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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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.

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.

 

THE PINKS AND THE BLUES

REFLECTIONS (updated every Wednesday)

by Steve Liddick

When I was growing up, all efforts were made to keep the boys separate from the girls. At my elementary school there were even separate entrances for each. The girls couldn’t play with the boys on the segregated playground’s pickup softball teams. They might skin a knee or something awful like that.

It went on like that until high school. By that time separateness was pretty well established.

Adolescent boys had buddies, pals, homies; comrades described in various macho ways. Bruises were common. Spitting was encouraged. Belching was a competitive sport.

Adolescent girls had girlfriends and phoned each other each evening to ask what the other was going to wear the next day. They had circled their wagons into cliques dedicated to delicate activities in which they would not skin their knees or something awful like that.

The upshot is that by the time we hit our teens we didn’t really know much about the opposite sex. How could we? The boys were always over here wearing blue; the girls were always over there wearing pink.

So, there I was at 17 with some mysterious force at work drawing me to this group of total strangers. What’s a poor hormone-saturated teenager to do? Woe is me.

To make a long story a little longer, we worked it out. Clumsily, I admit. Lots of kicking the dirt and blushing and finally getting around to asking one of those alien beings on a date.

It became a little less clumsy as time went by. We learned the rules: don’t honk your horn at the curb when you pick up your date; say nice things about her mother and, when discussing what time she is to be home, never tell her father you’ll have her in bed by ten.

Sure, we got better at sorting out the gender differences, but the truth is, a lot of the mystery never did go away.

The years went by. We got married, continued to work at figuring out the other half, failed monumentally, divorced and went our separate ways.

When I got suddenly single at 37, it wasn’t much different from when I was 17. Again there was an entire world of strangers out there.

I’m married again. Got a good one this time. Maybe I became better. Hard to say.

I don’t kid myself that I have entirely figured out the pink half of the species. But I learned a couple of tricks to avoid trouble. Saying “I’m sorry” goes a long way toward domestic tranquility.

Saying “yes dear,” usually takes care of the rest.

GOING TO THE MOVIES WITH GRANDMA

REFLECTIONS (updated every Wednesday)

By Steve Liddick

Saturdays were special in the 1940s. There was no school and it was the day I got my allowance. My 50-cents and I would get on a bus to the city to see a movie. The bus ride cost a dime. The movie ticket was a budget-busting 15-cents and a box of candy was a nickel. That left ten-cents for the bus ride home and one lonely dime for two comic books.

I would usually stop off at my grandmother’s apartment in the city on the way to the show to say hello, maybe get a snack, and ogle the pretty nurses from Grandma’s kitchen window as they went by on their way to the hospital next door.

Grandma was a pretty hip old lady who understood kids. She knew the young would always have oddball fashions and terminology all their own. She understood the need of the young to be the same as their peers in fashion and different from grownups in their language.

“Where are you going, boy?” she would say.

“To the movies, Grandma,” I’d say.

“Wait, I’ll get my purse and go with you,” she’d say.

“Uh . . . ”

Now, when I said I was going to the movies, I meant I was going to the theater Grandma would not have been caught dead in. The grungy Rio Theater showed a western and mystery double feature, 24 color cartoons, a Three Stooges short subject, a Superman or Rocketman serial and a live talent show on stage. We all got to holler and cheer and boo at what was on the screen, sit with our feet up on the orchestra pit railing, and be obnoxious where our parents couldn’t see us.

But, what my grandma meant by “wait I’ll get my purse and go with you” was, “we’ll go to Loews Regent Theater.”  Instead of watching Lash Larue whip the bad guys into line or Red Ryder and Little Beaver thunder across the silver screen, we would be watching Howard Keel sing to Jane Powell. Or maybe it would be Fred Astaire dancing alternately with Ginger Rogers, Vera Ellen, Cyd Charisse, Ann Miller or Mitzi Gaynor. And you couldn’t holler and cheer or boo at what was on a classy screen like the one at Loews Regent Theater with its plush carpets and gilded decor. Certainly not with your grandma sitting right next to you. They didn’t even have an orchestra pit railing and even if they had it would probably be covered with velvet and you wouldn’t have been allowed to put your feet up on it.

But grandma paid for the tickets and the candy and I got to spend the time with her.

Many years later, long after Grandma had passed away, MGM came out with a video compilation of clips from their movies of the 40s and 50s.

Those Saturday mornings all came back to me in a warm wave as Howard and Mitzi and Cyd and Fred and all the rest sang and danced in glorious Technicolor.

