There's No Schweiger Like Braunschweiger

This post originally appeared February 23, 2018, on the Chile Today Hot Tamale! website. (

This week was mid-winter break at my other job, that of high school math teacher, and I spent the week attending to the duties of life. I completed and filed the corporate income tax return for Chile Today-Hot Tamale. In addition, I gathered all the details necessary to complete our joint income tax returns. It was not, however, all work, no play. Monday evening we saw Darkest Hour and Tuesday evening we saw The Post. For the life of me, I can't remember a thing about Wednesday except doing the laundry. Thursday I began a project for Kathy, and Friday, we will visit the kids in Asheville, NC.

I needed a quiet week. If you have read my past blogs, you know that I try to keep it light and funny. Of course, not everyone understands my sense of humor, so it isn't always funny. But it has been very difficult this week to be humorous.

The recent stretch of time is one that we all have on occasion, and entirely unavoidable, if one lives long enough. It is a stretch of time pock-marked with death. A little bit ago I learned that my first cousin, Linda, had passed. She was a little older than I, but not much. It was apparent, the last time I saw her, that she was in poor health. Now she is gone. Just last year, in February, her father, my favorite uncle, passed away. He was something like 88 years old, or thereabouts. Linda did not have such a long run.

Then came news that the mother of a mate from high school, Alan, had passed away. That news came from another high school mate I hadn't talked to in probably 10 years. Between us, we figured out how to contact our old school chum, to offer our condolences. I hadn't talked with Alan since our 20th high school reunion, some 27 years ago.

The lady who cuts my hair (she is sweet: she doesn't charge a finder's fee) lost a brother a week ago. Then came a man I had never met. We had spoken on the phone several times, but that was it. He was in the hot sauce business, too, and he was by all accounts a great guy. But two weeks ago Bubber was in an automobile that hydroplaned, ran into a tree, and he is now gone.

Those of you who own a dog know that a dog is part of the family. At least, that is the way we feel about Ronnie, our Lab/Chow mix who loves Kathy to death. He turned 12 years old on January 1 of this year, and recently it became pretty apparent that something wasn't quite right with him. Kathy was so worried that she took him to the vet and authorized all sorts of laboratory studies so that we could get to the bottom of his illness. The result was that, aside from the arthritis that seems to afflict his hind legs more than his front legs, he is anemic. It appears that his bone marrow isn't doing the right bone marrow thingy, which is the cause of the anemia.

Last summer, the vet took a tick off Ronnie, and he speculated that the bone marrow thingy problem might be related to an infection from the tick. We gave the old boy a round of medication which lasted for what seemed like forever, but in reality was probably only 10 or 15 days, and he seemed to recover slightly. And then it hit me. If his problem was anemia, we could fix that.

I picked up a couple of rolls of braunschweiger from our local Ingles, and began topping his bowl of kibble with a nice thick slice at each meal. And believe it or not, I think the old boy has recovered! He seems to have more pep. He still wears out towards the end of the long walks Kathy takes him on, but no more that he did seven or so years ago, when he first met Kathy. Just today, he jumped up into the back seat of the pick-up without any trouble. He hadn't been able to do that in awhile.

I am not naive. Ronnie will not be with us forever. But in the midst of the death and sorrow from the past few weeks, his recovery, even if only temporary, is the bright spot.

Sweets for the Swede

This post originally appeared February 16, 2018, on the Chile Today Hot Tamale! website. (

I want to learn Swedish. Or Danish. Or both. I also want to prove the Riemann Hypothesis. I figure the probability of doing any one of the three is zero.

We can set aside the Riemann Hypothesis and focus on language. (It isn’t that I wouldn’t be happy proving the hypothesis, it is just that I am totally unfit to tackle the problem.)

The late Jacob Bronowski, a British mathematician of Polish origin, once claimed that his facility with English was made possible by the fact that he had learned some language (in his case, Polish), prior to the age of seven. My conclusion from this observation, which may or may not be correct, is that our ability to learn a second language diminishes rapidly after the age of seven.

The small high school I attended offered only one foreign language, French. I started to learn the language a month or so before my 15th birthday. According to my theory, that was eight years too late. As for my desire to learn Swedish or Danish, I figure I am now 58 years too late. The attempt to learn either language would be a Sisyphean task.

