Are We Becoming a Nanny-Based Society?

I remember my childhood to a great extent in terms of riding my bike, rolling down the dunes of Lake Michigan, roller skating on Hessville sidewalks, Mom’s endless supply of Band-Aids, my falling out of trees, bee stings, and playing softball in vacant lots without helmets. We all received scrapes and gallons of Bactine over the years, but not one of my friends was ever killed or even seriously hurt. We were allowed to be inventive in creating our own worlds, like our front porch becoming a spaceship.

We were left to our own devices and imaginations to come up with entertainment that was rigorous at times but I believe also very healthy in allowing us to figure things out for ourselves much of the time. That freedom encouraged creativity, independence, and how to get along with others. We loved being outdoors. I see so many kids now glued to their cellphones or iPads, cheated out of a rich social development that will pass them by right into adulthood with too little social interaction with actual people instead of tiny, restrictive visual screens. I don’t know the answer to this problem (which is a national one), but I hope that there will be a national realization of what has been lost in our descent into becoming a nanny state. Kids do need guidance, and lots of it, but they also need freedom to err and to create their own solutions to life’s problems in actual, face-to-face social venues.  JB


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The Lawrence Welk Disaster

Grandma Bolinger came to our house every few months to spend two weeks with us.  She would stay with other relatives too, filling up her years in family guest rooms and bringing to each house her imperious and unbridled judgments on politics, cuisine, television shows, music, and fashion.  Admittedly, her taste in clothing was a bit geriatric, but the problem was that she tried to impose that taste upon the rest of the family. Most of her views were set in stone.

One visit began on Halloween night of 1957 when Grandma B arrived wearing an orange cardigan sweater, a black skirt with a large sequined poodle, and saddle shoes with bobby socks, her hair in a long pony tail secured by pink pop-beads.  She entered our house with her black handbag and luggage carried by the cab driver, and there was a deafening silence suggesting we were waiting for Grandma to say, “Trick or treat?”  The fact is, I would remember that entrance for all Halloweens afterward and recall it later as a “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” moment.

We all felt relieved after Grandma confined that long and dangerous hair by the usual bun and doffed those terrifying teenage garments for her usual white blouse, black cardigan, and tweed skirt.  Also the comfortable security of her black orthopedic shoes (what my sister Connie Lynn called “Wicked Witch of the West shoes”) brought sighs of relief from the rest of us.

Whenever Grandma B came to our house, we knew that there were certain television programs to be watched at her request.  Perry Como made her swoon like the teenager she had appeared to be on Halloween, but his singing was like a powerful sedative to me and my siblings.  Grandma, however, was always riveted by his crooning so that no interruptions were looked upon favorably, even coughing, sneezing, or trips to the bathroom.  She seemed to have similarly romantic feelings for Lawrence Welk and for James Arness, who played Sheriff Matt Dillon on her other TV addiction, GUNSMOKE.  Her final TV requirement was THE JACK BENNY HOUR during which every gesture by Mr. Benny threw the woman into gales of laughter.  During these shows my brother David and I would exchange looks of wonder, disgust, and facial contortions suggesting severe stomach cramps.

Even now I blame Lawrence Welk for the next turn of events which began with Myron Floren’s virtuoso accordion performance of “Lady of Spain,” which impressed Grandma B so much that she had to put both hands over her heart.  His rendition of “Alice Blue Gown” brought my mother to tears.  I was right there in our living room when these performances were watched, but little did I realize the longterm effects of Myron’s fingers flying over those accordion keys.


My mother’s attachment to the waltz, “Alice Blue Gown” went back to her first formal dance at the tender age of fifteen, when she had worn a pale blue, floor-length gown and a blue silk ribbon wound through the long braid of hair wrapped around her head.  By my father’s account, Mom had been a vision of loveliness and charm that evening with a gorgeous smile  and amazing eyes that captivated everyone in the ballroom. As she and my teenaged father entered the room, the orchestra’s conductor turned to see her, abruptly stopped the current musical selection, and played “Alice Blue Gown,” a baritone singing the words, all eyes on my young mother.  It was ever afterward my mother’s favorite song.

In her sweet little Alice Blue Gown

When she first wandered down into town,

She was both proud and shy as she felt every eye,

But in every shop window she primped passing by.


