Monday, May 15, 2017

FIVE AND DIME...AND OTHER MEMORIES


Something I’ve only become aware of recently, for obvious reasons, is that the older you get, the more you find that there are certain images and memories from “the world you live in” to which only your own generation, and age groups within a slim margin of a couple of decades on either side of that demographic, can relate. In my case, for all intents and purposes, such memories can only be shared, and elicit any level of identification, with people who were growing up from, say, the late 1930s to the late 1960s, and even then there may be gaps in terms of the more short-lived trends and fashions. That doesn’t mean you can’t share these stories and images with people of younger generations. Depending on how general-audience “friendly” the telling is, you’ll either pique their interest or you won’t. It only signifies that, if you do decide to share your faded old postcard images with the young, they can only relate to the story as that: a story, a tale from the hazy museum that I call my mind, a repository of scenes from another time, another world, a place as alien to today’s youth as if I were to tell them stories from Timbuktu or Shangri-La.
One such memory is of what was known when I was growing up as “the five and dime”. When I go back to my home town—a still small town in west-central Ohio, uniquely named “Wapakoneta”—and walk down the main street, if I squint my eyes and avoid looking in through the shop windows or at the signs over their doors, I can still almost “see” with my mind’s eye what used to be there, when I was growing up in the fifties and sixties. (WARNING: Don’t try this at home. It’s a good way to run into a lamp post and knock yourself cold). And although I have ample memories of the many shops that served our then still bustling farm town, those uppermost in my memories—from before I achieved “drinking age” at least—are the “five and dimes” (also known as five and tens, five and ten cent stores or simply dimestores).
In Wapakoneta we had four of them. Two of them, despite their home-town feel, belonged to famous national chains: G.C. Murphy’s and W.T. Grants. Grant’s was a relative newcomer. I can remember when it opened. And it wasn’t called a five and dime, but formed part of the dimestore’s evolution that was the “variety store”.
Auglaize St., Wapakoneta's main drag. Part of 
G.C. Murphy's store front visible on the far left.
Courtesy Auglaize County Historical Society.

