Archive for July, 2009

If you remember or know the hit song by Ricky Nelson in the early 60s “Hello Mary Lou” you appreciate the turn of title for this post. Nelson’s hit was about falling in crush over a girl of that name — “Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye heart/Sweet Mary Lou I’m so in love with you./I knew, Mary Lou, we’d never part/ So hello Mary Lou and goodbye heart.” I could share the rest from memory but the focus of this post is on another Mary Lou: my neighbor to the west, an old woman who died this morning.

When I purchased my present home about 1992, I was renting upper and lower halves of the duplex to strangers and living. Even so, I still drove over with the lawnmower, handle folded forward in the back of my Chevrolet Caprice, to  . . . . what do you suppose I did with it? I painted murals? . . . . to mow the lawns. In the course of that routine, I met Mary Lou and her husband. He had been  Sergeant at Arms for the Illinois State Senate. I had two conversations with him in the course of two months or so before he died. I also learned that their only son Kevin had attended Springfield High School with me. I had grown up on Whittier Avenue about five blocks almost directly south of their home, never knowing Kevin or his parents, never visiting him, never seeing the house next door at 428 I would purchase about 30 years hence. I read about the gentleman’s death and wished Mary Lou the best when I next mowed the lawns.

During this time, the elderly gentleman who had been living in the house next door to the east of 428 also died. We had spoken to each other once across the backyard fence, and he seemed a fine fellow, obviously very frail from the toll of years. I don’t remember his name, but I knew he had died because one afternoon as I was mowing, I noticed noticed about seven strangers, all middle-aged adults, leaving his house. I shut down the mower, introduced myself and chatted briefly with them. They said the house would be put up for sale. It sold about a week later, and the new owner Judy moved in. My life has been blessed by Judy and Mary Lou ever since.

Mary Lou and I shopped at National Supermarket at the corner of Jefferson at Walnut, and after it closed, we shopped at Jewel at Capitol City Shopping Center. Every time we encountered each other in the aisles, she would bring me up-to-date on how the residents were doing at 428: The upstairs couple were were storing a ski boat in the back yard, there was a lot of garbage accumulating on the porch, the music was awfully loud last weekend, but she was afraid to call the police . . . . all pretty routine.

Almost two years after Dad died, I moved into the lower part of my Vine Street duplex. I liked the older home, the feel of it, the architecture, the interior, more than the west side home which seemed as home-like as a suite at the Arlington Heights Hyatt Regency. Chats with Mary Lou became more frequent. We’d wave and say “hello” whenever we saw each other in the back yard. We had many convivial chats about family, the neighborhood, the usual routine, but in the course of things, she complained more about me to the municipal authorities than she had complained to me about the folks living there before I moved in. My backyard grass was too tall, there was an inside couch on my front porch (it’s against City Code because inside furniture often provides shelter to wild animals), the upstairs tenants were stacking bags of garbage on their outside front porch, my outside-dwelling dogs had fleas and some of them were setting up housekeeping in her back yard. Fleas with Thelonius Dog and Slick Richard were seasonal during the four years they “owned” my back yard. Despite my “home remedy” attempts which included flea collars and medication for the pets, only the intervention of winter cured the flea problem the final year they resided here. Despite the unfortunate predictability of her conversations, we were always civil when we talked. Kevin and his family were devoted to her; visited at least once a week, good folks every one. When a storm brought some tree branches down on her garage just a few feet from my own back porch, the remains were cleared and a new one built inside two weeks.

This spring I began seeing less of her. She stopped driving, and her car was sold. She still did volunteer work, but friends picked her up and returned her home. She was outgoing and active until about April, and then I didn’t see her again. She had nursing care 24 hours a day. I could set my watch by the arrival and departure of the two different cars that came daily. One parked by the street curb during most of the day so the night shift car could park in the driveway.

The garbage, fleas, tall grass and outside furniture are “history” today, and so is Mary Lou.

When I arrived home from work Thursday, my friend Judy, hair in rollers, came out on her front porch to meet me with the unhappy news Mary Lou had died. She knew because the hearse had come about 10:30 in the morning, and it was all very obvious she had passed. I’m sure a funeral services are planned, and I’m sure I will attend to pay my respects, the third funeral I will have attended in my life.

