grocery checkers then and now

Since the death of Charles Schultz in 2000 we have had reruns of the Peanuts comic strip in our newspapers. Unlike comic strips such as Dennis the Menace, Schultz and his family were insistent that no else ever draw a Peanuts comic strip. So some of the strips we see today are pretty much timeless, while others are dated.

Alpha Beta signA recent series with Snoopy as the world famous grocery clerk caught my attention. Snoopy’s body language perfectly caught the way grocery checkers worked when I was a box boy at Alpha Beta in 1970-1971. There were no scanners. Each item had a price on it. With one hand on the item and the other on the cash register these ladies worked very quickly, even adding tax to non-food items without checking the tax table. They were fast, efficient, and accurate.

Today’s checkers have it easy with the scanners, though they still must know their produce. But the grocery checkers in the days of yore are a breed we will never see again.

peanuts world famous grocery clerk cartoon

my Steve Allen encounter

You no doubt remember the great comedian Steve Allen. He was brilliant and I miss him. Terry and I had the opportunity see him when we were living in Mountain View and he was at the comedy club in next-door Sunnyvale. It was a small, intimate space, which was nice.

Steve AllenSteve was a master of improv, and he engaged the audience. In that show he took questions from the audience. After getting the first question he said, “And what do you do for a living, sir?” The audience member said, “I’m a technical writer.” Given that I was a technical writer in those days as well, I applauded. Steve looked over in my direction. The stage lights were on and the house lights were off, so he couldn’t see me. But he looked over in my direction and said, “Why would someone applaud at the mere mention of the words ‘technical writer?'”

The Steve made phrase “mere mention” a thread throughout the rest of the show. So I was a contributor to that night’s performance.

That’s my Steve Allen encounter.

photo credit: Alan Light. cropped. Creative Commons License.

my cat Clea

Before I was a dog person I was a cat person. I had my cat Clea for nearly twenty years. I got her in 1991 in Oklahoma City and she was with me until 2000 in Gilroy. She made many moves with me.

When Terry moved up to Mountain View with me in 1993 Clea was rather unsure about this interloper. But Terry gave Clea good bottled water and fed her before I got home from work, so she decided Terry was OK.

Our first year in Gilroy, 1997-1998, I continued to drive up to All Saint’s Episcopal church in Palo Alto on Sundays. That meant Terry was home with Clea. Terry got in the habit of watching movies on Sunday morning and Clea loved that because she could lie in Terry’s lap for ninety minutes or two hours undisturbed. I would get home from church to find Terry in her recliner with Clea in her lap as the movie was ending.

Clea’s attitude was, “Wake me when the movie is over.”


difficult times for God

I first encountered Pot Shots by Ashleigh Brilliant in the fall of 1971 when I first began attending Pitzer College in Claremont. They were postcards and the drugstore in downtown Claremont carried them. May favorite is someone looking off at the horizon, and the caption says:

quoteWho will take care of the world
when I’m gone?

They are all digitized now, and you can find them daily on Right now they are offering Pot Shots from that 1971 year. I don’t remember this one from those days, but it is unsettling that this sentiment is as applicable today as it was in 1971.


make it stop

Yes, I know the cartoon below represents something of an overreaction, to say the least, but I do feel this way sometimes.

Misused apostrophes are one thing that make me crazy. When I was laid off  from my job in 2014 the outplacement manager wrote in an email that he would put me in touch with his colleague Jenny who is “an expert on resume’s.” Really? This from a business professional. (Jenny was a great outplacement coach, by the way.)

I also hate it when someone uses an abbreviation and doesn’t define it on first use.

Then there are misused capital letters. In an email about a meeting with a fire captain in our community I read, “He is bringing his Engine and a couple of Fire Fighters.” The book I am currently reading is by Lisa Randall, who is both a highly credentialed research scientist and a well-regarded author of popular non-fiction books on science topics. For some reason she insists on capitalizing the words universe and earth. Very strange.

I should probably work on moderating my response to such errors, however.


political comic strips

I have been duped. Well, not really. But I allowed myself to be misled.

When we first moved here to Hemet and started PricklyCityreading the Los Angeles Times I wrote that my new favorite comic strip was Prickly City. I enjoyed the way the strip skewered some of Hillary Clinton’s less desirable qualities, even though I fully support her run for the White House.

