Russ Ringsak

This Never Happened When I Was a Kid

October 2, 2007

Digging around in minor news stories I find a scientist who gets salt water to burn in a test tube, and something titled "Naked Anorexic Appears on Billboards as Milan Fashion Week Begins." There is an account of a skull with eleven gold teeth found in Ohio, with evidence indicating it's a Russian mob hit. Cities and towns adopt ordinances against wearing one's pants too low: "We don't wanna see yer underwear and we don't wanna see yer butt cleavage," as one legislator put it. A sudden violent crash happens live on the traffic video of a television morning report. In Colorado, people convicted of playing music at nuisance levels are sentenced to sit in a room filled with music not of their choosing. A judge spanks prisoners at a local jail with a wooden paddle. The UN predicts Japan will have a million people over a hundred years old by 2050. A study finds the average driver in Los Angeles spends 72 hours a year in traffic. And a piece titled "The Accent Transplant: Brain Surgery Leaves Yorkshire Boy Speaking Like the Queen."

Any of these tales would have caused a sensation back when I was a kid, in those old days when television itself was a modern phenomenon. Now they don't even make the so-called major news outlets.

In the water-burning story a researcher in Erie Pennsylvania was trying to desalinate water with a radio frequency generator he had developed to treat cancer. His name is John Kanzius, and he got this thing up and running and focused it at water in a test tube and was surprised to see it burst into flame. It'd burn as long as the radio waves hit it. Seems like a remarkable feat. A breakthrough. Naturally a gaggle of internet naysayers were all over denouncing it, and maybe rightly so. One's intuitive first question is whether the energy out is greater then the energy in, and if not it probably won't change the world that much. They have videos if you google up 'burning salt water.' It's fun to watch.

The naked anorexic is a 68-pound woman with a sad face looking over her shoulder from a large downtown billboard in Milan, part of an advertising campaign by the Italian clothing brand Nolita to raise awareness of the illness. It is a real jolt to see, which you will if you search the words naked anorexic. She is Isabelle Caro, a French woman who has been desperately skinny for 15 years and suffers psoriasis, especially on the skin over her tailbone. She told a Vanity Fair interviewer: "I hid myself and covered myself up for too long. Now I want to show myself without fear even though I know my body is repugnant." It has created a stir, and they say the fashion week opened with a show featuring more shapely models. Back in the old days we'd never even heard the word 'anorexic,' much less seen a naked person on a billboard. In any condition.

The Russian mob story came from the Local 12 News out of Cincinnati. They said police have solid leads that the dental work on eleven gold teeth in the skull of a man found in the Ohio woods by a tree trimming crew has been traced back to Moscow. They show a picture of the guy the cops think did the hit, a local guy. It's a tantalizing item that can lead a person to all sorts of websites, including 'Russian Mob Laundered Billions Through NY Banks,' and Rick Porello's 'AmericanMafia.com — Mob Hits and Misses.' These wild accounts make a person realize how pleasant life can be when you aren't involved with the mob. Whatever mob it might be. Choose whichever mob you want and don't join it, and increase your chances to lead an uncomplicated life. And if you are a dentist and a suspicious character wants a lot of gold in his teeth, you might think about changing your dentistry style for that one job. Maybe borrow somebody else's tools and files.

Baggy pants ordinances are being proposed in New Jersey, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Maryland. It seems strange to me to have to legislate out rudeness; a kid when I was a kid would never walk around with his butt showing, and if he did they wouldn't have needed a law to wake him up. The other kids would have laughed those pants up. The ACLU in Georgia had to jump in and say the law would unfairly target blacks, which also seems odd. It seems it's targeting the exposure of one's gluteus maximi, no matter what shade they are. Could laws against bank fraud be construed as unfairly targeting white guys in suits? At any rate, the style will change soon enough without new legislation. No need to get all worked up about it.

The live car crash happened in Chicago, on the northwest freeway, Interstate 290. The black and white tv camera is mounted close to and above the roadway shoulder, aimed downstream. A smaller pickup truck is stalled in the right traffic lane with its four-way flashers on, close to the camera. The lady announcer is saying "— and now to the northwest —" when a car just plows headlong into the tailgate of the pickup at about sixty miles an hour, sending it careening across two center lanes and into the concrete divider at the median. She is briefly silent and then says, calmly: "Wow.... we certainly hope no one was injured there.... we're going to take a quick break here, and we'll be right back." Her composure was impressive.