In a manner of fashion she found,

and the world seemed to smile all around,

Till it wilted, she wore it.

She’ll always adore it.

Her sweet little Alice Blue Gown.

After dinner one evening Grandma B announced that she thought it time for me to take music lessons and that she would pay for them the first year and even purchase the instrument.  The noose was now growing tighter, but I didn’t feel its grip until it was declared that the instrument would be an accordion.  The strains of “Lady of Spain” began at that moment to haunt me for the next year.  Dad agreed to the proposal and was further moved to acquiesce by the fact that unlike a piano, the accordion was not only portable but would require no rearranging of furniture in our house.  Coupled with my parents’ enthusiasm was Grandma B’s irrefutable generosity.  It was a done deal.  Any hope I had now of escaping those music lessons was like leaving the porch light on for Jimmy Hoffa.  I was doomed.

My music lessons began in March of 1958 on a Saturday morning when Miss Clairmont, my instructor, came to our house, where the lessons would be given at the same time each week, ten o’clock sharp for thirty minutes.  Miss Clairmont was that day wearing a black pleated skirt, a gray silk blouse, and black beads.  Those beads were an omen of things to come, though I hadn’t the sense to be tuned in to anything that morning except Miss Clairmont’s stack of sheet music and rather dazzling accordion, an instrument displaying more mother of pearl and gold leaf than the Palace of Versailles.  Her initials, D.A.C., were engraved on a red panel over the keyboard.  By contrast my accordion was a sober ebony with no sparkling accoutrements of any kind.  The complete appropriateness of that contrast didn’t strike me until much later.

Then I discovered that her name was Diane Arlene Clairmont and that she had actually played the accordion professionally for a couple of years at a night club in Chicago.  My first thought on the subject was how terribly far down the woman had fallen. I pictured her once wearing sparkling evening gowns and playing encores of “Lady of Spain” for an intoxicated but affluent audience who would stand and applaud while throwing kisses and ten-dollar bills.  Now here she was in our living room of shabby furniture whose glory had also suffered the ravages of time among the cheap art reproductions like our faded prints of “The Laughing Cavalier” by Frans Hals, and “The Blue Boy” by Thomas Gainsborough.

Despite my heart going out to poor Miss Clairmont and my wanting desperately to please her by doing well at my lessons, I was a consummate failure at the accordion, able to play only two songs that people recognized, “Silent Night” and “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain.”  Unless it was the yuletide season, that left only one song to play when visiting relatives asked for a performance.  It got run into the ground pretty fast.  My rendition of “Alice Blue Gown” turned out to be much bluer than anyone had anticipated, and my chances of ever playing “Lady of Spain” with any competency were as great as my chances of playing “Flight of the Bumble Bee,” starring on the Lawrence Welk Show, or appearing at Carnegie Hall.  My mother did cry when I played “Alice Blue Gown,” but I couldn’t tell if her tears were from nostalgia or from the many wrong notes of my less than lovely performances of the song.

The other thing that permanently scarred my ego was that our cocker spaniel, Topper, howled to go outside as soon as I even picked up the accordion, and my family would all leave the house on Saturday mornings at 9:58, always on the pretext of some group errand or on the grounds that they didn’t want to disturb the “flow” of my music lesson.  Yeah, right.  During the year that I took those lessons, Miss Clairmont never committed suicide, but I imagined more than once her limp body being found in some motel room, her accordion unfolded and sparkling on the bed next to a note explaining her utter revulsion at having to teach music to a boy whose rendition of “Volare” took six weeks for him to learn and another six weeks for her to erase from her memory.


This was an excerpt from one of my books…a novel called This Ain’t No Ballet, available as paperback or Kindle on Amazon or as paperback at Barnes & Noble and other bookstores nationwide.  JB


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My Political Retardation

I confess that I feel a bit slow-witted in my backward attempts to understand, on any level, the phenomenon of our current president’s popularity from his voting base.  At the beginning of his campaign in 2016, I didn’t quite understand the frightening allure of the carnival medicine show so prominent in the media. The outrageous but hypnotic tactic of breaking all the rules of former decorum did catch our attention as a nation, but Trump’s vulgarity and transparent attempts to pretend thumbing his nose at the “establishment” appealed to the top and bottom levels of American voters.

