Showing posts with label Joseph D'Agnese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joseph D'Agnese. Show all posts

24 November 2023

The Holiday for Math Geeks Hidden in November

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the United States. But if you happen to be an American mathematician, yesterday was more than just turkey and families. It was Fibonacci Day, so named because the month and date—in American notation, anyway—expressed the first four digits in the famous number sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3. (Oh, to have been alive on 11/23/58!) To talk about that, I’m repurposing an article I wrote years ago for a website that has since gone dark.

In 1996, I was floundering with a children’s picture book manuscript on the life of the medieval mathematician Leonardo of Pisa (~1170-1250), better known as Fibonacci.

Leonardo helped convert Europe from the Roman numerals I-II-III to the Hindu-Arabic numerals 1-2-3, and introduced the west to the world’s most important nonentity: zero. Without it, we’d have no concept of place value. He is best known for a word problem about multiplying rabbits, and the number pattern derived from it called the Fibonacci Sequence.

Fibonacci, as drawn by New Yorker cartoonist John O'Brien

My dilemma was two-fold: First, the real Leonardo never knew that Fibonacci numbers occur in nature. Later mathematicians and scientists made that association.

Either I wrote about Fibonacci or I wrote about the Sequence. I had trouble unifying the two because it didn’t happen that way.

Second, facts on Leonardo’s life are sparse: He grew up in Pisa, sailed to Algeria to keep his merchant father’s accounts, and later traveled the then-known world studying mathematics. A few of his math tomes have survived, but they tell us little of his personal life. To write a picture book about him, one ought to know what made him tick.

What, I wondered, drives a person to chase numbers across the world?

Statue of Leonardo in Pisa today. 

I was intrigued by Leonardo’s Latin nickname, Bigollus. A funny name could make a good book title, but I couldn’t find an authoritative translation. The Fibonacci Association offered an expert. I dreaded making that call. I’m not a mathematician. Indeed, who was I to write such a book?

Herta Taussig Freitag, a professor emeritus of mathematics, took the call in Virginia. She had a thick German accent, and proved to be a delightful, friendly, patient person who was tickled to be speaking with a (then) editor of a math magazine for children.

She had wanted to become a teacher of mathematics since age 12. (As a girl in her native Austria, she had once written in her diary, “I don’t want just to be a teacher of mathematics. I want to be a good teacher of mathematics.”)

We had a long chat, and she assured me that I was grappling with a genuine mystery. No one was satisfied with the translation of Fibonacci’s nickname. It could mean “wanderer,” “daydreamer,” or “absent-minded.” The words seemed in line with modern stereotypes of academics. In modern Italian, a bighellone is a loafer, a slouch, loiterer, dawdler, or gadabout. You get the idea.

When we concluded our call, I promised to send her copies of our magazine. Days after the magazine arrived at her home, a note from the professor arrived in my mail, penned in exquisite calligraphy. “As I have said over the phone,” it read in part, “I feel like praising you and thanking you for doing such valuable service to our Goddess Mathesis!”

The note cheered me. Mathesis is a Greek word meaning knowledge or science, but Freitag and her colleagues had elevated that word to the status of a feminine divine creature said to inspire math scholars.

The math muse inspired me now: What if Fibonacci knew the secret of his famous numbers all along? What if this book was in fact his sly manifesto written only for children?

I’ve never told anyone the secret of my numbers, he could say, but now I’ve told you.

Having Fibonacci speak directly to the reader could make the book playful. Kids—not to mention a certain octogenarian academic—might like it. The manuscript came together nicely, and a year or so later, Holt offered to publish it. I called it Blockhead. An illustrator got to work on the sketches. I phoned the professor to tell her the news. It had been a while since our first talk, and her fragile voice spoke volumes. I rang off, apologizing for disturbing her. She and I never spoke again. She died in 2000 at the age of 91.

Soon after, the book became a problem project, dragging on for years with little progress. Finally, the illustrator quit, forcing us to start from scratch. John O’Brien, a marvelous illustrator, musician, Jersey boy, and a longtime New Yorker cartoonist, took the job. All told, the book took fourteen years to reach bookstores. I was frustrated and angry, but now consider myself fortunate. I had time to polish the prose, understand my hero, and learn about the woman who brought Mathesis to my doorstep.

Professor Freitag had earned a degree in mathematics in Austria, but fled her homeland after Hitler’s invasion in 1938. For six years, she put her dream of teaching on hold while working as a domestic in England, angling for a visa to the USA. She finally came by freighter. She earned her PhD at Columbia University at age 45. She built the math department at Hollins University in Roanoke, and for decades inspired young women. She published papers well into her last decade, gave a “last lecture” for 20 years, and never missed a meeting of the Fibonacci Association, which is devoted to the analysis of those famous numbers. Just how much do these people love the Fibonacci Sequence? Well, let’s just say that their quarterly magazine chose to celebrate not Freitag’s 90th birthday, but her 89th, since 89 is a Fibonacci number.

The color photo of her (top right) of this page was taken in Lucca, Italy, during a conference at Leonardo’s hometown, Pisa.

How can I complain about a book’s long genesis? Imagine leaving your home forever, and putting your dream career on hold for six years while you worked as a maid, restaurant server, or governess? How many of us would have given up? Yet she clung to her passion.

With time I came to understand him through her. A young boy boards a medieval ship and sets sail on a journey to a faraway land. A young woman steps on a freighter bound for New York with only $10 in her purse. I picture them both and know they are plying the seas toward something only they can hear: the ancient call of Mathesis.

I am older now and tend to view Mathesis in the original Greek sense—knowledge, science, learning, mental discipline—and I cling stubbornly to the hope that she speaks to us all. With luck, she strikes young and old alike. Hand a book to a child and you never know what will enchant them. With her voice in their ears, some kids chase math, others art, still others music, rocks, dance, nuclear physics, whatever.

She goes by various names, but she is the same goddess.

* * * 

On that note: If you are thinking about giving to a good cause this season, please consider buying a book for a child. One of our own, crime writer Duane Swierczynski, lost his daughter Evie to cancer in 2018. The Team Evie Foundation holds an annual book drive to benefit the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Five indie bookstores (and Amazon) maintain wish lists of titles approved by the hospital, which you can buy direct from the store websites. (One of the indies can only handle in-person orders.) Survey the list of stores and books at the Team Evie events page. The drive closes December 4th.

