Dick Tracy Did It First (and Better)

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You may have noticed that the new “it” thing is the computer-connected watch. For people who are tired of having to haul around something as big as a cell phone, you can now bring the world wide web right to your watch. It is never made clear, in the commercials anyway, why you would want to do this.

The watches (and they are already being made by several different manufacturers) automatically display the time, the temperature and the date. With the flick of a button, the user can also—via voice prompt—ask questions of their watch. Now, if you are a male who grew up in the age of Dick Tracy, you have already spent many hours of your childhood talking into your watch. But do you really want to be seen doing this as an adult?

We’ve all enjoyed a good laugh at the expense of the fellow in the restaurant who isn’t making a good phone connection and is shouting at the top of his lungs, “I don’t owe you money, Paco! The Nets won that game!”

Surely this won’t happen with “smart watches”*, people assume. As you stand around with some friends after work, hoisting a few non-alcoholic near-beers (’cause that’s the kind of health-conscious person you are), what could be a greater way to show off your latest gadgetry than to talk to your watch and have it answer back?

You: “Watch. What is the score of the Astros game today?”

Watch: “Did you ask, ‘Why is the sore on my a— inflamed to stay?’”

This will, of course, be automatically posted as your Facebook status and you will learn that you have Tweeted it to every one of your Twitter followers.

All seriousness aside, I suppose there could be some value in a watch/telephone one could wear on one’s wrist. For instance, if you are one of those people who likes walking around with the BlueTooth thing sticking out of your ear, by switching to a watch phone you would no longer have people like me walking up and saying, “Uhura, contact the away team and let them know to be on the lookout for Klingons.” And when you’re sitting in church, no longer will your child have to keep saying, “Daddy, what time is it?” Instead, they can just lean over your watch, during an especially quiet and prayerful time, and say, “Watch, what time is it?” and everyone—but especially your child—will be thrilled to have their worship time interrupted by a polite lady’s voice saying, “The time is eleven-fifteen a.m., the outside temperature is 79 and you have eight new email messages from the ‘Hair Club for Men’.”

Which brings to mind a story this week about people who are flocking to a town called Green Bank, West Virginia (yes, I looked this up and there really is, I swear, a place called “West” Virginia) not for the free wi-fi, but because it is wi-fi free. No wireless internet, no cell phone coverage, virtually nothing that is sent from one device to another by anything other than good ol’ coaxial cable. Most of the people who are flocking there are doing so because all the radio waves and wi-fi signals, etc. of the modern world are making them sick. You can’t blame them. I used to have an allergy to living, growing plants, so I moved to the panhandle.

But I wonder how many people are moving there strictly because they want to remember what it’s like to go to a restaurant and not only talk to the person they are sitting with, but see that other people are doing the same? Personally, I’m wondering if Green Bank needs a minister.

*Remember “Swatches”? They were wristbands that looked like watches, but didn’t actually tell time. I made fun of them when they were popular, but if these telephone watches start becoming commonplace, I’m going to eat my words and wish for Swatches to come back.

Candy is Sandy

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I don’t have a sweet tooth.  I have sweet teeth.  I like almost all forms of sugar and couldn’t care a whit about all those posts on Facebook about how sugar is killing us!  [noise of slump as I collapse on the keyboard … just kidding!]

Without sugar, what would life be?  Would it be worth living?

Well, yes.  Of course it would.  And, I am confident that, if circumstances were to take place that kept me from ever having sugar again, I could make it.  I might cry and whimper a lot, but I’d make it.  I might stand and look longingly through the window of the local chocolate shop like a dog outside a kibble factory or my father outside the hardware store, but I’d make it.  I may spend part of every day praying that that never happens to me, but I’d make it.

One of my favorite candies is (are?) “Smarties”.  You remember those?  They come in a little plastic wrap of 18 disks that have the consistency of bicarb and the flavor of sweet and sour heaven.  They are multi-colored, but—as far as I can tell—the various colors do not indicate different flavors.

I think.  I’m one of those OCD people who eat multi-colored candies by color.  i.e. all the yellows, then all the purples, then … etc.  And, sometimes, I’ve gotten the sense that the colors might be different flavored.  I expressed this opinion once on Twitter and was assailed with unbelievable vitriol.  “Of course they AREN’T multi-flavored, you dolt” was one of the nicer Tweets.  Why, you’d think I had made some sort of absurd assertion like that the Filet-O-Fish tastes different from the fried apple pie.

