WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GOOD FRUIT

A century or so ago, when I was a just kid, my Grandmother always had a bowl of fruit on the dining room table. The apples were the crispest, sweetest ever plucked from a tree. The pears were so juicy, you had to lean forward to keep from dribbling onto your clothes. Cherries, grapes, and plums made your taste buds sing.

Today, when you go to the supermarket, the fruit is rock hard, not even close to ripe. It was taken from the tree while still green. If it had been ripe and soft when picked, it would be bruised by the time it bounced around on a bumpy truck and reached the consumer. Nobody would buy something as flavorless as that. Most fruit sold today would not ripen in Grandma’s bowl. It has to get its final magic right on the tree for full flavor.

We’re just too darned far from that tree. As a result, Americans have a very different idea of how good fruit can be.

For some time I thought the difference in taste might be because the older we get, the more of our taste buds go dormant. That theory was put to rest a few years ago when there was a sudden glut on the California pear market. A strike by pickers slowed down picking—and picked up flavor. The supermarkets were flooded with pears that were actually ripe, juicy and—wait for it—tasted like the good old days. So, it wasn’t my dying taste buds, after all.

Grandma would have been pleased.

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THE LEARNING LADDER

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

 

I think we can all agree that until we were at least into our late 20s, early 30s, most of us—typically the male half of the human species—were not as mature as we should be. Some never got over it.

In our teen years we liked to think we knew everything. The fact was that we believed that everything we knew—was everything and our  parents were idiots.

It is beyond me how we could possibly have continued to have confidence that we are all-knowing if we kept making stupid decisions. That should have been recognized as evidence of how little experience we had to help make the right decisions.

The crossword puzzles are a good example. Even the smartest little kid can’t possibly do the New York Times crossword puzzle. They haven’t had enough experience or education to fill their brains with the information it takes to fill in a puzzle’s squares. It’s like that with everything else in our lives. Inputting data is what makes the difference.

If you were absent from elementary school the week your class learned how to do addition in their heads, there is a serious vacuum in your math education. You’ll be counting on your fingers for the rest of your life.

Missing links come in other forms, too—where you have to know one thing in order to learn the next higher level up the chain: the alphabet to make words, words to make sentences, sentences to make paragraphs—and then everything else you need to know.

I wonder if parents today read to their kids and get them interested in finding out about the world through books.

Mother Goose, the Brothers Grimm, and Dick, Jane, and Sally are critical links in the chain of knowledge. Although we can never hope to know everything, reading is a good start on learning what we need to know.

Of this I am absolutely certain.

ONE OF THOSE DAYS

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

Ever have one of those days? You know the kind of days I mean. The ones where everything seems to go wrong and your brain appears to have turned to tapioca.

I had one of those days yesterday.

It began with waking up and trying to find my glasses. They were not on my nightstand where I put them the night before. I always get up way before dawn, so it was dark, I couldn’t turn on my reading lamp because I didn’t want to wake my wife. No matter, even with the light on I wouldn’t be able to find my glasses without my glasses.

I assumed one of the cats knocked them off the stand, so I got down on my hands and knees on the floor to feel around for them. Found them—and the slippers that had also been moved.

The next challenge was to get back on my feet. No small matter for the chronically wobbly. I’ve considered installing a lifting device on the bedroom ceiling similar to the winches you see on the front of some pickup trucks.

Could this day get any worse?

Just wait.

I had bought a garden hose a few days earlier. When I got home I discovered that I already had a hose like the one I bought. So I drove to the garden store to ask for a refund. When I got there I realized I had forgotten my wallet. Without my wallet I couldn’t get the refund charged back to my debit card—which I didn’t have because I had forgotten the aforementioned wallet.

Could this day possibly get any worse?

Never ask that question because it absolutely can.

I drove on to the post office to pick up my mail and to send off my friend Barney’s birthday card. The problem is, I had forgotten put a stamp on the card before I left home.

Remember the wallet I forgot and couldn’t get a refund on the garden hose? I wasn’t carrying any cash. I couldn’t buy a stamp. It would have to wait until tomorrow.

