Back in our high school days, one of our classmates, who I will not reveal (medical privacy), had occasional bleeding gums and told us his mother was taking him to the doctor.

He came back with the diagnosis: scurvy! What air ye? we asked. A pirate?

He was the first and only person I ever knew who had scurvy. “Arr! Avast, me laddie! Explain yourself.”

You would never guess it. As far as I know, he had never set foot on a boat of any kind, and wasn’t about to after that.

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Soul Patch

I have said before that an important use of my tablet is to look up words I am unsure of and would normally guess at their meaning. One of these is “soul patch,” used in a recent New Yorker article about a tailor shop tidying up men who would be appearing on-camera for the Emmy Awards. The article mentioned one customer, “who is fifty-nine, and has a headful of tight salt-and-pepper curls and a soul patch.”

Not me. Close, but not me.

“Soul patch” is an unfamiliar pair of words I could easily pass over without missing much, but with my tablet within reach, it was easy to look up. I could simply speak the words if I wasn’t in the mood for typing.

A “soul patch,” (also known as a “jazz dot”), for those of you at my level of un-hipness, is a small, unshaven patch of whiskers left directly below the lower lip, but above the chin. Also known as a “jazz dot,” it was a style adopted in the 1950s and 1960s by jazzmen, mostly black jazzmen. We see it often, but never call it anything.

It would be appropriate on our classmate Ed Hagopian, but I don’t think it is for me. You never know, though. I sometimes do strange things.  Do any old photos show Pierre du Pont with a soul patch?

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The Stinkbug Invasion

“Home Invasion,” by Kathryn Schulz. The New Yorker, 3/12/2018.

If you only know a stinkbug as a dime-sized, flat, slow bug, you have not dealt with a home invasion by thousands of them. But you will. Eventually, you will. They are relatively new to America—only about ten to twenty years—but they have been busy making more stinkbugs.

Imagine coming home one night, flicking on the light, and seeing hundreds and hundreds crawling on the walls and on every surface. Look behind a picture, and find hundreds more. Shake out the drapes and still more fall out. They’re everywhere,  on top of furniture, under furniture,

What are you going to do? Spray them with a strong, general pesticide? Not in your house. Squash them? That’s when they stink. The best you can do is shoo them outside and hope more are not coming in. Finally, when you think the last are gone, get in bed, turn off the light, and feel them drop on your face from the ceiling (they like heights and are attracted to warmth). For days after, you will find them inside of drawers, in piles of clothes, inside appliances, sharing your bath. The question is not if this will happen, but when.

(I would suggest sucking them up in a shop vacuum and opening it outside.)

My original technique for individual stinkbugs was as good as any. I grabbed them with my hand and threw them out the front door. My wife often said I should kill them, but killing them would not matter to such a huge population and would only stink up my hand.

First, a definition that is fun to know: frasses is insect poop. (Seventy years ago, my sister would love to call me that.) Then, a definition you need to know: “bug” is not synonymous with “insect,” but is a subset of insect. A bug is an insect that has developed mouth parts that pierce and suck, as opposed to mouths built, like ours, to chew.

A stinkbug, as its name says, is a bug, but it can eat a wide variety of things: 15 kinds of trees, such as birch trees, junipers, and maples, plus things we eat, too: broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes, eggplants, grapes, apples, and pears. And that is only the beginning. Scientists have discovered more than 250 other foods they will eat. The wide variety of food makes it difficult to quantify its damage, but no one disputes its significance. The loss in New Jersey peaches, the fourth largest producer, was 60 to 90% in 2010.

Its full name is: brown marmorated stinkbug (marmorated means veined or streaked like marble.) Just last year I crushed one to smell the stink people talk about. I found it to be pleasantly chemical or medicinal; not especially objectionable. But then, I’m a chemist. Most people equate the smell with cilantro.

The stinkbug is native of East Asia where it is kept in check by predators. They probably came to America in a shipping pallet. In 1998, a man from Allentown gave several to Karen Bernhard, an entomologist at Penn State for identification. She sent samples to Richard Hoebeke at Cornell, who properly identified them as the first stinkbugs found in the Western Hemisphere. That was in Pennsylvania. In 1999, they were found in New Jersey. By 2004 they were found in West Virginia and Delaware. The rest is history. They have since migrated as far as Europe, where France calls them the Devil’s thumbtack.

The stinkbug is resistant to pesticides for several reasons. Its waxy shell is difficult for pesticides to penetrate; its relatively long legs keep it standing above surfaces; it eats from the interior of plants where pesticides do not penetrate.

