Tag Archives: Mark Twain


the thinkerIn the past, even on this blog, I’ve been known to wax nostalgic.  Today, I feel like waxing philosophical.  Really, like I could even do that.  The verb “wax” as in “waxing” means to increase in extent, quantity, intensity, power, to grow or become.  Philosophical, on the other hand, means:  of or pertaining to philosophy.  This, then, requires you to know what philosophy is.  Philosophy is the rational investigation (opposite of the other kind of investigation, I imagine) of the truth.  If we choose to be more inclusive, it is the principles of, not only being, but knowledge and conduct.  Okay, so I can use a dictionary.  And I am awfully glad that I can now do it online.  So, in an attempt to keep this on track, I’m fixin’ to write intently about a rational investigation of the truth.

As I have also indubitably mentioned in the past, I have hard copies of references like dictionaries, thesauruses and style books in my very own bookcase, but I rarely use them anymore.  Some of them look as though they’ve never been touched.   I go to “dictionary.com,” or “thesaurus .com,” or “rhyme-zone.com,” and get an answer in a fraction of the time.

 Did you know that the internet, as we know it, is only 25 years old?  That really amazes me because I can’t imagine we functioned without it.  Those books in the bookcase I guess.   There is never any unanswered question for me anymore.  If I want to know where Bosnia is, I just pick up my smart phone, push a button, and ask “Where is Bosnia?” or “What kind of car does Amber drive in the TV series ‘Parenthood?’” or “Who played defensive end for the Denver Broncos in 1974?” and…ba-bam, “Google” tells me.  And “Google” tells me in seconds.  (Did you know “Google” is a girl?”  At least she is on my smart phone.)google2

And “Google” is pretty smart for only being 16 years old.  The search engine was founded in 1998, but you might find it interesting to know that “smart” phones have been around for 20 years.  Smart phones have been in my possession for only a couple of years though. (“Couple” meaning, most commonly, two.)  Before the “push the button and ask the question” I had to sit down at my computer and manually search “Google.”  I love “Google.”  I just wish I had stock.  Why didn’t anyone tell me to buy stock in “Google?”  I was there.  I could have done it.

edward kasnerHere’s something I found interesting (I find a lot of things “interesting,” don’t I?).  After checking “Google” on dictionary.com, I discovered that it’s not a word.  The term is a creative spelling of googol, which is a number equal to 10 to the 100th power.  The nine-year old nephew of American mathematician, Edward Kasner, came up with the word googol in the 1930s.  (Remember, this is an intent, rational investigation of the truth.  Which, conversely, means you have to believe everything you read on the internet.)  What is a number equal to 10 to the 100th power?  Geeez, I don’t know.  Let me ask “Google.”

She says that it is the number 1 followed by a 100 zeros.  I’m going to accept that. This is what a googol looks like.  1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000…oh, that’s enough.  You get the idea.

The other day, I was sitting on the couch next to my grandson.  I think he’s also 16.  He had just gotten a haircut and his bangs were curled up in front, kind of ridiculous looking.  So, like the grandpa that I am, I says to him, “What’s with the curls?”  “Why didn’t you have them cut the curl off the bangs?”

And he says, “These aren’t just bangs, they’re ba-bangs.”

I thought I was going to die.  Probably doesn’t sound that funny to you now, but the dead-pan manner in which he presented the philosophical truth about his bangs was just too much to absorb.  Life’s little moments.

All kids around 16 think we older folk are stupid anyway.  One of my favorite quotations, and I have indubitably told you this before, is one from Mark Twain.  (If you know me, there’s a surprise.)

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

It’s framed and hanging on the wall over my desk.  Philosophically, it’s there because every one of my children has basically said this to me in some form or another over the years.  And it makes me smile.  Not that I get satisfaction from knowing that what I told them was totally right, any more than any other parent, but because I also remember a conversation that I had at the dining room table with my grandfather.

“Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up,” he said.  “You only get to be young once.  You should enjoy it.”

