It starts with his last name

Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash

In the J.R.R. Tolkien novels and Peter Jackson films of The Lord of the Rings, Gríma Wormtongue is portrayed as a devious, sniveling bad guy, with greasy dark hair and an all-around bad attitude.

By far, he’s my favorite character.

I find it easy to sympathize with him. Let’s start with his last name. It couldn’t have been easy growing up a Wormtongue. On the mailbox at the foot of the driveway, there’s a big “Wormtongue” written on the side. People ride their horses by it every day. I’m not sure it sets up a notion in visitors’ minds that…

Forgoing acorns, they bite the Big Apple

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Squirrels have quickly gone from our country’s most unusual airline service animal to the biggest menace to society since murder hornets.

In the Queens, NY neighborhood of Rego Park, they have been attacking residents and, rudely, biting them. Even if these people had coated themselves in a mixture of suet and sunflower seeds, it’s unusual behavior for squirrels. Naturalists are baffled—even David Attenborough has wisely stayed above the fray. I thought I’d clear things up , based on a lifetime of backyard squirrel observation. Bird feeders have been my Gombe.

I have two…

Behind curtain #1 is a devilish math test

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Monty Hall, the late host of “Let’s Make a Deal,” may not be the first person who comes to mind as someone associated with complicated probability theory. But to mathematicians, he’s as well known as Stephen Hawking, Katherine Johnson, or even the jerk responsible for so many unfortunate results on my geometry tests: Euclid.

This fame derives from the “Monty Hall Problem.” My son told me, “anyone with a passing interest in math has heard of it.”

Naturally, I hadn’t heard of it.

But Monty Hall will be known for the Monty Hall Problem long after his TV show is…

Pigeonholed, a musician tries to evolve

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At first Lou Reed admired Visconti; later, he loved him. Only Visconti could give him the courage to challenge La Scala’s oppressive and conservative approach to bel canto, an approach he would later eviscerate, to his regret, in his 1973 surprise hit, “Walk on the Wild Side.”

Callas, though still obsessed with Aristo, acted like a giggly teenager in Reed’s company. This infatuation was not unnoticed by Onassis, and Lou was discreetly asked to leave the Christina. …

As long as there was Tab Cola, the decade wasn’t over.

You’re beautiful to me.

I can still hear the jingle in my head.

“Tab, Tab Cola, what a beautiful drink. Tab, Tab Cola, for beautiful people. Tab, you’re beautiful to me. Real cola taste, just one calorie.”

In the commercial, a beautiful bikini-clad woman walks towards camera from the water, wet from the sea but somehow holding a can of… Tab. Apparently, if you drink Tab, one calorie Tab, you will look like her or I suppose the male equivalent. “Promise, large promise,” said Samuel Johnson, “is the soul of an advertisement.” Becoming beautiful because of a soda pop is a large promise.


When snowflakes fall in Buffalo, so do prices at Anderson’s Custard.

The crème de la custard. Credit: Anderson’s.

When I was visiting my family in Buffalo this March, I stopped by Anderson’s Custard to grab a cone—a chocolate-vanilla twist, to be specific. For someone who no longer lives in the area, it is a difficult place to offhandedly drive by. Not only do they serve an excellent roast beef-on-weck sandwich, but their frozen custard is exceptional. Creamy and flavorful, it comes in a variety of flavors, some of which are rotated in and out, so it’s always worth stopping by to see if black raspberry is on the menu that day.

When I went to pay for my…

In 2020, the grizzly lifestyle is more appealing than ever.

Holly, role model and resident of Katmai National Park, Alaska. Photo: National Park Service.

There’s nothing wrong with being a human, but other species have a better lifestyle. Like Ursus horribilis, the grizzly bear, whose concentration on eating and sleeping give us much to envy and even aspire to. Especially the bears of Katmai National Park in Alaska.

The biggest and baddest of the bunch live near the Brooks River, which come summer is so chock full of organic wild salmon that it puts Whole Foods to shame. You can’t literally walk across the backs of fish to cross the river, but you could walk across the backs of the bears gorging on them.

Who can resist a church pie sale?

Pump the brakes.

There are moments in life that leave you flabbergasted at your ridiculous good fortune.

Finding a twenty in an old pair of pants.

Reading Where the Wild Things Are to your kid for the first, or hundredth, time.

The sound of hard rain on an awning, as you sit underneath it.

Goodies, for sure. But they pale to this one: driving down a small town Main Street and seeing a pie sale sign in front of a church. I think I almost got rear-ended as I stomped on the brakes and careened across the road into the parking lot.


The Better Business Bureau’s “Do’s and Don’ts in Advertising Copy” Binder

Every rule and regulation you needed to break, updated yearly.

No one considers the 1950’s a golden age in advertising, except perhaps for the salaries (if you were the right gender, religion, and color to work in the industry). TV was new and money flooded into agencies trying to reach Americans glued to the three networks.

The real creative revolution began in the 1960s. All the rules were broken.

I know because I have the rulebook.

When one of the big agencies I used to work for was moving offices, lots of decades-old artifacts ended up in the trash…

A British TV show has a fix for everything.

Steve Fletcher (clocks), Will Kirk (cabinets), Kirsten Ramsay (ceramics), Jay Blades (host, furniture), Lucia Scalisi (paintings). Photo credit: Weald & Downland Living Museum

It’s the office we’d all like to go to. In an historic, thatched-roof barn in bucolic West Sussex, England, a team of expert restorers fixes beloved family heirlooms. Is their work appreciated? Typically, the customers burst into tears when they see the restorations.

The sounds of a music box, unheard for decades, recalls time spent with a grandmother as a child.

A precious antique vase, passed through five generations, accidentally smashed into a dozen pieces, is fitted together as good — or better — than before.

A teddy bear, a comforting companion through a difficult childhood, is given back its…

Jim Nolan

Jim’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Funny Times,, McSweeneys Internet Tendency, and on WBFO public radio.

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