First, there was the extremely wealthy upper two percent of Americans (Trump’s tax cut was, of course, for them). Then there was the lower echelon of our nation (those who struggle to make ends meet), who had seen Washington as greedy and corrupt as any other government in history. They knew Trump was a bully whose tactics would probably be questionable, but they wanted and needed to believe that he was authentic and on their side. Their wishful thinking was like that of children who still believe in Santa Claus, but for many it was the final thread they could grasp and believe would hold them up. Unlike President Obama, a man of eloquence, tact, and compassion, Trump is amoral, but that also means (to his base) that he can fight “dirty” for them, if need be. That is his persona, one that his base still believes will work for them, despite the fact that our country is being tarnished on the world stage by the effects. He convinced them that he gave a damn (which in Hollywood could have won him an Oscar). That is the irony that escaped me, despite one deception after another, accumulating finally into a stack of bold-face lies the height of Mount Everest.

I have been astonished over and over again at the TV coverage of Trump rallies with red-capped worshipers in the background wearing vacant expressions of empty adoration for a man who had convinced them all that he was fighting for them, despite the fact that his shining armor was empty of even the slightest bit of sincerity or authenticity and was to become part of a stage set of actors spouting endlessly outrageous but vapid accolades from the ventriloquist leader himself. Those audiences needed desperately to believe that Trump would be pushy, gritty, and even mean enough to fight what they all wanted to think was an utterly reprehensible government that had cared nothing before about the needs of the needy. They saw him as the rebel they wanted in order to shake up the old order they hated so much. No persona in the history of world literature could have been more deviously wrought.

Though the MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN logo has evolved into the delusional KEEP AMERICA GREAT, more folks have caught on to the carnival side show deceptions of a man whom history will remember in far different terms from those of the poor victims who now venerate him.  JB

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Machismo at Its Worst

Is it possible that anyone this side of a coma missed the blaring irony of the mob Republican men “storming the citadel” to claim a cover-up was occurring and that other info was being withheld at the Deposition on October 23? Friends, this is an SNL skit in the making. Those Republicans used distraction to try turning the deposition into a football game with the offense all wearing designer suits and ties while showing off their phones, like weapons, recording the resulting chaos as though attending a witches’ coven they wanted to expose for coverage on Fox News.

Even though protocol was observed by the Dems, following rules to the very letter, the Republican men, with chaos and distraction as their goals, pretended to own the space as though no one else was actually there. I suspect that they might even have believed that their chutzpah could actually have appeared heroic on some level instead of the rude, loud, vulgar display it turned out to be for the American public. The rules of order and even the Constitution itself seem to have been forgotten in the melee that ensued.

However uncomfortable and embarrassing this process may be for certain people, it needs to reach its conclusion, as dictated by law, not by public displays of tantrums to try modifying the legal process just for the chosen few with their imperial leader, whose loyalty and good faith have never been witnessed by anyone in or out of his political realm. Devotion to Donald Trump remains a mystery to most of the rest of us, who have seen the things of which he is capable. Any “loyalty” to him must be based then upon fear, especially regarding the voters who still worship blindly this despot, whose view of anything or anyone doesn’t seem to exist outside his own reflection in the nearest mirror.

In any event, the process needs to be completed, unimpeded by political shenanigans on either side. The Mueller Report was necessarily a flop, due to its weak presentation and the editing it endured by those in power.  Truth and justice should prevail without favoritism or fear of reprisal for those who must make the difficult decisions regarding those conclusions. Yesterday’s embarrassing event seems like something from the time of Andrew Jackson. Bad sportsmanship through cover-ups and trying to stall the truth with threats may sadly put an ugly face on the GOP for this part of our history as a “free nation.” Truth and civility should go together, but right now, Archie Bunker and Don Rickles still seem to be our leader’s models of eloquence and behavior on and off Twitter. Dignity has been on hiatus now for the past couple of years. Many of us want it to return and remain.  JB

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The Nightmare Continues

What disturbs me most about our current political situation in The United States is that our president has worshipers who see nothing wrong (or won’t admit seeing anything wrong) with his behavior. The nation (like other nations) is divided into “haves” and “have-nots,” as it always has been. The have-nots found in Trump a vulgar, abrasive, puerile leader who, unlike them, has the power (or chutzpah) to scream at the establishment  (of which he is ironically a prime member) and pretend to thumb his nose at the values of the rich, while he luxuriates in his dominance, authority, and supposed wealth and privilege.