Stinkbugs can survive winters outdoors but prefer to move inside—in the hundreds, in the thousands. When one gets inside, it emits a pheromone that attracts others, and can be detected by other stinkbugs a year later. In the winter, they go into an insect form of hibernation where their activities slow down.  This often means they dribble out into view a few at a time, rather than in a flood.

Numbers matter. Seeing a dozen geese fly across the fall sky in formation is far different from seeing thousands of them gathered in a field. One wildlife biologist in Maryland counted all of the stinkbugs he killed in his own home. He stopped after six months at 26, 205. Corn and soybean farmers have had to turn on the windshield wipers of their combines.

Despite the stinkbug’s size, they can penetrate any opening larger than 7 mm, which means it is virtually impossible to stinkbug-proof a home. They prefer  heights. and  tight, secluded places, such as in stacks of old newspapers or between folds of cloth. Inside, they will move more to the higher floors and search out a linen closet or folded blankets. During the winter, they settle down to a slow pace similar to hibernation where they need little food. Any pesticide designed for indoor use is almost certain to fail.

Some say the best way to kill them is to place them in a baggie and freeze the baggie. Not very practical, but what else can you do?

In East Asia, their numbers are kept in check by a predator, the samurai wasp, but importing predators has had more disasters than successes. No one, as yet, is suggesting that as a cure, although some people have suggested burning down their infected home.

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Engelbert Humperdinck

In His Prime

I was searching for a song and came across his name. He was born in 1936, the same as many of us, but I had not heard of him in years and wondered if he was still alive. (He had sideburns, I had sideburns.  He is of Welsh descent, I am of Welsh descent. He wore a bow tie, I wore a bow tie.  We were twins.)

He is alive and is currently on tour. Born Arnold George Dorsey in India, one of ten children of a British soldier of Welsh descent. His mother is assumed to be Indian, although he claims she was of German descent. When he was ten, the family moved to Leicester, England. By the early 1950s, he was playing saxophone in nightclubs, but did not begin singing until he was 17. He was noted for his impression of Jerry Lewis, and for many years went by the stage name Gerry Dorsey.

In 1965, he took the name of a German 19th century composer of operas, Engelbert Humperdinck, as his stage name to re-ignite his career that eventually took off in early 1969 when he recorded his version of Release Me. He has since been described as “one of the finest middle-of-the-road balladeers around.” His easy-going manner and good looks appealed to many women (that he took full advantage of).

Engelbert and His Wife.

In 1964, he married the drop-dead gorgeous dancer, Patricia Healey. They have stayed married despite his many public affairs, and she has been fighting Alzheimer’s for the past ten years. He says she no longer remembers his name and remains home while he tours.

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The How-Not-To-Ride-a-Bike Ad

It is a Volkswagen ad. It is not meant to be funny, or to teach a lesson, or to show us how stupid girls can be.

It opens by three boys, about 10-years-old, on their bikes, skidding to a stop by a large puddle covering the entire width of the street. They are considering how best to get by it, when a girl about their same age pedals up on her bike, and, without hesitation, rides right through it.

The scene then switches to a usual ad for their four-wheel car that can go through anything (don’t ask me to explain their thinking).

Supposedly, she is the hero of the ad, but she is the foolhardy one, and the boys are absolutely correct. The puddle is large and murky. The bottom is invisible. This is exactly the situation in flooded areas where cars are advised to turn around and never, never try to push through, hoping for the best. But she does, and even laughs at the boys for their caution.

This is bad enough, but the bikes of the three boys all have fenders. Hers does not, and I know from personal experience exactly what will happen. Water will fly off of the spinning rear tire and leave a narrow wet stripe up her back. Even a tiny puddle will cause this.

That is, if she does not hit a submerged rock, falls over in the water, and has to be taken home, crying.

You can see the ad at: http://2018 Volkswagen Tiguan TV Commercial, ‘That Feeling: Sister’ Song by Grouplove –

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I had a friend at the senior center, 85, who left me with this one piece of very useful advice before he died: use less soap on our bodies. We don’t need nearly as much as the advertisers have conditioned us to believe. Soap, because of its alkalinity, is harmful to our skin and less is better. I rarely have to rinse off excess soap, anymore.

Various people, correctly, have often called me cheap.  For cutting back on soap, I have a rebuttal: “No, I’m just honoring my old friend, Finn.”

(The photo above of Lifebuoy soap is from an earlier time.  Today’s product shows a large medical cross behind the name that implies therapeutic properties without actually claiming anything. They still have to be careful, however.  The Red Cross has copyrighted their Red Cross symbol and actively pursues infringers.  That is why you see variations on cheap boardwalk T-shirts.)

