Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Name Game 2013

I was tempted to write about the historic, ground-breaking decision the Supreme Court handed down this week. I'm referring, of course, to Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, in which Florida developer Coy Koontz, Sr., "filed suit under a state law that provides money damages for agency action that is an 'unreasonable exercise of the state’s police power constituting a taking without just compensation.'"

But as Ben Franklin famously sang two hundred thirty-seven years ago, "The things I write are only light extemporania. I won't put politics on paper; it's a mania. So I refuse to use the pen in Pennsylvania." Although in my case, I suppose it should be, "I won't put politics on the web; I warn ya. So I refuse to use the cal in Cali..." Never mind. That doesn't work.

What I mean to say is, I generally try to steer clear of politics on this blog. There's plenty of that on the Internet without me putting my oar in.

However, I couldn't help but notice that "Coy Koontz" is a pretty funny name, which reminded me that it's been well over a year since I first blogged about my hobby of collecting funny and unusual names. Since then, I've added quite a few to the list. As before, most of them come from court opinions and other government documents on the Internet, and are therefore a matter of public record.

What makes a name funny? I suppose that's subjective. Personally, I like alliteration. I find no humor in the name "Roy Koontz," but change the 'R' to a 'C' and I'm rolling on the floor. Here are a few more amusing alliterative appellations: "Lisa Lekumberry," "Libby Lum," "Travis Tinney," and my personal favorite, "Moe Mobasher." There's also poor "Johnson John," who, I imagine, must constantly have to correct people. ("No, no, no! It's Johnson John, not John Johnson!")

Some names just beg to be used in that novel that I will probably never write. For instance, "Ora Blodgett" and "Grubert Markley" could be a couple of dour Dickensian characters, while "Barry Derryberry" might be a merry fairy (or a not-so-merry undertaker).

"Archery Overstreet" could be a master spy or a 1930's detective, and "Sebastian Voth" should be a vampire or, at the very least, a comic book super villain.

Speaking of comic books, I recently came across a "Daisy Batman" and a "Harvey Birdman." (Didn't he once star in an animated series on the Cartoon Network?)

Finally, "Blonde Grayson Hall" is an attorney.

That's right—she's legally Blonde.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

'Tis the Season—for Ice Cream

It's summer, and to borrow from Tennyson, "an old man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of ice cream." At least this old man's fancy does.

When I was a kid, summer meant the reappearance of the ice cream truck—cruising the streets of the neighborhood, playing a cheerful nursery rhyme, luring children out of their homes like the fabled Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Which, when you think about it, is a little bit creepy.

(By the way, when we first moved to this neighborhood, the ice cream truck that used to come around was seriously creepy. It was painted in flat gray primer and played strange, minor-key tunes like Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and the theme from Love Story. I don't think anyone was crazy enough to go near it, let alone buy ice cream from it. I haven't seen it lately, so I assume the owner went bankrupt. Either that, or he was arrested.)

Back where I come from, for the most part, ice cream is a treat reserved for warm weather. Ice cream stands close up tight for the winter, and it's a big deal when they open up in spring. When Loretta and I lived in Niagara County, New York, our most cherished summer rituals included frozen custard from Hibbard's in Lewiston, or double-dip cones from Mississippi Mudd's in Tonawanda, followed by a leisurely stroll along the Niagara River.

I feel sorry for people who live their whole lives in temperate climates, where ice cream is available anywhere, year-round. I don't think they can possibly appreciate it as much those of us who have lived in the "Frozen North."

Unfortunately, Loretta and I can no longer appreciate it, either. Since moving to California, we have both developed lactose intolerance.

So it goes.

Mississippi Mudd's—I've never tried the chicken sandwich, but the ice cream is good.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Magical, Amazing, Firefly Lights Are Magical and Amazing!

There is something magical about fireflies. When I was a kid back in Indiana, they were as essential to summer as the ice cream truck, trips to the lake, and drive-in movies. We called them "lightening bugs," and my friends and I spent many a summer evening catching them and imprisoning them in empty peanut butter jars to keep by our beds at night.

Magic in a jar.

As I grew up, I lost interest in fireflies and magic. Grown-ups don't have time for such things. Then, thirteen summers ago, while in Indiana for a celebration of my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary, I saw hundreds, maybe thousands of them, dancing and twinkling along the shore of a lake at night. Never in my life had I seen so many.