In the next item, the roomful of rude persons convicted of forcing us, we the innocents, to suffer their big dumb and vulgar rap music out on the street, they were grabbed up in Fort Lupton, Colorado. The judge is a wise and creative man named Paul Sacco. He has them all confined for an hour with Barry Manilow piped in. Very loud. "There are," he said, "few repeat offenders."

The judge with the paddle, now he's a real problem, and part of a larger problem. The Mobile Alabama Press-Register ran a story about Judge Herman Thomas being accused by 'six to twelve men' of periodically moving them from the county jail to a room in the basement of the courthouse, where he ordered them to drop trou and then personally spanked them
with a wooden paddle. The judge was already under indictment for another ethics violation and has been suspended. But good grief. How do we get stuck with some of these judges? Are there no standards at all? When we did a show in Vermont years back one of the guest musicians, and I believe he was a banjo player, said he ran for the county judge office because he needed money. I don't recall where he lived but I think it was a rural county in New England. He didn't campaign much, but the other guy dropped out for some reason and he got elected. A hippie kid, maybe 22 years old. Said he barely made it through high school. Didn't know one tiny smidge about the law, so he just gave everybody the maximum. He laughed about putting away a working guy, a mechanic with a family, for something like a minor no-parking deal. Five days in jail for a first offense petty misdemeanor. There was a list of maximum sentences and he automatically clobbered everyone and thought it was amusing. I was horrified. Still am.

The UN prediction about Japan says their population is shrinking and aging, to the point that in 2050 the workforce will be down from 87 to 54 million and there will be one million folks there over a hundred years old. "At the current rate of decline," reads the article in the CBC News, "the last person in Japan will die sometime in 2800." I have also noticed in my decades of observing alarmist predictions that not one has ever come true.

The LA story I would have shrugged off, except that it would have been unbelievable back in the fifties. And those 72 hours in traffic could be a low estimate. I spend about 3 hours crawling in that stuff in my two days a year there, which would come to 375 annual hours if I had to do it every day.

The story about the English kid with the accent transplant is my pick of this litter. His name is William, he's nine years old, and last March had a serious headache and fever his parents thought was from a bug going around school, until he had a seizure. It was a brain abscess, a subdural empyema, from a strain of meningitis. The surgeons didn't hold out much hope of his surviving the operation, but he made it. Was in the hospital four weeks and had lost a lot of memory and his ability to read and write, "But remarkably he was able to play the trumpet and piano much better than before," said the article in the Evening Standard of London. When he got out the family went to the beach, with him and his two older brothers, and William all of a sudden says "Look, I've made a sand castle." They were all shocked. His mother said he greatly stretched the vowels out, "which made him sound really posh." He's back to normal now except that he speaks the Queen's English, where all things are drawn out and bath is pronounced bahth. It's like getting your Brooklyn kid back from the hospital and he's his same self except he sounds like he's from Kentucky. Someone commented the kid was lucky that he didn't wake up talking like Keith Richards.

* * * *

A neighbor who is a structural engineer and who also has a class A driver's license read the Old Pete piece I wrote about hauling North Dakota sugar beets in October of 2005. He has done that same thing. Yesterday he brought me a big steering wheel from an old cabover he had found in a truck junkyard in South St Paul. It's the same as the one in the longnose family Pete that I had driven and admired. The white porcelain is cracked all around and faded to grey and it is way cool, with that red Peterbilt oval in the center hub. A great addition to any cramped office.

He also brought me a Merle Haggard story. He and his father in law, another trucker, had been up to a Hag show at the casino in Hinckley, Minnesota, a few weeks back. Merle was chatting the crowd up at the beginning of the show, with his wife in the band behind him, and said that he had been mowing his front lawn there at his place in northern California when a fellow came by, stopped his car and got out and asked him how much he charged to mow a lawn that size. Merle told him it was hard to put an exact price on it, because "the woman that owns this house lets me sleep with her for it."

I have been told that this is an old story. But Merle is getting old and so am I. Thought you might perhaps excuse us.

© R.Ringsak 2007

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