‘Who’s Buried in Alexander the Great’s Tomb?’ (2013)

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This was big, big news in 1991–the discovery of Alexander the Great’s tomb. No end of excitement!

Who’s Buried in Alexander the Great’s Tomb?

The excitement went away when the discoverer mentioned that mystical talking snakes had revealed the secret to her. Nor did it help her cause, that she couldn’t show the tomb to anybody.

If you’re planning to unveil a centuries-old mystery, try not to rely on the testimony of talking snakes.

Memory Lane: ‘Zorro’ (1957)

Was this a hit when I was eight years old, or what? Walt Disney’s Zorro–and you can bet there was a whole lot of swordfightin’ goin’ on in our neighborhood!

Now hardly anybody had color TV back then, but we knew from Zorro bubblegum cards that the show was filmed in color. And of course Zorro had a lot of adventures at night, wearing a black mask and cape and riding a black horse–so how much color did you need?

This show generated pulse-pounding excitement among us kids. I don’t think TV shows can generate that kind of excitement anymore. Maybe because there are so many of them. Maybe because Walt Disney’s dead and the company he founded has gone over to the dark side.

Anyhow, Zorro was way cool–and so was his alter ego, Don Diego–and we all wanted to grow up to be like him. And how was that bad?

Memory Lane: The Sandbox

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Summer has just ended (*sigh*). Something about the quality of the sunshine on this beautiful September Sunday brought me back to playing in the sandbox. We lived next door to the playground, and it was a big sandbox.

Sure, I played in the sandbox when I was a toddler, but I really got into it when I was older. If the sand was a little bit wet from recent rain, you could really go to town with it. Bring along a bag of toy animals, dinosaurs, cowboys, cavemen, army men (of course!), and build the terrain of their adventures. Forts that had to be taken. Pits to be avoided. Mazes that had to be escaped before the Tyrannosaurus ate you. King Arthur’s castle.

Wow, that was fun! So what if we weren’t toddlers anymore? My friends and I had endless fun, putting our soldiers and knights and horses and elephants through one tight spot after another. True, this kind of play required an imagination; but we all had one, back then. Probably because we weren’t constantly spoon-fed “entertainment” that misguided adults thought we should have.

Occasionally we would lose a caveman in the sandbox. Maybe he got lost in a labyrinthine cavern that we never knew was there. I wonder how those lost cavemen made out…

Memory Lane: Moving the Piano

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When I was in my late teens, my family acquired Aunt Florence’s piano, which meant my father had to rent a U-Haul trailer. He also hired me and two of my friends, Ronnie and Gary, to tote the piano. Ronnie in particular was a very strong young man, and I was a pretty good specimen, myself. Move a piano? Piece of cake!

So there’s the piano, and the three Young Turks flex their muscles, grip the piano mightily… and nothing happens. Grunt, groan, grit teeth. Who nailed the piano to the floor? Now we’re sweating. Freakin’ thing won’t budge.

Finally my father and Uncle Jimmy gently motioned us out of the way, picked up the piano like it was a picnic basket, and put it in the trailer. Oh, the mortification of it all. Who would’ve ever thought healthy grown men would be stronger than self-enamored 17-year-olds? Like, just because you can carry a tune doesn’t mean you can carry the piano.

Ah, well, live and learn.

‘You Are My Sunshine’ (Joshua & Jeremy)

Let’s see if I can sing this without starting to cry. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey…” Nope. No can do.

When I was a very little boy with fantods in the night, my father would get up and pick me up, and sing this song to me. How well I remember that. “You’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.” And he meant every word of it. That’s why it moves me so.

Anyway, here are our own Swanson brothers, Joshua and Jeremy, with their rendition of the songs. Nice work, guys! Got me all sappy. But that’s OK.

Defending My Thesis

Vikings' Sequel Series Set at Netflix From Michael Hirst, Jeb ...

I may be the only person in America who can say this–but defending my thesis was fun!

Say what? Well, back in college, I was chosen for the Henry Rutgers honors program, which gave me lot of credits but for which I had to produce a thesis–just as if I were going for a master’s degree, or a Ph. D. Spend a whole year researching it, then write it up, present it to the Political Science Dept., and defend it before a panel of professors. And by the way, it was in the age of carbon paper, a technology which many of you have never seen or heard of. But I am not going to get nostalgic for carbon paper.

