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Political Runoff

Here’s a word for everyone at the lake from your elected representative.

Greetings Constituents!

What a glorious 4th of July we had yesterday in the 9th Congressional District, which encompasses all the water surface area in Minnesota.

Thanks to all the visitors who behaved themselves and acted responsibly by boating safely and not littering or drinking too much. To the rest – we want to be welcoming but please don’t be so obnoxious the next time you visit.

This is not just a warning. It’s a way of life. We 9th districters try to be good guests when we come ashore. We put on clothes and rinse off our feet and clear our pockets of zebra mussels and Asian carp before we visit your coffee shops, museums and sporting arenas. That’s just good, considerate behavior and we expect the same from you. So don’t transfer invasive species from an infested body of water to, say, the fountain at the center of the local shopping mall. That’s careless. Check your toddlers for milfoil before you let them go splashing anywhere!

Imagine for a moment what it would mean if milfoil clogged up that nice fountain – the mall would begin to smell like a stagnant, stinking pool and people would stay away. The local economy would decline. Retailers would feel the pain. Jobs would be lost. Our government would be starved of cash due to falling tax revenue and it might be unable to finance the military and intelligence efforts we must make against outside security threats! All because someone didn’t check the cuff in little Jacob’s overalls for a hitchhiker!

And that’s not the only threat we face. Algae blooms are choking off much of the 9th district – the result of the leaching of extra fertilizer into the water. This is an ongoing problem that, if not solved, may someday lead to vast reductions in the size of the district, and perhaps it will cost me my job when the population of the 9th drops so low it can no longer support a Congressman.

Picture that if you will. A native Congressman, forced out by algae.
I realize that many people have no love for politicians, but Congressmen are mentioned in the Constitution and algae is not, so I ask you to consider – which is more American?

I’m pleading with you to cut the sources of phosphorus that feed into our waters.

If you have a lovely lakeside lawn, I recommend that you make your chemical runoff into a stay-at-home cocktail of growth promoting compounds by directing that yard sludge into a holding pond on your property. It’s yours. Keep it and use it! Who knows what sort of new and unusual biological blasphemy might emerge from the nutrient soup? You could get a Bigfoot, or a Super Turtle, or something simple like a beanstalk that stretches to the clouds! And once you have that, you are that much closer to the goose that lays the golden eggs.

And if you have livestock, please. Toilet train them. It’s that simple.

You’ll be doing the fulltime residents of the 9th district a favor. You’ll be saving the job of a constitutional officer, and you’ll be taking responsibility for something that I would otherwise have to deal with by promoting unpopular legislation. That’s a win-win-win solution (for me)!

Thank you for visiting the glorious 9th district. In any case, we want you back next year, but especially if you’re nice!

Kind Regards,

Hon. Loomis Beechly, Congressman, Minnesota 9th district.

Name your favorite body of water.

Happy Independence Day!

It is the Fourth of July, a day to celebrate our independence and the many freedoms we take for granted.

One of the latest is this: Freedom from Blogging.
Blogging is a right but not an obligation.
We do not have to do it if we don’t want to, and today, I choose to be free.

Of course you are free to comment away because I am not the boss of you.
God Bless America!

The Rockets’ Red Glare

I admit to having a complicated relationship with fireworks.

I like pretty lights in the sky but I’m not fond of loud noises and am unnerved by exploding things. Fire is O.K. in a hearth or a pit, but not so attractive at the end of a fuse. While the other boys were trying to shred tin cans with M-80s, I was getting plenty of adrenaline just igniting a sparkler and holding it at arms length with my eyes closed.

As a teenager I had the misfortune to live alongside a country club golf course overlooking the exact spot where the annual Independence Day fireworks were launched. The display was set up at a low spot alongside a creek between the 16th fairway and the 18th green. People filled the slope on either side of the valley. My house was on the side across from the country club’s main building, so the rockets were angled a little bit in our direction. My father celebrated the holiday every year by standing in the side yard with a water hose directed at our roof – just in case. And we did get flaming debris every now and then. I believe he enjoyed grumbling about it and fantasized about suing the rich people some day over the smoking ruin that was once our home. It never came to that, but there were close calls.