It’s etched in my brain.  I have no idea what we were talking about, but I enjoyed arguing with my grandfather.  All I remember about the conversation, at the time, was that I was thinking to myself, “Yeah, right, what do you know?  I can hardly wait to get out on my own, make my own decisions.  I want to get out of this small town.  I want to make my own rules.  I want to stay out as late as I want.  I want to go wherever I want, when I want.”

And I have said the same thing over and over to all of my kids, and their kids, and any other kid that doesn’t want my advice.  They didn’t, and aren’t, listening either.  What do I know?  I’m ignorant, and they can hardly stand to have me around.

My football coach said something similarly thought-provoking to me in high school, when I told him I was quitting the team so I could take a part-time job at the Drive-In 4U.  Another brain etching.

“You’re going to be working your whole life,” he said. “Right now you should forget about a job and play football.”

Yeah, I might have sucked at football, but I still wish I had listened to his advice.  I should have enjoyed being young… and playing football for one more year.  But then I wouldn’t have had the car, and the insurance, and the clothes, and the stereo, and the money for gas, and…I just chose to grow up too soon.

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Stairway Over The Barbed-Wire Fence

When we were growing up in a small town in Northern Wyoming, the one thing we were absolutely not allowed to do was play by the river.  We were not allowed to go near it.  But, just like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and their creator, Mark Twain, the river has a draw for kids, especially boys, and I was no exception.  The first place we lived in Sheridan was in an upstairs apartment, two houses away from Big Goose Creek, which winds its way through town.  Okay, so it’s not a river, but it’s a pretty good-sized creek – pronounced “crick” were I come from –   and after one too many damaging floods, that cut the town in half until the water receded, the Army Corps of Engineers built a flood channel through most of the town, complete with arched bridges.  When we first moved there, it was a gentle slope from the sidewalk that continued over the Loucks Street Bridge.  One day on the way home from first grade, a friend and I decided to walk down the slope to the creek and skip some rocks.  The water was probably about three feet at its deepest here, but it was moving pretty good under the bridge.

I had just successfully skipped a rock three times.  I was basking, somewhat, in the skill I had just demonstrated when the next thing I hear is a familiar voice.  My mother is leaning over the concrete bridge railing screaming at me.  She had been to the “Stop ‘N Shop” on the other side of the bridge and was pushing my little brother home in the stroller, when she spotted me.  I never could get away with anything.

“Leonard Francis, you get away from there and get home this minute!”  You knew you were in some serious trouble when she used your middle name.  “You just wait until your father gets home!”

At least the punishment was going to be slightly delayed.  When I reached the top of the bank and got back on the sidewalk, she grabbed me by the collar and dragged me half-choking the rest of the way home while guiding the stroller with the other.  I won’t admit to sniffling, but I’m sure I did, mostly from the embarrassment I endured as my friend stood by and watched.  For the next two hours I sat alone in the bedroom waiting for the belt.  I was in solitary, and yes, the belt was the approved method of capital punishment for crimes of this nature.  Getting caught at the river’s edge was definitely going to fall into a serious criminal category.  To this day, I still believe waiting for the belt, knowing it’s inevitable, is worse than the punishment itself.

We moved away from the “river,” all the way to Hardin, Montana, for a year.  I had an incident with a drainage channel by the bus stop one winter morning when, draw again by the water, even with a sheet of ice over it, I fell through and had to go to school wet from the waist down.  My sister threatened to tell, which I’m sure she did, as sure as I am that I got the belt and the lecture about staying away from water.

When we returned to Sheridan, my parents rented a small house on the hill overlooking the gully – an area off-limits to me, and, of course, had a small brook running through it.  Yes, I got caught playing in the gully, on several occasions.  A few years later we moved to the two-story house on the corner of West Burkitt and S. Thurmond Ave.  Soon after that, I had wheels.  A bike.  That tan and brown Schwinn got me places, and I spent a lot of time riding it around town.  My mother expressly allowed me to ride my bike around the block.  Sometimes two blocks if I walked it across the street.  Sometimes to the school yard which was four blocks away with the same conditions.  I  only “walked” the bike across the street when I got in view from the front of our house.

