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Good Humor Man.

Source: Twitter

Let’s get the obvious part out of the way first: that isn’t good advertising or bad advertising. It’s absolutely brilliant advertising from Punch & Judy’s Ice Cream Parlor, a chain that was found around the western United States in the 1940s and ’50s.. A friend sent me that because he knew I’d find it funny, but the surprise for both of us—the metaphorical cherry on top—was that it brought back my early love of Daniel Pinkwater’s books and gave me some insight into his inspiration for a funny detail in his book The Magic Moscow.

I first learned about Pinkwater from the show Cover To Cover in which host John Robbins would talk about a book and also draw scenes from it. I loved that show and tried to find and read every book that was featured. And Robbins raved about Daniel Pinkwater when he talked about Lizard Music. So of course I got it from the library and tried to read it, but didn’t make it past the first couple of chapters. I still wanted to like Pinkwater so I tried The Hoboken Chicken Emergency next and didn’t make it past a few pages. I was baffled by how weird they were even though I was pretty weird myself. Up until then almost every book I’d been given to read had some message, or, if it was meant to be funny, it spelled out that it was a funny book. Pinkwater’s humor is best described as deadpan surrealism.

Then I got The Magic Moscow for Christmas and, after stopping and starting over half a dozen times, I finally got through it and had a breakthrough. I reread it then went back and tore through Lizard Music and The Hoboken Chicken Emergency and Fat Men From Space and every other Pinkwater book I could find.

The Magic Moscow is about a guy named Steve who takes over an ice cream parlor and adds health food to the menu, which he then brings together in one dish:

The Moron’s Delight is one of Steve’s specialties. It has six flavors of ice cream – two scoops of each – a banana, a carrot, three kinds of syrup, whole roasted peanuts, a slice of Swiss cheese, a radish, yogurt, wheat germ, and a kosher pickle. It is served in a shoebox lined with plastic wrap. Steve considers it a health-food dessert.

I stumbled over that at first. Why was it a “moron’s delight”? And Steve, who’s a bit weird, really considers it a special treat, even serving one to his hero, a retired TV detective, and making another for the detective’s dog, an Alaskan Malamute. But then, as with all things Pinkwater, I finally realized it was just funny and to go with it, never knowing, never needing to know, really, that there was a real world inspiration.

And there was a valuable lesson in all those Pinkwater books I read: be yourself even if–no, especially if–you’re weird.

Anyway it’s a Fourth of July weekend and I think I’ll celebrate with some ice cream. Maybe I’ll make a Moron’s Delight.

Climate Change.

One day the rain just stops. A day goes by, a few days, then a week, then more weeks. You notice that the grass is getting brittle and dry and the ground is rock hard. Then the grass turns the color of sand and even the air seems brittle with the dryness of it. The weather reports become numbingly uniform: sunny every day. Reports of record-breaking temperatures become repetitive. Something in the back of your mind says that this is wrong, but the heat saps any energy you might have for thinking about it.

On your way home from work each night you start counting the number of neighbors who are watering their yards, the ones who stand out because their grass is a patch of emerald in a sea of buff and sepia. You get wicked ideas about sneaking into their yards and cutting their hoses with a pair of garden shears in the middle of the night. Maybe they’ll pay a fine for using so much water.

Maybe you should think about xeriscaping, but this isn’t the desert. The rain will come back eventually, won’t it?

Desiccated tree branches fall in the yard. No need to move them just yet. The lawnmower sits in the garage, its small reservoir of fuel sending out a slow stream of fumes.

One morning you notice a spider hanging in her web next to your house. She’s brown and white speckled with big yellow dots on her abdomen. You saw her early in the spring, just like you watched her mother, her grandmother, and a whole line of her great-grandmothers going back several years.

The lack of rain affects everything up and down the food chain, and you haven’t seen as many rabbits, snakes, or even squirrels as usual. This spider, like you, is not native to North America; her ancestors probably came with yours, around three centuries ago. She’s nocturnal so it’s strange that she’s still out on a sunny morning when the temperature is already higher than it would be at noon in a normal year.