Soap’s primary function is not to remove dirt, but to hold the dirt and oils that we have rubbed off in suspension so they do not deposit back on the part we just washed. This only takes a tiny amount of soap, not the luxurious volumes of steaming foam we used to see in ads.

Soap was made in the home until relatively recently. My grandparents made it in their younger days, before I was born, so I never saw the process. My mother remembered it.

By the time I arrived, my grandparents used commercial soap. Soap was a new product and the manufacturers were fighting for customers. Each brand claimed outlandish benefits. Even in my younger days, magazines were full of soap advertisements. Lifebuoy was the big name in bath soap.

Lifebuoy soap began in England in 1895 by Lever Brothers. It originally contained phenol for disinfection and smelled like phenol. Sales declined and the phenol was removed, but Lifebuoy’s popularity continued to decline. Lifebuoy was phased out of the American market in 2009, although it is still made by Unilever in Cyprus. Curiously, it is now sold as a nostalgic gift for fans of A Christmas Story.

(Lever Brothers merged with a Dutch margarine company in 1930 to become Unilever.)

Soaps are made by cooking a fat with lye for about an hour. The soft curds of soap rise to the top where they can be scooped out and further purified, or simply poured into molds to cool. The process is suitable for the kitchen and is no more difficult than many food recipes.

Handmade soaps are now a thriving craft industry with many companies selling the supplies, and many tables at craft fairs filled with expensive specialty soaps with unusual fragrances and wild, untested claims of benefits.

When making soap at home, the cost of the supplies can far exceed the cost of commercial soaps. In my grandparents day, they used waste supplies. The fats were saved from the kitchen, and even the lye was extracted from wood ashes. Fragrance?  Who cares?  No one then expected soap to smell like anything but soap.

Fats are long-chain fatty acids (12 to 18 carbon atoms long) chemically bonded onto each of the three-branches of a glycerin molecule. Cooking with the highly alkaline lye breaks these bonds, leaving the sodium salts of the fatty acids (so they are no longer acids), which is the actual soap, plus the alkalinity of left-over lye, plus the now-freed glycerin. The glycerin is usually left in. Many people believe the transparency of Neutrogena soap comes from extra added glycerin that promotes healthy skin, but more likely the transparency comes from controlling the conditions such that especially tiny particles of soap are formed.

I never argue the point because many people have firm beliefs on the benefits of their favorite soap. It is like arguing religion.  You may be one of these people and have already stopped reading.

Basic soap is a commodity, meaning all brands are essentially the same. Commodities sell by price, so manufacturers tweak their formulations to charge more for their product’s supposedly unique benefits.

B.O. Plenty

(Lifebuoy ads popularized the term “body odor— B.O.” that it could cure. The Dick Tracy cartoon even developed a character named B.O. Plenty, a tobacco-spitting bumpkin that everyone recognized.)

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The Buzzr Channel

Recently, I set up one of our TVs with an indoor, power-amplified antenna (the power amplification has to be on to pick up anything at all). With it, I can pick up about six channels, two standard major network channels, and the other four channels I never heard of, before or after. Just like the old rabbit-ears, the channels I get are highly dependent on the location and direction of the antenna and environmental conditions. What is not the same is that the channels are all digital, which means they come in as clear as a bell, as good as a cable connection, or not at all. A channel with borderline reception has no snow (a thing of the past), but often pixelates (breaks up into pixels) as the signal fades in and out.

One of the strange channels I get is the Buzzr channel which only runs vintage panel shows, many from the 1950s and 1960s, such as Beat the Clock and What’s My Line? and I’ve Got a Secret. Arlene Francis and Dorothy Kilgallen live again!

I understand Buzzr (note the spelling) is also a YouTube channel requiring a subscription, which usually means a fee, so I did not pursue it. You can view a few individual shows someone has uploaded. On What’s My Line? Dorothy Kilgallen, seated on the far right opens the panel, and each panelist introduces the next one on their left, right down the line to Bennett Cerf, the last.

(Kilgallen died in 1965 under questionable circumstances, supposedly of an alcohol and barbiturate overdose. She was investigating the Kennedy assassination.)

I love the old commercials! Today, I learned all about a huge Sylvania 24-inch TV in a birch-wood cabinet with Halolight, a lighted border, supposedly easier on your eyes when watching in a dark room. (There are people who restore old TVs, I don’t know why, just as some people restore old cars.)

The shows often have guest contestants “selected from the studio audience.” They are all dressed up, the women in skirts and pearl necklaces, the men in sports jackets and ties, just like Ozzie and Harriet. They are very humble and appear stunned about their unexpected good luck in meeting the celebrity host and appearing on TV. They are already imagining themselves telling every detail to their friends and family when they get home.

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