Two knobs in the lower corners on the front of a plastic cube-like structure, when rotated clockwise or counterclockwise, move a stylus that displaces a metallic powder on the back of a screen, leaving horizontal and vertical lineographic images – in layman’s terms, magic. In the Romneywords of the French inventor, L’ecran Magique. Or in the words of the marketers who made it one of the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the 20th century, Etch-a-Sketch.

The mechanical drawing toy, which was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998, was first marketed on July 12, 1960, by the Ohio Art Company, timed perfectly to catch the big wave of the Baby Boom. In England, it was known as the DoodleMaster Magic Screen. (There was also the Magna Doodle and the Mystic Writing Pad.)

Although it remained popular throughout the fifty plus years of its existence, the Etch-A-Sketch reached a new notoriety in 2012, when it became a part of the demise of a presidential campaign. The simple plastic rectangular box may have contributed as much to the 2012 election – in influence –  as all the SuperPACs put together. It happened when candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, asked if Romney was boxing himself into ultra-conservative opinions during the primary, answered: “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

Trying to contain the brouhaha, the Romney campaign only added to its woes by saying that since the mention of Etch-A-Sketch caused its maker’s stock price to triple, they would next mention Mr. Potatohead.




To burnish his environmental creds, President Reagan visited the salt marshes and crabbing grounds of the Chesapeake Bay. There he claimed credit for cleanup efforts in the area, provoking a hue and cry among critics who found his environmental policies wanting.

In a bit of derring-do, the President climbed to the top of a 50-foot observation tower at the Bird_WatchingBlackwater National Wildlife Refuge and made eye contact with two wild bald eagles.

Lunching with a group of Republican Chesapeake Bay fishermen at a Tilghman Island fishing village, Reagan asserted that his efforts to protect the environment were ”one of the best-kept secrets” of his Administration, which indeed they were since no one had been able to find them. The grateful fishermen donated two bushels of crabs to his re-election campaign.

When a reporter asked the President where former EPA head Anne Burford who had resigned amid charges of mismanagement fit into his secret record, press secretary Larry Speakes ordered the lights turned off. Reagan, who was used to being in the dark was unfazed. “My guardian says I can’t talk,” he quipped. Thus, his environmental record remained a closely guarded secret.

Unfortunately for Scott Pruitt who just resigned  as EPA chief, Larry Speakes was not around to turn off the lights.  And Anne Burford’s image just climbed a notch or two (though not of her own doing).



In 1927, thrill-seekers plunked down their quarters to take a ride on the Cyclone, a new attraction at Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Noting the success of the Thunderbolt in 1925 and the Tornado in 1926, Jack and Irving Rosenthal jumped into the roller coaster business to the tune of about $175,000, and the Cyclone was built.   It would take only 700,000 riders to recoup their investment. The Cyclone was built on the site of America’s first roller coaster, known as Switchback Railway, which had opened in 1884.

The Cyclone remained extremely popular through the years and has accumulated its share of legends. One is from 1948, when a coal miner with aphonia, the loss of speaking ability, took a ride. He had not spoken in years, but screamed as the Cyclone plummeted down the first drop, and said “I feel sick” as his train returned to the station, whereupon he fainted.

Statistics were never kept to tell us how many other people got sick on the Cyclone or how many threw up.  And of course there were more serious incidents. Two men were killed in separate incidents during the 1980s, both Darwin Award contenders who felt the need to stand up during the ride. One fell out and the other was whacked by a crossbeam.

The Cyclone began to deteriorate during the 1960s and was shut down in 1969. Two years later, the city of New York bought it for one million dollars. It was condemned a short time later and, in 1972, it was nearly destroyed to make way for an expansion of the New York Aquarium. A “Save the Cyclone” campaign did just that, and it was refurbished and reopened in 1975. The Cyclone was declared a city landmark in 1988 and a National Historic Landmark in 1991.

That quarter ticket now costs nine dollars.



I used to be a Republican.  There, it’s out in the open.  It was a long time ago, and I was too young to see the error of my ways.  At the time, our family was pretty much all Republican – not avid table thumping Republicans, but Republicans all the same.  Truman was a swear word, and we all liked Ike.  Ike was like a grandfather, and my grandmother loved him.

