Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Career Assessment: The Social Contract & Punching the Ticket

I was born in 1937. That makes me one of the last generation eligible to retire on Social Security and Medicare at the age of 65. I also worked for the same company for nearly 30 years and was one of the last to have a guaranteed, defined benefit pension,  and participate in the company’s health plan.  My children won’t have these benefits, and my grandchildren may only read about them in an economics class as historical anomalies.

My good fortune was in adhering to what in the Fifties was called “The Social Contract.” Some said that, in simple terms, “If you take care of the Establishment, the Establishment will take care of you.” My father called it “Punching Your Ticket.” He was born in 1903, and firmly believed that we all come into life with a ticket we are expected to have punched for important accomplishments at various stages of our lives. “You must behave yourself, follow the law, attend school, work part-time after school, and full-time in the summer, get a college degree  serve with the military, get a full time job, and settle down to the mature life of family and responsibility.” When I went into the army in 1959, my Uncle George, a World War I hero, gave me similar advice: “Keep your nose clean, your shoes shined, and shut up. You’ll be fine.”

(Editor’s Note: Uncle George specialized in such pithy advice. When I got out of the Army in the 1960’s, and went into the Active Army Reserve, we were asked to parade down Main Street on Memorial Day. I remembered going to watch Uncle George parade with his World War I buddies during the 1940’s, so I asked him if he had any insights on military parades. He said, “Yes: Never march behind the horses.” He had that right too.)

So, I had my ticket punched, and did all those things that were expected of me, and the Social Contract was honored. I retired in a good place, keep myself busy and out of trouble, and recently started blogging about my thoughts and experiences.

The young people today are not so fortunate. We have gone through a major paradigm shift in the Social Contract.  In the Fifties, people talked about a “One Decision Career:” You accept your first job , stay there, and work your way up as far as you can, and then retire with a reasonable pension. There is no such concept today. In fact, my son told me that if you’re in one place much over 2-3 years, they wonder what’s wrong with you. Back then,  holding  two or more jobs in 2-3 years would border on “Job Hopping.” It suggested lack of commitment, continuity, even maturity issues.

Part of the problem is the government, but the government is always part of both the problem and the solution. That has always been the case.

Another part is the young folks themselves. Many of them don’t grow up as fast as they once did. They want to remain kids forever, with their electronic toys, high school mentalities, and freedom from responsibility. Many still live at home, some because they have to, others because they want to. I have a friend who talks about his twenty-something son in terms of “he’s only a kid.” A kid? When I was twenty-something, I was married, had a college degree, was a 2nd lieutenant in the Army, a platoon leader responsible for 5 tanks, associated support vehicles, and 30 men – and I never thought of myself as a kid. I don’t think anybody else did either.

Also, we must consider the priority shift in The Establishment itself. Somebody once wrote, “Say what you want about the old time Robber Barons like Morgan, Pullman, Rockefeller, Ford, Astor and that lot but…. although they took what they wanted, they left in their wake millions of jobs in banks and railroads and oil and  factories, and in shipping.” That was a major contribution to the American Dream. They built railroad tracks and strung power lines across the country, and in later life funded libraries, hospitals, charitable foundations, and colleges.  Too many of this current lot leave nothing in their wake but unemployment and foreclosures and broken promises.

This was brought home to me again recently when I read about a book by that young Wall Street trader who’s  off on an ethics tirade against the giant bank, Morgan Stanley  I’m sure there are many things there that need to be cleaned up at Morgan Stanley, just as there are at every bank and corporate headquarters in the country. But what about him? In his 30’s, he was making over a half million dollars a year,  selling complex financial instruments he didn’t fully understand, to people who understood them even less, at prices far more than they were worth. How ethical is that? It sounds to me more like a snake oil salesman than an investment banker, trader, or ethicist. How many new jobs , and benefits to the economy, do such efforts produce?

When I went to work for my first big company, in 1964, we had a briefing by the company president, “Big” Ben, a successful middle aged technocrat. Someone asked him how he would define the CEO’s job. He thought for a moment and replied, “Balance. It’s all about balance. I serve several different interest communities. First there are the investors; without them we don’t have the money to operate. Then there are the customers; without them, there are no markets and no profit. Then there are the employees; without them there is no production. Then there are the local, state, and federal governments with whom we must work and maintain good relationships to operate effectively. Then there is the local community, from whom we recruit, obtain licenses, and purchase utilities and protection. It is always in our interest to work with them. If  the CEO should fail in any one of these balancing acts, the whole company could be damaged, or even destroyed.”

I wonder how many CEO’s see their jobs in that light today? They may still say what we used to say: “We’re a Team.” But today, it gets a modern twist: “We’re a Team, Until We’re Not.”

I know, the pendulum never stops swinging. There is no middle ground, we just constantly go from one extreme to the other, and the lucky ones, like me, live and work in the middle times. I was a child in the Forties, free of the danger of war, but participating in its excitement and support; a teenager in high school and college during the Fifties; “The Happy Days” time for many, but not all, of us; an adult in the Sixties, and  just starting out with wife, family, Army, and job (I always liked John Cleese’s great line: “I missed the Sixties. I was working.” That was my story too). The Seventies, Eighties and Nineties were the business bubble years when opportunity was there for the taking and everything seemed to work. And finally, the “Aughts,” when I tap danced off stage a few years before the dam burst.

Did this Social Contract concept work for everyone of my generation? Unfortunately, no. There are many good people out there struggling today through no fault of their own; but it did seem to work better than whatever, if anything, replaced it.

I guess my career was equal parts good fortune, good timing, and good work. I wish we could recapture some of those earlier times, attitudes, and business mentalities to benefit today’s young people. What is today’s Social Contract? What is on the ticket they must get punched? I guess they just have to figure it out for themselves.

I wish them all great good fortune. I envy them their opportunity and challenge. Sometimes, I think it might be fun to go through it again and see if I could do it; but, on the other hand, I am grateful to be where I am, and sincerely hope that events and opportunities work out for  today’s young starters as well as they did for me and my generation.

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The Coffee House Cop-Out

It was 1960. Fresh out of the Army, I had my first job in business, working for an early hi-tech start-up  making epoxy circuit  shells. Mike, my boss, gave me a rare perk: I could accompany him to NYC to check out  the big IRE (Institute of Radio Engineers) electronics show held there each year. We spent an exhilarating first day touring exhibits, meeting potential customers, and networking with other start-ups like ourselves.

Later in the day, Mike asked me if I had ever been to a Greenwich Village coffee house. I had not. He said it was an experience not be missed. The Beatniks sat at small tables listening to each other read their poetry, and  discussing Kerouac’s 1957’s Beat Generation classic, “On the Road.” They signaled their approval by snapping their fingers instead of applauding. I said it sounded like fun.

I met Mike in the hotel lobby that evening, suitably dressed for the occasion: Suit, shirt, and tie. Mike was informally attired. He smiled and said, “You may be a bit overdressed, but come on, let’s go.” Off we went.

The Village club he selected was a little cellar-hole type place, off the beaten track, with a name something like “The Black Widow.” It was dark, smokey, and smelled of strong coffee and other strange fragrances.  I had never seen an opium den, but I imagined this might be how they looked. I was the most overdressed person in the room, and received more than a few critical stares at my appearance.. Mike picked a front row table and we sat, with espresso coffee, waiting for the performance to begin.

The poets were all young, men and women both, my age, and though I had been a college English Major, their free form philosophic verse was different from anything I had ever read (except for e.e. cummings, maybe).  They went on, with rants and complaints, raging against the machine, the system, and the government. I snapped my fingers in appreciation when they had concluded.

The last poet was a young man in his early Twenties, like me. Mike said later we even resembled each other a bit. He came on, unhappy, disgusted, and outraged in the extreme. To my amazement, and amusement, he came over and played directly to me. He raged on about our generational sell-outs, people who couldn’t wait to join the Establishment and share in the plunder, young people without a soul.

I thought it was interesting, and admired his performance. It was filled with his heart and soul. I gave a major finger snapping when he finished up. He stared at me for a moment, mumbled something under his breath, and stomped off the stage in a rage.

Mike said, “It’s over. Let’s go.” We left. On the cab ride back to the hotel, I said, “I thought that last guy was interesting. He seemed to be talking right to me.”

Mike paused a moment, and then replied, “He wasn’t talking to you, Ed.  He was talking about you.”

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Photo Shop and Another Paradigm Shift

This is a photo created by a young Swedish photographer named Eric Johanssen. This talented young man creates images in his fertile imagination then, through his photographic and computer skills, converts them into hard copy photographs for the rest of us to admire and wonder at.

The concept is not new. In fact, there’s an exhibition in New York City this month  featuring manipulated photographs from decades past. One of these shows the infamous dirigible Hindenburg moored to the radio tower of the Empire State Building, sometime in the 1930’s. It’s amazing, and the photo has spread around the web. The problem: It’s a fraud. It never happened. It’s an early manipulated photograph. Back in the 1930’s, this was accomplished slowly and with great photographic artistry. Today,  any competent person can accomplish much the same thing with a computer and  Photo Shop. It happens in great volume too.

