Be a Thermostat

As we go through life, we leave trails.  All sorts of them.   Big and wide.  Small and narrow.  Through our jobs.  Families.  Friends.  Pastimes.  But some trails are unseen. Hidden. Trails that we don’t even know we leave.   Small acts of kindness or charity (or hurt or disrespect) may mean nothing to you.  But they may mean everything to someone else.  Trails.  You just never know when you’re going to leave one.  We have the choice to go through life as a thermostat (to make change) — or a thermometer (to sit back and accept what comes).  We can make things happen.  Or wait for things to happen.  Somehow I think that most or all of those reading this post are thermostats.  Leave a trail.  Make it a good one. . . .  

Los Toros

In his 1924 classic Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway creates a discussion between himself and another American on the subjects of bullfighting, soccer and football.  The number of young men injured, paralyzed and killed playing football numbered in the thousands (today, it’s the tens of thousands).  The number of young men hurt playing soccer is minimal by comparison.  And then there is bullfighting.  Where humans occasionally get hurt – but rarely killed.  Hemingway’s point — those who decry bullfighting rarely raise a whisper about American football.   

Many years ago, in another lifetime, Donna and I spent the better part of a month following the bullfighting circuit in Spain.  Diego Puerta was a favorite.  Madrid.  Cordoba.  Malaga.  Sevilla.  And others.  It was pretty special.  I still have great pictures from those Sundays.  There was artistry.  Tension.  Spectacle.   A unique smell.   There was the music.  And the denouement. . . . .  The last time I went to a bullfight was in Monterrey Mexico with my good friend Antonio G.  That was the last time too when I had a cigar.  A gigantic Cuban.  Hand-rolled.  Cohiba Robusto.  If you haven’t been to a bullfight, read Hemingway’s classic and then go.  And get yourself a big hand-rolled Cohiba Robusto . . . .     

Armchair Warrior

I don’t read lawyer books or watch lawyer TV shows.  Been there. Done that. Lots of felony cases but no civil trials. That was an unknown. My good friend John Stonebraker just published a book — Armchair Warrior — about the “trials” and tribulations of being a civil trial lawyer in Davenport, IAHe sent it to me.  And I read it.  All I can say is I’m glad I did. 

Armchair Warrior is a fun, captivating read.  It’s humorous and compelling.  Sometimes sad.  Sometimes self-deprecating.  And I love the quotes:  “The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has a limit” (I know some politicians who qualify) “She was often wrong but never in doubt” (concerning a judge) “I don’t mind being insulted but I hate being ignored” (attributed to Arthur Middleton) “Truth does not fly into the courtroom.  It has to be dragged by its heels” (attributed to Louis Nizer).   John talks about the good, the bad and the ugly of lawyering in Eastern Iowa.  This former Fuller Brush salesman and Army medic launches into a series of vignettes — all of which I read with relish.   Only one area of mild disagreement and that was his comment that DNA evidence has freed many convicts from wrongful convictions.  As I observe in my post of January 27, 2014, a lot of those institutions which tout their legal aid projects to free prisoners do so for publicity.  Not for justice. 

All in all, Armchair Warrior is a five star read.  I plan to suggest it for a book group I’m in.  The book is available through Amazon at

Jumping Out of Airplanes

First – it wasn’t me. . . . .

Last Saturday, Donna, Lauren, Trent, Eve and I drove out to Rock Island, Illinois, for an Augustana College alumni event.  On Sunday morning, we had brunch with friends and started our 3 hour drive home. One of us got very hungry along the way and we decided to stop at the Flight Deck Restaurant which is attached to the Rochelle Municipal Airport (Koritz Field) just off Interstate 88 at Route 251. Airport restaurants are known for good cuisine since pilots will often fly in for a meal and fly back out. Little did we know what adventure was in store. 

