Sunday, May 1, 2022


What they're saying about Jim's provocative blog:

--"Джим - забавный парень, но он не Яков Смирнов!" (Jim's a funny guy, but he's no Yakov Smirnoff!  Nyet!")--Vladimir Putin
--"Я думаю, мы могли бы использовать такого парня, как Джим."  (I think we could use a guy like Jim!)--Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States.
--"He's from this country, Mexicans don't read him, so that's good enough for me."--Donald Trump
--"The one thing I didn't delete from my private server."--Hillary Clinton
--"Jimaschizzle!"--Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. (aka Snoop Dogg)
--"The one thing I DO read!"--Sarah Palin
--"The most fun you can have with your clothes on (but DO take a shower afterwards)."--Dick Cavett

jimjustselling . . .

Actually, I'm not, but the good folks at HenschelHAUS are.

The book is also available at:


                    By Jim Szantor 

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoricand whimsical observations

about the absurdities of contemporary life

  • There’s nothing better than getting a check as a result of a class-action suit you didn’t know you were a part of or even existed. Life is good!
  • I dreamt that I was shopping at a new store: The Bitcoin Tree.
  • ·It was just down the road from a similar establishment--Family Bitcoin-- pumping some semblance of life into one of the many ghost strip malls that dot our pockmarked landscape. Right between the deserted nail salon and the abandoned Sears Hometown.)
  • It would take a while to determine what’s a bargain and what isn’t at either emporium, considering that my knowledge of bitcoin is on a par with my knowledge of quantum physics. What, for example, would be a bargain bitcoin price for a four-pack of off-brand AAA batteries?
  • Speaking of finance: "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable."--John Kenneth Galbraith
  • Speaking of shopping: Here are jimjustsaying's six favorite Items from the summer supplement edition of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog: The Extra Wide Zero Gravity Breathable Mesh Lounger/The Snore Reducing Oxygen Level Monitor/The Singing Peek-A-Boo Pachyderm/The Himalayan Salt Grilling Plank/The British Horticulturist Bee House and the Hypnotic Jellyfish Aquarium.
  • These curiosities are obviously tailormade for the person who has everything—everything except products only Hamm/Schlemm could present. The kinds of things the term “conversation piece” was created for. And the kinds of things that populate storage units everywhere.
  • With all the current talk about Russia today, who would guess that the word “oligarchs” was coined by Aristotle?
  • He said it: “An atheist is someone with no invisible means of support.”—Oscar Levant
  • She said it: “Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.”—Maya Angelou
  • You can’t go 5 minutes these days without hearing something about Elon Musk. The first time I heard that name, I thought it was a new men’s fragrance!
  • And you can hardly go a day without someone referring to “gaslighting.” As in, “manipulating someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.”
  • Supposedly the term is based on the plot of a 1944 movie called “Gaslight,” so how did it suddenly become omnipresent? Who resurrected this tactic and made it so seemingly commonplace? (I strongly suspect “social media” has played more than a walk-on role.)
  • · Another linguistic mystery: “Dystopian,” meaning the opposite of “utopian,” is a word that has been around forever but somehow got taken out of mothballs (by a writer? a TV commentator? the My Pillow Guy?) and is now virtually as unavoidable as the ultra-annoying “Liberty, Liberty, Liberty” TV jingle.
  • Speaking of the My Pillow Guy: Is it true he’s about to market a new product: Tinfoil Pillows? (Can’t wait to see that infomercial.)
  • Another reason to be skeptical of advertising: When was “Now here is a word from our sponsor” followed by just a word? Lying from the get-go!
