Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Culture (page 3 of 7)

All Things Laotian

My blog All Things Laotian is up and running. I’ve blogged a lot about Laos here but I wanted a special blog devoted exclusively to Laos including, but not limited to culture, food, and travel.

Sex and the World Cup

That might have been the topic around the water cooler this morning in Korea as folks here talked about Korea’s decisive upset over Greece Saturday night, but it was the subject of an article in the Korea Times.

Is sex correlated with World Cup football? For naysayers, here is an interesting statistic.

On the Saturday night of Korea’s convincing victory over Greece in their opening match of the 2010 South Africa World Cup, convenience stores recorded a jump in condom sales.

It may be thanks largely to the raging hormones of hundreds of thousands of young people braving the rain in rooting for their team outdoors across the nation. Perhaps, it may need two more victories from Korea to see a firm correlation between the two.

GS25, a convenience store subsidiary of GS Group, said Monday that its outlets had sold about 5,000 condoms on Saturday, a five-fold increase from four years ago during the Germany World Cup.

And it gets better if you read the rest of the article here.

Not that it was a slow news day in Seoul by any means (though I wonder why there wasn’t much in the paper about North Korea’s threat to turn Seoul in a sea of flame…again; the last time was 1994).

Instead, we got to chuckle with this:

“When folks are excited, their sympathetic nerves are stimulated. When they relax afterward their parasympathetic nerves are aroused,” said Park Jung-soo, a neurologist at Hanyang University

“The switches are similar to the mechanisms of male ejaculation. Watchers of intriguing sports games feel such switches several times over the course of the games. At the end of the day, they may be susceptible to sexual arousal.”

Obviously Jung-soo hasn’t watched a Cubs’ game.

AM Chicago

A winter morning in Chicago and trying out my first digital camera — 2001

Dennis Hopper — 1936-2010


Even if Dennis Hopper had never made another movie after his groundbreaking Easy Rider in 1969, he could have easily rested on his cinematic laurels. However, he would go on to have a legendary career that was fueled just as much by his wild image off-screen as was the characters he brought to the silver screen.

Besides Easy Rider, some of his performances that I enjoyed the most include his role as the photographer in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Shooter in Hoosiers. He also shined in True Romance as well as the mad bomber in Speed.

Hollywood and the motion picture industry lost a great one today.

Chicken on a stick and grilled chicken feet

You’ve heard of chicken in a basket? Well, how about chicken on a stick?

Grilled chicken on a stick and other delicacies for sale in Laos during a festival at a Buddhist temple.

Grilled chicken feet. I’ve been told these crispy feet are delicious.

Happy Birthday Buddha

“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it”

Today, Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated in Korea as a national holiday. These are some photos from Sanggyesa Temple near Mt. Chiri that I took a few years ago.

Stuckey’s anyone?

I was commenting one of my Facebook friends’ photos today when I wrote that the photo reminded me of Stuckey’s.


They were all over the Midwest when I was growing up–and they are still around. I remember one along Route 80 off the Plank Road. Famous for their “pecan log rolls” they were a mainstay along America’s highways, and if I remember correctly for their unique building construction and green and white color.

Well, if you want to wax nostalgia Stuckey’s style, check out these two sites:

Confused Reviews


Bet you’re drooling just thinking about that pecan log roll now!

Lou-J’s Café, 1968 – Oglesby, Illinois Part 2

The summer went by too fast, but he was excited to get back to school. He liked buying new notebooks, pens, and pencils. His mom even bought him some flared pants that had become the latest fashion craze. This year he is in the fifth grade. The teacher’s name is Ms. Snell, but some kids have already started calling her Ms. Smell.

Being a teacher has got to be rough, he thinks when you have a strange or funny name.

He’s halfway through grade school and as his mom told him when school started, it’s all-downhill now. He’s not quite sure what “downhill” means but hopes it means something good and not something to do with the reports his teachers have been sending home to his mother.

