Thursday, April 29, 2010


According to The Washington Post, the US Gross Domestic Product in 2009 was $14.2 trillion, while the country’s debt was $7.5 trillion, or 53 percent of the GDP. Now, I’m not an economist—as a matter of fact I had real difficulties with Econ 101 at school—but that’s a lot of moolah, both produced and owed. It’s actually a frightening amount of green, and predictions are not reassuring. The same article in the Post saw the debt rise to 78 percent of the GDP by 2015 and 90 percent in 2020.

How in the world did that happen?

How did a country based on the values of thrift, budget, economy and financial responsibility get into such a shameful predicament?

When I was a kid newly arrived to the States, my parents went to the local bank and opened a savings account for me. I was given a small blue book by the teller, and every time I got a few bucks, earned or given, I took them to the same bank and the same employee who would enter the amount in the book, tabulate it, stamp it, and return it to me. It was my most prized possession. When I had $100 I asked permission to take $10 out to buy a pair of boxing gloves because the neighborhood bully was harassing me and I wanted to beat him to a pulp. It turned out to be a piss-poor investment. The kid had been taking boxing lessons at the local boy’s club and beat the crap out of me. I learned something: think twice before buying.

The only money I owe right now is my mortgage. I pay off credit cards monthly, try—and sometimes fail—to live within a sane budget, and attempt to neither lender nor a borrower be. Apparently, that’s not the norm.

According to, there are some frightening statistics out there...

•Average credit card debt per household with credit card debt: $16,007

•Total credit cards in circulation in U.S: 576.4 million, as of yearend 2009

•Total debit cards in circulation in U.S: 507 million, as of yearend 2009 

•Average number of credit cards held by cardholders: 3.5, as of yearend 2008

•Average APR on new credit card offer: 14.45 percent

•Average APR on credit card with a balance on it: 14.31 percent, as of December 31, 2009

•Total U.S. revolving debt (98 percent of which is made up of credit card debt): $864.4 billion, as of January 2010

•Total U.S. consumer debt: $2.46 trillion, as of January 2010

•U.S. credit card 60-day delinquency rate: 4.5 percent.

•U.S. credit card default rate: 11.37 percent. 
We’ve become a people that can’t say no. On a national level, politicians who have to be elected and re-elected are loath to refuse constituents’ requests, even irrational ones. They agree to more and more spending, fully aware that nobody stays within budgetary bounds. 

Internationally, we funds wars with borrowed money, and finance our overseas adventures with costly and unwise investments. Doing so, we sacrifice the education, health, and well-being of our population.

Individually, we can’t stay away from bigger homes, newer cars, iPads and sushi. We’ve learned that collecting debts is difficult, that the more we owe the bank, the more we own the bank. We like our gadgets, our toys, our second homes, our trips to Disney and Sea World.

We’ll pass the debt on to our kids, is what we’ll do. Or we’ll go bankrupt. But then, that’s OK too. The credit card companies love bankrupt people who start afresh with no debt at all. As a matter of fact, the companies actively romance such folks and offer them brand new cards at only slightly higher APRs.

Is this a great country or what?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Church and Me, Part 2

On Saturday mornings from 10 to 11, I go to a 12-step meeting held in the basement of a nearby Catholic Church. Most days, the classrooms where we meet are used for Sunday school and Bible study groups, and as such the walls are festooned with posters of the popes and martyrs. One poster in particular has horrified me since I first noticed it. It is a series of photos of a man being executed by a firing squad. There are four pictures in all, culminating in a photo of the blindfolded martyr, now bleeding and lying on the ground, being shot in the head—the coup de grace—by a soldier with a rifle.  The caption says something to the effect that this person died for Christ.

I’ve been going to this meeting for several years, always in the same room, and being a creature of habit I usually occupy the same chair against the wall. Today was the first time I perceived that right across from me, hanging on nail, was a crucifix.

I’ve always had a strange feeling about crucifixes. Why people should hold this particularly gruesome instrument of torture and death as a religious symbol is beyond me. A Jewish friend of mine once commented on the oddness of one of the world’s prime faith worshipping “a dead boy on a stick.” Another acquaintance found it strange that, in effect, Jesus committed suicide-by-cop some 2000 years go, and is now venerated for an act unacceptable to the church he founded.