  • Why are artists always painting bowls of fruit? You’d think someone--someone—would occasionally paint a bowl of vegetables. You know, a bowl of green beans, sweet corn, beets, green peppers. . . . But the next will probably be the first.
  • I have to laugh at those quick five-second promos that networks sneak in before the new sitcom or series show: “Lady Gaga and Jim Szantor on an all-new ‘Tonight’ show starring Jimmy Fallon.”
  • All new? Didn’t know there were any partially new “Tonight’”shows. It would be most confusing if true: You couldn’t tell where the old “Tonight” show ended and the new one began. Or vice versa. Troubling.
  • Truth in labeling: The so-called “black boxes” investigators are always searching for after a plane crash are in fact orange.
  • Actual Product Warning on an Actual Product: On a can of Fix-a-Flat: “Not to be used for breast augmentation.”
  • And here all along we thought man’s greatest invention was the wheel. U.K. researchers contend that it was the handle, developed 500,000 years ago. (The wheel has been around for a mere 6,000 years.) Handles made tools, which man started using 2.6 million years ago, more precise and energy efficient. (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but there you have it.)
  • “Mrs. Davidson, who attended Radcliffe College 20 years ago, never regained consciousness.”—Associated Press, New York, via ‘Still More Press Boners,” by Earle Tempel.
  • jimjustsaying’s Lifestyle Tip of the Week: Never enter a relationship with someone who's just leaving the Federal Witness Protection Program!
  • Drudging Around: Man caught with dozens of lizards in his clothes charged with smuggling 1,700 reptiles . . . Eating seafood immoral? . . . The CIA, hypnosis and cocaine: Why pilot faked own death in front of family . . . Feral pigs are biological time bombs. Can California stem their “exponential” damage? . . .Vermont women’s college rugby team accused of waterboarding, branding teammates . . . Sports bar shows women sports only . . . SURVEY: 7 in 10 really do consider their dog their best friend . . . Fur flies as fox bites 6 humans in Capitol rampage . . . (Next day: Test shows fox had rabies) . . . SURVEY: Most Americans can’t name all four of their grandparents . . . Licorice holds key to curing cancer? . . . Cholesterol protects against Alzheimer’s . . . Homeschooling surge continues despite reopening . . . Oldest woman to get inked: 105-year-old flaunts multiple tattoos . . . Student dies during Crucifixion re-enactment---and audience thinks it’s part of the show . . . Wedding spirals into chaos after bride laces food with pot . . . Robot rats to search for survivors at disaster sites . . . Girl dies after being forced to drink whisky by grandmother. (Ed. Note: If you’re thinking this had to be in the South, you’re right—it was Louisiana!). Thanks, as always, to Matt Drudge and his merry band of aggregators for this month’s gobsmackers.
  • jimjustsaying’s Word That Doesn’t Exist But Should of the Month: “Weseenems. n. Recreational vehicles plastered with state national parks and American flag decals. —“Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe,” Rich Hall and Friends.
  • Overheard: "I know a 60-year-old bachelor who almost got married twice. That makes two near-Mrs."
  • Strike up the bandwidth! Not only has our dollar slipped along with our world standing, but we rank 22nd in the world in Internet connection speed. (Right about par with our infrastructure quality!)
  • Why do freight trains that derail always seem to be carrying deadly cyanide gas? Doesn't the toilet paper train ever derail?
  • jimjustsaying’s Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month: “El Tigre.” As in, Daniel Joseph “El Tigre” Casey, D.D.S., Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 2, 2022.
  • Three things I've never done: Played pickleball, flown a dirigible or entered the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes.
  • If that goat cheese you just bought smells like an actual goat, don’t eat it!
  • Today’s Latin Lesson: Res in speculum es propinquus quam they videor. ("Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.")