BTW (which is internet-speak for “As an Aside”), I knew a guy in high school who, while blindfolded, could tell the different colors of M&Ms by flavor.  Considering our drama teacher didn’t really want to spend much time teaching, we had plenty of time to test this young man’s abilities and he never failed.

So anyway, have you ever wondered just what the #$%@ Tootsie Rolls are supposed to be?  Don’t get me wrong: I like them.  But what are they?  They’re not really chocolate.  They’re not really taffy.  It’s my wife’s theory that someone was trying to create chocolate bubble gum and that was as close as they could get and decided to just sell it anyway rather than throwing their hard work away.  I’m glad they did, but WHAT ARE THEY?!?!?

Candy has come a long way since my childhood.  Many of the candies we ate as children (Necco wafers, those candy-coated marshmallow eggs at easter, those things that were shaped like peanuts and were supposed to taste like peanut butter but were actually a form of nuclear waste) were actually atrocities.  I can’t believe I was so sugar-craved as to try and choke them down … but I did.

I tried to draw the line at the gum that came in baseball cards, though.  I can remember opening a pack of baseball cards only to have the gum slide out, hit the sidewalk, and SHATTER like glass.  Even as kids, we knew that—from a health standpoint—we would be better off chewing the cards and collecting the gum.

But we still chewed the gum.  It might have tasted like motor oil, but it had sugar on it.

“Kiss” Begins with What?

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“Every kiss begins with __________.”  If you filled in the blank with “slobber” or “tongue”, well, I’m not sure whether to congratulate you for having been unsullied by Madison Avenue or wonder just what you were thinking.  After all, who kisses with the tongue first?  It’s lips, right?  At least, that’s how it is where I come from!

[If you filled in the blank with “Gene Simmons” we’ll have to deduct points but still give you partial credit for trying.]

But anyway, if you’ve had a TV on at all in the last ten years, you know that the advertisers want you to fill in that blank with “K”, or, possibly, “Kay”, as in Kay’s Jewelers.  It’s a catchy little slogan, not the least because it’s really kind of obvious.  I mean, unless were talking the Cyrillic alphabet, in which case “kiss” begins with, well, some other letter.  Maybe that one that looks like a shovel or even the one that has a tail.

All that being said, their last commercial makes me think that the next time I want to start a jewelry-encrusted kiss, it’s going to start with Zales, or one of the local jewelers (check your local listings for times and availabilities).

Have you seen it?  It starts with a guy in a restaurant.  He’s looking around and everyone in the restaurant is either on a phone or a tablet, including the woman he’s with.  He’s trying to get her attention by making eye contact, but she’s too into her phone to notice.

Finally, he sends her a text message that says, “Honey, look up.”  When she does, she sees his back as he exits the restaurant, leaving her forever.

Just kidding.  That’s what a sane man would do.  This idiot is in a jewelry commercial.  What he does, once he has her brief attention, is give her a diamond necklace.

What a putz!  This woman doesn’t care about him!  All she cares about is her phone.  Considering he didn’t even take his phone out until he had exhausted all rational forms of communication, it’s a safe bet she wasn’t calling or texting him.  She was, in theory, “on a date” with him (it requires both quotation marks and a caveat), yet she didn’t care enough about him to pay him attention.

He should have left her right there like a hot rock.*  The momentary notice she gave him after the presentation of the necklace was just that: momentary.  As soon as the commercial’s over, she’s going to be taking a picture of the necklace with her phone and emailing it to all her friends, or maybe taking a selfie of him putting the necklace on her, but sheWON’T do is give him any more attention than he was receiving before.  Why?  Because he has established that, no matter how much she ignores him, he’ll still give her valuable gifts.

What he should have done, after exiting the restaurant, is go right back to Kay Jewelers and get his money back.  He should then put the money in a savings account and then maybe buy a gift for a woman who is worthy of his attention.  Or hunting equipment.  Just about anything would be a better use of his money than giving that narcissistic wench a necklace or another moment of his time.

