The first job I ever had was packing ice cream in an ice-cream factory in Evanston, Illinois.
It was in 1971.
I’d stand in the back room of a factory, packing ice cream into 16-ounce containers, which would get sold at the local grocery stores.
There were four other ice-cream packing teenagers in that back room. It wasn’t so bad when Eb — this super old guy — ran the show. He let us listen to the rock `n roll radio stations.
But it was a different story when Dan took over. That old sour puss kept the radio tuned to WGN. My memory is that it didn’t play anything except Paul Harvey, farm reports and boring phone calls from suburban housewives with screechy voices.
Anyway, they started me off at $1.65 an hour and promised that after three or four months they’d give me a raise.
But when raise time came, the big boss had bad news. The country was fighting a mighty war against inflation. As part of that epic battle, President Richard Nixon had ordered a freeze on wages and price hikes.
Blame it on President Nixon…
So as much as they wanted to give me that raise — and he really, really wanted to do that — he couldn’t. President’s orders, and everything.
I haven’t liked President Nixon ever since.
As far as I can tell, I was one of the first casualties in President Nixon’s war against inflation.
They ought to erect a statue in my honor.
Happy Labor Day, everybody!
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As the science correspondent for The Third City, I’m now going to write about the latest scientific discovery regarding mice.
I’m not sure why I, of all people, would be covering science. Probably cause I can’t force anyone else around here to do it — you try getting people to write about science at the wages we pay.
For the record, I’m probably not the best guy to write about science, as my science career came to a screeching halt over 40 years ago when I nearly flunked high school chemistry. A psychological trauma I still haven’t recovered from.
In any event, I learned about the mice research from an article in today’s New York Times, headlined: “Using Light Technique, Scientists Find Dimmer Switch for Memories in Mice.”
I would have never read the story, if my wife hadn’t noticed the headline and said: “A ha! I told you we should dim the lights.”
Something you should know about me and my wife…
For the last several months, we’ve been bickering about how bright to keep the kitchen lights during supper.
My wife likes to dim them, on the grounds that it’s more romantic.
I, on the other hand, like to see what I’m eating. Plus, I occasionally like to sneak read magazines that are on the kitchen table.
But that’s off the record — don’t tell my wife.
You can learn a lot about science from these guys…
Anyway, I read the NYT article only to discover that it has nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with dimming the kitchen lights at dinner.
Instead, what these scientists did is — they zapped the shit out of some male mice they had trapped in a cage.
Then they allowed some female mice to enter the cage. I can only guess what the male and female mouse did in that cage cause the article doesn’t say.
But my guess is that they did a little dance, made a little love and got down tonight. To quote the eminent neurologist, K.C. Casey, of the Sunshine Band.
The scientists then concluded that the good memories of frolicking with female mice eradicated the bad memory of getting shocked.
In other words, sex is good.
Dang, man, I could have told you that — without the mice!
The scientists wrote up their report and published it in Nature, under the headline: “Bidirectional switch of the valence associated with a hippocampal contextual memory engram.”
This is just a suggestion, but, hey, Nature – you might want to find yourself some snappier headline writers.
Now that I think about it — there’s always the possibility that I got all of this wrong.
After all, I am the guy who nearly flunked high school chemistry.
It’s Sunday morning, which means I’m reading Rolando — only in The Third City!
Rolando’s our Saturday blogger, and his stuff about working in an emergency room and growing up Puerto Rican in Chicago is some of the darkest, funniest shit around. If you don’t know about him — you should!
Anyway, I’m reading his post — Narcs Bowling Forty Ounces – about the time two asshole narcs were hassling him and his friends. And I come to the following line…
“`You mother fuckers are out here drinking in the middle of the night, looking to get shot by some other assholes,’ the tall narc said.”
Immediately, I get on the horn.
“Hey, Milo,” I say.
That would be Milo – as in my intrepid partner in this blogging enterprise.
Something you should know about us. I’m a terrible speller and he’s a great one. I’m not sure why that is — it just is.
And if there’s one thing that Milo’s taught me about spelling it is this — motherfucker is one word!
Now, back to our conversation…
Me `n Milo discussing linguistics…
“Did you read Rolando yesterday?” I ask.
“You mean, the one about the narcs? Yeah, that’s some funny shit.”
“I know, but did you catch the spelling error?”
“What spelling error?”
“The one where he spelled motherfucker as two words.”
“Damn, Benny. How many times do I gotta tell you — motherfucker is one word.”
You know, like I made the mistake. Instead of pointing it out to him.
I switch topics.
“Milo, why is motherfucker spelled as one word?”
“Ah, Benny — that’s one of the great linguistic questions of our time.”
“And the answer?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, what the fuck good are you?”
“The thing is – most obscenities are one word.”
“Think about it. Dipshit, fuckface, numbnuts, shithead, dumbass — all one word.”
I pause to consider the enormity of what I don’t know.
“Is an obscenity ever two words?” I ask.
“Not that I know of. Oh, occasionally, they’ll hyphenate some bullshit. Like son-of-a-bitch. But other than that — one word.”
