Category Archives: Generational

What’s the G2?

What’s the scoop?  What’s the poop?  What’s the G2? What’s the 4-1-1??

Old Reliable — those suckers never wore out

These are all slang ways to ask about what is going on, what is the “insider” information.  In military parlance, the “2” group is intelligence.  “G2” refers to divisional (or above intelligence), whereas, say S2, is staff intelligence at a lower level, usually brigade.

A cool, hip way to ask “what’s going on” about 10 to 20 years ago was to say, “Hey, what’s the 4-1-1.” This was a play on the phone company’s information number, 4-1-1, a way to get phone number listings in most locations.

It’s a surprisingly little known fact that n-1-1 is a useful number in most locations in the US and Canada, and is governed by the North American Numbering Plan, which sets standards for how phone numbers are set up.  I just learned this last month (or was it the month before??).

What are the other n-1-1 codes or phone numbers? We all know about 9-1-1. That’s for emergencies. And now we all know about 4-1-1.  What about the others?

2-1-1 provides information and referrals to health, human and social service organizations. Think United Way, or how to get help with housing, health or simply paying the electric and water bills.

3-1-1 is for getting non-emergency help or assistance from local government (usually your municipality).  Some examples might be: an abandoned car, general public safety concern such as burned out street or traffic lights, dead animal removal, or roaming packs of dogs with foaming mouths.

5-1-1 is one that you might have seen before.  It is for getting information on local traffic conditions. In some areas you can also learn about public transportation and carpooling options at the 5-1-1 number.

6-1-1 is for reporting problems or concerns with phone equipment.  Many cell phone service providers use *6-1-1 to get help with your cell phone.

7-1-1 is used for the Telecommunications Relay Service to translate from TDD (telecommunications device for the deaf) to speech, and vice versa. I’m not quite sure how it works, and hope to never need it (although my hearing is fading while the tinnitus is as strong as ever) … but it is important enough to be a federal code and have the FCC (federal communications commission) chime in that it must apply to VoIP phones, too.

8-1-1 has different purposes in the US and Canada.  In the US the number is used to get help locating buried utility lines.  You might have seen or heard the line: “Call before you dig. ” Well, the number to call is 8-1-1.  In Canada the number is for getting health care questions answered and in assisting with individual health care, such as for patients who are far-flung from most medical services and doctors. Canada is big … really big.

There is no 0-1-1 or 1-1-1 phone number.  This would conflict with rules of the aforementioned North American Numbering Plan.  0-1-1 is the code that an international phone call is being made.  After 0-1-1 the country code is expected to follow … so while you are waiting for someone to answer the call, the phone computers are waiting for you to enter a country code (e.g. 49 for Germany).  And 1-1-1 is equally confusing: the beginning “1” signals the computer you are calling long distance — the computer is then waiting for 10 more digits.

I suppose these rules could be modified to account for more n-1-1 codes.  I say that because it wasn’t too long ago when all area codes had a “0” or a “1” as the middle digit (out of three).  And local exchanges never had a “0” or a “1” as the middle digit. These have fallen away, driven mostly by the need for so many more phone numbers (and area codes).

It’s often said that the only thing constant is change.  So probably all the phone rules we now take for granted will change too.  Hey, who remembers rotary dialing?  Not that long ago, was it?

Now you have the poop, the G2, and the 4-1-1 on n-1-1 phone numbers.

Joe Girard © 2018

Transitions, Awakenings, Gratitude

Every time an old person dies, it’s like a library burning down.”

 — Alex Haley

There is now one less faithful reader of my rambles and musings. Audrey’s mom — my mother-in-law — passed away last week. She was 87-1/2 years old. She lived a full life. RIP Eleanor “Elle” Rolfe (Nee: Stork).

She was a Holocaust survivor, escaping Nazi Germany in late 1938, thanks to the Kindertransport, which safely evacuated some 10,000 children (not nearly enough) to England in the dark and fearful few months following Kristallnacht.

