Posts Tagged ‘School’

Both of my sons are avid runners. For them, every week involves something — a fun run, a few hours on the local streets and trails, occasionally a marathon or half-marathon.

Me, I never got into running. I consider walking and hiking to be more genteel ways to exercise. I especially like the serenity of being on the trail, alone, with plenty of time to ponder any topic my brain selects.

Running undoubtedly has great benefits, but I’ll never know. If I switched to running at my age, my knees would not take kindly to it.

There was a time, however, when I was quite capable of sustained running — as well as capable of a mighty burst of speed when necessary.

In fact, I can remember two times in my life when I ran so fast that my legs began to outrun the rest of my body, and I was in danger of falling over backwards.

One of those times, I was in college. I had just caught a pass from the University of Georgia’s star quarterback and was racing for the end zone. No, I didn’t play for the Bulldogs. It happened one Sunday in a game of touch football on a frat house lawn.

The other time, two decades later, I was running for my life to get out from under a falling tree. Which I had just cut down with a chainsaw. I did not escape by much.

I remember both events as if they happened yesterday.

The Pick-up Game

Up through high school, practically any inept kid can participate in sports. From elementary school on, anyone can wear a uniform. To compensate, sports teams have two rosters: the starters and the benchwarmers. All kids know the difference.

Did I just use the word inept? That certainly describes my athletic ability as a kid.

Growing up, I was a blah outfielder in Little League baseball. In high school, I warmed the bench for one season of football. (I was an “offensive tackle” in both position and performance.)

The next year, I played junior varsity basketball; I had a hot hand in exactly one game. It was a sublime moment of glory.

By the time you reach college, however, all that equal opportunity stuff  comes to an end. College sports are for the elites. It might as well be the pros. Come to think of it, it pretty much is the pros.

With so many used-to-be athletes around, it isn’t surprising that flag football and touch football are popular campus pastimes. That was the case at UGA when I was a student.

In the spring, if you drove down Milledge Avenue — which was, and still is, Greek Row — you would pass four or five such games in progress. As you might expect, the rules and the quality of play varied considerably.

One fine spring Sunday in 1963, my junior year, I went to see my friend Al at his fraternity house on South Milledge.

Al and I were best buds throughout our college years. (In 2009, I wrote about Al and his friendship with a group of Thai students.) Sadly, he and I went our separate ways after graduation, me into the Air Force, Al into matrimony.

Anyway, when I arrived at the frat house, Al and a few others were sitting on the front porch watching a touch football game on the lawn.

To my surprise, playing on one of the teams was Larry Rakestraw, UGA’s starting quarterback.

Rakestraw was a genuine campus superstar — a superb quarterback with an outstanding record. He was Georgia’s starting quarterback for three years straight.

To refresh my memory, I looked up Larry’s record. He passed for over 3,000 yards, was an All-SEC player twice, and was Senior Bowl MVP. Against Miami in the Orange Bowl, he had over 400 yards passing. He broke three SEC records and one NCAA record. He went on to play three seasons as QB of the Chicago Bears.

On top of that, Larry was a nice, friendly, modest guy — the kind who would roll up his sleeves and play touch football with the little people on a warm spring afternoon.

Being one of the little people myself, I did not travel in the same lofty circles as the football players, but I knew some of them from various classes.

I wrote about one, Richard Brooks, in a post in 2012. Another was Larry Rakestraw. For a while, we were fellow cadets in Air Force ROTC, and we both graduated from UGA in 1964.

So, there I was, sitting on the front porch of a frat house with my friend Al, watching a casual game of touch football being played on the lawn, four to a team, and the quarterback of one of the teams was the famous Larry Rakestraw.

Before long, one of Larry’s teammates got tired, or had to be somewhere, or whatever, and left the game. Larry surveyed the spectators in the porch and pointed at me.

“Rocky, you’re up!” he yelled. “Get in here!”

A wave of dread washed over me, but I got to my feet and trotted with a grin toward the scrum of players.

I got over the dread soon enough. I wasn’t exactly a great addition to the team, but I ran and grunted and sweated and did my pedestrian best.

And then, my moment arrived.

Our team had the ball. In the huddle, Larry told me to go downfield, then cut left and stop. When I looked back, the ball would be waiting for me.

And it was. When I turned, Larry’s perfect spiral was whistling toward me, mere feet away. Somehow, I reacted quickly enough to grab it and hang on.

That was the first miracle. The second miracle came when I took off down the left sideline, running as if my life depended on it.