But we also had two locally-owned traditional dimestores, one known as Miller’s Five and Ten, and the other as Wright’s Five and Ten, both  of which competed with Murphy’s. I’m embarrassed to say that I remember nothing about Miller’s. Of Wright’s, however, I recall that it had, it seems, a particularly good, non-standard stationery section and my mother used to go there to buy unique greeting cards and gift-wrapping paper. What I recall most about it, though, is filed under my (not few) “holiday trauma” memories.
The store was always very cheerily decked out for the Christmas season (fa-la-la-la-laaaa la-la la-laaaa!), but the decorations included a feature that struck me from a young age as sinister enough for Halloween. To wit, a smiley, almost leering, Santa Claus trapped beneath the narrow staircase leading down to a small basement sales section. You didn’t notice it going down. It was only when you were finished in the basement and started back up the creaking, squawking wooden steps. Suddenly, you found yourself face to face with the marionette-like Santa staring out and grinning at you through a riser —not unlike a crazed axe murderer, was my first impression—the wood of which had been replaced with a cramped, rectangular glass window.
When I was very small, it scared me silly and if I had to accompany Reba Mae down to the basement, I always clung for dear life to her hand for fear of being grabbed by the ankles and dragged under the stairs forever by the sinister old troll. But as I got a little older, I couldn’t wait to visit Wright’s at Christmas time, so as to go down to the basement and get creeped out by the “secret Santa” hiding out under the stairway. It was a feeling not unlike the lugubrious nursery rhyme by William Hughes Mearns that goes, “Yesterday upon the stair / I met a man who wasn't there / He wasn't there again today / I wish, I wish he'd go away!  
Five and dimes, as a major trend, date back to the late 1880s and were a kind of natural progression from the old “general store”. These last were small-town stores that sold, as the name suggests, everything from barbed wire and firearms to sewing needles and doilies. But they were businesses where pretty much all of the merchandise was behind counters and each customer had to be “waited on” individually by store personnel (usually the owner and a couple of assistants at most). Customers basically didn’t come into direct contact with the merchandise before they specifically asked to see it, and since it was generally kept in cupboards, drawers and cases, marketing and merchandising were minimal. So you had to have a pretty good idea of what you wanted to purchase before you ever entered the store.
The dimestore concept was the creation of two brothers, Frank and Charles Sumner (“Sum”) Woolworth, founders of Woolworth Brothers variety stores, which, as a nationwide dimestore chain, would later become the F.W. Woolworth Company. The idea was to have a much wider variety of low-cost merchandise than the general stores, in a large-store format where everything would be on display for customers to peruse unperturbed, choosing whatever items they pleased and then taking them up to a counter where a cashier would ring them up. The stores were basically self-serve, so floor personnel was relatively minimal and not only answered customer questions but also restocked the shelves as items were purchased. Seen in this way, the dimestore was a catalyst for impulse buying. Costs were kept low by purchasing in bulk or ordering merchandise direct from manufacturers. The model became so successful that other chains followed, including not only Murphy’s and Grant’s, but also other famous names such as Ben Franklin, McCrory’s, J.J. Newberry’s, S.H. Kress, S.S. Kresge’s (predecessor to K-Mart) and Walton’s (predecessor to Walmart), among many others.
Nowadays, it’s hard for anybody to imagine chain stores that could amass the great fortunes of people like the Woolworths, the Waltons or the Kresges, for instance, selling mostly items that cost less than a dollar and that had an ample inventory of articles that were in the five to ten-cent range. But even just back when I was a boy, in the 1950s and ‘60s, prices were such that this was a much easier concept to comprehend. Just to give those of you too young to recall those times some context, it’s worth noting that in the US in 1960, an average new house cost 12,000 to 15,000 dollars and the average yearly income was between 5,000 and 8,000. A new car cost under 3,000 dollars and a gallon of gasoline averaged under 25 cents. You could buy a great pair of leather shoes for ten or twelve dollars and a skirt or pair of slacks would set you back around five bucks. Five pounds of sugar cost just 38 cents. A Hershey chocolate bar cost five cents as did a six-ounce Coke (standard-size bottle in those days when “big slurp” sizes were unheard-of). A hamburger or a piece of pie would run you 25 cents and a cup of coffee ten (with all the refills you could drink).
The impressive Woolworth Building 
in New York. Nobody thought you could
build a nickel and dime empire...until
Woolworth's did it!
But even other major retailers didn’t believe the Woolworth brothers when they said that they could make money exclusively on a nickel and dime business model...until they did! And that changed everything in mass retail marketing. Indeed, as if to prove it, in the first 55 years of the Woolworth chain’s existence, nothing in its stores cost over ten cents, and their success was phenomenal. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the company deigned to recognize the existence of inflation and imposed a new ceiling of 20 cents on its general inventory of items.
Although Woolworth’s (established 1879) had been in business for three decades already when George C. Murphy—who’d learned the trade working for McCrory’s—opened his first five and dime in a suburb of Pittsburgh in 1906, his chain turned out to be one of America’s most successful. Unfortunately, Murphy didn’t live to see the business’s incredible expansion, since he died only three years after founding it. Already by then, however, he owned a dozen five and tens, which, on his death, were acquired by two other former McCrory employees, who honored Murphy by maintaining his name as the company trademark.
There were eventually over five hundred G.C. Murphy stores in the United States, and one of them was on the main drag in Wapakoneta. That one started the way lots of Murphy’s stores did: by buying out another dimestore, in this case, the Morris Five and Ten. The building was, like most of the shops on the north side of Auglaize Street—Wapak’s main drag—perfect for a variety store, since they had no street behind them to hem them in. Just a large open area that was to become the city parking lot—a zone known colloquially as “behind town”— and then, behind a concrete flood wall, the Auglaize River, which ran east to west through the downtown area.
The Morris 5&10 in Wapakoneta was destined to become
one of the country's 500 G.C. Murphy dimestores. 
Courtesy Linda Knerr 
The long front-to-back store aisles were made of ancient, warped and spongy-feeling wood-planking that pitched and creaked piteously under your feet as you walked, imposing a rolling gait as if negotiating the bobbing and weaving deck of a clipper ship. And although I eventually learned to associate the aroma in the place with the pleasantries of dimestore shopping, on first impact it was, I must admit, revolting. A nauseating combo of the smells emanating from the vast miscellany that was the inventory and from the store itself: the pungent stench of natural rubber mixed with that of scented candles, handsoap, cheap incense and cheaper perfume, amalgamated with wicker, leather, dark-dyed denim and an oily mélange of varied roasted nuts, all with an undertone of paste floor wax and kerosene.   
Nevertheless, the Murphy’s in our town fascinated me as a boy. When I was small, it seemed to me that there was nothing you could possibly want in the world that Murphy’s didn’t have: everything from a dazzling range of toys to a variety of ladies’ lingerie, from shoelaces and stationery to zippers and lace, from artificial flowers and dress patterns to sturdy work clothes and bandanna hankies, from floor mats and door mats to galoshes and snow boots, from wire trouser-stretchers and ribbons to dimestore cowboy novels and oilcloth tablecloths, from lavender cologne and bay rum to Sen-Sen breath mints and horehound cough drops, and so on and so forth.
But the center of attention for me was the big oak and glass candy case at the front of the store. They knew right where to place it so that kids couldn’t help but feast their eyes on it both coming and going...smack in front of the door.
Now, whenever we were vying for some toy or game we’d seen on TV, my sister, brother and I preferred to tag along with our mother, Reba Mae, rather than with Whitie, our dad, because Whitie was nothing if not frugal and the chances of talking him into buying anything unplanned and non-essential were about as likely as of talking the devil out of collecting his due on a blood oath soul-harvesting pact. Whereas Reba Mae might acquiesce on this or that trinket just to shut us up and let her get on with her own shopping. But when it came to the candy counter, we wanted to be in the company of Whitie, because back then Reba Mae seemed to always be dieting and so refused to even look at the candy case, whereas our father had the most extraordinary and insatiable sweet tooth of any adult I’ve ever known, and couldn’t pass up the sweets section any more than we could. Sweets were his indubitable weakness, and he indulged it enormously.
Center of attraction...
Fridays were a good time to tag along with Whitie since that was when he was most likely to stock up for the Gillette Friday Night Fights on TV. Where other dads might rush out for a carton of beer and chips before the fights began, Whitie raided the candy counter at Murphy’s. There was hardly a sweet that my father had met that he didn’t like (exception made for anything with pineapple or coconut, both of which, oddly enough, he loathed). The choices of sweets that we purchased were all his, so he passed his taste in candy down along with his genes (which probably explains why I still love such unsophisticated fare as sugar-loaded orange-colored “circus peanuts”, which most sane people give up after the age of, say, five or so). But like I say, his tastes were broad-ranging and included, of course, chocolate of almost any kind: Hershey bars and kisses, Brach’s chocolate stars, big irregular chunks of bulk milk chocolate, chocolate-covered cream-filled peanut clusters, chocolate-covered malted milk balls, chocolate-covered caramels, chocolate-covered peppermint patties, as well as Snickers, Milky Ways, Milk Duds, M&Ms plain and peanut, Butterfingers, peanut butter cups and Zagnuts, nor was he averse to the occasional box of chocolate-covered cherries.
But he was also a huge fan of hard candies, soft candies, jelly candies, pralines, nougats, caramels, taffies and fudges of all kinds. These included such favorites as cinnamon balls and cinnamon squares, rootbeer barrels, swirl peppermint and spearmint candies, white peppermint and pink wintergreen lozenges, old-fashion hard candies of a variety of fruit flavors that displayed hearts or flowers in the middle, Kraft caramels, green-leaves spearmint jellies, orange slice jellies, juju beans, red and black licorice (pronounced lickerish in Ohioese), sugar-coated capsule-like sweet licorice Good & Plenty, any variety of jelly beans, peanut logs, little brown jugs, Bit-o-Honeys, candy-coated “burnt peanuts”, ultra-sugary maple-leaf maple sugar candies (a favorite of my sister’s but a taste I never acquired, unless it was boiled down and poured over pancakes with hot butter) peanut butter kisses, saltwater taffy kisses, peanut brittle (which, because of how it castigated his ever-dodgy molars, Whitie referred to as “peanut brutal”) and on and on the list goes. And he was fully capable, over the course of a boxing match or late-night movie, of polishing off a pound of any of these candies or chocolates all by himself...and did, perhaps “washing it down” later on with a bowl of ice-cream. Incredibly, he was always middle-weight trim, to our sporadically diet-enslaved mother’s chagrin.  
As I say, I seldom got to choose the candy we would buy. But I was fascinated by the bulk candy purchase and sale process. Hearing Whitie order the different sweets with the authoritative knowledge of a candy connoisseur and then watching the lady behind the counter shovel into the brimming bins with a deep metal scoop and then shake the contents into a white paper bag that she would set on the scale until a pound was reached. Two, three, four bags filled in this way with bulk candy, depending on Whitie’s whim that day, then all of them placed in a larger brown paper bag for easier carrying. To me it was such a feeling of wealth and luxury to see that candy being fractioned out from a seemingly endless source.
Gone now is the magical world of the store front Main Street shops of my youth. Gone, the alluring five and dimes of that distant past, having given way to the hypermarkets and superstores that have relegated small-town Main Streets to the realm of fading nostalgia and retro revival.
It’s a world I can’t help missing.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