Today, as I half-listened to people sharing about their alcohol-related issues, I couldn’t take my eyes off that cross and the mutilated body on it. The head hangs down and to the side as if the Christ has already suffocated—one of the ways crucifying kills—and the fingers of both hands are curled like claws. The body itself bleongs to a man who obviously works out daily. He's got a Gold's Gym six-pack of abs, glorious biceps and quads of steel.

The fact that most depictions of the Christ on a cross are inaccurate doesn’t matter. Criminals who were crucified during Roman times were nailed through the ankles and wrists—not the feet and hands—to a T-shaped edifice. If the executioner wanted the criminal to live and suffer a while, the man would be placed on a small platform to relieve the stress on the spikes piercing him.

What are we supposed to get from this? Why do we espouse such an absolutely horrid way of presenting a faith that claims as its foundation the love of and forgiveness for one’s brethren? I wonder if the kids attending classes in these basement rooms ever shrink from the awfulness of it all, or whether, perhaps, the cross is merely a symbol as potent as the Easter bunny.

Have a happy Sunday.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Church and Me

With the seismic upheaval enveloping the Catholic Church, I think it time for me to speak out and set the record straight on an extremely sensitive issue. Here goes. Though born and raised (until the age of 16) a Catholic, I have never, ever, been molested by a priest (or a nun) either here in the US or in my native France.

Ah, it’s good to speak out, to reveal this shameful secret. I feel much better now, thank you.

Here is the truth. I have only known (not Biblically) one churchman in my entire life. Father Alexandre de la Rondelette, a former Jesuit serving the French population of Washington, DC, was not a pederast or a molester. He was a drunk, though, and since I was one too for many, many years, I can forgive such a paltry offense.

Père A de la R, as he was known throughout his parish, was a stern, short man with a brush cut, steel-rimmed glasses and penetrating leaden eyes. He liked Scotch whiskey served with a dash of soda water and two ice cubes in a tall glass. How do I know this? Because he was often a guest in my parents’ house, and it was my duty to serve him his drinks, usually eight or nine times in one evening. This was supplemented by several glasses of wine during the meal, and a post-dinner cognac or two.

As Père A de la R’s sobriety weakened, he was wont to get into arguments with other guests, often focusing on the alarming decline of France’s global importance and influence. He was often violently critical of the regime in power at the time, and since many soirées were held to honor visiting members of said regime, his opinions tended not to be popular. He once almost came to blows with the French naval attaché over the nation’s frankly asinine submarine policy and he was overheard to say that the French space program was un sac de merde, which I need not translate here. The latter belief was based on his conviction that if God had wanted men to go to the Moon, he would have given them jet thrusters.

Towards the end of his career in Washington, Père A de la R was involved in some sort of scandal to which I was not privy. I think he may have told a young bride that the First Night droit du seigneur privileges were still held to be sacred, and that if a seigneur was not available, a mere priest would do, but I don’t know for sure. I remember that one day we went to church and Père A de la R was not there.Celebrating the mass in his place was a young priest from Senegal who introduced himself as Père Ababacar Diallo. He’d been educated in Paris and Dakar and preached a good sermon on forgiveness but never once mentioned his predecessor. When specifically asked about Père Alexandre de la Rondelette, Father Diallo retained his toothy smile and was mute. “Le Père has gone on to bigger and better things,” he said. Later we learned the bigger and better thing was a six-months French Canadian rehab for alcoholic Catholic priests.

So perhaps Father Alexandre de la Rondelette wasn’t perfect and like the rest of us had to deal with his own devils.

But he never touched me, I swear.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Crime and Punishment

Recently the Washington, DC area has been the scene of some horrific crimes involving minors with semi-automatic weapons. In one incident, armed youth in a stolen van driven by an 11-year-old boy sprayed a gathering with bullets and killed several people. The attack came following the theft of a gold-colored bracelet. A few days after that, a young man killed a younger woman over the preparation of a sandwich. He wanted one, she didn’t want to make it. In both instances, the DC police, responding to public outrage, quickly nabbed all responsible parties. There will be trials, and more trials, and appeals, and it will cost the community millions of dollars, partially because several of the accused cannot be tried in an adult court of law.