As long as I’m confessing, I might as well admit that I probably would have voted for Nixon over Kennedy.  Fortunately, I was not old enough to vote.  It was a couple of years later  in college that I began to change.  See, the conservatives are right.  Colleges take our respectable fresh-faced Republican youths and teach them unsavory liberal things like literature and philosophy and science.

Honest John

It happened to me, and I never saw it coming.  For a few days, I was just an independent.  But it’s a slippery slope indeed, and the leftward lurch was inevitable.  And by the time I graduated from the halls of propaganda, my mind had been molded into the liberal quagmire it is today.

In the space of time between my Republican innocence and my liberal decadence, I did my mandated military time.  Since I was a Republican and Republicans love guns, I naturally opted for service that dealt with guns.  I joined the artillery because they had big guns, guns they didn’t have to carry over their shoulders.

After my six mouths of basic gun toting, I became a typical weekend warrior spending some miserable hungover Sunday mornings doing my thing for my country.  And every summer I did my two weeks duty, even as I was fast becoming a liberal.   Being an artillery sort of guy, we got into big guns, really big guns during our summer mission.  This really big sucker of a gun we toted was called an Honest John, and I guess it was technically a rocket not a gun.  One summer we got to fire the thing.  Actually we didn’t get to pull a trigger or anything; we just stood around while it was fired.  It was a holy shit moment when that thing took off, like a launch at Cape Canaveral only lots faster.

During the rest of the two weeks, we got to tote the sucker around the woods of Washington, pretending we were in pitched battle with an unseen enemy (probably Mexican rapists and murderers).  For me, the high point of the exercise was the day we camouflaged Honest John so well we couldn’t find it for several hours.

Our Honest John rocket, hidden

Yes, you can see it happening: I was morphing into nasty liberalism, and liberals like nothing better than to hide guns from conservatives.   Sad but true.  I don’t really like guns any more, little or big, or rockets. As Johnny Cash sang:  “Don’t take your rockets to town son, leave your rockets at home, Bill.  Don’t take your rockets to town.”

Or perhaps as Waylon Jennings sang: “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be liberals.”




It was the middle of the night in June 1972, and while much of the nation slept, something was burglarafoot at a large apartment complex in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington DC. A security guard noticed pieces of tape covering the latch on the locks on several doors, leaving the doors unlocked. He removed the tape, naively thinking nothing of it – the wind maybe?  (He evidently had never read a suspense novel.)  An hour later, he discovered that the locks had been retaped and realized that this was something more than just the wind. He called the police who discovered not just one but five intruders in the offices belonging to the Democratic National Committee.

     The five men were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications. In September, a grand jury indicted them and two other men (E. Howard Hunt, Jr. and G. Gordon Liddy) for conspiracy, burglary, and violation of federal wiretapping laws.

     The men who broke into the office were tried and convicted in early 1973.  An investigation, tied all five men to CREEP. CREEP is the loving acronym applied to the 1972 Committee to Re-elect the President, the President being Richard Milhouse Nixon. Trial judge, John J. Sirica, (who evidently did read suspense novels) suspected a conspiracy involving people at the pinnacles of government.

     In March 1973, James McCord, one of the original gang of five claimed that he was told to plead guilty. He implicated Attorney General John Mitchell and other top Nixon aides, who began to topple like so many Republican dominoes, and the June 17 Watergate robbery quickly escalated into one of the juiciest political scandals of the century.  Although many have tried to top it, none have succeeded.  Until now, perhaps.




Back in the 7th century on an island in northern Britain, the very holy St. Cuthbert gave up the ghost. The exact date of his departure was March 20, 689. Not only was Cuthbert very holy, he was, you might say, holier than thou, or at least holier than all his peers. He devoted his entire life to converting the half-savage heathens (and there were quite a few half-savage heathens at the time) and praying — lots of praying. Such was his devotion that those about him often wondered if he were not a man but an angel.

Cuthbert was duly shrouded and buried, remaining at rest for some 11 years until some curious monks dug him up to have a peek. They found Cuthbert in perfect condition, which they accepted as miraculous proof of his saintly character. They placed him in a new coffin, leaving him above ground so he might perform miraculous cures.

Another 174 years passed and, with Britain facing an invasion by the Danes, the monks (different monks) carried Cuthbert’s still perfect body away and wandered with it from place to place for many years.