I pause to consider the enormity of Milo’s brilliance.
“Hey, Milo, while we’re at it — what does numbnuts even mean?”
“How the fuck should I know. For that matter, what does dipshit mean?”
“Milo, if you don’t know, who does?”
“Benny, if you’re looking for linguistic guidance, I can’t help you. I’m just a barely literate motherfucker from Gary, Indiana.”
“Can I quote you?”
“Yeah, but if you do, make sure you spell it as one word.”
Readers have been begging us to rerun this blast from the not-so-distant past…
For the last few days, I can’t stop talking about the strange story of Wally and Gertie.
My wife told it to me. She heard it from her sister. Not sure who her sister heard it from. So don’t ask.
Wally’s 86. Gertie’s 82. They live in senior citizen apartment in — oh, I don’t know where they live. Stop asking stupid questions.
One day Gertie told Wally: “I gotta go to the store.”
And Wally said: “Okay, honey.”
But halfway to the store, Gertie realized she’d forgotten something. So she turned around and drove home. All together, she’s gone ten, maybe fifteen minutes.
When she walked into the apartment, what did she find?
Her husband in bed shtupping some chick!
Okay, the lady’s not really a chick — more like an 80-something year old hottie from an old-age home.
I mean, I’ve seen Wally and trust me — only a horny old lady would want to shtup him.
Shtupping is the Yiddish word for screwing. I figured I’d drop a little Yiddish on you on account of the Jewish New Year being just around the corner.
L’shana tova, everybody!
I’m not sure what happened next. But I hope it involved Gertie whacking Wally — and his little hottie — over the head with a shoe.
In any regards, as soon as I tell that story to anyone that’s all they want to talk about.
And we all know why. It’s cause we’re amazed that Wally — that two-timing weasel — can still get it up after 87 years.
It reminds me of the case of George Dunne, the former Cook County Board president.
Way back in the late 1980s, the papers busted George for having some kind of sex triangle with two lesbians who worked for the county.
At the time, George was pushing 80.
The local reformers wanted everyone to be outraged cause the women were county patronage employees.
But all anyone wanted to talk about was how George, the old buzzard, still had lead in his pencil.
Also, as I recall, people loved the lesbian angle.
The affair certainly didn’t damage George’s reputation. When he died, they named a county golf course after him.
Hold the putter jokes!
Upon consideration, I’d have to say George’s feat was more impressive than Wally’s.
George was doing his thing in the days before Viagra.
Wally, on the other hand…
Put it this way — I bet his performance was Viagra enhanced.
Plus, George was single. So he wasn’t two-timing his wife, like Wally, that low-life piece of shit.
I’m hoping Gertie gets herself a good divorce lawyer and sues the pants off of Wally — which he should have kept on in the first place.
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As is so often the case, my great adventure begins as an oversight…
I’m in a hurry cause I’m late leaving my house to drive across town to do an interview.
In my haste, I forget to bring a notebook.
So I when I get to where I got to get to meet the guy I’m interviewing, I pull into a Walgreens and dash to the Back-to-School section and grab the first notebook I see on the shelf.
As I recall, it had a yellow cover.
Then I notice the price — $1.50.
Next to it is a notebook selling for 75 cents.
Since 75 cents is less than $1.50, I go for notebook #2.
On the cover is a picture of some guy, but being in a hurry I don’t notice the face.
A few minutes later, I’m getting ready to ask my first question, when…
“Your notebook,” says the guy I’m about to interview.
“What about it?” I respond.
“It’s got Justin Bieber on the cover.”
I look down.
“Oh, my god,” I say. “So it does.”
“Are you a fan?” he asks.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that…”
“No, really — I just picked it up.”
And I tell the tale. In a hurry. Forgot my notebook. Stop at Walgreens. Get the cheaper one. Don’t notice the face…
“Uh, huh,” he says. Like he doesn’t believe me.
“Did you see what’s on the back?” he asks.
I flip over the notebook, and find a head shot of Justin placed in the middle of a heart. As if to say– I love Justin Bieber!
“Dude,” he says. “Are you one of those — you know, what’s that thing Justin Bieber fans call themselves?”
“Beliebers,” I say.
“Beliebers — they call themselves Beliebers.”
Sometimes I can’t believe the shit I know.
“Yeah, dude,” he says. “Are you a Belieber?”
I get him off the subject, we finish the interview and off I go.
But, guess what — I’ve had at least two other conversations almost just like it since then. It seems everyone feels compelled to ask about my Justin Bieber notebook.
It turns out that buying it is the most provocative thing I’ve done in years.
So many people have asked me about the notebook that I’ve decided to officially change my story.
When asked I now say, “Yes, I am a Belieber! I also have Justin Bieber PJs that I sleep in every night.”
What the hell — in for a nickel, in for a dime.
I was hiding out in the wilds of Michigan — far from my daily newspapers — so I missed the initial news that Arlene Martel had died of a heart attack at age 78.