You will likely learn more about Mary Lou in the State Journal-Register obituaries this morning, and I’m sure I will too. For one thing, I will learn her last name.

Live long . . . . . . and proper.


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I earned my Master’s Degree in Public Affairs Reporting (which would be called Journalism at Columbia U, NY). I have produced newsletters left and right since graduating, written for aviation magazines distributed worldwide and every Springfield news publication published over the past 30 years except The Pure News and The Prairie Flame;  served on founding boards of Springfield Air Rendezvous, Air Combat Museum, Heritage In Flight Museum, The American Tanka Society,  Central City Neighborhood Association and working boards of many others. Am editorial board member of the American Aviation Historical Society. No, this is not my resume; this is paradox maximus from my comfy office chair on the edge of the world in Springfield’s northeast fringe as I earn my third world wage which I may never see by being a warm body who can maintain the business web site and talk civilly, competently to strangers about natural stone. I am lucky to be here.

It’s been a slow day, essential for folding and mailing the August issue of the Springfield Chapter Illinois Pilots Association newsletter Capital Crosswinds which I also write and edit. I took half a day off Tuesday from Rock City (not my employer’s real name) to produce it because other priorities took precedence Monday night after “work.”  Unexpectedly, I also was asked to proofread the AAHS  newsletter which came in via e Wednesday. It’s an exceptionally clean issue, and now that I’ve circled the few linguistic anonalies that I could find, 40 minutes spent e-mailing corrections to the editor when I return home 3:30ish this afternoon should put a ribbon on that. Then I have a massive photo and text editing project, details of which I can’t share here. Tonight I will spend at least an hour, maybe two working on that after dinner and at least an hour catching up, maintaining the aviation collection that occupies most of my 2/3s of a two-story duplex with a vacancy upstairs. The pay circumstance (delay in pay) means I can’t advertise the vacancy in the State Journal-Register without bouncing a check and making some good people regret their good-faith transaction with me. 
To allow more catching up with LIFE, and to provide an incentive re delayed pay to my employer, I’m cutting back when I can to half days at Rock City. I’d rather work full time, but if you knew how much I am owed TODAY, you wouldn’t blame me for walking away and never coming back — which would mean I’d never see a penny of what I am owed. It also means the “employer” would take back “Black Bear,” the Chevy S-10 pickup truck he’s let me drive for the past three months, which I plan to buy from him in September. He’s generally a nice enough fellow, and I know of no other occupation where I could produce Honey & Quinine and myriad other aviation history and writing projects between activities directed to natural stone which are always my first priority.

“It is a curious paradox” as was said in the immortal musical The Fantastiks and one I don’t enjoy. But I’ll make it work. I’m a writer. If everything were peaches and cream — as my penchant for humor sometimes suggests it is — do you suppose I would be a frikking writer IF I could be a frikking full-time writer?

You bet I would!

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

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I know women who give their breasts individual names, so I hope I will be permitted to name the possessions most connected with manhood in the USA: my cars.

Blue Goose

“Blue Goose” was my dad’s 1986 Ford Escort,  and since he died in 1994, it’s been mine. He purchased it new in ’86 trading in his 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit which was white. He knew nothing about Jefferson Airplane when he owned the VW, and the connection was not lost on me. (Do you see a trend here?) The day after he died in 1994, after I called the police and funeral home , I called an auto junkyard to pick up my almost-jalopy Chevrolet Caprice.  I had purchased it a few months earlier from a friend-turned-(insert deletable expletive here) at church whose word about the condition of the thing was as good as a three-dollar bill.

Blue Goose and I got along well since I drove her the first time when Dad was beginning to drive less due to his age. Since the day after dad departed with no forwarding address, the back seat was folded forward for more cargo capacity. If I had my druthers, Dad would have owned a compact station wagon.