We sat and ordered.  Eve was hungry – and impatient.  And she wanted to move.  My granddaughter has one speed.  Fast forward.  So she and Trent walked outside – into a fenced buffer near the taxiway.  And Eve took off running with Trent speed-walking alongside.  I stayed inside – watching out the big window.  And then it happened.  Things started falling out of the sky.  Mercy!  They were sky divers – parachuting down.  Using rectangular (“square ram“) parachutes.  I dashed outside and watched another half dozen or float from the heavens and land — like they stepped off a curb — a sand wedge distance away.  This was a first for Eve.  And it was a first for me.   

We learned that another “stick” of sky divers would be floating down in 20 minutes or so.  It was easy to wait as our lunch arrived and my sandwich was the size of Rhode Island.  We went back out and watched another dozen or more float down and land with precision in the field.  Some were jumping tandem (2 on the parachute).  In all, it was really an incredible experience.  We learned that the airport is home to the Chicagoland Skydiving Center.  Skydivers jump from 18,000 feet(!) and land with pinpoint precision right outside the window of the restaurant. 

I told Donna it would be great to find a little B&B close by, drive out on a Friday and have dinner at the Flight Deck (recommended by the way) and maybe arrange a “jump” on Saturday morning.   The first part was fine.  The last part didn’t go over at all . . . . . 

Number 300

This is my 300th post.  When this whole blog thing started, I thought I might do it a few times and fold the tent.  Instead, I’ve been doing it  twice a week for 3 years.  I have some favorites:

Update — “Symmetrical Socks” (11/14/13) – I did go out and buy 15 pair of gold toe socks.  All the old ones went to rummage.  I love my sock drawer

Most Meaningful — “Today I Became a Grandfather” (12/28/11) – speaks for itself

Tear in my eye — “Oh Shenandoah” (8/14/11) – still prompts a tear

Best Jokes — The Brownie duo (11/29/12 and 12/2/12)

Editorial — I have written on numerous occasions. Teachers are wonderful.  But I despise the Chicago Teachers Union for its indifference toward education – especially for the poor and underprivileged 

Best Recipe — “Donna’s favorite Meal” (10/28/11)

Most Inspirational — “Thank you Captain” (5/28/12)

Most Interesting — “Gabriel” (1/30/12)

Best Travel Posts — The trio on South Africa (March 2013)

Personal Experience — A few – “Don’t You Like our Looks?” (12/1/13); “College” (10/13/13); “Protecting vs. Insulating Children” (11/21/13); “Riding with Joe Miller” (6/4/13)

The Best “Lesson” — Oh my there have been many.  You’ll enjoy “True Confessions” (8/16/11) or “A 6th Grade Lesson” (11/23/11)

Quirkiest — “The Antique Crutch” (11/7/11)

For now, I’ll keep doing this and try to come up with interesting stuff.  300 posts.  Mercy.  That’s 3 tenths of a thousand.  1 ten thousandth of a million.  Next stop. . . .  301.

Three Donuts

Breakfast for me is normally high fiber cereal and blueberries. Banana if I must. And frozen fruit in a pinch. And my coffee (which is better than any coffee I know).  I’ll have a donut once in a while. DoNUT. Singular. I haven’t had two donuts in one sitting for years. Three? In the words of Donnie Brasco “fugedaboutit.”    Until last week. 

On Thursdays, my office brings in bagels and pastries.  Last Thursday, I had the chance to sample an assortment of donuts and pastries from Dinkel’s Bakery in Chicago (see  Now I don’t think that – in my life – I have ever seen a donut like a Dinkel’s donut.  Scout’s Honor.  I walked up to the box and peered in and my heart nearly stopped.  I quickly looked around to see if anyone was looking at me.  Then I stared back into the box.  Large.  Beautiful.  Pastries.  I reached down, peeled one up from the waxed paper and took a bite.  It was Mardi Gras in my mouth. 