*We talk about dropping something “like a hot rock” but, really, why would someone pick up a hot rock, anyway?

Lost in a Food Desert

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Great stretches of our country—or maybe it’s small stretches of our great country are—no I think I had … never mind.  The thing I want to write about today is “food deserts”.

Now, some of you are thinking that sounds pretty good because you read it as “food dessert” and who doesn’t like dessert?  Oh, I know, we all have at least one friend in our circle who doesn’t like dessert and doesn’t mind telling everyone, as often as they can, that they don’t like dessert in much the same superior voice as might be used to tell people you’ve been elected to sainthood even though you are neither dead nor Catholic.

No, I’m talking about a desert.  You know, the kind of thing you see in the movies where there are lots of sands and people have visions of watering holes that aren’t there.  There are probably camels in the desert, too, and not the kind you smoke.

[BTW, if you are wondering how to remember, when spelling, the difference between desert and dessert (the tasty food), remember that the tasty food has an extra “s” in it because you always want more dessert.  If that doesn’t help, buy a dictionary.]

Anyway, this food desert I’m talking about—which really confuses things because I know I just got through telling you that I was going to write about the sandy kind of desert and not the foody kind of dessert—is a phenomenon that some politicians, aided by do-gooder professors and morons, came up with several years ago.  See, they noticed that people in poorer parts of town tended to eat less healthily than the people in more affluent parts of town.

Jumping, as they are often wont to do, to the completely wrong conclusion, they decided that the reason the people in the poorer part of town weren’t eating their fruits and vegetables was because the mean people who run the fruit and vegetable distributors were racist bigots who were withholding fruits and vegetables from the poor because of their racism and bigotry.  In strict grammatical terms, this is what is known as “projection”, but we can cover that in another column.

So, these do-gooders decided to try and find ways to make the stores in poor areas carry fruits and vegetables on the “Field of Dreams” theory that, “If you make vegetables available, they will come.”  (It sounds best if spoken by James Earl Jones.)  You know what happened, though?  All those fresh foods and vegetables brought into the neighborhood stores rotted on the shelves because the people in those neighborhoods didn’t want them.

Apparently, the laws of supply and demand were at work.  The stores weren’t selling fruits or vegetables because the people weren’t buying them, not because of some conspiracy.  So now, these powers-that-be are realizing if they want the people to eat healthier (don’t bother asking, “Who’s business is it how they eat?!?!” as such questions are verboten in the modern world), they’re going to have to teach them to eat healthier.

Why didn’t they start there?  I have a few answers for that but they’re too sarcastic for me to even type.

A Shot of Crassitude

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If you are one of the people who watched the Grammy Awards on Sunday night and thought the best performance of the night was by singer Natalie Grant who walked out on the “show”, don’t feel too bad.  It just means you have taste.

Or forgot the Grammys were on.

Don’t feel too bad about that one, either, as there are so many awards programs on these days that—I’m not kidding—the Emmys actually give out an award for the best awards program broadcast.  That’s got to be a hard choice to make because how do you tell all the Country Music Awards shows apart?  There’s, like, one every other week!

Anyway, what was I talking about?  I’m not sure, but I think I was going to say something about how, if you missed the Grammys, you can count yourself lucky.  If you missed the Pro Bowl as well, go ahead and call yourself blessed.  The Pro Bowl used to be a useless football-like game inHawaiithat was one degree less interesting than watching strangers at the park play touch football.  Now it’s a useless football-like game in Hawaii that has become even more like a touch football game by having washed-up former players pick teams like theyAREthe guys playing touch football at the park.

 

Anyway (part deux), a lot of people are upset about Sunday night’s Grammy program.  Some are complaining because Katy Perry dressed like the sort of woman who might pop out of a cake at a Knight’s Templar bachelor party then did a pole dance with a broom while pretending to be burned at the stake, all while—as near as anyone could tell (if you can discern the lyrics of a Katy Perry song, it’s time to seek counseling immediately)—invoking either Satan or the ghost of Mick Jagger (who, oddly, isn’t dead).  People who are objecting to her display fall, primarily, into two categories: those who object to the romanticizing of Satanism and those who are disappointed the “burning at the stake” was simulated.