As I ran, all four members of the other team were in pursuit, as hell-bent to intercept me as I was to score.

One by one, they failed. With a few yards to go, I only had to elude one last man.

Mentally and physically, I was in overdrive. Until that moment, I had never run so fast. It was exhilarating.

At the same time, I had the unsettling sensation that if I did not slow down, my feet and legs would literally outrun my head and torso, and I would crash with disastrous results.

But by then, I was over the goal line. The last player missed touching me by inches. It was a magnificent personal victory.

Of course, in the overall scheme of things, my astounding feat of athleticism meant nothing. It was just one touchdown of many that day. The game continued, and my epic run promptly was forgotten.

But, oh, how sweet it was.

In my next post, I will describe an incident in which I ran as if demon-possessed to avoid being sent to Glory by a falling tree.

A pick-up game at UGA, 1962.

Ace Georgia QB Larry Rakestraw in 1963.

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In my little town of Jefferson, the Recreation Department has a very comprehensive after-school program for kids. My granddaughters Maddie and Sarah, ages eight and five, spend weekday afternoons at “the Rec,” and they love it.

At the Rec, the kids are monitored in age groups. They play indoor and outdoor sports, go on field trips, do craft projects, have story time, and otherwise stay entertained until late in the day when family members begin trickling in to take them home.

The staff people are young and kid-friendly, and Maddie and Sarah seem happy and comfortable with them. (It’s easy to tell when that isn’t the case.) The staff members  are called “Coach Mike” or “Coach Jessica” or whatever.

Normally, one parent or the other will pick up Maddie and Sarah on the way home from work, but sometimes, one of the grandparents is pressed into service. It happened to me last week.

At about 4 PM, the phone rang. It was my son Dustin, who was marooned at home after foot surgery, hobbling around on crutches, unable to drive.

“Dad,” he said, “Leslie is stuck in a meeting at work. Can you pick up the girls at the Rec?”

I’m always happy for a chance to see my girls.

An hour later at the Rec, I approached the fingerprint i.d. machine, placed my index finger on the glass, and — voilà — was granted permission to sign the girls out.

The device doesn’t always grant permission. Sometimes, you hold your finger wrong, and the machine rejects you and flashes red. All eyes turn in your direction, wondering if you might be a terrorist or a pervert. It’s quite intimidating.

But this time, the device lit up green, and a voice boomed out over the loudspeakers, “Maddie Smith and Sarah Smith to the office for checkout.”

Minutes later, the girls arrived, dressed in their school uniforms, weighted down with giant backpacks, brandishing assorted papers and artwork while dropping their lunchboxes and babbling non-stop.

Sarah was excited about her illustrated Christmas wish list. It consisted of small photos of stuff she wants, cut out of magazines and pasted onto a sheet of paper. The paste was still wet.

Simultaneously, Maddie was telling me an elaborate story about Coach Bob, who inadvertently took home a paper bag that contained Maddie’s candy, and, even after a string of promises, has neither returned the bag nor replaced the candy.

That story, I found as we walked to the car, was the preamble to a request.

Rocky, sometimes Mom and Dad let us stop at the CVS, because, you know, we pass it every day on the way home, and we ask them if we can please, please, stop and get something, and they say yes — not always, but a lot — and today, I have two dollars, and Coach Bob won’t bring back my candy, even though I keep asking him, and the candy is Xtremes Sour Candy, which is like a chewy flat plank, and it’s really good, and the flavor I like is Rainbow Berry, and that’s what Coach Bob took home accidentally — Rainbow Berry — and since I have two dollars and we’re gonna pass the CVS anyway —

Sarah then interrupted.

Rocky, I have two dollars, too! I have two dollars, so Rocky, can we stop at the CVS and get something? Pleeease, can we stop? I want to get Xtremes Rainbow Berry, too! Or maybe I’ll get a Juicy Drop Pop! The Berry Bomb kind like Maddie got once!

“Don’t get the Berry Bomb Juicy Drop Pop,” Maddie advised soberly. “The Berry Bomb flavor makes your lips blue.”

I managed to cut in. “Berry Bomb Juicy Drop Pop… Maddie, is that what you had last week, and it made your lips blue, and you didn’t want to go to school, and Dustin made you go anyway?”

“Yeah. It was embarrassing.”

“I don’t care if it makes my lips blue!” said Sarah. “Berry Bomb is the best flavor! I want that! Unless I change my mind and get Rainbow Berry Xtremes! That doesn’t make your lips blue, does it, Maddie?”