Now if it was custom to simply stare at the donuts – and nothing else – it would have been one of those rare unique experiences which one has once in a lifetime.  Maybe like having a private audience with The Crown Jewels.  If one was blindfolded and could only eat the donut, the taste would catapult the sampler to heaven in an instant.  But to see – and taste – was a unique, cosmic experience.  And it’s one I will assuredly have again. . . .

Truth be told, I snagged three (count ’em) Dinkel’s donuts while no one was looking, sneaked them on a paper plate, brought them into my office, closed the door and devoured them for lunch.  It was like “ahhhhhhh” and I wanted to have a cigarette (and I don’t smoke) and take a nap . . . . .

Take One Step Back

Six times in the last few months, I have arrived in airports – and had to get baggage from a baggage carousel. Standing at the baggage carousel can be mildly infuriating at times. People push their baggage carts right up to the conveyor and stand laconically.  Glassy-eyed.  Waiting.  Whole families including little kids press against the carousel.  All hovering over a segment of their temporary turf.  Everyone bellies up to the conveyor.  Then the buzzer goes off.  People press closer.  Peering down the line – is that mine?  That red one?  People grab a bag.  Turn it.  Nope.  Suddenly someone grabs a monster suitcase and swings it backward.  Yikes! 

I usually observe from a slight distance.  Not afraid to get in the mix but poised at some opening in the milling herd to grab my bag when I see it. 

It occurred to me that this whole process of recovering luggage could be made soooo much easier for everyone with a simple admonition:  take one step back.  Think about it.  If everyone took one step back at the carousel, they would still be able to see down the line at the oncoming stream of bags.  And at the appointed moment, step forward, grab the bag and whisk it away without endangering the knees of their brethren.  One step back.  That’s all it would take.  But then you have someone feeling entitled (there are more and more folks who feel that way – don’t get me started) who steps up to the conveyor.  And just stands there.  And the herd would follow.    

The Best Medicine

On March 14, 2005, I delivered a paper to The Chicago Literary Club titled “The Best Medicine.”  The paper is a mildly academic study of the history, styles and benefits (even healing power) of humor. See   

Joseph Addison – the 17th Century English writer – said “man is distinguished from all other creatures by the faculty of laughter.”  Sigmund Freud in his The Joke and its Relation to the Unconscious states that “jokes” release us from traditional inhibitions which make up the veneer of our personalities.  Ol’ Sig’s book also contains a host of jokes, puns and one-liners. His book ain’t Planes, Trains and Automobiles but it’s worth a look. . . .  

Historically, the earliest known “smile” is etched on the lips of a statue of Ebbeh – a Mesopotamian factotum who lived in 2400 B.C. (Ebbeh now resides in the Louvre).  Four centuries later, we enter Biblical times.  While there were no Old Testament comedians, the word “laugh” (or “laughter”) makes its debut in the Book of Genesis.  When Abraham and Sarah are told they will have a son, both fall on their faces – laughing.  Perhaps that is why their son was named “Isaac” which in Hebrew is “He [or God] laughs.”  The word “laugh” or its derivations appear 43 times in the Bible (with only 6 of those in the New Testament).  The Koran chronicles 16 uses of the word but most relate to the faithful laughing at the inglorious fate of unbelievers.  The Veda in Hindu text records the word “laugh” 8 times.   In Buddhist tradition, he “Laughing Buddha” was supposedly a real person – a wandering happy Zen monk named Pu-Tai who lived around 1000 A.D. 

The first stand-up comedian was Aristophanes (see post of 8/28/11) who was known for his political jabs.  He would lurch out on stage smeared with wine playing the Emperor – Cleon.  It didn’t go over well with Cleon. . . . . The first joke book was The Philogelos (“Laughter Lover”) “published” in the 4th Century A.D.  It was a collection of 264 jokes.  One depicts a chatty barber.  “How shall I cut your hair” he says to his customer.  “In silence” the man responds.  Some things don’t change. . . . .