This made me realize that we had crept into another major paradigm shift that I hadn’t even noticed: The photograph is no longer the trusty, evidenciary record that it once was, and never will be again.

Remember the classic expression, “One picture is worth a thousand words?” Not any more.

The film noir blackmail threat of “I have photographs of you both … together” means nothing.

The Perry Mason gotcha line, when confronting the culprit with “Don’t deny it. We have the whole thing on film!” A paralegal could get the guy out from under that accusation, and maybe get him a court settlement for his trouble..

Fashion models and celebrities can easily arrange to have a spotless complexion, designer clothes, a new hair look, even drop 20 pounds or so, and it wouldn’t take a photo studio more than an hour to make it all come true.

I have an acquaintance whose grandson makes up authentic looking photographs of family members with historical characters. Would you like to see yourself at the Gettysburg Address standing beside President Lincoln? It can be done.

Finally, of course, we’ll have to bury the old standby: “Seeing is Believing.”

Oh well, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, and all that jazz. The photograph, one more staple of reality and truth we used to rely upon, is gone forever. It has morphed into just one more communication device that can be manipulated to sway the multitudes.

It all gives new meaning to that old philosopher, Groucho Marx’s, classic line: “Who are you going to believe: Me or your lying eyes?”

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The Jokesmith Review: The 2012 Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner

Review: The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner: October 18, 2012

Just two days after their rough and tumble town hall debate. President Obama and Governor Romney attended a glittering white tie dinner in New York City to trade good-natured jokes and barbs and raise money for the New York Archdiocese’s charitable outreach programs. It was a great evening, both candidates performed well, and, at $2500/ticket, a record sum of $5 million was raised by the 1600 guests. It was an evening of civility and humor in a sea of anger and negativism.

The event is dedicated to the memory of New York Governor Al Smith who, in 1928, became the first Catholic ever to be nominated by a major party for president. The dinner is still overseen by his descendants, while hosted by New York’s own Cardinal Timothy Dolan. This is the 64th annual event.  The first presidential candidates to attend were JFK and Richard Nixon in 1960.

This year’s event began in controversy. Several Conservative Catholics criticized the cardinal for inviting President Obama, whose position on issues like abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage are at odds with the Church. The cardinal settled the matter, writing in his blog: “If I only sat down with people who agreed with me, and I with them, or with those who were saints, I’d be taking all my meals alone.”

Governor Romney went first. Standing at the dais in his immaculate white tie and tails, he said: ”A campaign requires a lot of wardrobe changes: blue jeans in the morning, suits for a luncheon fundraiser, sport coat for dinner. But it’s nice to finally relax and wear what Ann and I wear around the house.”

He also chided the media, suggesting tomorrow’s headline would be: “Obama embraced by Catholics, while Romney dines with more rich people.”

One of his best lines was when he talked about President Obama, coming down to the final months of his term, surveying the Waldorf banquet room with so many rich and important people in their finery, “…and you wonder if he’s thinking: ‘So little time, and so much to redistribute.’”

Governor Romney admitted he was uncomfortable as a joke teller and how he hoped Vice President Biden would be seated in the front row: “He’ll laugh at anything.”

Bringing a little Catholic inside humor to the table, Romney wondered if, when the Lord gave St. Peter the “Keys to My Church”, St. Peter responded: “Lord, you didn’t build that.”

He went on to say that in keeping with the Sesame Street Theme  the campaign has taken on, “The president’s remarks are brought to you by the letter ‘O’, and the number ‘$16 trillion’.”

Romney said that when asked how he prepared for these key debates, he replied that as a lifelong Mormon, he “…abstained from alcohol for 65 years.” He also said the key to debate success was: “…finding the biggest straw man available, and attacking him mercilessly. Big Bird never saw it coming.”

He concluded that both candidates have important people they rely upon. “I have my beautiful wife Ann. He’s got Bill Clinton.”

The crowd gave him a well-deserved standing ovation.

President Obama came on, while everyone was stilling standing. He asked them to “Take your seats, please, Otherwise, Clint Eastwood will come up here and start yelling at them.

Referring to his lackluster performance at the first debate, he said:  “There are worse things that can happen to you on your anniversary than to forget to buy your wife a gift.”

Referring to Governor Romney, he said: “’Mitt’ is actually the governor’s middle name. (Pause) I wish I could use my middle name.”

In reference to the governor’s mixed reaction to his overseas trip last summer, the president said: “World affairs are a challenge for any candidate. After my last foreign trip, I was attacked as a celebrity because I was popular with our overseas allies. I’m impressed with how well Governor Romney avoided that problem.”

Renewing his school days ties to New York, he said:  “Today, I went shopping in some midtown stores. Governor Romney went shopping for some midtown stores.”

The president had a Joe Biden line too. He said: “Sometimes I hear that I’m getting old. And that I’ve lost my sparkle and my step. And I say: ‘Settle down, Joe. I’m trying to run a Cabinet meeting here.’”

The president also received a “well done” and standing ovation.

The Smith family spokesman, Al Smith IV, also had a few good lines. Referring to Romney’s famous “binders full of women” comment, he welcomed the ladies present and said: “I’m so glad to see you all got out of those binders.”

He had one for president Obama too: “It must be difficult to face Governor Romney, a man who has produced more sons than you have jobs.”

And one for the cardinal, who sat between Obama and Romney, he said it was appropriate for them to sit that way because (referring to the cardinal’s girth), “…they are separated by a great expanse.”

The cardinal had a few things to say as well. Referring again to his girth, he said “I had hoped to sit next to Gov. Chris Christy. I think I would have looked better.”

He told the candidates, “The Holy Father  asked me to give you both this message. (Pause) Unfortunately, he gave it to me in Latin, and I have no idea what he said.”

He cited similarities between campaign and church challenges: “You both have to deal with highly diverse personalities and opinions. In our Church, we have to deal with both Biden and Ryan.”

It was worthy, honorable, civil and funny. Congratulations to the speakers and all involved.

And now, please be seated for my homily: MSNBC had a commentator, comedian/activist W. Kamau Bell, the host of “Totally Biased,” and a man who lives up to his show’s  name.  He went on for a few minutes on the point that while both men had good lines, Romney was very stern, and awkward, and uncomfortable. Romney has only two speeds,” he said, “Mean and Awkward.”

Obama, on the other hand, was “…smiling, upbeat, and delivered a good joke”.

I remember thinking how much I disagreed with him. I wonder how many of the great old comics these young critics have seen? Did he ever watch Jackie Vernon (the “Dull Guy”) deliver a lengthy and rambling joke? Jack Benny, staring at an audience until they either laughed or had to leave the theater?  Myron Cohen telling a five minute story and squeezing a dozen or more laugh lines out of  it along the way.

I wasn’t impressed with his commentary. There’s a lot more to stand-up than observational, situational, and blue material.

Finally, I’d also like to cite Stephen Colbert for his wicked take on the last debate. Governor Romney, perched comfortably on his stool, while President Obama tended to wander around a little bit. Colbert observed: “They only way you get that comfortable sitting on a stool is after years and years practicing on a bar stool. In fact, sitting comfortably on a stool is often an early sign of alcoholism. That’s why, when you go into a bar, and see someone fall off their stool and onto the floor, that person should be your Designated Driver.”



The Jokesmith

Ed McManus

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How To Get Rich

How to Get Rich: Mary (4th Birthday)

            A successful entrepreneur once told me: “You’ll never get rich selling your time.” I guess that depends on how much you sell it for. I know a few lawyers who do well selling their time; and they don’t even exceed 24 hours in any given day (unless, of course, they fly to Europe; that adds an extra 6 hours). Entertainers do all right too. As do surgeons, business consultants, and plumbers. I guess it all depend on whom  you ask and what they did to succeed. We all believe that what worked for us is the “right way.”

George R., a successful NYC businessman told me, “It’s difficult to make a little money. It’s easier to make a lot of money.” George’s businesses failed more times than the Queen has hats. His answer was to close up the failed business and start over. That worked for him. I don’t have the stomach for that. My Uncle George once said, “We have to work for a living. We’re too proud to beg and too nervous to steal.”

My old boss, Bernie, was another Type A walking casebook. His wife insisted he take some time off and travel around the world before he killed himself from overwork. She told how they made it to India, where Bernie was fascinated by the street bazaars. One day, he made a deal with this Indian merchant to buy out his entire inventory of small, copper warming ovens with covers. Bernie then called a friend who manufactured pool cues. He had the copper ovens shipped directly to him. The pool cue guy then mounted a long handle onto the copper ovens, and Bernie advertised them in all the New England and Home Decorating magazines as “Reproduction Antique Colonial Bed Warmers.”

“I sold out the entire inventory in a few months,” Bernie told us. “And the orders are still coming in. That idea paid for our trip several times over.”

It’s quite rare to see a get rich quick scheme work. I have friends in pyramid clubs. They call them “circles” nowadays to get away from the Ponzi connection  (A man named Ponzi started the pyramid club idea a hundred years ago with a scheme for selling international postage stamps for more than he paid for them. It didn’t work. His investors were ruined, and he ended up in prison).