I wish my American colleagues a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. 

See you in three weeks!


03 November 2023

Three Indigenous Mysteries for Kids

From Rez Detectives

This past summer, my wife and I visited nearby Cherokee, North Carolina, for that city’s annual 4th of July powwow, billed as one of this continent’s largest gatherings for Native American singing, dancing, and drumming competitions. We’ve gone before, because the event is spectacular on its own, and because the history of the region—best experienced in the museum, craft co-op, living village, and long-running stage show—is fascinating.

It is also excruciatingly sad. The U.S. federal government forcibly removed 11,000 Cherokee from the American Southeast in the 1830s, consigning them to the notorious Trail of Tears and the so-called Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. Many Cherokee resisted that government order, hiding in the nearby mountains. Their descendants, and others who returned, comprise what is known today as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (ECBI).

The times we’ve visited the Qualla Boundary, the Cherokee land trust, we always stop in at Talking Leaves Bookstore, which exclusively features books and other media devoted to many indigenous cultures. The mystery section prominently displays, for example, the works of Tony and Anne Hillerman. The store also carries some DVDs of TV series such as Dark Winds, based on Hillerman’s series in Navajo country, and Reservation Dogs, about Muscogee Nation teens mourning the loss of a friend and grappling with life in rural Oklahoma.

The latter got me thinking: are there mysteries for kids that feature indigenous characters? There are quite a few, yes. I picked up three, which I thought I’d share with you today as we start Native American Heritage Month here in the United States. Let’s see what we’ve got.

The Rez Detectives: Justice Served Cold, text by Steven Paul Rudd, Tvli Jacob, illustrations by M.K. Perker. (Literati Press Comic & Novels, $12.99).

In the gentlest of the three books—a hardcover comic book—fifth grader Tasembo wakes on a hot summer day craving a delicious ice cream cone. When the ice cream truck doesn’t show up, all the kids in this Choctaw neighborhood are naturally concerned. Turns out, all the vendor’s stock has been stolen! Determined to crack the case, Tasembo teams with the smartest girl in his class, the sweetly nerdy Nuseka, who sports a lab coat and totes forensics equipment in a suitcase. 

Nuseka collects footprints with plaster molds, dusts for prints, and sets traps to collect both from suspects. Along the way, we learn interesting tidbits about reservation life, tribal councils, and the kids’ attitudes about them. When Tasembo comments that the ice cream man has a stellar record for punctuality, Nuseka quips, “Maybe he overslept. Indian time finally caught up with him.” When Nuseka lapses into pig latin to avoid sharing a secret with others, Tasembo replies: “Are you speaking Kiowa or something?” 

The characters directly address the fact that many Native Americans are lactose intolerant. (Eighty percent of African Americans and Natives are.) They speculate that the theft is the work of the Kowi Anuk Asha, little people who dwell in the forest. Alas, the culprit proves to be all too human. 

A very fun story with charming illustrations. Author Judd (Kiowa/Choctaw) is a clothing designer, writer, and visual artist; his collaborator Jacob (Choctaw) is a producer, director, and clinical professor of psychiatry. Intended for readers aged 10-13, grades 4-6, though I think it could skew younger.

The Case of Windy Lake, by Michael Hutchinson (The Mighty Muskrats Mystery Series, Second Story Press, $10.95). 

When an elderly white archeologist goes missing while doing some routine work for a local mining company on the lands of the Windy Lake First Nation in Canada, four young cousins known as the Mighty Muskrats team up to find the poor fellow before he expires in the harsh wilderness. 

This series is five books strong at this point, and Hutchinson (Misipawistik Cree, Treaty 5 territory) says he was inspired by the old Three Investigators series attributed to Alfred Hitchcock but written by Robert Arthur Jr. and a team of ghostwriters. 

That said, The Mighty Muskrats plots are strongly influenced by Hutchinson’s work as an investigative journalist. In this volume, we witness a community struggling with a classic dilemma: do they preserve the old ways and their land, or allow a despoiling mining company to bring much-needed jobs to the region? The cousins—Atim, Sam, Chickadee, and Otter—display a warm, loving relationship with each other and with others in their nation. Their uncle is a tribal cop. Their Grandpa is a wise respected Elder. Their older cousin is an angry activist. A larger cast of uncles, aunties, council Elders, and older cousins and sibs chime with offhand comments that turn out to be vital clues. Everyone is skeptical of the motives of Anglo archeologists, rapacious corporations, and the Canadian government. 

In this case, the kids’ deductions hinge upon an understanding of the behavior of local birds of prey, the rise and fall of lake water levels due to the nearby hydro dam, and modern meteorology. Readers will come away with a powerful understanding of many concepts dear to this community, among them the value of vision quests: “Once you see the world beyond your needs, it becomes easier to see your dreams and how you can contribute.” A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Ages 9-12, grades 4-7.

Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley (Firekeeper’s Daughter series, Macmillan, $14.99). 

Eighteen-year-old Daunis is a young woman living near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, who dreams of going off to college to become a doctor. She’s forced to put her dreams on hold when her grandma suffers a stroke. Born out of wedlock to a white mom from a wealthy family, and an Ojibwe hockey player dad, she has always felt like she doesn’t quite fit in. When Daunis witnesses a murder, the FBI compels her to go undercover to smash a drug ring that is devastating the community. Now she’s really caught between two worlds. 

Author Boulley (Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa) labored 10 years on the book, while raising her kids, enduring a divorce, and serving as the director of the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education in DC. She told one interviewer that she often wrote scenes while sitting in the stands at her kids’ hockey games.

Unusual for a debut novel, the book hit No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list upon release, and racked up a slew of starred reviews and awards. Reese Witherspoon picked it for her book club, the Obamas are producing a Netflix series based on the title. The second book is set in the same region, and features some of the same characters. (I have not read that one.)

Tell me: when was the last time you’ve seen a book garner more than 12,000 Amazon or 135,000 Goodreads ratings, largely glowing? That said, this is a doorstopper—nearly 500 pages—and filled with all the things that frighten witless adults about YA books: sex, drugs, crime, language, you name it. Ages 14-18, grades 10-12.

I’m sorry to say that these only scratch the surface of what’s available out there in the genre. If you know of other titles, please share them. 

From Rez Detectives

See you in three weeks!


13 October 2023

Eating My Words


Not accepted as a form of payment anywhere in the world.

I have told this story in various ways over the years, and it always makes people chuckle. So here I go again.

