April Fools!

The first  mention of “April Fools Day” as being on April 1st was in Chaucer’s Canturbury Tales in 1392 (in the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”).   

Jonathan Swift (1665-1745) was the foremost prose satirist for the English language.  And he was also a twinkle-in-the-eye practical joker who authored a doozy of an April Fools’ prank bringing the tradition to a whole new level.  In February 1708, using the name “Isaac Bickerstaff,” he published an article solemnly predicting that John Partridge, a local author of astrological almanacs, would die at 11:00 p.m. on March 29, 1708.  All of London held its collective breath.  When the fateful day arrived, Swift – still writing as Isaac Bickerstaff – penned a moving obituary announcing the death of Partridge at 7:05 p.m.  — four hours earlier than predicted. 

Of course Mr. Partridge was very much alive – and outraged over the prediction and reporting of his death.  Because the story of John Partridge’s demise was printed on April 1st, there was ignition and lift off for a new – and more creative – breed of April Fool pranks.  I think I’d like to have Jonathan Swift join Aristophanes and me at that dinner. . . . .   


A few years ago, I was asked in a biographical sketch who I would most like to have dinner with.  My answer?  Aristophanes.   Called by his contemporaries “Old Baggy Pants.”  See  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristophanes

Aristophanes (448 B.C. – 385 B.C.), the Athenian satirist, was probably the world’s first stand-up comedian (“I’d love to be a stand-up comic but I don’t have the legs for it“).  He was well-educated and began writing satires in his teens.  He wrote more than 40 plays of which only 11 have survived. 

The first play penned under his own name was The Knights (424 B.C.).  It was a scathing satire about the Athenian politician and military leader Cleon – the arrogant demagogue who succeeded Pericles.  Cleon is aptly depicted in the play as a bloated and intoxicated lout – whose face and tunic are always smeared with wine.  It is said that Aristophanes sometimes played the part of Cleon – lurching onto stage, staggering around – because he wanted to make sure the part was played “properly.”  The spoof was wonderfully popular with everyone in Athens — except for Cleon who sent messengers to Aristophanes to suggest strongly that he “cool it.” 

In the world of literature, the satiric works of Ben Jonson and Henry Fielding were especially influenced by Aristophanes.  Examine the comedies of Shakespeare and you will find the tongue-in-cheek humor of Aristophanes swimming beneath the surface.

If we sat down to dinner, I’d order the spaghetti carbonara for both of us  — with a nice Barolo (see post of July 27th).   Then we’d start telling jokes. . . . .  

I can’t wait. . . .

I can’t wait for the next Lee Child novel.  Lee Child’s hulking protagonist is Jack Reacher – a retired Army military police major who travels around the country often by hitchhiking and paying cash for everything.  And for some inexplicable reason he’s always finding trouble.  Jack is every man’s man.   I have read all of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books:  61 Hours; Tripwire; Nothing to Lose; Bad Luck and Trouble; The Enemy; and the others.  WOW!  http://www.leechild.com

The other author whose books I greatly enjoy – and eagerly await – are those of Vince Flynn.  Flynn’s main character is Mitch Rapp – a deep-cover CIA prince of darkness who is very very good at “eliminating” very very bad people. http://www.vinceflynn.com    

Winston Churchill once said  “We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.”   Maybe we should consider sending Jack and Mitch over to the world’s trouble spots.  I’d love to see a book or movie where Jack and Mitch are booked as a tag team.  That would be cosmic.   If you ever need some easy reading where it’s easy to smile at the end . . . . .  


My wife and I have a 10 pound gray miniature poodle named “Daisy.”  To say Daisy is smart would be an understatement.  Daisy is smarter than some lawyers I know and most politicians I know of.  And probably brighter than me on some occasions.  When you talk to her, she looks you right square in the eye as if she’s trying to figure out “just what language is he speaking?” 

Daisy is a certified therapy dog – with the Canine Therapy Corps in Chicago (www.caninetherapycorps.org).   Canine Therapy Corps has nearly 75 dogs who work in 15 area hospitals.  It is a wonderful program that provides animal-assisted therapy often in collaboration with physicians and attending staff. 