Her father, Kurt, had been a very successful lawyer in Hamburg. He was pulled right out of a courtroom during a hearing, arrested, and sent off to a concentration camp.  The story is a bit vague at this point (see Haley quote), but her mother Paula and Kurt’s partner managed to get Eleanor onto one of the children evacuations. Her brother Eric, older by some three years, had been sent to a boarding school in England a couple years earlier.

Not quite age nine, she lived in England for about a year, staying with several families and even an orphanage. She arrived without knowing any English.  The first English word she recalled learning was “soon.” Every time she would ask when she could be with her brother (asked in German, of course, but I think they could understand “Bruder”) her guardians would answer “soon.”

Of course, they didn’t really know. Everything was chaos.  The Brits — mostly country folk, since the government was so terrified of the city bombings that would indeed come, starting in September, 1940 — were generous to care for these children.  (Many stayed after the war; they were orphaned).

Eventually she and brother Eric were re-united. Some time later their father was extracted from the Nazi grip by his law partners’ connections and bribes.  We owe a great debt of gratitude to law partner Kurt Sieveking, from a famous Hamburg family, for helping to get the family out of Hamburg in those dark, fearful months.

The family was re-united in Amsterdam, was able to obtain visas to the US, and sailed away the next December.  They arrived in New York harbor on New Years’ Day, 1940.

Hers is truly an epic story.  The family has a collection of epic stories, really.  Enough death, sorrow, and broken families to make you fill Amsterdam’s canals with tears. And these are just a few of many millions of stories.  What we know of the family alone could fill volumes; could be turned into several screenplays.  And that’s not half of it.  So very sad; and yet so very real.


My wife and I watched a rather odd, painful — yet interesting — movie earlier this week: Sleepwalk with me. It’s a mini-autobiographical biopic, written, and directed by the main character, who also stars as himself. [1]

[Warning: Plot spoiler] Brief synopsis.  The protagonist is a nice guy, but sort of a loser.  He’s in a nowhere job, but aspires to be a stand-up comic.  The aspirations are going nowhere too.  He has a beautiful, wonderful girlfriend. The relationship is eight years old, stale, and not really going anywhere.

He finally proposes marriage, more out of desperation than love.  This occurs just as his stand-up career starts improving immensely, as unlikely as that appears. She starts making bride-zilla scale wedding plans. She seems so excited.

As the wedding date approaches, near the end of the story, he admits that marriage is a bad idea for them.  To his astonishment, she agrees!  They break it off as easily as snapping a single uncooked spaghetti noodle.  Poof!  She never really thought the relationship would work out — for almost the entire eight years! And yet, she had accepted his proposal.

So why, why, why — he asks — did you keep hanging on with me???

Answer: I didn’t want to hurt you.


And it is a pretty weird story.  But it made an impression on me in a couple of ways, because it has such a ring of truth.

First, this guy (Mike Birbiglia — he is called Matt Pandamiglio in the story) put a lot of effort into telling an elaborate story that shows himself in a bad light. That’s honest and honorable. It ended up being kind of funny too, in a mostly awkward way, but that’s not the point.

Second, it got me to thinking about relationships, and how often they lack useful candor.

I don’t want to try and count the number of relationships I’ve had that have ended awkwardly.  And you know? … I almost never had a solid clue.  Am I dense?  With few exceptions, it seems like the young lady just sort of lost interest, but never had the nerve to tell me. Or maybe I did something wrong — and they never told me what it was. Never told me to “bug off.”

My wife can tell you that I’m a hopeless, sentimental romantic. With one exception, I just blithely thought any lady who’d date me more than two or three times was a potential lifelong mate.

And then .. and then … what?  Who knows?  I was just supposed to figure out from  their change of affection, or body language, or how they said my name  — or not being available next weekend, or the one after — that I just wasn’t their cup of tea. I’m not a good mind reader, especially when it comes to the opposite sex.

Except for once, every single break up just sort of happened when I stopped calling — with no regrets or “what happened?” from them. Or ended when I specifically made a point of saying something like: “I’m mystified.  With no more useful information, this is over.” This generally was just fine with them. [2]

With regard to exceptions, the most mature approach was probably the youngest, a lass we’ll call Susan (because that was her name).  Aged only 17, I dropped by one day, unannounced, fishing for clues, and asked “what’s up?”