  • Thanks to my new research assistant, Sal Monella, for his valuable assistance.




The chili could be malicious and downright unforgiving.  The omelets sometimes look like yellow Play-Doh flecked with foreign bodies.  The coffee isn’t strong enough to defend itself, and the waitress puts the plates down with an offhand finality.  Breakfast served any time.  Eggs any style.  The soup? It’s navy bean.

 It’s easy to put down the greasy spoon, that ubiquitous testament to the tacky and the Tums.  But by whatever name—luncheonette, diner, café, grill, coffee shop, ptomaine parlor—it used to account for 40-50 percent of the eat-out dollar, according to industry sources.  Now?  Not so much, as changing tastes and the sweep of urban renewal have relegated it into a virtual museum piece--a slow-food square peg in a round hole of a fast-food, instant-everything, drive-through and highly hyphenated universe. Some things just sort of happen, with no grand design or Machiavellian malice aforethought.

 But the greasy spoon was a slice of Americana that clung to the fork with nary a nod to fad or fashion.  There were no vegetarian plates, as meat and potatoes carried the day and the night and the mortgage.  The Serv-Naps filed out of their countertop compartments as the daily duet of eat-and-runs and lingerers played their way through an unconducted arrangement.  The beef was “govt.-inspected”—but did it pass?  There was a counter-top jukebox selector, with some pop, some country, some rock but definitely no Rachmaninoff.

You know the place.  Everyone, whether through happenstance, resignation or momentary indifference has ended up at one of these Edward Hopper-esque establishments, clutching a greasy knife or fork. How the spoon, which generally just stirred the coffee, got left holding the bag is a mysteryforever lost in the mists of time.

Whatever their culinary merits, one could develop an irrational affection for the emporiums of this genre.  And they were more than eating places.  Sociologically they could be an over-the-counter salve for the tattered psyches of the urban disenfranchised, who hoped they wouldn’t close on Christmas and trap them in their cheap hotel rooms.  They were sort of halfway hash house social clubs, with no membership list but plenty of dues, where the help was as transient as the trade.

Some of these motley establishments were actually respectable—sometimes good—and do not deserve to be painted in such tawdry tones.  Almost always locally owned, they were probably more consistent at their level than some tonier “destination dining” spots and had a more devoted clientele, who prided themselves on being regulars, never had to state their orders and were probably as good as the National Guard should someone get surly with the waitress.  Perhaps the key to their fate is how many such places are opening these days, not how many are closing.

But while there’s time, the eyes above the menu survey the scene and laugh and marvel at a few things:

--The waitress always looks like she is glad they sre out of whatever they are out of.

--The catsup bottle says “restaurant pack,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

--The busboy is a strong man--a bit too strong—but he didn’t shower up with Irish Spring.

--There’s a fill-up-the-sugar-container fetish that is hard to fathom.  Today’s two fingers’ worth on top of yesterday’s two fingers’ worth.  The sugar at the bottom was refined in 1952.

--The “chef” has more tattoos than specialties and thinks “Guide Michelin” plays for the Montreal Canadiens.

--The cream pies and such are kept at a tongue-numbing 33 degrees.

--The sandwich plates are larger than they need to be, but the dinner plates. . . .

--The cashier/owner always seems to be eating ice cream out of a coffee cup on a stool near the cash register.

--They honor the “law” that says coleslaw shall be served in flimsy paper or plastic cups and in minute amounts.

--The spaghetti always comes with “rich meat sauce.”

--The menu always has an item or two that no one has ever ordered.  Who orders Red Snapper in places like this?

--If you want something to go, you have to stand in a special place, probably so they won’t confuse you with people who prefer to eat standing up with their hands in their pockets.

--The floor is usually brown-and-yellow tile squares, in accordance with the Seedy Restaurant Color Scheme Act of 1942.

--Some old guy always comes in about 10 p.m. and orders a bowl of bran cereal.

---The menu is a Sargasso Sea of misspelled names and fanciful if not fraudulent descriptions.  From the Broiler.  From the Sea.  But never From the Freezer.

--The server never fills in all those bureaucratic squares at the top of the “guest check” and writes diagonally across the lined form.  What’s more, she has a Ph.D. in abbreviations.

--One of the customers always looks like he is doing his income tax at one of the tables.

--Somebody always walks by the window and waves in just before he disappears.

--You’re the only one at the counter, and some guy walks in and sits right next to you.

--The french-fried shrimp comes with enough cocktail sauce to cover about two pieces.

--The table’s wobble is always half-corrected with a dirty folded napkin or three.

--The clock is always stopped at something like 2:42.

--The Muzak is always playing something like “Never on Sunday” or “Nom Domenticar.”

--The cook  flip-slides the plates across the high stainless-steel counter, and they always stop short, as if equipped with disk brakes.

--The cashier always puts your change down on a spikey rubber thing that looks like an oversized scalp massager.


In the early morning lull, after the midnight rush hour subsides, the buzz of the fluorescent now equals the sizzle of the grill as the beat cop walks in and sinks into the house booth.

 “Say, where’s Sally?  She off tonight?”

“Nah, she quit.  Went back with her old man.”