Here’s a concept: Screw that. If you commit an adult crime, you will should treated as an adult in court and receive an adult sentence. Let’s save money, save time, and get some folks off the streets—regardless of their ages.

For centuries human life has been divided into four, seven or twelve periods, according to the four cardinal points—or the four elements—the days of the week or the months of the year. The age of reason was thought to be seven years old. In the Western World, this was when a boy might leave his family to be trained as a valet, or, in the countryside, when he would be made responsible for a flock of sheep or a herd of cows.  Seven was considered the age when one would naturally recognize right from wrong, when one was first able to make decisions with moral overtones. At 12, a boy might swear fealty to a master. At 15, he could become king.

With these responsibilities came commensurate rewards and punishments. The system was relatively simple and based on common sense. The overwhelming majority of us knows the difference between right and wrong, and if we don’t it is not so much from ignorance as from denial, or from a determined unwillingness to learn.

Over the decades and centuries, our system has changed. What was once designed to protect a law-abiding majority from the excesses of a law-defying minority now does the exact opposite. The minority is insulated from responsibility and given every opportunity to use the letter of the law, rather than its intent. We excuse egregious behavior with an alphabet of justifications—bad neighborhood, bad schools, bad parenting, bad role models—none of which either alleviate or solve the problems of violence by youths on others.

So back to square one: Get these nasty folks—young, old, in between—off the streets. Re-establish penal colonies if necessaries, where the violent can live a life of violence that will not affect the rest of us. Some people are simply rotten and can’t be saved.

OK. That’s the rant of the day. Now I feel better.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I Write

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and my stomach churns. I have the impression of hunger but know that’s false; it’s something else, some sort of concern demanding my attention, something vaguely physical/emotional. Bell’s Palsy is still kicking, I’m worried about finances, my furnace and air conditioning system are on their last leg…

There are options.

I can get up and write, as I’m doing now. Sometimes it helps. Since writing is on my daily list of Things to Do, I at least get the satisfaction of crossing one item out and moving to the next one.

I can try to figure out what’s going on. This is generally fruitless.  Even in the smallest of lives events supersede each other and trying to find and follow one strand, one issue, is at best frustrating. Plus, as they say, my head is a bad neighborhood and going there alone is unwise.

I can read. That’s the safest route, but it makes me feel wimpy. Why should I have to involve myself in another’s fantasy to rid myself of my own dark ones? But I know how to get around this—I find a book I’ve read and reread, an old friend, and I open it at random. Any of Updike’s Rabbit works, or something by Earl Thompson, Vance Bourjaili, Mauriac (reading in French helps.)

I fall asleep, wake a few hours later feeling the same zoo of sensations. It’s still dark outside. The cat’s head is inches from mine and wants to be fed. I sit up, say the serenity prayer a few times, wait for something to happen but nothing does. I write some more.
After a while the sun begins to rise. I hear the thud of the newspaper thrown on my driveway. There are birds, noisy, raucous, it’s mating season and we’re in an avian frenzy.

The list of Things to Do today grows, small stuff, mostly. I need coffee. I make some; go back downstairs to my home office.

I write.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Old Books

Each year the AAUW, the American Association of University Women, holds a massive used book sale in my small Northern Virginia town. The basement of the rec center becomes a forest of folding tables, signs denoting categories, citizens of all genders, colors and shape looking for a bargain. I always look forward to the sale because, well, on two occasions, I found books there that I HAD WRITTEN. This, in and of itself, is not massively important save that it implies someone read them and kept them quite a long time.

Last year, when I took The IFO Report (my not-so-great American novel) to the check out line, I told the lady at the register that it was a very special book.  
She looked up, walked into the trap. “Why?”
“Because I wrote it.”
She put it to one aside with the other paperbacks. “That’ll be two dollars.”   Recognition is sometimes hard to come by.

Used book sales have a very special aura. First, of course, they attract readers, not an easy lot to entice. The ladies with the plastic shopping bags, the older men carrying empty cardboard boxes, the collectors looking for first editions are all in soft competition. I remember a few years ago when two elderly gentlemen where arguing over who had first spotted Petrarch’s Canzoniere. Imagine that: In our modern times, two scholars arguing over the works of a long-dead Italian poet!

The recycling of books is also a pleasant thought. That an edition may go though three or four owners in one lifetime is one reason writers ply their trade. I’m pretty sure if we were assured only one reading per book that a lot of us would stop writing altogether.

