Monday, July 30, 2007

I have a soft spot for First World War veterans. When I was a kid, they marched at the front of the parades in my hometown. When I was working at Minnesota Public Radio in Rochester, Minnesota 12 or 13 years ago, I interviewed several First World War vets for a Veterans Day story. As I remember, the youngest was 98. He had lived in the same Minneapolis apartment since the 1920s.

More than ten million soldiers fought in the Great War. According to the Internets, fewer than 30 are still alive. One of them is 109-year-old Harry Patch (pictured), the last surviving “Tommy” to have served on the Western Front. (Click here to read a great story about him in the Daily Mail.)

When Harry Patch was born in 1898, Victoria was Queen and McKinley was President. The Spanish-American War was underway. Veterans of the War of 1812 were still alive.

When the Titanic sank, Harry was a teenager. When the Second World War began, he was in his forties. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

History happens in the blink of an eye. Revolutionary War veterans lived to see the Civil War. Civil War veterans lived to see the Second World War.

What will the Second World War veterans live to see?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

After several weeks of lessons, Allyson and I played our first round of golf today.

Nine holes.

We need more lessons.

Friday, July 20, 2007

We just bought a contraption called a “Rechargeable Mosquito-hitting Swatter.” It’s basically an electrified tennis racket. When you swat a mosquito with it – ZAP! – the disease-ridden pest meets its maker. It’s a good invention, though I doubt it would pass muster with the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The swatter is made in China, of course, and the English-language warnings printed on the package are pretty hilarious. To wit:

1. For more safety, do not press the switch or touch the surface of net when swatter is in charge.

2. Please do not finger the medium-layer net.

3. Please shake swatter for cleaning off insect carcasses which remain in net. Be sure don’t wash it with water, so as to avoid shortcircuit.

4. The swatter may become without high-voltage or in low-voltage conditions when it absorbe damp in wet weather, the effect will be declined. Then, it can be dried by blowing with electric blower or shining with sunshine. The effect will be recovered soon.

5. Children must instruce under adult when use it.

(Is that last one even legal in the United States?)

Monday, July 16, 2007

There was a nice column in yesterday's Boston Globe about Bucko Kilroy, the ex-Steagle who passed away last week. ... Skull Pen, a comic book by my multi-talented nephew Robert Algeo, was recently reviewed (quite favorably, of course) on a podcast. To listen, click here, then click the link for the podcast. (They start talking about Skull Pen about halfway through.) ... Quote of the Day: The NBA players union says it might appeal the seven-game suspensions given to two players for off-the-court legal problems. "Based on prior precedent, we think the suspensions are excessive," union director Billy Hunter said. *Prior* precedent? It's my favorite kind. ... It's been raining for two days straight here in Bamako, which means it's muddy - but cool! Yesterday was a wonderful day for sitting on the porch with a refreshing beverage - which is exactly what we did.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Another Steagle has passed away. Francis "Bucko" Kilroy died on Tuesday, July 10. He was 86.

Bucko was a rookie when he played for the Steagles in 1943. He never left the National Football League. After his playing career ended, he moved on to front-office jobs with the Eagles, Redskins, Cowboys, and Patriots. In all he spent 64 seasons working in the NFL - more than anyone else, even George Halas.

Life magazine once identified Bucko as the dirtiest player in the league. (He sued the magazine for libel and won an $11,600 judgment.) Off the field, though, he really was a nice guy. One of the nicest you'd ever meet, in fact.

I met Bucko at a Steagles reunion in Pittsburgh in 2003. What a character. He was 82 then, but still built like a tank. He was kind and supportive, and he laughed a lot, a laugh that sounded like machine-gun fire: Ha ha ha ha ha.

Bucko was in poor health the past couple years, yet he never failed to return my calls when I had a quick question or wanted to check a fact. A true gentleman he was.

Bucko is the fifth member of the Steagles to pass away since my book about the team was published last fall. Now just three remain: Ray Graves, Allie Sherman, and Al Wistert.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Much to my surprise, there were two offers for my book last week. The proposal had been circulating for more than two months, and I had practically given up hope. Fortunately, my agent hadn't.

I have accepted an offer from Chicago Review Press, a small publisher with a good reputation for publishing "quirky" books - the kind I want to write.

Now, after convincing myself that I didn't want to write the damn thing anyway, I am throwing myself back into the project. I will return to the States soon to begin doing research.

For those who don't already know, the book is about a road trip that Harry and Bess Truman took by themselves shortly after leaving the White House in 1953. Unaccompanied by Secret Service agents, bodyguards, or attendants of any kind, they drove from their home in Independence, Missouri, to the East Coast and back again. Along the way they stayed in a cheap motel, crashed with friends, ate at roadside diners - even got pulled over for careless driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. More generally, the book is about life in 1950s America and the development of the modern ex-presidency. I'm looking forward to writing it.

Monday, July 02, 2007

First Lady Laura Bush came to Bamako last Friday. She was here for about five hours, the last stop on a four-nation tour to promote the Administration’s initiatives in Africa. I saw her at the ambassador’s residence, where she gave a short pep talk to embassy workers and their families. (She said she might tell the Secretary of State about the broken air conditioning at the embassy. This elicited much applause.)

Allyson got to ride in the motorcade, which was pretty cool. (She also looked fabulous in her white jacket and skirt.) As “gifts officer,” she had to keep track of all the gifts the First Lady received (and make sure nobody handed her anything unexpected or unscreened). Everything went off without a hitch, and Friday night there was a big “wheels up” party at the deputy chief of mission’s residence.