When I was freelancing years ago for The New York Times, I calculated that they were paying me under 50 cents a word for the twice-monthly, 750-1,000-word columns I wrote for the Sunday New Jersey section. 

I know that short story writers are accustomed to payment rates under 10 cents a word, but in the realm of journalism you tend to get paid better. Not far better, mind you; just better. Most writers know that there’s not much money in freelancing for newspapers, especially ones like the Times. Still, every month I could count on $1,000 income from this gig alone. And it was fun. I wrote about “destinations,” places to go and things to do in ye Olde Garden State.

One day my editor called with a weird proposition. They were running short, under-300-word reviews of local restaurants, and he wondered if I could contribute a few. I asked about payment.

“We used to pay about $50 each,” he said, “but now we have these coupons for pie.”

I’ve had hearing issues my whole life, and wear hearing aids. So I often second-guess myself and ask people to restate what they just said. (Not a bad practice for a reporter.) My editor explained that a fancy bakery near the newspaper had given them these vouchers and that they were using them as a way to thank people. An extra bonus, so to speak, to make up for the low $50 payment.

Or that’s how I heard it.

Of course, I misheard. Actually, instead of paying $50, these coupons were the only form of payment I was to receive.

There’s so much wrong with this picture. For starters, to write a decent restaurant review—even a capsule review—you still have to eat at the place. Ideally, you would eat there more than once, with guests each time. That’s how the pros do it; you bring as many appetites as possible so you can try different dishes. But by their action, my editors were basically saying that since they were unable to reimburse reporters for these meals, they were offering them dessert instead.

Like any brainless freelancer, I said yes and started working these capsule reviews into my reporting/writing schedule. I’d eat at a place incognito, then phone later to speak to a chef, manager, or owner if I had any questions about ingredients, menu items, or the restaurant’s history. If anyone asked, I’d say I was writing a review for the Times. It was true. They didn’t need to know that it was for the New Jersey section of the paper, how short they were, or the absurd writer compensation.

I did a bunch of these reviews. And because I had misheard the editor, believing the pie thing to be a joke or perhaps an extra thank-you, I actually invoiced them $50, plus expenses, for each review. They always paid. But after each one, I’d get a coupon in the mail for a free pie at the fancy bakery.

I had a stack of these coupons and collected a few hundred dollars before accounting caught on and my poor editor called, embarrassed, to explain the situation. I forget how we remedied the overpayment. I’m guessing they recovered the article fees from my later assignments, but let me keep the expense money. (They were always generous on expenses, covering meals, phone calls, and mileage for other stories I wrote for them.)

I redeemed the pie coupons infrequently, I must say. The pie shop was in an inconvenient location in Midtown that I rarely visited. The one time I called to claim a bunch of pies for a party I was about to attend, the baker-in-chief told me that I could only get two free pies at any one time with those coupons. To make things worse, the pies were a little on the small side. Stereotypical Manhattan meal pricing. Delicious, but minuscule.

It remains one of the strangest ways I’ve ever been paid for my work. And for a little while, perhaps a summer or so, I liked to think of myself as being the hit of parties when I showed up with two boxes of free pie and a story of professional debasement and exploitation to boot.

Now let us pray at the Church of Uncle Harlan. Apologies in advance if his language offends you. If it does, how dare you call yourself a writer? Get to a bar this very minute and practice cussing between rounds. I know you have it in you!

To which I would add, the writer must be paid in currency, not pie.

* * * 

See you in three weeks!


22 September 2023

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the My-Time

A man named Karl who lived in Germany in the 19th Century was a jack-of-all-trades. A skinner at a local slaughterhouse. A dog catcher. A tax collector at a time when one literally went door to door collecting cash payments. And a night watchman. Anything to make ends meet.

Karl (left) with friends, canine and human.

Karl needed to keep himself and the town’s funds safe as he strolled or patrolled the streets of the burgeoning industrial city of Apolda in Thuringia. Since Karl and his buddies loved dogs, and often frequented the city’s annual “dog market,” he hit upon the idea of breeding himself an animal to accompany him on his rounds. A four-footed security guard who would stick by his side and keep strangers at bay. A dog bred not for the field but for city streets. When Karl died in 1894, his canine-loving friends perfected that breed, which they named in honor of their departed friend, Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann.*

Cut to Summer 2019. I am standing at the edges of a decimated vegetable garden in North Carolina. Just as our veggies reach perfection, they become a banquet for the neighborhood’s rabbits and wild turkeys. The chief culprit is a groundhog who resides under our shed. Some days, I spot the plump marauder sunning itself in the yard. The effrontery! One day, I spot two.

“It’s a female!” I tell my wife. “She just had babies!”

Judging from the number of groundhogs we spotted over the ensuing years, Lady Whistle-Pig was popular with the gents.

One day, after surveying another truncated zucchini plant and chomped tomatoes, my wife announced, “We need a dog!” 

I resisted. What do parents always tell their kids before bringing that puppy home? It’s a big responsibility. I wasn’t sure I wanted that. Except for the garden, I had perfected the art of sedentary living and marriage to my keyboard. A dog would wreck that.

Weeks passed, and Denise refined her requirements. We needed a smart dog. “I’m not going to have a stupid dog,” she said adamantly.

Two friends of hers had each recently gotten German shepherds, which appear prominently on lists of the world’s smartest breeds. These lists vary slightly, depending on who’s drawing them up. Anthropocentric to a fault, humans equate canine intelligence with trainability. The border collie is always No. 1, the standard poodle No. 2, the German shepherd No. 3. Also popular are golden retrievers (N0. 4) and Labrador retrievers (No. 7). The Australian cattle dog always makes the list too, around No. 10. Damn smart dogs, the Aussies.

A friend of ours—a canine and equine artist—dissuaded us from the German shepherd. “Do you like the idea of cleaning up rolling tumbleweeds of fur around your house?” he asked.

We didn’t.

He recommended a Dobie. As a former vet tech, he believed Herr Dobermann’s breed ticked three basic boxes: They were among the Top 10 intelligent breeds, usually ranking at No.5. They were less unpredictably bitey than shepherds. They shed minuscule amounts of eyelash-sized hair. And as an artist well versed in canine anatomy he regarded them as drop-dead gorgeous.

I grew up in a family with dogs; a golden retriever and later a mutt. Like Archie Goodwin, I had formed the erroneous impression that all dogs loved me. It never occurred to me to ask someone, “Is your dog friendly?” before approaching them.