My fave car of all that I owned was a Chevy Vega station wagon which I drove all over the country until I thought I could plow through the flooded viaduct on West Capitol Avenue heading home at 9:30 late in the middle of a thunderstorm . . . .  and couldn’t. I have loooooonged for a compact wagon — Volvo or Saab — ever since, but Dad’s Escort, which I named Blue Goose, has been an excellent machine up until just before Kerry lost to “not Kerry.” (I will never willingly say the name of the criminal others remember as #43). The transmission began to slip, meaning I could not visit a paramour who lived in Tallula, and after that our “transmission” began to slip as well. A brake light would burn out, and I’d take forever to have it replaced, crawling past police cars and fearing I’d have to stop and I’d be caught and citationed for a court appearance after harvesting a warning weeks, then months before. For weeks, I drove with an expired drivers license. That didn’t help “the fear factor” at all. (Yes, I AM fully licensed now and street legal.) Then the hatchback hydraulic lift support failed. A long stick was fine for propping it up when loading groceries and things. Then the driver’s side door handle apparently failed  and months later, the passenger side door handle. I entered Blue Goose for more than a year by climbing in through the propped open hatchback, opening the door from the inside, crawling out in reverse, and going merrily on my way.  After living with that for more than a year, my friend Joe Russell from across the street discovered a way to open the doors by pressing hard on the top of the handles and pulling up from the bottom. It worked! Whooda thunk it? 

When the brakes began to give me fits, I should have had Blue Goose towed to “the Happy Rusting Ground,” but I couldn’t afford to. By this time, I had ingratiated myself into what in Bosnia or Siberia would be considered “employment,” and driving Blue Goose was essential.  Test pilot Charles Yeager said no airplane is unsafe if you understand its limitations and fly within those limitations. I felt the same way about the ‘Goose. It meant that I would drive no faster than 25 miles an hour during light traffic only. That meant arriving at work half an hour late most days and not leaving until about 5:45 or so instead of 5 p.  Even so there were some near-accidents that came perilously close to catastrophe. I still get nervous when approaching Walnut at Mason, Dirksen Pkwy. at Sangamon Ave. where I dodged SIGNIFICANT UNHAPPINESS and inflicting same on others by inches or less. I told another friend — attorney and motorcycle guru — about my brakes and he asked if I’d tried adding brake fluid to the reservoir? We tried it, and after three months of driving with criminally illegal brakes, that problem was fixed to the extent that I was reasonably confident I could drive it. It still needed some work on the pads and shoes.

The final straw was the loss of a wheel stabilizer bar or something like that last April.  I was in transit home from an errand to the office supply store on a Saturday afternoon. For the first time since the end of graduate school and I had to defend my paper, the sweat really hit the fan. I made it home at 20 miles an hour “on a wheel and a prayer,” no two ways about it. The car was undrivable because I couldn’t steer it. I was convinced. No more action for Blue Goose.

My employer offered to let me drive his 1997 Chevy S-10 pickup so I could get to work and back. Whatever faults there are to this “employment,” the lack of generosity on the part of the bidness owner is not among them. 

Black Bear

The story of Black Bear and me and how “life in the pucker lane” has returned to my daily routine will be described in The Saga of Blue Goose and Black Bear, Part B, coming next to Honey & Quinine.

Drive long . . . . . . and properly.

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Liptonite, rhymes with Kryptonite
Only my planned announcement to run against Sarah RahRah for parzdint in 2000teenth (I mean it’s like whatEHverrrrrr) is likely provoke more advice from well-intentioned friends than my travails over the national instant iced tea mix conspiracy which I revealed to the world a few posts ago. I’ve been agitated and flagellated, I’ve been nitty-pickered and Maudy Frikkered. I’ve been called a suckered and mothertruckered. I’ve been alleged a  a home-bo; nearly branded a Limbaugh Loogey ’cause I’m right-handed (thank you Paul Simon for the concept) . . . . But I’m getting on with it all.

2007 was the most challenging year of my life from a food acquisition standpoint. So much so that for my birthday, two friends from across the street left two bags of groceries on my front porch the night of my 60th birthday. I couldn’t have asked for a more appreciated present. Included were some cans of my favorite soup (that’s how I deducked who they were). Two more friends were equally generous in the fall. They included in their unsolicited beneficence, two large boxes of Lipton Iced Tea bags.

In about February 2008, I gave one box to my friend Mark Pence who works for Levi, Ray and Shoup, a major IT firm. He said he’d leave it anonymously in the employee lounge. I held onto the other box; used maybe three tea bags in the course of 2008. Frankly, I prefer Celestial Sasonings teas. In April 2009, I “donated” the box of tea bags to my current “employer.” Until mid-July not one bag had been used, so I brought it back home. The need for a caffeine alternative was becoming more evident. There’s hyper enough these days in my vida loca. So I’m cutting back on the coffee until I connect with a real employer and can enjoy good coffee sensibly.

