refuse to trash-burners.

Never, never, never — not even in medieval Holland nor old Japan — had a garden been more formal, been better tended. Every plant had all the loam, light, water, air and nourishment it could use.

A hospital orderly came down the corridor, singing under his breath a popular song:

If you don’t like my kisses, honey,
Here’s what I will do:
I’ll go see a girl in purple,
Kiss this sad world toodle-oo.
If you don’t want my lovin’,
Why should I take up all this space?
I’ll get off this old planet,
Let some sweet baby have my place.

The orderly looked in at the mural and the muralist. “Looks so real,” he said, “I can practically imagine I’m standing in the middle of it.”

“What makes you think you’re not in it?” said the painter. He gave a satiric smile. “It’s called ‘The Happy Garden of Life,’ you know.”

“That’s good of Dr. Hitz,” said the orderly.

He was referring to one of the male figures in white, whose head was a portrait of Dr. Benjamin Hitz, the hospital’s Chief Obstetrician. Hitz was a blindingly handsome man.

“Lot of faces still to fill in,” said the orderly. He meant that the faces of many of the figures in the mural were still blank. All blanks were to be filled with portraits of important people on either the hospital staff or from the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Termination.

“Must be nice to be able to make pictures that look like something,” said the orderly.

The painter’s face curdled with scorn. “You think I’m proud of this daub?” he said. “You think this is my idea of what life really looks like?”

“What’s your idea of what life looks like?” said the orderly.

The painter gestured at a foul dropcloth. “There’s a good picture of it,” he said. “Frame that, and you’ll have a picture a damn sight more honest than this one.”

“You’re a gloomy old duck, aren’t you?” said the orderly.

“Is that a crime?” said the painter.

The orderly shrugged. “If you don’t like it here, Grandpa –” he said, and he finished the thought with the trick telephone number that people who didn’t want to live any more were supposed to call. The zero in the telephone number he pronounced “naught.”

The number was: “2 B R 0 2 B.”

It was the telephone number of an institution whose fanciful sobriquets included: “Automat,” “Birdland,” “Cannery,” “Catbox,” “De-louser,” “Easy-go,” “Good-by, Mother,” “Happy Hooligan,” “Kiss-me-quick,” “Lucky Pierre,” “Sheepdip,” “Waring Blender,” “Weep-no-more” and “Why Worry?”

“To be or not to be” was the telephone number of the municipal gas chambers of the Federal Bureau of Termination.

The painter thumbed his nose at the orderly. “When I decide it’s time to go,” he said, “it won’t be at the Sheepdip.”

“A do-it-yourselfer, eh?” said the orderly. “Messy business, Grandpa. Why don’t you have a little consideration for the people who have to clean up after you?”

The painter expressed with an obscenity his lack of concern for the tribulations of his survivors. “The world could do with a good deal more mess, if you ask me,” he said.

The orderly laughed and moved on.

Wehling, the waiting father, mumbled something without raising his head. And then he fell silent again.

A coarse, formidable woman strode into the waiting room on spike heels. Her shoes, stockings, trench coat, bag and overseas cap were all purple, the purple the painter called “the color of grapes on Judgment Day.”

The medallion on her purple musette bag was the seal of the Service Division of the Federal Bureau of Termination, an eagle perched on a turnstile.

The woman had a lot of facial hair — an unmistakable mustache, in fact. A curious thing about gas-chamber hostesses was that, no matter how lovely and feminine they were when recruited, they all sprouted mustaches within five years or so.

“Is this where I’m supposed to come?” she said to the painter.

“A lot would depend on what your business was,” he said. “You aren’t about to have a baby, are you?”

“They told me I was supposed to pose for some picture,” she said. “My name’s Leora Duncan.” She waited.

“And you dunk people,” he said.

“What?” she said.

“Skip it,” he said.

“That sure is a beautiful picture,” she said. “Looks just like heaven or something.”

