Tuesday, August 19, 2008

From hither to yon, in short steps

A potpourri (or "poopery," as Mike Royko, never the world's greatest speller, once wrote, but he may just have been pulling our collective leg) of jumbled and unrelated thoughts:

1. Planning a budget trip to Alaska next May is an ongoing exercise in sticker shock. That state both pumps oil and fleeces tourists.

2. This has been such a cool August on the shore of Lake Superior that I am reminded of Mark Twain's "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." We even had an October storm yesterday, with such wild surf we had to rescue the kayaks twice and roll up the boardwalk to the beach.

3. Every day we see bald eagles, sometimes three, sometimes four. Why is it they're never around when I have a camera in hand?

4. Newspapers everywhere are publishing the most incredibly trivial feature stories on their front pages in order to stay afloat a little longer as they circle the toilet. One Chicago paper yesterday featured 1,000 badly overwritten words about the upcoming opening of a new fast-food restaurant in a strip mall. The other the same day ran a story about a drunken wedding reception during which the cops Tasered both bride and groom -- a story that had appeared in July in a supermarket rag. (The names of the dailies will not be mentioned to protect the guilty, but you could Google the subjects.)

5. Every day I thank my stars that I retired from newspapering when I did (in 2006).

6. Will anyone remember Michael Phelps a year from now? (Mark Spitz' name comes up only during Olympic years.) That's because, let's face it, watching swimming is about as exciting as an afternoon on the cricket pitch. Full disclosure: I was once a competitive swimmer myself.

7. Donna Leon's first Guido Brunetti mystery, Death at La Fenice, originally published in 1992, is still her best. (I just finished it.) But the others are all well worth reading.

8. Of all the liberal pundits, Frank Rich of The New York Times writes the best political commentary. How is it that his column appears on the same page as the often mean-spirited Maureen Dowd, who can rival Ann Coulter for sheer nastiness?

9. The next book I plan to read is The Barn House: Confessions of an Urban Rehabber, by Ed Zotti (New American Library, $22.95, to be published Sept. 2). The advance notices make it sound like a latter-day Mr. Blandings Fixes Up a Dream House. Zotti is best known for his syndicated "Straight Dope" column, which he claims just to edit, but we fellow Chicago writers know better.

10. I am not capable of thinking about more than nine things a day.

11. I lied. Way down at the bottom of this page (keep scrolling) is a Google News "gadget" that will give you the service's idea of the important headlines of the day. I almost put up a gadget devoted to South African humor but decided this one might be more useful.


  1. What's wrong with South African humor?

  2. It doesn't travel well. (Nor does Yank humor.) Example:

    Did you hear about South African chess? The object is to capture the black bishop.

    This isn't difficult. Only the white pieces are allowed to move.

  3. Walter van der MerweAugust 20, 2008 at 7:53 PM

    How about this?

    Little Jabu goes into the kitchen, where his mom is baking. He puts his hand in the flour, and wipes it all over his face.

    "Look, Mamma! I em a WHITE boy!"

    His mom SLAPS him in the face, and tells him to go show his father. He goes to his father in the living room, and says: "Look, Pappa! I em a WHITE boy!"

    His father SLAPS him HARD in the face, and tells him to go show his grandmother. The boy goes to his grandmother's room, and
    says: "Look, Gogo! I em a WHITE boy!"

    His grandmother DONNERS him in the face, and sends him back to his mother. His mother taps her foot, and asks him: "Now, Jabu! Tell me. Did you LEN something from THAT, heh?"

    "I deed LEN something, Mamma," replies Jabu. "I hev only been White for five minutes, end ALREADY I hate you black PEOPLES."

  4. So Henry, about THE BARN HOUSE ... what did you think?