Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Went to see Jimmy Carter tonight. The former president was signing his new book (about his mother) at a Books-A-Million in a strip mall in McLean, Virginia, alongside Total Wine, Countrywide Home Loan, and Advance Auto Parts, and about ten miles west of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The signing was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. We showed up at 5:00 and about 50 people were already ahead of us in line.

Around 5:45 we were let into the store. The Secret Service searched our bags and checked us out with handheld metal detectors. Then we waited in line again. We were stuck in the Romance section. I’d never browsed that section before. I picked up a copy of Parallel Desire by Deidre Knight. Flipping through it I detected much heaving, blazing, burning, unspent emotion, and swarthy skin, particularly involving Jake and Shelby. (Spoiler alert: I think Jake might be a robot. Or a time traveler. Or both.) Suddenly, around 6:00, the line began moving. The former president, it seemed, was running early.

The middle of the store had been cleared out, and the bookshelves had been covered with black sheets. Mr. Carter was sitting behind a large faux mahogany desk with a red velvet rope in front of it. He was wearing a white dress shirt with blue stripes. It felt a little funereal. Secret Service agents stood sentry at each side of the desk. I handed the books to a Books-A-Million minion, who handed them to the former president. I stepped to the front of the big desk as he began to sign them. It was very quiet. The very arrangement discouraged interaction. I wasn't even sure we were allowed to talk to him. But I was determined to ask him… something. We’d only bought three books for him to sign. Time was running out. Finally, I blurted out, “Mr. President, did you ever meet Harry Truman?” He stopped signing for a moment and looked up at me. His expression was serious. He seemed to be rummaging through his mental filing cabinets. “No,” he said after a moment. “I wish I had.” He resumed signing but continued talking. “I never met another Democratic president until Bill Clinton. I did meet Richard Nixon when I was governor. But I was just a peanut farmer before that, so I never met Harry Truman.” With that our books were signed and it was time for us to move on. The whole thing lasted, what, 30 seconds. Which is more than most everybody else got. At his last book signing, I heard he’d signed 1,600 books in ninety minutes. That’s less than four seconds a book, less than 20 for the allowed maximum of five books.

Incidentally, this was the first time I’d seen Jimmy Carter in 30 years. Back in 1978, he spoke at my brother’s graduation from the Naval Academy in Annapolis. I don’t think he remembered me though.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Went to the doctor last week (just a checkup). When the doctor walked into the examining room, she glanced down at my chart, looked up, and cheerfully said, “Good morning Mr. Angelo!”

My surname is pronounced just like it’s spelled. Algeo. AL-jee-oh. Slight emphasis on the first syllable. It’s not a crazy Polish name like Krzyzewski (shuh-SHEF-skee, as in Mike, the Duke University basketball coach). Yet, for some reason, nobody seems to be able to pronounce it. (“Algeo,” for the record, is an Irish name.)

Allegro. I get that one a lot. I mean, it’s not even close. Alego – uh-LAY-go – that one I can almost understand. The third and fourth letters get transposed. OK. But Allegro? It’s like Angelo – where do those extra consonants come from?

Maybe (as my brother Howard has theorized) it’s because “Algeo” is one of those rare five-letter words with three vowels. Don’t get many of those in English. So maybe, subconsciously, people insert their own vowels to make it easier for them to pronounce. Who knows?

When we lived in francophone West Africa, nobody had a problem with my name. It was al-ZHAY-oh. Quite mellifluous, actually. I’m told it will be similar in Rome, only it will be pronounced al-JAY-oh. I’m looking forward to that.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

As many of you know, I am currently writing a book about a road trip that Harry and Bess Truman took in the summer of 1953. For some time now I have been searching for Harry’s 1953 Chrysler New Yorker, which, the Truman Library tells me, is in the hands of a private collector who wishes to remain anonymous. I have contacted Chrysler clubs and posted enquiries on Internet news groups, all to no avail. But my search has not been fruitless; it led me to a very nice guy named Alan Hais, who owns a 1953 New Yorker much like Harry’s. Today I visited Alan (and his Chrysler) at his home in Maryland.

