A memory wrapped in a bun

I imagine there was a bit of a hot dog in George Molchan. And why not? It was his job and he did it with relish.Which is why — and I’m not making this up, folks — mourners sang “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener” and then blew short blasts on miniature, hot dog-shaped whistles during Molchan’s funeral in Merrillville, Ind.Molchan, who died Tuesday at 82, helped market Oscar Meyer for 36 years. Molchan, who played a character known as Little Oscar, would travel from town to town in the 27-foot-long Oscar Mayer Wienermobile back in the days when medical experts hadn’t yet done a lawn job on the negative nutritional aspects of hot dogs.In the true vagaries of coincidence, I happened to check out the obits today and saw Little Oscar’s farewell story. Which immediately brought into focus in my mind’s eye a treasured image from yesteryear.Yep, the first celebrity I ever met was Little Oscar. I don’t remember the precise year, but it was somewhere in the mid-1950s when I was a mere tyke. I recall that my mother and I had just left Joseph’s, which sold men and boys clothing, at Fourth and Penn. And there parked on Penn Street was the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, with Little Oscar working the small crowd.In the cold light of hindsight, I should have asked Little Oscar for his autograph that day. I don’t remember why I didn’t. Perhaps he didn’t have a mustard-colored Sharpie. I don’t recall, since time’s winged chariot has clouded my memory.I do remember being almost as tall as Little Oscar, which was no big feat. And I do recall being quite impressed with the Wienermobile. After all, it was in color. It sure looked more vibrant than it did in the commericals on our black-and-white TV set.Truth be told, I hadn’t given Little Oscar much thought until today. I don’t eat hot dogs that often anymore. But the next time I have one, probably at a Reading Phillies game, I’ll observe a moment of silence for Little Oscar.

The sky is falling on road construction

Highway construction and maintenance in Berks and beyond seemingly abound everywhere every year. Like dandelions, there’s no escaping it. So all of us are sentenced to waste away in clogged corridors of lost time.Or are we?In my brooding and bemused manner, I gave that question considerable reflection on a lazy Sunday morning. The Reading Eagle had knocked some cobwebs off my brain this morning with the news that a 2.5-year, $55.4 million reconstruction project will begin Tuesday on Interstate 78 in the Hamburg area. The project will reconstruct I-78 from the Route 61 interchange (Exit 29) to about 3 miles east of Hamburg. The Hamburg interchange (Exit 30) also will be reconstructed, and ramp configuration improvements are planned at Route 61.Short-term lane restrictions are expected during off-peak travel times from May until Labor Day, when long-term single-lane restrictions will take effect. This section of I-78 has an average daily traffic volume of 31,000 vehicles.Ouch! And the Route 222 project south towards Lancaster still is incomplete. Yikes!Anyway, back to the cobwebs falling from my brain cells. I suddenly recalled the network cartoon series “The Jetsons” that premiered on ABC in 1962 and transported all of us to the future of 2062.

Granted, we aren’t at 2062 yet, but it’s just a few blinks of fast-forwarding time away. After all, we crossed the threshold into the 21st century five years ago. You can look it up. It was in all the newspapers.

But back to my point: The Jetsons — beleaguered bread-winner George, loving wife Judy, hip daughter Judy, fun-loving Elroy and loyal dog Astro — didn’t motor around in a landlocked car. Rather they soared through the friendly skies in an atomic-powered bubble. And so did everybody else, including George’s irritable boss, Mr. Spacely.

Yep, they all zoomed around in the sky, with nary a construction delay or even a pothole to mess with their serenity. They just floated along blithely in the air like so much sweet smog.

Ignore the picayune details and let your imagination run wild. Instead of investing millions in never-ending road infrastructure issues, why not use the money to produce cost-effective atomic-powered flying bubbles for mass consumption? Where’s Detroit and NASA, not to mention the Japanese, when you need ’em? Such a quick shift in approach would obviously eliminate oodles of high gasoline prices, traffic jams, road construction and PennDOT coffee breaks.

Plus, imagine how cool it would be if we all were driving around in the Berks County skies, scoping out the spectacular vistas and getting a bird’s-eye view of how suburban sprawl is strangling all of us.

I concede that nothing is perfect in the world of reality, and the “Jetsons” wasn’t a reality TV show (that particular genre, I believe, had yet to be invented in 1962 unless you count the “Wonderful World of Disney”). So in a real world of flying cars and/or bubbles, exit signs obscured by clouds could be a problem. The same would go for kissing-the-sky billboards, mounted on towering poles raised by huge hydraulic lifts. And when accidents would occur way up there, vehicles would hit the ground like so many raindrops hitting an umbrella. Except the splash would be a tad more frightful.

