Lots of zeroes in a billion

Listening to a radio broadcast on population trends in the U.S., I was amazed at how anybody could possibly understand the amount or meaning of figures the announcer tossed out.

That was a few years ago, as we drove through Indiana en route to a reunion for Bonnie’s side of the family. We hold such a reunion every four years and take turns as “hosts.

You see, the Coppock clan east of the Mississippi generally opts for a site for the three-day event somewhere in the east; we’ve been mainly to the Midwest states but have traveled as far east as Ohio and West Virginia.

We westerners usually select a cool spot in Colorado or Utah. A message on radio caught our attention: the announcer gave the then-current world population estimate at just above seven billion. That’s a seven followed by NINE zeroes. Continue reading

They searched in vein

Although it’s now a few days past Halloween, the subject of ghosts, goblins, gore and blood are still relevant.

The blood bank to which I went to make a deposit fittingly had spooky things on the walls of the Santa Fe donation center, and I even received a scary t-shirt for my effort. Recently, on Facebook, I mentioned the visit to the Capital City and received a reply from Rosalie, a former co-English teacher who asked why I hadn’t simply donated blood in Las Vegas.

I don’t know. If there is such a center in this town, I’m not aware of it, and the Santa Fe center remind me of the TV program “Cheers,” “where everybody knows (my) name.” I can joke with the staff there.

As I entered, two phlebotomists greeted me with “Hi, Art.” I told them I was disappointed: “I expected you to greet me with ‘We’ve come to take your blllllooooooodd.” So they corrected themselves and apologized for having forgotten the Bella Lugosi spiel we all remember from Dracula movies. Continue reading

49 cents can be a dollar

A penny was a lot in my youth. As a child, I used to count each one, hoping the number would increase.

Something like that happened when I was around 10 and considered myself the Rockefeller of Railroad Avenue. I was one of zillions of Optic sellers. If I sold 10 copies each day, I’d go home expecting some car company to have delivered my brand new Lamborghini.

Around Christmas time that year, after counting and re-counting all my pennies and stacking them in tidy rows of 10, I eyeballed the stacks and discovered I was missing a penny. That made me “pennic,” a word I coined for that occasion.

I took a handful of the coins and flung them all around the room, an act that startled and then amused my Uncle Juan, who shared the room with my brother Severino and me. I reasoned that after gathering all the coins, the 50th one would magically appear. Maybe the AWOL coin would have gotten lonesome and decided to join the others. Continue reading

‘Mockingbird’ flares up anew

There’s a bit of irony in the following, which concerns a re-heated topic of racism, as shown in the decision of several school districts to ban Harper Lee’s award-winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Touching on Lee’s brilliant novel and of censorship leads me to make a couple of disclosures. First, my mother and I were virtual opposites when it came to tolerance for words and images that appeared in books; she favored censorship. Second, even as a child I never believed that learning and even using what we call profanity — such as the f-word — would corrupt me.

But yet, when I lived with my parents in the mid-sixties, finishing up my last year of college, I discovered how diametrically opposed my mother and I were.

Here’s how: I was enrolled in an upper-level class as Highlands, and the professor assigned a book called “A Psychiatrist Looks At Erotica.” The only place that book, containing bold statements on nudity, pornography and profanity was available was in a bookstore on Douglas, which used to be our main business district. Why that book wasn’t at the Highlands Book Store still puzzles me. Continue reading

Pity the comma chasers

I pity today’s comma chasers. They’re (we’re) the ones whose job is tantamount to digging a dozen 6-by-6-by-6 holes with a dull shovel in the hot Fort Bliss sun, in August.

But first, let’s make it clear that: The term comma chaser doesn’t refer solely to that tiny punctuation mark but is a generic term for editors and teachers, and even parents who look over their kids’ homework.

And while on this subject, let me stress that every person who checks submitted work for spelling, punctuation (not just commas), apostrophes (especially), and content already has a place reserved in the Great Hereafter. That doesn’t necessarily mean Heaven will be populated only with erstwhile English teachers and newspaper people who ask, “To WHOM do you refer?” instead of the lazier “Who do you refer to?”