Daisy went to school for nearly two years to get certified in this wonderful program.  Daisy and Donna work on Wednesday afternoons at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.  Since Daisy responds to voice and motion commands (both of which Donna says I have trouble with), Daisy works with stroke and spinal cord injury patients who are working on speech and movement.  To watch Daisy “on the job” is a treat.  Daisy dances, twirls, sits, stays, barks, marches, and does level 1 calculus all while working with the patients.  When working with children, sometimes a little boy or girl will just want to hold Daisy.  And that’s just fine too.  

When Daisy gets home, she takes off her blue vest and kicks back – knocking down a few liver treats and taking a walk.  Then – exhausted from the day – Daisy heads upstairs to bed to dream of table scraps and fire hydrants. . . .       

Calvin Coolidge

Calvin Coolidge – known as “Silent Cal” – was known for his brevity — and his wisdom.    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvin_Coolidge  Coolidge helped restore respect and confidence to the White House after the dreadful scandals of his predecessor, Warren Harding.

For years, I have had a saying of Calvin Coolidge stapled, pinned or taped (once glued) to the wall of my office.  Each day when I arrive, I sit down, turn on the computer and my eyes drift to this saying I have (now pinned) — to the left of my computer screen.   The saying of Calvin Coolidge – that serves as a constant reminder (and kick in the caboose) – goes as follows:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination are omnipotent.  The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” 

A (Short) Tale of Two Mice

Two very small mice were walking together in an alley when suddenly a huge cat jumped down from a fence — right in front of them.  “MEEEOOOOOOOWWW” said the cat as it opened its mouth and began moving toward the trembling mice.   “Meeeeooooowww.” 

Suddenly one of the small mice stepped forward and in a large voice began “ARF ARF ARF GRRRRRRRRR  WOOOF WOOOF WOOOOF!”  Now the cat – eyes big as saucers – stared at the small rodent.  “GRRROOOOF ARF ARF ARF!  WOOF WOOF!”  As quickly as he  had appeared, the cat turned and sprang away dashing down the alley.” 

Wow! That was close!” said the other mouse.  “Where in the world did you learn that??” 

The small mouse looked at his friend and smiled “That is one of the benefits of knowing a second language.” 

One of my favorites. . . .

The Gutenberg Bible

No book has received the attention nor the acclaim as the Gutenberg Bible.  The first example of mass-produced printing by using movable type, the Gutenberg Bible is surely the rarest and most unique example of the printing art.  This two-volume (Old Testament/New Testament) Bible was first produced by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1450’s with the financial backing of Jonathan Fust.  The Bible was completed in an “edition” of between 180 and 300 two volume sets with perhaps 100 on vellum (no one is quite sure).  The great curiosity is that today only 47 are known.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutenberg_Bible

I first became interested in the Gutenberg Bible when I purchased the rare book room of the Boca Grande (FL) Library in 1984.  The one rarity they would not sell was a page from an original 42 line Gutenberg Bible.  While the theory is that the remainder of Gutenberg’s “printing” has been destroyed over the centuries, I have a theory that somewhere – out there – there are copies of the Gutenberg Bible lying undiscovered, layered with dust and laced with cobwebs.  My daughter has suggested that I take a sabbatical to hunt for this treasure much as I did in the ’80’s when I was in Spain and Portugal every few months on the hunt for manuscript rarities.  I’d love it. . . . .  

The last Gutenberg Bible (Old Testament volume only) sold in 1987  for $5.5 million.  Individual leaves sell for five figures.  If and when I find a Gutenberg Bible, my next adventure will be seek out the yet undiscovered ship’s logs from that 1492 voyage of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. . . . .  


True Confessions

Shortly after passing the Illinois bar exam, my wife and I flew to Portland, Oregon, to visit my aunt and uncle and their family.  One weekend, we rented a car and drove south into the hinterlands of Oregon. 

Upon leaving a small town, I saw birds on the road ahead.  I announced to Donna in my best John Wayne voice “watch this” and I stomped on the accelerator.  The car sped up 80, 90, 100 . . . Donna is shouting at me to slow down but – hey – I’m 25 and macho.  As I approached the birds, they looked up and casually flew off.  I rocketed over the carrion they’d been chewing on (“Guess I showed them“).  About that time, I looked in the rear view mirror and was surprised to see a car behind us.  A police car.  #&X@*!   I pulled over and stopped.  And got a ticket.  108 in a 65 zone.  #&X@*! 