The other side of the coin, of course, is that people are willing—eager—to rid themselves of so many books, books that authors and editors spent long years putting together…

But it certainly could be worse.  I remember once going into a book superstore and seeing an employee rip the front covers off novels stacked on the floor. I asked what he was doing and he told me this was the standard procedure for getting refunds from the publisher of unsold books. Send back the cover, save on postage. Hard to imagine anything nastier…

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

BP, Day Four

The Bell’s Palsy is getting more interesting. My taste buds are affected and I can’t really savor anything. I can ‘sense’ the difference between sweet and salty, but that’s about it. Consistency is tricky, and so is chewing.

I am sipping my coffee through a Safeway Neon Bendable Plastic Straw, in rank disregard of the warning on the package advising me that one should not drink hot beverages through a straw. The BP is bringing out my long-buried rebel instincts.

My excellent writer friend Elouise tells me of her husband’s BP episodes:

He could eat anything he wanted, but didn't want much as it didn't have any flavor and he found the texture he could experience less than pleasing… He did dribble when he ate - especially his favored soups - and his dry cleaning bills increased...  (I now know exactly how he felt - it seems every time we go out to eat, I end up wearing a bit of my meal on my chest.  Full circle, I suppose: from teetering need-a-bib baby to teetering need-a-bib senior citizen bracketing sure-footed serviette-on-the-lap homo erectus.)

That, coupled with his protective eye-patch (black, of course) which was secured with the classic black band circling his head, gave him a slightly piratical look.  It was a bit disreputable but proved to be a sympathy magnet - especially of the female kind.  You know, the "Oohhh, you poor man.  Are you in pain? What happened?" variety. .

His libido wasn't affected at all.  Mmmm...well, maybe increased some.  Perhaps to make up for the pleasure missed in eating? Kissing was a bit strange…

Anyhow, the kids could tell you exactly when the second bout ended.  They were sympathetic to the awkwardness and, at times, embarrassment their father suffered as a result of the palsy, but that didn't stop them watching what he ate - especially when it came to fruit and dessert.  "Look, mom.  Dad didn't dribble anything down his front this time.  Isn't that good?"  And then, "Yeah, but he didn't leave his piece of pie for us to share," and "Now I can't save the extra banana for later.  Dad will eat it." 

So I am drooling, squinting, smiling evilly from one side of my face, slurring my speech. I am told some people may find that alluring but I don’t believe it. Friends will say anything to make one feel better—or at least to shut me up. I have not found a black eye patch, only pink ones unlikely to elicit sympathy. My meds are gut-level depth-bombs. I wake up in the middle of the night and write silly blogs. Altogether not a bad life…    

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bell's Palsy

On Saturday I awoke with a strange numbness on the left side of my face—nothing serious, a sensation remindful of a trip to the dentist after the work has been done and the Novocain has not yet worn off. I shrugged it off. At a certain age—mine—the body does strange things and panicking about each and every small deviation from the norm is fruitless. More often than not, the following morning brings relief. The next morning didn’t. At coffee with a friend, I mentioned the condition and she said, “Can you smile?”  I tried. The smile didn’t work; only the right side of my face reacted. “Bell’s palsy,” she said. “Go see someone.”

I looked it up on the ‘net. Yes indeedy, these are the symptoms, all delightful:
  • Drooling.
  • Eye problems, such as excessive tearing or a dry eye.
  • Loss of ability to taste.
  • Pain in or behind your ear.
  • Numbness in the affected side of your face.
  • Increased sensitivity to sound.
BP is might be caused by the same herpes simplex virus that leads to cold sores, and may be linked to a case of shingles I had late last year, but the truth is nobody knows why it strikes and when.  At worst, BP can cause irreversible damage to facial nerves, involuntary contraction of certain muscles when you're trying to move others (synkinesis) and partial or complete blindness of the eye that won't close, due to excessive dryness and scratching of the cornea. Oh good.

There's no real cure but it generally goes away within a month.  The trick is to keep the affected eye moist, and to tape it shut at night. Steroids may help shorten the recovery time of three to four weeks.