Now, I had a big advantage over the panel of professors: none of them had any knowledge of the subject! Anytime you can swing that, go for it. My title was “A Systems Analysis of the Viking Age,” featuring the likes of Harald Bluetooth, Eric Bloodaxe, Ragnar Hairy-Pants (I try not to think of Spongebob), and a cast of colorful supporting characters. The professors sat there marveling. Well, we were in New Jersey. People in New Jersey have a certain fascination for men with funny nicknames whose enemies wind up face-down in a landfill.

Once I freely admitted that of course you could study the Viking Age just using plain old history, but that the “systems” part would work very well with history, they’d complement each other–having done that, I was home free. Most of it was me telling Viking stories to the profs. All we needed was beer and pretzels. Everybody had a very pleasant time.

College used to offer experiences like this. It was called scholarship. You didn’t have to worry about pronouns. You didn’t have to be woke.

There is something to be said for scholarship as an end in itself. It can preserve the collectively accumulated knowledge of mankind. Deciding that everybody has to go to college has just about destroyed scholarship, even as it has virtually destroyed the university itself.

Someday we’ll realize what we’ve lost. But I don’t know that we can ever get it back.

An Anniversary Memory

Young Man And Woman Fishing From Rowboat Smiling Side View High ...

Patty and I both dreaded the very idea of a circus wedding. At the newspaper where we both worked at the time, the photographer and his fiancee got involved in planning a great big splashy wedding–and as more and more people got into the act, the two newlyweds-to-be were fighting like Greeks and Trojans.

We didn’t want that, so we eloped. We went to Elkton, MD–sort of the elopement capital of the eastern U.S. in those days–and got married there.

What a lovely time we had! We did a lot of fishing on Chesapeake Bay. Platters of steamed crabs at the Howard Hotel, with Billy Bob’s Kung-fu School on the floor directly over our table. Crabcakes at Your Family Restaurant. Lovely little town, with polite and friendly people. A lot of them remembered us when we came back the next year.

We got married in The Little Wedding Chapel and then did some more fishing. No squabbling, no fighting, no new grudges formed and old ones rekindled, no eruption of money, nobody falling down drunk at the reception. I’ve been to weddings that came very close to breaking into fistfights. We avoided all that and are much the better for it.

All you really need for a wedding is a bride, a groom, someone to read the service–and God.

‘Memory Lane: One Summer Night’ (2016)

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Grandma Moses, we need you!

Sometimes I look back on how different things used to be, and can hardly believe I’m still on the same planet.

Memory Lane: One Summer Night

Yes, they had block dances on the school blacktop in the evening. Nothing could be more harmless. The three of us kids watching from the upstairs window. Ray Bradbury got a lot of mileage out of scenes like this. So did Grandma Moses. How wise they were!

Can you imagine such a scene today? It would turn into a riot.

Culture rot has advanced very far indeed.

Memory Lane: Summer Sundays

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Today is exactly the kind of summer Sunday that my family would have enjoyed by getting together for a backyard barbecue. Hamburgers, hot dogs, beer for the gents, and lots and lots of good talk–what else is a screened-in back porch for?

And if we went to Uncle Ferdie’s house, or to Aunt Florence’s, each place came equipped with cousins to play with and a backyard badminton set. Suddenly I really miss that! I love that “ponk” sound the racket makes when you bop the birdie.

I wish our cyber-family could get together for a day like that. Horseshoes, too. That’s another summer sound I miss, the clang of horseshoes hitting the stake. Or maybe we could all go over to Grandpa’s house and set up our lawn chairs under the catalpa tree.

Betcha anything they’ve got horseshoes and badminton in Heaven.

Memory Lane: Jon Gnagy

Fast, Fun & Effective Ways, To Paint & Draw! - Art-NY Gallery

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Jon Gnagy’s Learn to Draw was among the most popular educational TV shows. I watched it regularly, and sent away for one of his instructional kits. And you know what? It really helped me learn to draw!

His lessons usually started by showing you the basic geometric shapes–cones, cubes, spheres, etc.–underlying the objects that you wished to draw; and then he’d show you how to build on those. For instance, you’d start with a cone and build it, step by step, into a sheaf of wheat, a teepee, or a church steeple. The kit had a variety of pencils, charcoal sticks, and this really cool “kneaded eraser” that was like a ball of Silly Putty. And it had a book of scenes that you could learn to draw–again, step by step.

Over the years, I got rather good at drawing all kinds of things. It was fun! We still have Patty’s Learn to Draw kit stowed upstairs. Still lifes, landscapes, people and animals–it’s all in there.