Tis a shame — cause Ms. Martel had a part in one of the iconic moments of my marriage. Let me explain…
She’s the wonderful character actress who, among many other roles, played the stewardess in Twenty Two, perhaps the greatest Twilight Zone episode — ever!
That’s the one where another character — played by Barbara Nichols, speaking of great character actresses — is rushing to catch a plane. Flight 22.
And Arlene looking ominously frightening stands at the opening to the plane and says: “There is room for one more, honey.”
There and then Barbara gets a premonition that some nasty shit’s about to go down, and runs back to the terminal.
In the final scene, the plane explodes just after takeoff.
I know — Rod Serling was a weird motherf…
Anyway, Twenty Two ignited one of the great debates in my marriage.
Arlene was in The Twilight Zone and…
This happened at least 20 years ago, when Twenty Two was re-running on a local UHF station. The debate went like this…
My wife: Oh, this looks good. Let’s watch The Twilight Zone.
Me: No, I wanna watch the sports.
Wife: You always wanna watch the sports. Try something different for once.
Me: I don’t wanna try something different. I wanna watch the sports!
And so on…
We wound up cutting a deal — as married couples tend to do.
I agreed to let her watch The Twilight Zone. And she agreed to let me hold the remote and cut back to the sports, during commercials.
Don’t tell me I don’t drive a hard bargain.
You can probably guess what happened next. I got hooked on Twenty Two and forgot all about the sports.
And that’s how we wound up watching the scene where Barbara Nichols’ character — a dancer with a New York accent — gets into an argument with Barney, her agent.
I can’t recall why they were arguing. The point is Barbara’s character says: “Thanks for nothing, Barney.”
Only with her New Yawk accent, it comes out: “Tanks fer nuttin’, Bahney!”
My wife and I loved that line so much we’ve been saying it ever since.
You know, it’s the little things that get you through life.
There is, of course, a larger lesson to be learned from this. And that lesson is…
Your wife is always right!
No, wrong lesson. The real lesson is that sometimes you have to stray from the familiar path to discover the good things in life.
Rest in peace, Arlene Martel. And — tanks for everytin’!
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What was it — three months ago?
My older daughter tells me: “Dad, don’t schedule anything for June 7. She and Him are having a free concert in Millennium Park. We’re gonna pack a picnic.
“It’s the middle of May,” I say. “You’re talking about something that’s weeks away. Who thinks that far ahead?”
Well, days come and go and next thing you know I’m sitting on a cooler surrounded by thousands of twenty-something year olds.
She and Him are on the stage and all the kids are dancing. Singing the words they know by heart.
The girls are wearing their cool, summer dresses. Looking so young and having so much fun. The night has that summery glow where the rays of the setting sun bounce off the buildings. Everyone’s lit up — like movie stars.
She and Him — singing in Chicago….
I bike home along the lakefront. Moon’s big over the lake. Folks smoking weed, drinking wine, playing drums.
I’m thinking — this is gonna be a groovy summer. But I can feel it pushing. Don’t want it to rush.
Slow, summer, slow — you’re going way too fast…
Then it’s July…
My kids get a job at a summer camp. Gotta catch an 8:30 bus. They’re running through the house like they own it. From the bedroom to the kitchen to the bathroom and back.
God forbid I dare to use the bathroom. “Get out, dad — out! We gotta catch the bus….”
I hide in my bed. Wait till they leave. Then I sneak out to wash up.
Even then it’s not safe. I’m looking in the mirror — thinking, not bad for an old guy — when I hear the front door slam.
Feet race up the stairs. And then — bam, bam, bam — my younger daughter hammering at the door.
“Get out, dad!”
“I thought you left…”
“I forgot my wristlet — hurry up!”
“I can’t wait `til this summer camp is over!”
As soon as I say it, I know I spoke too soon.
At night my wife and I walk the dog over to the Dairy Queen. Get myself a soft serve cone. Vanilla and chocolate swirl. Um, um, um…
My wife doesn’t get anything. “I’m stuffed from dinner,” she says.
I shrug and say, “suit yourself.” And go back to my cone.
I love an ice cream cone — always have, always will….
I’m eating it real slow. Enjoying every lick. Hoping it lasts forever…
I look up. She’s eying my cone.
“Aw, man,” I say.
“C’mon on — please,” she says. “You know it’s better to share…”
Later that night we pass people pouring out of Wrigley. I love tormenting Cub fans.
“Did the Cubs win?” I ask. Even though I know the answer.
“Oh, well. Don’t worry — next year’s gonna be the one…”
Slow summer, slow — you’re going way too fast….
Then it’s August…
Listening to Chicago Catz jamming in Jackson Park. They’re playing James Brown. There’s this one lady with a dyed-yellow Afro. She’s doing the funky chicken. She must be 60. But she’s dancing like it’s 1965…
On the way home, we pass Millennium Park. I think about that June 7th concert. Sitting on the cooler, watching the kids. Is it possible that two months have passed?
“We only got one more week of camp,” says my younger daughter.
“No way,” I say.
“Yeah – September’s almost here…”
Slow, summer slow — you’re going way too fast.
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