“Oh . . . . Say, you got any a that meat loaf left.  Haven’t eaten all day.”

“Nah, meat loaf’s out.  All’s I got left is thueringer.”

“Thueringer, huh.  Well . . . gimme a piece of that blueberry.”

(Illustration:  Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” 1942)

Forecast Follies (or . . . "Here's Jim with the Weather")

Mark Twain famously said, ”Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” 

And since reports of Mr. Twain’s death were not highly exaggerated, I’d like to fill in for him and address something we apparently can’t do anything about, either—the nonsensical, downright insulting barrage of verbiage issuing forth daily from what used to be called TV “weathermen” (and they were all of that gender back in the day) but are now known as “meteorologists,” as if space rocks were an omnipresent factor in our lives.  As in, “60 percent chance of precipitation by daybreak, with 0.000001 percent chance of meteor collision.”  (Meteor showers do occur, but usually are not perilous enough to cancel your picnic plans. They have yet to be seen in the Bus Stop Forecasts or the Car Wash Advisories that “humanize” these bloated segments.)

The weather portions (there are usually two—a fairly brief “teaser” early on and later, the Big Production) of most TV newscasts are, first of all, way too long (and coupled with all those time-wasting teasers about “what’s coming up,” leave precious little time for what we actually tune in for—news).  We don’t need to know where the Alberta Clipper fizzled, that an El Nino is in mid-formation or that a front in central Montana caused a “dusting” in northern Iowa.  And as for those “pockets of snow” we were supposed to get last night, I looked in mine and, blessedly, found none. But the station has paid serious coin for all of the glitzy graphics and radar capabilities, and by God, they are going to be used, if even just to show us what the rainfall looks like in downtown Racine “right at this very moment.”  Gripping.

And then there is the universal, comically contrived “personalization” factor, apparently de rigueur on all stations. It’s never “Thursday’s forecast,” it’s (ahem), “the forecast for your Thursday . . . .”  One can only envision the rapturous glow viewers must feel when luxuriating in the warmth of that gratuitous pronoun! (As if that forecast applies only to you, no one else. Ah, exclusivity.)

If one were to awaken from a 30-year coma, he or she would probably be mystified not only by cellphones, laptops and GPS devices but also by the existence of a curious phenomenon known as The Weather Channel: All weather, all the time--a nonstop barrage of jargon, gaudy graphics and arcane factoids.  How did we ever exist without it? When it’s a slow weather day (and in this day of acute climate change, there’s always a crisis on the front burner somewhere), footage of past calamities will fill the bill for weather junkies or the aficionados of disaster porn.

Those with (ahem) backgrounds as editors find the nightly weather segments to be cringefests in the extreme.  Temps don’t just drop into the 20s, they “drop down,” as if “dropping up” were a physical possibility.  Is snow or rain in the forecast? No, we’ll have “snow showers” or “rain showers.”  And it’s never just “sun”; it’s “sunshine,” as if that extra syllable ramps up the warmth.  These folks never pass up an opportunity to gild the lily, because we’re often told of the possibility of “rain events” or “snow events,” which leads me, at least, to wonder if I will need a ticket, if there will be guest speakers and if refreshments will be served.  (Spotty Showers?  That was my clown name back in the day, a story to be told when the Vernal Equinox rolls around.  Which this year, in the Northern Hemisphere, will be at 10:33 a.m. CST on March 20.  Mark your calendar.)

But my pique rises to fever pitch in winter, when we’re often told during our seven-month layered-look season to “bundle up,” as if we lifelong Midwesterners have no prior experience with winter weather--as if we had all just parachuted in from Jamaica in our underwear and had no idea on how to adorn ourselves in these brutal climes.  We don’t need to be told how to dress when icicles form—we’ve been there, done that—and resent the insinuation. One of the local weather wordsmiths hails from San Diego, and he’s telling us what to wear?  Outrageous.  I’d like to send him back to sunny California on his surfboard or his skateboard, preferably when the barometric pressure equals the dew point and, optimally, on a jet stream.

More and more women are seen these days holding forth during TV weather segments, and they have proven themselves every bit the equal of the men—long-winded and grammatically challenged. Positive role models apparently are non-existent; the often-parodied “weather bunnies” are blessedly a thing of the past (their anatomical attributes far outweighed their academic credentials), and the first exemplary female trailblazer with any gravitas has yet to be found. 