Each had about 100 individually wrapped and strung bags, and the boxes were dated  “Best if used before April 4, 2008.” I know this because I’m brewing my second pot of soon to be iced tea with eight bags from that box. The first pot is half-consumed, but I needed a picture for this blog post so I commenced a number 2, so to speak.


It’s all experimental but harmless. After the first pot had successfully brewed to a rich color of TEA away from the sun and in a light green gallon jug previously occupied by Carlo Rossi Burgundy, to the surprise of a friend who suggested colorless clear glass is required, I’ve been vamping my way along, usually adding sugar and Real Lemon from a bottle

I will pause now to let my friend from high school and now teaching in Florida to say . . . . EEEEEEEEEEUW! . . . .

and stirring brisquely until I imagine it’s drinkable before adding my infamous faux iceberg ice and concluding that it’s all not half bad — which is like saying the sky is not partly cloudy. For a decanter I’m using a big old plastic jug formerly filled with Shopper Value brand Cranberry Juice Cocktail which has no hint of cock nor tail, but it’s fun to say just the same.

I think I will get used to this. There was a time when brewing iced tea was conventional. I must have done it a thousand times growing up. We had a pot to fill so far, get the water boiling, add two cups (like coffee measuring cups for the stove-top glass percolator), let it steep 15 minutes and them pour it through a strainer into the mouth of a half-gallon ceramic pitcher where a half a conventional cup of white sugar had been placed. Stir. Since some didn’t like lemon, that was squeezed from actual lemons after pouring glasses liberally cubed with ice from ice trays.

As Sarah RahRah might say, Times has changed. Today I’m dealing with potentially legions of Sierra Club friends (I was a member when I could afford the dues — and the don’ts) who may thrash me senseless with bean sprouts if I use an electric stove powered by kilowatts from a coal burning power plant out by the fripping lake to make my fripping iced tea. I want to stay friends with these people, and I want to stay friends with my wonderful planet.

In the meantime, I’ve returned the considerable unused portions of my small cans of Lipton instant iced tea mix to the cupboard shelf. . . . ready to serve if any of my Republican friends drop by, though after reading this ramble, I consider it extremely unlikely that they will.

Live long . . . . . . and eco-properly.

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Personal Ad Sad

Personal Ad Sad
by Job Conger

LIfe isn’t easy when you live alone
And you don’t have a sweetheart to call your own,
When you don’t have a special friend who knows
About life’s “outrageous slings and arrows.”
Saw an ad in the Illinois Times which ran
“Need a man to help me work on my tan,”
So I wrote the girl a letter in hopes that I could
Find somebody who could do me all sorts of good.

But “Mary 3” put the dumper on me.
She didn’t come a callin’ like she said she’d be,
And I must admit I’m feeling rather sad
About the girl from the Illinois Times personal ad.

Some time later I received a phone call
From the woman who inspired my letter and all.
She said I wrote some interesting words, and gee,
She’d like to know a little  more about me.
So for forty-five minutes, I told her what I
Thought would add up to one irresistable guy,
Then suggested we meet over coffee to find
More about what each of us had in mind.


Shortly before we were scheduled to meet,
I had polished my shoes — heck, I’d even brushed my teeth —
When Mary called and said we’d have to postpone
Our get together, and I felt a mite lost and alone,
So I said “No big deal. When’s your next free date?”
She said she wasn’t sure, we’d just have to wait.
Then she promised to call me back before long,
As I concluded my first good impression was wrong.


Six days later I wrote her a letter that said
I still wanted to meet her. Would she please go ahead
And give me a call or come by where I work?
I was ready and willing and felt like a jerk.
Then I drove to the clinic where she works and did see
A red Toyota Celica, licensed “Mary 3.”
Put the note on her windshield, and that was the end
Of my trying to meet the mystery who would not be a friend.