She hemmed a few moments, then pulled a fresh sprig from a spruce tree and handed it to me. “This is a gift for you. See?  It smells nice.”

I said something like “Yes, it does. But, I don’t understand.”

She said “It will die soon. Even nice things die.”

Brilliant!  I eventually figured it out.  But I kept the dried up, dead old sprig for several months. Sentimental me.


I made a lot of mistakes when I courted Audrey.  Even more since we married. There was a lot of growth potential for Joe; but there was a long way between where Joe was and where that potential suggested he could be.

And that was — and is — one of her principal qualities. She held out for the potential. She has seldom been reticent about telling me how I could be better.  What I’d done wrong.  What she was expecting.

What a relief.  Yes, it hurt sometimes. And sometimes it’s even been kind of funny; for example I’ve even had to change how I fold socks and make a bed.  Pleasing a woman can be difficult and mysterious. It’s so much easier when she tells you what she wants and expects. And when she’s disappointed.

I’m pretty sure we owe quite a bit to Elle for these and many other of Audrey’s wonderful qualities.  The object of my affection saw potential and set a high bar for me; then she helped me get there — instead of just harrumphing and leaving me to guess, or divine the answers from a Ouija board.  Add to that her desire to be a devoted mother of children, something her mother faithfully and consistently displayed (fact: this was something we discussed on our first date!) and I knew I had a winner.  That was clear pretty early on.  I’m pretty sure around our 3rd date. And Audrey herself helped me earn her.

I’m a lucky man.

I’ve thanked Elle more than a few times for the gift of Audrey.  But let me say it again, here and now.  Elle: for anything and everything you had to do and endure to get Audrey to be the way she is, I thank you.

Joe Girard © 2017

Read Elle’s interview for Kindertransport history. Or listen to her interview for the US Holocaust Museum.

[1] Sleepwalk with me was produced by Ira Glass, he of fame from the Radio Series “This American Life.” The story was first made public on the show, narrated by Mike Birbiglia,and was very well received. The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Festival, wherein it won the Best of NEXT Audience Award.

[2] Miss E(B)K, in case you ever read this — you were different: very nice, generous, mature and interesting lady.  Simply a poor fit, although it was a pretty good run for a few months.  The lessons on this one were: don’t wait too long, and don’t break up over the phone. Sorry about that. I also learned that live theater in a small venue is cool; so are older women.  Thank you.


— By Ken Hutchison

I meant to post this yesterday, on Veteran’s Day, but the day got away from me.


Staff Sergeant EB Hutchison

Dad never really talked about the war. As a boy, I always wanted to know how many Germans he killed. He said he didn’t know, wasn’t sure if he did, etc. Looking back now, I remember seeing his blue eyes glaze over, and a heavy breath would follow.

In reading his letters it’s evident that he was in house-to-house, close quartered bullshit. One of his scars went from his elbow, radiating in a spiral across the inside of his forearm to nearly his wrist…it was about a half inch wide. He was searching a house when a “potato masher’ (German hand grenade) broke through the window. He got as far as he could before it went off, costing him a majority of hearing in one ear, plus having his flesh torn apart by red hot shrapnel. It’s the only one of his injuries I heard about first hand. The others I discovered in his letters home. Sniper fire that nearly bled him to death, machine gun wounds in both legs during a battle in a frozen marsh. Despite being hit in the legs, he was able to run to cover, no helmet, rifle jammed with mud.

Despite that, he did tell a few funny stories. In one, he and his men arrived in a train station, largely abandoned, except for the lone tanker car that had a guard (I don’t remember from where, non-US though). The boys thought they’d found fuel. They told the guard to get lost or get shot. He was smart. Efforts to open the valve were in vain, so one of the GIs hit it with the butt of his BAR (rifle).

The valve stem broke off. It wasn’t fuel. It was wine. Rich. Red. Wine.

