The Pencil Today:


“If you mean to keep as well as possible, the less you think about your health the better.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes


We’re back.

Now I can tell you: The Loved One and I had to make a quick trip down to Florida to take care of some family business. Swear to god, I’d decided to not to mention that we were going out of town before we did because I was afraid some reprobate who’d happened to wander onto this site might ransack Chez Big Mike while we were away.

And, caring human that I am, I didn’t want him to be torn to shreds by Steve the Dog, who was guarding the estate.


Anyway, Florida. We got stuck under the canopy of Tropical Storm Debby, which had parked itself in the Gulf of Mexico just below the panhandle and so drenched us all five days we were in the Sunshine State.

I actually took pictures of the rain so as to prove to the citizenry of the Great State of Indiana that such a thing exists.

This is rain. It falls from the sky.

We drove all day Saturday and did the same thing all day Wednesday. 16½ hours each way. Yup. Sixteen and one half freaking hours.

I can report that neither The Loved One nor I attacked the other with the intent to cause bodily harm or death. Although the thought crossed my mind once or twice. Her’s too, I’d suppose.

Also, you won’t read this in Wikipedia or any of the usual travel guides but we found it to be all too true: the State of Georgia is the single largest landmass on the face of the Earth. Racing up I-75 from just south of Valdosta to the southern reaches of the Chattanooga metropolitan area took up a significant fraction of our lives.

Asia is but a mere islet compared to the Peach State. In which, BTW, we saw not one single peach. Lots of peanut fields, though.

Peanuts As Far As The Eye Can See

Perhaps the single thing which stood out during our trip was the absolute glut of billboards in Florida addressing the abortion issue. Well, one side of it, anyway. One read, “If you know you’re pregnant, your baby’s heart is already beating.”

We’d see a half dozen or more such billboards in any given mile stretch. Somebody’s obsessed, I tell you.


Our hotel was on the ocean in Cocoa Beach (the town where Major Nelson and Jeannie lived, by the way.) Sadly we never once went out on the beach, for fear that we’d be swept away by the storm.

Cocoa Beach Couple

As an aside, I never shared my generation’s fascination with Barbara Eden as Jeannie. I’m certain I’d say that even if she’d been permitted to expose her navel (really, how weird is TV?) No, my fantasy TV chicks were Marlo Thomas, Barbara Feldon, and Elizabeth Montgomery.

Agent 99, “That Girl,” And Samantha

So, we spent much of our free time in the hotel room which is as close to a prison cell as I’d care to experience at this time of my life. The Loved One, a notorious storm-phobe, clicked the television on in an effort to keep tabs on Debby. (Another aside — why is it Debby and not Debbie?)

I caught a commercial from a cable outfit in central Florida called Bright House Network. The company was offering a spectacular new service for the most up-to-date, wired technophile: the home phone.

Truth. The announcer talked as if no one on Earth had ever thought of such a thing. Now, the line went, you don’t have to dash around looking for your cell phone when someone’s calling. Just pick up your home phone, which is plugged into the wall — right where it always is!

The Cutting Edge

How revolutionary.

How much more bizarre can the American people get?


Ever wonder why USA Today has the second-biggest circulation of any daily newspaper in this holy land? Every hotel, motel, and, I’d imagine, opium den in America offers free USA Todays.

So, I thumbed through the rag. Have I mentioned that America is bizarre? Just reading one single USA Today front page would verify that.

I can picture a future USA Today front page featuring the headlines, “Pakistan, India Nuke Exchange — Tens Of Millions Dead,” “Ohio Teacher Wins Golden Apple Award,” and “Bieber-Gomez Marriage On The Rocks.”

“In Other News, Nuclear War Broke Out Today In….”

Anyway, here are a couple of things I discovered about life on this Earth while reading USA Today:

◗ The late Amy Winehouse’s old man has written a book about her called “Amy, My Daughter.” Quite a wordsmith that Mitch Winehouse is, if his choice of title is any indication.

He tells of being unable to listen to any of Amy’s music since her death. He also confesses he’d like to wring Blake Fielder-Civil’s neck. The boyfriend, according to Mitch, turned his princess on to heroin and crack. Blake is “the biggest low-life scumbag that God ever put breath into,” he writes.

It’s not even a year since Amy W. died of alcohol poisoning. Already, though, the old boy has churned out his book. The show, I suppose, must go on.

◗ The Women’s Tennis Association is all aflutter over the amount of grunting and shrieking emanating from its member stars when they smash the ball. Big time players like Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka are notorious for their cacophony during matches.


The WTA will set acceptable noise level rules and will develop hand-held devices the umpires can use to measure players’ noise levels. The association will sponsor education programs throughout all levels of professional play, presumably to impart the crucial information that women tennis players should shut the eff up.

Opponents and fans have complained about the noise for years now, the WTA says.

Which I find enormously weird. The only time in my life I had an iota of interest in professional tennis was when the lovely Argentine star Gabriela Sabatini was just coming up. I’d see clips of her winning one match or another on ESPN and was struck by her moaning, groaning, huffing, and puffing.

And She Grunts!

I found all the din coming from her end of the court to be strangely arousing. Honest. Sabatini’s symphony was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen (or, more accurately, heard) in sports.

And now they want to get rid of all that?


Don’t bother clicking the logo today. I’m still too lazy to do The Pencil’s daily events listings. Come back tomorrow.


Did you ever get a chance to catch that Bobby Darin biopic called “Beyond the Sea” a few years ago?

It was a labor of love for Kevin Spacey, who sang and danced his way through a thoroughly Hollywood-ized version of the singer’s life. Spacey even donned a cheap toupee and phony nose for the part.

Spacey As Darin; Darin As Darin

In real life, Darin had something like a nervous breakdown in reaction to his career going south as well as the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. Darin was working for the Kennedy campaign and was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles the night Bobby was shot in 1968.

He’d begun transforming himself from a slick Copacabana balladeer to a protest singer in the late 60s. His commitment to social relevance was a long time coming; he’d demanded black comic Nipsey Russell open for him at the Copa at a time when the mobsters who ran the joint weren’t overly thrilled about hiring relatively unknown negroes. Later, Darin would start his own record company so he could put out music dealing with issues of the day. His first album for the label was filled with “compositions designed to reflect my thoughts on the turbulent aspects of modern society.”

This from a man who became one of America’s biggest song idols with hits like “Splish Splash” and “Dream Lover.”

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