On Labor Day, a journalist cleans out his files of nuggets and gems

It's Labor Day, that time to purge my research files. (click to enlarge- Photo by Devcore; work released for unconditional use in public domain under terms of CC 1.0)

It’s Labor Day, that time to purge my research files. (click to enlarge- Photo by Devcore; work released for unconditional use in public domain under terms of CC 1.0)

A journalist’s research, fact-checking and interview leftovers often provide a treasure trove of information the public never sees. On any given week, I’m working on a handful of writing and editing assignments for a variety of publications.

Periodically my files – both paper and automated – require purging. It’s something I like to do on Labor Day each year, something of a tradition in unloading arcania in which few would have interest, seemingly.

Unlike a septic tank, though, some of the material here is just too good to waste. So last week, as my deadlines passed, I decided to share a few of these nuggets rather than condemn them to oblivion. Here is a sampling of the first batch:

From the department of eco-friendliness: The next time you’re driving across Saudi Arabia, check out the phone booths in the middle of nowhere; they are all powered by solar energy. How come we don’t see that on interstate rest stops in the Mojave Desert?

From the Portland Stage school of theatrics: acting guilds and associations have obscure rules that govern the selection of stage names, to include not being able to use your birth name if it’s already in use by another actor.

So Nathan Lane, for example, couldn’t use his given name of Joseph Lane because someone else was using it as a fake name. To top it off, Michael Caine’s real name was Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, Jr. Bet that would have looked great on a marquee, eh?

Maurice Micklewhite Jr (click to enlarge - Photo by Manfred Werner. Released for use under CC 3.0)

Sir Michael Caine or … Maurice Joseph Micklewhite Jr.?  (click to enlarge – Photo by Manfred Werner. Released for use under CC 3.0 Unported)

From the “couldn’t you think of some other trait” institute: The Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team got their name from their Brooklyn roots, where the team resided before its move to the West Coast in 1956. The name was a shortened form of “trolley dodgers,” apparently identifying the main virtue of Brooklynites as avoiders of trolley car hit-and-runs.

Interestingly, there was an earlier team by that exact name – the Trolley Dodgers – in 1880s Brooklyn, which played in the old American Association. Really now, there was nothing else? The Brooklyn Bridges, maybe?

From the Sigmund Freud sanitarium of human performance: When composing a musical score, Ludwig van Beethoven felt that his creative juices would flow – literally – by dunking his head into a pitcher of chilled water. Say what!??

From the Oxford English Dictionary doorstop factory: The only 15-letter word that doesn’t repeat a letter is “uncopyrightable.” Which is what my editors may declare this piece if they take a good look at it!

From the Dr. Ruth Westheimer (remember her?) fertility clinic: A male praying mantis can’t copulate with its head attached to its torso. (!!!!!) In order to do the deed, the female of the species first has to shred the male’s head off. Now there’s a mating ritual all of us guys just lay awake at night and dream of – right fellas?

From the “ESPN Wide World of Poker” championship match: After surviving hundreds of gunfights, legendary lawman Wild Bill Hickock was shot in the back of the head in 1876 in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, while playing poker. The two pairs of cards he drew at the time, aces and eights, have since become known as “the dead man’s hand.”

The dead man's hand: two pairs of aces and eights, the cards held by Wild Bill Hickock had when he was shot in 1876. (click to enlarge - Photo by Tage Olsin. Use allowed under CC 2.0 Generic)

The dead man’s hand: two pairs of aces and eights, the cards held by Wild Bill Hickock when he was shot in 1876. (click to enlarge – Photo by Tage Olsin. Use allowed under CC 2.0 Generic)

Someone please gimme another card.

From the “and you think you’re taxed to death here in the northeast” department of revenues: Until the late 19th century, the English Parliament used to levy a tax on its citizens for using soap when bathing. Makes you want to reconsider the meaning of “ripe.”

From the “three’s a crowd” cultural awareness course: Polls show that in China, the most recognizable western names are, in order, Jesus Christ, Richard Nixon, and Elvis Presley. Yikes!

Finally, from the “I really got my second wind now” academy of pugilism: Former world heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney, already a Marine Corps veteran of World War I, went on to marry a Carnegie heiress, rub shoulders with the great literati of his day, lecture on Shakespeare at Yale, serve in the Navy in World War II, sit on the boards of numerous corporations, and sire a U.S. senator.

Even with repartee, I can’t top Tunney’s blur of achievement; in fact, just thinking of it exhausts me.

So on that note, I’ll see you next time I’m cleaning out the files of nuggets and gems.

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Telly Halkias is a national-award winning newspaper columnist.

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Telly Halkias

About Telly Halkias

Award-winning freelance journalist from Portland's West End. Writes columns, features, and drama reviews for newspapers in Vermont, where he also owns a home, Massachusetts, New York and Maine.. Former weekend columnist at the now defunct Portland Sun. Longtime adjunct professor of college English/history/humanities. Has lived overseas for 15 years, and all over the U.S. Veteran. Small business owner. Published poet. ATCA drama critic. Loves all things outdoors, and Siberian huskies.