But the best part of watching those videos was that for a couple of hours I got a chance to sit beside my grandmother one more time.

STOP ME BEFORE I HURT MYSELF

REFLECTIONS – updated every Wednesday

by Steve Liddick

I gathered together all the materials I thought it would take to create a small workshop–even though I had no previous experience at building anything bigger than a ham sandwich.

How hard could it be, right? It would be like Legos for grownups.

Never one to be discouraged just because I have two left thumbs, I jumped headfirst into the project. My wife stood by in case I needed a second pair of hands–or an ambulance. The inept can use all the help they can get.

It was going to be a simple work area. I had bought a standing work bench at a yard sale. It was eight feet tall, four feet wide and two feet deep. It had upper and lower cabinets and drawers as well as a flat work counter. I built a redwood foundation to set it on a few paces from my back porch. Redwood resists rot. In fact, archeologists have dug up redwood logs buried deep in the ground for centuries that were still in pretty good shape.

But I realized that if I expected to use it in rainy weather, my work space needed to be covered. So I built a roof that ran from the workbench to two posts I put in the ground.

But even that didn’t seem like much of a workshop and was certainly too small to store anything in. So I added a 10’ x 10’ foundation next to it with a plywood floor and built a small frame structure on it. It was walled in and even had a little window for extra light.

Still not satisfied, I added a 10’ x 10’ side rooflet to store my lawn tractor and shovels and rakes and other gardening items that I avoid using as much as possible.

Now I had, in effect, a shotgun shed where I kept adding as my needs and my compulsions dictated.

In the years since then I have learned that a proper roof needs an overhang so rain can drain away from it without getting the wood siding wet. I didn’t know that then, so the roof is without an overhang and the shed looks like something a gang of kids would build out of scrap lumber to use as their clubhouse. In fact, I put a sign on it, “No Gurls Aloud.”

If I stand back and look at it, I wonder what I must have been thinking. But when I see that everything inside is dry, secure and well preserved, I can’t really complain. If I had it to do over again I would do a lot of things differently, of course. I’ve built other things since then and can now claim some basic competence, if not expertise, in that department.

So there it sits, all ugly and efficient. I’ve stopped apologizing for my earlier lack of knowledge. My little shed does just what I need it to do.

It just goes to show you, if you don’t know you can’t do something, you can sometimes do it.

FIGHTING THE DREADED EAR WORM

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head that just won’t go away? You hear a song and then it stays with you for days—sometimes weeks. Those are known as “ear worms.”

In a semi-related subject, I’ve had tinnitus for more than 40 years. It is ringing in the ears that can come from a number of sources, including damage from loud noises and, according to hearing specialists, having taken too much aspirin.

The constant ringing drowns out a lot of sounds. That can be really inconvenient at times. Without hearing aids I can’t hear my own footsteps as I walk. I have dropped things and not been aware of it. I recently lost a set of keys and that has been an ongoing frustration.

I understand from psychologists that they often have patients come to them because the ringing in their ears is driving them crazy. It doesn’t bother me to that extent. I have adjusted to the condition. Besides, I was already crazy before the ear worms.

I mention the tinnitus because I have a theory about its relationship to ear worms.

My theory goes thus: I believe a song that repeats itself endlessly is nature’s way of placing another sound over the offending one, drowning out the ringing—giving the tinnitus sufferer a psychological break.

In my own case, when one song fades, A default tune often takes its place. It’s a bouncy tune, but one whose title I can’t identify—as opposed to the fading worm tune which is always a familiar one.

A line in an old TV commercial went: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Well, I have a trick I play on her. When I get really tired of that maddening loop, I purposely find a recording of a different song and play it repeatedly until it replaces the tiresome one.

I’ve become my own deejay.

 

FLASHBACK

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

It was around Halloween,1976 when my pal Bridget Sienna and I went to a dinner party in Hollywood. Bridget is an actress (“Rain Man,” “Seinfeld,” “The Groundlings”).

My friend, actor Virgil Frye (“Easy Rider”) and his wife Sondra, were the hosts of the get-together. Sondra is a caterer who provides meals on movie locations. The apartment was filled with the aroma of the ducks Sondra was roasting.

Guests included actress Piper Laurie, whose horror movie, “Carrie,” was still playing. Several other show biz people were scattered around the living room; familiar faces whose names may be on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite remember. Mike Pataki was one. He was in “Rocky V” and a lot of other films. Billy Green Bush was another. He played Vernon Presley, Elvis’s dad, in the TV movie, “Elvis and Me.”