“Or something,” said the painter. He took a list of names from his smock pocket. “Duncan, Duncan, Duncan,” he said, scanning the list. “Yes — here you are. You’re entitled to be immortalized. See any faceless body here you’d like me to stick your head on? We’ve got a few choice ones left.”

She studied the mural bleakly. “Gee,” she said, “they’re all the same to me. I don’t know anything about art.”

“A body’s a body, eh?” he said. “All righty. As a master of fine art, I recommend this body here.” He indicated a faceless figure of a woman who was carrying dried stalks to a trash-burner.

“Well,” said Leora Duncan, “that’s more the disposal people, isn’t it? I mean, I’m in service. I don’t do any disposing.”

The painter clapped his hands in mock delight. “You say you don’t know anything about art, and then you prove in the next breath that you know more about it than I do! Of course the sheave-carrier is wrong for a hostess! A snipper, a pruner — that’s more your line.” He pointed to a figure in purple who was sawing a dead branch from an apple tree. “How about her?” he said. “You like her at all?”

“Gosh –” she said, and she blushed and became humble — “that — that puts me right next to Dr. Hitz.”

“That upsets you?” he said.

“Good gravy, no!” she said. “It’s — it’s just such an honor.”

“Ah, You… you admire him, eh?” he said.

“Who doesn’t admire him?” she said, worshiping the portrait of Hitz. It was the portrait of a tanned, white-haired, omnipotent Zeus, two hundred and forty years old. “Who doesn’t admire him?” she said again. “He was responsible for setting up the very first gas chamber in Chicago.”

“Nothing would please me more,” said the painter, “than to put you next to him for all time. Sawing off a limb—that strikes you as appropriate?”

“That is kind of like what I do,” she said. She was demure about what she did. What she did was make people comfortable while she killed them.

And, while Leora Duncan was posing for her portrait, into the waiting-room bounded Dr. Hitz himself. He was seven feet tall, and he boomed with importance, accomplishments, and the joy of living.

“Well, Miss Duncan! Miss Duncan!” he said, and he made a joke. “What are you doing here?” he said. “This isn’t where the people leave. This is where they come in!”

“We’re going to be in the same picture together,” she said shyly.

“Good!” said Dr. Hitz heartily. “And, say, isn’t that some picture?”

“I sure am honored to be in it with you,” she said.

“Let me tell you,” he said, “I’m honored to be in it with you. Without women like you, this wonderful world we’ve got wouldn’t be possible.”

He saluted her and moved toward the door that led to the delivery rooms. “Guess what was just born,” he said.

“I can’t,” she said.

“Triplets!” he said.

“Triplets!” she said. She was exclaiming over the legal implications of triplets.

The law said that no newborn child could survive unless the parents of the child could find someone who would volunteer to die. Triplets, if they were all to live, called for three volunteers.

“Do the parents have three volunteers?” said Leora Duncan.

“Last I heard,” said Dr. Hitz, “they had one, and were trying to scrape another two up.”

“I don’t think they made it,” she said. “Nobody made three appointments with us. Nothing but singles going through today, unless somebody called in after I left. What’s the name?”

“Wehling,” said the waiting father, sitting up, red-eyed and frowzy. “Edward K. Wehling, Jr., is the name of the happy father-to-be.”

He raised his right hand, looked at a spot on the wall, gave a hoarsely wretched chuckle. “Present,” he said.

“Oh, Mr. Wehling,” said Dr. Hitz, “I didn’t see you.”

“The invisible man,” said Wehling.

“They just phoned me that your triplets have been born,” said Dr. Hitz. “They’re all fine, and so is the mother. I’m on my way in to see them now.”

“Hooray,” said Wehling emptily.

“You don’t sound very happy,” said Dr. Hitz.

“What man in my shoes wouldn’t be happy?” said Wehling. He gestured with his hands to symbolize care-free simplicity. “All I have to do is pick out which one of the triplets is going to live, then deliver my maternal grandfather to the Happy Hooligan, and come back here with a receipt.”