In short, I was an idiot, and remained so until the day a neighbor’s Rottweiler took me for a snack. As the dog’s jaws clamped on my wrist—I still have the scar—two thoughts occurred to me in quick succession:
  1. Gee, he’s strong enough to crush my wrist.
  2. Huh—I probably should be wary of dogs.
Getting a Doberman to protect one’s vegetables seemed like overkill. Any yapping canine would do. During the pandemic, I surfed the web to research Dobermans, which in my uninformed view were just as fearsome as the pooch that bit me.

I learned that Karl’s breed are the only dogs created for personal protection. He and his friends believed that they were breeding “police-soldier dogs.” In World War II, the breed became a dog of choice for the Germans and the U.S. Marines. The latter used them as cave explorers, messengers, scouts, and bomb-sniffers. Twenty-five dogs, mostly Dobies, lost their lives on Guam, where a regal statue of a reclining Doberman stands in the U.S. war dog cemetery there. (More on this story in a future post.) They served as police dogs, too, until police forces moved on to breeds like German shepherds and the Belgian Malinois.

Doberman fanciers and police dog handlers love to pontificate on the reasons for that shift. Dobies have short coats, they say, so they aren’t great for outdoor police work in cold or hot weather. Taping their ears so they grow into the “correct” position is time-consuming. The dogs are too independent. They take too long to mature. Their bite style—bite and shred—makes them undesirable compared to shepherds, who bite and hold a suspect until they can be formally arrested.

On forums frequented by police dog handlers, people insist Euro-dobies are tougher animals. The European Dobermann is bigger and beefier. The American is more gracile. In their zeal to breed a safe family pet, goes the argument, Americans have winnowed the dogs’ natural aggression out of them. Breeders have created animals for show, not street work as originally intended. The American dogs were Little Lord Fauntleroys compared to der Dobermannpinscher.

Which sounded fine to me. It comforted me to see videos of American Dobermans patiently enduring the hugs of human toddlers, babysitting infants in swings, playing in kiddie pools, and serving as therapy and seeing-eye dogs.

Okay, I told Denise, let’s try to get a sit with some breeders. But that became impossible in 2020, when breeders halted their programs for fear that their animals would contract Covid-19 from prospective adopters, or vice versa. I gave up trying. It seemed like a pain in my tailless rump.

So when Denise revisited the dog issue again last summer, I told her we should select a rescue dog from the local shelter. Getting the eyelash-shedding dog of her dreams was unlikely to ever happen. Breeders required you to submit an application to judge your suitability. Did we have a yard that was completely fenced? (No.) Did we have experience taping Doberman ears? (No.) Had we thoroughly researched the dog ordinances in our municipality? (Um, what?) Sheesh.

“It’s way too complicated,” I said.

In early June 2022, we were sitting outdoors, again surveying our trampled garden. Denise peeked at the web on her phone for about three minutes, dialed a number, and in a matter of minutes was speaking with a lovely woman in South Carolina—three hours from our home—who had recently helped her champion female bring nine puppies into the world.

I am at heart a pessimist. If it was that easy to find a puppy, there had to be some catch. You don’t just pick a breeder off the web, I informed her, though that’s exactly what I had attempted to do in 2020. Turns out, she had unknowingly picked the oldest continuing Doberman kennel in the United States. A breeder whose late founder is mentioned lovingly in most textbooks on the breed. When the nine-pup litter was old enough to accept visitors, we drove south, and fell in love with one of the males. The kennel took a deposit, and promised to begin using with him the name we planned to bestow upon him.

I also learned that once in the kennel’s history, one of their dogs achieved fame prancing through the plotlines of this (fictional) detective’s adventures.

Hillerman will always be Simon Brimmer to me.

Well, shoot, I thought, I needed to break out my stash of Hawaiian shirts, and start growing a luxurious mustache. However, I wasn’t sure about sticking my ample keister into a pair of 70s-style short-shorts. But I had time to drop some weight; we would not be getting the dog for another six weeks.

While waiting, I dove back into the research. The breed was known for docked tails and cropped ears, to better reduce handholds for criminals. Ironically, in the 1980s European kennel clubs banned the practice of surgically altering dogs of any breed. They now regarded the practice as cruel and inhumane. Naturally, the erect ears and short tails remain the breed standard in the United States.

Hearing this, my own ears perked up. I had watched numerous videos on how to insert and wrap posts in my future puppy’s ears until his cartilage grew to support them in the customary position. We’d need to do this every five days, for 10 months at minimum. It looked daunting, fiddly, and prone to error.

We shot a note to the breeders. Please, oh pretty please, could we have our dog intact? The floppy ears issued at birth were perfectly fine with us. We never intended to show the dog. We just wanted him to protect our damn tomatoes.

Sorry, said they, the ears are already done. We cannot sell a dog that does not conform to the breed standard.

I haven’t talked much about this publicly, but during this period my doctors gave me a troubling medical diagnosis. Luckily, the cancer was eminently treatable. But I would be shuttling daily to two different facilities for treatment. Did we really want the responsibility of a puppy as I endured chemo-radiation? Should we forfeit our deposit and walk away?

We couldn’t abandon this face.

When I was sick and wasting away, I’d wake from an unplanned nap to find the little guy asleep on my belly. When I woke mornings dreading the day, the only thing that got me out of bed was the thought that we had to walk the dog.

Months have passed, and the world looks different. I have grown accustomed to people stopping to say, “Sir, you have a very pretty dog.” (For some reason, it’s always hefty Southern gentlemen who use this phraseology.) I’m in remission, healthier, and stronger. I’ve gained back some of the forty-five pounds I lost, but constant walks and puppy training sessions have kept excess poundage at bay. I know the trails in the woods behind my house far better than I ever did before, and walk about 10 miles more a week than I ever have. My cholesterol’s dropped. Even my eyesight is better.**

Without hesitation I can say that this animal has saved my life.

Still, it’s challenging living with an 80-pound lap dog who doesn’t know his own strength. True to Herr Dobermann’s vision, the dog follows me everywhere—except when on a leash. He chases fish and tadpoles in the pond below the house, even though he’s too heavy to swim gracefully. He detests the rain, and won’t deign to walk in it. He peers curiously at passing hawks, crows, airplanes, but growls at the occasional Chinook helicopter. After each morning’s walk, he insists upon sitting perfectly erect in the front yard, head swiveling to check the perimeter of the entire neighborhood.