So please, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Meteorologist, do us all a favor:  Stop behaving as if you are getting paid by the word, spare me the details about weather phenomena that have no bearing on our locale and, most of all, stop insulting our intelligence.  Chill out, stick to the weather and let us worry about our wardrobes.  Failing that, my fondest wish is that I could take all of you, get you all bundled up and sent to the Sahara.  There’s a 99.99 percent chance that you won’t need an umbrella or have to worry about a lake effect, a polar vortex or banal banter with the anchor desk. 

And now here’s Al with the Sports.

--Jim Szantor  


Biden and the college debt issue

He risks rebranding Democrats as "the party of the free lunch"

SCOTUS leak a symptom of institutional breakdown

Exposure of the draft abortion ruling puts the court’s politics on display

Seven lessons the Democrats need to learn—fast!

Retooling the party for an age of disorder

Amend the Constitution to bar senators from the presidency

The Senate is less about legislating and more about self-promotion

The rise and fall of the White House reporter

A once-plum position has turned a bit sour

What to expect . . .

. . . from this year’s hotter and drier summer

The simplest way to explain the metaverse

It can be done in three words--but some experts provide larger context and clear up some major misperceptions


Discovery! Breaking down plastics in days, not centuries

A group of scientists at the University of Texas at Austin have created a modified enzyme that can break down plastics that would otherwise take centuries to degrade in a matter of days.

The researchers, who [recently] published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Nature, used machine learning to land on mutations to create a fast-acting protein that can break down building blocks of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a synthetic resin used in fibers for clothing and plastic that, per the study, accounts for 12 percent of global waste. 

It does so through a process called depolymerization, in which a catalyst separates the building blocks that make up PET into their original monomers, which can then be repolymerized—built back into virgin plastic—and converted into other products. Most impressively, the enzymes broke down the plastic in one week. 

 “One thing we can do is we can break this down into its initial monomers,” Hal Alper, professor in Chemical Engineering and author on the paper, told Motherboard over the phone. “And that's what the enzyme does. And then once you have your original monomer, it’s as if you're making fresh plastic from scratch, with the benefit that you don't need to use additional petroleum resources.”

“This has advantages over traditional belt recycling,” Alper added. “If you were to melt the plastic and then remold it, you'd start to lose the integrity of the plastic each round that you go through with recycling. Versus here, if you're able to depolymerize and then chemically repolymerize, you can be making virgin PET plastic each and every time.” 

Their work adds to an existing line of query on plastic-eating enzymes, which were first recorded in 2005 and have since been followed by the discovery of 19 distinct enzymes, the paper notes. These are derived from naturally occurring bacteria that have been located living on plastic in the environment. 

But many of these naturally occurring enzymes are made up of permutations of proteins that function well in their specific environments, but are limited by temperature and pH conditions, and thus can’t be used in a wide range of settings, like across recycling centers, the authors argue. The enzyme Alper and his team discovered, by contrast, can break down 51 types of PET across a range of temperature and pH conditions. 

The researchers named the enzyme FAST-PETase, acronymic for “functional, active, stable, and tolerant PETase,” and they landed on its exact structure using machine learning. An algorithm was fed with 19,000 protein structures and taught to predict the positions of amino acids in a structure that are not optimized for their local environments. They also used the formula to rearrange amino acids from existing types of PETase into new positions, identified improved combinations and landed on one structure that saw 2.4 times more activity than an existing PETase enzyme at 40 degrees Celsius and 38 times more activity at 50 degrees Celsius.

It was then tested across a range of temperatures and pH conditions,and continued to outperform existing variants. 

 “What you see in nature is probably somewhat optimal, at least within the local environment around each and every one of those amino acids,” Alper said. “We can start looking at the protein of interest, and start going through each and every one of the amino acids in there and looking at its own microenvironment and seeing what fits and what doesn't fit.” 

 Alper and his team’s hope is that their enzyme will be more scalable than most, and will truly put PET-ase to the test of tackling the global plastics crisis. Already able to withstand a range of conditions, FAST-PETase must now prove that it can be both “portable and affordable at large industrial scale.”