Teachers tell his mother that he is a good listener, but that he’s a little lazy. Doesn’t pay attention enough in class. He learns the word daydream. He doesn’t always do his homework, but he’s good in reading, spelling, and social studies. He’s a voracious reader. On library day, he checks out four-five books. Likes to read biographies of Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, James Whitcomb Riley and George Washington Carver. The other kids laugh at him and call him a bookworm.

Poor in math.

Poor in science.

If you ask him, he can tell you a little about the USS Pueblo, Tet, Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and Apollo 1.

The night he went to the carnival with the Sharpe boys was the night Bobby was assassinated.

He can’t add or subtract fractions though.

“He reads a lot Mrs. Miller,” one of his teachers tells his mom during a teacher-parent conference after school one day, “but he doesn’t pay attention in class. His mind wanders. He has the tendency to daydream.”

He can name all fifty states and capitals.

This past summer, he got to visit seven of those states when his grandparents took him on his first long vacation to Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. His grandfather wanted to go to South Carolina and visit Fort Jackson where he had been stationed in World War II.

They got to drive right on base after the MP’s manning the main gate asked his grandfather what was the nature of his business.

“I told him I had been stationed there during the war,” said his grandfather whenever he had the chance to tell his story. “Well, he took one look at me, probably thought I was someone important, nodded his head and then waved us right through.”

Of course, much had changed since 1944 and his grandfather had a hard time finding any familiar buildings. They drove around for almost thirty minutes trying to locate the barracks his grandfather had stayed in but it had been demolished. The only thing that hadn’t changed was that America was in another war. They passed hundreds of soldiers marching and running. Some were carrying M-16s. Maybe Danny Sharpe is here, he thinks.

He wonders if any of them will come home in flag draped coffins like the ones he sees on the evening news.

“This week in Vietnam, there were 25 killed and 100 wounded.”

He likes Archie comics.

Someday I am going to write to the Archie Fan Club he tells his friends.

“They pay five dollars for the best letter,” he tells Sam and Glenn one afternoon.

“Pay you five dollars?” Sam laughed. “In your dreams.”

The Cherry Coke comes in a tall, plastic glass that is scratched from months of use; the fries are served in this red and white checked cardboard tray. The fries are greasier than usual, but he doesn’t mind. Soon, they’ll be swimming in a pool of ketchup. Why is ketchup sometimes spelled catsup? He ponders this as he squeezes out the red sauce from a red bottle. He’s been doing that a lot these days: questioning everything.

He likes the simple things in life, like these red and yellow bottles: red for catsup, yellow for mustard.

He hears the door open and a group of seventh and eighth graders come in. They’ll take over a corner of the room before the noisier L-P freshmen and sophomores arrive.

Johnny Lucas, one of the eighth graders walks by his table and steals some of the boy’s French fries. Lucas’ friends laugh.

Bonnie intervenes before Lucas can take some more of his fries; she used to baby-sit him but he probably doesn’t remember or is embarrassed to admit it. Either way, he knows that Bonnie is not someone he wants to tangle with and plops down on a padded chair. The same kind of chair made at Spiller & Spiller, this furniture factory on Brunner Street in LaSalle, where the boy’s mom works the dayshift from 8-5

His mother bends tubes of steel on a machine called a “bender” into chair and table legs.

“You kids want something?” Bonnie asks.

The way she says “kids” puts them in their place, at least for now. She snaps her gum again. Loud enough to sound threatening.

A round of Cokes is ordered. Three orders of fries.

“Hey Jude” ends. There is a grating sound emitting from inside the jukebox as a mechanical arm is lowered to retrieve another record and place it on the turntable.

The next song is “Green Tambourine.” Good choice because Lucas and his friends like this one a lot. The single reaches Number 1 in 1968.