🙍🙏 My apologies once again! Technical problems (connectivity) persisted again today but are now solved. I'll try to have my May 13 blog out by midday or a little after tomorrow, Monday, May 15.
Again, many thanks for your patience and warmest regards to all.

Saturday, May 13, 2017



Due to technical difficulties, the regular blog that I should have posted today will be published tomorrow, Sunday, May 14. I'll be recalling five and dime stores...and other home-town memories.
Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

THE THIRD AGE AND RUNNING FOR YOUR LIFE


I’ve often talked about my “dual life” as a Southern Yankee, born and reared in the US heartland, and almost magically transported to a brand new life, first in Europe and then in South America. But it’s not as two-staged as it sounds. Like life itself—and I suspect that this happens to a lot of people who end up living in places and cultures that are far distant from those of their birth, whether they ever live abroad or not—this has felt more like a three-stage existence, not two.
I think this has to do partially with the fact that life, as such, tends to be divided this way: young, middle-aged and old. But having reached “a ripe old age”, as it were—to my utter surprise, since I spent most of the first stage and part of the second convinced I’d be unlikely to make it to the third—I no longer think of these milestones in that way, but rather, merely as stages one, two and three. That’s why I’ve always liked, and now subscribe to, a Spanish-speaking school of thought that refers to stage three not as “old age” but as “la tercera edad” (the third age).
There are those of my own age and some of slightly younger generations who sometimes try to pull the wool over my eyes by saying I shouldn’t think of myself as old. Sixty, they say (somewhat self-servingly, I assume), is the new forty. When I point out that I passed the sixty marker many moons ago, they remind me that if sixty is the new forty, then seventy is the new fifty and since I’ve still to attain that lofty number (all things come to those who wait), I’m “just middle-aged.” Well...perhaps...if I plan to live to be a hundred and thirty-four. I have a friend who entertains that goal. She seems convinced she’ll live to be a hundred and fifty at least. More power to her. I mean, having come this far, I’m clearly not ruling anything out. But I figure, statistically at least, it’s highly unlikely.
I mean, statistically speaking, the average American male lives to be around seventy-seven. But I have to consider that I’ve spent most of my adult life in Argentina, where the average male lives to be seventy-three. When sixty-eight is staring you in the face, these figures can give you a sudden adrenalin rush. Statistically—just statistically, mind you—I could surmise that I have between half a decade and a decade left to live. But the secret that third-agers seldom share is that it’s not like you’re suddenly enlightened on reaching stage three. Okay, yes, you may have learned a few tricks by this time that the young and the middle-aged don’t have a clue about, but the fact is that you’re still pretty much as clueless about the mystery of life as you were when you first started searching for its meaning and you certainly don’t go around running the stats in your head and saying to yourself, “Holy crap! Five more years? I’d better get a move on!” 
It’s more like what Shakespeare said through the mouth of Macbeth:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
But also, and less depressingly surely, like Alexander Pope said:
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast...”
So that just when we thought we would have everything neatly figured out, we still find ourselves going, “I wonder what life has in store for me?”
That said, however, it’s not like I’m throwing in the towel. Not by a longshot. And that’s why I have fully embraced—quite recently, actually, since I found sixty and the first couple of years after that decade first descended on me to be particularly depressing landmarks—the idea of “a third age”, rather than old age, as a philosophy worthy of incorporation.
And although I might try and make it sound like I don’t give a damn about statistics, you do have them in the back of your head, if not, perhaps, as sharply focused as they should be. By way of example, I remember a TV show I liked a lot as a teen—a rather dark, existentialist teen, admittedly—called “Run for Your Life”. It starred Ben Gazarra as attorney Paul Bryan, who, in the first episode (1965) receives news from his doctor that he has a terminal illness that will only allow him to live for another nine to eighteen months—despite which, the series’ success kept it on the air until 1968.
In it, Paul decides to leave his successful law practice behind, walk away from his life and, like the proverbial guy who goes out to buy cigarettes and never comes back, opts to take the money and run. His vague idea when he sets out is to “do all of the things he never had time for.” But what happens in reality is that, along the way, he meets up with a wide variety of people who end up touching his life and him theirs, leading him through every situation from bittersweet romance and passion to high adventure and imminent danger.
I enjoyed all of the human dramas that unfolded with each new episode, but what attracted me most was the point of view—that of a guy who pretty much knew how far his “non-renewable resource” was going to carry him and so could face each new day with no illusions about the future. The future simply didn’t exist, so he was free to live life on his own terms and stepping into others’ lives with no commitment but the one he was willing to make to them in the here and now.
It seemed to me a brilliant way to live. And although many would have tried to tell me that it was a good story, a good escape, but hardly realistic, I would have argued then (as I still might now) that Paul Bryan’s stance couldn’t have been more realistic, and that people might be a lot happier in their lives if that were precisely how they lived...as if tomorrow might never come.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all these years, it's that living like Paul Bryan in “Run for Your Life” is, quite possibly, the best and happiest way a human being can live. But I’ve learned it by observing other lives, not by practicing what I preach. Indeed, some of the happiest and most successful people in their fields have lived precisely that way. Many of them have been artists and, as some people might point out, they’ve had to make certain sacrifices, in terms of what others might consider “a normal life”, but have, I believe, reaped other satisfactions that most of us only dream of.
You might be asking where on earth I’m going with all of this. The answer is, I’m not sure. I’m thinking out loud, as I have been thinking to myself for many years now. And I guess the best response is that I’ve come to the conclusion that grabbing life by the tail and riding it to the stars requires risk. In fact, it requires risking life itself.
But the other part of that response is, perhaps, that those of us who are lucky enough to make it through stages one and two and reach The Third Age need to remember the words of the inimitable Yogi Berra who had several great observations to make about waking up and going through life with constant awareness: One was, “You can see a lot just by lookin’.” Another was: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” And the last one was, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Admittedly, as in Willie Nelson and Leon Russell’s A Song for You, “I’ve been so many places in my life and time...” But still, I can’t help having the feeling I could have risked more, lived more, done more if I’d lived every day like it was the last one and let the future take care of itself.
But as Yogi said, it ain’t over till it’s over, and I’ve seen clearly, finally, that the way to look at this new third stage is as a liberation from the enslavement of a future that simply doesn’t exist...nor has it ever, anywhere but in my mind.