Of course, the “haves,” though quite aware of Trump’s moral depravity, will not call him out, because they are benefitting more than the rest of us by the man’s cheating the nation for his own financial gain and political power. It’s why so many seem blind to his detestable personality, values, back-stabbing behavior and general repulsiveness. Instead of a weaker but honest, fair-minded leader, they have chosen an ogre who, even fifty years ago, would have been the stuff of fiction, someone right out of the works of George Orwell.

President Trump has managed to convince the “lower” echelon of our country that he is on their side. My prayer now is that he fails to cheat the nation in the next election, even if he doesn’t get impeached and removed early from office. If his fawning rabble has not yet learned (or admitted to) the truth, our dictator in chief will not be leaving The White House until the nation collapses or becomes the true dictatorship that Trump thinks it should be. Just remember that when Trump refers to the USA as “my country,” he means it literally. JB

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The Wonderful Rush of Self-indignation

“Promises only bind those who believe them.” Jacques Chirac

The first thing I saw this morning on Face Book was the post of a “news” article titled “The Democrats Should Be Impeached.” There were several likes (of which I was not one). The message was just another example of sour grapes at discovering that even the president may be liable for serious errors in judgment that can cross the borders of what is fair or even legal. The president’s loyal base have done everything they can to bolster the commander in chief just short of canonization or deification, excusing, along the way, behaviors that would have put former presidents in prison.

This very narrow view exists, however, on both sides. There are Democrats who are also guilty of getting their news from limited or completely one-sided sources (i.e. MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal). Constant exposure to just one party’s messages, interpretations, and news sources can ultimately turn some folks into rabid, self-righteous goons, always ready to pounce upon anyone who may have a different take on whatever happens in Washington. This includes the president himself. What bothers me is that a news outlet like Fox has become a multi-billion dollar propaganda machine to convince a naïve public that the crude, greedy, conniving, wart toad in the Oval Office is actually a prince interested in the welfare of the nation. Too many have been mesmerized to the point that they see (or at least won’t admit reality they do see) only some impossibly angelic aura instead of the vulgar, poison-tongued phony he really is. Even the fact that he admires Vladimir Putin and Kim Jon Un provides no clues for his worshipers to his ethos.

It’s as though we have become two separate nations residing in the same space at war with one another under a puppet master half the country sees as its savior. Both sides are self-righteous, but I believe the division is perhaps the worst since our Civil War (1861-1865). I am often terrified that the nation is becoming increasingly toxic or at least oblivious to the fact that the commander in chief is conning us and probably laughing about it while he watches Fox News every evening. There seems to be no middle ground left. I would love to support him, if he had even a shred of dignity, compassion, or ability to unite us in a time when we are more and more at odds, one side against the other…with no middle ground left. All we hear is the president screaming messages in parking lots and making insulting comments about anyone who doesn’t agree completely with him and worship him as the idol he believes himself to be in his delusional state of self-aggrandizement.

I pray daily that some middle ground can eventually be discovered where we, as a nation, can find some level of reason, compassion, compromise and justice again through someone who doesn’t see himself as some kind of Tsar, Emperor, or Fuhrer who believes fervently that the world belongs only to him and his immediate family. There has to be a better way through a better leader.  JB  

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History Cannot Be Erased

I will turn seventy-four on my next birthday and have been pondering lately the changes in American life and politics that have occurred since I was a child. Harry Truman was president until I was six years old, but I remember more about his wife Bess and his daughter Margaret than I do about him. Because I was born after WWII, I recall a childhood of safety and order in our Indiana home, where life was very much like that in the idealized family TV shows we watched on our primitive black&white set. I loved school. I had no awareness then of certain evils, like the closed-minded persecutions by Joseph McCarthy against those accused of Communist sympathies. Other political and social phenomena escaped me as well. Ignorance was indeed bliss to me.

As I aged, I naturally became more aware of injustice and political wrangling between Democrats and Republicans. However, I don’t recall any time of such bitter and vicious political division until Nixon and even more so the amoral tactics of politicians like Newt Gingrich. Now, however, even his winner-take-all ethos seems rather tame in current Washington, where back-biting attacks seem to have become the norm. No holds barred. The most troubling thing is that “winning” has become almost like a sport, even more important than what is probably good for the nation itself and even the world.