Winston Churchill, tired of hearing, “Never end a sentence with a preposition,” is credited with having answered, “This is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.”
And yet, a number of authoritative sources either fail to credit Churchill, or else insist the quotation is mangled. Continue reading

Do we plant eggplant?

A few weeks ago this column introduced the two Foreign Exchange students who are spending the school year with us.

One student, Tookta, comes from Thailand; the other, Kitty, is from China.

Our main objective is to help them learn English as well as American ways, which they seem to be acquiring through their enrollment at Robertson High School.

I believe that part of their indoctrination is in providing food we think they’ll enjoy. And the counterpart involves our becoming more familiar with what people eat in China and Thailand.
I believe my wife, Bonnie, has tried hard to accommodate each one’s preferences. Accordingly, we’ve been having lots of helpings of rice and noodles — and eggs mixed into the various soups. The girls reciprocate by saying they enjoy eating food Bonnie prepares. Continue reading

What’s right protocol for flag?

Oh, my, how times have changed. But whether they’ve changed for the better is questionable.

There isn’t much else in the news if you exclude the horrendous massacre of 59 people, as of press time, in a Las Vegas, Nev., outdoor concert venue and casino. The other hot-button topic is the contagious action of kneeling during the playing of the national anthem at sporting events.

Let’s discuss this first:

In the 1950s, when there were intense athletic rivalries between the THREE Las Vegas, N.M., high schools, Stu Clark Gym, the such facility in town, usually packed in a third of Las Vegas’ population.

The game that comes most readily to mind was between Immaculate Conception and the Las Vegas High Cardinals. Continue reading

Turkey for you, turkey for me

Call a person a turkey, and you might be using fighting words. But I can make an exception and even construe the moniker as a compliment.

Let me explain:

My mother, Marie, served two two-year terms as San Miguel County Treasurer back in the early ‘60s. It was customary (maybe it still is) for bankers to gift elected officials on Thanksgiving for their services.

Mom died early this century and is therefore unable to explain things in detail. But suffice to say that the three main banks in Las Vegas customarily delivered a frozen turkey for Mom and her family to enjoy. I assume other elected county officials also dined on gifted turkeys for the occasion.

Mom and my dad, J.D., would have been thrilled to have greeted the generous bankers bearing gifts and would have demanded they sit down and join us for homemade tamales — the kind only Mom could make. Continue reading

Executing the ‘J.D. Slam’

A simple act of closing a car door inspired this column. Even I find it hard to have so many memories conjured up from this basic action. Let me explain:

Cars built this century generally have door-closing mechanisms that require only the slightest bit of energy to assure a tight seal. Cars built last century ­ ­— and that covers a wide span — often failed to close completely on the first try.

Well, in my family, the first car we owned was built in the first half of the past century, but it behaved as if Ben Hur himself had been on the assembly line and in the driver’s seat. In the ‘50s, neither men nor women needed gym memberships, as the effort expended in closing a car door helped develop bulging biceps and bigger triceps.

Let’s be more specific: My sister-in-law, Gina, came up with the term “The J.D. Slam,” in honor of my dad, who owned those initials, and who almost never shut a car door quietly or gently. The ‘49 DeSoto we owned routinely sprung back open each time I tried to close it; it was as if there were nothing to make it latch on to the car body. Nothing. Continue reading

A great memory for names

One of my dreams as a teacher was to be able to greet students years after they’d moved on, and to be able to address them by their names, not just “Hi, there.”

That lasted through the first week of my 8 a.m. class at Highlands University. As hard as I tried, there’d always be a set of twins with almost identical names and looks, or a Señor Muy Tarde who either failed to show up most of the time or signed his name illegibly or failed to articulate.

In the 30 years that I wore my teacher hat, I didn’t have much luck earning the praise of students who I hoped would marvel at my ability to remember names.

If you’ve taken classes or worked at Highlands, you probably know where this is going. You see, not only was Dr. Robert (Bob) Amai a superior college professor but he also had that kind of memory that could recall names.

Amai died earlier this month, leaving his wife, Pat, and daughter Wendy. Continue reading