This particular afternoon I was on a dirt road at least a mile from the house, my mother being too busy to watch me pass the kitchen window periodically on my way around the allowed route.  I spotted a staircase over a section of barbed-wire fence just on the other side of the drainage ditch, with a trail leading into a thicket of trees.  I laid the bike down, but dutifully put the bike lock on the front fork, and then climbed up the stairs and down the other side.  I almost thought it would be like the entrance to “Nardia,” but it was not a “different” world on the other side of the fence.  Well, not exactly.

I followed the path into the trees and came to the bank of Big Goose Creek where a deep swimming hole formed at the river bend.  Tall Cottonwood trees lined the bank and a large knotted rope hung from the branch of one closest to the water.  A shallow pond continued in all directions from there for fifty or so yards, with cattails thick on the far shore.  It was a kid’s paradise.  Walking along the bank for a ways I saw a long-deserted beaver dam, washed out and rebuilt by nature with floating debris.  The “log jam” created a vortex of water as it rushed to get around the blockage.  In the middle of the whirlpool was a raft.  A raft that could have belonged to Tom and Huck.  Constructed on two large logs, it was spinning and banging off the dam.  The raft was a good distance off shore, but I started to think about a rope with a hook, and a few guys helping to haul it back to a safer place.

I didn’t see anyone the whole time I was there, and I walked back to the stairs, back over the fence.  My bike was where I had left it.  I unlocked it, and re-locked the combination bike lock under the seat post.  My mother was waiting for me in the front yard as I walked the bike across Thurmond, exaggerating the carefulness of looking in both directions before I crossed.  

“Where have you been?” she scolded me.

“I was just riding around the block.  That block,” and I turned and pointed.  She hadn’t really specified which two blocks I could ride around.

“All right,” she said, “You stay close.  It’s almost dinner time.”

Wow, I had been gone a long time.  I hadn’t realized it.  That was a close call.  Now, my mother had “spies” everywhere.  It was, after all, a small town.  Somebody could have spotted me or my bike, lying on the side of the road, and would waste no time calling to rat me out.  For now, it seemed, I was good.  I put the bike in the garage, and starting looking for the neighborhood friends.  I figured I would need about four or five to rescue the raft.

…there’s more to come. 


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Travels With Clarence.

“I have found out there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” –  Mark Twain.  I love the way he goes from “like” to “hate,” and I’m about to tell you a true story.

Clarence and I decided to take the colossal road trip over lunch one early summer afternoon.  A cross-country round trip from Albuquerque, NM to Syosset, Long Island, NY.  Something in the neighborhood of a 4,200 mile round trip in a 1970s Datsun 200SX.  Clarence’s Datsun.  He was from Syosset, and most of his family still lived there.  He was going home for summer vacation and needed a co-pilot for the trip which he intended to drive in two days, non-stop, a total of 30-some hours.  I was born in Copaigue, Long Island, NY and had not been back there since my family moved to Wyoming in 1958.  The idea of visiting some of my relatives that still lived on Long Island intrigued me.  As we talked about it more, I found myself getting excited about the idea.

I was Clarence’s supervisor in a credit card collection department for Citibank.  It wasn’t well perceived by upper management for a supervisor and a direct report to be going off on a vacation together, but we ignored the warnings.  Months of planning ensued.  We would visit the Indianapolis 500 Car Museum, and we would detour to Hannibal, MO, and cross two items off my bucket list.  Clarence agreed.  His wife and infant daughter would fly out ahead of us, and the idea was that they would have a car while we were there.  I’m not sure why they didn’t just rent a car, but somehow Clarence was convinced that having his own car there was a better idea, mostly because of limited funds, I suppose, myself included, and we could drive in to the “City,” instead of taking, as Clarence described it, very dangerous public transportation.