Many Republicans will say that our current president is up-front in not pulling his punches about everything and everyone. Twitter has become America’s face on the world stage from a puerile man with no pause button to temper his rage and terrible need to put down all those who have opinions that differ even slightly from his own. He is like a recalcitrant child in a room of adults, some of whom think it’s cute that he said someone is ugly or has a big nose. Diplomacy, as a result, is experiencing a slow death in Washington, as though Don Rickles has become the new resident of the White House, where doting fans chuckle at the resident man-child’s gaffs on a daily basis….or cower behind closed doors because of them.

The world is watching more closely than ever before, but that doesn’t matter to the resident egomaniac whose only values and desires center around money, “winning,” snide insults, and being worshiped. It is terrifying that the man’s attention span is usually that of a distracted child who can hardly read. More terrifying still is the number of cow-towed cronies who are our leader’s enablers and hand puppets, scared of their own shadows on a platform always teetering on the verge of collapse in the face of tantrums and a vengeful nature of psychotic proportions. “Winner take all” is the current philosophy, regardless of the nation’s needs. The only worse leaders I can recall, besides Nero in ancient Rome, are Idi Amin of Africa, and Maduro of Venezuela. Now, the Democrats are developing some spine to face facts and deal with them accordingly, despite the president’s legions of blind and obliging marionettes.

What I wish all current politicians could remember is that the world is watching and recording all of this, and history will look back at what is happening now (as it does on Nixon). Cowards who fall into line behind a tyrant because they’re afraid of losing their own status and prestige will be remembered without pity or affection as the scared toadies they really are.

Compromise will return eventually, because it will have to, along with awareness that money and power will not save the country or the planet, facts to which many current leaders have turned a blind eye because of greed and/or terror.   JB

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Love of One’s Country

I’m probably more naïve about my own nation and its political meanderings than I ought to be, but it’s been a long time since I felt a rush of pride or emotion about my country. I still display the American flag on special days and am still moved enough to stand when I hear The Star Spangled Banner, but that old patriotic zeal, the kind that can bring tears, has been absent from me for a while.

There are two Americas again, not so very unlike the two from 1861 (yes, even before my birth), immersed again in a wave of rancor that continues to divide us more and more over our differences in politics, religion, race, language, education, and money. It seems at times that many folks now expect America to be a homogenized vanilla ice cream sundae, no chocolate, other flavors or colors allowed. A terrifying nostalgia for earlier times (especially the post-war 1950’s) has consumed at least half the nation with a paranoia that has transformed ignorance and fear into things controlled by puppeteers in Washington but apparently providing too an adrenalin rush from politically self-righteous zeal of unimaginable power that brings to mind George Orwell’s 1984, which he published in 1949.

Accusation, blame, misleading rhetoric in short, easy-to-digest sentences with a fifth grade vocabulary, vile language, unwarranted accusations (from both sides) have created a nation at war with itself, a nation I can hardly recognize, one that makes the America from 1973 under President Nixon look like an episode of Sesame Street.

The twisted language of silly slogans and name-calling have replaced balance, restraint, and even truth. It’s almost like a middle school playground, where whoever can come up with the meanest and most memorable insult wins. The laugh-track is broken with what too many Americans seem to see as heroic figures totally on their side, figures, however, that turn out to be remakes of Don Rickles and Archie Bunker whose verbal harpoons were amusingly revealing of the underbelly of America but which didn’t take the place of civil discourse and intelligent, constructive debate. The laugh-track has become the voice of half the nation, while the rest of the world sits back, wringing its hands as it watches us implode.

I long to feel again the shared love of my country, not as though on a team from some gameshow, where winning is the only concern, but with a love that we used to feel even when we disagreed. I long for intelligent debate, based upon facts and some degree of civility, not the resentment and enmity that are almost becoming accepted hallmarks of discussion in and out of politics. I don’t know if it’s too late yet to go back to when winning wasn’t the only thing that mattered in the wider picture, where reason created some sense of balance instead of giving the constant expectation of what is snide and fragmented.