You fill a birdbath in the backyard. You fill another in the front yard. You watch cardinals, bluejays, even a sleek-headed crow dip their beaks in it. You watch squirrels come to drink then flip the birdbath over. It’s only a few minutes before you go to put it back and refill it but the ground is already dry.

You have a side bed of morning glories and other small plants. After the sun goes down you turn the nozzle on the hose to “mist” and you realize you can’t remember the last time you heard a tree frog. They always sing in the dark after it rains.

Wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and even tsunamis are all horrible, often tragic events that come in suddenly, sometimes with no warning, or not enough warning, but then they disappear, often as quickly as they came. Flood and tsunamis recede, wildfires burn out all their fuel or, hopefully, are stopped, and tornadoes just spin themselves out.

A drought is a tragedy in slow motion.

One day it will rain again and when it does it will be terrible, the water overflowing the earth unprepared to hold it.

Line ‘Em Up.

Source: Secrets Of The Universe

Unfortunately I slept through the great planetary alignment of 2022, or maybe fortunately because missing sleep can really throw me off, and also we live in a neighborhood with a lot of trees so I miss some opportunities to witness celestial events unless they happen in the winter, unless they’re due east in which case my view is blocked by woods, or if they’re almost directly overhead, or if I get up and drive somewhere with a low horizon and low light pollution, which is getting harder with each passing year.

Of course I do have a couple of astronomy apps on my iPad that allow me to see what’s in the sky regardless of what’s in the way which is why sometimes I’ll stand in the den and point it straight up at the ceiling and when my wife asks what I’m doing I can say, “Looking at Uranus,” but that’s another story.

In other words circumstances would have to line up in just the right way for me to see the great planetary alignment, but I’m okay with that. I remember when I was in second grade and there was supposed to be a solar eclipse that, while not total, would still be partly visible over Nashville. Of course it was cloudy that day. I’ve witnessed other eclipses since then, including the total one of 2017.

I’ve seen multiple lunar eclipses, most because I specifically planned my schedule around being somewhere where I could see them, and I’ve even gotten up in the middle of the night just to watch some.

One year my wife and I got up in the middle of the night and drove out to a farm where we watched the Perseid meteor shower which was supposed to be spectacular that year, and, lucky for us, it was. I’ve also seen meteors I wasn’t looking for; my eyes just happened to be in the right direction at the right time.

And then, Sunday afternoon, I fell asleep in front of the TV, because I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before in spite of not getting up to see the great planetary alignment, with the Science Channel on, and I woke up just in time to hear an astronomer say, “Astronomy is a very serendipitous science!”

We can predict the movements of the planets—the next big one will happen September 8, 2040, but sometimes the best events are the ones that can’t be predicted.

The Summer I Almost Remember.

Notes from my school guidance counselor on my essay “How I Spent My Summer”, from 1982 which I just found in an old box:

Dear Chris,
Well! It certainly sounds like you had an exciting summer. I’m not surprised you spent some time playing video games. In fact from the way you describe it you actually designed some video games of your own only to have them stolen by someone named Dillinger. I assume this is a boy who lives in your neighborhood. He must go to a different school since I can’t find any record of him here. I’m also a bit confused by this part where you make it sound as though you actually spent time inside a videogame and ultimately defeated the evil MCP. Well done. I’m glad to hear you also spent some time outside, which brings me to the next part of your essay.
You say you traveled across Thra, which, from the sound of it, is a wooded area in your neighborhood, and, with the help of a friend named Kira, restored a missing shard to the Crystal of Truth. I assume Kira also attends another school. I’d like to meet her sometime and perhaps her pet Fizzgig who is, from the way you describe it, some kind of small dog. I assume she lives near here.
I was also very surprised to learn that you’re an orphan. There’s nothing in any of your school records about that, nor is there anything about you being in the care of a Ms. Hannigan. But it was nice to hear that you had an enjoyable time with a Mr. Warbucks who took you on extensive tours of New York City, and that you had quite the adventure with a couple of people who tried to pass themselves off as your parents.
I see that you did even more travel. I’m not sure where Ceti Alpha Five or Mutara Nebula are. These places sound like they must be in Europe. I was very disturbed to read about what sounded like some very unpleasant experiences with a Mr. Khan and some sort of ear slug. I was also very sorry to hear that you lost a close personal friend in making your escape. It’s a relief to hear that you think there’s a possibility he might return.
From the next part of your essay it seems you again have parents and that they decided this summer would be the perfect time to install a backyard swimming pool. I’m sorry this plan was interrupted by the mysterious disappearance of your younger sister Carol Anne. Perhaps it’s because of this disappearance that I can’t find any record of her. It sounds as though she was returned to your family, though, in a rather terrifying ordeal involving parapsychological researchers and a psychic woman. I’m also glad you escaped that horrible tree.
Perhaps we should skip over your assistance in helping a Mrs. Brisby move her home, though that was very generous of you, your pursuit of a neighborhood bully you call Thulsa Doom, your rather surprising trip to Antarctica, or your boxing matches against Mr. T.
I would really like to focus on what sounds like a very special friendship with an unusual sounding boy whom you met in the woods behind your home. You say he had been left there accidentally by those he was traveling with. Well, he certainly sounds like a remarkable young man. You know, I like Reese’s Pieces very much too. Even better than M&M’s. I was rather startled that your friend, whom you only refer to by the initials “E.T.”, was almost forcibly taken away by the authorities and only returned to his family in a daring escape in which you pedaled your bike so fast it seemed to fly. I do think it’s inappropriate that you called your brother “penis breath” and I don’t know why you included this in your essay.
Speaking of inappropriate, I was both shocked and confused by some exploits you describe in what sounds like summer school. While I was amused by your ordering a pizza in class, there are several incidents which clearly should have been out of bounds for someone your age. I think you must have snuck in to “Ridgemont High” without permission.
I would like to meet with you and your parents to discuss this and whether 
you did anything this summer besides go to the movies.

The Kindness Of Strangers.

What did people do before the internet? I guess I should know—I was well into adulthood even before e-mail became widespread, and it was a few years after that my work department’s IT people came around and started installing Netscape on everyone’s computers, just in case someone found a use for it at some point and now, well, here we are.

Of course the problem with the internet then and now is that you can put up a request for help but there’s no way to know if it will reach the right people. In the old days the issue might have been that there weren’t enough people with access to see the message; now the issue might be that there are so many people with so much access looking at so much stuff it’s hard for a really specific request to reach the right person. Did someone happen to see a wreck involving a silver Honda on Charlotte Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee on June 11th at about 12:30PM?

I didn’t—I kind of wish I had because I’d like to be able to help the person who put up the roadside sign asking for assistance, but I was nowhere near where it seems to have happened even though it was a Saturday and I think I might have been running errands at the time. Or maybe I was home. I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure I would remember seeing a wreck. Since it happened on a really busy street at a time when a lot of people would have been around it seems pretty likely there were witnesses and I hope one of them comes forward.

That also reminds me of one morning when I was on my way to work. I parked in the parking garage and next to the elevator there was a sign that said, “To the person who hit my car: please come forward with your information so we can arrange a settlement. If you don’t the parking manager has agreed to provide the security footage.”

I’m pretty sure that sign had a much better chance of success since it was addressed to a much smaller group. But since I wasn’t involved I never did find out what happened in that situation. I was kind of tempted, though, to put up a sign next to the elevator that said, “To the person whose car got hit, how’d that turn out? I hope you got some justice.” And maybe I’d add my email address, although I think there’d be enough interest in that story that they should have put it on the internet where lots of people could read it.

Just A Poet.

Cowboy poet Baxter Black, on the right, with Baxter the Dalmatian, at a Nashville bookstore.

Way back in 1999 my wife and I brought home a new puppy and were trying to decide what to name him. She wanted something with a poetry theme and, well, there was only one poet we could think of with a name that would fit a Dalmatian. We named him Baxter, after Baxter Black, the cowboy poet, whose occasional commentaries on NPR always brightened up our morning drives. He’d be introduced as a “former large animal veterinarian” and my wife would always ask, “What’s a former large animal?”

