Ramble With Me.

There’s A There There. (Part 1)

“You must have a high tolerance for boredom.”

This is a picture of the French Lick Resort Gazebo from The Lyceum Magazine, 1913. It was unchanged when I was there nearly a hundred years later.

This is a picture of the French Lick Resort Gazebo from The Lyceum Magazine, 1913.
It was unchanged when I was there nearly a hundred years later.

This is what a friend said to me when I told him I’d had an amazing time at the French Lick Resort in an Indiana town of three-hundred people. I tried to explain that the resort was this amazing artefact of an earlier time when the wealthy went to spas for both treatment and to just hang out with each other. The guy who helped me carry the bags to our room, which was spacious with ten-foot ceilings, told me it was where Franklin Roosevelt first announced he was running for President, and that Al Capone stayed there. The draw was “pluto water”, which was basically just sulfur water from a spring. This is what gave the place its name. Animals would lick the minerals from the rocks, and because it was the site of a French trading post in pre-colonial times it was known as the “French lick”. People drank “Pluto water” for their health. There was a gazebo-covered spring out back that smelled a little like rotten eggs, but it was worth going in to see the waters that Al Capone took in a vain attempt to cure his gonorrhea. On one side of the inside of the roof was inscribed, “Nature’s finest laxative.” On the other: “If Nature won’t Pluto will.” In a room below the lobby I found a couple of statues of “Pluto” who, with his Van Dyke beard, horns, and wicked grin looked more like a character out of a different belief system. The statues originally stood on either side of the main doors. That tickled me. Pluto seemed to be saying, “You’ll be cured, but the price will be your soul.”

Overall the place was kind of run down—Pluto water wasn’t sold anymore, and even when it was doctors derided the claims of its healing powers. A few mornings I went for a swim in the pool which was under a glass dome, missing a few triangular panes here and there. It was also chlorinated–no pluto water there.

Some of the claims made in an advertisement for the resort in  The Hoosier Almanack & Family Magazine, 1912. Source: Google Books

Some of the claims made in an advertisement for the resort in
The Hoosier Almanack & Family Magazine, 1912.
Source: Google Books

There were some modern touches. In the basement I found a small video arcade and couldn’t resist putting a few quarters in the Starship Troopers pinball machine. Well, this isn’t unusual since I can never resist a pinball machine, but that’s another story. The basement also held a small bowling alley and a pizza parlor that, even though it was closed when I was there, could be opened for parties.

There used to be regular railroad service between French Lick and Chicago—thanks Al Capone!—but all that remained of that when I was there was the “railroad museum”, an old rail station where I bought some postcards, and then took a train ride through the Hoosier National Forest to Cuzco, Indiana, a little town less than ten miles away. The conductor talked about the history of French Lick, pointed out the childhood home of Larry Bird–I’m not a basketball fan but that was fun–and shared some colorful stories about the surrounding forest, such as the one about a family of cannibals that had lived there.

The French Lick Resort has been renovated since then. Even though I thought the worn patches were part of its charm I understand why they wanted to update it.

I thought about how much fun it was visiting French Lick when my wife and I made a trip to Ohio on our way to another dog show. The story of that tomorrow.

Advertisement from N.A.R.D. [National Association of Retail Druggists] Notes, v.18 no.6, 1914 Source: Google Books

Advertisement from N.A.R.D. [National Association of Retail Druggists] Notes, v.18 no.6, 1914
Source: Google Books

I Saw The Light.

mylampBlackout. The house is eerily quiet. A flashlight casts shadowy illumination that makes everything unfamiliar. I’ve twisted the switch on a lamp, but I can’t be sure whether it’s on or off. I twist it a few more times then lose count. Was it an odd or even number of twists? Will it come on when the power comes back? There’s nothing to do but sit and think about lamps.

As a kid did you ever read the story of Aladdin and see a picture of his lamp and wonder what was wrong with it? It didn’t have a shade or a bulb, and where were you supposed to plug it in?