Finally in the 11th century, Cuthbert’s body found a permanent home where it was enshrined and enriched with offerings of gold and jewelry from the faithful (there were a lot more of them now). In 1104, the body was inspected again and found still fresh. Another 400 years and another inspection.

Three hundred years. It’s 1827 and Cuthbert is past due for inspection. This time, however, the inspectors were much more rigorous, and it was discovered that Cuthbert was an ordinary skeleton swaddled up to look whole, including plaster balls to plump out the eye holes. It would appear that some monks along the way had been quite naughty. St. Cuthbert himself serves as a fine example of a person who was far more interesting dead than alive.

Deciders Unite

The Whigs didn’t last long as as political party. Formed in the 1830s out of annoyance with Andrew Jackson, they gave us four presidents — William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary republicanTaylor and Millard Fillmore, commonly known by their nickname, Who? (not to be confused with the rock group of the same name). As is the case with many political parties, they had disagreements over tents, finding themselves unable to deal with the concept of big ones, and eventually tore themselves asunder with internal disagreements.

The semi-official date of the party’s actual death was March 20, 1854. On that date, a number of don’t wanna-be Whigs met in Ripon, Wisconsin, and the result of that meeting was the birth of the Republican party, which lasted until 2016.

Yellow Bird, Part II: Lady Meets Bird

“Bon jour,” said Antoine, “you have returned.” He held his arms out in an expansive, embracing gesture that suggested he might step forward andYELLOW throw his arms around her. Instead, he dropped them to his side. “I am very pleased that you have come back and I am flattered as well.”

“You knew I’d be back,” she accused, leaning back against a post that supported the roof of the patio – rather seductive, thought Antoine, noting how her stance favored her figure, and rather reckless, given the condition of the structure against which she leaned. The simple blouse and short skirt were island skimpy but not as dramatic as last night’s outfit.

“I hoped,” said Antoine. “I only hoped. Please sit down.” He was relieved that even though she didn’t follow his suggestion, she did move away from the post. “All of the lunch guests have finished and departed. I’m sure, however, that I can find something in the kitchen to accommodate your desires.”

Her dark eyes flashed with the suggestion that they hid more desires than he or his kitchen could accommodate. “I purposely came late,” she said, and Antoine’s heart raced until she added: “I had a breakfast meeting, so I’m skipping lunch. I came late so I wouldn’t be tempted.” Antoine stifled a sigh. “At least not by food,” she said, and her eyes were once again toying with him.

“Then let us try to tempt you with something else,” said Antoine, and he too paused with playful ambiguity. “Some wine perhaps?”

“You’ve done it,” she said, laughing. “You’ve broken my will. I’d love some wine.”

Antoine departed, then returned a few minutes later carrying two glasses and an open bottle of wine. He found his guest wandering just beyond the patio. “You’re absolutely right. This is like what I’d imagine the Garden of Eden to be.”

“But there are no snakes,” Antoine said, sitting down on the edge of the patio and pouring the wine.

“There are, however, other tempters,” she said, returning to the patio and sitting down so that the two glasses of wine were between them. “That tree is magnificent. What is it?”


She studied the tree, squinting. “I’m not wearing my glasses. Do I see a parrot near the top of the tree?”

“I’m inclined to think it is some scoundrel from the Middle Ages changed to a bird by a sorcerer,” said Antoine.

She laughed. “I feel foolish having to ask. After all, I am an ornithologist, albeit a nearsighted one. I study North American species primarily.”

Nearsighted, thought Antoine. So those deep dark eyes are not perfect in every way. “You’re more than welcome to study that bird,” he said. As if summoned by Antoine’s words, the parrot descended from its lofty perch, glided toward them and came to rest, with much ado and fluttering, on the ornithologist’s bare knee. “Perhaps,” Antoine added, “you would like to dissect it.”

The ornithologist was startled for only a moment by the parrot’s arrival. She grinned at it and said, “Pretty bird.” Somehow Antoine would have expected an ornithologist to say something more meaningful to a bird.

Beaux nichons,” the bird answered.

“Hush,” said Antoine, reddening. “He just babbles sometimes.”

“I understand some French,” she said, flashing those dark eyes at the bird. “You are a brazen bird.”

Beaux nichons,” said the parrot. “Beaux nichons.”