When I settled on an undergraduate major of chemistry, I was tempted to learn German. The great chemists of the 19th century were German, and German-speaking chemists and physicists were well represented in the world of theoretical chemistry in the early 20th century. German was the foreign language recommended by the chemistry department at Wake Forest University. Given my troubles with French, I avoided the German temptation until my sophomore year. It happened that a young lady in whom I was interested was taking German, so I joined her in the class. It didn’t take long before I decided that she just wasn’t worth the effort. It was a good call, as I can no longer even remember her name.

Graduate school presented an interesting problem. I needed to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language in order to receive the PhD degree. I doubt that the language requirement is still in place. (Most scholarly publications are now in English. I contributed a research paper to a Swedish journal in the 1980s, in English, and I was not the Lone Ranger. It seemed to me that only about half of the papers were in Swedish. The rest were in English.) Nevertheless, in the 1970s, the archaic foreign language requirement was still in place. I had my choice of taking a couple of semesters of French, or of taking one of those 800-point standardized language exams, with a minimum of 500 points required to pass. I chose the latter, and managed to get by with 20 points to spare. A colleague of mine, who was on his last try, made it with a score of 503.

A few years ago, I purchased the book and tapes for the Foreign Service Institute’s French program. With all the good intentions in the world, I periodically pop a tape in my old tape player and take a shot at “brushing up on my French.” I did so prior to one of my trips to France, only to be laughed at by a dear friend there who considered my command of the language, as well as my accent, to be terrible. C’est dommage.

I must note that the seven-years-of-age rule does admit a few exceptions. Kathy lived for a year in Colombia when she was 10, and she has to this day a decent command of Spanish. My eldest daughter likewise has a decent command of Spanish, and I am pretty sure she didn’t start learning the language before the age of seven. My second daughter seemed to get along in Chinese quite well when we visited her in Taipei, and she didn’t begin Chinese lessons until she attended dear old Wake Forest. So there are exceptions, which just prove the rule, as far as I am concerned.

Recently I have been watching some very good television shows, some in Swedish, some in Danish, and I would really, really like to do away with the subtitles. I would also like to prove the Riemann Hypothesis, but as they say in Italian, “It ain’t a gonna happen!”

Travelin' Light

This post originally appeared February 10, 2018, on the Chile Today Hot Tamale! website. (

We have returned from the 38th Annual North Carolina Jazz Festival,, and we had our usual excellent time. If you love traditional jazz, this is the festival for you. Many of the jazz festivals I have attended over the years have folded, but this one continues with strength.

Don’t worry. Despite the fact that I’ve used the Young/Mundy/Mercer tune made famous by Billie Holiday as the title for this piece, I am not writing about music. These reflections, though, were inspired by the recent trip.

My very first commercial airline flight came relatively late in life. I was 25 years of age, and graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with a PhD. It was time to go on job interviews, and that involved flying. My very first flight was from Raleigh-Durham Airport to Washington National. I checked my suitcase, and was pleasantly surprised to find it the first one on the luggage carousel when I arrived in DC. The return trip, however, didn’t quite work that well. I checked my suitcase, and it arrived the day after I did. It occurred to me that, had Eastern Airlines misplaced my luggage on the front end of that trip, my job interview might not have gone very well. This was the origin of my prejudice against checking bags.

In 1989 I moved to the Atlanta area, from the mountains of Virginia. At that time I had flown perhaps a grand total of 6 flights on Delta Airlines. Ten years later, I achieved Million Miler status with Delta, and am now a lifetime Medallion passenger. I averaged 100,000 miles per year for 10 years with Delta Airlines alone. Many of my destinations were not served by Delta, so my total air mileage is a good bit greater than a million miles. I believe I qualify as an experienced traveler.

And any experienced traveler will tell you not to check bags. Although my job periodically required me to check pieces of equipment I needed to do my work, I tried, whenever possible, to live with just a carry-on and a briefcase. Of course, that didn’t always work out. Once, flying from Charleston, SC to Roanoke, VA, I tried to carry-on an aluminum tee-ball bat that I bought for my kids. US Air freaked out and forced me to check it: something to do with its potential as a weapon. Still, I am proud to say that I haven’t checked a bag since late in 2007, on a return trip from Australia. So that means the two week trip to Hawaii, the two week honeymoon out west, the trips to Taiwan and Puerto Rico and other destinations, all were accomplished with a small gym bag and a briefcase. No checked bags.