Clarence is black.  I would have said “was,” but he is still, as far as I know, alive, and a man of color, an African-American.  I’m one of those whites “not of Hispanic descent” which continually bothers me, but we won’t get into it here.  Anyway, I tell you that Clarence is black for reasons you will discover later.  The departure date arrives, first weekend of September.  The car has been serviced, a white job with black striping, and a white guy and a black guy ready to head out for parts known, parts unknown, and parts a long ways away.  Clarence’s wife and daughter are on the plane and will arrive in New York later that evening.

A Nissan 200SX is technically a sports car.  This one was an automatic.  There is really no back seat in this two door model, and it is what is known as a hatchback.  We stuffed our suitcases in, and carefully positioned the cooler of beer directly behind the seats in the center, easily accessible from the co-pilot seat, and off we went.

We made good time, switching drivers on the Will Rogers Turnpike, a toll road outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma.  It was around ten o:clock.  Needless to say, we weren’t driving the speed limit thus far in our travels.  We were pushing the car 95 to 100 miles an hour because Clarence had installed a radar-detector, and thus far it had worked well.  I started my driving shift and pushed the car up to 90, rolling along while Clarence was going to catch some shut-eye, before he took over again in the early morning.

Fifteen minutes later the car stopped moving with the accelerator pressed to the floor.  The engine was screaming, but the car was just rolling.  I rolled it over to the shoulder.  Clarence woke up.  “What the hell happened?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said, “it just stopped moving.”  We had been on the road less than a day, and I had already broken the car.

“See if it starts.”

The car started right up, but when I slipped it into drive, it didn’t go anywhere.  It was pitch black outside, no moon, billions of stars twinkling in the sky.

“It’s the transmission.  SHIT!”  Clarence then decides to tell me that he has been having trouble with the clutch slipping, but didn’t think it was going to be a problem.  Slipping for months.  This car has over 100,000 miles on it, I just notice on the odometer, and he doesn’t foresee any problems driving it 4,000 miles without a break.

“What the hell are we going to do now?” I asked.  Here we are in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, can’t see any lights in any direction, and we don’t have any cell phones or a CB radio.  We’re doomed.

Clarence answers, “I gotta pee.”  He opens the car door and heads out into a dark field.  I know this sounds cliché, but he was less than twenty yards from the car and I could only see him  when he smiled.  It was that dark out. 

“Clarence, shit, there could be a coyote sneaking up on you right now with a bead on your pecker, and you wouldn’t even see him.”

He zipped up quickly, and with his head darting from side to side, ran back towards the car.  He was from New York, after all, coyotes and other wild animals that live freely in an Oklahoma field hadn’t come to mind.  I had to pee, but decided to wait.

Clarence got back in the car and said, “Well, I’m going to have a beer,” and drew out a dripping cold Coors from the cooler in the back.

“I’ll have one too,” I said, and he handed the one he had opened to me and got another.  We sat there laughing about the coyote incident.  I noticed that Clarence had locked his door.  Like a coyote could get to him through an unlocked car door.

Within seconds of the first sip, an Oklahoma State Trooper, sirens and lights ablaze, whipped across the median and pulled up behind the Nissan.  

“Hide the beer,” I screamed.

I rolled down the window and waited for the officer to approach the car.  After a few minutes, watching him through the side mirror, he came up behind the car with a flashlight, checking the plates, and whatever contents he could make out in the back through the hatchback window.  He leaned over and shone the light into my face, and then in Clarence’s.

“You boys been drinking tonight?”  The first thing that came out of his mouth.  We shook our heads “no,” and satisfied, or so it seemed, he asked us why we were stopped on the Will Rogers Expressway?

“Car broke down,” I answered.  “We think it’s the clutch or transmission.”

“Mmm,” he says, and then makes me prove it.  I start the car, put it in gear, and the engine just revs.  “What’s in the cooler?” he asks.

“Cold drinks.” Clarence answers too quickly.

“Well, let me take you boys down to the service island a couple of miles up the road, and we can call for a tow truck.”

I am now sitting in the backseat of a police car for the first time in my life, and I don’t like it much.  It seems only a few minutes before we pull into a convenience store/gas station in the middle of the highway, accessible from both eastbound and westbound lanes.  We at least could have walked here if we had needed to.  The trooper asks us if we want something to drink or eat, while we wait.  He’s going to call somebody he knows in Stillwater who can help us with our problem.