First, Alper says, he and his team must test FAST-PETase on the wide range of different types of PET found in the waste stream, and the detritus that’s often found in plastic bottles or on top of plastic containers when it’s recycled. Should the researchers find an enzyme or group of enzymes with the robustness to be used practically, they believe it can help tackle the “billions of tons” of waste in our environment.

--Audrey Carleton, Vice

Why the GOP loves grumpy, middle-aged men

That seems to be the lesson, anyway, from a new focus group of eight such men convened by the New York Times to gauge their feelings on the state of the country, and of masculinity itself. There wasn't a lot of happiness in the group.

The guys grumbled about crime and cancel culture, and generally seemed to long for a better time when --there's no other way to put this--America was great. Nobody thought that racism or sexism is much of a problem in the 21st Century. They did think that men don't have it so great these days, though. One offered up action star Jason Statham as his model of masculinity.

Their complaints seemed at once half-formed and ancient. 

Danny, a 47-year-old realtor from Florida, complained about younger men "wearing very feminine clothes" with "tight skinny jeans, with no socks and velvet shoes." (Hilariously, another participant told Danny he was "a little too macho.") 

Christopher, a 51-year-old broker from Maryland, declared that feminists "are actually purveyors of men-bashing." 

And Robert, a 50-year-old infrastructure analyst from Texas, suggested the war in Ukraine was somehow the result of America's less-than-stout manliness.

"To me, the stuff that's going on with Ukraine--the United States hasn't filled our role as being masculine as a nation in that aspect," he said. "And that's why Putin is doing what he's doing, because when you don't step up into certain roles, then the stronger person is going to take over."

It's easy to make fun of some of this stuff, and on social media, lots of folks have. But let's try to take it seriously for a moment. Conservative men are unhappy? OK. What exactly are we supposed to do with that information? It's not really clear.

We probably shouldn't expect eight random individuals to come to the table with bullet-pointed policy ideas. But except for their problems with crime and traffic--there were a lot of traffic complaints--the group's frustrations seemed unfixable, the product of a deeply felt but inchoate sense that the culture has passed them by. That's old news. Conservatism is practically defined by its nostalgia for a time when men were men and America ruled the world, not to mention an obsession with movie star action heroes. We have always been at war with guys in skinny jeans and velvet shoes.

That which can't be fixed can be exploited, however. It's probably not a coincidence that Republican senators duck questions about their agenda while delivering speeches about the crisis of masculinity and waging war over Dr. Seuss books. The grumpiness of conservative men can't be solved and never will be. It will have to serve instead as an infinitely renewable political resource, a font of grievances fueling the Republican Party, forever and ever.

--Joel Mathis, The Week

10 David Foster Wallace quotes

1. “We’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that goes around feeling like missing somebody we’ve never even met?” 

2. “Lonely people tend, rather, to be lonely because they decline to bear the psychic costs of being around other humans. They are allergic to people. People affect them too strongly.” 

3. “It’s a very American illness, the idea of giving yourself away entirely to the idea of working in order to achieve some sort of brass ring that usually involves people feeling some way about you—I mean, people wonder why we walk around feeling alienated and lonely and stressed out

4. “Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties—all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion—these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.” 

5. “The interesting thing is why we’re so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness.” 

6. “Fiction’s about what it is to be a human being.” 

7. “Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” 

8. “There’s a kind of Ah-ha! Somebody at least for a moment feels about something or sees something the way that I do. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s these brief flashes or flames, but I get that sometimes. I feel unalone—intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. I feel human and unalone and that I’m in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness in fiction and poetry in a way that I don’t with other art.” 

9. “We all suffer alone in the real world. True empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with their own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.” 

10. “Sarcasm and jokes were often the bottle in which clinical depressives sent out their most plangent screams for someone to care and help them.” 

