Riding With Joe Miller

(A summer repeat from 6/4/2013)

In my post of January 16, 2013, I wrote about Joe Miller’s Jests — the famous compilation of 247 numbered jokes published in 1739 by John Mottley. Well, there’s another “Joe Miller” that played a role in my life.

Fifty plus years ago, when I worked at Camp Napowan (the Boy Scout Camp in Wild Rose, WI), the chap who owned some of the property was Joe Miller (no relation to the joke book persona). Joe had an ancient olive drab pick up truck that (Scout’s Honor) had no doors. Floor stick shift. And of course there were no seat belts and no handle above the door to grab. His favorite line – while cruising, weaving and wobbling on the back roads of Wild Rose – was “If there’s no one coming around that bend, we’ll see the sun rise tomorrow.” If we were driving with Joe, we’d grab under the glove compartment and hang on for dear life.

Today, there’d be a lot of “tsk tsking.” There would be newspaper articles.  There’d be an “inquiry.” Joe would be criticized. Maybe tossed in the clink. Unsafe vehicle. Endangerment. Et cetera. The usual assortment of money-grubbing plaintiff’s lawyers would sue anyone and everyone to scam a buck.

You should know — I would definitely not want – or allow – my child or grandchild to be one of Joe’s passengers. But looking back on it — I’m privately glad that I rode with Joe Miller . . . . .

He’s Your Boss

On August 13, 2020, I talked about how my father had developed the “Par Tube” — a system of using paper tubes to segregate golf clubs in a golf bag. The idea prompted my Dad’s purchase of a small company that made the paper tubes — Chicago Paper Tube & Can Company.

I was 8 years old when he bought the company. My folks both worked long hours during the week and I was a latchkey kid. My parents worked every Saturday as well – and that meant me too. My Dad would open the shades in my bedroom at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings admonishing that “the day’s half gone! Time to get up!” So we drove to the factory at 137 South Albany in Chicago (the building had once been a stable for Post Office horses) and I got to know the employees – all Black and Hispanic. And I would work on an assembly line of perhaps four people — gluing little paper caps on little paper tubes.

Shortly after beginning my Saturday tenure working in the factory, I got tired. Got up from my seat and walked back in the office and sat down. My father looked at me just as the foreman – Bill Pemberton – walked in the office. Mr. Pemberton looked at me and told me to get back to my job. I looked at my Dad who just shrugged his shoulders and said “Son – he’s your boss.” And so I slowly got back up and walked back to the line. As I walked out, my Dad gave Mr. Pemberton a thumb’s up. And that was that. . . . .

Just Between Us Girls

[A summer repeat from April 21, 2016] In 1973, three men entered a small family-owned health food store in Evanston.   They pulled guns on the father, mother and 14 year old son. One man began pistol-whipping the mother viciously. Shattering her skull in several places. Another turned on the boy and brutally beat him. The father for some reason was left unharmed. The three took money, some product and wallets and walked out the front. They got into a car driven by a fourth man and drove away.  The mother and son were unconscious – the mother near death.

Two men were caught.  Isaiah S. pleaded guilty to armed robbery and attempted murder and was sentenced to 10 to 30 years in prison.  Darvie T. wanted to go to trial.  The case was assigned to Judge Saul Epton where I was tasked as an Assistant States Attorney.  We didn’t have much in the way of evidence against Darvie, so my partner and I decided to go talk to Isaiah – the one who plead guilty.  Early one Sunday morning, we drove with two Sheriff’s police to Stateville.  And we had a chat with Isaiah.

Long story short, Isaiah volunteered to testify against Darvie in exchange for a “reconsideration” of sentence.  No obligation.  We checked Isaiah out of Stateville and started the drive back to Chicago.  Isaiah was in the back of the squadrol – cuffed.  As we drove back from Stateville, Isaiah asked if he could “say something.”  “Sure Isaiah” we responded.   “Just between us girls, it wasn’t Darvie who was there — it was his brother.  But I’ll say anything you want.”  We talked and Isaiah volunteered the whole story.  Darvie was not one of the four.  But Isaiah was willing to testify against him.  On the chance of a more lenient sentence.  What to do?  There was no option.  