I get out of the patrol car and use the rest room, free of dangerous animals.

To Be Continued…






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We Don’t Like Being A Kid

In a shadow box on the wall above my desk is the following quote:  “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But, when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”  Mark Twain, 1889.  It’s the only quote I have on my wall and I got the shadow box when I was in Virginia City, NV, one weekend when I decided I needed to visit my muse.  The definition you’ll find for muse is not what I am referring to here.  A muse in this context is a source of inspiration, a myth, dating back to Greek mythology, that artists and writers credit for giving them a spontaneous idea even when they weren’t looking for one.  Mark Twain is my muse.

 I have visited his boyhood home in Hannibal, MO, on two occasions, routing my trip through there just to stop and contemplate, stand behind the gold cord separating his bedroom from the upstairs hallway, stand by the white-washed picket fence, cross the street to Becker Thatcher’s house, walk down to the corner where Grant’s  drug store still stands, and the office of Justice of the Peace, J. M. Clemens.  The mighty Mississippi is a stone’s throw away.  You have to leave Interstate 70 to get there, so it’s a little out-of-the-way if you’re heading east, and it’s mostly two-lane highway from the exit.

That plastic wall to the left is covering the house.

The first time I visited Hannibal was during a cross-country road trip to Chicago with a friend of mine.  It was an arranged side trip, but still in the general direction of our final destination. I was terribly disappointed because Tom Sawyer’s (Sam Clemens’) boyhood home was being renovated and covered with a clear plastic tent.  They were rebuilding the structure board, by nail, by board.  I still felt good just being there, and it had been on my bucket list for a long time.

The second time I visited Hannibal, it was again a planned stop on the itinerary of the “Maiden Voyage of the Titanic” a very “used” 1982 Southwind motor home.  The exhaust manifold had blown loose for the third time and we had a real difficult time maneuvering the 32 foot box around Hannibal’s narrow streets, with the loud muffler-less V-8 roaring as we went.  We finally located a muffler shop, on a hill of course, that agreed to have it fixed in a few hours, for a fee that was not in our travel budget.  So we grabbed some lunch across the street from the muffler shop, then strolled through downtown Hannibal on foot and walked along the river.  The Clemens’ house was completed and we were able to walk through the rooms this time.  A National Historic Landmark, since 1962, the rooms have been painstakingly restored to how they would have looked when Sam Clemens lived there as a boy.  I’m not sure my wife and youngest daughter were as  captivated by it all as I was, but they humored me, and can now say that they have visited the boyhood home of Mark Twain.

The quote, though, calls attention, most appropriately, to me, and all my children, and grandchildren, and all that had life before me.  We all think we know everything when we’re in our teens.  We’re ready to be on our own.   Those parental units don’t know anything.  How could they be so ignorant?  My grandfather said to me when I was about that age, that I shouldn’t be in such a hurry to grow up.  “You should enjoy being young, and not having any responsibilities,” he said.  I scoffed at him.  I wanted to drive, I wanted to get a job and earn money, I wanted to move away from this small hick town we lived in, I wanted adventure, I wanted to travel, I wanted to go to Disney Land, and I wanted to see the ocean.  I should have listened to him.

The span of childhood is so short, yet we can’t wait for it to end.  We don’t like being a kid.  We want to be our own boss, and not be told what to do, where to go, who to go with, when, why, and you better be home by ten.  Then, in just as short a span, we figure it all out and wish we had listened, that we had to, once again, be home by ten.  It only took Mark Twain seven years to figure it out.  It took me a little longer.

Samuel L Clemens (Mark Twain), by Frank Millet, 1877

Tony Hillerman, accomplished journalist, mystery writer, professor and dean, once told me, after critiquing one of my short stories in college, and I quote, “You could be the next Mark Twain.”  It burned in my memory and over the years I have tried to understand what he meant.  I’m certain he didn’t think that my writing was so good, that I could, in fact, be the next American humorist.  What would it take to be the “next Mark Twain?”  Certainly you would have to write, have an ability to view, with understanding, everything around you, and tell stories that entertain, have a point, and make you chuckle from time to time.  I think Professor Hillerman was just trying to make me feel good, keep me motivated, and effectively raise the bar.  

