The Dandelion Rush

Capital way to wrap up April — warm. Very warm. And with a bumper crop of dandelions in the back yard. I didn’t make it outside much, except to walk the dog, but I completely enjoyed the warm air.

Tomorrow’s supposed to be summer-like, so it could be that the last week in April is all the spring we’re going to get. There has to be a cool blast sometime in May — it’ll feel like March, except the trees will be green — and then a lot of heat, or at least what passes for heat here.

My Own 1968

Finally this week Mad Men got around to something I remember, namely the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I don’t remember much about it, but I did think about it the next morning.

I also don’t know what conclusions I reached, but I was learning (without realizing it) that out in the wider world, it’s just one damn thing after another. Not much that happened in 1968 would lead to another conclusion.

I remember the assassination of Robert Kennedy better, because I got up early the next morning and turned on the TV. Regular programming was off the air — maybe I was expecting Captain Kangaroo — and some kind of bulletin was in its place.

The talk was about Kennedy’s death, and I was confused, since I was sure he’d died quite a long time before.

The Forgotten Cosmonaut

Got a packet in the mail recently telling me about the Vanderbilt 2013 Reunion and Fundraising Opportunity. Actually, those last three words aren’t in the title of the event, but they’re more than implied. One of the “class goals” is fundraising to the tune of $1,000,000 “with 32 percent class participation.”

I don’t think 32 percent is necessary. Between the right four or five alumni of my class, that much could be raised right away. But the school might have to name something after them.

Anyway, in an effort to drum up some nostalgia for the early ’80s, the invite includes the following verbage: Motorola debuts mobile phones; Who’s at Exit/In tonight?; Sally Ride is 1st woman in space; Meat sticks at Rand; Campus computer use up 100%; Housing lottery equals stress.

Some of those are self-explanatory, and others are enigmatic if you didn’t attend VU, such as “meat sticks at Rand,” which I will leave to the readers’ imagination. But I kick into copy editor mode at that business about Sally Ride, first American woman into space.

Is it too much to ask someone with a Vanderbilt education know who the first woman in space was? Valentina Tereshkova, forgotten again here in North America. But I expect she’s honored enough at home, even without the Soviet Union. Remarkably — I just checked — she’s still alive, and not even that old (76). I guess spacefaring in the early days was a young woman’s game.

Tinkertoys Across the Decades

Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, and Legos – the big three among building toys, as far as my younger self was concerned. I thought about that recently when Ann latched on to the two tubes of Tinkertoys that we have around the house. At some point long after I quit using them, the tubes migrated from my mother’s house to mine, maybe in anticipation that one of my children would use them. Until the other day, no.

The tubes interest me now more than the toys themselves.

I think my grandparents bought that taller tube for my aunt in the late ’30s – it has her name on it (I saw her last month; maybe I should offer to return them, since isn’t 80 the beginning of second childhood?). In any case, it says Tinkertoy, the Wonder Builder, a product of The Toy Tinkers Inc., Evanston, Ill. I didn’t know Tinkertoys were from Evanston originally.

The design of the longer tube clearly carries a 1929 copyright, but the image, especially of the boy, harkens back somewhat further. Maybe the artist was middle-aged and recalling his boyhood.

My mother probably bought the shorter tube for me ca. 1970, though it’s possible my grandmother got it for me. Note that it doesn’t promise constructions as intricate as the earlier tube. It still has a retail price sticker on it: Winn’s, 77 cents. Winn’s was a dime store near our home in San Antonio that was there until the age of dime stores was over.

Surprisingly little is available on line about Tinkertoy history, at least on casual inspection – there are suspiciously many hits with verbage the same as other sites. Did the inventors of Tinkertoys really hire midgets to play with sets in department store windows in the early days of selling the toys? That’s a repeated story, and I’d like to think it’s true.

The Explorer Test

Lilly told me the other day that she was going to take the EXPLORE test at school. I pretended to hear “explorer” test.

“It’s about time,” I said. “I can help you get ready. Here’s a question: how many men did Shackleton lose on the ill-fated voyage of the Endurance?”

“It’s not that kind of test,” she said.

“None. That’s really amazing, if you know anything about it.”

“I don’t know anything about it.”

“That’s why there need to be tests about explorers. Here’s another one. How many men did John Franklin lose looking for the Northwest Passage?”

“I don’t know who that is either.”

“The answer is all of them. They all died, including Franklin. That’s something you should learn in school.”

The pedestrian truth is that EXPLORE is some kind of ACT prep test. Without a single question about any great explorers, I bet.

All the Boards Did Shrink Again

It rained from about midnight to 6 a.m. on Thursday, one of the heaviest I’ve seen here in the northwest suburbs, but not the heaviest. Just my impression. I don’t feel like looking up the rainfall totals measured at O’Hare for then and now.

Thursday’s rain also compares to the time we went camping in Wisconsin, in summer of ’07, and during our last night in the tent it rained and rained and rained (which I called “two-fisted, he-man rain”). As for the tent, guaranteed to keep you dry indeed.

On Friday morning, skies were gray, but at least it wasn’t raining any more. On Saturday morning, the morning greeted us with a light dusting of snow. It melted after a short time, but even this far north, that’s a little unusual.

Much mud is still around. The dog is very fond of it.


Saw Argo on DVD recently. It deserved its praise for suspenseful plotting and all-around storytelling. Lilly and her mother watched it with me – Ann isn’t really old enough to be interested – and toward the end, Lilly said, “I can’t stand this anymore! What’s going to happen?”

I didn’t tell her. That would have spoiled a cracking good yarn. Part fictionalized? Who cares, if the results are good.

I faintly remembered the extraction of six embassy workers from Iran in 1980 as a momentary good-news pause during the early hostage crisis, and vaguely remembered the much-later revelation that a bogus movie production had been involved. I didn’t believe for a moment that Revolutionary Guards chased a departing Swissair flight down the runway in Tehran, or any of the other last-minute excitements depicted in the movie. Not that such things were impossible, but they seemed too cinematic to be real, and of course they were.

I enjoyed reading about some the real details of the operation afterwards. I especially liked the reason for the timing of the escape, which was on an early-morning flight. Revolutionary Guards, it was reasoned, don’t like to get up early either, zeal or no zeal.

“This was another reason for choosing the 7:30 a.m. Swissair flight,” wrote CIA agent Tony Mendez, who led the escape on the ground at considerable personal risk. “If we arrived at the airport at 5 a.m., the chances were the airport would be less chaotic. Also, the officials manning the controls might still be sleepy, and most of the Revolutionary Guards would still be in their beds. This was the case that Monday morning, 28 January 1980.”

The Soggy Green Grass of April

Rain, rain, rain. Seems like the drought that gripped northern Illinois is over. And it seems like we’re getting the rain we didn’t get last year, plus this year’s, and maybe a down payment on next year’s. But I suppose that’s anthropomorphism, or at least using financial terminology for the weather.

Speaking of anthropomorphism, I think that when our new hound watches us prepare food, as she does every day, she must be thinking those humans are crazy. Why aren’t they eating their food right now?

Another dog picture. I’ll probably publish a number of them before the novelty wears off. I tried to get her to look at the camera, but she was too busy spying our back yard tree for squirrels. None were to be seen. That time.