Thursday, April 13, 2017

DISTANT THUNDER AND FEAR OF FEAR ITSELF


We recently had our first spate of wet weather for the autumn season here in Andean Patagonia. Summers are typically dry, as are the early weeks of autumn. But then you start getting shifting winds and warmish wet weather rolling out of the northwest across the Andes from the Pacific or cold, bone-chilling rains blowing up “from down below”, as they say here, meaning out of the southeast, which is where a lot of the heaviest snows come from in the wintertime.
I keep my eye on the sky at this time of the year to make sure I get in plenty of dry firewood before the season changes completely. That usually happens in late May and June, when two or three weeks of heavy rain at a time are not uncommon, giving way to snow in the high country, which eventually falls lower and lower on the mountainsides until we, down here in the foothills, get our share of white stuff as well. This year, I was johnny-on-the-spot and already had over six and a half cords of excellent firewood cut hauled and stacked under cover by the end of March. In other words, I’m set for winter whenever and however it comes.
But I digress. What I was going to say was that, with the recent first rainstorms, we had abundant electrical activity. Anybody from my native west-central Ohio would say, “So what else is new?” But here, thunder is an oddity—something about the tall mountain peaks attracting opposing charges first and grounding out the lightning bolts at high altitudes, so that they seldom strike in the lowlands. I don’t know. I’m not a meteorologist, but that’s what they tell me. When I first moved down here to the mountains nearly a quarter-century ago, hearing thunder was even more rare than it is now (sometimes you’d go a few years without hearing even the most distant thunder). And that was something I missed from my Midwestern childhood. Because there was a point in my childhood when I grew fascinated with storms and, to my mother’s dismay, wanted to go out and play in them, to walk in them, to feel their power. But I wasn’t always that way—as you’ll soon see.
So anyway, the other day, which seemed like a perfectly nice day, if a little muggy and with a treacherous little gusty breeze kicking up, it suddenly started getting dark, with black clouds rolling in from the invisible Pacific, over on the other side of the cordillera. “It’s going to rain,” I thought. But thought no further, as I was sitting at my desk working and knew my firewood was all well-covered and tied down. Suddenly, however, a thunder clap that seemed to happen right above the house, shaking its timbers and setting every dog for miles around howling, scared the bejesus out of me. It was kind of like somebody rolling a howitzer up behind me and firing it with no warning. It’s natural. You almost literally jump out of your skin.
It was at that precise moment that a distant memory leaped to mind and started running in my head like an old movie that I’d filed away for future reference, only to have it “come onto the screen” accompanied by the exact same feelings and sensations of that far-off time and place. It was the precise moment at which I first became actively aware of thunder. I was, perhaps, three and a half or four years old. I know this because my little brother didn’t exist yet. It was just my sister Darla and me. We were sitting on the couch (which back then we called “the davenport”) in the living room of our house on Defiance Street in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Whitie, my dad, was working late and Darla and I were sitting on either side of Reba Mae, our mother. I don’t know what time it was, but it was already dark out. Reba Mae had invited us to sit there with her for the ostensible purpose of her reading us a story “so we wouldn’t be afraid of the storm.” But the truth was that she was reading to us to calm herself down because no one was displaying greater fear of the veritable symphony of lightning bolts and thunder claps outside than Reba Mae.