Today, they have people selling soaps, cosmetics, vitamins, and whatever else they can think of. The problem is they have to spend all their time recruiting new dealers. That’s where the profit is. It’s not in selling the product. When people want soap, they buy it at the market. They won’t pay a premium to have you drop it off at their house. A friend in Maine joined a pyramid club selling vitamins. He went to all their motivational meetings with songs and speakers and balloon drops and everything. I asked him how he did. He said, “I never made a nickel, but they get you all excited, and that’s worth something right there.”

I’m not technical, so I need an “old world” solution. If you find the right niche you can make money selling buggy whips and candles. I toyed with the “Wrigley Gum Model” a couple of times. The Wrigleys are one of America’s wealthiest families. They got there by selling chewing gum. Yes, chewing gum; billions of sticks of chewing gum. The Mars family did the same thing with M&M candies, and the Cocoa Cola people made a fortune selling caramel flavored sugar water. Think of Hallmark: Who ever thought you could make a multi-billion dollar business out of printing sentiments on paper so people could pay five dollars to mail them to each other. You need a different card for each occasion too. What a great system.

And let’s remember Ray Kroc who made a fortune reinventing McDonald’s and the hamburger. You probably spend a few dollars each week for bottled water which can cost 50 times what you pay for the city’s water, and may be convenient but not necessarily much better. Don’t forget those overpriced lattes you wait in long lines for.

Here’s the secret: You can differentiate and merchandise commodity items. If you can put a name on it, and give it a new twist, you can sell coffee, hamburgers, and water. The gas stations now have machines that sell air! There’s no end to the possibilities.

Come up with an idea that gets lots of people to give you a little money each (the Wrigley Model). It works. All you have to do is figure out what it should be and how to spin it.

Failing that, marry money.

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On Executive Compensation

An acquaintance of mine lost big money in the Lehman Brothers collapse. He said it was the first time a citizen was ever held-up by a bank. On TV, I watched people walk out the back door with the vestiges of their careers in a cardboard box, and I thought, “Who is responsible for this? Who broke the social contract between the people on top and the people down below? Is it all just Greed?” There is no simple answer, but let’s start at the top:

“CEO-Pay (That’s Pig Latin for “Executive Compensation)”  This is a survey of executive compensation & benefits derived from my own experience and research. This is the stuff the CEO’s receive (I refuse to say “earn”) for the big jobs. When I joined my first big firm in 1964, the CEO made 7 times what I did (plus stock and bonuses tied to company growth and profitability). I thought that was outrageous. God keep me simple. In 2011, the average Fortune 500 CEO made 380 times the average employee. What does all that treasure come from?

There are stock options & bonuses, retention and otherwise, immediate and deferred, guaranteed, time related, and sometimes (but not always) tied to performance; debt forgiveness; a comprehensive pension plan (with payout boosters like SERPS and Rabbi Trusts for the chosen few); health, life, property, flood, and long term care insurance; educational benefits, use of company property (houses, limos, aircraft, yachts). There’s paid staff including personal assistants, security, drivers, maids, cooks, gardeners, and paid memberships in private clubs, golf courses, airports & marinas. There are upgrades of personal property for security reasons, home offices, entertaining and the company purchase of personal property (like the current house so they can build a bigger one);  don’t forget the architects, decorators and other on-tap experts who come in handy as advisers and general contractors for the main manse and the vacation home(s).

There are generous entertainment benefits including dining, sports boxes, theater, etc. Free parking and personal grooming perks are nice, as are dog walkers, and committee memberships at museums and schools that bring exotic benefits as well.

There are paid subscriptions, complimentary company products, and free lunches at work; discretionary time and choice of work locations; unsolicited but desirable gifts come in the mail. There are reciprocal paid board memberships on other company boards, including membership on their compensation committees so one can take care of one’s friends as they take care of one in return.

There are paid subcommittee memberships, consulting contracts, purchasing discounts, low & no interest loans, and the best legal and tax advice available. We mustn’t forget the Golden Parachute and other termination benefits like multi-year “poison pill” payouts in case of a takeover.  There will be the retirement use of company property and facilities, staff, and long term advisory contracts. One always meets the “best people,” has influence, and never waits in line.

Many benefits apply to both the CEO and their family. You won’t find these written in any one place; you have to read the arcane language and paw through footnotes and fine print, because CEO’s can use shareholder money to hire experts to make it difficult for shareholders to locate and understand what the CEO is receiving.

Let’s see, have I missed anything? Oh yes: they get paid a handsome salary too. By the way, once again, none of this is necessarily tied to performance. The old concept of “Pay for Performance” often stops outside Executive Row.That may be why the worker bees are walking out the back door with their careers in a cardboard box.

And, as to those loyal defenders who say we can’t change any of these agreed upon deals now, after the fact, I say consider this: We reneged on countless land deals with the American Indians; we reneged on pension & benefits promised the Filipinos who fought beside us in World War II; we reneged on relocation promises made to the Montagnard mountain tribesmen who helped us in Vietnam. And God knows what the fall-out will be when we pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan completely.

Where’s the harm in stiffing a few over-stuffed CEOs?

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The Jokesmith (1984-2012): The Last Issue

 In 1984, I published a book with Bill Nicholas entitled, “We’re Roasting Harry Tuesday Night, How to Plan, Write, and Conduct The Business Social Roast.” It was half how-to and half roast lines (suitable for professional audiences). It went through 3 printings, and I started getting calls from people looking for jokes to pump up a speech. I started The Jokesmith, a quarterly comedy newsletter for business and professional speakers. It was in continuous publication from 1984 – 2012. This is the final issue. Back copies and the Harry book are still available.

Ed McManus                




Volume XXVIII Number IV          Copyright 2012                              ISSN 0749-4351

Welcome to JS-112, the final issue of The Jokesmith, coming to you in the autumn of 2012. I have had a few inquiries about continuing The Jokesmith for another year, by email only. If you’d be interested, please email me at

1. “Nosism”: NASA Charlie sent me a blog about “nosism,” the practice of referring to oneself in the third party (“we” vs. “I”). The word comes from the Latin “nos” (“we”) so it means “we-ism.” A nasty habit that goes back to the 5th Century.

I favor Mark Twain’s rule that “the only people who may refer to themselves as ‘we’ are kings, editors, and people with tape worms.” Charlie’s piece added “the kindergarten ‘we’ (we won’t lose our mittens today, will we?), and the medical “we” (and how are we feeling today?)”.

I topped Charlie by revealing that over the years, I have added: pregnant women, the possessed, and anyone carrying a mouse in their pocket. Charlie topped me by asking: “What about people named ‘Jekyll’? I yield.

Although I have heard the French use “we”, probably incorrectly, but they’re so cheerful about it, who cares?

2. Old Jews Telling Jokes: First I told you about the website, then the Broadway show, then my own experiences on Seventh Avenue, and then you sent me lots of classic Jewish jokes. This oldie but goodie came out of London during the Olympics:

Benjamin the Tailor, lived in a small town outside London, and his wife wanted a husband for their daughter Becky. She was a nice girl, not beautiful or overly sharp, mind you, but good-hearted and deserving of a happy life. They hired a Jewish Matchmaker. He had no luck. The interest just wasn’t there. In one of his progress reviews, Benjamin told him he was dissatisfied, and unless he had some progress to report, their relationship was over. The Matchmaker said: “No, there’s progress. I think I have a husband for Becky.”

“And who is this young man?” Benjamin asked.

The matchmaker replied: “The Queen’s grandson, Prince Harry.”

Benjamin thought for a moment, and then said, “Prince Harry is not a Jew.”

“He’ll convert.”

“Prince Harry is a wild young man.”

“That was then. Now, he wants a wife and family.”

“And the children?”

“Naturally, they’ll be raised in the Faith.”

“Anything else?” asked Benjamin.

“Yes, I think the Queen wants to offer you an apartment in BuckinghamPalace so you can be near the extended family.”

“Very well then,” said Benjamin, extending his hand, “Prince Harry may marry Becky.”

They shook hands and the Matchmaker walked out on the little porch and started down the stairs. He clapped his hands together, smiled, and said: “Half sold!

3. Miscellaneous: Read, Overheard, Swiped and a Few Actually Written:

1. On “Morning Joe” the pundits were discussing our multi-trillion dollar debt

and how we are passing it on to the next generation. One commentator said: “The old Washington saw used to be: ‘Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that man behind the tree.’ Now, that’s changed to: ‘Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax this baby on my knee.’”

2. Physical Conditioning: Olympic swimmer Jane Katz told the NYT her secret

airport vice: “Shopping. I rationalize it by saying that if I shop fast enough it’s aerobic.”

3.Afterthought on “Noism:” I had a colleague once tell me that: “I never speak

French when I’m in Paris. Their accent is atrocious.”

4. Bumper Sticker of the Quarter: “If you’ve nothing to be thankful for, give

thanks that spiders can’t fly.”

5. I respect all Religions, although I don’t understand all of them. High on my

List is Scientology. If I was going to join a Science Fiction religion it would be about Star Trek.