In addition, other people are objecting because Beyonce’s derriere was fondled on camera by her husband.  This, we’re told, is something children shouldn’t have been subjected to on national television which—I think—ignores a much larger issue: the sort of parent who would allow their child to watch the Grammys anyway!  I mean, really!  Did they not know going in that this was a show dedicated to the most narcissistic and base human beings on the planet?

And let’s not get into the faux wedding ceremony.

I have no problem with the people of the music industry holding an awards program.  I don’t even have a problem that they often award music that, to me (and I mean this in the kindest possible way), has absolutely no value.

No, what bugs me about all of these awards shows is the arrogant presumption that I should care about them.  When the Lion’s Club or the local welder’s union gives out awards each year, they hold a nice ceremony and honor those within their respective orders who deserve honor, but they are never so presumptuous as to think anyone outside the organization cares.

Logo or Logos?

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It’s pretty common for churches these days to have a slogan. We want it to be short (so it can be remembered) and encouraging (so people will want to remember it). Something like …

“A family place”

“Worship in peace”

“A place to call home”

“Where Jesus is Lord!”

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Nothing wrong with any of those slogans, but I’m rather partial to the last one just because it’s Scriptural. (Psalm 34:8, in case you’re curious.)

In these slogans, we’re trying to conjure up a positive mental image, the kind of thing that makes anyone who sees it say, “That sounds like a nice place. I’ll check that out some Sunday.” (Actually, we’re hoping you’ll check us out THIS Sunday, sometime between 9 and 11 a.m., check your local listings.)

It’s not a strange practice. Most businesses in our world are doing the same thing. Remember “Have it Your Way”? It’s been thirty years since a certain burger chain used that slogan, but all of us 40 and over still remember it. We may even remember the logo that went with the slogan back then. Cartoony guy with a crown? Remember him? Before they switched to that creepy guy with the plastic head.

I could go off on a long—and possibly angry or sarcastic—diatribe here about how churches have gotten so into the concept of branding that there have actually been cases of churches suing other churches for copyright infringement.

But anyway, back to this idea of a slogan and a logo. We’re looking for something friendly, attractive, warm … something that’ll bring the people in. Remember the slogan from a few years ago (it’s actually from more than a hundred years ago but it comes back every few years): “What Would Jesus Do?” That was a good slogan. What sort of slogan did Jesus use when reaching out to people?

Luke 9:23-24

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (NIV)

Jesus’s logo was (and still is, look at our churches) an instrument of unspeakable pain, torture and humiliation and his slogan was, “Come and die.”

I’ve been wondering how well that would go over as a marketing strategy in Dumas. A giant banner hung out in front of the church that says, “Come in and die!” And instead of the nice, attractive, smooth cross we have hanging in the sanctuary now, what if we put up a rough piece of wood splattered with blood, chunks of flesh hanging off it where a person who had been flayed before being attached to said cross had hung? What would that do to our church attendance?

It about destroyed Jesus’s attendance figures. He goes from being surrounded by thousands to deserted by all but a dozen followers. Either Jesus was lousy at marketing or he wanted something other than just numbers.

He wanted followers. He wanted people who knew the cost and were willing anyway. He wanted people who weren’t just hanging around because it was the fun, cool or expedient-at-the-moment thing to do, but because they loved him and wanted to spend eternity with him, in his Father’s presence. He wanted people who would take him up on his offer of rest, but were fully aware struggle might come first.

People who would put him and his kingdom first. People who were willing to “come and die”.

Read My Comic Book!

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That’s right: if you have a Kindle (or Kindle Fire) and a short attention span, you can read my latest work in comic book form!  ”Burt & the I.L.S. – The Dragon’s Sceptre” is now available for order here at Amazon!

It’s the story of Burt Cottage, a tramp pilot with a beat-up sea-plane who is searching the South Pacific (why not?) for the Holy Grail when he gets entangled with Smitty, a peace-time gun-runner who is on the run from creditors.  Shot down by pirates, ship-wrecked on an island flowing with angry natives and lava, all would seem lost if not for … meeting the girl.  Will Burt save the day?  Will he have the nerve to kiss the girl?  Can he think of a good excuse to leave Smitty behind?

Find out in “Burt & the I.L.S.”!