To top it off, there was no mail. I had driven the seven miles to the post office for absolutely nothing—not even one lousy flyer advertising something I didn’t need, couldn’t afford, or wouldn’t use even if I got one as a gift.

Could this day possibly get any . . . never mind.

Having undeniable recent experience with a day where things kept getting worse, I drove home cautiously. Miraculously, I got there without requiring the services of Triple-A, nor was I struck by an asteroid.

Not taking any chances, I spent the rest of the day on my lounge chair.

MISNAMING SMOKEY BEAR

REFLECTIONS

(updated every Wednesday)

by Steve Liddick

With all the important issues troubling the world, one of my pet peeves probably should not hold a place of great weight.

But I need to at least go on record as having objected to the use of the word “the” in front of so many entities.

Like “Smokey The Bear.” I mean, nobody calls John Smith “John The Human.”

Smokey is a bear. Therefore, the proper form of referring to him is: “Smokey Bear.”

That goes for the nation of Crimea. How many times have we heard about happenings in “The Crimea?” Nobody says “The Russia,” which is Crimea’s next door neighbor. Nobody says “The Alabama” or “The New York.”

As my grandfather often said, “this is something up with which I will not put.”

So spread the word all of you members of the Language Police. “The” has no place in front of the names of nations, states, people, or bears.

If I have to go door-to-door to do it, I vow to reeducate every one of my fellow residents of the error of their ways here in The California.

 

A HORRIBLE THOUGHT

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

I had a scary thought. What if everyone had already sold or given away all of their used stuff and there were no more yard sales and thrift stores because there was nothing left to be sold or donated?

First, my friend Mike would have a nervous breakdown. Then a national day of mourning would be declared to observe the junque vacuum. Flags at half staff.

How would people furnish their homes? Where would they get nick-nacks to fill their shelves? To replace their cat-scratched sofas and their small appliances? If anyone wanted to read a book they would either have to get it from the library or—God forbid—buy it new. I can’t even imagine that. A paperback book should cost a quarter, as God intended. A hard cover book should cost no more than a dollar. The only books that should be allowed to be sold at full retail price are those I have written.

Publishers would be overjoyed to be charging full price, of course, but petroleum company executives would be outraged. Gas consumption would be down because millions of scavengers would no longer be driving around weekends looking for valuable art and artifacts to take to Antiques Road Show and get disgustingly rich.

You can’t have people driving less. Oil executives’ mansions cost money, you know. Tuition at top universities for their kids doesn’t come cheap. Who’s going to pay boarding and training fees for their race horses? Do you have any idea the psychological damage that would be done to be forced to give up their company jets—and golf? Have you no sympathy? Have you no humanity?

But wait. It just occurred to me that such a horrifying scenario can never occur as long as my friend Mike and I are alive. Between the two of us we already have enough junque to supply every yard sale and thrift store in America.

STICKERS ON FRUIT

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

Have you ever wondered why there are stickers on fruit sold in supermarkets? Those usually include the name of the company that sold the fruit to the grocery chain, along with a picture of the item, itself. I mean, it’s pretty obvious that a banana is a banana and a pear is a pear without attaching a picture of it to tell you what it is sticking on.

The fruit was probably grown by some poor farmer, possibly in a third world country, who invested money and labor, risked pests, drought, fire, and the wrath of God to grow what sits in a basket in your kitchen or dining room. Then the middleman came along and took ownership, slapped a sticker on the fruit, and shipped it to market.

I have several objections to the practice. Objection 1: I don’t need to be told what is so obvious. Objection 2: I don’t care who caused said fruit to get it to my supermarket. Objection 3: It’s almost impossible to get the #^%*@* sticker off the fruit.

Pardon my language.

Years ago, when I worked at a Los Angeles radio station I wondered aloud in a newscast why the U.S. Postal Service used a glue on the back of stamps that ensured that the stamp would come off if even slightly moistened while in transit. I suggested that postal officials should consider partnering with the creators of bumper stickers so they could make stamps that would stay stuck. Those #^%*@* bumper stickers never come off.