One year a wayward charge misfired and landed in the middle of all the other explosives that were waiting to be loaded and lit. It took about 30 seconds for absolutely everything to go off all at once. The valley was illuminated during the shortest and most violent display Decatur ever saw. The crowd turned and ran, and crew dove for cover, and miraculously no one was hurt. I remember grabbing the blanket I was sitting on and heading for the house, although afterwards I wondered why in the world I thought I had to grab the blanket. The smoke seemed to hang in the air for days. The grass alongside the creek didn’t grow back for a couple of years. It was an expensive and dramatic way to scar the land and foul the air, but I’ll never forget it.

The lesson? Fireworks are dangerous. And yet I will go out to see a sky show on the 4th of July. How can I skip it? It’s a birthday party!

How do you feel about fireworks?
Where do you like to go to see them?

The Results Are In

All the precincts have reported. Trail Baboon readers voted yesterday on the true identity of a mystery commenter. Every chad has been accounted for and the people have spoken about the widely quoted speaker who explained herself on our blog.

“Jessie Gugig” is, in fact, Jessie Gugig.

She got 46.2% of the vote, so now she has officially become herself.

That’s also more than enough to be elected president of the U.S. or even Governor of Minnesota, as suggested by DanT.

“Other” was a distant second in the commenter ID balloting, followed by Jesse Ventura and Jesse James, two outlaws tied for third. Each of those Jesses would find the other fascinating, I believe. And both would respect Jessie Gugig for her sharp wit and a tenacious defense of her public image.

I admit to being skeptical at first when the age 15 wunderkind appeared as a commenter on our blog to verify that the Times reporter who heard her say about the espionage suspects next door, “They couldn’t have been spies. Look what she did with the hydrangeas,” considered this statement to be “the money quote” of the story. Of course.

Jessie and the adults around her got busy when the story appeared online. The reporter misspelled Jessie’s name and the way the quote was used made her look like more clueless than clever. Jessie and her grandmother have described their efforts in blog comments over the past two days.

Here’s part of a late one from Wednesday that you may have missed. It came from Jessie’s grandmother.

First of all, yes indeed it was the real Jessie who posted that note to the group. Second, you are the only group or news outlet she’s responded to. Third, she is brilliant, funny, and a voracious reader. She needed no help at all to come up with the word “Glasnost.” In fact, Monday night when her teenage angst was about a 6 on the Richter scale, she kept using the word “vapid.” OMG = my BFF’s will know I was kidding, but everyone else is going to think I’m vapid!!!! Thus, the Newspaper of Record was persuaded to revise the original version. It was helpful that her mother is a lawyer and pointed out to the editor that he’d quoted a minor and used her name (not spelled correctly in the first version that went to print) without asking permission.
And finally, all of us who love her are doing Internet searches to see how many times she’s been mentioned in connection with the nest of suburban spies living in her neighborhood. On Monday night, there were just 6 references Now there are thousands, including one from Vietnam and at least one from Germany. All the writing unintelligible to us, except the words “Jessie Gugig” It’s a cheap shot that’s being heard around the world and we are beyond proud of her. We found your delicious group by a simple search.

So yes, I believe.

A salute to Jessie for being so bright and for standing up for herself, and hats off to the Babooners for having a discussion so civilized that Jessie would feel comfortable joining in.

Have you ever been misquoted, or quoted out of context?

A Legend Speaks?

Yesterday I saluted 15 year old Jessie Gugig, who, with a single quote in the New York Times, struck a blow for all lovers of absurdist humor and hydrangeas. I used her clever observation about the nature of undercover espionage in suburban neighborhoods to launch a bad limerick, and I thought that would be the end of it. But no.