“I apologize for the bird’s complete lack of civility and taste.”

“It’s all right,” she said with a giggle. “After all, he’s French.”

“I assure you there is not a single French feather on that vile bird. He speaks French only to embarrass me. Probably taught to him by an Englishman. His pronunciation is appalling. Apologize to Mademoiselle . . . Goodness me, I’m afraid I have inadvertently failed to inquire for your name.”

“Rachel,” she said, smiling back at him while she stroked the bird’s head.

“Rachel,” said Antoine. “A lovely name, but one would expect that.”

“Rachel,” said the bird.

“See,” said Rachel. “The old bird’s not hopelessly bad.”

Beaux nichons,” said the bird, and with another dramatic fluttering of wings, it lifted off toward the tamarind tree.

They sipped at their wine without speaking, emptying their glasses, and Antoine quickly refilled them. “The parrot’s coloring is quite remarkable,” said Rachel, and Antoine suspected that ornithology had erased any thoughts of romance. “I think it might be quite rare.”

“I would hope so.”

“I mean it might be endangered. I have a colleague that would know for sure. I’d like to bring him by. He knows tropical birds. He’s been working in the islands for years – most recently in Martinique.”

“Ah, he’s French,” said Antoine.

“No, he’s not.”

Antoine shrugged. “He can be forgiven for that.”

“I’m afraid he’s English.”

“He can’t be forgiven for that. Only pitied.”

Rachel laughed. “You’re such a chauvinist. He’s a very intelligent man. He has some great ideas about how to repopulate endangered species.”

“I once knew an Englishman who had an idea,” Antoine mused. “His head exploded.”

“Stop,” she said and leaned into him, but before he could respond, she was on her feet.

“Bring him by,” said Antoine. “If it means your returning, I’ll gladly suffer anything.”

She laughed and kissed him on the cheek, lingering just slightly, before quickly turning and departing.

“You were absolutely reprehensible,” said Antoine, staring at the strutting bird. “Pretty bird, my ass.”

The parrot cocked his head to one side, looked at Antoine as though seeking forgiveness but said: “God save the Queen.”

“The lady is an ornithologist. Do you know what ornithologists do? They eat birds – especially parrots.”

“Polly want a fucking cracker.”

“A rather attractive ornithologist,” Antoine continued. “I thought all scientists were dowdy. Like the English – all tweed and no substance. Tweed. One shudders at the thought. Yes, an attractive ornithologist. I think I would like to have a liaison with the ornithologist with the deep dark eyes and beaux nichons.”

Beaux nichons.”

“Ah bird, you are no stranger to such liaisons, are you? Yes, I remember that yellow bird and how shamelessly you behaved with her.”



This story is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.


Alice in Donaldland

(This piece was written during the 2012 election, but it still seems relevant today. )mad-hatters

The Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse were crowded together at one corner of a large table. “No room,” they cried out when they saw Alice coming.

“There’s plenty of room,” said Alice indignantly, sitting down.

“Did you bring your birth certificate?” the March Hare asked.

“Of course not,” said Alice.

“Then how do we know you were born?”

“Because I’m here,” answered Alice.

“I’m not convinced,” said the March Hare. “Have some wine.”

Alice looked all around the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.  “I don’t see any wine,” she remarked.

“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare. “And there’s no free lunch.  Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.”

“Your budget wants cutting,” said the Hatter.  This was his first speech.  “Why is Obama like a writing desk?”

“I give up,” Alice replied.  “What’s the answer?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.

Alice sighed.  “I think you might better spend your time than wasting it asking riddles that have no answers.”

“Spend, spend,” said the Hatter.  “Tax and spend. That’s all you liberals do.”

“Cut the budget,” said the March Hare.

Here the Dormouse shook itself, and began singing in its sleep, “Twinkle, twinkle, budget ax. How I wonder what it whacks.”

“Obamacare,” said the Hatter.

“Public radio,” said the March Hare.

“Planned Parenthood,” said the Hatter.

“The EPA,” said the March Hare.

“Why do you want to whack these things?” asked Alice, confused.

“Gay marriage, women’s rights and undocumented black presidents are going to bankrupt our grandchildren,” said the Hatter.

“That’s silly,” said Alice.

“What do you know?” retorted the March Hare.  “You weren’t even born.  You don’t have a birth certificate.”