(Until very recently I used a thin, hard-wall briefcase given to me in the 1980s. I overheard the following conversation about my briefcase in the Honolulu airport: TSA1: “What's that?” TSA2: “That's a briefcase. But, man, that's old school!” I have since upgraded to one manufactured this century.)

The secret to no checked baggage is intelligent packing. It is rare that I pack a pair of shoes other than the ones I wear to the airport. On long trips (one week or more) I seldom pack enough clothes. I generally end up doing laundry sometime during the trip. Thanks to TSA, liquids in my shaving kit are restricted to 3.5 ounces or less, but still there are opportunities to save space. For example, on the road I use the free tube of conditioner that most hotels give out as shaving cream. It works very well: try it sometime.

Which leads me back to the recently concluded 2018 NC Jazz Festival. We didn’t fly as it was only a five-hour drive. Still, I followed my rule: one gym bag and one briefcase. Kathy, on the other hand . . .

Four bags, a hanging garment bag, and a cooler. For three nights! This list does not include her suitcase-sized purse. I’m sure I’m missing something, but I recall these six items as part of her trousseau.

One of the reasons that business travelers generally travel light is that they have to schlep all their luggage themselves from airplane to car or taxi to hotel. One of the reasons wives do not travel light is that they have husbands to do their schlepping. At least, they have their husbands to do the schlepping until the husbands collapse and die from a severe case of pack mule-itis.

Oh, well, what can you do?

So, What’s A Beguine?

This post originally appeared February 2, 2018, on the Chile Today Hot Tamale! website. (

Thank you for your kind words on last week’s blog, the first on the Chile Today Hot Tamale website. I received positive comments from as far away as Tokyo. Kathy thought the write-up was cute, but suggested that I write about something “hot,” given that we make chile pepper sauces and pepper jams. I happen to be in Wilmington, NC, at the 38th edition of the North Carolina Jazz Festival, so naturally my thoughts turn to Le Jazz Hot. But the truth of the matter is that “hot” jazz is not my favorite. Neither is “cool” jazz. Here comes a confession, which may shock even my closest friends and acquaintances: my favorite jazz is the swing music that reigned during the 1940s. That would explain why, when you ride with me in my pick-up truck, you find the radio tuned to Sirius 73, “40s Junction”.

Like many a child, I discovered this music through the record collection of my parents. Somewhere in their collection was a Longines Symphonette Society sampler of 1940s music, a two-album masterpiece of hits by various artists. I was especially enamored of Volume 1, and played that record until the grooves were worn out. A good friend of mine happened to own that exact same record, and he gave it to me a few years ago. I now get to wear out another set of grooves.

Far and away, my absolute favorite cut on that album was Where or When, a lovely Rodgers and Hart tune from an eminently forgettable 1937 Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie, “Babes in Arms”. What made the tune special was the swinging rendition by Artie Shaw’s 1938-1939 band. At that point in my young life, I became a fan of Artie Shaw’s music. (About his politics and personal life, the less said, the better.)

My favorite musical instrument is the piano. It doesn’t much matter whether the pianist is overpowering, like the late Oscar Peterson, or beautifully understated, like Rossano Sportiello, or just pure genius, like Dick Hyman: the piano is a one-piece orchestra, complete in itself. But the musician who earns the most respect from me is the musician who can conquer that devilishly difficult musical instrument, the clarinet. Artie Shaw was one such musician. So was Benny Goodman.

My friend and I enter into a pointless debate from time to time about which musician, Shaw or Goodman, was the better clarinetist. I go with Shaw, he goes with Goodman. We all have our favorites, and that is that. A few years ago, at a jazz festival, I heard a tale that involved both of these titans of the big band era, from another musician who experienced the event first hand. I suppose it doesn’t matter whether he was telling the truth, or not. The story is a good one, whether or not true.

Before I get into the tale, it would help if you knew that Where or When, my personal favorite Shavian tune, was not his most famous. If you look at any collection of Artie Shaw hits, you are sure to find the Cole Porter tune “Begin the Beguine” at the top of the list.