Note: this great comic book looks great even on a “black & white” Kindle or Paperwhite!

 

Here’s a sample page from within the book.  (It’ll actually be more legible on your reading device!)  If you want to read the page, click on it and your computer, through the wonder of modern electricity, will show you a larger version of the same thing!

Whatever Happened to HIPAA?

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As a volunteer with both our local hospice and our local hospital, I have to take a class once a year about patient confidentiality. It is so drilled into our heads that we are not to discuss our patients’ medical condition(s), name or even beverage preference that I am afraid to even tell my wife when I’ve been to the hospital to visit someone.

Wife: “Where have you been?”

Me: “Um, happy hour at that really sleazy bar.”

Wife (knowingly): “I hope it’s not cancer.”

So imagine my surprise, then, to learn that anyone signing up for the government’s new health care program has, according to the official documentation, “No reasonable expectation of privacy.”

If I understand this right, I could still go to jail for divulging what I know about a patient’s medical condition to anyone other than the patient without that patient’s written consent, but the government can share all of my information—medical, marital, economical, etc.—with anyone they want and I have no recourse.

What’s really funny about this is that I have friends who claim to not be worried. “The government will protect that information,” they say with a confident laugh that borders on the psychotic. “This is the government!” they reiterate. “What is there to worry about?”

Edward Snowden, anyone?

I thought about starting this paragraph with something like, “You see, when I go to the doctor, I expect the only person to know anything about why I’m there is me, the doctor, the nurse, and maybe that guy with the hacking cough I was talking to the waiting room” but the reality is I DON’T GO TO THE DOCTOR.

No, it’s not a religious thing. Nor am I afraid of doctors. It’s just that I don’t get sick. Not sick enough to go to a doctor, anyway. Oh sure, I’ll get a cold or two every year, but then they go away. What could I look forward to if I went to the doctor about my cold? It would go away in the same amount of time, plus or minus whatever I caught in his waiting room, and I would be out money and time for my troubles.

I used to be the insurance company’s dream client. Lots of money paid in premiums, nothing paid out in care. When the insurance company sent me one of those mass-printed birthday cards with my name misspelled wishing me “another great year”, I figured they meant it.

Not any more. Insurance companies have been ordered by the government to drive up their prices, drive down their level of service, and drive as many people to the government teat as they can. Doctors are being driven out of business, hospitals are closing, and all our medical records will be on an easily-hackable government database.

At least my president has my back. Sort of. He’s kind of busy taking a selfie right now but, as soon as he’s done with that and with making another speech about himself, I’m sure he’ll pivot back to health care and fix all this up fastly and furiously.

Just Shove it ALL in a Cup

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According to legend, it was a man named Earl who invented the hamburger. Or, possibly, the sandwich. Living in a cave (or, maybe a castle), he was tired of getting the sauce from the meat all over his hands. He first thought of wrapping the meat in an old towel, but his wife was always buying those super-absorbent ones which are terribly hard to digest.

After many years of studying over the problem in the evenings, after spending his days at his job of standing on the corner and waving at passers-by, it finally came to him that if he were to put the meat between two pieces of BREAD, not only would it keep his hands clean, it might also give his intestines time to digest all that terry cloth he had swallowed.

Thus, the hamburger—or, as it’s known in Germany, “the sandwich”—was invented.

And things went along pretty smoothly for a while. For the longest time, people were satisfied with just having their meat between two pieces of bread (or, wrapped up in a single piece, if there wasn’t enough bread to go around—thus inventing the “burrito” or, as it’s called in Spanish, some Spanish word), but then someone discovered mustard. Mustard, of course, is from the French’s word meaning “yellow as the sun” or, alternatively, “doesn’t wash out of clothes”.

After that, all heck broke loose and people started coming to the completely unwarranted (and likely paganistic) idea that pretty much anything could be put between those two pieces of bread: pickles, ketchup, relish and, in some part of the world, old issues of TV Guide.

Admittedly, not all of the additions were bad and some of them were even so downright tasty as to have been divinely inspired, such as guacamole. Soon, entire businesses were springing up based solely on the practice of finding new things to put between pieces of bread. Before you knew it, you had your Subways, your McDonalds, your Dairy Queens, your Dairy Kings, your Dairy Freezes, your Tastee Freezes, and your Aamcos. People were throwing chili peppers and fried onions and all sorts of INGREDIENTS on hamburgers and sandwiches and the world was doing pretty good.