So, whenever I have the chance, I visit my muse, hoping this will be the time when Mr. Twain visits me with a spontaneous idea for a story, even when I wasn’t looking for one.  


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The Memory Tree

“Hallmark” has been running ads about their Christmas ornaments, and the memories that are inevitably tied to them.  The kids go up to the attic to get the ornaments and start unpacking them as they remember what major life event happened when they brought that particular ornament home.  Our tree is just that, a memory tree.  For a time we bought a Christmas tree ornament every year, sometimes two or three.  Our collection of memories numbers in the hundreds now, and it’s getting harder to find branches on the tree to exhibit them, but we do.  And our tree rotates so it’s a full 360 degree canvas, floor to ceiling.  We’re big into little Christmas mice, Santa Claus, and those ornaments made over the years by the kids.  They are so proud of them, and you can’t help but remember their smiling little faces when they gave them to you.  Then they get to admire it in its special place on the tree every year after.

This one is from Brandi.  Her smiling face is right there to see every December when she was just seven years old.  A snapshot of how she looked the day she gave it to her mother after making it in school.

I have other favorites on our tree.  I put a few pictures of them here with some selfishness.  I wanted to share them, and I think our tree rivals any tree on “Hallmark,” but done for the same reason.  I can’t remember now where and when we got a lot of them, but my wife will remind me, and sometimes I’ll remind her.  Christmas memories flood back.  Little vignettes from 1991 or 2003 and even 1960.

Here’s a little church mouse in bed, with visions of cheddar cheese in his head, waiting for Santa.  The name on the end of the bed is “Sven,” a nickname I got from a co-worker when I was a collection manager with Citicorp Credit Services.  I remember getting the ornament, I remember who gave it to me, and I can still see me sitting at my desk laughing about the hand-made sign glued to the bed.

Who doesn’t like scrabble.  Check out the size of the letter tiles on this game board.

This next Christmas ornament we got in Virginia City, NV, one summer when we took a trip up there.  I went to visit the Mark Twain museum.  Samuel Clemens worked for the “Territorial Enterprise” newspaper for a time and it was here he first used his famous pen name.  He had come to Virginia City to  join his brother in search of their fortune in silver mining.  They didn’t find it.  And it was summer.  They have a Christmas Shop there that is open all year.  It’s literally walking into Christmas in July. 

The next ornaments, I just like.  I can’t remember when or where we got them, like I said, but check them out. 


There are hundreds of others, slowly rotating in display on our tree.  Some are milestones like the one on the right.  Some just point out who this tree belongs to like this one on the left.

Every year, my wife carefully unpacks the ornaments one by one and decorates the tree.  My responsiblity is to get the tree put up.  I pulled my back doing it one year.  It’s a pretty heavy tree assembled in four sections.  Maybe only God can make a tree, but I can put one together pretty well I think.  And yes, its artificial and pre-lit and hard to tell from the real thing in my opinion.    No needles to vacuum up, no worry about the dogs drinking the water, no price-gouging, no fire-hazard, but no pine smell either.  We remedy that with pine scents.  They make some pine icicles you can hang on your artificial tree now and it smells almost like the real thing.  Almost.  Besides, I believe pine trees belong in the forest.

Well, I hope I didn’t bore you with my christmas ornaments.  I have hundreds more if you want to see them.  WTF. 