Of course, perhaps we could cover all of Berks County with Styrofoam to cushion falls from the sky. That could be a job for displaced PennDot workers. And they also could find work as air traffic controllers. We’d probably need several thousand of them on duty at all times.

Don’t you just love win-win situations?

Save the yard work for Mr. Greenjeans

Up front, just let me inform you that I’m a hypocrite. Now that spring has crawled out from under the covers of winter, I’m one of those countless landscaping laborers populating Berks suburbia. And I despise every microsecond expended cutting grass, growing grass, pruning, planting, yanking weeds, mulching, sweating, sneezing and swearing.I sometimes wonder if all the other backyard dirt-splattered warriors really do have an affinity and affection for yard work or are they grass-stained hypocrites such as myself. I suspect there are more of the latter.You see, we all get sucked into the foreboding and ruthless hell of social expectations. Since all the neighbors have gussied-up lawns and flower beds and gardens and whatever, we do, too.So there we are, grouchier than Cinderella’s stepsisters, outside looking in. Granted, nice sunny spring days are OK to toil in the yard. But just how many are there of those? Not too damn many. I know that weather whiz Ed Hanna over there at WFMZ-TV Channel 69 must know this, but why have our Berks springs in recent years had the bleak feel of a Russian winter?Much of my landscaping ventures are spent shivering in the wind. I like my drinks chilled, not my blustery breezes.And the sun can be a most elusive partner. The sun is like a wife with a not-so-discrete passion for shopping. It’s never around. So I’m sentenced to do all the grit-and-grime work under slate-gray skies.Nevertheless, fueled by the great expectations of my neighbors and rationalizing in the belief that genius truly must be perseverance in disguise, I continue to attack my yard chores with the outward zeal of a battalion commander. Indeed, I consider my gun-metal lawn mower to be an assault vehicle. When I look closely, I can see the blades of grass flinching in fright as I approach with my trusty killing machine.Well, I’ve squandered enough time on this sunny, beautiful spring Saturday. I can hear the symphonic percussion of my neighbors’ lawn mowers, weed whackers and chainsaws. I’ve procrastinated long enough. It’s time to plunge into the treacherous whirlpool of lockstep social behavior or risk being ostracized. After all, the nail that sticks out gets hammered. And we suburbanites are honeycombed for survival in an environment where conformity is as prized as lush landscaping.

The measure of a man

Sometimes the news is so fascinating that it transcends fiction in terms of dramatic denouement.For instance, I almost dropped my spoon into my cereal bowl this morning when I read in the Reading Eagle that a Lancaster County man unhappy with his penile-enlargement surgery mailed explosives to his Chicago plastic surgeon, according to an indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in Philadelphia.Blake R. Steidler, 24, Reamstown, fashioned dental floss, gunpowder, a carbon-dioxide cartridge, a 9-volt battery and a model-rocket engine igniter into an explosive device inside a jewelry box, then wrapped it and sent it to the doctor, authorities said Thursday. OK, I thought, size must matter to some gentlemen. Which probably explains why some guys smoke a cigar the size of an oboe. But I digress.It’s a matter of biology and psychobabble that the penis cuts to the raw ganglia of manhood. Evidently, some men will go to unreasonable ends to enhance what Mother Nature gave them. And not having achieved that, it seems it’s all downhill for their psyche thereafter as they tumble through life like a terrible skier.Sounds like a stiff price to pay to cynics like myself who consider penile enlargement to be the worst scam since gabardine.Still, a lack of size apparently enfolds some men in its relentless psychological embrace, dipping all braggadocio into a hot broth of tears.Now authorities are saying a Reamstown man reached his flashpoint over not getting a bigger bang for his buck, which lit a fuse that turned his heart into a potential engine of destruction.

The epic battle of the Birds

Flamboyant wideout Terrell Owens and his new agent, the mercenary Drew Rosenhaus, are trying to engage the Philadelphia Eagles in a steel-cage Texas death match over his contract. This is evolving into a full-scale fire-in-a-theater drama.Dealing with Rosenhaus is like bartering with Beelzebub. He has the hiss and bite of an alligator.Meanwhile, T.O., who loves to warm his hands by the media spotlight, has passion and pursuit that is incessant and unforgiving. He also is famously egocentric and gloriously contemptuous of convention. Contradiction runs deep in his nature. Consequently, folks love him and loathe him — simultaneously. He has the capacity to turn a smile upside down and right side up in a matter of maddening moments.Of course, the bottom line on Owens is he’s a colossus in the NFL. The guy is a productive stud.

Conversely, the Eagles are masters of controlling their salary cap. When their stars play economic hardball with them, they always strike out. It seems as if the Birds delight in taking some of the buckshot out of their green goliaths. And what really must gall the scalded players is that owner Jeffrey Lurie and economics wizard/henchman Joe Banner definitely are guys who sat at the nerd table in high school cafe.