Dinner was running late because Virgil kept opening the oven to see if the duck was done yet. That delayed the meal further because the heat kept escaping. Marijuana messes up a person’s sense of time. In his weed fog, Virgil apparently figured 20 minutes should be enough.

While we were waiting, Virgil said, “do you want to see the baby?” So we went into the bedroom to have a look at their two-month-old girl who somehow managed to sleep through all the clatter in the next room.

The little one was only about a foot long and looked like every two-month-old baby you have ever seen—all pink and wrinkly. Fingers about the diameter of a spaghetti noodle. I hadn’t had much experience with babies. None of my other friends had children of any size so this was a novelty for me. On those rare occasions when I do encounter one that tiny it always blows me away that we could possibly have all started out like that.

I felt very old this week when I read in the newspaper’s celebrity birthday list that it was that little baby’s 42nd birthday.

I hadn’t seen her again until 1984 when Soleil Moon Frye played Punky Brewster on TV.

 

GETTING IT OFF MY CHEST

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

You know how people say, “I don’t like to complain, but . . .?” Well, I don’t like to complain, Not just because it doesn’t do a bit of good to moan about this and that. No, I try to avoid complaining around other people because they don’t want to hear it. They have their own problems and don’t need to take on mine.

You want to kill a conversation, just start complaining about something—anything—and watch as people drift away from you. The more often a discouraging word is heard, the more cloudy the skies are all day.

Complaining takes many forms. Say you’re at a four-way stop intersection and some clodhopper pulls out in front you when it’s not his turn. You lay on your horn, make all kinds of specialty hand gestures, and scream nasty bits about the offender’s maternal parentage.

Who do the other two drivers at the intersection get upset with? Not the aforementioned clodhopper who cut you off. They stare white-hot daggers at the guy making the fuss. Nobody likes a complainer?

When people greet you with “Hi, how you doin’?” you are expected to say, “Great, how’re you?” Start unloading woes on them and watch as their eyes glaze over and they remember meetings they’re late for.

I am here to tell you that, while nobody wants to hear your beefs, it is injurious to one’s health to keep it all bottled up. Something has got to give. An outlet must be found for the steam that is building, threatening to explode your head.

Mental health professionals are of no use at all. In fact, when they say, “and how do you feel about that?” you know they’re not really listening and that just ticks me off that much more.

I can’t even get it out of my system by yelling at my wife. She knows where the frying pans are and I have to sleep sometime.

 

OLD HABITS DIE HARD

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

Strange how we get locked into routines. For example: To make space for my paper shredder I moved my office wastebasket a few feet from where it has been for many years. Yet I still forget and toss scrap at the spot where the container used to be. I spend a lot of time picking stuff up off the floor.

About the same time I retired, the battery in my wristwatch died. I didn’t replace it. Why bother? I didn’t have to be anywhere on time—or at all. Yet, not a day goes by in the dozen years since I stopped wearing it that I don’t look at my bare wrist. If I really have to know what time it is, I can look at my cell phone. I don’t even have to remember appointments because my cell phone alarm can be set to remind me.

Another habit I can’t seem to get rid of has to do with shifting gears on my pickup truck. I don’t have to shift gears because the truck has an automatic transmission. It had been at least thirty years since I last drove a vehicle with a straight stick, yet I still occasionally come close to stepping where the clutch pedal would be if there were a clutch pedal, which there is not.

To make things worse, we recently bought a new Toyota that has—you guessed it—gears you have to shift the way the pioneers did.

It didn’t take me very long to adapt to shifting gears. The real problem is that when I get into my pickup truck now I sometimes forget where I am and stomp down on a clutch pedal that isn’t there.

Now here is a real puzzler that makes me think my brain may have retired around the same time as the rest of me did: When I was a new driver, a hundred years or so ago, I often took my little brother with me. In those pre-seatbelt days he would sit next to me. When I pushed the brake, I would automatically put my arm up in front of him to keep him from falling forward.

As recently as two years ago I hit the brake on my truck and raised my arm as though I were protecting my brother.

Paul would have been seventy years old in October.

 

Books by Steve Liddick: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=steve+liddick

Steve Liddick – Author of “All That Time,” “Old Heroes,” “Prime Time Crime,” “Sky Warriors,” “But First This Message: A Quirky Journey in Broadcasting,” “A Family Restaurant is No Place for Children,” “Campsite Gourmet: Fine Dining on the Trail and on the Road,” and “Eat Cheap: A Cookbook and Guide To Str