But then, someone got the idea to take it one step further and, instead of mixing ingredients, mix entrées! Let me say, emphatically and without fear of reprisal because I almost never check my email address, that french fries are NOT an ingredient, they are a separate dish, and do NOT belong on the hamburger.

This is probably why communism is back on the rise. Americans have gotten so lazy that not only will we not take certain jobs anymore, we’re apparently too indolent to have to reach to multiple parts of a plate and must be served our meat and potatoes in one mush-mouthed serving.

One of my greatest fears—aside from the fact that the President took away my health insurance—is that the next logical step is to just shove the hamburger and fries into the blender with the chocolate shake and serve it all in a single cup.

With bacon.

World’s Largest Concrete Swimming Pool

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One of my earliest memories involves going to Cisco, Texas, which is east of Abilene on I-20. (If you don’t know where Abilene is, you may have to Google it; I can’t do everything for you.) If you’ve ever been to Cisco, you may be wondering why I would remember going there.

When I was a child, in the early 70s, my family (consisting of my parents and five kids!) would load up in the Ford station wagon and head to the east, not to see grandparents or anything quite so prosaic, but to go to what was billed then as “the largest swimming pool in the world”. Whether it was or not, I have no idea, but it was a great place to go.

Carved out of the Sandy Creek bottom on the lee side of the Williamson Dam in 1923, the pool was—at that time and well into the 1960s—the largest concrete pool in the world. Fed by fresh water from the spillway—and, yes, that meant part of the experience was feeling live fish swimming past your legs. Besides the two part pool (a “deep end” with a depth of 25 foot and a shallow end of 2-4 feet deep and an island that acted as divider between the two sections and had a great slide) there was a miniature golf course, picnic grounds and—though there were only remnants by the time I came along—a zoo and an amusement park. Within the pool, there was a massive slide coming off the island and into the shallow end, swingsets you could swing on WHILE IN THE POOL, and a massive diving tower.

45 feet above the waters of the deep end it rose. Ask my father. For, on one fateful day, he and my brother decided to try diving off the top of the tower. My brother chickened out—or wised up, as the case may be—but my father made the dive. Forty-five feet down to the water’s surface, touch the bottom of the deep end (remember that part about it being 25 foot deep!?!) and surfacing in tremendous pain with a burst eardrum.

My father’s enthusiasm for the Cisco pool waned considerably after that day.

When pulling up in the station wagon (it didn’t have sufficient air conditioning to make 7 people comfortable, which made us really appreciative of the fresh-water [no chlorine!] pool) the first place we would go was the main building. It was a two story building with an ancient skating rink on the bottom floor and a window where one paid to enter the swimming pool area. Between the building—which sat on something of a hill—and the giant pool, there was a whole bank of concrete steps, like a grandstand without benches. I remember my mother telling me that, when she was little, she remembered coming to the pool in Cisco from her home in Haskell to watch beauty pageants. Hundreds of people would sit on those steps (which even in my childhood still displayed in fading letters letters and numbers for divided seating) and watch the beauty pageant contestants parade across the bridge and island. Being something of a nostalgia buff even as a child, I wished I could have seen those sights, then walked the midway of the amusement park while a band played from the old bandstand.

Of course, I also thought of those things because of the aforementioned dam. The pool was on the east side of the dam and—arriving in the late afternoon after my father got off work as we always did—the dam was dark and brooding and foreboding and (thanks to my sister Beth who enjoyed pointing out that it was holding back a lakeful of water capable of killing us all and washing our bodies miles downstream) the single-most-scary thing in my world. Trips to Cisco were fun but often involved nightmares for days after.

I drove by the old pool a few years ago and was surprised that as much was left as is. The skating rink—like most everything else from my childhood (see the article from two weeks ago)—burned down, but there are still remnants of a gazebo, the old picnic tables, some crumbling cabins and—surprise!—the pool is still there, though the shallow end is overtaken by weeds and the water in deep end is dark and scary.

 

(If you’d like to see some excellent pictures of the zoo as it looks today (or, in 2000, anyway) click here.]