So Owens/Rosenhaus vs. Banner/Lurie/Andy Reid figures to be a helluva heavyweight tag-team tussle.

The crux of the matter is Owens wants to be able to bathe in additional $1,000 bills. And he wants more security. You see, NFL contracts, sans signing and roster bonuses, are more insecure than Hollywood actresses.

Well, Owens already is going for the jugular. He already has taken a not-so-veiled shot at QB Donovan McNabb for barfing during crunch time of the Super Bowl. And in Thursday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, he claimed the Philadelphia organization is “leaking stuff to make me look bad.” And he disputes the notion that wanting to redo the seven-year, $47 million contract he signed last year is selfish, claiming the Eagles can terminate the pact whenever they see fit.

T.O. claims the Birds low-balled him last year because they knew he was in a jam and was dying to play for the Eagles and with McNabb. His former agent, David Joseph, had screwed up Owens’ shot at unrestricted free agency, which led to a failed trade with Baltimore before San Francisco dealt him to the Eagles.

Owens’ ardor to be a Bird has burned him. The fiscally adroit Eagles took full advantage by paying him only (a relative adjective, I know) $8.5 million in signing and roster bonuses a year ago, and pushing the remaining $7.5 million of lump-sum payments into 2006.

What T.O. is now sweating is that the Eagles can pay him $3.25 million in salary this year, and then walk away without much salary cap consequence if they choose not to pay him that $7.5 million, due next March.

T.O.’s shot at McNabb apparently was to launch some mortar fire into the escalating hostilities. He likely will bring in the heavy artillery by boycotting minicamps and training camp.

So who blinks? Owens and Rosenhaus? Or Banner and Reid? The Eagles are sworn to sacrifice their first-born sons before ever renegotiating a contract with a player over 30.

It says here that the Eagles eventually will blink, but will do it while hiding behind dark glasses and semantics by using the rhetoric they restructured, not renegotiated, Owens’ contract by sliding him additional guaranteed money.

You could see the foreshadowing of matters spiraling out of control for the Eagles on the day they signed Owens. After all, when the lion and the lamb lie down together, the lamb isn’t likely to get much sleep.

A literary treasure chest on Fox

There are some guys out there — and they know who they are — who’ve spent their entire lives looking for a Pamela Anderson look-alike to discuss Russian literature with while relaxing in a hot tub.Which is why Wednesday night’s pneumatic premiere of the Pamela Anderson sitcom “Stacked” on Fox was a breath of intoxicating air for a lot of males.I must admit I’m a big Pam Anderson fan and I will try to limit any contrived and cheap references to lungs and heavy breathing. However, I would certainly be remiss not to point out that the series is Anderson’s shot at career resuscitation. And, for the record, I can’t see her character being hung up on Emily Bronte.Why is that relevant? Because Anderson plays a party girl (OK, a bit of a stretch, I know) who decides to make a major change in her life by going to work for a small bookstore (now there’s the big S-T-R-E-T-C-H).Without dipping into the murky and dangerous depths of generalization, bookworms usually are as featureless as the wind. They’re about as spicy as tuna fish casserole. So if there is a literature lover lurking behind Anderson’s ample exterior, there must be someone else inside her. To some folks, bookstores are one of man’s nobler enterprises. It’s a sanctuary where active minds (if not bodies) can spend prodigal amounts of time reading. If the bookstore has an employee walking around who looks like Pam Anderson, well, apparently you don’t have to be dead to enjoy a slice of heaven.The premise of the premiere was a lot of inside Pam Anderson jokes poking fun at her penchant for relationships with bad boy rockers. The show’s creators are trying to pull off a double play — enticing viewers with Anderson’s amazing architecture and keeping viewers with a smart, sophisticated comedic charm.The series undoubtedly will be filled with enough double-entendres to overflow a D-cup (ouch, self-editing hurts!). For instance, its title technically isn’t based on Anderson’s massive mammaries. The name of the bookstore is “The Stacks.” How utterly convenient! A strong supporting cast featuring Christopher Lloyd gives the show a fighting chance, at least in the view of an unschooled TV critic such as myself.Obviously, the transporting of Anderson’s sexy looks and image to the musty world of literature provides some fertile material for the writers to mine. Of course, the old “you can’t judge a book by looking at its cover” storyline can generate only so many one-liners. Or in Pam’s case, two-liners.