Late in the conversation last evening, a provocative post appeared in the comments section:

Hi, this is Jessie Gugig. Yeah, I don’t know if you were expecting to hear from me at all, but here I am. Wow, just, wow. You just summed up exactly what happened to us on Monday night after the media circus came through. I said it as a joke to a small group of paper reporters, not thinking it would go anywhere big, since I said a bunch of other things along the same lines which it feels corny to try and write out again. Later, my mother got a call from our local newspaper asking who had spelled my name wrong; the local news, or the New York Times? Cue incredulous disbelief from my mother when the local reporter directs her to the internet. Now, I had no idea this was going on when it happened, but my mother went to the Times right away and gets my name corrected by virtue of being the mother of a minor. While this is going on, I get my own call from a friend; did I know that the Times misspelled my name? No, I did not. After that, we called the news desk at 9:30 and went through about 5 layers of people including the security desk in order to talk to the foreign news editor to get my name corrected (which they did done immediately, to their credit), and then to insert “jokingly,” which at first they really didn’t want to do. They said that this was the “money quote,” that it was the quote that was going to be reprinted all over the globe. And now it is, so I guess they were right in the end, as I seem to have been translated in several languages as of this morning. I wound up pleading with the foreign news editor, explaining that people who did not know me would simply think that I was incredibly stupid or just more of suburbia, here to look ridiculous for the cameras. The editor told us that the quote was going to be like a litmus test for intelligence; I responded that when it’s a litmus test that 90% of everyone in the planet is certainly going to fail and if only a 10% margin of readers are going to understand the quote’s meaning, then they’re doing it wrong. After the no small amount of brouhaha and near-tears on my part, the foreign editor very kindly agreed to humor me, even though he said he had to go up 2 editors higher to make that change. They called back just before 11:30 pm and said it was changed. This is the point where I started crying for real. Sure enough, when it went to print, it was the way I wanted. Thank you again to the New York Times for being so kind to me. And many thank you to you for this nice post and all the limericks. I hope you don’t mind; I’m an aspiring writer, so I made my own:

Glasnost? What Glasnost? The teenager said,
Russians from her house, saw their flower bed
Then the guys-in-ties came
Neighbors were mostly inane
And the girl is now hiding her head.

True to their generous nature, some Trail Baboon readers responded with compliments and bouquets for 15 year old Jessie. That open and welcoming spirit is one of the things I love most about this community.

However, others felt the writing betrayed a hidden identity. Steve observed that the word “Glasnost” is an unlikely choice to begin a limerick, especially one written by a teenager, even a brilliant teenager like Jessie. Deception is suspected. Imagine that.
Someone commenting on the spy story may be using an alias!

I took a look “behind the scenes” and did not recognize the e-mail address from whence the comment came. So I don’t know if Jessie (or her impersonator) will step forward today. But I ask you to examine the above quote and vote for one of the possible author identities. If we can never learn the truth, at least we should be able to agree on an attractive lie. If you vote “other”, please name your choice in the comments.

Absurdity Lives!

My apologies for bringing up the Russian Spy Caper again, but I can’t seem to get it off my mind.

There is one person who has impressed me more than anyone else in this whole sorry tale, and that’s a fifteen year old neighbor of espionage suspect Cynthia Murphy, a person identified in the New York Times as Jessie Gugig. Ms Gugig was interviewed for an early online version of the Times story and was quoted saying she could not believe the charges against her neighbors, Ms. Murphy especially.

“They couldn’t have been spies. Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”

These two sentences perfectly capture the absurdity of this situation. There is nothing to add. I believe Ms. Gugig’s quote will be repeated whenever this story is mentioned, today, in the next weeks and months, and one hundred years from now. It will live forever, and when you are fifteen years old this is a great accomplishment. Most people lack the skill and the opportunity to create such a verbal landmark. Jessie Gugig made the most of her moment.

Some will point to the quote as an illustration of the simple minded cluelessness of the Average American Suburban Russian Spy Neighbor. But here’s an interesting detail … the Times edited later editions of the story to present the quote this way …

“They couldn’t have been spies,” she said jokingly. “Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”

Here the Newspaper of Record is going out of its way to tell us that Jessie Gugig is no simpleton. She didn’t just say the thing about the hydrangeas. She said it “jokingly“. She saw the craziness and packaged it up for us – on purpose. I’m impressed with Ms. Gugig’s powers of observation, her summarizing skill and her humorous boldness.

I expect great things from her.