Dr. Hitz became rather severe with Wehling, towered over him. “You don’t believe in population control, Mr. Wehling?” he said.

“I think it’s perfectly keen,” said Wehling tautly.

“Would you like to go back to the good old days, when the population of the Earth was twenty billion — about to become forty billion, then eighty billion, then one hundred and sixty billion? Do you know what a drupelet is, Mr. Wehling?” said Hitz.

“Nope,” said Wehling sulkily.

“A drupelet, Mr. Wehling, is one of the little knobs, one of the little pulpy grains of a blackberry,” said Dr. Hitz. “Without population control, human beings would now be packed on this surface of this old planet like drupelets on a blackberry! Think of it!”

Wehling continued to stare at the same spot on the wall.

“In the year 2000,” said Dr. Hitz, “before scientists stepped in and laid down the law, there wasn’t even enough drinking water to go around, and nothing to eat but sea-weed — and still people insisted on their right to reproduce like jackrabbits. And their right, if possible, to live forever.”

“I want those kids,” said Wehling quietly. “I want all three of them.”

“Of course you do,” said Dr. Hitz. “That’s only human.”

“I don’t want my grandfather to die, either,” said Wehling.

“Nobody’s really happy about taking a close relative to the Catbox,” said Dr. Hitz gently, sympathetically.

“I wish people wouldn’t call it that,” said Leora Duncan.

“What?” said Dr. Hitz.

“I wish people wouldn’t call it ‘the Catbox,’ and things like that,” she said. “It gives people the wrong impression.”

“You’re absolutely right,” said Dr. Hitz. “Forgive me.” He corrected himself, gave the municipal gas chambers their official title, a title no one ever used in conversation. “I should have said, ‘Ethical Suicide Studios,'” he said.

“That sounds so much better,” said Leora Duncan.

“This child of yours — whichever one you decide to keep, Mr. Wehling,” said Dr. Hitz. “He or she is going to live on a happy, roomy, clean, rich planet, thanks to population control. In a garden like that mural there.” He shook his head. “Two centuries ago, when I was a young man, it was a hell that nobody thought could last another twenty years. Now centuries of peace and plenty stretch before us as far as the imagination cares to travel.”

He smiled luminously.

The smile faded as he saw that Wehling had just drawn a revolver.

Wehling shot Dr. Hitz dead. “There’s room for one — a great big one,” he said.

And then he shot Leora Duncan. “It’s only death,” he said to her as she fell. “There! Room for two.”

And then he shot himself, making room for all three of his children.

Nobody came running. Nobody, seemingly, heard the shots.

The painter sat on the top of his stepladder, looking down reflectively on the sorry scene.

The painter pondered the mournful puzzle of life demanding to be born and, once born, demanding to be fruitful… to multiply and to live as long as possible — to do all that on a very small planet that would have to last forever.

All the answers that the painter could think of were grim. Even grimmer, surely, than a Catbox, a Happy Hooligan, an Easy Go. He thought of war. He thought of plague. He thought of starvation.

He knew that he would never paint again. He let his paintbrush fall to the drop-cloths below. And then he decided he had had about enough of life in the Happy Garden of Life, too, and he came slowly down from the ladder.

He took Wehling’s pistol, really intending to shoot himself.

But he didn’t have the nerve.

And then he saw the telephone booth in the corner of the room. He went to it, dialed the well-remembered number: “2 B R 0 2 B.”

“Federal Bureau of Termination,” said the very warm voice of a hostess.

“How soon could I get an appointment?” he asked, speaking very carefully.

“We could probably fit you in late this afternoon, sir,” she said. “It might even be earlier, if we get a cancellation.”

“All right,” said the painter, “fit me in, if you please.” And he gave her his name, spelling it out.

“Thank you, sir,” said the hostess. “Your city thanks you; your country thanks you; your planet thanks you. But the deepest thanks of all is from future generations.”