I apologize if there are any church ladies around..

Years later the postal service, whether having heard of my suggestion or simply put two-and-glue together on their own and adopted the bumper sticker idea with their stamps.

We all know that government is slow to act, if it acts at all. But you have to wonder why it took them centuries to realize the need to improve their stickum.

I leave you with this suggestion: Never put a U.S. Postal Service stamp on your vehicle’s bumper because those #^%*@* things will never come off.

Oops!

LADY LUCK SNARLS AT ME

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

Not only did we not have all of the numbers in the big Mega Gazillion dollar lottery jackpot, we did not have any of the numbers. What are the odds of that?

I know they say that you can’t win if you don’t play, but the chances of not winning if you do play are astronomical. We often hear that statistically you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the lottery. That is especially true in my case because I guarantee that if I go outside during an electrical storm, I am literally toast. I may not even have to go outside.

My bad luck mojo only relaxed its grip on me one time. It was at a roller skating party in 1953. A drawing was held and I won a stuffed duck. I should have had that duck bronzed because it was the last time Ms. Luck smiled on me.

Years ago I had a friend who would play the pinball machines regularly. The games cost five cents in those days. That guy could get more out of a nickel than anyone I know. He routinely won so many games that he never spent more than a quarter. I am confident that before I would win a single pinball game, that machine would collapse from the weight of the nickels I had to put into it.

The same guy also had a lot of luck with the ladies. Well, I’m no George Clooney myself, but that guy got hit with an ugly stick and the girls still fell all over him.

I should mention that my lucky friend’s luck ran out when he was relatively young.

I’m still above ground and I still don’t play the pinball machines.

There is a saying that “what goes up must come down.” Well, I never bounce on a trampoline because I don’t want to take any chances.

 

A RELUCTANT TROOPER

REFLECTIONS

(excerpted from the memoir, “But First This Message”)

by Steve Liddick

It was 1962 and I was a reluctant U.S. Army private caught up in the big Vietnam era draft.

Our ship was headed for Korea where I was to be a radio announcer for the American Forces Korea Network (AFKN). The trip across the Pacific Ocean would take 30 days. The crossing on the USS General Edwin D. Patrick troop carrier blazed along at the blinding speed of seven knots . . . about the same as your average jogger.

To this day I still can’t see how the government could believe it was cost-efficient to slowly transport a thousand troops across the Pacific Ocean. We were consuming three meals a day on a fossil fuel-burning ship for an entire month. If my math is correct: 1000 men X 30 days = 30,000 days, divided by 365 days in a year = more than 80-years of our collective military service being wasted rather than working at the jobs we were ripped out of our civilian lives to perform. It seemed to me then and now that it would have been cheaper to fly us all there.

I had not yet been in the army long enough to realize that (a) logic has no place in the military (b) I must never question a decision made by anyone with a higher rank than mine, and (c) everyone was of a higher rank than mine.

Several weeks into the trip on the USS Edwin D. Patrick we were given a brief shore leave at Yokohama, Japan.

Japan is an ancient land brimming with tradition. One tradition among taxi drivers is that no matter where an American GI says he wants to go, he is driven to a part of town where the cab stops in front of a restaurant owned by the driver’s cousin. Plus, on the way there the driver weaves in and out of traffic at terrifying speeds which no one in that pre-seatbelt and airbag era could possibly survive in the event of a crash. All this is done on the opposite side of the road from what we are accustomed to driving in America.

After several hours of walking up and down streets ablaze with neon lights, it was back to the ship and another taxi ride from hell.

Fast forward to a year later and time to return to the states.

Departure day arrived. I gathered up my gear and packed a crate of personal items to be shipped home. I said my goodbyes and rode a bus to Seoul.

I boarded the USS General J. C. Breckenridge troop ship for the trip home.

When we arrived at Treasure Island, across the bay from San Francisco a month later, we were herded into a huge warehouse and each given a checklist. The list itemized the various stations we were to stop at to turn in equipment and bring our medical and service records up to date. We were also paid up to date.