The groundhog under the shed is long gone. I must have missed the moving truck. Rabbits, turkeys, feral cats, and squirrels do not tarry long within our fenceline.

But since Mother Nature is a prankster, we have new problem.

The dog’s new favorite thing? Tearing up and scattering tomato plants to the four winds. Who can blame him? It’s the best fun ever.

* * *

* In Europe, kennel clubs retain two N’s when referring to the breed; in the U.S., it’s one N. The Europeans also reject the term pinscher, which means terrier, as inaccurate; Americans continue to use it.

** I know this sounds incoherent at first glance. But conditions such as ocular hypertension are apparently reduced by something called exercise. Never tried it until now.

Query: If anyone knows of dog handlers who have worked with the breed in law enforcement or military settings, kindly get in touch. I’m collecting interviews for a future nonfiction project.

See you in three weeks!


01 September 2023

Yikes! and Crickets! The Happy Hollisters are back!

Where do you stand on rewriting or editing the work of long-dead authors? Yes, I am thinking of the recent articles we’ve all seen about revising the work of such authors as Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, Ursula LeGuin, and Roald Dahl, among others.

I’m asking for a few other reasons.

One: I was just in a casino—I swear I was there for research—and encountered a ton of slot machines derived from literary works. Willy Wonka slot machines. James Bond slot machines. Game of Thrones, and The Lord of the Rings slot machines. Granted, these slots were devoted to filmed versions of these literary properties. But it nevertheless reminded me that there is big money in keeping the literary heritage of an author as trouble-free as possible. No wonder the heirs of various estates are tempted to permit revision of their ancestor’s work. They want book sales and licensing deals to keep rolling in until the copyrights have expired.

Two: I’m also asking because I recently revisited a couple of books in a mystery series I’d enjoyed as a kid. Those books not only raised the question of revision, but, to my mind, complicated the issue even further. It’s back-to-school time in the U.S., so I thought this might make an interesting conversation. But I warn you right now: I cannot easily answer some of the questions I will pose to you. I actually hope that you can help me.

The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach is the third book in the series I’m talking about, but it was the first to hook me as a kid. It’s the story of a family of amateur sleuths who search for a long-lost pirate ship while on a beach vacation. When I discovered the book at a library sale in the early 1970s, it struck me as aspirational. A family that goes on a vacation to the beach at a moment’s notice? To solve a mystery? Parents who don’t berate their kids about how much this trip is costing? Sold!

It never occurred to me that the Happy Hollisters were part of a larger franchise until I discovered a stash of 15 more titles at a yard sale. By then, I was a little older, and I marveled at how all the loose ends of the plots wrapped neatly in 182 or 184 pages like clockwork.

Only recently did I learn that the Hollisters were part of the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew empire. Their return to the publishing stage in the 21st Century can be seen as a triumph of self publishing, and an object lesson on the importance of preserving one’s intellectual property.


The series ran from 1953 to 1969. They were written by “Jerry West,” a pen name for Andrew E. Svenson, a total Jersey boy—born, schooled, married, and employed first at a newspaper in the Garden State. In mid-1940s, he joined the Stratemeyer Syndicate, then based in East Orange, New Jersey. Svenson wrote about 80 books for the firm, including books in the Hardy Boys series.

In 1950, when the firm began revamping those books to purge them of the offensive racism that had nearly gotten them axed by their publisher, Grosset & Dunlap, Svenson oversaw that operation, revising titles that he himself and other writers had written years earlier. (I’m not going to delve into the specifics of that revision project; that’s what Prof. Wiki is for.) Franchises such as the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew have since been revised numerous times to fit those characters into the modern world. Before anyone was thinking of purging James Bond or Hercule Poirot or Willy Wonka, the Stratemeyer Syndicate and the publishers who later acquired their stable of stories routinely updated the old books. It was what you did if you wanted to keep selling. I’d venture to say that anyone who grew up on those books would agree that revising them in the 1950s was probably a good thing.

Andrew Svenson, 1948 photo. (Courtesy

Svenson outlined and wrote Hardy Boys books along with a coterie of largely anonymous syndicate writers. But he alone was responsible for conceiving, outlining, and writing the Happy Hollisters series, which ran for 33 books.

The Hollisters, who live in the fictional town of Shoreham, consisted of a mom, dad, five kids, a dog, a cat, and—in the later books—a donkey adopted on a trip to Puerto Rico.


Svenson was inspired by his own family. He and his wife lived in the suburb of Bloomfield, New Jersey, with six kids and a bevy of pets. When he traveled, alone or with the brood, Svenson collected ideas for stories. Back home, he’d draft a working outline, and dictate a 33,000-word Hollister book in about a month. The children’s literature archives at the University of Mississippi preserve many of the audio discs Svenson generated on a Sound Scriber device, as well as the initial manuscripts later typed by secretaries. Each book is about 18 chapters of about 1,600 words each. Sticking to that formula was how he managed to hit that 180-page target that impressed me so much as a young reader. He would have had to write about two books a year to reach 33 titles in the span of time he worked on those.

As they travel the USA and the globe, the Hollisters encounter new cultures and find themselves in the middle of a new (yet always murderless) mystery. For the era, the books were considered educational since they delved into different topics—sign language, braille, coin collecting, new cuisines, foreign languages, just to name a few. The photos Svenson collected on his travels informed the illustrations later created by Helen S. Hamilton.

In the heyday of the Syndicate, the Hollister series sold about 11 million books. It was the bestselling mystery series for younger readers at the time. Doubleday and Stratemeyer severed their Hollister contract in 1971, though there had not been any new books for some time. Before he died in 1975, Svenson and the Syndicate tried to tempt new publishers, but found no takers. The Syndicate transferred the copyright to Svenson’s heirs, who tried for a few more decades to interest other publishers. Nothing doing.

In 2010, Svenson’s grandchildren re-launched the series as a self-publishing venture, carefully retyping the entire series—1.1 million words—into digital form for the first time, and carefully digitizing the original Hamilton images and covers. One by one, they re-issued the books as ebooks, paperbacks, hardcovers, and eventually audiobooks. They connected with fans via social media, a website, and homeschooling conferences. The final reissued book pubbed last year. Reviewers on Amazon largely celebrate the books as wholesome, and routinely cheer their happy endings.