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Sitting Bull Didn’t Kill General Custer

There was something very interesting in my AARP newsletter that I received yesterday.  I put off joining AARP as long as I could, just so you know.  They kept lowering the age for eligibility.  I kept denying I was reaching it.  I didn’t take advantage of senior menus, or senior discounts either.  To the point of shaving off the goatee I sported for many years because someone at the “Big Bear” restaurant decided, without asking, that I was entitled to the senior discount one evening.  A few years down the road and the goatee is back, the hair is grayer, and I demand any discount whether I think I’m entitled to it or not.  So I signed up for AARP so that I can be kept informed of other posssible discount opportunities I might not be aware of, like cruise tickets and hotels in Italy.  What I found interesting in the newsletter, the only thing really, had nothing whatever to do with discounts.

It confirmed something I already knew.  That the state of Wyoming, where I grew up, has the second fewest average number of residents per square mile of any other state or US territory.  You know how small it is?  According to 2010 US Census data, the state of Wyoming has 5.8 residents per square mile on average.  And there’s a lot of square miles in Wyoming, and a lot that don’t have anybody on them, for square mile after square mile.  Then, occasionally,  you’ll come upon a town with 33 of them.  Residents that is.

I lived in Laramie for a few years, back in the 70’s, and the University of Wyoming is located there.  There are some pretty serious football fans in Wyoming too, and the local airport would be crowded with private aircraft on game day.  The stadium would be full.  So full, that the 26,000 odd fans would become the third largest city in the state every Saturday.  It just so happened that my apartment was across the parking lot from War Memorial Stadium and I would go to the games at half-time to get in free.  They stopped checking ticket stubs back then, for whatever reason, during the halftime show.

So how does some of the rest of the West stack up with these Census numbers?  Alaska has 1.2 average residents per square mile.  Go figure.  That would make them number one.  Who the hell wants to live in Alaska anyway, except crab fishermen and oil workers?  And I’ll bet they don’t even really want to live there.

Montana has 6.8 residents per square mile.  Montana is where the famous “Battle of the Little Bighorn” took place.  Just outside of Hardin, Montana.  Hardin has a population of 3,532.  Some of the “average” residents.  Anyway, there seems to be a lot of belief out there that Sitting Bull put the final bullet into General George Armstrong Custer during that battle.  A battle which took place on June 25, 1876.  Known as “Custer’s Last Stand,” the US 7th Calvary was surrounded and out-numbered by thousands of Oglala Sioux under the command of Crazy Horse.  Custer’s beloved 7th Calvary suffered a 52% casualty rate, 268 dead.  Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux, was too old at the time to fight.  He was, however, the “holy man” who brought the tribes together to fight as one.  “The Little BigHorn Battlefield National Park” is worth visiting if you’re ever up in that part of the world.

“I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle.” –  Sitting Bull.

New Mexico has an average of 17 residents per square mile.  Named the “Land of Enchantment” because of its scenic beauty and a history as rich.  The oldest house in the United States is located in Santa Fé, New Mexico.  Billy the Kid is buried in Ft. Sumner, population around 1,250 give or take.  White Sands is there.  Pure white sand stretching for miles on the horizon.  The National Atomic Museum is in Albuquerque.  The first atomic bomb was built in Los Alamos, north of Santa Fé, and detonated in Alamogordo, population 35,989.  That’s just the rich history off the top of my head. 

There are 56.3 residents per square mile in Arizona.  Most of them are in Phoenix.  Arizona is just hot.  But it’s a dry heat.  I know what that means now.  One-hundred-five in Austin, Texas is not the same as 105 in Tucson, Arizona.  In Austin you can’t breathe because of the humidity, which puts the heat index at 120.  Hot. Hot. Hot.  Arizona is real nice in January.  I used to call up my friend in Indiana on New Year’s Day and tell him what I was grilling on the barbie.  We once had snow on Easter Sunday, when I lived in Tucson, though, in the 90s.

Mark Twain 1909

Nevada has 24.6 average residents per square mile.  Nevada is all about Silver and Mark Twain to me.  Mark Twain was editor of the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise for a time.  There is a museum in Virginia City devoted to that period of Mr. Twain’s life when he went in search of silver in “The Silver State” with his brother.  Nevada still has working silver and gold mines,…and brothels.