After stopping at a half-dozen or so processing stations I must have looked puzzled as I poured over my checklist to see whether I had covered everything.

“Where are you supposed to be, young man?” asked an officer.

I said, “I’m not sure, sir.”

He took my checklist and looked it over.

He handed the list back to me. “Son,” he said, “you’re out of the army.”

Those were some of the sweetest words I had ever heard. They ranked way up there with the time Patty Sweeney said, “could you unzip me?”

SOPHISTICATE VRS CLODHOPPER

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

Do you want to look sophisticated? Do you want people to think you’re really hep? Do you want to appear as though you are cookin’ with gas?

Okay, first of all don’t use words like “hep” and phrases like “cookin’ with gas.” Nobody has said those things since the 1940s.

What is it about some people that they hold onto the phrases of their day—long after their day?

I guess some are big fans of the passé.

“Radical” was worn out by the end of the 90s but I still hear it. I don’t remember when “super” passed away, but it’s still out there for those who have not “gotten the memo.”

See? Now they have me doing it.

I once worked with a guy who, when someone said something interesting, he would say. “swingin’.” That went out of fashion in the 1950s along with “ginchy” and blue suede shoes.

“Cool” seems to have survived the ages, while “hot” has not. “Cool” jumped the acceptability barrier and continues as a symbol of approval.

Hard to say why some catchwords and phrases live on while others fall out of wide usage.

A woman I worked with a few years ago did everything imaginable to appear chic, worldly, and way out there on the front lines of really smart stuff. However, her efforts were so clumsy that she came off looking like a hick.

She would use what she apparently believed were the current catch phrases, “Don’t go there,” and “I didn’t see that coming,” not realizing that they had long since been relegated to the conversational slag heap.

She apparently never heard the groans coming from others in meetings when she would toss in words like “Paradigm,” “Algorithms,” and “Modalities.”

I guess she figured her bosses would think she was really hep.

If I ever again hear someone say “at this point in time” I may “toss my cookies” on their blue suede shoes.

LOOKING FOR A CURE

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

People who are trying to quit smoking cigarettes have many aids to help them kick the habit: nicotine patches and gum, self-help books, support groups, nagging spouses.

But what about those of us who are addicted to, say, ice cream?

There is no ice cream patch. If there were it would be pretty messy.

Like Pavlov’s dog, my mouth begins to water when I hear the ice cream truck’s song as it cruises neighborhoods in its unholy quest to get the very young hooked.

I suppose it could be worse. If ice cream were outlawed there would be many more addicts. That’s what happened when a Constitutional amendment banned alcohol.

There is a law of nature that says that if you can’t have a thing, then that is the very thing you will want. It also works that way with the “must-have” toy around Christmastime every year. Word gets out that a toy is in short supply and that your kid will be scorned by his and her peers if you don’t stand in line at the local toy store to get one for him or her. Meanwhile, he and she are at home crying their eyes out because they will be pariahs if they don’t get one of the rare thingamabobs for their very own. People got violent when the Cabbage Patch dolls and Tickle Me Elmo toys were hard to find. Fights broke out at toy stores. Pet Rock sales really took off when the rumor started that they were only a few left.  Prices soared and a black market developed for each of those items.

Bad enough if consuming ice cream were a crime. What if churches declared it a sin? That would be the cherry on top, so to speak. There would surely be a run on the stuff. Most ice cream addicts would do their sinning out of town, of course. Either that or at small back room ice cream parlors where, if you had the right connections, you could feed your addiction.

Organized crime would again flourish, supplying the illicit product to eager scofflaws. Modern-day Elliot Nesses would be combing the land for modern-day Al Capones. Shady characters would lure people into dark alleys to sell fudge ripple out of the trunks of their cars.

Those deprived of their ice cream would by lying in dark rooms, crying out pathetically for butter pecan, French vanilla . . . their mothers.

Families would be ripped apart. America’s already-overcrowded prisons could not accommodate the enormous influx.

Fortunately I have my own ice cream maker and a large freezer.

The only way you will get my ice cream away from me is if you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

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