For Memorial Day weekend

College student: You always hear people talk about World War II, but was there ever a World War I?

History professor (after a pause): Yes.

-- heard from a friend, son of the professor

Sorry she asked

The last time I visited my mom and dad at their house, I was just thinking how nice it was that we had made it all the way through a Sunday without arguing about politics or anything, and then Mom asked my brother James, "What do you think of the president's idea of going to Mars?"

James: It's a good idea. We should do it.

Mom: Really? I didn't think the United States had the money for it. Going to the moon was fine but I don't know if it's such a good idea to go all the way to Mars right now.

James: So you're against all learning!

Mom: No, I didn't say that...

James: You're saying that if Dad was dying in the hospital and the only way we could cure him would be to use technology from the space program, you'd say "Just let him die!"

Mom: No, I don't mean that...

James: What did you say then? Maybe I misunderstood.

Mom: I'm just saying that if it were up to me, if I was Queen of the Universe, I wouldn't want us to go to Mars right now.

James: Well you're never going to BE Queen of the Universe, because you never want to go any farther than the MOON!

Heard on the street

"I'm taking control of my finances starting right now. I'm going to stop buying the Big Game lottery tickets with the million-dollar prizes and just concentrate on the Little Lotto."

Before there was Kaplan test preparation:

"On the Sunday before examination week he was bathed by Mrs. Tulsi in water consecrated by Hari; the soles of his feet were soaked in lavender water; he was made to drink a glass of Guinness stout; and he left Hanuman House, a figure of awe, laden with crucifix, sacred thread and beads, a mysterious sachet, a number of curious armlets, consecrated coins, and a lime in each trouser pocket."

-- A student in 1920s Trinidad prepares for a test in the novel "A House for Mr. Biswas" by V. S. Naipaul.

The spirituality of shaving

This commercial was so overdone I had to examine it again on the VCR. The ad is a blitz of images accompanied by a man's voice:
You know the feelin. Every guy's had it. You're unbeatable. Unstoppable. You got that walkin on water feelin. You look, they smile. You win, they go home. It's a feelin you get every day with the world's best shave -- Mach 3 Turbo. It's like havin an angel by your side. Every move is smooth; every word is cool. I never wanna lose that feelin. (chorus) Gillette! The best a man can get!

While the voice spoke, 40 images flashed by in half a minute. Here's how they broke down, although they didn't appear in this order:

9 images of athletes: basketball, track and field, etc.
5 of a man shaving
5 of a woman dressed as an angel
4 of a man and woman together
4 of a man's face close-up, shaving
3 of the Gillette logo or Mach 3 Turbo logo
2 of the razor close-up
2 of a man performing on stage
2 of a man falling or zooming through space
2 of a man in a suit in an urban setting
1 of a woman's face close-up
1 of a running man bursting through a wall of masonry (whee!)

Two of the athlete clips were of a young Muhammad Ali. One of the Ali images (boxing in the ring) was briefly interrupted by one quick frame of a female hand, cupped, palm up, in front of what might've been white silky fabric. Maybe this was another allusion to the angel, who must've been by Ali's side while he was whomping on that other boxer in the ring.

On first hearing, I wanted to amend one of the statements in the voice-over so that the man intones: "You look, they smile. You win, they go home... unless you're playing Monopoly at their house, then you go home."

This ad must've been created by the same agency that came up with:
"Kleenex Brand Facial Tissue -- it's like bein blessed by the Pope."
"Eggo Waffles -- it's like havin a little Saint Martha poppin out of your toaster."
"Dove Moisturizing Body Wash -- it's like takin a soapy shower with the Reverend Al Sharpton."

All about it

Downtown last week the newspaper vendor wore a vest with a placard on it that read
It's disgusting
Chicago Sun-Times

Earlier in the year the idea from Chicago Sun-Times management had been that people would be more likely to buy the paper if they could see the day's front-page headline prominently displayed on the vendors' vests. They may not have anticipated headlines like that one about more ugly news in Iraq.


One great morning in first grade we all got to leave our classroom and join the rest of the school in the auditorium. The teachers said we'd get to watch TV news because the presidential election was still undecided from yesterday's voting. The race was too close and they were still counting the votes! Four hundred kids aged from 5 to 12 crowded into the auditorium and my class had to sit in the back of the room. At the far end we could see a little black and white TV showing some boring men talking.

It was very funny to me that grownups could take so long just to count some votes. Maybe some grownups weren't perfect. While the newscaster voices droned out of the tinny little TV speaker, all the kids were talking or shouting. We first-graders jabbered on about Hot Wheels cars and Saturday-morning cartoons. Then in the distance some kids started chanting, and the whole room took it up:
Nixon, Nixon, he's our man
Humphrey's in the garbage can!

Although I was unaware of the two candidates' political differences, I knew how to spell Nixon, and that made him more of a known quantity than Humphrey, whose name I couldn't imagine how to spell. So I was comfortable with the chant, and politics turned out to be pretty fun.

Finally, just before lunch, Humphrey gave a concession speech and it was over. Our state of Illinois had just determined that its electoral votes went to Nixon, which gave him enough votes for the presidency. David Broder wrote about it (the election, not my first-grade class) in the Washington Post the next day.