Regrettable rules of high-tech happenstance

1.  The likelihood that any digital device will fail is directly proportional to your need for that device to work properly.  
2. Your laptop will wait to die until just after your warranty for the system has expired.  The encouraging news is that taking out an extended warranty of one year will likely extend your machine's life by exactly that length of time.
3.  Voice mail messages always break up and become unintelligible just as the caller is leaving his or her call-back number.  Note that this rule applies only to important calls that you absolutely need to return.
4.  "While supplies last" is a synonym for "until the guy right in front of you buys the last one."
5.  You know the next great version with all the features you really want?  It won't be released until right after you've bought the previous version. (And if you decide to wait for that next great version, it will be delayed.  Probably for a long time.  Or maybe forever.)

--Steve Fox, PC World magazine

Coloring inside the lines

I wrote a play, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," about a conversation between Picasso and Einstein. There's a scene with an art dealer, and he's waxing rhapsodic about a painting, and he says, "You know what makes this painting great? The frame. It forces a containment, and the painter has to work within the boundaries. They have to innovate within." I like that [about bluegrass]. Here's what you've got, now what you can do with it?  

--Steve Martin



As Socrates famously wrote, "The unexamined life is not worth living." One would well posit  that the unchallenged life is not worth living.  Or, if it is,  not as satisfying.

Most of my music-related activity since leaving the Air Force Band in late 1969 has been as an author and critic, my playing restricted solely to playing along with records at home.

Soloist Jim Szantor as lead alto David Bixler gives the cutoff on the final chord.

But that changed on Aug. 11 when I performed as a guest soloist on clarinet with the fabled Birch Creek Jazz Orchestra, a big band made up of some of the best jazz players in the country, comprising as they do the faculty that teaches the students who come to Egg Harbor in Door County for two-week sessions of intensive training and performance opportunities.  It's sort of a musical boot camp but with kindly but highly decorated instructors.  

My feature spot was "Ballad for Benny" a tune written by the late, great jazz composer and saxophonist Oliver Nelson, who was commissioned by Benny Goodman to write new material for the band's historic 1962 tour of the Soviet Union.   It was such a  significant cultural/political event back then that Walter Cronkite often led the CBS Nightly News with the band's latest exploits.

The 17-piece Birch Creek Jazz Orchestra prior to my introduction.

This tune was recorded by the Oliver Nelson Orchestra (with the great Phil Woods in a rare outing on clarinet instead of his usual lustrous alto sax) but never performed publicly in this country--till now.  If you do an internet search on some of the illustrious players in the band behind me --Dennis Mackrel, Clay Jenkins, Doug Stone, David Bixler, Tanya Darby, to name a few--you'll see why I'm so proud to have been selected to perform with them.

Part of the evening's program.
It was an oppressively muggy night (close to 100 percent humidity) in the un-air-conditioned hall, making intonation more of a challenge than usual. It took some months of chipping away at the rust that had accumulated over the years on my woodwind chops, but I was determined to have one last dance, so to speak, with the idiom that I have loved for a lifetime.  To paraphrase the late Karl Wallenda of the famed aerial troupe The Flying Wallendas, "Life is the bandstand.  The rest is just waiting."  

Luckily for me, the wait is over.

55th High School Reunion Essay

From Red Devils to Gray Devils (or, 73 is the new 61)

By Jim Szantor

It has been a long and winding road that brings the Class of '61 to Reunion Weekend.   A time when we can take our noses out of our devices and communicate the best possible way--face to face.  We've come so far and seen so much, but on this occasion it's all about something that we can never get enough of--living in the moment with people who matter to us.  Some of us may say more to each other this weekend than we did when we were in the same building on a daily basis.  Reunions can be strange that way.

We've gone our separate ways in many ways, but there are bonds that can never be separated, and Mary D. Bradford was a big part of that.  Some of the connections we treasure started before that, some came after.  But we're so fortunate to have them.  There's no app for that.

Our birth dates and graduation dates were bookended by two presidents known mainly by their initials (FDR and JFK), with some of us then sent off to an unpopular war by LBJ.  (OMG!)  Somehow we survived anti-war and race riots, three high-profile assassinations and thought we were living in turbulent times then.  Little did we know.

We've reached the time of our lives when, as is often said, it seems as if we're having breakfast every 20 minutes and a doctor's appointment every 20 days.   And if our waistlines have expanded, so have our vocabularies.  Unfortunately, many of our new  words end in "itis," "oscopy" or "ectomy" (with a few "ograms" thrown in for good measure.)  Some of us are lucky enough to have original factory equipment, but others seem to be doing just fine with replacement parts.  Our mileage may vary accordingly.