I'm not sure why but I find this particular situation depressing. I'm beginning to slur my words, and it reminds me a bit too much of the way my father spoke when Alzheimer's got him. The partial paralysis and subsequent facial drooping is emotionally affecting too. It screams of old age, of stroke, of limited time. I have to be very careful when I drink something as I dribble without noticing, and I can burn myself since there's no sensation in my left cheek. All in all, the whole thing is a bother more than a serious threat to my health, but it’s affecting my self-pride. Right now I don’t want to talk, or be seen.

It’ll pass, I’m sure. The very neat thing about the body and mind are their adaptive powers. This time next week I expect to be proudly slurring and dribbling with abandon. Or maybe not.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Things I Don't Know

I might have titled this blog ‘ignorance,’ but that seemed a bit harsh. I don’t consider myself ignorant since I have a head full of useless information, as well as some knowledge that may come in handy from time to time. No, what I lack are some very basic facts about how things that make my life easier operate.

Last week my computer crashed. I got it fixed. The company that did the work is owned by friends. I don’t know—nor did I ask about—what they did to make things better. I dropped the thing off and picked it up two days later and voila, it worked again.

That same week my 1979 Jeep drank a tank-full of gas in 40 miles. The problem: a five-cent washer that swelled when heated and kepot the automatric choke inj  the on position.

Yesterday, when a record-high heat front came through, the air conditioning system in my house stopped working. This is cause for panic, not because of the heat but because of the expense. A new system would have cost far more than I have available. So I called a heating and cooling company and an hour or so later perfectly nice technician came over. In minutes, he had diagnosed the problem.  My system was frozen. Frozen? How the f*** can that happen? He tried to explain. I nodded my head uncomprehendingly trying not to appear too much of a dolt. Basically, he said, a block of ice formed in the system preventing air from circulating. Think of it, he joked, as a giant martini shaker. He whistled while he worked. Really.  He took something old and broken out, smiled, replaced it with something new, turned on the heat--the heat, mind you…

In minutes a puddle of water appeared. The inch-thick block of ice crippling my system was melting. Within an hour, the temperature in the house went from an overly balmy 80 degrees to 72 and I was $410 poorer. My technician also tolled the tocsin of doom. My AC/furnace are old, he said, tired and slowly dying…

All this started me wondering.  When I bought my first motorcycle, I could tear it apart and rebuild it within hours.  My last bike was so complex that a computer had to be hooked up to diagnose a carburetor hick-up. The shop the mechanic, a young Harley guy with intimate knowledge of internals combustion, shook his head and told me that in order to work on the new imported (read Japanese) motorcycles, a shop has to invest anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 just for tools, and attend up to 200 hours of special training.

Me, I’m not even sure how a retractable ball-point pen works. I have a nodding acquaintance with the power of gravity and find the technology behind paperclips, Post-It notes, pencil-tip erasers and Wite-Out both baffling and revolutionary.  I can do basic stuff—I rewired all the phones in my house, put in a dropped-ceiling, installed my dishwasher. I’m hell on bookshelves, can adequately wire a stereo and know how to unjam the garbage disposal with a cut-off broomstick. The rest of it is beyond me, which does not augur well for the future. All of which, I suddenly realize, explains the existence of condos…

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Yard

When I first bought my house in the late '80s, the yard was a third-of-an-acre wasteland with poor drainage and three 30-foot Dutch elms tucked in the back.  When we first came to look, Mrs. Larsen, the owner, pointed sadly to a slight depression in the lawn and said, "That's where Charlie died, right there. Dropped like a stone..." Charlie had been her live-in boyfriend, struck down  by a massive coronary while digging a fencepost. My then-wife, a lovely Asian woman with Asian superstitions, luckily did not hear Mrs. Larsen tell of her paramour's last moments. Had she heard, we wouldn't have bought the house. Earlier in our search for a home, we couldn't buy a lovely Craftsman house on the other side of town because it was too close to a cemetery, and she refused to even consider any property that had weeping willows.

I tucked into the yard with a vengeance, moving azaleas, planting a wall of forsythia and ridding the front of a termite-eaten split rail fence. I re-graded for better drainage, dug out a small pond, created a vegetable garden behind the two-car garage. I planted bulbs and rose bushes as well as a bed of asparagus. I dug in potatoes, chased deer away, encouraged ladybugs and praying mantis. I hoed, sprayed, pruned, mowed, transplanted and fertilized. Once oin a great while, I harvested. Over time I put in flagstones around the pond, brought in three large rocks from a quarry to become the centerpiece of the yard, bought outdoor furniture and wired lighting.  In time, it became a lovely, haphazard place, a small piece of land with many colors and no rhyme or reason. Sometimes things died, other times unknown species bloomed at a frantic pace.