For some inexplicable reason, the hydrangea quote made me want to express the same thought less gracefully, using the least elegant of all poetical forms – the limerick.

A gardener arrested for spying
Missed detection without even trying.
Every flower she grew
Blossomed red, white or blue.
Her heroic Hydrangeas flying!

Please feel free to add your own limerick, or your favorite inspirationally absurd quote. Or you could talk about beautiful hydrangeas, and what they can tell us about their gardener.

Have You Met the Neighbors?

Since we’re all friends here, I’ll share an official letter I’m sending out today!

Dear Director Mueller,

First of all, congratulations to the FBI for catching that ring of Russian spies masquerading as ordinary Americans in ordinary American places like Yonkers and Montclair. It was a real shot in the arm for all of us here in suburbia to learn that the FBI is watching the neighbors to determine, once and for all, what they’re up to.

I’m impressed that you figured out these spies were sending messages with shortwave burst transmissions and invisible ink and by switching identical orange bags on the train. That’s amazing. The thing with information encoded into ordinary photographs on the internet – who knew? You did! You guys rock. We probably have some of that same high tech chatter going on out here in my neck of the woods, but I think the bulk of the secret communication is being done in more mundane ways.

At the first and second houses to the west of me, for example. These guys are out mowing their lawns a LOT, and often at the very same time, which is highly unusual. I’ve noticed that my immediate neighbor, B.M., will wave with his right hand to M.F., who lives at the second house down. And M.F. responds with a nod. But last week B.M. waved with his LEFT hand and M.F. nodded TWICE and winked. Was it some kind of a joke or top-secret choreography? And the tone of the mowers was different somehow. One sounded like a small airplane and the other was more like a vuvuzela. Can you send coded information that way? All I know is, the very next day Medvedev showed up in D.C. Coincidence? Doubtful.

The women are involved too, of course. C.F. spends a lot of time gardening in planting beds in front of her house. I’ve noticed she sometimes leaves the rake leaning up against the tree, and at other times it lies flat on the ground. Clearly it’s a signal. After she messes around in the dirt for a while, she’ll wipe her brow and head inside like she’s thirsty or tired but that’s just a cover for what happens next. The moment she’s in the door a “rabbit” comes out from under a nearby shrub and “visits” the work area. Microchips, anyone? I believe they are delivered inside “pellets”.

And C.M. next door is always driving the minivan somewhere. Children of various shapes and sizes appear seated at different windows during all these “trips”, many of which last only a few minutes. If they were pixels instead of 8 year olds and you could back up far enough to see the different journeys all at once, these tousled heads in their alternating configurations would no doubt spell out a message, probably in Cyrillic characters. I have pictures, but I haven’t been able to arrange them properly as of yet.

Perhaps you have a lady spy in a tight fitting trench coat who could assist me? We could do our work on the front porch. I wouldn’t want the neighbors to get the wrong idea.


Special Agent D.C.
Minnesota Subdivision

Which of YOUR neighbors is a secret agent?

Your Life on TV

Along with donuts and rubber poultry, the topic of “classic” TV came up over the weekend. That’s a flexibly defined thing. Regardless of when you were born, “classic” TV is the first TV you ever watched. For my generation it also turns out to include some of the first TV ever produced.

For no sane reason, I titled Saturday’s entry “Joanie Loves Chachi”, which drew this response from Lisa:

I LOATHED Joanie Loves Chachi. As spinoffs go, my vote goes to Maude, I think. I remember well that, as a child, I was utterly baffled by the relationship between characters on “Green Acres” and “Petticoat Junction.” How did they sometimes end up on each others’ shows? HOw could that BEEEEE?

Lisa, I know you are aware that the people who appear on TV shows live and love and work under different rules than the ones that govern our daily lives. They are more interesting in every way, and less complex. It took me years to come to grips with the realization that TV pacing didn’t translate to real life, and my clever remarks didn’t automatically end the scene. I’d offer up my best at the dinner table thinking if I got a laugh we could break for commercial, and then it would be the next day and I wouldn’t have to finish that pile of green peas on my plate. Fat chance.

Modern “reality” TV has no more truth in it than “Petticoat Junction,” which, you correctly point out, left thoughtful children baffled. I found the show extremely troubling.