6. Brian bought and restored a 1966 Mustang Convertible. He says it’s a

“Driver,” not a “Show Car:” “It looks nice from afar, but it’s far from nice.”

7. Brian also adds this insightful thought he collected from Monty Python’s John

Cleese: “Greece is collapsing, the Iranians are getting aggressive, and Rome is in total disarray. Welcome back to 430 B.C.”

8. Banking Vocab Redux:  I heard a new appellation used by financial critics of

big bankers who take big money from their troubled banks while trying to increase revenues by laying more and more fees on their clients. Such people are called: “Banksters.”

9. Mad Ave., P.T, Barnum, and me: I have a great respect for the skills of sales

and marketing people. They can make us buy stuff we don’t want or need, and we’ll pay a premium for the privilege. For instance, Time Magazine reports that the next big thing will be edible packaging. Pudding will come in an edible cup, as will juice drinks, and candy. It’s easy, convenient, and since you’re saving the planet. I expect it will cost more.

10. I walked the cosmetics aisle of the supermarket and applauded the overpriced, unnecessary, and handsomely packaged products. Today, I saw two women picking out an eyebrow pencil. They cost $6.49 each. I chuckled. I would like to have said, “Ladies, I know where you can buy 24 of those things for about $2.00 total. They’re in the next aisle. They’re called crayons. But wait, there’s more: For no extra charge, you can change your eyebrow color every day for nearly a month. Act now!”

11. Health Advice: Dr. K. shares her good health thoughts: “1. Use your head. 2. Enjoy your life. 3. Live as long as you can.”

12. Political Bumper Stickers: They are some good ones out there for the upcoming presidential election. For you RedState folks, I saw this one: “HOPE: Help Obama’s Presidency End.” And, for you BlueState folks: “Vote Romney: The Rich Guy with the Dancing Horse.” (It was a tie with “Dressage: My Favorite is Blue Cheese.”

13. Obit of the Quarter: Marvin Hamlish died: The gifted composer filled Hollywood movies with his scores, from “The Sting” through “The Way We Were,” and so much more. I saw him in a Maine concert; he was quite a comic too. He was a child prodigy and, at the age of 7, was accepted at Julliard School of Music. A reporter gushed, “Did you actually go to Julliard at 7?” Hamlisch replied: “Yes, but they didn’t open until 9.” R.I.P. Marvin.

14. Higgs boson update: Okay, they’ve announced the Higgs boson, but still no word on pricing or whether it will ship for Christmas. (Cr: WSJ)

15. Financial Advice: Rich, my financial guy, said: “Call me with your ‘Here’s what I’m thinking about’ questions, and not with your ‘Guess what I just did?’ announcements.”

16. Reader Update: Big Bill spent the weekend with his son and family. “One morning, I asked him for the newspaper. He said, “Dad, that’s so last century. We don’t buy newspapers in this house; here – use my iPAD.’ I tell you, that fly never knew what hit him.”

17. Big Bill also writes: “Back in 1990. The U.S. Government seized a brothel in Nevada, The Mustang Ranch, for tax issues. As required by law, they kept it open as a business, but they failed. Mustang Ranch went into bankruptcy, and it closed. Now we are trusting the economy, banking system, Social Security, and Medicare to a bunch of people who couldn’t make money running a cat-house and selling cheap whisky!”

18. Finance: Stan the Economist does stand-up comedy on his weekend. He tells several “gross” national product jokes.

19. Seniors: Colleague Bill Nicholas is in his 80’s now. One of his great lines is: “Time has passed me by; as you would pass by a hitchhiker with a chain saw.”

20. Q. What is one thing that can never be said about a school teacher?

A. “That’s her new Porsche.”

21. Conservative Humor: Cal may be my most extreme right wing subscriber. He once said: “If I moved any further to the Right, I’d fall off. The world is flat, you know.”

I asked him once if he believed in Global Warming. He replied: “If there is such a thing as ‘Global Warming,’ it’s probably caused by Illegal Immigration and Obamacare.”

22. Cal also writes: “My grandkids ask me about everything: ‘How much do you make?’ ‘What are you worth?’ What happened to the good old days when no one talked money within the family, or anything else personal for that matter? We just bottled it all up inside and became bitter old men and women. Let’s go back to that!” Thanks, Cal, for your reasoned inputs.

23. Christmas Story: Here’s one from my favorite Sunday School teacher:

A Sunday School teacher asked an 8 year old: “Where was Jesus born?”

The child replied: “Pittsburgh.”

The teacher said: “No, try again.”

The child thought for a moment, then said: “Philadelphia?”

The teacher said: “No. Jesus was born in Bethlehem.”

The child replied: “I knew it was somewhere in Pennsylvania.”

24. Which reminds me of the local cop who allegedly stopped a reader from Philadelphia and asked to see his license. The cop said, “Where are you from?”

The motorist replied, “Philadelphia.”

The cop said, “Yeah? How come you’re driving a car with Pennsylvania plates?”

25. Marty writes he discovered a new unit of measurement that can relate to any concept of size, temperature, or attitude. It’s called the “freaken.” It is used with the Arabic number two. For intense heat, for example, you would say it’s “two freaken hot.” Excessive size would be “two freaken big.” A bad attitude toward work could be “two freaken lazy.” Now that I’ve learned this concept, I realize that I hear it several times each day.

26. This update on the Higgs bosun particle that may have been discovered by CERN physicists: “Okay, so they’ve announced the Higgs bosun particle, but still no word on pricing or whether or not it will ship by Christmas.”

27. Insight: In an article on music appreciation in the NYT, Dwight Garner made this observation: “It’s said that the music you listen to when you’re first steaming up car windows is the music you’ll want to hear for the rest of your life.”

28. Competition Evolves:

My grandfather saw his competition across the classroom.

My father saw his competition across town.

I looked to New York and California for my competition.

My children look to Europe.

My grandchildren will watch Asia.

28. Montana Bill collects signage. He found this one in his company’s lunchroom: “Please do not operate the toaster oven and microwave at the same time, as the Earth will spin out of orbit and crash into the Sun. Thank you.”

29. Oyster Snobs? I love Wine Snobs. I even make up little things to say myself: “What an amusing little vintage. I’m enthralled by its pretensions.” Sometimes it works.

Kerry gave me a list of oyster choices from an upscale resort area Oyster Bar:

1. “French Kiss:” Canada; deeply cupped, profound salinity; mildly sweet finish.

2. “St. Simon:” Firm, mild salinity, subtly sweet, citrus fresh

3. “Onset:” Mild salinity, very meaty, slight seaweed finish, silky

As my old boss used to say, “What wine goes good with beer?”

4. Mike Tyson on Broadway: A live show, featuring Tyson’s career recollections, opened in New York for a limited run (“Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth”). It’s getting mixed reviews but Tyson does have a certain charm in this tale of success and failure, convictions (just and unjust), and lifetime anecdotes. One I liked concerned the dumps he had to fight in early in his career: “If the crowd didn’t like your performance, they didn’t just boo you. They started fights among themselves to show you how it should be done.”`

5. Gospel Reflections: I write personal little Gospel reflections for my own edification and amusement. Sometimes, like now, I share one with friends: The Gospel of John tells the story of how Jesus fed a crowd of five thousand with five small barley loaves and two small fish.

Suppose that happened in today’s all righteousness and little empathy environment. Suppose Jesus blessed the small baskets of bread and the fish and gave it to the disciples saying, “Feed the crowd – but – don’t give anything to someone who looks like they’re in a same sex relationship, or living together in sin, or practicing contraception, or generally leading what you think may be an immoral life.” Well, no wonder they had so much stuff left over!

6. I Can’t Hear You! Many of the jokes I write are based on true stories. Funny things I read or hear, or are reader submitted. I take the true story and joke it up. This is one example:

A woman had hearing problems and decided it was time to buy hearing aids. They cost over $3,000 each, are not covered by most insurance policies, so it’s a big decision.

The first night, she went to a restaurant with her husband and friends and made an interesting discovery: Unlike the human ear, which can filter out table and kitchen noises from conversation, hearing aids just makes everything louder. Halfway through dinner, she removed one from her ear, set it down by her plate, and continued the conversation as best she could.

Later, she looked for the hearing aid. It was gone. She panicked. She told her friends, and they immediately began to search the area for the missing, and expensive, hearing device.

Her husband never moved. He just sat there. She asked him: “What did you do now?”

He replied: “I thought it was an olive.”

7.  Child Psychology: JC is my favorite shrink. He sent me an update on a Golden Oldie:

The teacher assigned her kindergarteners a class project: She passed out four uncolored pictures of the seasons, and gave them the weekend task of coloring and turning them in the following Monday for seasonal classroom decorations.

Monday, everyone turned in their colored pictures. One little girl turned in hers. They were all in red and black, or red only, or black only. The teacher was disturbed. She took them to the school nurse and asked for her advice. The nurse had no answer, so she called the Child Welfare Department. Early next morning, the little girl was taken for a private chat by a child psychologist and a plainclothes police detective. They put her at ease, chatted about this and that, and then gently asked her why all her seasonal pictures were colored in just red and black.

The little girl seemed embarrassed, hesitated, and then replied: “I only had two crayons.”