E-mail was still a fairly new thing back then and we didn’t have a digital camera yet but we did take pictures of Baxter. My wife scanned one, found Baxter Black’s e-mail address, and sent him the picture. He replied with, “Makes me wanna ride a fire truck!”

Not long after that he came to Nashville on a book tour for A Cowful of Cowboy Poetry, and, with a bookstore manager’s permission, we brought Baxter in to meet Baxter. They both seemed to enjoy it.

We lost our Baxter a few years later to cancer—much too soon, although there’s never enough time with any dog.

As for Baxter Black, while it’s been a while since I’ve heard him on the radio, I pull up some of his recordings occasionally if I want to chuckle—his poem “The Oyster” always makes me laugh.

And when I heard that he passed away I needed a laugh.

Hail and farewell, Baxter Black. I hope you enjoy meeting Baxter again.


Sum It Up.

Almost Summer

Performed by Celebration

Written by Mike Love of The Beach Boys, released May 8, 1978


Summer ’68

Performed by Pink Floyd

Written by Richard Wright, released October 1970


Summer Of ‘69

Performed by Bryan Adams

Written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, released June 17, 1985


Suddenly Last Summer

Performed by The Motels

Written by Martha Davis, released August 1983


Here Comes Summer

Performed by Jerry Keller

Written by Jerry Keller, released May 1959


When The Summer Moon Comes ‘Long

Performed by Cole Porter

Written by Cole Porter, released 1910


Summer’s Here

Performed by James Taylor

Written by James Taylor, released July 1981


In The Summertime

Performed by Mungo Jerry

Written by Ray Dorset, released 1970


Summer Skin

Performed by Death Cab For Cutie

Written by Ben Gibbard, Jason McGerr, and Chris Walla, released August 30, 2005


Hot Fun In The Summertime

Performed by Sly & The Family Stone

Written by Sly Stone, released July 21, 1969


Summer In The City

Performed by The Lovin’ Spoonful

Written by John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian, and Steve Boone, released July 4, 1966


All Summer Long

Performed by The Beach Boys

Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, released July 13, 1964


Summer Breeze

Performed by Seals & Crofts

Written by Jim Seals and Dash Crofts, released August 31, 1972


Summer Wind

Performed by Frank Sinatra

Music by Heinz Meier, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, released August 1966


Summer Rain

Performed by Johnny Rivers

Written by Jim Hendricks, released November 1967


Summer Madness

Performed by Kool & The Gang

Written by Kool & the Gang and Alton Taylor, released September 1974


Summer Fever

Performed by Donna Summer

Written by Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte and Donna Summer, released October 11, 1976


Cruel Summer

Performed by Bananarama

Written by Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey, Steve Jolley, Tony Swain, and Keren Woodward, released June 27, 1983


Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days Of Summer

Performed by Nat King Cole

Written by Hans Carste and Charles Tobias, released May 1963


Summer Nights

From Grease (musical)

Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, released August 25, 1978


Lonely Summer Nights

Performed by Stray Cats

Written by Brian Setzer, released November 1981


Summertime Sadness

Performed by Lana del Rey

Written by Lana Del Rey and Rick Nowels, released June 22, 2012


The Other Side Of Summer

Performed by Elvis Costello

Written by Elvis Costello, released April 1991


Our Last Summer

Performed by ABBA

Written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, released November 3, 1980


This Ain’t The Summer Of Love

Performed by Blue Oyster Cult

Written by Albert Bouchard, Murray Krugman, and Don Waller, released May 21, 1976


Summer’s Almost Gone

Performed by The Doors

Written by Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore


Summer’s Gone

Performed by The Kinks

Written by Ray Davies, released March 18, 1985


Pour Me A Cup.

So there’s a new study that suggests coffee can help you live longer, which is really good news to me because I start each morning with a cup of coffee. Or rather I start each morning by waking up, taking the dogs out, feeding them, getting them settled, and then I sit down and have some coffee and while I drink regular it might just as well be because there’s no way I’m going back to sleep after all that.