Being the proud American soldiers they were, they didn’t shy away from the obvious threat at hand. They proceeded to rip out the liners of their helmets and then get six-ways-to-Sunday shitfaced … drinking from their steel hats. Dad maintained, sort of, as he was the sarge, and had to get his men into the boxcar when the time came.

The other story he told was of the tank. Panzer tanks were colossal hunks of powerful deadly steel. Dad and the boys came across one abandoned somewhere in the Ardennes, and of course, boys being boys, they decided to drive it around. Whoever was driving pushed the throttle forward a wee bit too much, too fast, sending the occupants flying into the walls. Then they couldn’t figure out how to steer or stop the multi-ton hunk of German engineering. Poor guys took out a farmhouse, barn, haystack, and God knows what else before stalling it in a dry riverbed.

I would have paid money to see it.

Simply Degenerate

Date line: April, 2015.

My wife and I made a little getaway to Missouri this past February. If you’ve been there in winter, there’s a good chance you’ll understand why I often call it “the state of Misery.” Anyhow, en route from Saint Louis to Hannibal we spent time in the formerly not so well-known — but now very well-known — community of Ferguson, Missouri.

Two rounds of riots there in 2014 resulted in multiple cars and buildings being burned. Businesses were ruined. These riots were the aftershocks from (1) the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, and (2) the Saint Louis County Grand Jury’s decision to NOT indict said police officer Darren Wilson.

Ferguson Brewery, Ferguson, MO

Ferguson Brewery, Ferguson, MO

We found the community of just over 20,000 to be really quite delightful. Churches and grocery stores and homes of all sorts: like you’d expect anywhere else. We stopped in at the Ferguson Brewing Company, a cheery micro-brewery with a full kitchen and pub menu. There we enjoyed lunch and a beverage. The place was hopping, and the beers we selected were hoppy too. The patrons were mostly pale faced, but scattered about were ebony and ivory-skinned customers, even sitting at the same tables.

We made it a point to drive through the sections of town where buildings and been torched – destroyed by fires from the riots. Laundromats, liquor stores, auto parts stores, restaurants. Pretty much without rhyme or pattern, concentrated mostly in two different parts of the city. Actually, some destruction spilled over into nearby Dellwood, MO.

We stopped at the spot where young Mr. Brown was killed. Even in February, six months after the shooting, there was still a memorial to him there, on Canfield Drive, near Copper Creek Court.

We felt it important to spend some time there: to contemplate the location and its significance. It’s only a few blocks from the Ferguson Market, on Florrisant Avenue.

[What city has TWO major streets near each other with the same name? In this case “Florrisant.” Oh yeah, Atlanta. Almost every other street is named

Michael BrownMemorial, Canfield Dr, Ferguson, MO

Michael BrownMemorial, Canfield Dr, Ferguson, MO

Peach Tree.]

The Ferguson Market is where the petty theft – and physical abuse of a 120-lb weakling store clerk by 290-pound Mr. Brown – occurred that resulted in Officer Wilson locking onto a young man of Mr. Brown’s description. That theft occurred about 10 minutes before their most unfortunate fateful rendezvous.

This was all brought freshly to mind for me a few weeks ago during the NCAA basketball tournament. March Madness.


Right. The College basketball national championship tournament. Why? Because white people riot too, and for really, really stupid reasons. Over and over again.

Kentucky was the odds-on favorite to win the championship. Basketball is religion in Kentucky. The Lexington-based school has won 8 National championship titles, including as recently as 2012. They’ve been runner up twice, including 2013, and National semi-finalists, an additional four times, to my counting at least, including 2011.

That’s a pretty impressive record, given that there are, oh, I don’t know, something like 400 colleges and university basketball teams competing at the Division-I level.

But this year they lost to Wisconsin in the National semi-final match. Which means if there are 400 schools, their basketball team is better than 398 of them. So what did their fans in Lexington, Kentucky do after the semi-final match? They rioted. Burned cars. Trashed buildings. Barricaded the streets. Fought Police.

Really? — Really.

And this is nothing new. Last year, 2014, Kentucky made it all the way to the National Championship game and lost to Connecticut. Guess what?

The fans in Lexington rioted.

Ah, precedence.