8. Celebrities on Age: AARP ran a series of quotes by aging celebrities: Pete Seeger, at 93, is on tour with Arlo Guthrie. Pete said: “Arlo, I can’t sing like I used to sing.” Arlo replied: “That’s all right, Pete. The people buying our tickets can’t hear like they used to hear.”

9. Music Shtick: Peter Sellers, comic actor and comedian, went to a number of private parties where his musician friends performed. Once he was asked, “Peter, do you sing?” He replied, “Yes, I sing Rogers and Hart.” The amazed host asked him to do so.

Sellers stood by the piano, cleared his throat, and sang: “Ro…gers annn…d Hart.”

Before the host had a chance to respond to this inspired nonsense, Sellers added: “I also sing Gershwin: ‘Gersh…win.’”

He then bowed, said thank you, and sat down … to a great deal of laughter and applause.

(Anecdote swiped from a musical impresario on Sirius Satellite Radio)

10. Language: John Garvey, a language instructor, offers the old gem:

What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Answer: Bilingual.

What do you call a person who speaks three languages? Answer: Trilingual.

What do you call a person who speaks just one language? Answer: An American.

That reminds me of the similar joke I heard in England a few years back:

What do you call a person who likes the French? Answer: A Francophile.

What do you call a person who likes the English? Answer: An Anglophile.

What do you call a person who likes the Germans? Answer: A Collaborator.

11. Clergy: A woman was marketing with her husband when they bumped into their church pastor. They chatted for a bit, and then the pastor turned to go, saying: See you next Sunday.” As they walked back to their car, the husband asked: “Does he play golf on Sunday?”

12. Bureaucracy: Carl, our “Amateur Historian,” contributes this: “In 1944, the U.S. Air Force carpet bombed the Krupp Munitions factories, Hitler’s war machine, into total rubble. There was nothing left. Krupp corporate headquarters in Berlin, which was untouched, immediately went on a three shift, seven day work schedule. There were no factories left, but there was still a lot of paperwork to be done.”

13. Legal: Jim Gordon is law professor at BYU, and author of several books. He says: “the point of law school is not to teach you the law, but to teach you how to think as a lawyer.”

To loosen kids up, he presents this legal quandary: “Mark is an honest lawyer. He learns that his client is guilty of a heinous crime. Should he (1) Tell the judge? (2) Tell the police? (3) Withdraw from the case? (4) Defend his client but not argue that the client is innocent?”

Answer: “That was a trick question. There’s no such thing as an honest lawyer.”

14. New Books by Subscribers: Leo, the management coach, says he has two works-in-progress. The first is a self help book entitled, “How to Survive Depression after Self Insight.”

The second book is called, “People I Never Should Have Met.” He’s accepting nominations. They sound like best sellers to me.

15. Medical Errors: The WSJ published a Dr. Marty Makary article (from his new book: “Unaccountable”) entitled “How to Stop Hospitals from Killing Us.” He made this point: If a jumbo jet crashed, it would be front page news. Medical mistakes in America kill enough people to fill four jumbo jets each week. That’s 98,000 deaths from medical errors every year. If medical errors were a disease, they would be the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.

The causes are the usual suspects: infections, bad diagnosis, wrong meds, surgical mistakes, and bad practice. He related how at a Harvard Medical affiliated hospital, he heard the medical team call one well-known surgeon “Dr. Hodad.” There was no one by that name on staff; he asked about it. He was told it was an acronym: “… for Hands of Death & Destruction.”

I just thought I’d cheer you up in case you were going into the hospital. Maybe you should consider being sick at home instead.

16. Sports Commentary: A BBC announcer on the new coach of a troubled soccer team: “He was hired to take them in a new direction, and he did. Unfortunately, it was backwards.”

17.  Sports Records: Matt was talking about motor cycle jumps, ala Evel Knievell. He said: “The current record holder for double decker bus jumps is Eddie Kidd. In 1978, he set the world record by jumping 14 double deckers. The last guy who tried to top that didn’t make it, but put in a tremendous effort: He jumped 13 ½ busses.”

18. Sports Quote: They were interviewing a college athlete on a bad call by the ref and he said, “Yes, Coach wasn’t too happy with that.” Then, he paused and added, “Of course, Coach is never actually that happy anyway.”

19. Sports Titles: When Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France titles were withdrawn over doping allegations, someone wrote in the WSJ: “I’m seriously beginning to doubt Armstrong’s claim that he was the first man to walk on the moon.”

20. Sports: Golf: Charlie’s golf club caters to seniors and he says they offer an interesting challenge: The 18th hole is the trophy hole, and it’s next to the parking lot. Whoever gets their ball closest to a car, wins a pin.

21. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Walt Disney introduced us to these gentlemen in 1937. This is their 75th Anniversary. You might be interested in what they’re up to these days:

1. Sleepy watches a lot of political discourse on C-Span, and is doing product endorsements for Ambien.

2. Sneezy doesn’t get out much; he’s on an organic diet and confined to a sterile environment. He thinks his allergies are under control, but is worried about COPD.

3. Grumpy is a media consultant and Fox talk show host, appearing under his stage name of Bill O’Reilly.

4. Happy was finally told he is neither bi-polar nor manic-depressive. He’s only manic. He was released from the BettyFordCenter and has his life under control.

5. Dopey went back to school, earned an MBA, and is an adviser, specializing in Financial Derivatives, at a large Wall Street firm.

6. Doc has gone corporate, and is now CEO of one of our largest HMO’s, and a presidential adviser on Medicare.

7. Bashful has good days and bad. He gave up listening to Rap, reading tabloids, or watching most new movies. He doesn’t want to spend more time on that respirator.

And Snow White? Well, she drifted, got a tattoo, took some music lessons, and is on tour under her stage name: Lady Gaga.

22. Religious Education Update, Rev 2012: Jerry writes: “I was sitting with a friend of mine talking about the church today. He visits many churches throughout the year. He told me what happened in a local church last Easter. The pastor of this Baptist church called the children, dressed in their Easter outfits, to the front of the Church to sit with him. He said, “Today is Easter. We’re going to talk about the Resurrection. Does anyone know what the Resurrection is?”

One boy raised his hand, and the pastor said “Please, tell us: What is the Resurrection?”

The boy, proud that he knew the answer, said in a clear and loud voice, “I’m not sure, but when you get one lasting more than four hours, you gotta call a doctor!”

It took a solid 10 minutes to restore order in the church.

23. Yiddish Curses for Jews Who Vote Republican: Sondra thinks that all Jews should vote the straight Democratic ticket. She submits a collected list of “Yiddish Curses for Republican Jews” from an Obama/Biden web site. I offer you the Top 10:

10. May you feast every day on chopped liver with onions, chicken soup with

dumplings, baked carp with horseradish, braised meat with vegetable stew, latkes, and may every bite of it be contaminated with E. Coli, because the government gutted the F.D.A.

9. May you live to a hundred and twenty, without Social Security or Medicare.

8. May you live to a ripe old age, and may the only people who come to visit you be Mormon missionaries.

7. May your son win his party’s presidential nomination and may you have to sit through a keynote speech that mentions him once, eighteen minutes in.

6. May you spend your whole life supporting and voting for and sending money to Israel, and may you one day be actually forced to move there.

5. May your son give his Bar Mitzvah speech on the genius of Ayn Rand.

4. May your grandchildren baptize you after you’re dead.

3. May you grow so rich that your widow’s second husband is thrilled when they repeal the estate tax.

2. May you be reunited in the world to come with your ancestors, who were all socialist garment workers.

1. May your insurance company decide constipation is a pre-existing condition.

Bonus: May you have a rare disease and need surgery only one doctor in the world, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, is able to perform. And may he be unable to perform it because he doesn’t take your insurance. And may that Nobel Laureate be your son.

24. Equal Time: Republicans Only: In her WSJ column, Peggy Noonan, retells a story told her by a Hollywood writer, a gifted Conservative who quietly toils there: Joe Biden had a speech draft prepared for the Democratic Convention in Tampa in which he allegedly used this stirring and inspirational statement: “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Tampa. Therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words: ‘Ich bin ein Tampon.’”

25. Saudi Arabia: Women’s Rights Update: The NYT reports on a popular TV show on Saudi TV: “Every Day A Car:” The announcer asks a traffic safety question, and whoever calls in first, with the correct answer, wins a brand new Kia. It’s wildly popular.

Women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia, but they have been calling in with the correct answers. Sometimes they’re even the first caller. What to do?

After study, the leaders decided that (1) Women could call in; (2) If they are first caller with the correct answer, they win the car; (3) They can register and insure it; (4) They just can’t drive it. Well, they got 3 out of 4.

26. Men from Maine: Radio FM107.5 in Boston features Loren & Wally, two amusing guys. They’ve come out with a CD, “Men from Maine”, in which they tell Maine stories in the laconic Down East way: Jeb met Holly at the feed store and asked, “Have you heard about Waldo Bemis’ accident?”

“No, I haven’t,” said Holly, “What happened?”

