Fraidy-cats Are Us

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

The 21st century may soon be most known for worldwide paranoia. When topics worthy of fright are recorded, the list will spill over to a second page, and maybe a third.

My aged Uncle Mort down in the thicket is a solid example. He claims that there’s been so much “buzz” about misplaced classified documents in Washington, he fears that such issues could drip down to rural areas.

Dr. Don Newbury

What if they search the modest home where he and wife Maude have lived since the 1940s? Might something “important”–albeit papers that most would consider frivolous–be discovered? He decided to conduct a personal search, starting with upheaval of sofa cushions. He didn’t find any documents, but did come up with a remote control, perhaps–but probably not–for his old Muntz TV that was invented by a sales wizard named Earl (Madman) Muntz, who is a whole ‘nuther story.’

What the hey, I’ll provide a bit more “bait” that could cause you to Google the guy, a self-made engineer and sales guru who also wore the “kook cape,” a garment he seemed to enjoy. Credited with shortening the word “television” simply to “TV,” he reduced the number of components in TV receivers, snipping away at tubes and stuff until the screen blackened and speakers failed. (When this happened, he “put the parts back in.”)

Perhaps his best-known commercial included his wife’s challenge of the bargain-basement price tags on his TVs. “I wanna give ‘em away, but Mrs. Muntz won’t let me,” he’d often brag, “She’s crazy!”

Muntz (1914-1987) may have inspired my off-the-wall uncle.

Let’s get back on track: A newspaper ad for Michelin Tires caused me to ponder why fine restaurants strive for Michelin ratings? Can it be that Michelin may have feared, uh, losing traction?

Okay, maybe I’m close, but no cigar. Turns out that Michelin folks in France started making tires in 1892, perhaps fearing that safeguards might be needed to assure consistent traction. A decade later, they started rating restaurants, striving to keep top-rated restaurants several miles apart. They theorized that motorists would drive many miles to dine at THE BEST restaurants, thus wearing out their tires faster. (Having spoken at several thousand luncheons and dinners where the food usually had little in common with what my grandmother used to serve, I thought maybe Michelin has something to do with describing “rubber chicken” entrees on the speaking circuit.)

Readers may wonder why a guy who was raised on Spam might dine at many of Michelin’s top-rated restaurants. That would be correct. I was in college before I knew that “kaffays” served anything other than hamburgers and chili (bowls of “red”). It was even later before realizing the importance of watching for “final notice warnings” posted by health departments in some eating establishments.

I now repeat my favorite Super Bowl joke, which is generic, hearkening back to the days when the Dallas Cowboys were in the big game. A church youth minister was scurrying around fellowship hall, worrying that there might not be enough food for an onslaught of youngsters planning to watch the game and chow down at church. He hastily prepared a food table sign: “Please take JUST TWO sandwiches. Remember, God is watching you.”

A youngster, noticing the limitation on sandwiches, quickly scrawled another sign for the cookie tray: “Take all the cookies you want. God is watching the sandwiches.”

Finally, this: Fears and worries aside, I begin my 21st consecutive year of writing weekly columns. The Idle American began in 2003, running in six newspapers. Since then, it has appeared in some 200 publications, largely on a weekly basis. The intent has been to provide gentle humor and occasional inspiration in a strife-torn world. I am blessed, looking forward to finding home keys and maintaining at least some mental acuity, while keeping fears and worries at bay. Immense thanks to folks who have taken time to read.

   Dr. Newbury is a longtime public speaker and former university president who writes weekly. Phone: 817-447-3872. Email: Facebook: Don Newbury.

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