Maddie affirmed that Rainbow Berry Xtremes do not turn your lips blue.

“Well,” I said, “You’ve got your own money, and we’re not in a hurry, and CVS is on the way, so I guess we can stop.”

We loaded up, buckled up, and were off to CVS.

The CVS candy display is cleverly located at the checkout counter at the front of the store, which every customer passes twice, once when entering and once when exiting.

We, of course, never got beyond that point. The girls ran to the display and spent the next several minutes kneeling there, discussing the relative merits of the staggering, brightly-colored assortment of sugary goodies.

True to her word, Maddie chose a plank of Xtremes Sour Candy, Rainbow Berry flavor. Xtremes, I discovered, are fruit rolls with a sour taste. The slogan of Xtremes is “Devour the Sour.”

Sarah changed her mind numerous times, but eventually, blue lips be damned, settled on the Berry Bomb Juicy Drop Pop.

Juicy Drop Pops consist of a hard candy sucker at one end and a dropper at the other end that dispenses liquid candy. “Dare 2 Drop!” the label says, “Can You Handle It?” The drops in the Berry Bomb variety appear to be made of concentrated blue food coloring.

When the clerk rang up the two purchases and announced the cost, Maddie and Sarah stood silently, eyes downcast.

“So,” I inquired, “Who’s going to pay first?”

Maddie looked at me sheepishly. “I just remembered that my two dollars is actually Daddy’s money. It’s change I owe him.”

“Yeah, me, too,” Sarah chimed in. “I need to give Daddy his change.”

All three of them — Maddie, Sarah, and the clerk — waited quietly until I took out my wallet and paid for the candy.

Hustled. Bamboozled. Hoodwinked.


Juicy Drops

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Last Thursday, the family assembled at Jefferson Elementary School for an art show by the second graders. Word was, my granddaughter Maddie had made a clay owl.

We — being Maddie, her sister Sarah, both parents, and all four grandparents — met at the school at 6pm. I observed that the eight of us arrived in five different cars.

Sarah, who turns five later this month, is an affectionate kid. She ran over at top speed and greeted me with an enthusiastic hug.

Maddie is less touchy-feely. She ran over, too, but instead of a hug, gave me her patented head-butt. This is a move wherein she plants her head in your midsection, which provides contact, but prevents you from pulling her too close.

They both began chattering at once, Maddie about the art show, Sarah about a scratch on her face — an injury she suffered earlier on the playground when she fell off the monkey bars.

I tried without success to follow both narratives, but I managed to document Sarah’s wound.

We met in front of the school, a spot familiar to us all. That’s where the cars queue up after school to pick up the students.

The school has an ingenious pick-up system that uses color-coded stations. As the cars arrive, the students are sent to stand next to one of the colored posts — red, blue, green, etc. — to be collected. All very elaborate and efficient.

As we passed the pick-up stations on the way to the gym, I fell in step next to Sarah.

“Which color post is your favorite?” I asked her. “If you got to choose one pick-up station to go to every day, which color would you pick?”

“Any one except pink,” she replied.

“What? I thought pink would be your choice. Pink has always been your favorite color.”

“I am SO over pink,” she announced. “And I’m over princesses, too. And mermaids.”

“Wow,” I said. “Do people know about this? I mean, your birthday is coming up. You always get pink things and princess dolls for your birthday.”

“Haven’t you seen my gift list?” she asked pointedly.

I had indeed. Come to think of it, the list made no mention of princesses, mermaid dolls, or pink.

Abruptly, Sarah veered off to join the two grandmothers, and I put an arm around Maddie’s shoulder. “So,” I said, “You have an owl in the art show?”

“We’ve been studying prehistoric people and how they did cave paintings,” she said. “We had a choice of doing an owl or a cave painting. You’ll see my cave painting when we get inside.”

“I’m confused,” I said. “Your dad told me you made a clay owl.”

“I did,” she answered.

As I was about to try again for an explanation, a voice from behind us yelled, “Don’t chase me, Maddie!”

We turned to see a grinning boy of Maddie’s age, arriving with his parents. Maddie glared at him and didn’t reply.

“Is that kid in your class?” I asked after they were gone. She nodded yes.

“Is he a decent guy?”

“No, he’s mean.”

“Well,” I said, “That’s the way it goes. Some kids are nice, some kids are jerks.”

“Adults are like that too,” her mama Leslie added sagely.

Inside the gym, the artwork was surprisingly good. The cave paintings had a rustic authenticity. Displayed on the walls in groups, they were colorful and attractive.