Her panic was, of course, infectious in children so small. There was a feeling that if we felt always safe and protected under our roof and with the adults in our lives, this thunder and lightning thing must be something against which our home, our fortress, had no special powers. If Reba Mae was quite clearly scared silly, invincible as we believed her to be, then this outside force must be something very major indeed.
So we hunkered close to her as the storm raged outside. I was so impressed by her fear, rather than by what she was reading, that, for this reason only, I recall exactly which stories she read us from the Childcraft Collection. They were both fables, one about a dog proudly carrying a prize bone in his mouth as he crosses a bridge over a brook, only to look down and see another dog just like him and carrying his very same bone in its mouth, and in response he barks, dropping the bone from his mouth into the brook, where it is lost forever. And the other one about a stork who offers a fox a drink from a long-necked jar into which his muzzle would never fit and how the fox repays the stork by offering him a drink from a flat shallow pan from which the stork’s long pointed beak could never extract a single drop.
But in my child’s interpretation, the image the dog sees in the brook is at night and reflected in a terrible lightning flash and the stork and the fox are only accidentally sheltering together in a cave in order to stay out of the storm and that’s why they end up at the mercy of each other’s irony. Because if it weren’t for their fear of the storm, they would simply have gone their separate ways and gotten a drink of water elsewhere.  The stories stick in my mind because I hear them being read in my mother’s tense, brave but quaking voice and I can still feel my cheek pressed against her arm and the piece of her sleeve that I’m gripping in my hand.
Eventually, she gave up trying to deal with her fear and, in an exaggeratedly cheerful voice, she said, “Come on, kids! Let’s go to Max’s for an ice cream cone. We’ll take Grandma!”
Even though it was clearly bedtime, she bundled us into the car, drove us to her parents’ house on the other side of town, picked up her mother, and off we went to Max’s Dairy Bar for a custard ice cream cone which we ate in the stifling car with all the windows rolled up as the storm continued outside. And then it was back to Grandma’s, presumably until time to pick up Whitie from work. But by then, I couldn’t have cared less. Grandma Myrt spread a couple of her lovely handmade patchwork quilts on the rug in the front room for Darla and me and covered us with a light blanket. At last, I felt, we were safe. No bad voodoo was stronger than Grandma. She was a giant-slayer. I dozed off contented and safe.
It wasn’t until many years later that my mother explained to me how her irrational fear of storms stemmed from a childhood experience. A day when she and her little brother Kenny were on her pony, out on the land where he father was a tenant farmer, when a storm blow up suddenly and, in the interest of being the protective big sister, she could think of nothing better to do than to shelter under the only tree in a very large field. A bolt of lightning—with the deafening thunder that accompanied it—struck the tree and split it down the middle. Reba Mae and Kenny narrowly missed being killed.
Nowadays, her abnormally heightened terror of storms would probably be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder and therapy would be prescribed. But back then, if you were a tenant farmer’s daughter, you sucked it up and moved on. And you didn’t tell your father about it because he was likely to “give you a good lickin’” for being an idiot and standing under a tree in an electrical storm.
For a brief time, I was as frightened as Reba Mae was of thunder and lightning. As soon as the first great clap sounded, I would begin to tremble and start looking for a place to hide. Until, that is, I was home alone with Whitie once during a thunderstorm. He found me cowering behind the davenport and, in a rare moment of patience, he said, “What’s goin’ on, bud?”
I told him I was scared of the thunder. He invited me to come out and talk about it. He sat down and I climbed up on his lap. He told me there was nothing to be scared of. That thunder was nothing more than a noisy upstairs neighbor. It just so happened that we lived right under the kitchen in Heaven, and that every time I heard that rumbling sound, it was just the cooks pouring the potatoes out of their sacks onto the floor. That sound was just the spuds rolling around. Lots of them, because there were a lot of folks up there in heaven that needed feeding. Soon he had me laughing and saying, “There go them spuds again, Daddy!”
“Yeah,” he’d say. “Gonna have to go up there and tell those guys to hold it the hell down!”
After that, I could never again, as a child, hear thunder without thinking of big sacks of potatoes spilling across a wooden plank floor. In fact, I still can’t.      


Monday, March 27, 2017

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY


From the first time I read Robert Frost’s iconic poem, The Road Not Taken, when I was still a young boy, I was captivated by both its imagery and its message. From a very young age, though powerfully attracted to my own town and its surroundings, I yearned to travel. It was almost as if I had strong memories of being a wanderer in some former life, so fascinated was I by the idea of striking out in any direction and seeing what was over the next rise or around the next curve.