Also I have to get to work, but I take time to stop and enjoy my coffee. I like it cold, which most people I knew found weird before coffee shops started popping up everywhere and offering iced coffee or those elaborate beverages that are basically milkshakes with a little coffee in them, but that’s another story. I also my own coffee at home the night before and put it in the fridge, and when I learned Victor Hugo did the same thing I could say, hah! Take that people who thought I was weird for drinking cold coffee. The guy who wrote the book that musical you claim to like is based on drank his coffee cold too!

I don’t know if it adds to the health benefits but I’ve never been a fan of getting coffee on the go. What I mean is I don’t mind going somewhere to get coffee—I love coffee shops—but I don’t like to drink and drive, even if I’m not the one driving. I want to be able to sit and enjoy it. Even when I rode the bus to work I wouldn’t take coffee with me. Even when the driver would stop somewhere and get coffee—there used to be a Shoney’s on my route where drivers would usually stop and take a break for about fifteen minutes, although not getting coffee there was, for me, more a matter of pragmatism than a concern about savoring my coffee. Since it was close to the start of the route I knew it would be a long time before, well, I’d be able to stop, and another reason for not getting coffee on the go is it goes right through me.

After I’d get off the bus, though, I’d pass by a donut shop on the way to the building where I work, and I’d have no problem stopping to get a coffee there and carrying it to my office where I could sit and enjoy it. And one of the advantages of iced coffee is I never have to worry about it getting cold.

Miniature Memories.

The last Howard Johnson’s has now closed and I’m shocked that there were any still around. There was one near where I live that hung on for several years, then sat empty and abandoned for several more years, but its bright orange roof could be seen from the interstate and stayed in pretty good condition in spite of being left. I guess they were built to last even if the franchise itself wasn’t.

Of course I’ll always associate Howard Johnson’s with miniature golf. None of them, as far as I know, ever had golf courses, but when my family would take summer trips to Florida there was a miniature golf course called Gulf Golf on Treasure Island, and after putting through eighteen holes of windmills, concrete alligators, and around palm trees, we’d go and have ice cream. I’d get a root beer float with coffee ice cream which was the perfect combination.

I don’t miss Howard Johnson’s—I can get a root beer float any time, even if I have to make it myself—but I do miss miniature golf, which is more fun and has less pressure than regular golf. There’s still one in my old Nashville neighborhood that I would pass by regularly going from my house to the now defunct Hickory Hollow Mall. It was an expensive course, though, and had an elaborate castle, a lighthouse, and other buildings. At least it still has the lighthouse, and it may be worth playing a round. I played there a few times with friends many years ago. The main thing I remember is that the castle wasn’t part of any hole. It just stood off to one side, which seemed like a terrible waste. One of my friends said the course was really hard, but he was the only one who noticed. I don’t think the rest of us even bothered to keep score. If you’re playing miniature golf competitively you’re playing it wrong.

Even closer to my home was a, well, a weird miniature golf place, tucked away in a wooded area. The intersection of Nolensville Pike and Old Hickory Boulevard was, and still is, a major shopping center, but many years ago, just to the south, it all suddenly gave way to farmland, woods, and, for a long time, an old rundown bar with a gravel parking lot. Some time in the mid-80’s the bar finally closed and the property owners got the bright idea to build a miniature golf course there.

There were two nine-hole courses that could be played separately. One was a seemingly random assortment—a life-sized plaster gorilla, a lighthouse, because of course every miniature golf course has to have a lighthouse, and finally a tic-tac-toe board where the center square was the hole that took your ball. The other side was supposed to be a country music theme but was really just painted portraits of Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, and Minnie Pearl on wooden panels that probably came from the old bar, providing backgrounds for simple putting greens. Once we actually saw the legendary country music disc jockey Ralph Emery there with his family, and I wondered what he thought of the pictures since he knew most of the performers personally. 

It was only two bucks per game which was ridiculously cheap, and at first my friends and I laughed at the shabbiness of it, but it was fun to spend a summer afternoon just knocking balls around the greens under the trees and strings of multi-colored lights. We never bothered to keep score, or worried about what we’d do afterward. The playing was all that mattered.

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