The clay owls looked stamped from a mold, but some classes displayed chalk drawings of owls — which, like the cave paintings, ranged from pretty good to very good. By the second grade, kids know what they’re doing.

I never got the connection between cave paintings and owls. Maybe there isn’t one.

For the next half hour, we made the rounds of the gym, saw all the art, mingled with the crowd, and signed the yellow tablecloth, which is a tradition at Jefferson Elementary.

Eventually, it was time to choose a restaurant for dinner. We let Maddie decide. She picked Ali-V’s, a home cookin’ restaurant.

Ali-V’s is named for a legendary local cook and beloved aunt of the proprietor. Many of the menu items came from the kitchen of the late Aunt Ali-V.

A low rumble of approval rippled through our group. Maddie had chosen well.

Ali-V’s was busier than usual that night, but we didn’t have to wait long. The staff pushed some tables together, got us seated, and took the drink orders.

Then a woman appeared and handed each of us a bingo card.

Thursday night at Ali-V’s, we learned, is Bingo Night.

“Wow, Bingo Night,” said Dustin.

He held up his card, studied it like Hamlet contemplating the skull of Yorick, chuckled, and said, “This is how you know you live in a small town.”

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When the major claim to fame of your local school board is burning books, you have a self-righteous-moralistic-toad problem.

In 1973, a 26-year-old English teacher at Drake High School in Drake, North Dakota, gave his sophomore students a reading assignment — Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughter-House Five.

Slaughter-House Five is an admittedly odd duck. It is an anti-war black comedy, more or less based on the horrific World War II fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, which Vonnegut lived through as a POW of the Germans.

As the story unfolds, Vonnegut’s protagonist becomes “unstuck in time,” encounters multi-dimensional aliens, and lives his life out of sequence. The book is classic, fiery-eyed satire from Vonnegut.

An odd duck, yes, but the novel shouldn’t be underestimated. It is ranked by Modern Library as number 18 among the greatest English novels of the 20th Century.

Bruce Severy, the Drake high school teacher, reported that most of his sophomore students immediately related to the book and were enthusiastic about the assignment.

“C and D students were suddenly writing A papers,” Severy told The Minot Daily News.

One student, however, complained to her mother about obscene language in the book. The mother complained to the Drake Public School Board.

The students were about one-third of the way through the novel when the school board ordered all copies of the books confiscated and fed into the school’s coal burner.

“We didn’t approve of its obscene language,” said school board president Charles McCarthy. “It might pass in a college, but not in this school.”

Another board member said the book “should not be read by anyone.”

A local minister called the novel “garbage.” A local priest said he didn’t like its “barnyard scenes.”

When the confiscation order went out, some students claimed they had lost their copies; the school board promptly ordered their lockers searched and telephoned their parents.

The students made their displeasure known. The novel, one of them said, “is respectable and interesting, and better than what we’ve been reading.” They presented a letter of protest to the school board.

Slaughter-House Five wasn’t the only book burned that year in the Drake High School coal burner. The school board also ordered the burning of 60 copies of Deliverance by James Dickey.

Also into the burner went the school’s copies of Short Story Masterpieces, a 1966 collection with works by 35 distinguished authors — James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, Sinclair Lewis, James Thurber, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and Carson McCullers, to drop just a few of the names.

Severy, to his credit, remained civil about the incident. He gave this long and eloquent statement to the Minot newspaper.


I chose the book for its immediacy, its modern style, its brevity. It is a book which addresses itself to current problems in an honest and straightforward manner. I believe the theme, or message of the book is a question: why are we killing each other still?

The book deals with other concerns as well. The lack of dignity and respect with which we treat each other in increasing doses. The dissatisfaction that Billy Pilgrim, the hero of the book, feels with his life of obvious material success. The emptiness of his marriage. The matter of man’s own free will, that seems to be no longer functioning. The resulting apathy.

It is this apathy towards an increasing state of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man that the author is crying out against in protest, through Billy Pilgrim. This is a moral book. It deals with a moral question that we as humans have been trying to deal with for time immemorial. The book begs the reader to come up with a workable answer.

Most of the criticism so far focuses on the language the author uses, specifically some four-letter words commonly referred to as slang, swearing, whatever. All I can say is that the author is trying to tell his story like it is, using the language as it is being used today, out there in the real world.

I would also like to say that no one who objects to the book that I have talked to has read the book. Another told me that he hadn’t read any of the book. I say that no one can make judgment about an entire book without reading the entire book and taking it as such. Anything less is academically dishonest, anti-intellectual, and irrational.