I did a lot of that already while I was growing up. First on my bicycle on which I explored every inch of Wapakoneta, my home town in Ohio, and then the surrounding countryside, from Fort Amanda to Owl Creek and from Glynwood to Grand Lake Saint Marys. And later, once I bought my own car at age sixteen, I began clocking more and more miles each month, not only in my job as a relief drummer for any jazz band that needed one, but also just for the heck of it, driving in my down-time between gigs and school to visit any Ohio town whose name struck my fancy: towns like Lebanon, Russia and Cairo, Washington Court House, North Star and Columbus Grove, ones with names eccentric enough to pique my interest, eventually racking up some two thousand to three thousand miles a month between work and recreational trips.
 I was, as well, from my early childhood, an unrepentant non-conformist, one of those weird kids who have no interest in doing “what everybody else does” or in being “like everybody else is” or in echoing the interests, thoughts and trends of my own generation unless they just happened to coincide with my own. So the words and deeper meaning of that poem of Frost’s really resonated with me:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Nevertheless, there was a time, decades ago, when I used to feel there was something wrong with me as a traveler. I mean, I felt perhaps it had something to do with my rather natural tendency to procrastinate (another trait that, way back then, I took as a quirk, a malady, a bad habit, but which I now accept as “part of a process”). I wasn’t at all sure why I did it, but there seemed always to be something drawing me to dawdle, to get distracted along the road, to keep the “final destination” at bay, as if preferring the magic of setting forth and the surprises I encountered along the way to the reality of “arrival”.
The dream of a natural born traveler: a car of one's own.
I recall once a return drive from Wapakoneta to Miami to take a plane back to my home, at the time, in Buenos Aires. I’d spent close to a month with my family, and as usual, my younger brother Jim and I had renewed our close bond as we usually did, having a jog or a walk together each day, drinking coffee and engaging in long talks at the kitchen table, or spending beery late afternoons and evenings bellied up to local bars bending our elbows and each other’s ears. So when I got into my rented car in the driveway of our parents’ house in Ohio, after we’d given each other a hug, and I was about to head south for another year or two before I’d get back that way, he leaned down at the driver’s side window and said, “Hey, buddy, give me a call when you get wherever you stop tonight, okay?”
“Sure,” I said, and made a mental note to keep that promise.
A little over eight hours later, I called Jim from my hotel just south of Atlanta off of Interstate 75. I’d made the decision after seeing a roadside ad for a bar and steakhouse that looked inviting at this early evening hour and the directions at the bottom of the sign suggested that the place was located next to a major hotel. That cinched it—a bar and grill next door to a hotel with an indoor pool. I flicked on my turn signal and took the exit.
“So where ya at, bud?” my brother asked when I got him on the line. “I mean, you’re still on the road, right?”
“Just south of Atlanta, and, no, I’m not still on the road. I’m sitting on the bed in my hotel room in my swim trunks about to go have a dip before I go to supper.”
Atlanta?” he cried. “Are you freakin’ kidding me?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, bewildered.
“I mean, is that all the further you got, you wimp? Last time I drove from Ohio to Florida, I drove from Lima to Ocala straight through in under thirteen hours! And you’re still in freakin’ Atlanta?”
“What’s the hurry?” I asked. “I have almost three days before my flight out of Miami.”
“I don’t know,” he said, “I mean, you could’ve stayed here a day longer, for instance. But even Dad drives to North Florida in a day!”
“Yes, and I wouldn’t want to meet up with him on the road after the first seven hours or so,” I said. “Look, let’s just compare for a second. I imagine to do a marathon drive like that you end up drinking gallons of coffee and fighting to stay awake...”
“Red Bull, actually...and it works!”
“...eating junk food on the road and feeling like crap, and then when you get there, wherever there is, you’re zonked out for the whole next day because you’re so exhausted from the drive, right?”
“Pretty much, but at least I get there fast!”
“I, on the other hand, have had a plenty long enough trip as it is for one day. But not long enough to wear me out. Now I’m going to do a few laps in the hotel pool. Then I’m going to dress in fresh clothes and walk across the parking lot to the bar and grill next door. I’m going to sit at the bar, order a beer and a nice steak, and strike up a conversation with the bartender and whoever else feels like telling me their story. And when I’m done drinking beer and chatting, I’m going to go back to my room, get a good night’s sleep, have another dip in the pool and a good breakfast in the morning and get back on the road at a reasonable hour. What part of that sounds worse than driving like a maniac through the night guzzling coffee and Red Bull to keep my eyes open?”
On the lam in Europe in the early '70s
Jim was silent for a couple of beats and then he said, “Know what, Big Bro? As usual, you’re right.”
That night I did exactly what I told him I was going to do and, in the process of eating a fine sirloin strip and wetting my whistle, met a part-time bartender who was working on a master’s in history and explained to me the intricacies of the vicarious Civil War that the South continued to contend with the North, and to a woman who was an environmental engineer and gave me a fascinating lesson on Florida’s natural aquifers and their vulnerability to human encroachment.
Virginia on the road in Patagonia in the 1980s
And “stops along the way” continue to be some of the most memorable stories in my repertoire. Like a lunch my wife, Virginia, and I shared as young newlyweds living in Europe, an impromptu picnic of wonderfully overcooked rotisserie chicken, floury shepherd’s loaf bread, ultra-dark espumante wine and deep red sangria oranges that we enjoyed while sitting on a park bench in a steep-trailed park overlooking the ancient city of Genoa, on a day that seemed to us like a piece of heaven. Or a few days when I played hooky from work on a trip to Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship and we took a bus from Santiago down to Viña del Mar and strolled on the beach and stayed a couple of nights in an old family hotel, lodged in a room overlooking the patio, where they brought us French bread, butter, jam and coffee for breakfast in bed and where dinner was served by the owner in a small dining room downstairs—a quiet corner where we could briefly forget the horror that was taking place in that country and across the Andes in dictatorial Argentina.
A daunting tunnel carved and blasted in the limestone
Then there was the time Virginia and I were driving south through the Patagonian desert between the Welsh-founded cities of Trelew and Puerto Madryn and saw a broad, well-graded gravel road stretching off toward the horizon on our left near the tiny settlement of Las Plumas. On a whim, Virginia said, “Let’s see where that goes.”
“Well, certainly not to Madryn,” I protested. “Madryn’s that way,” I said, pointing straight ahead.
“So what?” she insisted. “If we don’t like what we see, we can always turn around and come back.”
Villa Ameghino
And so we took that road less traveled and began the twisting turning descent along an ever narrowing ribbon of gravel that eventually took us through a daunting one-lane tunnel carved and blasted out of sheer limestone that, on the other side, rewarded us for our daring with a view of a veritable Patagonian oasis, a shimmering green valley hollowed out by the marble green Chubut River where it flows swift and deep beneath the Dique Ameghino hydroelectric dam. From above, on the high desert where the road began, this was an invisible world. And down here, that coarse dry world above was just as invisible. From where we stood now, you would have thought you were in a mountain landscape, so high were the steep cliffs on all sides. But instead, it was a deep gorge sculpted by the river, with the clear china-blue sky arching high overhead, the water lined with willows and alamo poplars and with hundreds of flamingoes and black and white-necked swans riding the milky green, lime-laden surface as it rushed toward the sea a hundred and fifty kilometers further downstream.
A place of peace and beauty
There on the banks rose a small village, Villa Ameghino, where many of the couple hundred residents still had Welsh names—Reynolds, Jones, Williams or Davies—but where the lingua franca had long since become Spanish. Friendly people who were quick to chat and to welcome us to camp on the stony shore, people whose existence depended on jobs with the National Highway Department, or on exploitation of the kaolinite mines from nearby caves for use in the ceramics industry, or on the tiny shops and bakery that sold us our provisions while we were there.
Such was the peace and beauty of this place that for a few days, we forgot all about our “final destination” and camped there by the river to bask in the fantasy of a hidden paradise.
And like these experiences, there are countless others I could tell in which I’ve turned an unexpected layover, a chance encounter, or a stop to admire the scenery into a surprising and fulfilling event. The trick is never giving in to the human tendency to ask, “Are we there yet?” when the question that can give birth to a wealth of experiences is, “What sort of surprises and adventures will this journey hold?”
When I manage to push the pause button on the busy pace of an everyday working existence, I realize that life itself, in the final analysis, is one long—or not so long—journey. But there’s no verifiable way to know for sure why it starts where it starts or ends where it ends, where we came from or where we’re going. And nobody issues us with a roadmap when we start out. So it apparently isn’t about that. Life isn’t about “getting there”—which is, in the end, an ostensibly counterproductive option—but about all of the side-trips we make, all of the places and things we see, all of the observations we collect, all of the fellow travelers we meet and all of the stories we hear, tell and enact in between.
Life is about going or staying, and about the experiences that we absorb along our path. It’s almost surely more about choice than about destiny, no matter how conditioned we may be not to think so. But it is definitely about the main roads and the side-roads that we decide to take or not to take, and about how we deal with those choices once we’ve made them.