Our lives since high school have had similar arcs (higher education, marriage and careers, exhilarating highs and devastating lows, medical battles won and lost), but no two narratives are alike, with their surprising and fortuitous twists, unexpected and unfortunate turns.  We'll talk about them, tell stories--funny and otherwise--we may have told before.  But underneath it all is something strangely and poignantly wistful that is easier to experience than to explain.  A tear or two may flow, but laughter will carry the day.  To borrow a title from my favorite song of those cherished Bradford years, "It's All in the Game."

We'll reminisce about the sweet used-to-be, a time when you could get on a plane without getting undressed, when mosquitoes were occasional nuisances instead of winged assassins, and a Christmas gift might be one of those wildly irresponsible vintage toys of our youth--the chemistry set--the better to conduct home experiments with the ammonium nitrate now prized by rogue terrorists.

Our first cars are quaint relics now (it's cringe-inducing to contemplate how crude and dangerous they really were), but how treasured they were then!  Apples were something we ate; Steve Jobs was just 6 years old on our Graduation Day and hadn't decided to change the world just yet.  Amazon was a river in South America, a tweet was a sound produced by a bird, and Google was the name of a comic-strip character whose first name, if you don't remember it, can be learned if you use his last name to find it, using a device probably within arm's reach.

Culturally, a maverick from Mississippi named Elvis Presley was viewed as outrageous by some as the fabled Generation Gap reared its head, writ large.  No one envisioned such outre performers as Alice Cooper, Madonna and Sid Vicious and others of inexplicable popularity.  Thus, rap and hip-hop aren't likely to be heard at the Chateau on our special night; Snoop Dogg won't be making the playlist.  We'll hear many oldies and savor the memories they conjure up as the sound track of our youth plays on.

We'll survey the years and laugh about the clothes we wore, the "what were we thinking?" misadventures and the gasoline we burned going around in circles downtown.   We took ourselves perhaps too seriously at times but at least took no "selfies."  (And what about that sheepskin we worked so hard to get?  All we got was a piece of paper!   I, for one, still feel cheated and have thus given my graduation an Incomplete.  But that's just me.)

Our graduates include at least two doctors that I know of, perhaps a lawyer or three, but most likely no Indian chiefs.  Scanning the yearbook, some wonderful names pop out--a Jane Eyre and a Thomas Wolfe, whom I dearly hope can come home again.   The Annex may be gone but still stands tall in our memories.  It rained on our scheduled Graduation Day, a happenstance that turned out to be more of a innocuous oddity than an ill omen.

We'll share some of our epic Kodak moments, those occasions when someone was bound to say, "Great Grandma is probably looking down on us with a big proud smile."  (To explore the thought of other moments when Great Grandma was looking down on us is a thought too unsettling to pursue further in this essay, if you get my drift.  Who raises and lowers the celestial curtain?)

Those of us who have moved away can use this occasion to revisit old haunts (the ones that still exist) and scan the crowd for familiar faces (thank God for name tags) and lament the absence of those we fear we may never see again, trying to remember that, as a poet once said, people die but love doesn't have to.  The list of Missing Classmates numbers about 280 and leads one to wonder where those people are, and, if still living, why they have stayed in the shadows.  If by choice, we have to respect that; if for darker reasons, that's most unfortunate.  We may know the circumstances for a few, but for the others--whether they were good friends, casual acquaintances or names we hardly recognize--like a lot of life's mysteries, we may never know.  We can only hope that life has dealt them the best possible hand.

It has been said that the 25th is the best reunion--some liken it to life's mid-term exam--and say they only get sadder after that.  But most marathoners--those lucky enough to remain in the race--feel more exhilaration in the home stretch than they did at the halfway mark.  Granted, we know the trip is not going to last forever, but it's satisfying to toast the milestones we've achieved and humbly acknowledge our good fortune.  And who knows--the way research is advancing on the scourges of cancer and Alzheimer's, in five years 78 may be the new 61.  Let's drink to that!