I was 8 when that “Petticoat Junction” went on the air. I liked the train in the opening credits but I couldn’t get over the idea of people swimming in the water tank. I was learning to swim at the time and already had some very serious reservations about deep water. Those vertical sides with no pool deck and no sign of a lifeguard heightened my anxiety. And of course the suggestion that the sisters were nude was extremely disturbing. I assumed that the tank held drinking water for The Shady Rest and the health inspector would issue a citation for it, I was certain. When my brother told me the water in the tank was for the steam train, I felt better about it, but only a little. Why would you want to risk messing up a really neat engine with hairy water?

Some brainy commentators say our TV watching is merely a search for self. If so, that would explain my disappointment with Petticoat Junction, Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies. The show where I did see myself is one that was just written up in the New York Times for the release of its entire oeuvre on DVD – Leave it To Beaver.

For me, there were surprising parallels. Like any young boy with dark hair and freckles, I was accused of looking like the Beav. Also, I had an older brother, (Wa)Lee.


Which is which?

Hint: I’m the one who does NOT have a TV star haircut.

This imagined connection heightened my interest in the show, which is described by critics as one of the first TV programs to take a kids eye view of things. The older brother / younger brother dynamic was the greatest attraction and the most profound similarity to what was actually going on. My brother was wise to the world – I was a goofy obnoxious pest. This relationship is timeless.

And then there were coincidences:

One of the co-creators of the show was a guy from New York named Joe Connelly – that’s where we were from, and Joe Connelly is my father’s name!

And the first episode of Leave It To Beaver was broadcast on October 4th, 1957 – my birthday!

Clearly, Leave It To Beaver was my reality TV. Here’s a famous clip:

My friends and I climbed like this on the slippery, craggy rocks along the Hudson River, which was a much dumber choice than scaling a billboard. It also had less comedic potential.

Have you ever seen a TV show that mirrored your actual life?
If you had to invent such a show, what would it be called?

Be Careful What You Wish For

Yesterday’s topics were book clubs and donuts, but in spite of the sophisticated tone of the conversation, Clyde wound up asking for a rubber chicken.

There should be one of these in every rubber pot.

I have a rubber chicken. Doesn’t everyone? This has got to be one of the greatest achievements of our civilization. How did this come about?

And why don’t chickens have rubber humans?

Joanie Loves Chachi

In case you missed its genesis in the comments over the past few days, a book group is forming with some Trail Baboon readers leading the way. Thanks to Anna for setting up Blevins’ Book Club. Ground rules and selecting a first book are the topics under discussion. Take a look!

I’m proud to say a new blog has been opened up by people who met here for the first time. We are expanding our digital real estate – before long the virtual world may be covered with Trail Baboon spinoffs and the sun will never set on a fresh conversation. This is what it must have felt like for the creators of “Happy Days” when major characters started to get their own series.

I mentioned this to marketing expert and idea man Spin Williams, and he was ecstatic.

“It’s exactly this sort of thing that led to the creation of our own research and development technique several decades ago, before the Internet even got started. We call it ‘The Meeting That Never Ends’. At our L.A. offices, we have a conference room open 24/7. Our gathering is always in session so we can respond immediately to newest opportunities in a changing world. There is a sharpened pencil and a clean notepad at every seat. The coffee is on indefinitely. And I’ve arranged for an endless supply of donuts to be delivered, much in the way Joe DiMaggio sent roses to Marilyn Monroe’s crypt three times a week for 20 years! We never adjourn!”

I love Spin for his enthusiasm, but I can only imagine what coffee that is on “indefinitely” must taste like. And if the purpose of the ‘Meeting That Never Ends’ is to ‘respond immediately to the newest opportunities’, how come it remains stuck in a physical conference room? Did they miss social networking websites completely?

Spin talks a good game about being nimble and embracing change, but he is very much set in his ways and wedded to ritual. It must be the donuts. Once you’ve had a few thousand Bismarcks, it becomes difficult to push away from the table and virtually impossible to get out the door. No wonder the conference room is always open.

Name your favorite donut.