I would also like to say that only one student in my two classes objected to the book after reading two chapters. This is fine. I have never forced a student to read any book if that student objected or if the parents objected.


The teacher’s union joined the students in condemning the book-burnings. The ACLU threatened a lawsuit. Ultimately, a settlement was reached out of court, in which high school juniors and seniors were permitted to read Slaughter-House Five, and Severy received the sum of $5,000.

To my knowledge, the Drake Public School Board has fed no more books into the coal burner. In the years since the settlement, the incident has surfaced only occasionally, as an example of crude behavior by narrow-minded people who get into positions of power.

Then, a few months ago, came interesting news. A letter surfaced that Vonnegut reportedly wrote to board president McCarthy, one week after the copies of Slaughter-House Five were burned.

This is the letter.


November 16, 1973

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

I am writing to you in your capacity as chairman of the Drake School Board. I am among those American writers whose books have been destroyed in the now famous furnace of your school.

Certain members of your community have suggested that my work is evil. This is extraordinarily insulting to me. The news from Drake indicates to me that books and writers are very unreal to you people. I am writing this letter to let you know how real I am.

I want you to know, too, that my publisher and I have done absolutely nothing to exploit the disgusting news from Drake. We are not clapping each other on the back, crowing about all the books we will sell because of the news. We have declined to go on television, have written no fiery letters to editorial pages, have granted no lengthy interviews. We are angered and sickened and saddened. And no copies of this letter have been sent to anybody else.

You now hold the only copy in your hands. It is a strictly private letter from me to the people of Drake, who have done so much to damage my reputation in the eyes of their children and then in the eyes of the world. Do you have the courage and ordinary decency to show this letter to the people, or will it, too, be consigned to the fires of your furnace?

I gather from what I read in the papers and hear on television that you imagine me, and some other writers, too, as being sort of ratlike people who enjoy making money from poisoning the minds of young people. I am in fact a large, strong person, fifty-one years old, who did a lot of farm work as a boy, who is good with tools. I have raised six children, three my own and three adopted. They have all turned out well. Two of them are farmers.

I am a combat infantry veteran from World War II, and hold a Purple Heart. I have earned whatever I own by hard work. I have never been arrested or sued for anything. I am so much trusted with young people and by young people that I have served on the faculties of the University of Iowa, Harvard, and the City College of New York. Every year I receive at least a dozen invitations to be commencement speaker at colleges and high schools. My books are probably more widely used in schools than those of any other living American fiction writer.

If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hardworking men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. It was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.

After I have said all this, I am sure you are still ready to respond, in effect, “Yes, yes — but it still remains our right and our responsibility to decide what books our children are going to be made to read in our community.” This is surely so. But it is also true that if you exercise that right and fulfill that responsibility in an ignorant, harsh, un-American manner, then people are entitled to call you bad citizens and fools. Even your own children are entitled to call you that.

I read in the newspaper that your community is mystified by the outcry from all over the country about what you have done. Well, you have discovered that Drake is a part of American civilization, and your fellow Americans can’t stand it that you have behaved in such an uncivilized way. Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.

If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the education of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books — books you hadn’t even read. You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive.

Again: you have insulted me, and I am a good citizen, and I am very real.

Kurt Vonnegut


According to news accounts, Vonnegut never received a reply.

You have to question the authenticity of a letter like this, surfacing after nearly 40 years. It’s the kind of thing that triggers a person’s baloney detector.

The letter’s statement, you now hold the only copy in your hands certainly doesn’t bolster its credibility.

On the other hand, nothing had popped up to indicate that the letter is a phony. It does, in fact, sound a heck of a lot like Vonnegut.

And if Kurt Vonnegut didn’t write this letter, then dammit, he should have.

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When I retired in 2005, I made two solemn vows: I would never again wear a wristwatch, and I would never again set an alarm clock.

So far, I have kept those vows. If I want to know the time, I whip out my cell phone. If I need to get up early, I go to bed early. Bada-bing.

Foregoing the wristwatch was just a symbolic thing, but swearing off alarm clocks was serious and heart-felt.

I’ve always hated alarm clocks. The thought of them causes my eyes to narrow, my upper lip to curl, my teeth to clinch.

During my working years, I usually woke up shortly before the blasted thing went off. Then I would doze, checking it with a bleary eye every few minutes, so I could shut it off before the ringing began.

I’m a bit hypersensitive on this subject, but with good reason. It has to do with a particularly loathsome alarm clock I used during my high school years.