“Well,” says Jeb, “he was down at the road house way too long, and tried to drive home over that windy back road. He came to that sharp turn between Jeremiah Ball’s farm and the Smith Sister’s farm, and went right off the embankment. The car tipped over, and he was stuck there, pinned in by the steering wheel.”

“That’s terrible news,” said Holly. “Did they get him out all right?”

“Yes,” says Jeb, “both families heard the crash and came running out to help. Fortunately for him, he was pulled out by the Smiths.”

27. Men From Maine II: Holly called Jeb and said, “I’m redoing the wallpaper in my bedroom and I know your room is the same size as mine. How much wallpaper did you buy last year when you repapered your room?”

Jeb says, “I bought ten rolls of wallpaper.”

“Thanks,” says Holly, and he hangs up. A week later he calls Jeb again: “Jeb, I bought ten rolls of wallpaper like you did. I got the whole room papered, and I had two full rolls of wallpaper left over.”

“That’s a funny one,” says Jeb, “so did I.”

28. Romans Said it First: Henry Beard, Latin scholar & humorist, published several books of Latin proverbs and sayings: Original, phony, and new. My favorite is the all purpose, phony Latin translation for the inscriptions you see carved on campus, civic, or religious buildings: Haltingly tell friends that it says: “Having done these things, they made the sacrifices prescribed by custom lest they be found lacking in filial piety.” It shuts them right up.

1. Excuse: Canis meus id comedit: “My dog ate it.”

2. Boast: Lege atque lacrima: “Read ‘em and weep.”

3. Insult: Podex perfectus es: You can claim it means, “You did a perfect job!” In reality, it means, “You are a total a****le.” (Note: I have also seen it written as Podex Maximus, but I think having the “perfectus” in there sounds much better.)

29. A Typical Summer Friday Afternoon in Corporate America. Where is Everybody?

1 The executive staff is on the golf course.

2 The sales and marketing guys are still at lunch.

3 Finance is watching their portfolios and doing tax prep for their friends.

4 Security is watching movies in the CCTV room.

5 The programmers and software guys are designing their own computer game.

6 Manufacturing is planning another seminar on “Total Quality.”

7 The lawyers are drafting irrevocable trusts for their private clients.

8 Engineering is surfing the web.

9 The admins are hosting a baby shower for Mildred in the lunchroom.

10 R&D is watching the new “Star Wars” release on their iPads.

11 Maintenance is helping Harry build his dog house.

12 Customer Services switched on the answering machine and are hanging out; while people trying to call hear: “Please listen closely as our menu has changed; all our agents are busy helping other customers; your call is very important to us…”

13  And – Human Resources is in another all day meeting, asking each other: “What is our Mission?”

And that brings to a close the final chapter of our 28 year (1984 – 2012) humorous interlude. I started The Jokesmith in 1984 after publishing my first book (“We’re Roasting Harry Tuesday Night, How to Plan, Write, and conduct the Business/Social Roast” (commercial: It’s still available from here for $24 postpaid).  The Jokesmith was a part-time venture, as I roamed around the corporate world until 2000, and then work expanded to fill the retirement time available, along with speech augmentations (adding jokes and one-liners to executive speeches).

I still remember what must have been my 3d retirement party (roast). The emcee said, “How can we miss you if you never go away?” That was Linda. I called her my “Girl VP.”

She is bright, talented, experienced, and headed for the top. Once, at lunch, I told her she was aggressive too. She said, “I am not aggressive, and if you say that again, I’ll hit you.”

Now, grandson Kevin set me up with a blog. I write essays on non-controversial subjects such as religion and politics, but it’s mostly stories and anecdotes from my own checkered business career. If you have a chance, please check it out at .  I will be interested in your feedback.

Some of you have been with me for years. I thank you for that. I also thank Bill Nicholas who has been a contributor and counselor since Day One, and all the people over the years who stuffed envelopes, licked stamps, stuck on labels (the youngest was 5, the oldest was 90). I wish you all well in the New Year and beyond. I now close with a piece I heard from Charles Kuralt, formerly of CBS Sunday Morning (Copyright 2009 CBS) when he moved on:

“There is a rhyme by Clarence Day which says what I want to say: ‘Farewell, my friends, farewell and hail; I’m off to seek the holy grail; I cannot tell you why; remember, please when I am gone, ’twas aspiration led me on; tiddly-widdly-toodle-oo, all I want is to stay with you, but here I go, goodbye.’

Here I go, Goodbye!



Roast Round-Up:


1. Comedy Central’s Roseanne Barr Roast: Jeffrey Ross and his cohorts did it again with an irreverent and off-color roast of comedian/actress/presidential candidate Roseanne Barr. We’ve come a long way from the family-friendly Dean Martin roasts (with the likes of Johnny Carson, George Burns, Jack Benny, etc.)  and if this current gang doesn’t kill off roasts for the multitudes, no one ever will. We begin by striking the Joe Paterno/Aurura shooting jokes that were told at the roast, but thankfully cut for the TV audience.

1. Referring to Roseanne’s attempts to get a presidential nomination from the Green Party, Amy Schumer said: “I was surprised you were running for president. Most people were surprised that you were just … running.”

2. Seth Green said: “Roseanne has enough money not to work, but she still does a TV show every few years to punish us. She’s even had two reality shows, which is a lot for someone out of touch with reality.”

3.Katey Sagal said: It’s good to see Roseanne back in the spotlight. Technically, it’s two spotlights, but you get the idea.”

4. Gilbert Gottfried, referring to RB as “Godzilla,” said: “Tonight we can end the reign of Rozilla forever. Everyone, grab your torches, and lead her to the pit. She’ll think it’s a barbeque.”

5. Ex-Husband Tom Arnold appeared, after an ugly divorce from the guest, and said: “Roseanne once had ‘Property of Tom Arnold’ tattooed on her hip. That makes me the fourth largest property owner in California.” Later, he said: “I learned a lot from my marriage to Roseanne. For one thing, my current wife signed a pre-nup.”

6. Jane Lynch said: “Roseanne is one of those few celebrities so famous you can refer to her by one name: ‘Bitch.’”

7. In her wrap-up, Roseanne had one great line: “If I can smile and welcome Tom Arnold, regardless of how much I hate him, we all have a real chance for World Peace.”

2. A Cardinal and a Comedian walked into an auditorium…. No, it’s not the start of a joke, it’s a report on the appearances of comedian Stephen Colbert and New York Cardinal Timothy Dalton appearing together onstage at FordhamUniversity before 3,000 cheering students. It was billed as two Catholic celebrities discussing how joy and humor infuse their spiritual lives. It was emceed by Rev. James Martin S.J., who writes joke books to show there is no contradiction between happiness and holiness.

The evening was not open to the media, but of course that didn’t work (when will the Church learn?) and several journalists were admitted as guests and naturally Twittered out live updates and the veil of secrecy, if there ever was one, disappeared forever.

The evening began by the two principals meeting on stage, where the Cardinal kissed Colbert’s hand. Colbert tweaked the Cardinal on the Church’s new liturgy, which hardly anybody likes or even thinks was necessary, by saying of a new translation: “You changed the Nicene Creed from “of one substance” to “consubstantial?” Come on, it’s the Creed not an SAT prep!”

The audience offered questions by Twitter. One asked the Cardinal if he should give up dating while trying to determine if he had a calling to the priesthood. The Cardinal said no. “It will help you discern if the celibate life is what you really want.” Colbert chimed in: “And it’s a great pick-up line: ‘Hello. I’m considering the priesthood, but you could change my mind.’”

Another question was asked about religious hatred and bigotry, especially against homosexuals. Colbert responded: “If someone preaches hate, they’re not your religious leader.”

The Cardinal asked Colbert: “Do you feel pressured to be funny all the time?” Colbert replied: “No, do you feel pressured to be holy all the time?”

In all, it was a great success and the organizers are being urged to present it on TV. It blended both humor and faith in a mutually respectable way. Colbert summed it up nicely: “My Faith brings me great joy. The Church brings me great happiness. I love my Faith, warts and all.”

The Cardinal said: “If I’m ever elected Pope, and that may be the night’s biggest joke, I’ll call myself Stephen III.”

P.S. Delegating Upward: The Cardinal told a story about Pope John XXIII: “Every night about midnight he’d kneel at the altar and say: ‘Lord, here are the things I am ready to take a bottle of grappa over.’ And he’d list all the crisis of the day. Then, he’d say: ‘Lord, it’s Your Church, not mine. I did the best I could. I’m going to bed now.’ And he was done for the day.” Try it.

3. Don Rickles: Milton Berle called him, “The Merchant of Venom,” and Johnny Carson dubbed him, “Mr. Warmth.” Frank Sinatra partly discovered him when he walked into a restaurant where Rickles was performing and Rickles adlibbed, “Hi, Frank. Be yourself: Hit somebody.” Sinatra loved his fearlessness and got him on Ronald Reagan’s inaugural banquet agenda by threatening not to attend himself without Rickles.

Whatever you call him, Don Rickles is 86, still around, and even occasionally working.

Don was recently awarded the Johnny Carson Award at the second annual Comedy Awards program. It was presented by last year’s winner, David Letterman.