That Sunday afternoon, we brought Isaiah to Chicago Police HQ at 11th & State where he was on a polygraph for nearly five hours.  His story passed with flying colors.  Next day, when Darvie’s case was called, I just said “nolle” (nolle prosequi).  And the case was dismissed.  The right thing was done – for the right reason.  

Oh – and Isaiah?  Yeah – we’d told him if he testified a judge might reconsider his sentence.  He had told the truth.  So we kept our word.  And his sentence dropped by a year at each end.  The right thing was done – for the right reason.           

Never Give In

On August 22, 2011, I posted “Calvin Coolidge.”  The post repeated Coolidge’s oft-quoted words which ended “. . . .Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Winston Churchill brought these inspirational words to a new semantic level in 1941.  During the dark days of World War II, Churchill was invited to give the commencement address at the Harrow School. Known for wit, wisdom and tenacity – he addressed the young graduates.  But he spoke to the nation.  Churchill’s brief comments concluded with an admonition to all – “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

It’s easy to give up.  Back down.  Throw in the towel.  But with the words of Churchill and Coolidge, how can we look in the mirror and say “I can’t“?   William Manchester’s trilogy The Last Lion chronicles the life of Churchill. It is my favorite biography.   I would recommend it to you. It might take a while to read (it’s over 3,000 pages) but don’t give up.  Press on.  Keep reading.  Never never give in . . . . .

So This Guy

[A bit of humor from September 14, 2014] So this guy is delivering a speech to a large group of people. He begins to rant “All lawyers are jerks!”  [Or you may select your own epithet]

From the back of the room a guy raises his hand and yells “I really take offense at your words.”

The guy giving the speech asks “are you a lawyer?”

Absolutely not,” the guy says defensively. “I’m a jerk!”

Lawyers do get a bad rap from the public.  In a 2013 Pew research poll, lawyers ranked at the bottom of ten professions.  Only 18% of responders felt that lawyers contributed “a lot” to society’s well being.  And that’s down from 23% in 2009.  In a December 2013 Gallup poll on “Honesty/Ethics in Professions,” lawyers were at the bottom of the list — just above members of Congress, lobbyists and car salesmen.  While there are a lot of good lawyers, I tend to think that much of the criticism of lawyers is deserved.   We don’t police the profession as we might and. . . .  wait . . . shhhh. . . .sorry – gotta run!  I hear a siren. . . . .       

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a half hour children’s program that ran from 1968 to 2001. It was hosted by Fred Rogers (1928-2003) – a Presbyterian minister who created the show which focused on children’s emotional and social needs – and health. Mister Rogers began each show – singing a song that ended “Won’t you be my neighbor.” All children were invited to watch. And learn. Every child was a neighbor.

The notion of helping one’s neighbor is common to all faith traditions. The New Testament dictates that to find favor with God, one must “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” This admonition appears in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19). Taking care of neighbors is mandated in the Quran. The Book of Mormon. Science and Health. In the Hindu faith. In Buddhism. And in other religions. To love our neighbor as ourselves. To help our neighbor. To take care of our neighbor.

Question: Just “who” is our neighbor?

Answer: All of mankind.

There is a lot of pain going on in the world today. A lot of need – by our neighbors.

What can we do? I suspect that each person who reads this post has the ability and capacity to make a difference. The small things we do for others may not mean much to us. But it could mean everything to that other person. Mother Teresa hit the nail on the head when she said “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.”

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Hats Off!

[A summer repeat from July 24, 2014] In my last post, I talked about being up in the North Woods of Wisconsin. Minocqua. Woodruff. Lac du Flambeau. Boulder Junction. Great time. Beautiful country.