Another semi rumbles through town shaking the plate glass window. The boy looks up at the clock. 4:00. His mom will be home in another hour. She’ll be tired again and smelling of grease and oil. Tonight she has to work at the Holiday Inn. It’ll be pot pies or a TV Dinner again. That’s okay. She promised to order some fried chicken from the Mel Rose Tap on Saturday.

He finishes off the last of the fries, now coagulated with ketchup and takes a sip of the Cherry Coke. A bus from the high school passes outside. The high school kids will be in soon. They are always loud and a little rowdy. They won’t bother him but Lucas and his friends will have to be careful.

Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days” begins to play.

He likes her voice. It sounds so sweet. Makes him think about two girls in his class, Janie and Debbie. They have sweet voices, too. He sits next to them in music class. They don’t seem to mind.

Those were the days.

We thought they’d never end.

We’d live the life that we’d choose.

Something like that.

Lou-J’s Café, 1968 – Oglesby, Illinois Part 1

The ten-year-old boy stops in at Lou J’s Café on Walnut Street in Oglesby, Illinois, a small town of 4,200 (1960 census) just across the Illinois River south of LaSalle and Peru and 90 miles southwest of Chicago. He comes here about two or three times a week after school has let out at Washington Grade School.

Oglesby’s business district runs for a couple of blocks down Walnut and includes a Ben Franklin store, Lou’s Grocery, Royal Lanes Bowling Alley, two drug stores, a dry cleaners and a dozen bars. Across the street from Lou J’s is Clydesdale’s Furniture Store that at one time had been Oglesby’s movie theater. That piece of Oglesby history might have been lost on him, but what isn’t lost on him is that he has enough allowance for a Cherry Coke and an order of French fries for the times he comes here each week.

School has already started and there’s a hint of autumn in the air. Sometimes he stops in with a friend from school; other times he is alone. Makes no difference to him. At least when he’s alone he doesn’t have to share his fries.

He passes men hunched over the afternoon edition of the Daily News Tribune at the lunch counter seated on wobbly stools, the linoleum around their base worn from years of traffic. Some grip heavy, white mugs of freshly brewed coffee. The aroma of burgers sizzling on the grill (each patty with a slab of onion on top) wafts through the café. A basket of frozen, crinkled fries is dropped into boiling, bubbling oil.

There’s a television tuned to a ballgame but for the team, the Chicago Cubs and this late in the season, it’s wait until next year.

The owner of Clydesdale’s is one of the customers at the counter; he’s engaged in a heated debate with the druggist from Dittmar’s and the jeweler from Marzetta’s about Humphrey and Nixon, George Wallace, taxes, the war in Southeast Asia.

When the boy shuffles in, a few heads turn then its back to newspapers, the ballgame and the heated discussion Clydesdale is chairing.

Outside, a semi from Schwermann’s, a trucking firm in town, rumbles down Walnut returning to Marquette Cement for another load. Most of the men in town work at the cement plant that is the life and blood of the town. Others work at Westclox, more aptly and perhaps affectionately referred to by locals as the “clock factory” in Peru, or Sundstrand in LaSalle.

At the “clock factory”, they don’t make clocks. They make fuses for bombs.

There are a couple carloads of men who commute daily to Caterpillar in Aurora, Peoria, or Pontiac about an hour away. There’s a new steel mill coming in at Hennepin not far from Oglesby. It’ll be good for the local economy.

There are a lot of French-sounding names in the Illinois Valley. Joliet. Marquette. LaSalle. Tonti. Hennepin. Creve Coeur. These French explorers and missionaries are remembered with the names of towns and streets.

Oglesby was once called Portland due the cement mined and manufactured in area. Later Portland was renamed Oglesby in honor of Richard Oglesby the governor of Illinois, 1865-1869.

History is what reminds us of who we are and where we have come from.