Monday, March 13, 2017

EXCERPT 9 FROM ‘VOICES IN THE STORM’ — LEARNING THE ROPES

EXCERPT 9 FROM ‘VOICES IN THE STORM’ — LEARNING THE ROPES
The following is a new excerpt from Chapter Four of the autobiographical book I’m currently writing, entitled “Voices in the Storm: A Journalist’s Memoir”, about my early days working for a newspaper in Buenos Aires.
The fact that, for the moment, I remained pretty much monolingual was to present me with an opportunity to take up a post of central importance to the newspaper’s operations: the international news desk, better known in the Herald as “the Night Desk”. After a brief period of watching me struggle to eke out the translations of a few cables a night, Editor Robert Cox asked me to move over to the international desk to replace someone who had left the paper recently, leaving the Night Desk editor without an assistant.
Traditionally at the Buenos Aires Herald, the person running the Night Desk was a veteran journalist with considerable influence over the daily’s editorial policy, since it was this department that selected, ranked and handled most of the material that entered each edition. Cox had held the post at one time. So had British journalist James Neilson (son of a Scottish father and Anglo-Argentine mother), who, when I entered the paper, was working as media chief for the American Chamber of Commerce in Argentina, but who would eventually return to the Herald as associate editor and, later, editor in chief. When Cox assigned me to the post of sub-editor on the Night Desk, however, the editor in charge was city editor Andrew Graham-Yooll’s brother-in-law, Nicolás Meyer.
Nicolás was clearly not a news-hound journalist in any sense. He had a working knowledge of international news and current events and adequate skills for layout and page design, but no real passion for news work, and especially not for local news. He was, rather, an intellectual, whose first love was cinema—classic cinema and art films more than blockbuster mainstream movies—with a particular bent for the kind of “foreign” (non-Hollywood) pictures created by European, Scandinavian and Japanese masters, though the Hollywood classics also formed part of his repertoire, as did the Golden Age masters of Hollywood comedy.
Oddly enough, however, for the kind of British Commonwealth community newspaper that the Herald tended to be when I first joined it, his whimsical organization of international news coverage tended to work, originating each night from a news schedule quickly written up between Meyer and cables chief Stuart Stirling just before we on the news desk started our night of work and the cables editor ended his—a daily schedule practically approved out of hand by Cox, mainly because he was too busy and overstretched to bother questioning it unless some major international news story was missing from it.  Local news Nicolás left up to his brother-in-law.
Heading the Night Desk wasn’t a post that Andrew himself would have wanted to occupy. By that time, Graham-Yooll was, with the exception of Cox, the Herald’s most renowned journalist—even more so than Stuart Stirling who moonlighted (or “daylighted” as it were) as Buenos Aires correspondent for The Times of London. Andrew’s orientation was entirely local and at that time, he was the only authentic political beat reporter that the paper had. Despite being the paper’s news editor and, as such, often working into the wee hours of the morning, Andrew spent much of the daytime beating the streets of downtown Buenos Aires. He haunted the corridors of Congress, visited the offices of politicians and government officials, gathered information from anonymous sources and lobbyists, and lunched with, drank with and generally socialized with a multitude of representatives from the country’s more than twenty political parties and splinter groups.
Andrew as he would appear on the cover of his
refugee memoir a few years later.
Andrew had a personal style that wandered somewhere between relaxed and scruffy, a style which, truth be told, probably merely reflected the constant state of quasi-fatigue on the brink of which he lived much of the time, trying to keep up the hectic pace and unhealthy lifestyle that his daily routine demanded of him. Although barely thirty at the time, he looked older than his years. The mane of dark hair that hung over his collar and the wild tangle of beard that reached his chest were already tinged here and there with silver threads and gave him the Russian refugee air of a younger, stouter Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, although the thick anti-Solzhenitsyn mustache that flowed equally unhindered by scissors or clippers into the beard tended to be more reminiscent of the Castroite Cuban-style revolutionaries that the rightwing Iron Guard of the ruling Peronist movement hated and was already plotting to destroy.  In those paranoid days of tit for tat violence between extreme left and extreme right in Argentina, Andrew’s appearance alone was enough to render him suspect in the eyes of the rightwing authorities who were rallying around the aging General Juan Domingo Perón. And his list of contacts would have been sufficient to condemn him to summary execution. Ironically enough, at the time, Andrew was serving as free-lance correspondent for London’s very conservative daily, The Telegraph, although he would later work for The Guardian, a daily much more in line with his political tendencies.
Only a small portion of the information that Andrew gathered in his reporting during the day made it into the local news section at night. And less still was shared directly with Cox. Despite his apparent friendship with the editor, with whom he had been working since 1966, Andrew appeared to harbor an underlying professional rivalry with Bob Cox. It seemed clear to me that Andrew held back considerable information for his own use, except when timing and newsworthiness were of the essence and made him willing to publish a story that was something of a scoop and that might not hold until the weekend. In general, however, Andrew depended in large measure for everyday news on local agency cables which he and his crew translated for the daily editions, saving his heavyweight reporting for his by-lined column, Politics & Labour, which came out on page three of the Sunday edition.
Although Bob frequently dropped by the paper on the weekends to work on stories that had remained pending from the previous week, it was his custom to finish both weekend editorial pages on Friday night and leave them with the Night Desk, just in case he decided to accompany his family to their weekend house in the country and give the Herald a miss. Andrew, for his part, often worked on his column until the wee hours of Saturday morning, long after Cox had gone home, so that the first glimpse the editor in chief got of Politics & Labour was only when he read it in the paper at his home on Sunday morning.
By the time I joined the Herald staff in 1974, Andrew’s column was the subject of not infrequent clashes between him and Bob. From what I could gather, Cox was less than pleased with what he saw as the often all too cozy relations that Graham-Yooll was weaving at both extremes of the political spectrum at a time when these “notorious others” on the political scene were suiting up and arming themselves to do battle for control of the government by any and all means necessary. A couple of decades later, the BBC would quote Andrew as saying, “It’s very hard to admit nowadays: I embraced murderers. They were my friends, and I’m not going to deny it. Yes, I am part of that past.”