In those days, my dad was in the Air Force, and our family lived in Stuttgart, Germany. We overseas kids attended American schools operated by the U.S. military. We were up and off to school every weekday morning, like normal.

Mom and Dad rousted my brothers out of bed manually on school days, but in deference to my status as the oldest kid, they gave me an alarm clock.

The clock was made in Germany. I don’t remember the brand, but it was a small, round, modern-looking device (in its day) of creamy white pearlescent metal. It featured luminous hands* and a snooze button on top.

A vintage alarm clock similar to mine, made by Junghans (founded 1861), Germany’s largest manufacturer of timepieces.

Electric clocks in those days were not common. My clock, like most, was spring-operated. One of my nightly rituals was to wind up the clock via the key on the back. The gentle ticking was a soft, familiar, hypnotic sound at night.

In appearance, the clock was quite ordinary. But in performance, it incorporated a unique characteristic — unique to my experience, anyway — that was absolutely diabolical.

Instead of going off with a loud cacophony of ringing, the clock emitted a single gentle ding.

It was a sweet, comforting, low-volume ding. Somewhere inside, a tiny hammer lightly tapped a tiny bell, and a single ring reverberated pleasantly.

Then, five or six seconds later, just as the reverb subsided, the clock would emit a second ding, identical to the first.

The clock might repeat the ding in this manner three, four, five times or more.

And then, without warning, it would erupt in an ultra-loud, furious clamor of frantic, non-stop ringing that was capable of stopping your heart.

Coming after the series of gentle dings, the full-on alarm was twice as awful.

And you never knew when the frenzied ringing would commence — after the first ding, the third, or the seventh. The device was truly diabolical.

I hated that clock. Every morning, when the initial ding rang out, I slapped the button on top with lightning speed, wide awake and focused on turning off the infernal thing.

Yes, I loathed it, but I grudgingly acknowledged that it was a fiendishly clever marvel of German engineering. And because it worked so supremely well, I used it throughout high school.

When we returned to the U.S. and I entered college, I went modern. I abandoned the German clock and purchased a new-fangled electric alarm clock.

It was important for a young man to keep up with the times, you understand, and besides, the constant ticking of a wind-up clock might have been offensive to my dorm roommate.

I don’t know what happened to the German clock. Maybe it got tossed in the trash. Maybe one of my brothers inherited it.

I hope it was the former. I wouldn’t wish that clock on friend, foe, or relative.

Thinking about it now, I can imagine the scene in a factory office, somewhere in Germany, years ago. A technician goes to his department head with a simple, ingenious idea to help the clock do its job with ruthless efficiency.

The superior listens quietly. Then, as the sheer genius of the concept sinks in, an evil smile slowly spreads across his face.

Perhaps this occurred during the Nazi era.

* Looking back, it’s very likely that the luminosity of the clock hands came from radium paint, which has a long half-life and for years will emit low levels of alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. In the old days, some clock-makers got bone cancer from working with the paint. Supposedly, people who owned the clocks were in no danger. Knock on wood.

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The Army takes care of its own.

In the late 1950s, when I was a teenager, we lived in Stuttgart, Germany. My dad was the Air Force liaison officer to Seventh Army Headquarters at Patch Barracks.

In those days, the U.S. Army had seven or eight bases around Stuttgart. Each was a small, self-contained American town.

Well, almost self-contained. For practical reasons, some resources were shared. Not every base, for example, had a theater, bowling alley, or golf course. One high school and a couple of elementary schools served the area, and we had a very efficient bus system.

But each base had the essential facilities: commissary (grocery store), Post Exchange (retail store), housing, gas station, Officers and NCO Clubs — and the good old AYA.

The American Youth Association was quite an elaborate operation. It was the overseas equivalent of a city recreation department. Its mission was to provide enough activities for military dependent kids to keep them busy, entertained, and out of trouble. We were, after all, enclaves of foreigners in a foreign country.

The Army had reason for concern. Generally, the little kids weren’t a problem. But less than two decades after World War II, allowing cheeky American teens to aggravate the Germans, many of them sullen veterans of the Wehrmacht, was not a good idea.

The AYA was staffed by Army enlisted men who specialized in the field of recreation and activities for children.

And they provided activities aplenty. They organized intramural sports for all age levels. They took the kids on swimming trips and sightseeing tours. They bussed the older ones to football and basketball games at other bases around Germany.

The Patch Barracks AYA, a sprawling, hangar-like structure, was typical. Inside were two basketball courts and a large activity room for arts and crafts, instructional classes, and playing pool, chess, checkers, and fussball.

