Monthly Archives: May 2014

Over the tracks is out

The rules for Railroad Avenue baseball in the ‘50s were simple: Shorty Bustos’ abandoned car was first base; unless he awakens, that sleeping dog, “Sweetums,” is second base; third base is . . . well, you see that pile of rocks over there? And home is that other pile of rocks. And depending on who’s batting, “over the tracks” was either a homerun or an out. Simple.

Much ink was already been devoted to the guy who customarily murdered the horsehide and didn’t seem to care whether that 98-cent baseball was brand new or a relic of last season, held together with strings and friction tape.

We played our games in an empty lot that ended at the tracks on Columbia Avenue, and we had a host of spontaneous rules that demonstrated how politically correct we were — long before the word “gender” became associated with male or female instead of a grammatical term that encompasses words like he and she. Continue reading

Q-vo, ese bro?

Remember when boys would go to school, their pockets bulging with marbles, and those same marbles would work wonders when spinning around their moms’ washing machines?

I doubt one can find a game of marbles anywhere anymore, its having gone out of style when gadgets like Rubik’s cubes and little tile games made the scene.

We’ll get back to marbles after a brief mention of toys boys and girls used to buy at Funk’s and Newberry’s in downtown Las Vegas. There is a gadget whose name I never knew, that consists of about 15 interlocking numbered tiles. One’s job was to place them in ascending order. There was a blank spot that allowed the user to jiggle the tiles around. Those who mastered the numbers, without taking the contraption apart, were considered gifted. And they all went to Immaculate Conception School.

On the I.C. playground we began a game of marbles anywhere we found a flat plot of ground. We often brought along a “steelie,” an abnormally large metal marble that knocked everything out of its path. Once, someone I was playing against brought a marble the size of a golf ball and cleaned up. After complaining about the size of his shooter and getting nowhere, I said, “Then it’s OK to bring any size marble to a game?” Continue reading

Please speak English

Adabbler in languages, I came across a book titled Les Bon Mots. I found it at the latest AAUW book sale, where early birds can get some amazing stuff at a good price.

The book is a guide to hundreds of French words guaranteed to make people sound oh-so learned. As interested as I am in English, Spanish, French and German, I fear that decades from now many of the lesser-spoken languages, including a host of Indian tongues, will have vanished to make room for English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese.

But this column isn’t going to be about the death knell for languages that don’t get passed on to grandchildren.

Yet, let me mention one linguistic anecdote. A couple of years ago, my wife and I took a river cruise on the Rhine, from Amsterdam, Holland, to Basel, Switzerland. Our ship docked overnight in a city that appeared bi-national and bi-lingual, with equal amounts of French and German. Continue reading

Let’s hear it for maturity

The standard for survival in college is “two hours of study and preparation for every hour in class.” Go figure: You enter college as a full-time student, signing up for five courses totaling 15 credits. The credits, or units, correspond neatly to the number of hours of class time each course requires.

And to be successful, one ought to devote twice as much time preparing and studying as time spent in an actual class. For most college students, that adds up to 45 hours devoted to college classes. Now we all know that some courses require little preparation or homework, and many students spend far less time boning up than the two-hours-for-one formula recommends.

Even when I taught at Highlands, and professors touted the 2-to-1 formula, there were countless students working full time and somehow managing a full course load. Continue reading