On one hand, there’s a powerful lesson here for all writers. Currently, copyright in the United States extends for the life of the author plus 70 years. We have all heard stories of “orphaned” author estates, where the work of a writer disappears because no one has been empowered to license their work after their deaths.

The Svensons—via The Hollister Family Properties Trust—lucked out by making their own luck. Svenson’s widow wisely renewed the copyrights of all the books, which was necessary at the time. His children and grandchildren were all well-educated, many of them with backgrounds in publishing, radio, marketing, and catalog sales. If there was one family who was not going to lose their father’s legacy, it was this one.

That all said, how well do the books hold up?

The reissued Hollister volumes preserve Svenson’s words exactly as they were originally published. As I re-read Sea Gull Beach, I continued to be amazed by Svenson’s gift for compression, keeping the plot humming along quickly, and ending nearly every chapter with a cliffhanger.

I certainly came across language and scenarios that struck me as antiquated. Eleven-year-old Pam Hollister wonders if girls are allowed to enter the kite contest at Sea Gull Beach. Prior to their trip, the siblings mount a pirate play to benefit a local hospital for “Crippled Children.”

In The Indian Treasure, the fourth book in the series, the Hollisters visit the Native American Pueblos of New Mexico. They learn about adobe houses, historic pueblo structures and kivas, turquoise jewelry, the Hispanic culture of the Southwest, chili con carne, and more. That all struck me as truly educational. Svenson researched Pueblo culture by connecting with Popovi Da, a legendary Native American artist, and docents with a famed tour company.

In the 21st book, The Haunted House Mystery, which features a deaf character and sign language, Svenson thanks his contacts at a school for the hearing impaired. So we have this impression of a conscientious author trying to get his facts straight. And remember, Svenson—a longtime member of the Mystery Writers Association—is the guy Stratemeyer turned to when they needed to revise their older books. He was seen by his peers as an open-minded writer who could be trusted to portray all characters with decency.

Yet there’s still a moment in The Indian Treasure—just one—where an individual is described as a redskin. When the Hollister kids are playing, their shouts of joy are described as “war whoops.” A lot of their conversation touches on all the “nice Indians” they’re meeting, perhaps implying that there are “bad Indians.”

I could go on, probably, but you get the idea. As I read The Indian Treasure, knowing the history of the Stratemeyer titles, the former children’s editor in me thought, “Wow, this would have been so easy to fix. The book is already 90 percent respectful to other cultures. Why not revise it so it’s perfect for the 21st Century?”

That’s where I had to slap myself and ask myself the question I asked you at the beginning. Books are a snapshot in time. When the author says it’s done, it’s done. Dame Agatha did in fact famously revise the book we now know as And Then There Were None for the American market, eradicating its inherent racism. She was alive to do that work, though her UK publishers changed the UK title in the 1980s, after her death. In the New York Times article I link to above, her great-grandson says the book would have been unpublishable if they hadn’t.

Christie, Fleming, LeGuin, and Dahl aren’t here to revise their books anymore, and neither is Svenson. My current thinking is that if a book is problematic, the publisher can at the very least provide a disclaimer. The Svenson heirs have done exactly this. The copyright pages of the new Hollister books all carry this language: “Certain events, terminology and behaviors are presented in this volume exactly as originally printed. In retaining potentially confusing and questionable situations, the publisher offers the opportunity for valuable ‘teaching moments’ for today’s reader.”

I think that’s the way to go. I mean, this is a series that presents a post-war America where diversity is largely nonexistent. The Hollisters are white kids who live in a largely white neighborhood. But that describes most of the old movies cinephiles celebrate today. Heck, it describes a ton of modern movies and TV programs. As an aside, I’ll note that Svenson did in fact write the first African American mystery series for Stratemeyer, featuring a five-kid family not unlike the Hollisters. I’m tracking down a few of those original volumes to review.

That said, aside from the cultures they visit, the Hollisters don’t ever meet anyone who isn’t white unless the plot necessitates the diverse character’s presence. An encounter with a Native American baseball player in their hometown is the inciting plot point of The Indian Treasure, for example. Changing the plot to “correct” the Native American issue would not fix the overwhelming whiteness. You’d have to revise the entire series.

That brings up a host of questions I don’t feel qualified to answer, or even grapple with. But’ll throw them all at you, because some of you have been at this game longer than I have, and probably can offer some coherent responses.

If it was okay to revise the old Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews, why isn’t it okay to revise Fleming, Dahl, LeGuin, or Christie?

Is it because the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew aren’t considered great literature?

Because they were written by an ever-revolving team of house writers?

Because they were mystery novels for kids?

What’s really the issue? Are we okay protecting kids from potentially troubling content, but comfortable allowing adult readers to make up their own minds about the content they consume?

How does this connect with banning books?

And while your eyes are still bleeding, let me lob the most important one at you: Why won’t the Willy Wonka slot machine recognize that I’m a huge fan of the Gene Wilder movie, and let me win big time?

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See you in three weeks!


11 August 2023

The Day-Hike Bag We Should Have Brought (But Didn’t)

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway, in summer.

About a month ago we set out for an impromptu hike at a nearby state park. We haven’t hiked since before the pandemic. The idea popped into our heads the night before, when we saw that the weather would be beautiful. I am the world’s least spontaneous person, so I mentioned to my wife that I really needed to spend the rest of today preparing for tomorrow.

I’d ghosted a book for NBC-TV’s medical and science correspondent, Dr. John Torres, who has kindly contributed to SleuthSayers in the past. Somewhere in that book was a list of what to pack for a day hike. Dr. Torres—an avid outdoorsman, former Air Force pilot, and ER physician—shared horror stories of people bringing nothing or an incomplete kit on short hikes, and later encountering problems that could have been averted. On his advice, during 2020 I assembled a much more complex “Bug-Out Bag” that would have sustained us if we had to traverse the terrain of Middle Earth to drop jewelry into a volcano.

I just needed a few hours to transfer some choice pieces of equipment from the big bag to the smaller bag. “It can’t be rushed!” I told Denise. “I need time to think.”

“We’ll be back in no time!” she scoffed. 
By now she well knows my penchant for overthinking things. But hey, does no one remember that the shipwreck that birthed 99 episodes of Gilligan’s Island originated as a three-hour tour?

The upshot: we set off with nothing more than water bottles strapped to our waists and some snacks for the dog.

