Desk Debris

The other day, an old friend mentioned a paperweight she has on her desk, one that she acquired when we worked together in Nashville in the mid-80s. I didn’t remember the item, but it did inspire me to take a look at some of the debris on my desk even now.

Desk Debris

The largest item is a plastic durian. A contributing editor at a magazine I once worked for, a woman who lived in Singapore for a while, gave it to me. I think because it came up in conversation that I knew what a durian was. The dog chewed on the stem not long ago, but I got it away from her.

The medallion is a Vanderbilt souvenir. Not sure when I got it, but it wasn’t when I attended school there. It’s a sturdy bronze object, weighing 9 oz., with Cornelius Vanderbilt on the obverse. Made by Medallic Art Co. of New York, according to the rim of the medallion. Maybe the company was once HQ’d in New York, but according to the web site, it’s now a division of Northwest Territorial Mint, which is headquartered in Federal Way, Washington, and has no facilities in New York.

I got the Maple Leaf bouncy ball at a store in Canmore, Alberta, in 2006. It was just after Canada Day, and Canada-themed items were at a discount.

The green item is a glass egg I bought at the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum in Neenah, Wisconsin, last year. A pretty piece of glass, but also inexpensive and hard to break.

The Horde

Subzero again, at least overnight. Seems like the Polar Vortex is back. Which sounds like an enemy of Dick Tracy.

In case you ever wonder just who that’s been over the years, there’s this list. (What would we do without Wiki?) But I don’t plan to look at it very closely. Dick Tracy is something that could vanish in its entirety, and the world would be exactly the same without it.

Now this is an interesting story. Millions in buried treasure. How often does that happen? Just about never. Less likely than winning a multistate lottery.

But every now and then, there’s word of a horde of one kind or another. The psychology’s fascinating. Who buried a fortune in gold in cans on a stray piece of land in rural California and, more importantly, why didn’t they come back for them?

The Almondmilk Carton

Sunny day today, but that just means that a little snow melts on top of the snow mounds near the streets, then refreezes on the streets, forming hazardous ice sheets. I saw one wide sheet today at the corner of a large street and a side street. Right-turning cars onto the side street risk skidding out of control on the turn – and maybe into a car waiting to make a turn onto the large street.

We’ve gone through a half-gallon (1.89l) of almond milk in a couple of days. A little expensive, but it’s tasty stuff, and probably healthful. But it’s not enough to market it as merely healthful. The container, which is exactly like a milk carton, goes to considerable length to assure buyers of its virtues as a food. It also assures us of its ritual purity.

Or at least the modern equivalent. It is:

FREE OF [caps in the original] dairy, soy, lactose, cholesterol, peanuts, casein, gluten, eggs, saturated fat, and MSG.

All Natural with added Vitamins & Minerals [caps again – though English is not, last time I checked, German].

Made from REAL Almonds.


Made in a Peanut Free Facility [I really want to add a hyphen].


This Almondmilk [sic] is made from Almonds that were not genetically modified.

That last one piqued my interest. By golly, I’ll sleep better tonight knowing that no Frankenalmonds have crept into my diet. I checked a little further, and found that the almonds used to make my almond milk are from California.

From there, I looked up the Almond Board of California. A handy Almond Board pdf tells me that there are no fewer than 30 varieties of almonds raised in California, 10 of which account for 70 percent of production.

Always nice to learn something new. The pdf also says, “All California Almonds are developed using traditional methods; genetically modified almond varieties are not planted or available in California.”

The carton, then, was making a virtue of necessity. Strictly speaking, though, “traditional methods” must involve breeding almonds for desirable characteristics over a good many years. A kind of genetic modification, in other words, just as agriculture has done for centuries. Just not the boogeyman kind from modern labs.

Untimely Demises

Woke up from a dream this morning with the notion that Ed Asner had died. That was a little odd, considering that I seldom dream about well-known people. For a moment I wondered, did that happen? No, I dreamed it. I wish Mr. Asner well, and hope he has more years yet.

Guess it would have been really strange if I’d dreamed about Harold Ramis, whose passing made me wonder, for a moment, what his colleague – co-conspirator – Douglas Kenney would have done if he’d lived as long. Probably not too much on-camera work, though he had a single, memorable line in Animal House, which he co-wrote.

Speaking of untimely death, not long ago I got around to seeing a Smithsonian Channel documentary, The Day Kennedy Died, which first aired in November. Narrated by Kevin Spacey and directed by British documentary filmmaker Leslie Woodhead, it’s a first-rate bit of work. A lot of the material’s familiar, of course, but it also included less-familiar aspects of the story, along with lesser-known images, deftly woven into a strong narrative that eschews the conspiracy speculation that’s encrusted the event.

Also worth watching: a short documentary about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, vintage 1984 and posted on a YouTube channel called Rare Educational and Entertaining Videos. Until I watched the video about the eruption the other day, I hadn’t realized that there’s a children’s song about Mt. St. Helens. But I knew about stubborn old Harry Truman and some of the intrepid scientists who died trying to gather information about the volcano.