Triplets

 

The Water’s Edge

Over the last few decades, as American politics has devolved from guarded civility into madness, one of the casualties has been the demise of our long-standing agreement that “politics stops at the water’s edge.”

That phrase was coined in 1948 by Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the critical years after World War II, Vandenberg believed that the country was best served if President Truman‘s foreign policy had bipartisan support.

Vandenberg was correct that a united front is best for the country. Further, he was smart enough to urge the U.S. to negotiate a western alliance apart from the United Nations, where the USSR could veto things. That alliance turned out to be NATO.

Vandenberg’s analogy of the water’s edge declares that Americans are family. Within the family, we can squabble all we want, but when dealing with other countries, we should close ranks and present a united front. Sort of like a Mafia family. And I mean that in a good way.

Technically, it’s already a felony for a citizen to get involved with a foreign country without permission. The Logan Act, enacted way back in 1799, says this:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

So, the Logan Act prevents you and me from causing trouble. Vandenberg’s concept amounts to etiquette among politicians and political parties in which, for the common good, they agree not to interfere.

I always admired and supported this concept. It was a simple notion, voluntary in nature, enforced only by personal honor and integrity. It reminded us of our common bond, in spite of our differences and disagreements.

Unfortunately, the notion is nonbinding. And, over time, as the conservatives have grown more wild-eyed and psychotic, it has been tossed aside.

In 2009, while on a junket to China, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) told the Chinese that the budget numbers released by the Obama Administration “should not be believed.” Yes, he really did.

In 2015, while Barrack Obama was in talks with Iran about limiting the Iranian nuclear program, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) wrote an open letter to Iran. He warned that the Republican Party opposed the talks, and in the future, just might throw out any agreement reached. Cotton and 46 other Republican senators signed the letter. Yes, they really did.

Being a mere journalism major, I struggle to understand why all 47 of them were not charged with a felony under the Logan Act.

But I digress. For years, most politicians honored the water’s edge concept. In 2012, for example, Obama was in South Korea, and he got caught telling Russia he expected to have more “flexibility” after the election.

His opponent Mitt Romney fired back. “For this president to be looking for greater flexibility, where he doesn’t have to answer to the American people in his relations with Russia, is very, very troubling, very alarming,” Romney said.

To everyone’s surprise, House Speaker John Boehner came to Obama’s defense. “While the president is overseas,” he said, “I think it’s appropriate that people not be critical of him or our country. It was one of the few times I agreed with Boehner on anything.

Anyway, the idea that politics should stop at the water’s edgea sensible, useful, honorable concept — is no more. It was tossed aside by the conservatives, of course. And look at the state of the country today.

Our disgrace of a President is a garden-variety conman with no integrity and even less competence. He also is an outright traitor, openly on Putin’s side and solidly under Putin’s control.

– The Trump Administration is so corrupt, I can smell the stench from my house.

Republican politicians regularly spread false information planted by Russian Intelligence.

Moscow Mitch has bottled up over 400 bills passed by the House, including eight designed to protect American elections from foreign interference.

Fox “News” continues leading the conservative herd by the nose, filtering what they know, controlling what they think, and relieving them of their money.

Conservative politics in our time is almost too over-the-top, too insane to be believed. The right is simply toxic — unashamedly malevolent, aggressive, and mean.

Arthur Vandenberg was a Republican with class. This bunch today is about as classy as Tolkien’s orcs.

Trump and friends

 

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

Virginia is the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents, the most among the states. Seven presidents were born in Ohio, five in New York, four in Massachusetts, and the remaining presidents were from 17 other states. Six states have produced none.

During the Apollo 14 moon mission in 1971, astronaut Alan Shepard brought out a folding 6-iron and drove two golf balls into the lunar distance. He shanked the first drive, but the second traveled about 200 yards. Shepard got the okay of his NASA bosses in advance.

Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady of the United States from 1933 until 1945. In 1935, she began writing “My Day,” a syndicated newspaper column about issues of the time. The popular column was published six days a week until 1961, when the schedule was changed to every other day due to her failing health. Her last column appeared in 1962, two months before her death.

In days of yore, humans measured time with the clepsydra or water clock. Clepsydra is Greek for water thief. The device measures the flow of water through an opening, and marking on the container show the passage of time.

Two versions existed: one measured outflow, and one measured inflow. Their accuracy was… fair to okay. The pendulum clocks that replaced them in the 1600s were much more accurate.

Clepsydra

The real name of lead singer Bono of the rock band U2 is Paul David Hewson. “Bono,” he says, is derived from the Latin word “bonavox,” which means good voice.

La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles is a seep of natural asphalt. Because the tar preserves the bones of the unlucky animals who died there, La Brea has been a fossil excavation site and a popular tourist attraction since the early 1900s.

“La Brea” is Spanish for “the tar,” so technically, “The La Brea Tar Pits” means “The the tar tar pits.”

When the first president of Israel died in 1952, the Israeli prime minister asked Albert Einstein to become president. Einstein would have to relocate to Israel, but would be free to continue his scientific work. Einstein said he was “deeply moved,” but declined on grounds that he lacked “the natural aptitude and the experience” for the position.

The “Temple of a Million Bottles” in Thailand is a complex of buildings constructed by Buddhist monks to keep beer bottles out of landfills. The original temple was completed in 1986. Today, the site consists of 20 buildings and some 1.5 million bottles. The monks use green and brown bottles for the construction, and they use bottle caps to create mosaics.

Temple

Commercial coffee growers raise two varieties of beans: Robusta and Arabica. Robusta accounts for 30 percent of world production. It is hardier, easier to grow, harsher in taste, and higher in caffeine. The other 70 percent of plants are Arabica, which require more attention, but produce a higher-quality brew.

Robusta is used to make instant coffee, and cheaper brands mix it, to varying degrees, with Arabica. Lesson: check the label and go with Arabica.

When the singer Pink (technically, P!nk) was a young teenager, her friends teased her by saying she looked like Mr. Pink, the character played by Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs. She reacted by embracing the name and later used it professionally. Her real name is Alecia Beth Moore.

In 1960, while performing Verde’s La Forza Del Destino (The Force of Destiny) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, baritone Leonard Warren suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and dropped dead on the stage.

His last words were the opening lines of an aria that begins “Morir, tremenda cosa,” which means “To die, a momentous thing.”

“The world’s narrowest house” is the Keret House in Warsaw, Poland, built in the four-foot space between two adjacent building. It consists of three levels containing a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen. The structure is considered an art project because it doesn’t fully meet building codes.

Keret House

 

Tune o’ the Day

“Yesterday” by The Beatles is one of the least Beatles-like of their songs, but among the most popular. In 1999, it was voted the best song of the 20th century by BBC Radio. In 2000, MTV and Rolling Stone named it the number one pop song of all time.

Those accolades may be a bit excessive, but the song is still exceptional. “Yesterday” has been covered over 2,000 times, which is amazing.

According to McCartney, the melody came to him during a dream. When he woke up, he hurried to a piano and played it so he wouldn’t forget it. The lyrics, however, weren’t written for another year.

As the months passed, the band gave the song the working title “Scrambled Eggs.” The opening verse was “Scrambled eggs. Oh, my baby, how I love your legs. Not as much as I love scrambled eggs.”

Eventually, Lennon suggested the title Yesterday, which clicked with McCartney, who finally did the rest.

Help!

Yesterday

By The Beatles, 1965
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Yesterday
All my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Suddenly
I’m not half the man I used to be.
There’s a shadow hanging over me.
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

Why she had to go, I don’t know,
She wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong,
Now I long for yesterday.

Yesterday
Love was such an easy game to play.
Now I need a place to hide away.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Why she had to go, I don’t know,
She wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong,
Now I long for yesterday.