Talk about magic.

In that moment, I realized how much I missed fireflies. We don't have them here in Southern California—at least I've never seen any.

Two weeks ago, while in Chicago, we toured a bioluminescence exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History. There were fireflies in the exhibit, of course: one real, dead firefly (which produced no light at all), and lots of electronic fireflies (which produced the same slowly pulsing, greenish-yellow light as real fireflies). As we left the exhibit, all I could think was, "I have got to get some of these things!"

When we got home, I got on the computer and found the Firefly Magic website, with the following description of their product:
Fireflies, also called Lightning Bugs, light up a magical evening and are truly 'Magical Fireflies'. Welcome! You've just discovered the amazing Firefly Magic® Firefly Lights that have been developed to accurately recreate the life-like flashing, flickering, and fading of Mother Nature's real fireflies in your yard or garden, all year long. So special and realistic are these patented firefly lights that they're used by Universities for conducting their firefly research. In addition, Firefly Magic® Firefly Lights are used in theme parks, natural science museums, zoos, hotels, restaurants, on stage, and in movies to accurately replicate the look and feel of Mother Nature's real fireflies. 

I ordered a set, and they were delivered within a couple of days. I installed them last weekend, wiring them into our low-voltage lighting system and strategically placing them in the shrubbery and lower tree branches in one corner of the back yard.

I could hardly wait for the sun to go down.

And I am happy to report that Firefly Magic® Firefly Lights are every bit as amazing and magical as advertised. In fact, I think I'll order myself another set. After all, you can never have too many fireflies.

Or too much magic.

(Photo from Visit their website for more information about fireflies, including some disturbing news about their dwindling numbers.)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Walking in My Parents' Footsteps

My father must have been a little disappointed that none of us children became lawyers, although he never said so. In fact, he always made a point of telling my siblings and me how proud he was of us, no matter what we did. Although I never followed in his footsteps figuratively, this past Memorial Day weekend, almost exactly a year after his death, I found myself literally following in his footsteps in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

We were visiting our niece, a graduate student in the chemistry department at the University of Michigan. After she showed us around the building where she worked, I asked if she could take us to the University's law school, where my father obtained his law degree in 1950.

The University of Michigan is a beautiful campus, with exactly the sort of ivy-covered Gothic architecture you would expect to find in a university (and always see in movies about universities). The law library is especially impressive. The stained glass windows, vaulted ceiling, chandeliers, and solemn silence gives you the feeling of being inside a cathedral. I felt a powerful sense of awe, with just a hint of déjà vu—possibly because Dad brought us here when I was a child, possibly because the room looks a lot like the Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter movies.

I wanted to call my father. There were questions I wanted to ask him. How much time had he spent studying here? How had the place changed since then? Did he ever have a professor like Snape?

I really miss being able to talk to my parents.

Last weekend, in Chicago, I wanted to call my mother and talk to her about Marshall Field's. My sister and I were following in her (and our own) footsteps, reminiscing about family shopping trips to Mom's favorite store.

Of course, we always had to visit the toy department. As I recall, it was amazing. There was an entire section devoted to magic tricks, another for science toys. There were dolls of every size and description, electric trains in every scale, and a large glass display case filled with beautiful, precision-made Corgi toy cars from England. But my favorite part of the store was the book department, larger by far than any book store I had ever seen. On each trip, I was allowed to pick out one book—when I was very young, a beautifully-illustrated Oz book; when I grew older, a Hardy Boys mystery or Tom Swift adventure.

Sometimes, on special occasions, Mom would treat us to lunch in the elegant Walnut Room, with its starched white table cloths, sparkling silver and crystal, and rich wood paneling.

Like just about every other department store in the country, Marshall Field's has been swallowed up by Macy's, and it now looks pretty much like every other Macy's store. Everything that made it a unique and wonderful place is gone—except for the Walnut Room, which still looks exactly the way I remember it.

And the Frangos.

Marshall Field's was the only place you could buy the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate mints that my mother loved. No trip to Chicago was complete without purchasing a box or two to take home to Indiana.

Macy's still sells them. Mom would have been so pleased to know that.

I wish I could have sent her a box.