Recent Februaries

Last winter we didn’t get much snow. But it finally did snow in February, in time for me to see downtown Chicago with patches of snow, such as on the fountain in the plaza in front of the Board of Trade Building.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABet it looks exactly like that now. Further along, I snapped a picture of “Flamingo,” a 50-ton steel work by Alexander Calder, which has been standing at Federal Plaza for about 40 years now.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATwo years ago in February, we had some particularly sticky snow one time.

Feb 27 2012 007But we were warm inside and able to enjoy warm food, such as octopus on rice.

Feb 27 2012 008I don’t know that Calder ever did a 50-ft. steel octopus-like form, but it would have been a cool sculpture.

Thursday Bagatelle

I drove through thick fog early this evening. Remarkably, the fog disappeared in about 10 minutes as I was driving along – blown away by the strong winds entering the Chicago area that are still gusting outside, and which are supposed to last into tomorrow.

While writing about small-nation participants in the Olympics last week, my thoughts naturally turned to Sealand. (Whose wouldn’t?) Besides no status as an actual country, Sealand has no Olympic committee, either. But it’s always entertaining to read about the place.

The founder of Sealand died only in 2012, which I hadn’t heard. I also didn’t realize that Sealandic coins have been minted, but here they are. Somewhere out in the wide world, there’s a numismatist whose specialty is micronations. There has to be.

I watched the first part of the first episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon today – watched it the modern way, on demand, not when it was first broadcast. It’s been a good many years since I watched much of The Tonight Show. Briefly, just before Lilly was born, we’d watch Jay Leno, but I never took to him. In the mid-70s, I watched Johnny Carson regularly for a few years, which might have been unusual for someone in his early teens, but lost interest later.

I hadn’t seen much of Fallon before. Seems like an amiable fellow, and talented enough for the job. Still, I have the ridiculous feeling that the host of The Tonight Show ought to be older than me. Just to look at him, Fallon reminds me of a young assistant high school principal or a young insurance agent.

At a post office the other day – they say the USPS is losing money, but there’s always a line at my closest one – I saw an ad for replica Inverted Jenny stamps. Turns out they’ve been for sale for some months, with a $2 denomination. If they’d asked me, I would have suggested they be a postcard denomination (lately 34 cents). Sticking even a replica Inverted Jenny on a casual postcard would be fun.

Hadn’t thought about those stamps in a long time. Philately wasn’t ever as interesting for me as numismatics, but everyone ought to know about the Inverted Jenny. I made sure to tell Lilly about it. “That much for a stamp?” she said when I told her they sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s the bizarre world of collectibles for you.

Anna Maria Alberghetti in a Wintry Mix, Honey

Another day above freezing. That’s a good thing, except for the current forecast. The following is direct from the National Weather Service, which is worthy of respect for its accuracy, but also the fact that it doesn’t fix cute names to winter storms. The NWS put out this “Special Statement” for my part of the country early this evening.




Odd forecast. Deuced odd, it is.

Speaking of odd, it took me nearly 40 years to get the following knock-knock joke, as told by Ted Baxter during the Sept. 13, 1975, episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “Edie Gets Married.”

Not that I’ve been puzzling over it for 40 years. I’d forgotten all about it until today, walking around in the fairly pleasant afternoon air, when I thought, What did that joke about Anna Maria Alberghetti mean? Memory works in mysterious ways.

Just as unlikely, I remembered to look it up when I got home, connecting the joke to “Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” which I’d heard before – but (much) more recently than 1975. It was clearly a joke for grownups back then, back when sitcom writers actually wrote jokes for grownups.

A lot of singers have done the song. Fats Domino’s version is here.

Moon of New Orleans

A day above freezing. I’m always surprised on such days how much snow melts. Most of the roof is uncovered, for instance. None of the ground is. It wasn’t that warm. Besides, we still have a deep covering left over from a slow accumulation all winter.

Something I learned today: former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu is still alive at 83. Good for Moon. I thought about him because I read about Sen. Mary Landrieu’s bid for re-election, and remembered that he was her father. I can’t claim to know much about the Landrieus (Landrieux?) or Louisiana politics, except it’s inordinately colorful and rare is the governor who avoids indictment.

But Moon Landrieu has long been a favorite politician name, ever since I heard of him back during high school. That just sounds right for a N’Orleans pol, tripping right off your tongue. According to Wiki at least, he was born Maurice but at some point changed it legally to Moon.

Late Winter Dog Holes

More new snow out there, some four or five inches. Just waiting to be re-arranged slightly by me so that our auto-mobiles can made forward progress away from the garage. Or rather, backward motion out of our driveway.

But at least the snow didn’t come as part of a crippling blizzard. Even better, it’s supposed to be above freezing for part of the rest of the week. Slowly the Northern Hemisphere angles toward the Sun. Spring is nigh, and we can look forward to thunderstorms, mud, flood warnings, and the specter of tornadoes.

Meantime, the dog entertains herself by digging holes in the snow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGo figure. Looking forward to digging in the mud, probably.