Yesterday
Love was such an easy game to play.
Now I need a place to hide away.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Mm mm mm mm mm mm mm.

 

Magic Mud

In 1920, in a baseball game with the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians batter Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a pitched ball. Witnesses said Chapman apparently lost sight of the ball, because he made no attempt to move or duck.

Hours later, he died. Chapman is the only major league player ever killed in this manner.

The condition of the ball was considered a factor in Chapman’s death. In those days, pitchers were expected to “break in” new baseballs, which are glossy and slick and hard to grip. Pitchers rubbed the baseballs with anything handy — dirt, mud, spit, tobacco juice, shoe polish. They nicked the leather with blades and roughed it up with sandpaper.

As a result, game balls varied widely in condition. They could be damp. They could wobble in flight. Worse, they tended to be dark and mottled in color, making them harder to see.

After the Chapman incident, Major League Baseball was motivated anew to find a way to season new baseballs without the negative side effects. Nothing surfaced.

Finally, in the late 1930s, a third-base coach for the Philadelphia Athletics, Lena Blackburne, found a solution that wasn’t quite magic, but came close. His method is still used today by every MLB team and most minor league and college teams.

Blackburne grew up in Palmyra, New Jersey, a small town on the Delaware River just north of Philadelphia. He knew from his childhood that the river mud near Palmyra is unique. It has an unusually smooth, creamy, clay-like consistency and holds minimal moisture. He decided to try the mud on a baseball.

Blackburne found that a tiny amount of the river mud — one finger dipped in the stuff — was enough to spread over a baseball and work the magic. The mud seasoned the leather, eliminated the gloss, and slightly roughened the surface, all without discoloring the ball. Baseballs looked the same before and after treatment.

Blackburne’s rubbing mud was an instant hit with the Athletics. Word soon spread around the league, and other teams began asking Blackburne for a supply of the river mud.

At that point, Blackburne officially went into the business of selling Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud — Baseball’s Magic Mud.

Experts say the mud gets its characteristics from the type and amount of clay in the soil and the chemistry of the river. The Delaware is a “blackwater” river, rich in iron oxide, and it flows through highly acidic soil.

It’s also a fact that mud from anywhere along the river won’t do. Blackburne found that only along about a one-mile stretch of the river do ideal conditions for the rubbing mud exist.

Blackburne kept the location secret. He confided only in his friend John Haas, who became his partner in the business.

The process Blackburne and Haas developed was to collect the mud in buckets, run it through a strainer to remove leaves and other debris, add water, and let it sit in large cans.

Periodically over about six weeks, excess water was drained, and the mud was strained several more times. When no water remained and the mud was perfectly smooth — reduced to the consistency of cold cream or pudding — it was ready to be packaged.

Blackburne and Haas prepared the mud over the fall and winter and were ready to supply the teams the following spring. By the 1950s, every team in baseball was rubbing the magic mud on every baseball.

The mud was a big deal for baseball, but certainly not a money-maker for Blackburne. The market is limited, and a couple of containers will last a team all season. Blackburne’s enterprise was a service to the game and a labor of love.

(Each team needs about two one-pint containers of the mud per year. In 1981, a container sold for $20. The price today is $100. The mud business currently nets about $15,000 to $20,000 per year.)

Blackburne died in 1968 and left the company to Haas. Haas continued the business, still keeping the location secret. When he retired, his son-in-law, Burns Bintliff, took over.

Like Blackburne and Haas, Bintliff ran the mud business in his spare time, holding a job elsewhere to pay the bills. Eventually, he passed the business along to his son Jim, who runs the company today.

Jim Bintliff and his wife Joanne both worked for a small printing company and ran the mud business on the side. Joanne said they were married five years and had two children before Jim finally revealed to her the secret location where the mud is collected.

Eventually, their youngest daughter Rachel is expected to take over the business — if demand for the mud continues.