A lot can happen in an hour in the woods. Seeing a trio of other dogs, our guy tore ahead on the trail, tugging my wife so hard that she tripped on a tree root, and sprained two of her fingers. Hike over, folks!

As we headed home, she remarked that she couldn’t believe how quickly her hand had morphed into a hideous, purplish balloon. She iced it upon reaching civilization, but gee, it really would have been nice to have had one of those instant cold packs in our (nonexistent) bag.

While it is still summer, I thought I would share Dr. Torres’s list with you, with my own commentary. Most of us are capable of assembling these basic items, either at your local pharmacy, a reputable outdoor store, or via online shopping. And who doesn’t love shopping?

Dr. Torres’s List:

Blister or moleskin bandages. These bandages are designed to cover a fresh blister before it pops and becomes painful to walk on. They cushion the blister and keep it from getting worse, then fall off on their own when the blister has sufficiently “heeled.” Look for Compeed or Band-Aid’s Hydro Seal.

Cold-weather clothing. I know it’s summer but deserts and mountains get chilly mornings and nights. If you’ve been sweating or got caught in the rain, you’ll feel cold without a fleece or extra layer.

Duct tape. Why? Because you can do many things with it. You can fashion a quick and dirty splint, for starters, which might have helped us.

Lighter, waterproof matches, or a fire starter tool. I’m listing these in escalating order of complexity. A lighter will be fine if you need to make a fire. But if you run out of fuel or something goes wrong with the flint mechanism, waterproof matches—which can literally be struck underwater—or ferrocerium rods that allow you to start a fire, caveman-style, could be lifesavers.

Food and water for each person. I’m thinking lunch, protein bars, and water bottles; more if you’re staying out for longer.

Headlamp. Dorky? Yes. But these allow you to keep both hands free in the dark while you study a map or compass. They come either rechargeable or battery powered. Take your pick, but make sure you have fresh batteries or a fresh charge before you leave home.

Headlamp (left) and compass.

Insect repellent. ’Nuff said.

Knife or multitool. I like Benchmade for folding knives, Victorinox for Swiss Army-type knives, and Leatherman multitools. Deploying multitools can be a pain if you don’t use them often, so pack a copy of the instructions as well.

Assorted knives/tools. The folding black one (by Benchmade) has a combo blade—half straight, half serrated.

Lightweight emergency blanket. These can be acquired quite cheaply. The chief ingredient is Mylar, which is annoying and crinkly, but helps retain much of your lost body heat. You can find more durable, tarp-like ones that could help you build a makeshift shelter if you needed it. Others resemble sleeping bags. The key is to choose ones that are not too heavy. You can always toss a wool blanket in the trunk of your car, but you need to get off the trail safely first.

Navigation tools. A compass and/or a GPS device.

Small first aid kit. You will want to amp up what you get in the kit from your drugstore. Most do not have the cold packs we so desperately needed, nor cooling gels and packs in case of burns.


It's been a terrible year for ticks where we live. We've used the tweezers and other supplies in here several times.

Tweezers. You want ones with very fine tips for extracting ticks or splinters. I’m fond of the kit put out by Tick-Ease.

Waterproof notebook and pen. You’re a writer, for heaven’s sake! Bring writing materials. Choose ones that won’t crap out if it rains.

Whistle. There are tons of really loud safety whistles on the market. I like the new titanium ones because I have actually crushed cheap plastic ones in my backpack. Dr. Torres taught me that three short blasts on the whistle is the universal code for SOS/HELP. 

That’s the end of Dr. T’s list.

As I reflect on this a few years later, I recognize that things get exponentially more complicated the longer you stay in the woods, and the more people and pets are in your party. For one, you’re obliged to bring along more food and water, not to mention blankets for everyone. 

Dog people recommend packing booties for the pooch. If beloved Rover hurts a paw, you don’t want to be stuck carrying him or her out.

I also notice that our list didn’t recommend bringing toilet paper, which you’ll miss immediately if you really need to go and you’re two miles from a bathroom or transportation. Most state and federal forests urge you to “pack in, pack out,” which means you’d also want Ziploc bags or plastic grocery bags to pick up after yourself, not to mention your animal.

If you want to go deeper—much, much deeper—you might enjoy this Substack post by former SleuthSayer Thomas Pluck, who took a course at a survive-in-the-woods/tracker school in New Jersey that has been in operation for 45 years.

Over to you, gang. Surely I’m not the only one to obsess over this stuff. I’d love to know what items I’ve forgotten, and what you tote when you venture outdoors.

I’ll close by pointing out that the pages of any back issue of EQMM or AHMM would serve as excellent toilet paper. The wonders of pulp fiction.

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See you in three weeks—if I survive the next outing.


21 July 2023

The President Who Played Detective, and other adventures

Replica of Washington's Rising Sun chair, used during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. (The Museum of the American Revolution)

Is it my imagination, or have museums in the U.S. gotten loads better? Last summer I visited the visitor center at Valley Forge National Historical Park, and was impressed that the exhibits integrated two things that would have been unthinkable two decades ago: hands-on learning for kids, and excellent representation of the contributions of women, Native Americans, and people of color.

My childhood memories of this particular episode in the Revolutionary War featured three takeaways: George Washington had a white horse that he either rode or prayed beside; the American troops were poorly outfitted and left bloody footprints in the snow; and gee, the winter weather sure was bad.

I never learned that Washington’s encampment included “camp followers,” typically the spouses of the soldiers who cooked meals for the troops, mended clothing, and performed other valuable services. I didn’t learn that African American soldiers and Native Americans were also among the troops. I didn’t know that other civilians tagged along as well, earning a living selling wares and munitions. The visitor center touched on all of these things, including the fact that General Washington despised the camp followers, calling them a “clog,” i.e. a drain on the army's food and resources. 

Time was, you’d have to specifically visit a children’s museum to find child-height exhibits that asked critical thinking questions and encouraged kids to open boxes, touch replicas, and push buttons to reveal answers or to hear period-appropriate sounds.

When I confessed my astonishment to all this to one of the rangers, he informed me that everything I was seeing was installed during the center’s pandemic closure. Even the film shown in the theater had been revamped to depict troop diversity and the contributions of women.