Robert De Niro showed up and gave a Ricklesesque tribute: “I worked with Don on a picture for Martin Scorsese. We did 8 pictures together. We had success, awards, stardom and then – bam! One picture with Rickles and it’s all down the toilet.” Well done, Don.

Finally: I am asked what I think was my best joke. Here ‘tis: “My greatest fear is that I will end up in the Final Judgment line behind Mother Theresa, and God will be telling her: “That’s all very nice, but you could have done more.”

Remember the blog. I may cover the upcoming Al Smith Dinner and I’ll publish it there.

Have a Happy Holiday Season, a Happy and Healthy New Year, and a good “the rest of your life.”

Regards, Ed M.

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The Army, The Orange Juice, and The Nuns

The Army, The Orange Juice and The Nuns:


It was the summer of 1963. I was out of the active army and back in Fitchburg as a member of the US Army Active Reserve. This meant one night a week (sometimes two), one weekend a month at nearby Fort Devens, and two weeks in the summer on active duty at Camp Drum in New York.

I was a first lieutenant, and in an understaffed reserve company in a small city that was plenty of rank indeed. I had my own Jeep. Anyone who has ever been in the service will tell you that having your own Jeep is the ultimate perk. You can tote things, you can pull things, you can get lost for a couple of hours, and nobody said a word.

Each month we went to FortDevens for our weekend training. We were using training manuals that came out of World War II, while our troops in Vietnam were learning strategy and tactics that made our stuff look archaic. I remember being joined one day by a training officer just back from Vietnam. He watched us attack a hill like our books said to do it. We softened it with machine gun and mortar fire, and then marched across an open field toward the hill, firing from the shoulder as we walked. He shook his head sadly. “All you need now,” he said, “is a set of bagpipes and a drum and you can take any hill in India.”

Military techniques aside, the logistics of feeding hundreds of weekend warriors was a great challenge for the Army Reserve. We may not have known the latest techniques, but we knew how to eat, and three meals a day were absolutely essential. The problem was: How many people do you plan for? We had over 200 people on our roster, but on any given weekend they could get excused, sick, or simply disappear. How many rations should we order? We thought better order a few extra than a few less, so we’d order for the full complement, and end up with leftovers. All good food, mind you, baskets and boxes of it: All sealed and safe, even if out of the original packing container.

“What happens to all the leftovers?” I asked the mess sergeant one June Sunday as I looked at about fifty lunches untouched after an all day drill.

“We throw them away,” he said.

“What? Throw them away?” I couldn’t believe it. What a waste. “Why not turn them back into the quartermaster?”

“Reason one,” he began, as though talking to a child, “How do you turn in a sandwich?

“Reason two,” to whom do you turn it in? The quartermaster people aren’t here on Sunday.”

“And reason three,” he concluded, “if you turn any stuff back in, they get upset at your over ordering, and they cut back your order the next time, and that may be the time you really need it. You could have a food riot on your hands.”

“Then let the guys take the extra lunches home.”

“That, Sir,” he sneered, “is called theft of government property.”

I gave it a lot of thought. Well, a minute or two anyway. I said, “Load those lunches into my Jeep and cover them with a tarp. I will handle the matter from here.”

And so it was that I became a food thief from the US Army. That first time it was box lunches of sandwiches, chips, and drinks. I brought them to a Salvation Army soup kitchen. The preacher thanked me with tears in his eyes. He said, “Tell me your name so I can write the Army and let them know what a good man you are.”

“Please don’t,” I replied. “It’s not necessary and they’d probably just shoot me anyway.” I felt like the Lone Ranger leaving incognito the scene of a random act of kindness.

Nobody at the Fort noticed or mentioned the missing box lunches.

The next month, July, it was bacon, eggs, bread and milk. There were cases of the stuff. I took it all to a local nursing home. They were very happy. I did my good deed and slipped away into the night. Once again, nobody noticed a thing.

All this while, by the way, I was complaining to my commanding officer about this waste of government property (the throwing it away part, not the stealing it part). I suggested that unused food should be turned over to the base kitchen for use the next day. The paperwork, he said, would be a real killer. Then there would be audits and inspections and questions. But, he agreed, my idea made sense and he would see what he could do. I noticed the Army usually ends up doing what makes sense. Sometimes, it just takes a little time.

It was the orange juice and the nuns that did me in. All that was left in the kitchen tent that hot August Sunday afternoon was orange juice: Fifteen one gallon cans of the stuff. I loaded them into my Jeep, strapped down the tarp, and thought: “What will I do with these? Who would want fifteen gallons of orange juice?” I exited Route #2 West coming from the Fort and pulled up on South Street in Fitchburg, when it came to me like a flash. The nuns! This road took me right past the convent where the retired Sisters of the Presentation made their mother house for the retired nuns who had taught in the local parochial school systems. That was the answer. My mother worked with these elderly nuns and they appreciated every little kindness done for them. I would give them the orange juice for a Sunday afternoon treat.

I wheeled my Jeep into their convent driveway, knocked on the door, and asked for Sister “Cook.” Honest, that’s what they all called her. I gave her a brief explanation, short on specifics, carried the cans into the kitchen for her, and was on my way. It bothered me a bit that she seemed to recognize me. How could a nun recognize every little kid she had met over a fifty year career? Especially some twenty years later when he showed up in a uniform with a steel helmet, and a Jeep load of orange juice.

Yes, I had done another good deed and once again, I was sure, no one would be the wiser. How could I get into trouble giving orange juice to the nuns? The question was answered the next morning when my mother called me, “What did you do to those poor nuns?” she demanded.

“I gave them orange juice: Fifteen gallon cans of orange juice.”

“And did you read the labels?” she continued. Those were one gallon cans of concentrated orange juice. You empty those cans and then fill them up again with water four times each. You gave them seventy-five gallons of orange juice.”

“I’m guessing that’s bad?” I asked.

“Bad? Bad? They’ve filled every pot in the convent with orange juice. You know they can’t waste anything. Now they’ll have to drink it before it turns bad. The old nuns are asking for a glass of water or a cup of tea and Mother Superior is telling them to drink the orange juice first. They weren’t sure you were all that bright in grammar school. Now they know for certain.”

“I’ll solve the problem,” I began. “I’ll go down there and….”

“Stay away from them,” she warned. “Sister Cook is a little confused these days. She’s been telling people about armed soldiers coming into her kitchen and forcing her to take all that orange juice. If you show up, they’ll put the story together and you could be in trouble with both the nuns and the Army.”

“Mother,” I said, “it sounds like Sister Cook is making up what we call a cover story…”

“Just stay away from the convent. The Ladies Club is holding a bridge club and bazaar there this afternoon. Thanks to you, the refreshments will be orange juice, orange pudding, orange muffins, orange bread, and fresh fruit orange drinks.” She broke off the connection, obviously upset.

I reviewed my position. I had probably committed a federal crime. If the Army found out, it could mean Leavenworth Prison. A bunch of gentle old nuns wanted my scalp. My own mother had turned on me. And no good deed goes unpunished. I had implemented better plans than this.

Well, it all blew over. Mother and her friends helped use up all the orange juice at their bazaar. The old nuns could have tea again. I was free and clear. And by September, the Army was routing unused drill food back into the army kitchen system. Nothing would be wasted again. Mother forgave me, like always. I figured the nuns would just forget about it and it would all be over. I was wrong again.

Ten years later I went to a local benefit and they wheeled in a few of the surviving nuns from the South Street Convent. One of them must have been in her nineties. It was Sister Cook.

I smiled at her in the reception line and tried to ooze past, but she grabbed my arm with a grip of steel. “Which brother?” she wheezed, asking the question my brothers Leo, George, and I were always being asked. I told her I was the youngest, Edward. She stared at me for a moment, and then said, “You’re the nut with the orange juice, aren’t you?”

I smiled and nodded yes. She said, “We almost had a revolt until your mother and her friends got rid of it all.” Then, she smiled and nodded too. It was our shared secret and it was a safe as it could be. I went home in peace.


    “The Army, The Orange Juice, and the Nuns” was a follow-up to “The Summer of ’55” published in Reminisce Magazine in the 90’s.

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The Summer of ’55

The Summer of 1955:

          The summer of 1955 was hot, exciting, and filled with promise. I just graduated from St. Bernard’s High School, was accepted at the University of Massachusetts, and had my first adult job at Hedstrom-Union Company in Fitchburg. The pay was a respectable $1.08 per hour. Life was good.

          Hedstrom-Union made bicycles, carriages, and children’s furniture. The finishing and assembly operations were done at different locations around the city, so interplant traffic was heavy. They always needed spare truck drivers. I said I was 18 (I was really 17). I got a job driving on old six-wheeler between plants.

The truck was an antique Ford from the 1940’s. It was an old dumper with a wooden stake body and a transmission that could frustrate a weight lifter. I would roll it away from the loading dock in low, wait until I was out of earshot, then put my shoulder behind the floor shift and push up it into second while double-clutching. My foreman would sit patiently beside me watching these antics. “Grind me a pound too,” was his only comment.