This was an editorial slant that was radically different from Bob Cox’s own, which tended toward a rigid, if laborious, objectivity aimed at permitting the newspaper to be highly influential without being politically identifiable or compromised. If the paper had a political line, it was the line of human decency. What Cox was seeking was a carefully balanced vision of what was happening in Argentina. According to him, the Herald needed to be “a calm voice in the midst of the storm.” He seemed to fear that some of Graham-Yooll’s less than prudent stances could, on the one hand, bring us into too close a contact with the mad-dog right, or, on the other, cause the newspaper to be branded as radically leftist—something its own mostly conservative readers would never stand for, let alone the old-guard Peronist authorities, who might simply decide to accuse us of subversion and shut us down.
The editorial line that Cox sought to establish coincided much more clearly with the politics of James Neilson, although Bob was a much more liberal thinker than Jim was. I sometimes felt, however, that Neilson occasionally expressed Bob’s line more concisely than Cox himself did. That may sound strange, but it was a matter of personality. If Neilson had any doubts about how he saw events, stances, situations or sides of an issue, no one else ever knew about it. Bob, on the other hand, was too interested in objectivity to be boldly decisive. He agonized and tortured himself almost visibly in his nightly searches for the closest thing to truth and fairness that he could find. And in writing his editorials and op-eds, this almost blatant objectivity consistently embroiled him in the dichotomous choice between writing with his gut, exactly as he saw and felt the news, or writing with his intellect and creating editorials that could serve as lessons on how things should be, rather than merely reporting harsh realities and even harsher alternatives.  His emotions played strongly into his vision. He was a stubborn, resilient man, but he expressed that stubbornness and resilience in an almost romantic, quixotic way. He wore his heart on his sleeve and that caused him to be easily disappointed, which in turn sparked his anger at anyone who let him down or lied to him—sometimes even when the culprit was someone he didn’t know personally, but about whom he had written as being a respectable person.
Neilson, for his part, seemed to live within a very hard shell. He came off as unapologetically egotistical and vain. As such, he demonstrated great certainty in what he wrote and how he wrote it. He also seemed to have no question about his right to express himself as he saw fit, since he was audaciously, almost aggressively sure of himself, of his superior intelligence, of the righteousness of his beliefs and of the unassailability of his ethics.  You would never find him, for instance, asking himself who the devil he thought he was to say this or that about a subject—any subject—and less still when it came to topics on which he had acquired broad knowledge. Or at least you would never hear him questioning himself aloud, even if he might have struggled from time to time with the same kind of doubts that attack other writers as well during the creative process. But if he did, no sign of it ever reached the observer’s naked eye. In fact, he was the only editorial-writer I ever knew who could sit in front of a typewriter and bash out a thousand or so words of erudite commentary non-stop almost as fast as he could type, with no more than a couple of typos and seldom halting to ponder his stance.
Jim’s political line was clearly conservative, while Bob’s was openly liberal. But he was also clear about what it was he wanted to conserve and that was ground on which he and Bob could meet in harmony: English-style democracy, equality before the law, human and civil rights, the independence of the courts, the rule of law and, in general, civilized decency. His editorial comments were always hard-hitting and uncompromising. They expressed exactly what he wanted to say with unflagging conviction, even if, many times, in an ironic tone. His vision was black and white. Greys were conspicuous by their absence. In his world there was right and wrong, decent and indecent, no in-betweens. And he had inherited his staunchest Scottish ancestors' aversion to what he referred to as "bending to the boots."  He saw no reason to be even vaguely amiable toward authoritarian usurpers, terrorists, dictators or any other murderers, even when it might serve the aim of eliciting respect for the rights of others.
I think an anecdote that demonstrates perfectly Neilson’s cocksure attitude and sardonic turn of phrase, not only in his writing but in person as well, is of when he and I attended a lunch together a number of years later. A story I reported on concerning mafia intrigue in Buenos Aires’s Asian community led me to cross paths with a South Korean diplomat, who, as it turned out, was an ardent fan of the Herald. He invited me to lunch with him one day at a luxury Chinese restaurant, and during dessert, he said he would really enjoy having lunch with me again sometime, but hoped the next time I would bring along Mr. Neilson.  I expressed my doubts about any such meeting. Jim, I said, didn’t generally “do lunch”, and whenever he could avoid it, he tended not to go out at all, leaving that sort of thing to me and others.
The diplomat insisted, however, reminding me that, before he became a career diplomat, he and his wife had both been “journalists” and missed the opportunity to get together with “colleagues” and discuss current events, especially since, despite being assigned by Seoul to Argentina, neither of them spoke more than a few words of Spanish, so their interaction with the press corps was decidedly limited, mostly to American and British correspondents and now to me as well.
I said I’d see what I could do. But Jim was a hard sell so I wasn’t making any promises. I figured this would be enough to gracefully evade any commitment and that the diplomat would promptly forget about it.
But he didn’t. Shortly afterward, I received two engraved invitations, one for me and another for Neilson, requesting the pleasure of our company for lunch at the diplomat’s residence. Typical of his wry sense of humor, when I asked Neilson if, just this once, he’d mind accompanying me, he said, “Well, perhaps, Dan, just this once. But only if they serve beer with the meal. None of that bloody wine.”
When I called the Korean envoy and told him Jim’s condition for going, he laughed genuinely, but promised to make sure there would be a good supply of beer on hand for the occasion. 
On our arrival at the diplomat’s luxurious apartment, the host rushed to welcome us at the door. He led us into the ample living room, bypassing a covey of Argentine journalists, who were sitting around a coffee-table over drink, chatting among themselves, and guided us to a remote corner of the room. Once we were seated, the diplomat immediately launched into an analysis of the world situation, calling on us to respond to his prompts.
Jim Neilson many years after we first
met.
Typical of Jim, who was clearly more accustomed to talking through his typewriter than in person, he mostly limited himself to feigning interest in the envoy’s analysis, nodding and answering as laconically as possible, while puffing at his pipe and sipping from the glass of beer that he’d been served as soon as he sat down. It fell to me to field most of the actual conversation with our host and I was thus somewhat relieved when his wife arrived, a few minutes before we were invited to the lunch table in the dining room.
She made a sort of Loretta Young entrance, sweeping into the room in grand style, kissing the Argentine journalists on the cheek and trying out her painstakingly acquired Spanish words and phrases, before making her way across the room to our corner. The first imprudent words out of her mouth were, “So you’re the famous James Neilson,” to which Jim kept on puffing at his briar, but now with an acid little grin pulling at his lips. “My husband and I were journalists too, you know. I think it’s a wonderful career to start out in.”
Now the smile left Neilson’s lips and his eyes narrowed. He removed the stem of his pipe from his teeth and, eyes still hooded, asked the diplomat’s wife, “And just what does one ‘go on to’ from journalism?”
“Well,” said our hostess gesturing toward her envoy husband, “he and I became diplomats!” She said this with such emphasis as to imply, “Isn’t it obvious?”
Neilson took another drag on his pipe, softly tapped the bowl against the bottom of a heavy glass ashtray conveniently placed at his elbow and, narrowing his eyes once more at the diplomat’s wife, he said, “I’m not at all sure that’s a step upward.”
This phlegmatic statement struck the diplomat as hilarious and he laughed heartily. But our hostess was not amused and snubbed the rude duo from the Herald for the rest of the luncheon.