Today all I ahve is a memory start
Of a surgical nurse who went to work on my heart:.
A plate number, a car, a voice and a name
And the knowledge there’s no one deserving of blame —
Just a simple broken promise of some meaningless pap —
And sometimes you’re the syrup and sometimes you’re the sap.
There no need for debating who’s right and who’s wrong.
She can live with her lying . . . . I can live with my song

It goes

written June 3, 1982

It’s a true story down to the license plate number. The events did happen. The song has proven popular when I play and sing. Illinois Times even wantetd to print the lyrics, engaged me over the phone back in the 80s after someone heard me sing it and told them about it, and declined when I asked for payment of some kind. I’ve since earned more by writing as a journalist for IT than I’ve ever made as a songwriter, and that’s okay.  There are three or four more Honey & Quinine postings I could probably squeeze out of my “personal ad experiences.” A few were moderately happy, but the overall experience led me to conclude people behave as though they’re driving down a narrow road with curb feelers on both sides of the car. (Do ANY of you know what curb feelers are? Comment re your unfamiliarity and I will update you post-comment.) Everyone was so determined to avoid touching the curbs that it was hard to enjoy the drive.

Live long . . . . . . . and proper.

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Flies Time

I feel about flies in the nutty state of Springfield, Illinois as I feel about dog waste in the grass. They’re a part of life, not to be tolerated in great profusion, but no cause for inordinate concern when encountered in moderation. A fly in the living room on a Friday night is not the appearance of Halley’s Comet. There is no reason to anguish over the apocalypse just around the corner because you share your domocile with a few flies. There are plenty other reasons to do that.

As I watched Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and her erudite panel Friday night, the spectacle at the nearby table lamp became as fascinating as the television. Two flies were buzzing around the low-energy bulb as moths to a candle flame. Thanks to the gentle breeze from a floor fan wafting by them and to me, they seemed to be flying as though they were on an airy treadmill, trying to alight on the bright bulb, but never quite landing because it was too hot. They would perch, for just a few seconds at a time on the inside of the shade surrounding the bulb and buzz off again, almost always flying into the wind from the fan, staying just a foot or so from the lamp and almost flying into each other often in the process. It was genuinely entertaining. I felt like a 21st century Henry David Thoreau, “observing nature” two and a half feet away, always something in motion.  Soon they were joined by two more flies in the same unintended antic.

Then two more.

So much for moderation; it was time for remedial action. One of the staples of summer, right up there with sun-brewed iced tea and bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches is a big old aerosol can of Raid “Die Infidel Flies. large economy can” which I have witnessed to be fast and lethal. But it’s expensive, and the fragrance doesn’t harmonize with Public Broadcasting System television. Anyone who has encountered dead or expiring flies floating in an unwashed water-filled drinking glass in the kitchen sink knows the limited capacity of flies for swimming, and that is the incapacity I decided to exploit.

One of the Musselmann’s single serving applesauce cups I had washed and saved from “the Lenore daze” was filled to about 1/4 inch from the top and a lump of brown sugar was plopped in to dissolve and attract the sons of buzzers distracting  me from the outpouring cornucopia of fascination from WSEC.

deadfliezDuring Bill Moyers’ Journal, I worked in the office, but when I returned for Charlie Rose, I was treated to scene pictured here. I couldn’t undersand how two dead flies could have wound up on the table itself. After a close look at the one on the right, I deduced that each of those two had at least had touched the sugared water and somehow lunged over the side of the cup. Look at the wet “question mark” trail the one on the right had made flailing around on the table in its death throes. Most of them showed signs of life, those in the water continuing to buzz but unable to fly away. I am no physicist, but I believe the surface tension of the water held them as it did. There was not power enough in their exertions to break that surface tension, the same principle that allows a needle to float on top of a dish of water.

And there they remained well into Saturday. I had no time to give them a Christian burial as I departed for Rock City this morning, but it was obvious in a fast glance, their buzzing days were behind them.

When I return from “work” I will fertilize my tomato garden with their remains and set up another cup of water with brown sugar — which is so much healthier than refined white sugar, you know.

As for the aerosol can of Raid, that will be strictly for infrequent use in the kitchen. The standing water in the dirty dishes is reaping a fair “harvest” and the hardy ones who don’t take the plunge are not a major bother in a room that I don’t visit often anyway.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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Yesterday, a radio news anchor on NPR introduced a story about Myanmar by stating something like “Persecution of dissidents continues in Myanmar, also known as Burma….” The reporter did not mention “Burma,” perhaps because she knows that that nation was renamed following a revolution which eviscerated the former British colonial adjunct and subsequent democracy, and perhaps the reporter is better acquainted with 21st century geography than the unfortunate anchor/newsreader. The aural encounter reminded me of the travails folks has — make that have — with names: theirs and those beyond.