These sorts of changes to the way we tell American history are often lambasted as revisionist. Others make a big deal when something is Not Taught In Schools, as if the omission is part of a conspiracy. It’s not. I haven’t seen a decent history textbook in forty years that does justice to the breadth and complexity of American history. As a culture, we choose what’s important, and then we water it down even further to create textbooks. For as long as I’ve been alive, the accomplishments of white men was believed to have been of paramount importance. So that’s what we taught. The best teachers I’ve known—of history or anything else—ignore the textbook and teach using materials they’ve discovered through their passion for the subject.

I hit plenty of other museums and historic sites on a recent trip up the coast, following a wedding. I offer these quick capsule reviews.


The Museum of the American Revolution:
This museum dates to 2012. Great assortment of weaponry and Hessian headgear. It has a replica of a pirate ship, a Liberty Tree, a replica of the statue of the King George statue that solders and civilians tore down in 1776 in downtown Manhattan, and melted for bullets. You also learn about colonial-era voting rights for women, and the contributions of women, Africans enslaved or free, and Native Americans to the cause. The crown jewel of the museum collection is the tent used by Washington at Valley Forge. I went to the museum on a weekday, and found that the docents were pretty good at warning you when large school groups are likely to impede your progress through the galleries.

The Betsy Ross House: I’d never been, I’m glad I went, but I’m not sure I’d go again. Most historians question the assertion that Ross sewed the first U.S. flag, a story which came to light about a hundred years after her death in the form of affidavits signed by her descendants. There are wonderful exhibits for kids. You really get a sense of what it was like for a woman to run a successful business as a seamstress and upholsterer in this era. The house is minuscule, and I venture to say that the outside courtyard and attached gift shop comprise more square footage than the entire house. The best book I’ve found on the central question—did she or didn’t she?—is the one by Marla R. Miller.

The President's House: The house where Washington lived during the later years of his presidency no longer stands, but its footprint is smartly delineated by a series of exhibits on the edge of the green in front of Independence Hall. According to Pennsylvania law, any slave who lived in the state for six months automatically became free. To circumvent this law, the Washingtons rotated their slaves so no one person would hit the six-month-mark. Panels and film clips recount the story of an enslaved woman, Ona Judge, who managed to escape to New England and live out her life in freedom. See the book by historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar.

Washington's Privy. (Mt. Vernon)

Franklin Court: Old Ben’s house no longer stands but you can walk the courtyard where he and his family resided. Nearby are a historic post office, print shop, and a museum—all of which I love. But I was a Franklin fan going way back. Round tablets stationed throughout the courtyard tell you where the privies serving this household were once situated. I love historic crap, but not necessarily this version. The only exhaustive book on Franklin’s life in recent years is the one by Walter Isaacson.

While in Philly:
We did cheese it up at Campo’s and Sonny’s, two Center City joints known for cheesesteaks. I split two of these sandwiches in one day with my wife, and lived to tell the tale.

Washington DC:

The National Postal Museum: This was a surprise. You can see replicas of old stagecoaches that delivered mail, and postal train cars that carried postal workers who sorted mail as the train rocketed to their next destination. You can wander a forest, imagining what it was like to travel through colonial America delivering mail and following axe marks on trees to reach the next mail stop. I was astonished to learn that the name of newspapers was originally derived from the method by which they were delivered—hence names such as The Post, Courier, Packet, and so on. All of these exhibits and the Smithsonian’s postal archives are housed in this massive old postal building. There’s a working postal window within the gift shop, where you can buy hot new stamp releases. Highly recommended.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture: This is a very new museum and still hot with tours and school groups. Timed entry is mandatory, and helps keep the pace going. If you start at the beginning, with exhibitions focusing on slavery, you’ll encounter a sluggish series of queues. The pace picks up in later galleries. The biggest takeaway is seeing just how many nations engaged in the slave trade. But it would be incorrect to see the museum solely as the story of slavery in America. It’s so much more, and far too rich to take in on one visit. We’ll be going back. One book I’d recommend: All that She Carried by Tiya Miles.

Colonial Williamsburg: I’d visited here for a blur of a weekend as a kid, and during a book signing event as an adult. This was the first time I actually entered most of the restored structures and spoke with the artisans and docents who bring this place to life. The tinsmith, the pewterer, the printers, and the bookbinders not only know about their craft as it’s practiced today but also how it was conducted in the 1760s-1770s England and Williamsburg. At the drop of tricorn hat, they can quote from interesting historical records they consulted to bone up on their professions. When I asked a gunsmith if the metal parts of their weapons were made by the local blacksmith, he scoffed, “No way! We don't even drink with those guys! We make everything ourselves.” I enjoyed the shops, I enjoyed the period-authentic menus at the restaurants, and I dug the live music. We stayed in an attic room on one of the main drags, which granted us admission tickets for the length of our stay. I’d return again to visit structures closed or under renovation on this time around.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon: I’d never been, and I’d return again. The grounds feature a modern museum, the residence, several outbuildings, a working farm with animals, stunning views of the Potomac, and the tombs of the president and Martha. The most powerful part of our visit was a wreath-laying ceremony at the graveyard of free and enslaved persons. As each new grave is identified (but not exhumed) local scout troops are invited to mark the graves with hand-painted rocks. About 80 burial sites have been located; about 150 people are believed to have been interred here. We befriended a docent and fifer who made this short ceremony all the more special.

He was very proud of that lawn.

I admit that my headline here is clickbaity but I couldn’t resist sharing an anecdote related on the enslaved persons tour. The lawn in front of Mt. Vernon was cut by workers wielding scythes back in the day. Vast lawns were a sign of wealth. Washington instructed his overseers to tell the enslaved workers (about 500 people over the span of years that the couple lived here) not to walk on the grass but to stick to the well-marked paths around it.

Washington arose one morning to find a footprint in the grass. A clever surveyor, he dashed indoors for a measuring tool, recorded the dimensions of the footprint, and instructed his men to visit the slave quarters, measuring feet until they found the culprit. According to our docent, the records state that the unnamed offender was found and severely dealt with. (The presumption is that they were whipped.) The evidence seems skimpy, if you ask me, considering the similarities in people’s foot sizes. But hey, you do you, Detective-in-Chief! Yay Washington. Yay America.

* * * 

BSP: Today I am a proud husband bragging about his wife. Denise had an article appear this week in Rolling Stone, pegged to the opening of the Oppenheimer film that opens this week. You can read it here. You may encounter a paywall, that is apparently applied at random. You can usually read the whole article if you activate your browser's "reader mode."

See you in three weeks!