On to the story. This musician was visiting Benny Goodman one day at Goodman’s Connecticut home. He happened to look into the back yard, and he saw something interesting. Goodman had a bird feeder hanging from a tree, but the chain holding the feeder passed through the center of a 78 RPM record, which perched precariously on top of the feeder. He commented on this, and Goodman admitted that this was his own invention. The squirrels used to climb down the chain and eat the bird seed, but when he put the 78 on top, they stopped, because once the squirrels hit the record, it tilted, and the squirrels slid off. The visiting musician allowed that this was a bit of genius, and they moved on to other topics.

A bit later in the day, the musician’s curiosity got the better or him, and he slipped out the back door to investigate this record-protected bird feeder. As you can imagine, the record hanging on the chain was in rather foul shape, having been scratched by squirrels and used as a toilet by the birds. Still, he managed to clean off the center of the record to examine the label.

It was “Begin the Beguine” by Artie Shaw!

Whew! That was a close shave!

This post originally appeared January 26, 2018, on the Chile Today Hot Tamale! website. (

This whole megillah started because I wanted a replacement puck of Old Spice shaving soap.

I’ve used shaving soap and a mug since I started shaving back in the 1960s. My father was a shaving cream guy, but he did have a mug of Old Spice shaving soap (in an Old Spice shaving mug, of course), and a brush from prior to World War II. And that is what I used until, asserting my independence, I bought my own Old Spice shaving mug and brush.

But there is a problem.

A few decades ago it slowly dawned on me that it was getting more and more difficult to find replacement pucks of Old Spice shaving soap for the mugs. I attributed that to the fact that I lived in a small town with limited shopping options, despite the fact that I couldn’t find it on my excursions to the big cities I visited from time to time. The stores had shaving soap, just not the Old Spice brand. So, I made do with either Williams or van der Hagen shaving soap, always vowing to stock up on Old Spice brand whenever I ran across it again.

Which was never.

Just last night, a thought crossed my mind: I can probably find this soap on Amazon. You can find anything on Amazon, right? So I checked, and sure enough, I can buy Old Spice mugs and soap there.

But for a price.

First, you can’t buy the soap alone. You have to buy both mug and soap. The lowest price I saw for this combo was $40, which is pretty steep. But the worst part had to do with the aroma. The sellers could not guarantee that the soap would have that characteristic Old Spice, clove oil smell. You see, the soap was 30 or so years old. Apparently, I was having trouble finding the soap in stores because the company stopped making it. All Old Spice shaving soap for sale on Amazon and Ebay and other websites is very old product.

Sort of like me.

This is not the first time I’ve been disappointed by companies that no longer produce a product that I really like. I enjoy a good root beer, and one of the memorable root beers from the dark and dismal days of youth was produced by Worley’s Bottling Company, out of Selma, NC. It exists no longer, though you can buy an empty bottle for somewhere between $10 and $20 on the internet.

If I dwell too long on these, and other, items from a period earlier in my life that are no longer available, I get a little down. The temptation to curse the modern world is strong in those of us who are not very happy with change. I have been known to use the line “I just haven’t been all that happy with the world since Queen Victoria died.” Most people take it the way was intended, as a joke. But there is a kernel of truth in that line.

On the other hand, the modern world has brought us things that were unimaginable in the days of my youth. My old iPhone 4, no longer in service, is a better computer than the on-board computer used during the Apollo lunar missions. Who would have believed, back in the 1960s, that we would all be carrying this level of computing power in our pockets? And what of the medical miracles that we see today? Cardiac bypass surgery, perfected in the 1960s, is now passe, replaced with technology such as stents that do not require a chest-cracking incision, or the use of a heart-lung machine. Recovery from these procedures is remarkably swift, compared with the full bypass procedure. It is impossible to watch television for any length of time without viewing advertisements for drugs that promise new, effective treatments for medical problems that have plagued us in the past.

So change can be good. And sometimes, change happens that makes me very happy.

Lavoris mouthwash was the favorite of my family dentist 50 or more years ago. I haven’t seen it in the stores for awhile, and many years ago tried in vain to find it on the internet. I wrote this off as another lost product.

I just ordered four bottles on Amazon. They will be here Monday.