What I realized eventually was that the creator of the comic strip, Scott Stantis, very much comes from the political right. The good news, though, is that he comes from a thoughtful William F. Buckley version of the right, not from the wacko tea party version of the right. So much so that he skewers Donald Trump as much as Hillary.

This all made me think about the political comic strip in general. If not the first, the first political comic strip to hit it big was DoonesburyDoonesbury. After appearing in the Yale campus newspaper, Doonesbury hit national syndication in, I believe, 1970. It quickly became a favorite of many of us left-wing bleeding-heart liberals. Sadly, Gary Trudeau stopped drawing Doonesbury last year (except for Sunday), and the weekday strips went into reruns. It is interesting, though, seeing the strips from several decades ago. The strip is currently working its way through the 1980’s.

BloomCountyDoonesbury was quickly followed by Bloom County, which at the outset in the 1970’s looked very much like a Doonesbury knockoff. Nonetheless we left-wing bleeding-heart liberals enjoyed it almost as much as Doonesbury. Creator Berk Breathed gave up the strip twenty-five years ago, but recently brought it back online, where he doesn’t have to worry about syndicate and newspaper censors.

In the past several years, Mallard Fillmore has taken on the cause of the right. While the strip MallardFillmoresometimes hits the mark, it also frequently hits it subjects with a much more blunt instrument than Prickly City. Mallard’s creator, Bruce Tinsley, however is a decent guy. When he once mentioned Madeleine L’Engle in his strip in a very favorable light I sent him an email and got back a very gracious reply. Turns out his wife is a liberal-left civil rights attorney. He said they have some very interesting discussions at home.

So there you have my not-so-authoritative survey of political comic strips. And as much as Mallard Fillmore annoys me sometimes, it really is good to have a diversity of viewpoints.


I know that playdates have been a real thing for quite a few years. After reading this Cul de Sac cartoon, I got curious and looked up “playdate” and “play date” on Google ngrams. The results were interesting. The word has been in use for a very long time. There were instances as early as 1940 if not before, though I only graphed 1960 on. But the word really didn’t get heavily used until after 1995. In many references from the 1960’s that I sampled, “playdate” refers to the dates a theatrical production was performed or film shown.


In terms of the current usage, however, I would guess that the practice, and hence the term, became more popular in a world where both parents were working and lives were busier for kids with organized activities such as soccer leagues. Those of you who know me know that it’s very easy for me to slip into “why when I wuz your age” mode. This is one of those times.

When I was growing up we’d go outside and see who else was outside and we’d play. Or maybe someone would even knock on a neighbor’s door and see if they were free to play. And we’d play. There were scheduled activities sometimes, but that was the exception rather than the rule.

It’s a different world. I know that. But I’d glad that I grew up in a time that we didn’t have to have scheduled playdates.


you’ll never walk alone

If you’ve read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or better, listened to the audio book version read by the late, lamented author Douglas Adams, you know that the climax involves the spaceship’s computer singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in the face of impending disaster.

If you remember that you’ll understand why I had trouble keeping a straight face at church on a recent Sunday when that song was sung as a duet for the offertory. It was beautifully done. It really was.

Yet while I don’t think I showed any emotion externally, inside I was laughing hysterically.

I think the audio book, which we listened to on our drive down here, has ruined that song for me permanently.

my new favorite comic

When we were in Gilroy we subscribed to the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle. Here in Hemet we get the Inland Empire newspaper, the Press-Enterprise, and the Los Angeles Times.

The Times has a comic strip I haven’t seen elsewhere. It’s called  Prickly City, and it certainly comes from the left wing of the political spectrum. It is so on and gets things so right so often. The author loves to go after politicians and presidential candidates in general, and he certainly has no love for Hillary. Here’s Saturday’s cartoon.


Now don’t get me wrong. I like Hillary. I support Hillary. I am voting for Hillary in the primary next year. And in the general election, barring any unforeseen upsets. I want to see Hillary elected president in November 2016 and I want to enjoy her inauguration ceremony in January 2017.

But two things can be equally true, and Hillary, as much as I like her and support her, is far from perfect. So I enjoy Prickly City, which does a great job of getting it right so consistently.


We have three of those, in fact.