The company’s executives all lived in Gardner, about 15 miles from the plant. If we were there with an empty truck, the practice was to swing by their homes and pick up a load of rubbish for the dump. The family lived in a compound of expensive homes on neatly manicured lawns. They were nice people. My favorite person by far was Mrs. Hedstrom, Senior.

Mrs. Hedstrom was the founder’s wife and the president’s mother. A lively, social woman in her eighties, she always offered cold drinks and snacks on a hot afternoon, a story or two about the old days, and a load of rubbish for the dump. This day she had barrels of trash for me to cart away. I had the truck loaded when she asked me to take along a tin of ashes from the fireplace. Wearing my heavy canvas gloves, I grabbed the container, threw it onto the truck, and was on my way to the dump and the main plant.

It was a beautiful summer day. As we drove through town, my foreman remarked, “I don’t remember an early June this hot.” We learned the reason when we stopped for a red light. The truck’s cab filled with smoke. “Oh no!” he cried, “You’ve set the truck on fire!” I looked out the back window. Mrs. Hedstrom’s rubbish barrel was on fire and so was the back of the truck.

Quick thinking is what I do best. I got the truck rolling in low, cut across the lane against traffic, and pulled up to the front door of the local fire station. By now, the truck was fully engaged. I ran into the station yelling, “Fire! Fire!” An officer stopped me. “Where is it?” he demanded. “Outside, in the truck!” He seemed puzzled. “You brought the fire to us?”

The station started filling with smoke and he quickly realized what I had done. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the fire engine out because my flaming truck was blocking the door. “That thing is going to blow,” someone yelled, “and it will take us with it!”

Quick thinking was what they did best too. They hooked up their pumper, started it inside the station, and ran hoses up through their living quarters and out the front windows where they could douse the fire. Shortly, my flaming truck was under control. Meanwhile, the fire station was trashed. It was full of smoke and water, their living quarters were soaked and sooty, the front windows were broken, and they had a genuine attitude problem. They took my name and address, sent a tow for my truck, and reported everything to Hedstrom’s office. I suspected there would be trouble.

There was trouble. Mr. Wolfe, the personnel manager, was in the process of firing me, when Mrs. Hedstrom called and put in a few good words for me. She felt some responsibility for the ashes and found the whole story mildly amusing. Mr. Wolfe did not. He reminded her that he was the personnel manager. She reminded him that she was the founder’s wife and the president’s mother. She won. I was removed from truck driving and assigned to the warehouse – as a forklift operator.

Forklifts are fun to drive. These were electric lifts that ran around the warehouse on steel plates that gave them traction, power, and speed. I used to watch the experienced guys turn those machines on a dime. My favorite trick was the way they went from one department to another through the large swinging doors that separated inventory areas. They lowered the forks to ground level, so they would hit the steel plates bolted to the bottom of the doors. Then they leaned on the horns, picked up speed, and banged right through. The key part was to lower the forks to ground level so they hit the steel plates bolted to the doors. I remembered everything but that.

In a few days, my chance came. I was to move some pallets from one area to another and that meant going through the swinging doors. I spun that lift around, leaned on the horn, stomped on the accelerator, and headed for the doors. If only I had lowered the forks. Those forks hit the doors amidships like a battering ram. There was a great cry of twisted iron and tormented plaster. Then, down came the doors, the doorframes, and a surprisingly large hunk of the wall. I lost control of the lift by this time and it careened across the warehouse with the impaled doors in place and smashed into an order of tricycles before it toppled over and went silent. Fortunately, I was not hurt.

I knew this meant more trouble. I was right again. Mr. Wolfe figured my career might better be pursued elsewhere, but he reckoned without another call from Mrs. Hedstrom. She asked why he had assigned me to drive anything when I was only 17 years old. Somehow, she convinced him that the whole mess was his fault. I was demoted and put on the yard gang as a common laborer.

My job was to mow the Hedstrom’s lawns. They had the first self-propelled power lawnmower I ever saw. It was big and red and beautiful, with a huge Briggs & Stratton engine that could power a speedboat. It was a reel mower, but many times the size of anything I had seen before. It was only a few days before my foreman let me run it while he napped under the shade of a tree.

The younger Mr. Hedstrom showed his Swedish ancestry by maintaining one of the most beautiful flower gardens in the city. He had gardeners come in to care for these plants and by early summer his yard was a riot of beautiful colors and fragrances. It was magnificent. I learned I could cut his lawn in one-third less time by running the mower at top speed while I jogged along behind it. I was 17 and in shape. A jogger before his time.

One afternoon, as I jogged behind the roaring machine, I tripped over the exposed root of an old tree. I went down for the count, but the mower continued merrily on in its high-powered and self-propelled way. I watched in horror as it headed for the flower garden, and then in fascination as it cut a perfect, thirty-six inch swath through the center of the flowerbed. Then, choking on the flowers it had gorged, it coughed and rumbled to a halt just this side of the swimming pool.

I surveyed the damage. It was a three-foot path through the center of the garden so geometrically perfect that it looked to be the work of a landscape architect. I raked and bagged the clippings; stomach pumped the lawn mower, and loaded everything back on the truck. I awakened my foreman and said it was time to go. He looked around, congratulated me on my neatness, and we drove back to the plant in silence.

I called Mrs. Hedstrom and told her the whole story. She said to tell no one. She would handle it with her son. And she did. I don’t know how or why, but I kept my job. I was demoted a grade below common laborer and Mr. Wolfe told me not to touch machinery of any kind for any reason. He said “for life”, but I’m sure that was just to make his point. They put me back on the yard crew. Now my job was to trim hedges (with manual clippers) and pull weeds. They sent me to the home of the founder, Mr. Hedstrom, Senior. I was issued a gunnysack and told to go pull weeds. I did so with alacrity. And so many weeds there were! Three sides of his home were lined with the ugliest, scraggly, stringy looking weeds I had ever seen. I made short work of them. Within an hour I had emptied my sack onto the truck three times.

I went into the front yard where Mr. Hedstrom was taking the sun. More ugly weeds were around the steps where he sat. I started towards them. “Don’t go near those, boy!” he said.

“Why, sir?”

“Why?” He couldn’t comprehend such ignorance. “Those are Svengalis! One of the most delicate Swedish plants known to man. They blossom every two years but they are fragile and must never be touched. I went all the way to Sweden and brought those back through Customs myself.” Then he delivered the topper: “Didn’t you notice them all around the other three sides of the house?”

I excused myself to go about my duties. I walked until out of his sight, and then made a mad dash for the truck. I spent the next hour stuffing Svengalis back into the ground and piling dirt and mulch around them. By noon, the yard was done and the Svengalis looked much as they had.

The next week when I came back I found Mr. Hedstrom very distressed. “I can’t understand it,” he said. “My Svengalis died on three sides of the house. Only the ones in front here still live. What could have done that?”

“Maybe it was an early frost?” I suggested.

“In July?” he said.

I told Mrs. Hedstrom what happened. She said she’d handle it. I was demoted again and taken off both the truck and the yard crew. My new job was to sweep the factory floor – eight hours a day, sweeping the factory floor. Mr. Wolfe said to touch nothing but the broom and a dustpan. Nothing.

The problem was it didn’t take eight hours to sweep the factory floor. The factory was laid out in a circle and it didn’t take that long to get around it. I was also made nervous by the continued presence of Mr. Hedstrom, the president. He was always out there walking around and looking for malingerers. He didn’t know me by sight and I never felt compelled to introduce myself, so we never spoke. I asked my foreman what to do when Mr. Hedstrom was around. “Keep busy,” he said, “and never stop moving.” I took his guidance to heart.

I would sweep diligently for five or six hours a day, and then walk around the factory with the broom in my hand. I looked like I was on a sacred mission. Occasionally, I would round a corner to see Mr. Hedstrom coming the other way. I would smile, pick up the pace, and pass him at a fast trot.

A few weeks of this and I was called into Mr. Wolfe’s office. “Are you going to demote me again?” I asked. “No,” he said, rubbing his care-lined face, “there is no position here lower than the one you already have. You are here because … Mr. Hedstrom said to give you a raise. He likes the way you hustle.” I took the money but there was no satisfaction in Mr. Wolfe’s despair.

My exit interview was September 1, 1955. Mr. Wolfe asked me what I had been paid. I told him $1.08 to $1.15 an hour. He said that Accounting figured out that if they paid me $50.00 an hour to stay home, they would have been ahead of the game.

“By the way,” he concluded, grinding his teeth. “Mrs. Hedstrom called and said to tell you goodbye. She said she hopes you’ll come back and work for us next summer.” I said I’d think about it. I thanked Mr. Wolfe for his many kindnesses and left.

Shortly thereafter, Hedstrom-Union moved their entire operation from Fitchburg to North Carolina. Some said it was due to labor troubles. Others said they wanted closer proximity to their major markets. A few thought it was a transportation and distribution issue.

I’ve always wondered if it had anything to do with me.

 Ed. Note: “The Summer of ’55” was originally published in Reminisce Magazine in the early 90’s. It was also recorded on “Talking Books for the Blind.” It is now included in my unpublished book of essays: “Upside Down and Backwards: Essays, Musings, Adventures, and Rants From An (Over) Examined Life.”

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