In 2016, MLB asked the equipment manufacturer Rawlings to develop a ball that didn’t need rubbing mud — a ball that is broken-in and ready to use upon delivery. The rubbing mud, they said, is a hassle for equipment managers, and Mother Nature could decide to stop making it available.

Rawlings continues trying to create a pre-seasoned baseball, but so far has struck out. Pitchers are accustomed to the feel of Lena Blackburne‘s Magic Mud, and the chemists and engineers at Rawlings haven’t been able to replicate that feel to the players’ satisfaction.

Mud is mud,” said Mike Thompson, Chief Marketing Officer at Rawlings. “But, obviously, mud isn’t mud.”

Meanwhile, Jim Bintliff has been working on another angle for the business. The mud, it seems, works just as well on a football. Many NFL teams now place regular orders.

Mud-1

Jim Bintliff at work.

Mud-2

 

The Questions…

1. The US Postal Service introduced the ZIP code in 1963 and expanded it with the ZIP+4 system in 1983. What does “ZIP” stand for?

2. The Pacific Ocean is the planet’s largest body of water. What percent of Earth’s surface does it cover?

3. After a long career as a womanizer in the 1700s, how did Italian playboy Giacomo Casanova spend his declining years?

4. What do the words gallows, scissors, binoculars, and pliers have in common?

5. Why is a monkey wrench called a monkey wrench?

The Answers…

1. Zone improvement plan.

2. About 30 percent. The Pacific is larger than all of the planet’s land area combined.

3. He became a librarian for Count Ferdinand von Waldstein at a remote castle in Bohemia. Secure and comfortable, but bored by life among the peasants, he kept himself secluded with his fox terriers and wrote his memoirs.

4. They only exist in plural form.

5. No consensus on the origin of the name. The inventor, Loring Coes, patented it in 1841 as a “screw wrench.” It’s possible the term “monkey wrench” evolved because, in those days, a small implement or piece of equipment sometimes was called a monkey. I don’t get it either.

ZIP Code

Monkey wrench

 

This Just In

WATERLOO, IOWA — An Iowa man and a wildlife sanctuary are engaged in a legal battle over the custody of an adolescent coyote named Drifter.

Matthew Stokes said he found Drifter last spring after the young coyote became separated from his mother. Stokes said Drifter helps him deal with anxiety and depression, and he obtained a letter from his doctor claiming that Drifter is an emotional support animal.

Recently, when Drifter was roaming loose, a neighbor captured him and took him to the wildlife sanctuary. “This is not an emotional support animal,” said the director, who warned that Drifter will be dangerous when he matures and his predatory instincts kick in. The sanctuary wants to return Drifter to the wild.

As legal proceedings approach, Stokes has applied for a license to keep a dangerous animal and possibly get Drifter classified as an educational animal.

Coyote

CEDAR ISLAND, NORTH CAROLINA — Three cows thought to have died last fall in Hurricane Dorian recently were found living in the Cape Lookout National Seashore on the Outer Banks.

Park staff said the cows had to swim across five miles of open water to get there.

The three survivors were part of a herd of 20 wild cows living on private land on Cedar Island. No trace was found of the other cows or of 28 wild horses that lived with them.

A Park spokesman said the cows survived by foraging on the barrier island’s vegetation.

The cows are not accustomed to humans and flee when people get too close. Eventually, they will be sedated and returned to Cedar Island by boat.

Cows

WAUSAU, WISCONSIN — The Wausau City Council is expected to decriminalize snowball fights within the city limits, tweaking a 1962 ban on throwing dangerous projectiles.

The ban included snowballs to prevent people from throwing them at passing cars, but technically, it also bans snowball fights between mutual combatants. Reacting to a series of news stories making fun of the city, the council is expected to fix that.

In a TV interview, the Wausau police chief said his officers have never enforced the ordinance in cases of friendly play. “A fun snowball fight is a fun snowball fight,” he said.

The chief then turned and nailed the mayor in the back of the head with a snowball.

Snowballs