One really neat – old – place is Voss’s Birchwood Lodge in Manitowish Waters. This place hearkens back to 1910. John Dillinger and his pals drank beer in the bar and were probably responsible for some of the cigarette burns in the woodwork.  The original owner was the one who blew the whistle on Dillinger’s gang.  And FBI agents gathered there before the assault on Little Bohemia which is down the road.  Wonderful history. Today’s crowd is more peaceful. And civil.  But not necessarily civilized.

When I was growing up, I remember my father always telling me to “take off” my hat — when going in any public place. And I did.  My buddies did too.  It was a lesson we all learned.  Once, when I was not quick enough, a Scout leader slapped the brim of my hat sending it flying.  But today, it seems like a lot of young men – and even a few older guys – are not getting the message. 

Posted at the entry to the dining room at Voss’s Lodge is a sign directing men to take off their hats. We walked in for breakfast one morning and sure enough there are two men sitting there with their Green Bay Packer hats perched squarely on their heads. Men.  I looked at them and there was not much of a spark looking back.  If you get my drift. . . .  Next time I see some character with his hat on in a restaurant, there may be a temptation to walk over.  And send it flying.

Final Exam Questions . . . .

[A repeat from May 23, 2019] On January 19, 2012, I posted on my three favorite radio stations.  WBBM is “News Radio 78.”  WFMT provides classical music.  And WMBI is the station of the Moody Bible Institute.  I listen to each (and occasionally others) depending on how I feel.   

I was listening to WMBI a few weeks ago when Dr. Erwin Lutzer, former senior pastor of the Moody Bible Church, was asked if he ever discusses religion with atheists.  His answer was “sure.”  He welcomes such discussions.   However he said that he avoids debate and complicated arguments about the Bible or God.  Instead, he invites a simple challenge. . . . 

Dr. Lutzer suggests to his counterpart that he or she invest 10 minutes a day.  For 21 days.  And each day read one chapter in the New Testament Gospel of John.  There is one question the reader should seek to answer:  who was Jesus?   

While such a challenge may prompt religious enlightenment, I also like the vignette offered in my post of November 13, 2018.  Albert Einstein, born Jewish and somewhat pantheistic in later life, was once asked by a student if God existed. Einstein responded “What percent of the total knowledge of the universe do you suppose we as humans now possess?” The student thought – and speculated around two percent. To which Einstein replied “Now tell me – what are the possibilities that God exists in the other 98%?” 

Powerful questions.  They may be on the final exam. . . .   

Trips versus Vacations

[A repeat from March 2, 2014] I like vacations. I just returned home from 10 days in the Caribbean (St. Barth’s to be precise). Every morning, I slept until 8:00. Or later. Got up. Sat on a recliner overlooking the ocean. Sipping coffee and lingering over my cereal and fruit.  Some work on my laptop.  Then, more coffee. A book. More coffee. A little exercise. Yawn. Stretch. And think about lunch. Lunch was around 1:30 to 2:00 pm. Usually a salad or something light.  Bread and olive oil.  Oh – and a large bowl of pommes frites.  Looking out on the emerald waters and golden sands.  Then back to the home we rented.  To rest. Read. Some bridge. A little wine. And then we’d start thinking about dinner. Yawn.

That vacation was pretty special. It was not a “trip.” I’ve been on trips.  And let me tell you.  They are different.  Where you have to get up at 6:00 a.m. Wolf down some breakfast and be at the bus at 7:30 a.m. Sharp. And then you drive on a bus with no bathroom for two hours to a place where you hike what seems like 20 miles to see a historical site. Then hike 20 miles back to the bus. Drive another hour where it’s time for lunch. “We have to finish lunch in half hour.  We’re running late!”   Lunch is lettuce, olives, grey meat and bread.  We’re like Navy Seals in the “Crucible” in Coronado — devouring food on the fly and racing back to the boats.  “Go go go go!!”  More bus.  Late dinner.  Collapse.  Alarm goes off at six a.m.  Groundhog Day. . . . .   

I like “trips.”  There is a time and a place.  And I’ve enjoyed most of the “trips” I’ve been on.  But let me tell you something.  “Vacations” are special.  I’m always ready for another.  Maybe next time with my Calloway X-20’s. . . . .