In 2012 Kentucky made it to the National semi-final. That time they defeated in-state super-hated arch-rival Louisville. Kentucky won the game. Win? They won? Yes, they won.

The fans in Lexington rioted.

Two nights later Kentucky was in the National championship match and won, defeating Kansas. This time another win!! A National Championship. Oh the glory.

The fans in Lexington rioted.

More precedence.

Back in 2011 Kentucky was defeated in the National semi-final by Connecticut (a bit of a nemesis) …

Yes, you guessed it …

The fans in Lexington rioted.

You know. Just the basic stuff. Burn cars. Tear down light posts. Throw rocks at police. Vandalize buildings. Mug passers-by.

You’d think the police and city fathers in Lexington would be a bit wise to the whole thing by now.

What is weird is that the fans are mostly well-lubricated white people rioting because the mostly black student athletes performed so well that their expectations were that they would win a Nation championship … or else. Or else what? We’ll riot either way.

In 2013 Kentucky’s record was not good enough to even get into the championship tournament (a fate that befalls the vast majority of teams). So, Kentucky pretty much sucked that year … at least by Kentucky standards. Guess what? NO RIOTS! Go figure.

White people rioting for stupid reasons (or no reason) is nothing new. Even in my current “home” metro area – Denver, CO – fans rioted when the Colorado Avalanche won the NHL’s (National Hockey League) Stanley Cup in 1996. Sure this was the first major championship in Colorado. That warrants a riot. (#sarcasm).

The next year the football Broncos won the Super Bowl. No riot. But then they won their second straight Super Bowl, 1998, … more riots. Really? Yeah. Let’s get really pissed and burn some sh*t. No riots when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup again in 2001. A whiff of sanity.

They don’t riot for no reason in Milwaukee. Or in the whole state of Wisconsin.

I do remember the summer riots of 1967: Barricades in the street. Our humble suburb blocked off at the municipal city limits. Restrictions on gasoline sales: it had to go right into auto tanks; not into portable tanks. People who wanted to mow their lawn (pre-electric mowers) had to bring the grass-cutter right to the gas station.

A permanent scar on our country and on our memory. Newark, NJ, 1967

A permanent scar on our country and on our memory. Newark, NJ, 1967

It was a time of tremendous social unrest – upheaval – and Milwaukee was not spared. Those ’67 riots were not senseless or without reason. They were tied in with the civil rights movement, disappointment with lack of progress from the ’64 Civil Rights Acts, and the move toward freedom of expression, and of course the anti-war movements of the ‘60s. There were a shocking 159 riots in the United States in 1967. One Hundred and Fifty-nine. Mostly race related, they broke out in LA, Cleveland, Minneapolis, everywhere it seemed. The most violent were Detroit and Newark. Too vivid. Too vivid. I remember this gruesome Life Magazine photo from the Newark riots. Burned into my RAM.

The causes, racial participants, locations and provocateurs of these riots were far ranging. From

“… the year 1967 ended with a final act of violence in late October, when antiwar protesters from around the country moved on Washington, D.C. Those who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on 21 October were largely white, largely middle class, largely educated, and formerly mainstream in their politics. But, when U.S. Army units met them with fixed bayonets, they took to the streets of the capital in an out-break of destructive rioting and constructive confrontation, and 650 were arrested.”

Fixed bayonets for those expressing freedom to assemble? Freedom of expression? Hell yeah, riot. We don’t turn the military on the public in the US. Riots!

Still, I don’t think that places like Wisconsin or Minneapolis have experienced totally pointless riots, like Lexington. And Denver. Maybe I’m wrong. But I doubt it.

I’ll get in trouble for this, but I can’t help but wonder if this behavior doesn’t carry some sort of genetic pass-me-down from each area’s ancestral settlers.

Wisconsin was mostly settled by the “quiet disciplined” sort. Mostly Germans. Many Poles and Norwegians. Some English, with their stiff upper lips. Work hard. Don’t make a fuss. Stick to your own business and do it well. Get it done and move quietly along to the next thing. “Don’t rock the boat” type of settlers.

