Thanksgiving Leftovers

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If your family is like our family, you’ve no doubt dined on Thanksgiving dinner for, oh, about five days. Nothing says “Thanksgiving” more than “leftovers.” It is in that spirit that I offer these remnants that somehow never were able to make a complete plate:

Why is it we always end up with more turkey than we started with (as in, a 21-pound turkey yields 25 pounds of leftovers)?

Will the Redskins ever beat Dallas on Thanksgiving?

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Bohemian Rhapsody (the story of the rock band Queen) was much more enjoyable than Continue Reading “Thanksgiving Leftovers”

The Glorious Road to the Memorable 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair

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Panem et Circenses. It’s a philosophy that goes back to ancient Rome. Literally translates from the original Latin as “Breads and Circuses,” it defines a strategy to mollify a potentially unruly populace by distracting them with basic needs and entertainment. It’s what you do if you’re not sure the sudden surge in pitchfork sales are destined for farms across your nation or a dense mob about to knock on your front door.

Such was the condition of France throughout the period of the French Revolution. The new government, recognizing its tenuous position, organized a series of festivities beginning with the Festival of the Federation held on July 14, 1790, a year to the day about that aforementioned mob stormed the Bastille. During the final stages of Révolution française, well after the Reign of Terror, the Directory ruled France. In 1798, a little more than a year before the coup d’état that ushered in a new triumvirate that included Napoleon Bonaparte, the Directory decided Continue Reading “The Glorious Road to the Memorable 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair”

What’s More (Italian) American Than Baseball?

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It’s that time of year. “One, two, three strikes your out at the old ball game.” As we wallow in the World Series, who can help but remember the greatest of the greats. The line is long, but for some reason a lot of uniforms in that line sport pinstripes. Sandwiched in between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on one side and Micky Mantle on the other side is the Yankee Clipper himself, Joe DiMaggio.

Joltin’ Joe was long retired and within a few months of renewing his relationship with Marilyn Monroe by the time I was born. Still, for some reason I always felt an affinity to him. In sixth grade the teacher gave us the assignment to write the biography of our hero. I chose Joe DiMaggio. What could I say. He’s Sicilian.

Continue Reading “What’s More (Italian) American Than Baseball?”

Charles Angelo Siringo, The Cowboy Detective – A Classic (Italian) American Archetype

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Ah, you’re wasting your time,” said the self-assured Butch. “They can’t track us over rocks.”

Sundance peered into the distance from behind the large boulder. “Tell them that,” he said, almost ashamed to disrespect the wisdom of his mentor.

Butch turned around to see for himself. He couldn’t believe what he saw. “They’re beginning to get on my nerves,” he said with a tinge of anger. Then, after a pause, added with heartfelt curiosity, “Who are those guys?”

“Those guys,” as they referred to in the 1969 classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, were Pinkerton Detectives. In the film, the Pinkertons chase the outlaws after their gang had robbed the Union Pacific train. Butch Cassidy identifies one of them as Joe LeFors. No matter how hard they try, they can’t escape the posse.

In real life, the Wilcox Train Robbery, as it has come to be known, took place in the early morning hours of a rainy June 2, 1899. At 2:09 AM, a number of masked robbers – from three to six, the accounts vary – held up the first section of the westbound Union Pacific Overland Flyer about a mile west of Wilcox, Wyoming. Officials immediately suspected Continue Reading “Charles Angelo Siringo, The Cowboy Detective – A Classic (Italian) American Archetype”

Declaration of (Italian) American Independence

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“They all laughed at Christopher Columbus/When he said the world was round…” So begins the lyrics of Ira Gershwin for brother George’s 1937 composition “They All Laughed.” The Gershwins wrote the song for the movie Shall We Dance, starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Frank Sinatra famously included the tune in his masterpiece Trilogy album, where he sings the closing lyrics “Who’s got the last laugh now?” with a knowing wink.

From Christopher Columbus to Frank Sinatra, it’s clear that Italians and Italian-Americans have had a tremendous impact on America. Over the next three weeks, we’ll focus on those names history books seem to have neglected.