A recently “discovered” family member was named after his grandfather. It’s an unusual name and to live a “normal” life with family and friends, he permitted himself to be called by a nickname and a name that “sounds” like the one on his birth certificate. It’s easy to understand and appreciate why he did. If your name is Beauregard, odds are everyone knows you by “Bo” or perhaps by your middle name which might be Tinklewand. Come to think of it, Bo or Beauregard . . . or even Charlie . . . would probably — but not necessarily trump Tinklewand, your great-grandcousin.

My mother’s name at birth was Rhoda Dorothy Jones. She hated the name Rhoda and hated the folk song “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” (“Go tell Aunt Rhody, Go tell Aunt Rhody/Go tell Aunt Rhody that her old grey goose is dead.” But wait, theres more “She died on the hillside, She died on the hillside/She died on the hillside, standing on her head.”) — Do you know how long I have waited to share those lyrics? I digress. In high school she changed her name in the courts to something much more modern and thoroughly conventional: Avis.

Of course the world pronounces Avis with a long “a” as in “paper;” as in Avis Rent-A-Car.  My dad would say — with a long “a” as in “heterogeneous.” He gave me his sense of humor, and I took it gladly. Mom pronounced her new name with a short “a” as in “as.” It was not a big deal with her. Explaining her preference for the “short a” was easy enough and people were happy to respect that.

Same thing with my newly discovered relative’s grandfather. The gulf between a a long and short a is minor compared with the incredible expanse between the name of a character in the Christian Bible (It’s a best seller, I’m told.) and a common noun. Folks may swiftly bridge the gap with Avis, but they’d rather surrender their George Lincoln Rockwell Fan Club membership card than pronounce a historically honorable name as originally intended since the days of Aramaic and ancient Greece. Perhaps I’ve overblowing the gap. Lots of good people accept and honor uncommon name with no aggravation. The point is that some names carry a price. Not all so blessed care to live their lives paying that price. Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue,” written by Sheldon Siliverstein (if memory serves) is a case in point for those who pay the price with regret. Others pay the price in positive ways without compromising their given names.

Some years ago the co-founder of Apple Computers, whose last name was prounced with a long “o” after a famous Bibilical namesake changed the official correct pronunciation to a “short ‘o'”to placate the dumbed-down media who kept mispronouncing it. Though I confess to being a minor member of the vast array of world media, I am chagrined when associates (which is not to suggest colleagues or peers) butcher the language with their ill-informed tongues and the half-wits behind those tongues.

In a recent blog posting I gently made light of the predominantly-heard pronunciation of the name of an eminently qualified candidate nominated to serve on the US Supreme Court. I said “the Spanishperson’s name” is pronounced the way it is pronounced in Spain and not in America. She has many friends and supporters in the media who chose NOT to pronounce it as we would, given the opportunity, in the United States of America, Los Estados Unidos, if you prefer. Shades of Steve what’s his name!

If you want to learn Spanish, a good place to start is National Public Radio newscasts because you hear it there muy frequentado. On the other hand, a news reader on ABC national news pronounced an American-Spanishperson’s name as Americans pronounce it: Vargas — rhymes with car gas; not Vargas – rhymes with cod-a-gas.

I’m learning from the process of chewing on the disparity as though it is grassy cud. What I’m learning is that it is the owner of the name, the bearer of the name, who should determine how it is pronounced; not the media nor George Lincoln Rockwell disciples or even surly blogmen (rhymes with frogmen; American-amphibian types who croak alone in the dark of light.)  It seems to me a person of any nationality, race, or taste in dinner entrees, should be given, universally, the right to the dignity of his or her name as he or she desires it to be known. Beauregard, I cannot give my old computer for the dollar you want to pay, but I can give you the dignity of your name as YOU desire it to be prounouced. I hope that accords you the respect you deserve from any good person, and I hope it matters to you.

It matters to me.

Live long . . . . .  and proper.

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