Chief Magistrate Blog Revised

“Presidents Day” is nearly upon us again. Time to dwell on the immortal deeds of David Rice Atchison. Just kidding. I don’t care what’s on his tombstone, he never held the office. Snopes has a long-winded discussion of the matter, but covers it pretty well.

Ten years ago I was long-winded myself when I wrote that “one of my travel hobbies, whenever it’s possible — and it isn’t too often — is to visit presidential sites. I’ve only been doing this since about 1996, so I can’t call it a life-long pursuit. And I rarely go out of my way to see a presidential site. But if it’s around, I’ll seek it out.”

Then I listed the sites I’ve managed to see, with a little commentary. I will update the list here, with places visited in the last 10 years italicized, plus more links than anyone’s likely to care about. It occurs to me that I haven’t added very many over the last decade. I’d need to spend more time on the East Coast, Virginia in particular, to run up the total, or closer at hand, Ohio.

Washington Monument, DC. Inspired by Egypt, hotbed of democracy. But a fine work all the same; Federal Hall, Wall Street, New York. Site of Washington’s first inauguration.

Monticello. Fascinating place, but I understand that home improvements drove Jefferson into penury; Jefferson Memorial, DC.

The Hermitage, Jackson‘s home in Nashville. Made quite an impression on me when I was 8. Still good as an adult.

Tippecanoe Battlefield, where Wm. Henry Harrison won his fame. The best diversion on the dull drive between Chicago and Indianapolis. More details here.

Polk‘s grave, Nashville. A neglected president, because his style of imperialism is out of fashion.

Lincoln‘s tomb, home (Springfield, Ill.); Lincoln Memorial, Ford’s Theater (DC); Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, Ill., where Lincoln lived as a young man; Lincoln Birthplace, Lincoln Boyhood Home (Ky.);  Lincoln’s Landing, Lockport, Ill.; Site of the Wigwam, where Lincoln was nominated, Chicago; Lincoln Museum, Springfield. Hadn’t been opened 10 years ago.

Andrew Johnson‘s birthplace, Raleigh, NC. Andrew Johnson NHS and Andrew Johnson grave, Greeneville, Tenn.

Grant‘s home, Galena, Ill., Grant’s home, St. Louis. At the latter, my brother and I looked around for empty whisky bottles, but no luck; Grant’s tomb, NYC. Well worth seeing.

Hayes‘ home and grave, Fremont, Ohio. The docent was really glad to see me. Stopped there to break up a trip on the interminable Ohio Turnpike.

Benjamin Harrison‘s home, Indianapolis. This docent was glad too. Nice Victorian house; Benjamin Harrison’s grave, Indianapolis. Too simple. Some governors of Indiana had better headstones. (I’m not so sure its simplicity is a bad thing any more; it’s got republican virtue going for it.)

Teddy Roosevelt‘s boyhood home, NYC. A well-done replica of the original brownstone, which actually has a brown exterior.

Taft’s grave, Arlington National Cemetery, Va.

The Blackstone Hotel (Smoke-Filled Room, Harding), Chicago

Hoover Library, Hoover’s birthplace, Hoover’s grave, West Branch, Iowa. I admire Hoover because he was a well-traveled man.

FDR Memorial, DC. Detailed here.

Truman Library, Truman’s home, Truman’s grave, Independence, Mo. There’s something a little odd about being buried on the grounds of your library, but there he is with Bess.

JFK grave, Arlington National Cemetery, Va.; Kennedy death limo, Dearborn, Mich.; Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas (forgot to list this 10 years ago. Yuriko and I went there in 1992).

LBJ ranch, LBJ grave, Stonewall, Tex. The historical re-enactors at the ranch refused to give me, the only visitor, any of the pie they had made. LBJ Library, Austin.

Nixon Library, Nixon’s boyhood home, Nixon’s grave, Yorba Linda, Calif. Where President Nixon lies still.

Ford Museum, Grand Rapids; Ford grave, Grand Rapids. He wasn’t dead yet in 2004.

Carter Library, Atlanta. Every now and then I have a touch of nostalgia for the Carter administration. No mention of the Killer Rabbit incident or Billy Beer at the library, however.

Reagan‘s boyhood home, Dixon, Ill. Bizarre statue next door of Reagan holding kernels of corn.

George HW Bush‘s Kinnebunkport home, Maine. I was a little lost on the coastal roads of Maine that day, I’m pretty sure I saw it from a distance in 1989. I’m surprised I was able to get as close as I did, but I suppose he wasn’t there that day.

Clinton Birthplace, Hope, Ark.

Also, the White House. That would be associated with every president since John Adams.

042And the U.S. Capitol. Besides statues of various chief magistrates, there are plaques on the floor in the old House chamber, now Statuary Hall, marking the locations of the desks of J.Q. Adams, Tyler, Polk, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.

Finally, St. John’s Episcopal Church, DC, the church that’s been visited by every sitting president since Madison, complete with a presidential pew and kneeling cushions with the names of presidents on them.