Did you know Italian-Americans played a prominent role in the founding of America? For example, three of the first five American warships were named after Italians. These were Continue Reading “Declaration of (Italian) American Independence”

John Cleese and the Affectionate Tease

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Many, many years ago, most likely 1985 but possibly 1986, I decided to do something different. I was living on Oliver Street in downtown Rochester. I hadn’t taken a vacation in a while and I needed to spend those precious vacation days or risk losing them. What to do… what to do…

Even now, I’m not the kind of person who dreams of the traditional vacation. In fact, I Continue Reading “John Cleese and the Affectionate Tease”

A Confession from a Hypocrite: Alas, I, too, am a Free Rider

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It was the most regrettable thing I had ever done in my entire life. At the time I thought it was a giant step forward, a statement that, because of who I was, because of who we were, would make a difference.

Organizing the protest had other alluring advantages. Our teacher encouraged us. We respected her and she respected us. She treated us like adults. We liked that. It presented us with the ultimate reward: greater self-esteem. In addition, the entire class participated. That meant we could be with our friends, and all the social rewards that brings. Finally, only our class was allowed to participate. It was a reward for getting our schoolwork done in a timely fashion. There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment to fill the soul with self-confidence.

Of course, it helped that we hooked our wagon to a national movement. It was the first Continue Reading “A Confession from a Hypocrite: Alas, I, too, am a Free Rider”

Graduates: How to Let Your Passion Become Your Talent

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It’s a perfectly acceptable question: How does a trained astrophysicist become a nationally recognized newspaper columnist? The answer, obviously, is by spending three decades working as a registered investment adviser.

OK, OK, maybe this requires some explaining.

Let me begin, however, by talking about you. You and I are very similar. We both want things we can’t have, we’re not “supposed” to have, and we aren’t even at the right station in life to come close to having. And there’s nothing wrong with desiring more – more renown, more wealth, more satisfaction. Don’t ever let someone tell you “You can’t do that.” Dream. Dream big. Never stop dreaming big.

Why?

Because such dreams spur you to far greater heights than you can imagine. They possess these three critical components for consistent success: Continue Reading “Graduates: How to Let Your Passion Become Your Talent”

Here’s How to Get the Latest… on Everything

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Kids are great. They offer so much. They give you a reason to excel. They force you to look deep inside yourself. They make you laugh, smile, and (sometimes) cry, but, always leave you filled with a sense of satisfying purpose.

They also do one other thing. Kids, especially those that are a little older but not too old, act like a canary in a coal mine.

Now, before you get to scrunched up in your high heels, I don’t mean they’re something you can use as a sort of human shield. (Truth be told, when they were very young, just before they went to sleep our children would often ask us why we had them. Even before Betsy could break an adoring smile, I blurted out my quick, simple, and direct answer: “To be there so the monster could eat you first.” Soon after, Betsy insisted that only she tuck the children in for the night. I love it when a plan works.)

Here’s what I really mean. They may be the clue to the Fountain of Youth. Kids act like a Continue Reading “Here’s How to Get the Latest… on Everything”

Are You a Laurel or a Yanni?

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A few days before it went viral, Peter asked Betsy and me to listen to something and tell him what we heard. This was the now famous “Laurel/Yanni” audio illusion.

An audio illusion is like an optical illusion. You use your eyes with optical illusions and your ears with audio illusions. With optical illusions, the same drawing reveals two completely different pictures. What you see depends entirely on what you’re looking for. In an identical way, an audio illusion contains one string of sounds. You hear what you want (or expect) to hear.

In the case of the Laurel/Yanni audio illusion, listeners convince themselves the string of sounds says “Laurel” or “Yanni.” Although the sound is the same, different people hear different things. Some people (like Peter) can hear either one, depending on what they’re listening for.

And therein lies the critical lesson of this latest internet sensation, the audio version of the Continue Reading “Are You a Laurel or a Yanni?”