I have been an “average” resident in all of those states at one time or another with the exception of Alaska.  Like I said, nice place to visit in the summer maybe, but living there would be hell.  As you can tell from the average of 22.1 in the five states I have lived, I don’t like crowds much.  Open spaces are for me.

And the state or US territory with the biggest crowd per square mile?  That’s an easy one.  Really.  Washington D.C.  There are on average 9,856.5 residents jammed into a square mile.

Now I have to get back to my AARP newsletter and see if I’m missing out on any senior discounts I can use.  WTF.

Comanchee, the sole survivor of Custer's Last Stand.



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Good One.

I started the day with a text message from my 36-year-old daughter.  Married, mother of two.

“F*** I’m pregnant,”  it blared.

My response:  “Excuse me!?”  It was all I could think of to say in my state of shock.  I’m thinking to myself that she surely is not that devoid of common sense not to be using birth control.

Her next two responses were rapid fire.  “What am I going to do?”  “I’ll be 60 when it graduates.”

Aha.  “Okay smart ass!  Good one.  Fell for it.”

April 1, 2001. Good one. A subway train in Denmark that supposedly jumped the tracks and crashed up through the sidewalk.

I hate April Fool’s Day.  I hate it because I’m gullible.  It’s tattooed on my forehead.  Easy mark.  I know what day it is.  I’m expecting these little “humorous” lies.  Accordingly, you can tell any lie you want on April 1st just by ending it with “April Fool’s.”  I hate it.

I remember once in high school, we turned our entire Civics classroom backwards, desks, chairs, pictures, bookcases, right down to the stapler and the tape dispenser.  Our teacher was a neatnik.  Not really OCD, but things were in a certain place, neatly.

He laughed when he walked in and we were all facing the back wall.  He laughed as he turned his desk and chair around.  As he lectured he would discover another thing backwards and fix it as he talked.  He would be moving things around on his desk.  We, all chuckling with each new discovery.  Then the coup de grâce, he went for a book in the bookcase by his desk, which, of course was turned facing the wall, without looking.  He almost broke his hand.  We laughed hysterically.  “Good one,” he said.  Our Civics teacher was a good sport.

One thing you really shouldn’t do if April 1st falls on a Friday, if you’re a boss, is call a “gullible” employee into your office at 3:00 in the afternoon.  It happened to me on April 1, 1977.  Notice how I know the exact date.  I got the phone call and my heart stopped.  Everybody knows you get bad news on Friday at 3:00 in your supervisor’s office.

“I hate to tell you this,” she said, “but we’re going to have to let you go.”

I got up out the chair and said, “Good one,” and walked back to my desk.

She followed me.  “No really, we have to cut back on staff and….”  I turned around and looked at her, suffering a small stroke I think, and you could see the edges of her mouth just starting to curl up into a smile.  I still wasn’t sure if she was smiling because she was getting to fire me, or if it was a “good one.”

One of my favorite April Fool’s jokes was done by Burger King in 1998.  They ran a full-page ad in “USA Today” announcing the “Left-Handed Whopper.”  A specially designed burger for the 32-million left-handed Americans.  The advertisement claimed that all the ingredients were the same as the regular “Whopper,” but shifted 180 degrees to accommodate the left-handed.  Burger King claimed that thousands of customers came into their restaurants requesting the “Left-Handed Whopper,” and others wanting their own right-handed version.  Good one.

And as hoax’s go, Mark Twain, wrote a very short piece in the “Territorial Enterprise” in 1862, the local newspaper for Virginia City, Nevada, where he worked for a time.  In the article he claimed that a perfectly preserved petrified man had been found in a cave in the vicinity and he described in some obscure details the location.  The locals should have known it was a hoax and that the cave he described didn’t exist, but many believed it and went searching for the fossil.  It spread for months and ended up in newspapers worldwide.  An expedition was being formed to search for the fossil when it was finally revealed as hoax.  (That was actually published in October, but still makes a good April Fool’s joke.)  

So I caution you, be a little kind on this day of “lies” because, as W. C. Fields famously said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  By the way, she didn’t fire me.  She thought it was hilarious.  I didn’t.  WTF

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