The building also housed offices for the staff, sports equipment we could check out, vending machines, a separate activity room for the younger kids, and a Teen Club.

The Teen Club was our sanctuary, off-limits to the younger ones. At any given time, 10 to 20 teenagers would be there, hanging out, listening to music. On special occasions, we might have a dance or a pizza party.

I told you the AYA was elaborate.

Before long, I got myself elected Vice President of the Teen Club. It was a position I had coveted mightily — hungered for, salivated over, yearned longingly for — since we arrived at the base.

The reason was simple. Among the duties of the Vice President was keeping the jukebox in the Teen Club stocked with the coolest music.

Nowadays, of course, jukeboxes are digital, and they hold enough tunes to last the rest of your life.

But in 1958, a jukebox was a quaint mechanical device that played 7-inch 45 rpm records. Its capacity was about 50 records and 100 songs.

As Vice President, I was given a monthly allowance with which to purchase new 45s. What I bought was entirely up to me.

Naturally, my peers lobbied me constantly to purchase their own favorites. I was everyone’s pal.

I have to admit, I allowed some tunes on the jukebox that I didn’t really like. That was necessary if I wanted to continue being the VP. But mostly, I bought the records — all of them rock and roll, mind you — that satisfied my personal taste.

Which, when I think about it, was about the same as everyone else’s.

Best of all, for every record added to the jukebox, another one had to be retired. Retired to Rocky’s personal collection.

No other AYA officer had perks like that.

More about my collection of 45 rpm records in a future post.

On an AYA bus trip to Munich, 1959. The busses were Army ambulances converted to carry passengers. Note the flat-top haircuts.

Pool party -- Taken on an AYA trip to a public swimming pool in Stuttgart.

A state-of-the-art Wurlitzer loaded with 45 RPM vinyl, circa 1958.

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School starts early in Jefferson. The kids went back to class the first week in August. This year, my granddaughter Maddie, age six, is in first grade. Sarah, the three-year-old, is in pre-school. Both are happy and doing well.

A week or two into the school year, Dustin brought the girls to my house on an official mission: to sell me something. Already, a fund-raising project was underway at Maddie’s school. So it begins.

The range of choices was vast — chocolates, candy, magazine subscriptions, engraved trinkets, leather items, key chains, bath oils, scented candles, and more. Every item cost upward of $10.00.

“Maddie,” I said as I leafed through the catalog, “What is your new teacher’s name?”

“Ms. Stephens.”

“I’ve heard of her,” I said. “Isn’t she the teacher who makes kids run a lap around the school every time they get in trouble?”

Dustin snickered.

Maddie didn’t blink or crack a smile. “Yep, she’s the one,” she said.

“And I hear she runs along with you, to make sure you don’t take any shortcuts,” I added.

Sarah stood nearby, quietly taking it all in. No telling what the conversation was doing to her understanding of life in elementary school.

“You heard wrong,” said Maddie, deadpan. “Ms. Stephens doesn’t run with you. She just stands in the door and watches you.”

I stroked my beard and nodded soberly in understanding.

“So, Maddie,” Dustin inquired, “How many laps have you run so far this year?”

“Let me guess,” I said. “17?”

A hint of a smile appeared on Maddie’s face.

“27?” I suggested. “More?”

By then, Maddie was smirking.

“NONE!” she bellowed.

Dustin laughed and stated for the record that Maddie never, ever gets in trouble in school.

“I know that,” I said. “That’s why I was kidding her about it.”

Maddie then proceeded to tell us about a classmate who gets in trouble virtually every day, and if Ms. Stephens ever did embrace running laps as a form of punishment, this kid would be in great shape.

At that point, Maddie and Sarah decided to perform somersaults on the living room floor, and I returned to the gift catalog.

I had hoped to select a non-food item, but it was hopeless. I simply didn’t need any bath oils, candles, or magazine subscriptions.

“Well,” I finally announced, “I’ve made my choice.”

Maddie and Sarah scurried over to hear the news. They were genuinely excited.

“I want the chocolate-covered peanuts,” I said. “No — the chocolate-covered pecans.”

Dustin filled out the order form, and I wrote a check to the school for $12.50. Those chocolates better be good.

“Rocky, you know you can’t have the chocolates right now,” said Maddie.

I said I knew I would have to wait.

“Because we have to send all the orders to the company, and later, they send back what people bought,” she explained.

I said I was familiar with the process.

“It might be a long time,” she continued. I nodded.

Maddie looked at me mischievously.