I still love my country but feel strongly that something is at stake. We’re all at a crossroad, even as I write this, where we must, together, decide how to rediscover or reinvent “the land of the free.”   JB

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Divided We Fall

Sometimes I believe we, as a nation, haven’t been as socially, politically, racially, and culturally this divided since 1865. Democrats and Republicans have become two separate countries that have begun to place party loyalty above even what is right in terms of our supposedly shared rhetoric about equality, among other things.

The almost constant rancor from both sides came to a head this week once again with the President’s snide comments about four women who dared to be almost as vocal as he usually is. The ladies aired their justified political grievances in far milder ways than the President does, but as always, the comments made by the women were met with defensive harpoons of insult, since everything is always about the President, or at least he thinks it is.

His diatribe was sexist, political, and racist all at once (a new low, even for him), showing once again his paranoia regarding any comment he deems capable of cracking what he sees as his sparkling, perfect veneer. His gutter mentality and street fighter demeanor seem to be especially vulnerable to strong, intelligent women. Add color to the mix, and Mr. President’s vitriol   ignites like a stick of TNT, bringing out his most vociferous fantasies. “There isn’t a racist bone in my body.” Please, it’s the only bone he has.

The most painful part of this over the past couple of years is the willingness on the part of his political base to excuse his gangster behavior with equivocations they would never even dream of extending to any other president in history. Had Barak Obama said anything even half as ignorantly mean-spirited to anyone in or out of government, he would have been even more politically lynched by Republicans than he was already.

The double standard and spineless reluctance of so many Republicans in the Senate to stand up to the President as the selfish, egomaniacal fake he really is seems appalling to the rest of us, who are weary of waiting for someone to change the soiled political diapers of this man child and dictator, who is more and more making our country the pariah and laughing stock on the world stage. My greatest fear is that we’re almost becoming numb to his behavior, like parents of a recalcitrant and potentially dangerous child who defies every precept of civilized behavior with screaming tantrums and throwing blunt objects, when he doesn’t get his way.   JB

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A Tale (Trail) of Cocktail Mishaps

As I age, it becomes more terrifying every year to look back at parties and wedding receptions, where I have indulged too freely in partaking of “spirits” at those events, and having let go of any real sense of decorum that otherwise tempers my behavior.

The worst experience of which, to my knowledge, there is no photograph or film footage (I hope), involved a few friends from our college dorm and me attending an off-campus party, where alcoholic beverages were being served in abundance. It was 1965, when I was nineteen, so I can at least claim some degree of innocence in my blundering behavior that night in imbibing too much. Cocktails that evening flowed like tsunamis, but I had heard many times, even from my father, that “Never mix; never worry” was good advice, so that evening I stuck to what had rather a lethal sounding name but what tasted innocent enough for  Mr. Rogers to serve in his neighborhood: Harvey Wallbangers.

The upshot of this incident is that I woke up the next morning wearing my pajamas, slippers, and Stewart plaid bathrobe. I was reclined on the wooden porch swing of a house I didn’t recognize, an elderly man with his wife, holding the folded Sunday newspaper and tapping their feet as they scowled down at me in the morning light.

“Young man, what are you doing on our porch?” It seemed a perfectly valid question under the circumstances. I groped for an answer, my head splitting with pain. The only response that came to me in that moment was something like, “I think I may have a brain tumor,” followed by, “Where am I?” The couple looked at one another, half-smiling, knowing the story without my having to say anything further. At any rate, they let me use their phone to call my roommate, Denny, at our dorm, who picked me up after I had been given two cups of black coffee by the stunned couple. Their house turned out to be on the other side of town from the campus, and I had no plausible explanation for Denny, who hadn’t been at the dorm when the other guys took me there the night before to get my nightclothes in order to complete the caper they had designed to embarrass the wits out of me. The whole thing provided a lesson I never forgot.

Subsequent such events over the years pale by comparison but usually involved wedding receptions, where after a couple of martinis, Old Fashions, or gin and tonics, I would end up in a group doing the Chicken Dance, the Hokey Pokey, Macarena, or the Hora, minus my necktie and jacket, my sleeves rolled up. It haunts me even now that across the nation there is plenty of home movie footage, along with plenty of photographs of me doing unintentional impersonations of Crazy Guggenheim at those receptions, putting my school teacher image in possible and irrevocable peril. Please insert smile face here.  JB

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