Early Irish and Scottish immigrants to the New World were largely unwelcomed by the English and moved west, settling in the rugged Shenandoah and Appalachian Mountains. When the Cumberland Gap popped open they began moving into the territory that would become the states of Kentucky and Tennessee.

I’m not calling the Scots and Irish “rioters” (in fact, I love them, their culture and sense of humor), but they probably don’t have a reputation for spontaneously breaking into (a) drink, (b) song, (c) dance, and (d) fight for no reason. Germans, Poles, Norwegians … they just don’t do that. Ok, maybe they do the drinking part. ☺

Before I get in any more trouble, I’ll close with saying that Wisconsin lost in this year’s (2015) NCAA championship match to Duke University – after defeating Kentucky in the semi-finals. I’ll admit to being partial, but there were many questionable calls during the second half. It seemed that every 50/50 out-of-bounds ball was awarded to Duke, and Wisconsin frequently fouled Duke players with their chins, foreheads and eye-brows.

Nevertheless: There were no riots.

Wisconsin fans did not riot when they beat Kentucky in the semi-final, nor when they lost to Duke in the final.

For emphasis: Last year, 2014, Wisconsin made it all the way to the semi-finals, losing to Kentucky (by one point!, 74-73).

There were no riots.

Meanwhile, in late 2014, while overwhelmingly mostly peaceful riots were going on around the entire country in sympathy with the mostly peaceful protests in Ferguson, something weird was going on in Keene, New Hampshire. Keene State College – mostly white, upper class privileged kids – had their annual Pumpkin Festival.

Yes. You guessed it. … Riots broke out.

Riots broke out.

Drunken brawls. Random fires and mayhem. Burned and overturned cars. Vandalized buildings.

The media are deluding us.

Well, New Hampshire is the “Live Free, or Die” state.  Love the motto.  Hate the riots.

Wishing you peaceful, riot-free and headache-free spring, summer and fall.

Joe Girard © 2015

[1] 1967 Riots.

Crazy Bond

What a fortunate thing for a boy to be close to his father.  Closeness is easier and more natural when there are subjects of interest that lead to bonding – something they share.

The first common subject for my dad and me (that I recall) was our mutual interest in baseball, and our love of the star-crossed Cubs.  This was sort of a quiet suffering that we endured together; each with only the other to console us, as the Cubs were miserably bad during these years (early to mid-60s) and we lived in Milwaukee.

Secretly, when away from dad, I harbored a modicum of admiration for the more competitive Milwaukee Braves – especially when among my sports-fan friends; their roster had several future Hall-of-Famers: Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Warren Spahn, and (probably soon) Joe Torre.  Actually, I think he knew of my treasonous admiration, but never spoke of it.

Another common interest was television.  Back then, families actually watched TV together. The networks and producers really tried to broadcast shows with material that would interest the whole family.  On Sunday nights, it was Ed Sullivan.  Mid-week it was the Red Skelton Show.  But Saturday was special, and the big show in those days was Jackie Gleason, with his Jackie Gleason Show, broadcast “live from Miami Beach.”

After his traditional opening monologue, the show would get started with Jackie saying “And aw-a-a-ay we go.”  The show followed a fairly similar routine each week, with recurring appearances of Gleason-created characters such as Reginald van Gleason III, an oafish, rich, blowhard playboy (“mmmmm, that’s good booze”); and an always-down-on-his luck character  played in pantomime.  There were lots of pretty girls, and great guests, including some regular guests like the popular Art Carney (who also lives forever in re-runs, thanks to co-starring with Gleason in The Honeymooners).

What I remember most – and helped dad and me bond – was a character and regular routine called “Joe the Bartender.”  Bartenders have long been recognized as the world’s best unofficial counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and just plain good listeners. That was Joe.