“But people don’t carry their birth certificates around with them,” answered Alice.

“Then where’s your Constitution?” the Hatter demanded.

“I don’t carry that around either.”

“Then how do you know original intent?” said the Hatter.

“I don’t think – ”

“Then you shouldn’t talk,” said the Hatter.

This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear. She got up in great disgust and walked off.  “We need to build a wall,” shouted the Hatter.

October 20, 1928: And a Pot for Every Chicken

During a recent Republican presidential primary debate, candidate John Kasich ridiculed his opponents’ competing over-the-top tax cuts (my tax cut’s bigger than yours): “Why don’t we just give a chicken in every pot, while we’re coming up with these fantasy tax schemes,” he said. This was, of course, an allusion to a much earlier presidential campaign in which Republicans running Herbert Hoover promised a chicken for every pot and a car in every garage. Although the statement has been hung like an albatross around poor Hoover’s neck, he never actually said it himself; it appeared in a Republican party flyer on October 20, 1928.

chickenpouleThe Republicans did not coin the phrase, however. That honor goes to King Henry the IV of France (Republicans quoting a Frenchman, my, my) who some 400 years earlier said: “Je veux qu’il ait si pauvere paysan en mon royaume qu’il n’ait tous les diamaches sa poule au pot.” Translation: “I wish that there would not be a peasant so poor in all my realm who would not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” A little wordy, but he was the king. Le bon roi Henri came to be known as le Roi de la poule au pot or King of the Chicken in the Pot. Much as the 1928 presidential candidate came to be known as the Hoover of the Chicken in the Pot. This was probably the result of his opponent Al Smith continually ridiculing the statement while holding up a rubber chicken (Okay, he actually held up a copy of the flyer, but a rubber chicken would have been better.)

chickrubbAs so often happens in campaigns, the statement got inflated to a chicken, a bunch of vegetables, two cars in every garage, a gasoline card and silk stockings.

Hoover’s actual campaign slogans were the rather uninspiring “Who but Hoover” and “Hoover and Happiness Or Smith And Soup Houses,” in spite of which he won the election. During his single term in office, the Great Depression got underway, an irony Hoover probably did not appreciate.

Hoover died on October 20, 1964, and was buried with a rubber chicken (actually that’s an unsubstantiated rumor).

Inspirational Quote for 10/20/16


Bedtime for Donald

They’re saying women aren’t going to vote for me. Boy are they in for a surprise on election day. I’m going to win, win big, and women will donald-trumpbe voting for me, because they secretly love me. And I love them, at least the good looking ones. They love me because I’m big, a big television star, a big businessman. I have big buildings, a big plane, big bucks. And I have a big locker room, if you know what I mean. The women love my locker room. They all want to get into my locker room. Big ideas, big hands, big hair, big . . . G’night.

Bedtime for Donald

They’re streaming across the border. By the thousands. Murderers, rapists and illegal voters. They’re trying to throw the election to Crooked Hillary. They all know she can’t win without illegal votes. It’s donald-trumpall rigged. Just like the debates. But I’m going to win. Because the people love me, they love me. And those holier-than-thou Republicans who want you to think they’ve never been in a locker room before, they can scream and whine all they want, because I’m in this to the finish, and I’m going to win. They cross me, they’re going to lose, lose big. Trust me. And on my first day in office, I’m going to throw Hillary in a jail cell and throw away the key. And her husband will be free to chase all the skirts he wants. He’s far worse than me, far worse. You ought to hear him in a locker room. Disgusting. G’night.

Bedtime for Donald

Wheel and deal, that’s what it takes. Everybody’s all tut tut, he didn’t pay any taxes for all those years. I paid plenty of taxes, plenty. Maybe not those taxes, but plenty of taxes. It’s the system. You got to wheel and donald-trumpdeal the system. My book says it all — The Art of the Deal. Maybe I’ll do a sequel — The Art of the Wheel. That broad Leona Helmsley said it: “Only the little people pay taxes.” Tough broad. Ugly, but tough. And I say only losers pay taxes. You got to wheel and deal. That’s what I’ll do when I’m President. Wheel and deal and make America great again. And none of us will pay taxes. Except the losers. Mexicans and Muslims, if any of them are still here. And Crooked Hillary, boy will she pay. G’night.