Over the winter, a series of fluke storms deposited almost five feet of snow on my Northern Virginia home, and the yard suffered greatly.  For decades, developers imported showy non-native species to the area—bamboo, mimosa, cherries, Bradford pears, chokeberries, Japanese honeysuckles, English ivy, eulalia—and many of these are not winter resistant. They bend, they break, they die.  I spent almost 12 hours pruning hedges that had buckled, tearing out split bamboo and clearing large branches that had broken off. I wasn’t alone. All through the neighborhood, I could see homeowners clearing debris, or work gangs of Latinos feeding wood to giant shredding machines.

Now we’re almost back to normal, though I have yet to repair the external pond filter that split when ice formed in it. The fish don’t seem to mind.  Next week will be the fish census, when a friend and I empty the pond and take stock of who’s in there and who’s not.  I’m hoping Pantagruel, my prize, 7-inch long not-quite-a-koy-yet goldfish made it. I’ve already noticed a couple of small, new occupants, including one adventurous black and gold guy with a black dot on top of his head. Life goes on.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Gene, Champion and Smiley

Sometimes when things become too much part of your daily life, you cease to notice them.  Case in point, I have some theater lobby advertisements for movies of the 40's and 50’s in my bathroom. They're small, standard color posters for Surrender, Hell! (Susan Abbott looks as if two torpedoes are straining for release from her blouse), Moonlight Sonata (music by Paderemski), The Singing Nun (Debby Reynolds as France’s Sœur Sourire), and a Gene Autry oater, Pack Train. The Pack Train poster is particularly fascinating, as Gene’s horse, Champion, gets a bigger billing than Gene’s sidekick, Smiley Burnette.
I don’t know much about either Champion or Smiley. A little bit of research revealed that Champion was a sort of conglomerate horse, or horses. Seven horses, to be exact, all billed at The Wonder Horse, all trained to rear on their hind legs as Gene waved his white hat. Smiley, now, there was only one of him. He was a talented musician, songwriter and comedian (see who played an instrument called the jassassaphone and signed on as Gene’s accordion player for $35 a week back in 1933. As Gene’s fame spread, so did Smiley’s. But then again, so did Champion’s.

I often wonder how Smiley must have felt the first time he saw and ad for Pack Train, in third billing, with much smaller type and no photo. He was, according to reports, a kind=-hearted man grateful for the opportunity to work in a field he loved. He died in 1963 after shooting an episode of Petticoat Junction in which he played Charley Pratt, the Cannonball engineer. Smiley never drank, smoked or gambled, and was proud of saying he’d been married to the same woman for over 30 years. He has a star on the Walk of Fame (Champion doesn’t).

Most of us get neither stars nor top billing. This is something we learn when we go from the totally self-centered universe of a child to the somewhat less egotistical one of adolescents and adults. We make do with a World’s Best Dad coffee mug on Father’s Day and consider ourselves lucky to get any billing at all. Perhaps in the most hidden streams of our imaginations, we dream of being something or someone other than ourselves, but these are private fantasies seldom disclosed even to the ones we love.  Smiley, at times, must have yearned for Gene status and Gene, no doubt, would have wanted to be Roy.

Personally, I’m pretty sure that at one time or another, I was billed far below the family gerbil, though 30 years ago I scratched my own initials in wet cement on a sidewalk in Adams Morgan and they’re still there, my own Walk of Fame.

The Internet, of course, has wreaked havoc with the concept of fame and billing. Anyone can have pages of Google entries; almost anyone can be a star for an hour or a week. We flourish and evanesce a lot more quickly these days than ever before and yes, Andy Warhol was right on fame and wrong on time. We don’t get fifteen minute. We get five, if we’re very lucky and work the media hard.

So back to Gene, Champion and Smiley. I’m not sure what it all means but it bears pondering.   I suppose imaginary billings are as good as any. Next week, I’ll write about Ed McMahon.