The bad thing was that I was to appear in court at a time I was to appear before the Character & Fitness Committee of the Illinois Bar (“sorry fellows – I have a court date“).  Donna was silent.  Stewing.  At the next town, I stopped.   The judge’s name was on the ticket.   So I . . . called the Police Station from a pay phone:

Scott:  Hello?  Officer, I’m trying to reach Judge ____ .   Can you call him and ask him to please call me?

Officer:  It’s Sunday.

Scott:  I know but it’s important. 

Officer:  I’ll see (Click).

I waited for 30 minutes.  The sun was setting.  Quiet.  Birds chirping their evening hymms.  Then the pay phone rang. 

Scott:  This is Scott Petersen (I figured that was better than “hullo“).

Judge:  This is Judge ___ .  You wanted me to call (sounds of splashing and children in the background)

Scott:  Your Honor, I’m from Chicago.  I (explained in detail how I had) just graduated from law school and passed the bar.  I was just pulled over by two officers for speeding – 108 in a 65 zone.  I am supposed to appear in court and I am also supposed to appear before the Character & Fitness Committee of the Bar at that time.  I was wondering. . . .

Judge:  Just a minute (long silence).   All right, Mister Petersen.  Raise your right hand.  Repeat after me.  “I promise that I will never speed again.”

Scott:  I will never speed again.

Judge:  I want you to promise.  I want you to swear to me. . .

Scott:  (I raised my hand in the phone booth)  I swear. . . I swear. . . I will never speed again.

Judge:   Send me your ticket.  Mark it “personal.”  Remember Mister Petersen – you promised me.  (Click)

The Judge could have said “tough kid – you show up or else.”  But he didn’t.  The lesson therefore became all the more powerful.  And since then, I have never taken a car much beyond the speed limit.  When tempted, I am always tugged back to a fall day in 1972. . . .  when I made a promise. . . .

“Oh Shenendoah”

When my daughter Lauren was born – from the day we brought her home from the hospital (and for years) – I sang to her.  Every night before she went to bed.  I would play my guitar and sing “Froggy went a Courtin'”  “This Little Light of Mine” “Trouble in Mind” and a host of others.  But I would also lapse into some old songs that we used to sing in the Gamma Alpha Beta (“GAB”) Fraternity at Augustana College.  And I would always close the evening, as Lauren was closing her eyes, with the GAB “Sweetheart Song” and “Oh Shenendoah” — a song that the GAB’s sang at a Homecoming event one year (and won). 

When Lauren was married just over two years ago, I thought long and hard about what song I should have played for the Daddy/Daughter Dance at the reception.  Then it hit me.   And I smiled.  Lauren had some general notion about the universe of songs from which I would select (“Dad, you’re not going to have them play ‘Froggy went a Courtin’ are you?”).  No.   Instead, I picked the one that I’d closed each evening with — “Oh Shenendoah.”      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etC59HVD-tg 

The music started and we both had tears in our eyes as we danced to this song that will forever be in our hearts. 

A Hole-in-One . . . .almost. . . .

Have you ever had a hole-in-one?  No – neither have I.  But I’ve come close.  On Sunday, August 7th, I came the closest ever – about 12 inches from the pin.  The site – Evanston Golf Club.  17th hole.  Playing about 215 yards.  A little wind against (I wanted to say “against gale force winds“).  I pulled out my 3 wood and spanked my Pro V-1 just like Tiger W. . . ahm . . . . I mean Phil Mickelsen.  The ball took off high and perfectly straight.  I knew I had exceeded even my own grandiose expectations.  “Wow!  Great shot” said the caddie.  “That could be in the hole,” said my friend Norm.  Unfortunately, part of the green is obscured by a fairway bunker so no one could see the result.   So we walked.  As the pin came into view, I saw that the ball was resting a matter of inches from the hole.  An angry-looking ball mark splayed grass and turf where the ball had slammed into the green. 

I marked and cleaned my ball and thought briefly “gee what if I 3 putt?”    But I knocked down the putt for a 2.  Birdie. 

A hole-in-one is rare and I had one.  Almost.  But “almost” doesn’t count.  It either is or isn’t.  My birdie could have been a chip in from the fairway or a 12 foot putt.  Suffice to say, I’m still looking for that “ace.”  One day . . . .