The boy and his family (mother and younger brother) live on Magnal Avenue (a couple of blocks east of Lou J’s on Walnut). If you stand on Magnal Avenue and face south, you can see the giant storage bins of the cement plant rising up in the distance. In the morning, there is always a fine layer of cement dust on everything. Likewise, on most mornings you can hear the drivers at Schwermann’s starting their diesel engines that screech and shimmy before engines turn over and rumble.

The neighborhood is also the closest thing that Oglesby has got to an ethnic neighborhood with dozens of Italian families, some who are related to one another living east of Magnal Avenue. Get within a block of this neighborhood and you get a good whiff of Italian cooking seasoning the air and the omniscient pungent aroma of garlic. On Saturday nights, especially in the late spring and summer you can hear men shouting as they bocce ball on a court behind Angelo’s Tavern.

In an adjoining room, the boy plops down at a table in the rear and grabs a menu stuck between sugar, salt, and pepper shakers. It’s strictly out of habit; he knows what he wants already: Cherry Coke (a little heavy of the cherry syrup) and an order of fries, but it makes him feel important with that menu in his hand.

“Are you ready to order?” asks Bonnie, who has to work the counter, waitress the tables, and also work as cashier.

She’s not a tall woman, but she towers over the young boy who hasn’t looked up from the menu yet. It’s got to be her hairstyle. It’s 1968, but her Beehive hairstyle, heavy on the Aqua Net hairspray says otherwise; more like circa 1955. She snaps her gum and taps her foot knowing that the young boy is going to order the same darn thing.

He looks up from the menu and smiles. “A large Cherry Coke and an order of French fries, please.”

“Extra cherry syrup?” she asks. She knows the drill; knows what all the regulars like.

“Yes, please.”

She smiles and writes down his order. He’s got good manners, she thinks as she walks back to the counter. He’s not like the noisy older grade school students or the freshmen and sophomores from L-P High School that stop in later.

There’s something about that kid that’s special but she can’t put her finger on it.

She knows his mom and has seen her out a few times at some of the local bars. One time she bumped into her at Sparkle’s Cleaners and Laundromat. She knows how hard it is for her working two jobs and raising two boys. She’s got two boys of her own at home and waitressing six days at week at Lou J’s is also barely enough to make ends meet.

With his order on the way, the boy gets up and walks over to the Wurlitzer jukebox. He fishes for a quarter in one of his pockets. A quarter still gets you three plays and he knows what songs already: “Hey Jude” by The Beatles, “Those Were the Days” by Mary Hopkin and “Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers.

He likes music but he hasn’t gotten into it as much as other kids his age. His mom has a lot of records she’s always playing: Johnny Cash, The Beatles, The Supremes, Elvis Presley, and Gene Pitney. Sometimes his mom drinks a lot when she listens to Johnny Cash.

Two years ago, he started watching The Monkees on television. He knows all the lyrics to the theme song. He doesn’t know that they are not a “real” band. He likes their music though. They’re cool and groovy.

Groovy. He likes the way that word sounds. He picked up that word from watching The Monkees and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in.

He started using the word over the summer. The first time was at a carnival in Spring Valley when he rode the Double Ferris Wheel.

“Wow, that was groovy,” he told Tommy Sharpe after he had ridden the Ferris wheel.

He had gone to the carnival with the Sharpe boys: Tommy, Ray, and Danny. It was the first time to go anywhere without one of his parents or relatives. Danny was the oldest and had left for basic training during the summer. Now he was in Vietnam.

What’s wrong with America?

You know, there are a lot of things that need fixing in America besides health care and one of them would be our education system. The other day, I read an article that over 20,000 teachers could be laid off in the next school year. That is both sad and tragic.

However, what is even more tragic and absurd; hence the title of this blog is the article I read this morning about an NBA star who made more than $87 million dollars in his 15-year NBA career and who is now $5 million dollars in debt.

That is one of the things that is truly wrong with America when athletes make that kind of money and teachers, who are our nation’s future in the lives of the children they will teach, are laid off.

Man, have we got our priorities all mixed up.

Wake up America!

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