As an aside, my dad would sometimes spontaneously break out into “One for my Baby” (a song made popular by Frank Sinatra) when we were alone: out running errands or he was working around the house, with me “helping.”  The song is a classic “guy-with-broken-heart-tells-his-version-of-the-story-to-a-bartender-at-closing-time” story.  The bartender in the song is named “Joe”, and I often thought as if my dad were speaking to me, but didn’t know what to say, so he broke into that song when we were together. “Set ‘em up Joe.  I’ve got a little story, I think you ought to know

Gleason’s “Joe the Bartender” sketch always opened with the camera (as a patron) coming through swinging doors into an empty bar, with Gleason as “Joe” behind the counter.  It seemed “Joe” was greeting us, the audience, as the bar unfolded before the camera: “How ya doin’ Mr. Dennehy?”  The camera (patron) would come up to the bar and engage in a “conversation” with “Joe”, although we-the-audience only heard Joe’s half of the conversation.  We were supposed to supply Mr Dennehy’s half by our own imagination.

This short weekly opening to the “Joe the Bartender” sketch was a tribute to someone important to Gleason.  John Herbert Gleason was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY.  His older brother died at age 14 when “Jackie'” was 3, and his father, an insurance salesman, began drowning his many disappointments in the bottle.  When Jackie was nine his father finally simply abandoned the family – leaving young Jackie and his overprotective mother.  So overprotective that she did not allow him to attend school until the 3rd grade.

Needing to find their own way, she took a series of low-skill/low paying jobs.   Unable to handle life alone, speaking with a heavy Irish accent, and unable to handle her son, she turned to drinking – and she turned to young Jackie to become a co-breadwinner for the family when he was only 12.  He took odd jobs, and eventually became a proficient pool shark and street fighter – making enough money to move out of relative’s homes and into their own apartment.  [If you watch the movie The Hustler, it’s pretty obvious Gleason is comfortable at a table with a cue stick].

They moved to a tenement run by Thomas Dennehy and his family (the Irish Catholics sticking together) at 385 Chauncey St, Brooklyn (one of the more famous addresses in TV history – that’s where The Honeymooners lived).  Dennehy became Gleason’s father-figure, providing a stable male influence in his life – including the crucial time when the drinking finally led to Gleason’s mother’s death, when he was only 17.

During the “Joe the Bartender” sketch, Joe’s one-sided “conversation” with the unheard and unseen “Mr. Dennehy” would eventually turn to something that required a third opinion. “Let’s ask Crazy”… and out would come a character named “Crazy Guggenheim.”

“Crazy” was Frank Fontaine.  His schtick was that he could cross one eye, make his eyes bug out, raise one eyebrow, scrunch up his mouth and talk like a barely lucid and barely intelligible drunk – all at the same time.  His hat and coat were crumpled and worn slightly awry.  “Crazy” would start to answer “Joe’s” question, then wander off topic into some illogical story, raising his voice annoyingly at the wrong times for the story.  Gleason/Joe would start making funny faces – as if to say “I’m sorry I ever let him start” – but wait patiently until Crazy got to the end of his absurd story.

Frank Fontaine

Frank Fontaine

This was another link I had to my dad.  Whenever a situation was just plain goofy or didn’t make sense (or sometimes I thought a situation required a little levity) I’d take my hat and turn up the brim, give it a slight twist and a tip, then say something in a corny voice like: “Hi, hey,  it’s me!  Crazy Guggenheim.”  I even started doing this at big family events (Thanksgiving and such) and found it quite rewarding (as a little kid) that the adults would recognize what I was trying to do – be Crazy like Guggenheim.

The thing about Frank Fontaine was that he was really very talented.  I can’t remember if it was at the end of the “Joe the Bartender” sketch, or later in the show – but he would bust out into song with the most beautiful voice you could imagine.

Frank Fontaine was an interesting fellow.  He married his sweetheart at age 17 and they started having kids … lots of ‘em … eleven in all.  People had so much more confidence in themselves and in the future back then.  He had a lot of success on stage and screen – and on the tube – taking a break from his career and from making babies for World War II.    He always did well, but his stints on the Gleason show made him famous.

He started recording his songs and even had a #1 Album, called, crazy enough, “Songs I sing on the Jackie Gleason Show.”  He also continued with characters like Crazy.  As with  other entertainers who play drunks so well — like Jack Norton and Foster Brooks — Fontaine was a teetotaler.  This made him very much unlike Gleason, who had a second 8,000 square foot house in Miami just for parties.