In second grade I’d b e even more confused when I read the story of Diogenes who took a lamp out in broad daylight. The story said he was looking for an honest man. I thought he must have been looking for outlets because you can only carry a lamp so far before the cord runs out. Later I would understand that he was making a point that an honest man is so hard to find that one must be sought with a lamp in the daylight. When I first read the story I thought the honest man he was looking for would be the one who’d ask, “Why are you carrying a lamp in broad daylight? Are you trying to sell it or are you just some kind of idiot?”

I think Diogenes would have been impressed by what a wise child I was.



Snail Call.

Source: SpongeBobPedia

Crack. I’ve stepped on a snail. I really try to avoid this, but accidents happen. I feel guilty because I like snails. I’ve always liked snails. When I was a kid I kept them as pets sometimes. I drove librarians nuts asking for books about snails, and I was disappointed in the lack of attention given to snails on the shows I watched, except for this one short Sesame Street cartoon:

Sesame Street was supposed to be educational so it bugged me when they tried to pass off blatantly false information. And I knew almost everything about this short snail poem was wrong:

Snails come out when it’s damp, especially when it’s rainy. And at night. They don’t go out for a “walk” on “fine sunny days”. If they did they’d end up  snaildried snails.

At least the last part about a snail not having to go back was correct based on my observations: snails would venture a long way from where they started and wouldn’t necessarily go back.

The problem is snails don’t carry their homes on their backs. One of the reasons they come out when it’s raining is because the nooks and crannies and little holes where they live get flooded. That shell is not a home. It’s a protective cover and part of their bodies. Snails must look at us and say, “Wait, your shell is inside your body? Under your skin? That’s weird.” Or at least they would if they looked at us and thought about us. I can’t fault Sesame Street for passing taffy when I’m anthropomorphizing snails.

snailAnother thing I learned about snails just by watching is that if you put two in a terrarium sooner or later they’ll start riding around on each others’ shells, and then you’ll have a cluster of tiny pearlescent eggs in a little hole in the dirt.

Later  very patient librarian would find me a book and I’d read that snails are hermaphrodites. This didn’t really bother me, and I even thought it would make life easier if humans were too. On fine sunny days when couples went out for a trek at the end of the date they’d both pick up the check.




We Can Be Dolphins.

diverI need a new swimsuit. Some people call them “swim trunks”, but to me a trunk is either the nose of an elephant or a wooden box in the attic that holds old clothes, maybe a few recipes, and a priceless Vermeer that’s been missing for centuries. It’s not really a suit either. I think the term “suit” really only describes the full body suits that Olympic swimmers wear. What I really need is a new pair of swim shorts–a pair of shorts with mesh underwear sewn in. I never really understood why they needed that mesh underwear until my wife and I were in Long Beach, California one December. I’d forgotten to pack my swim shorts to use in the hotel pool, so I walked up the street a few blocks to a big box store. I couldn’t find the  swim shorts so I asked a woman who worked there where they were.

“Do you know what time of year it is?” she asked.

“Have you been outside lately?” I replied. And I had a point. It was seventy-five degrees outside. But I knew I couldn’t argue with marketing, so I bought a pair of running shorts. Fortunately I was alone in the hotel’s rooftop pool because I soon discovered that soaking wet running shorts leave very little to the imagination.

My current swim shorts fit me well enough, but the string that’s supposed to keep them from slipping down and causing indecent exposure keeps coming loose. Not only does this interrupt my rhythm but I’m always a little nervous standing in the shallow end retying it. I can just imagine some small child in the family area looking over and saying, “Mommy, why does that man have his hands in his pants?”

I love to swim. I’m no athlete but it doesn’t matter. When I angle my body dolphinsdownward in the deep end and swim dolphin-like, when I go so deep I can touch the bottom, all my problems are gone. And then I surface and take a breath, and for a moment the whole world is as clear as the air filling my lungs. Even better is when I swim in the ocean, skimming along the sandy bottom. Fish and sometimes stingrays dart ahead of me. Once in a while I even hear the clicks and whistles of real dolphins, and I feel connected to them.

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