Alan’s New Yorker is a maroon two-door convertible. Harry’s was a black four-door hardtop, but in most every other respect the cars are identical. Alan bought the car for $300 back in 1971. Back then, of course, it was only 18 years old – just another used car. It now has 108,000 miles on it, but it still runs like a charm. It’s massive – 18 to 19 feet long, 4,500 pounds – and safety features are practically nonexistent (though the previous owner did install seatbelts). The car is gorgeous. I especially like the instrument panel. That’s a cigarette lighter above the ignition (and check out how small the key is):

Alan was even nice enough to let me drive the car for a couple miles. It certainly didn’t handle like the rented Toyota Corolla I’d driven over to his place. It has an early version of power steering, but when I moved the steering wheel, it seemed to take the car a moment or two to respond. Alan agreed there was a certain “vagueness” in the steering. I admit I was relieved when I safely pulled the big car into his driveway. The car has an early version of Chrysler's famous “Hemi” engine, but when Alan lifted the hood, I was most surprised to see that it also had windshield washer fluid:

Many thanks to Alan for sharing his beautiful car with me. In the meantime, my search for Harry’s 1953 Chrysler New Yorker continues. If you happen to see one tootling around, please let me know. I’m even thinking of hiring a private investigator to help me find it. Can anybody recommend one – preferably a cheap one?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Recently on the People’s Court – or maybe it was Judge Judy – a plaintiff – or maybe it was a defendant – said:

“On the day I had moved out I gave him a check.”

The word “had” in that sentence is, of course, completely unnecessary. I hear this extraneous “had” a lot on trashy daytime TV.

“I had went to the supermarket.”

Maybe the people who use it think they sound smarter by using an extra word. Maybe they’re just dumb. But it really bugs me, and it must stop posthaste.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I haven't come across a really good misuse of "literally" in a while, but my brother Howard spotted one in the May issue of Men's Fitness magazine, in an article about sunglasses:

"The Ray-Ban Wayfarer has been worn by literally everyone over the past 50 years...."

As Howard notes, it was not a great look for Pope Paul VI.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Allyson gives a tour of our new (and very tiny) condo in Portland:

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Allyson and I took a stroll around the Tidal Basin here in Washington to see the cherry blossoms yesterday. (Allyson seems to believe we don’t do enough strolling.) According to what I’m about to cut-and-paste from Wikipedia, Japan gave 3,020 cherry trees as a gift to the United States in 1912 to celebrate the nations' then-growing friendship.

The trees are in “peak bloom” right now (says the Washington Post anyway). They are very pretty, and we did have a nice stroll around the basin to the Jefferson Memorial. For a Wednesday evening there were a lot of people out. There’s a bit of an is-that-all-there-is-to-it? quality to seeing the cherry blossoms. But at the same time it’s refreshing to see so many people coming out to just look at trees.

On an entirely different topic, allow me a few moments to discuss line management. I’m talking about the fact that some fast food restaurants – e.g., McDonald’s and Burger King – don’t have any sort of corral or whatever you call it to keep people in a single line while they wait for someone at the counter to take their order. (Wendy’s and Taco Bell usually have these corrals.)

Without the corrals the result is CHAOS! The McDonald’s across from the Rosslyn Metro stop here in D.C. is the absolute worst for this. This morning I was in need of a Fast Food Breakfast Sandwich, but when I went into the McDonald’s there was a mass of people standing around the counter, some waiting to place their orders, some (who had already placed their orders) waiting for their food. There are entrances to the “restaurant” on both sides of the counter, so people just keep filling up the counter area, looking for some semblance of a line, standing behind people who have already placed their orders – like I said TOTAL CHAOS! I went next door to Burger King – SAME THING. I turned around and came home and did what I should have done in the first place: made my own breakfast sandwich at home. It’s not exactly a secret recipe. Anyway, I don’t know why McDonald’s and Burger King don’t have corrals. I’m sure they’ve done studies that found people like the “freedom” of not being corralled like cattle. But that’s baloney. What good is freedom if the result is CHAOS? TOTAL CHAOS!