“And maybe,” she said gleefully, “They’ll keep your money and won’t send you anything!”

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Go ‘Chokes! Go Pickles!

Most of the time, college sports teams name themselves something that evokes strength, virility, or athletic prowess — Lions, Knights, Bears, Vikings, Panthers, and whatnot.

But some teams go in the opposite direction…

The Banana Slugs — The University of California at Santa Cruz. Adopted when students rebelled over the chancellor’s choice, “The Sea Lions.”

Sammy the Slug.

The Fighting Pickles — University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem.

The Fighting Blue Hens — University of Delaware, Newark.

The Dirtbags — California State University – Long Beach. Men’s baseball team only.

The Fighting Artichokes — Scottsdale Community College, Scottsdale, Arizona.

Arti the Artichoke.

The Trolls — Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Illinois.

The Geoducks — Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington. Pronounced “gooey-ducks.” Refers to the world’s largest burrowing clam. Their fight song: “Siphon high, squirt it out, swivel all about, let it all hang out!”

The Evergreen State Gooey-duck.

The Student Princes — Heidelberg University, Tiffin, Ohio. Very Germanic.

The Jumbos — Tufts University, Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts. Named after P. T. Barnum’s star circus elephant. Barnum gave Tufts a lot of money.

The Lemmings — Bryant & Stratton College, Cleveland, Ohio.

The Fire Ants — University of South Carolina Sumter. Ouch.

The Fighting Okra — Delta State University, Cleveland, Mississippi. Formerly “The Statesmen.”

The Fighting Okra.

The Stanford Tree — Unofficial mascot of Stanford University in Stanford, California. The actual team name is “The Cardinal” — the color red, not the bird. That’s too abstract for the student body, so they ignore it and have adopted a redwood tree.

The Tree.

The Hustling Quakers — Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana.

The Gorloks — Webster University, Webster Groves, Missouri. Named for the intersection of Gore and Lockwood Avenues on the university campus. The Gorlok mascot you see dancing on the sideline has the paws of a cheetah, the horns of a buffalo, and the face of a St. Bernard.

The Fighting Camels — Campbell University, Buies Creek, North Carolina. The team mascot is Gaylord the Camel. The women’s teams are, of course, the Lady Camels.

The Flying Fleet — Erskine College, Due West, South Carolina. (See Comments for details.)

The Eutectics — St. Louis College of Pharmacy, St. Louis, Missouri. Eutectics is a chemistry term relating to the solidification of alloys, which I don’t understand at all. The team mascot is Morty McPestle, a werewolf in a lab coat. Morty isn’t a wimpy mascot like okra and lemmings, but he seems to belong on this list.

Morty McPestle.

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A first grade teacher gave each child in her class the beginning of a common proverb. The assignment was to add the appropriate ending.

Being six-year-olds, the kids did not come up with the classic answers. But you can’t fault their logic. They certainly understand the concept of a proverb.

Some of the responses:


Better to be safe than ___ punch a 5th grader.

Strike while the ___ bug is close.

It’s always darkest before ___ Daylight Saving Time.

Never underestimate the power of ___ termites.

You can lead a horse to water, but ___ how?

Don’t bite the hand that ___ looks dirty.

No news is ___ impossible.

A miss is as good as a ___ Mr.

You can’t teach an old dog new ___ math.

If you lie down with dogs, you’ll ___ stink in the morning.

Love all, trust ___ me.

The pen is mightier than the ___ pigs.

An idle mind is ___ the best way to relax.

Where there’s smoke there’s ___ pollution.

Happy the bride who ___ gets all the presents.

A penny saved is ___ not much.

Two’s company, three’s ___ the Musketeers.

Don’t put off until tomorrow what ___ you put on to go to bed.

Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and ___ you have to blow your nose.

There are none so blind as ___ Stevie Wonder.

Children should be seen and not ___ spanked or grounded.

If at first you don’t succeed ___ get new batteries.

You get out of something only what you ___ see in the picture on the box.

When the blind lead the blind ___ get out of the way.

Better late than ___ pregnant.

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Allegedly, the “analogies gone wrong” below were collected by high school English teachers, for their own amusement, from essays written by their students.

The list surfaces regularly online, usually billed as “Worst Analogies.” While it’s true that many of the entries are quite awful, a few hint that the kid actually may have a wry sense of humor.

Or maybe not.


His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.

She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thighmaster.

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.

He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.

The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it rusted.

The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie, this guy would be buried in the credits as something like “Second Tall Man.”

The plan was simple, like his brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

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