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Happy Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day in Annapolis signals the approach of Spring, often with daffodils already up. It’s a day for a manhattan and a chocolate eclair.

It can also be a day of comedy, as Niles Crane proves while getting ready for his Valentine’s Day date.

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I entered the dining room of the lodge on the Brazilian side of the falls, Hotel Das Cataratas, where we were staying, and found a long table set with a breakfast buffet and my laughing sister sitting alone at a clean table for four. I sat down across from her. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” she said and kept laughing.

Only her silverware, rolled in napkin, lay in front of her. She’d been waiting for me and for Todd, who’d be along in a moment.

She laughed till tears rolled down her cheeks. I started laughing too. “What are we laughing at?” I asked.

“I’m just tired,” she gasped in her laughter. “When I’m tired, I laugh.”

We lived on opposite coasts of the U.S. but usually talked every week. I notice the absence of the phone calls, yet it seems to me that she’s still in her Southern California apartment. Only at Christmastime, which Todd and I usually spent with her, does the fact that she isn’t there seem real to me.

This Christmas I chanced to hear the song Rainy Day People, by Gordon Lightfoot, which always brings to mind hearing that song on a sunny, winter afternoon in the company of my sister and Todd at a restaurant with a light wood floor in a remodeled shopfront that might have been in Georgetown but was in fact in Colonia, Uruguay.

For the few minutes the song played, we were there again.

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The Joey Bishop Show (ABC) 1961-1969
Shown: Host Joey Bishop

On The Joey Bishop Show last night I heard two jokes. Maybe riddle is a better word than joke, because these aren’t laugh out loud funny, yet interesting.

There’s a builder who always does a perfect job. When he finishes a project, he never has anything left. He knows his work so well that he orders just the right amount of all materials.

Except one time he finishes a building, and he has a brick left, one single brick. What does he do with it? He throws it out.

(If you don’t get it, give it a minute. I promise you will get it.)

A woman on a train has a little dog. It’s eating a pickle. A man, a stranger, sharing the compartment with her has an aversion to pickles. He can’t stand to watch the dog sucking on a pickle. “Lady,” he says, “can’t you feed that dog something besides a pickle? It’s making me nauseated to watch it suck on that damned pickle.”

But the woman refuses to do anything. She says the dog likes pickles.

When the train stops at a station, the man grabs the pickle from the dog’s mouth and throws it out the window. The little dog hops out the window after it. The woman is hysterical, afraid the train will leave before she can get her dog. But it comes trotting down the aisle to the compartment. What does it have in its mouth? The brick.

Joey Bishop’s sitcom ran four seasons, 1961-1965, and is available from Netflix. Many people probably remember him better for hosting late night talk shows, both his own and guest hosting others, or for his part in Ocean’s 11. He died in Newport Beach, California, in 2007 at the age of 89.

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Perusing one of my railroad books, ‘Down South’ on the Rock Island, by Steve Allen Goen (La Mirada, CA: Four Ways West Publications, 2002), I came across the photo and caption reproduced below. (Ignore the Brook Hollow ad.) The photo was taken 32 days after JFK’s assassination. Note what the caption says about the Texas Live Oak trees. (Click on the photo to enlarge the text.)

I’ve neither read the Warren Commission Report nor studied all of the facts surrounding the assassination. I remember hearing over the high school intercom system the news that the president was dead; I was a sophomore at the time. At my Fullerton, California Southern Baptist church that Sunday we prayed for our late president (it was unlikely that he, being Catholic, had found Jesus as his personal savior, as we, as Baptists had and believed people must in order to get into heaven). I went home from church and learned that Jack Ruby had shot Lee Harvey Oswald while Oswald was being moved in police custody.

Coming across the photo and caption above reminded me again of the controversy surrounding the death investigation and conclusions in not only John Kennedy’s assassination, but in the assassination of his brother Robert, whom I’d accompanied my mother and sisters to see as he and his wife Ethel and their dog came down the steps from their arriving plane at Orange County airport. At the fence my two younger sisters shook Robert Kennedy’s hand. The next day would be the California primary and his murder as he made his way through the kitchen at the victory party.


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Blanche Dubous Meets “The Misfit” Courtesy of Me

When most of us living today hear the title “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”–Flannery O’Connor’s 1955  story–we smile and think of Mae West’s twist on it, “A hard man is good to find,” although Mae West (1893-1980) probably responded to the 1919 song A Good Man Is Hard to Find, unless as posited theoretically by one source,, Sophie Tucker (1887-1966) coined the phrase (apparently Ms. Tucker used the song A Good Man Is Hard to Find to close her act).

I know all of the above because, while waiting for my second and third novels to be published, I’m writing my fourth, A GOOD MAN, inspired by Flannery O’Connor’s story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” In O’Connor’s story a vacationing family (husband, wife, son, daughter, baby, and husband’s mother) encounter three escaped convicts, one known as “The Misfit.” The encounter gives rise to The Misfit saying of the husband’s mother, “She would have been a good woman if it had been someone there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

In my novel A GOOD MAN a family spends Christmas in a Maine mountain house with difficult Aunt Fiona. They take in two snowbound motorists who turn out to be escaped convicts, the older one maniacally religious and dangerous, the younger as desperately in need of love as a mistreated puppy. On the drive to Maine college freshman Gusten reads news on his cell. “Of mild interest [to Gusten] is a story about two convicts who escaped from a privately operated prison in Virginia. In high school Gusten wrote a paper on privately run prisons. That a corporation can own a prison for profit—make money off the incarceration of society’s most pathetic and needy—sickened Gusten. Prisons, hospitals, medical practices, insurance companies, banks—no one forced to deal with any of these institutions should be forced to rely upon the greed of corporate strangers, as Blanche DuBois might have expressed it.”

On his flight home from college Gusten read Flannery O’Connor’s story featuring The Misfit. Thus do both Blanch Dubois and The Misfit find themselves snugly together in my pages.

Looking for Blanche’s quote, “I have always relied upon the kindness of strangers,” from Tennessee Williams’ play A Street Car Named Desire, I came upon other interesting Blanche Dubois quotes, including “I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action.” (For a site of Blanche Dubois quotes, see

The provocative stage shot above, of cigarette-smoking Blanche and barebacked Stanley, was photographed by Carissa Dixon and appeared in Chicago on the Aisle captioned “Tracy Mitchell Arnold [as Blanche] sizes up the situation with Stanley [Eric Parks].”


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