Frank Fontaine/Crazy Guggenheim

Frank Fontaine/Crazy Guggenheim

But like Gleason, he was a bit of a bon vivant and started putting on quite a few pounds.  He also got involved with charitable efforts, such as through the Eagles.

In September, 1977 Fontaine suffered a heart attack.  The experience motivated him to lose some 70 pounds over the next year.

In August the next year, at the 1978 Eagles Convention in Spokane he performed live, returning for four encores. Through this concert he raised $25,000; the check was presented to him on stage and it was to be donated to the American Heart Association for heart research.

And that’s when he was struck by a sudden massive heart attack, right there on stage – dead at only 58 years old.  Married for 41 years.

Brooklyn's pride in being home of Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners.  One of Jackie's most famous sayings.

Brooklyn’s pride in being home of Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners. One of Jackie’s most famous sayings.

I’m grateful for the likes of Gleason and Fontaine … Skelton, the Cubs of the 60s … and all the things that helped me and my dad bond so long ago. I’m even more grateful for my parents; grateful for their love of me, displayed through endless kindness and unbelievable patience; grateful for their committed love to each other; and grateful for their examples of lives well lived. I am a lucky fellow.

Until next time … Bond.  Bond like crazy.

Joe Girard © 2013


1) The Simpson’s character Barney is based on Crazy Guggenheim.

2) Soon enough the Braves proved to be unworthy of all of Wisconsin’s affection, leaving for Atlanta.  Many Milwaukee-area friends became Cubs fans — much to all our chagrin.  The Cubs’ biblically epic collapse of 1969 was assuaged a bit when Milwaukee again received a MLB franchise, the Brewers, in 1970.


To my dad, of course, for spending so much time with me as a kid, even though he had 5 younger children; for taking me to see Cubs games and even Braves games.  Teaching me how to throw (not like a girl), swing a bat, play smart and lose like you win — with dignity and grace.

To my co-worker Gil, who has an amazing memory and helped me reconstruct what I knew of Fontaine and Gleason, and of the 60s.

Jack Fontaine/Crazy Guggenheim does a commercial for Malto Meal

Joe the Bartender and Crazy Guggenheim — from the Jackie Gleason Show.

Then … and now

Spending some good family time way out east.  In the DC area, out to Leesburg, VA, then Baltimore and now in the West Virginia mountains.  This makes it difficult to blog daily, but it does give a new perspective for fresh contemplation.   It occurred to us that life sure must have been rough for those early settlers … so far from anything, no communication, health care, or even civilization.  They left their families, friends, and heritage behind them.

But they came to America anyhow.  Why?  For two reasons, I suppose: religious freedom and economic freedom.  And those two are under a larger umbrella of simply freedom from oppression.  Most of them knew that life would be difficult, even severe, but they did it for their children and grandchildren — lives yet to be, but they felt responsible for nonetheless.

How ironic that our generation — the so-called Baby Boomers — have turned all that on its head.  We have not only largely abandoned religion, but we’ve left our children and grandchildren with unbelievable  crushing debt.  In 1980 our national debt was only about $1Trillion; now it is about to surpass $17Trillion.  We’re riding off into the sunset, and the young ‘uns are left holding the bill.

But it’s worse.  There are so many of us, born between 1946 and 1964, and we are retiring at such a rate, that we are about to further bury younger generations with obligations for our social security and medicare.

I’m not sure how to fit fertility into this non-judgmentally.  Take this at face value only.  Whereas previous generations routinely spawned offspring at 4, 6, 8 or even 12 children per family, our generation determined that the best numbers were 2, 1 and 0.  Three was deemed an extraordinary “sacrifice” (but not a blessing).   Four?  Oh horrors.

The generation that followed observed and learned.  The national fertility rate is now below 2.0 per female for the first time ever.

And perhaps it is no wonder.  Perhaps: A) they see our extravagance and want to live at least as well; B) they don’t want their children to have to pay OUR debts.

On that cheerless note, I’ll sign off for now.