The latest candidate for Mother of the Year

The universe now can exhale, thank God, because it was beginning to turn blue from holding its breath. Yep, the global village that worships celebrities like tinsel deities no longer is shivering with anticipation.It’s official: Britney Spears has confirmed she’s pregnant. Now it’s bright skies for everyone, fortunately. Because we all just hate the sky when it’s the color of unpainted steel.Actually, the tabloids had this story nailed weeks ago. Spears’ expanding waist and bigger breasts were plastered all over their pages. People hungrily gobbled up all the preggers’ gossip about her. Of course, the more sophisticated celebrity watchers among us merely nonchalantly devoured all the speculation.Ever get the impression that celebrity is too much with us? Do we have to know every element, comprehend every component about the stars and those who love them?Personally, I’m glad she’s pregnant. Otherwise she simply would be terribly bloated.Obviously, her mind has been a tad bloated at times as well. Which would explain her bewildering behavior. Perhaps she became lightheaded after ascending too quickly into the rarefied air of pop diva.Spears married Kevin Federline in September. He has two children with his ex-girlfriend, actress Shar Jackson. Britney and the prolific Federline hooked up last year when he was a backup dancer on her tour and Jackson was pregnant with their son.Imagine the tumult in the world if Britney and Kevin’s paths had not intersected!This is Spears’ second marriage. She endured a 55-hour Las Vegas marriage to childhood chum Jason Alexander eight months prior to falling for Federline.Even though the bloom is off the rose of her career, Britney still is trying to be the most important swan in the ballet of pop culture. Which is likely why she and her loving husband are going to document their courtship in a new UPN reality series. The concept of that show, frankly, is somewhat intriguing. After all, reality seemingly has been a quaint anachronism in Britney Spears’ life for sometime now.

Competition Lite Trumped

Well, America evidently hasn’t lost its gulping, carnivorous appetite for wholesome cheesecake.NBC was back at the pastry counter Monday night with its presentation of the 54th annual Miss USA pageant.These competitions are as predictable as the sunrise. Judges evaluate contestants in swimsuit, evening gown and interview competitions.Last night the melodrama bubbled in a resounding crescendo — if your IQ happens to be in single digits. The probing interrogations by sugar schmuck co-hosts Billy Bush and Nancy O’Dell snapped all weak minds to rigid attention.The smorgasbord of celebrity pap was as abundant as the cleavage.For the record, Chelsea Cooley, Miss North Carolina, a 21-year-old brunette who says she sees a lot of herself in Oprah Winfrey, was crowned Miss USA. She will compete May 30 in the Miss Universe competition in Bangkok, Thailand.By the way, Donald Trump was in attendance. Like oxygen, The Donald is everywhere. It seems he and NBC co-own the pageant. Is there anything that Trump doesn’t have his pompadour in?

Bedtime horror stories

I’ve been trying to ignore the Michael Jackson trial. But unless you live in a gulf of silence insulated from the media, it’s unavoidable. Truth be told, I’m bored with Michael Jackson. I mean the word already has been sent out piggyback on exhaled breath: Jacko is a wacko.I know judge and jury have to draw a line through all of Michael’s garbage. But that’s their problem, not mind.Still, it did grab my attention when I read that the mother of a boy who received millions from Jackson in a lawsuit more than a decade ago told jurors Monday that a trembling Jackson pleaded with her to allow her son to sleep with him during visits to his Neverland ranch and on trips to Las Vegas, Florida and Europe.The woman said that in 1993 she was treated by Jackson to trips and lavish gifts of jewelry after she agreed to let the boy sleep in Jackson’s room.That gagging sound you just heard was my blood gurgling because it’s running thick with disgust. That mother must be enwebbed in the same ethereal limbo or even better yet, hell, as Wacko Jacko.We all try to look for hope in mankind. But when we look at people such as Jackson and that poor kid’s mother, we find none.Personally, if Michael somehow beats this latest rap of child molestation, I hope they restore the draft and he’s the first guy called. There won’t be any officers holding an umbrella over Jackson’s head in sun-drenched Iraq.

Mastering a magical moment

If you have a sweet tooth for dramatics, once again the Masters on Sunday had a plenitude of pastries. With Tiger Woods squeaking past Chris DiMarco in a one-hole playoff, the competition for that ugly green jacket was competition at its most vibrant.Still, the signature shot that took everybody’s breath away was Tiger’s incredible 25-foot birdie chip shot on the par-3 16th hole. Whether you saw it live or on highlights, there was something positively extraordinary to witnessing it. It was a poignant wedding of pluck and luck crystallized in a magical moment.The ball seemingly crept toward the cup in maddeningly slow motion. It was almost as if the ball were frozen in time. But not quite. It waited until it was perched on the precipice of the cup to be absolutely frozen. The ball hung on the lip for what seemed an eternity.Then the world’s axis must have hiccupped or something, and the ball dropped in. Actually, it was probably part gravity, part mojo. A couple of parts that made for a whole lot of Masters lore. And it all came down to one riveting revolution of the ball. But never forget that Woods executed that shot with the steely calculation of a riverboat gambler.The shot sent Woods into spasms of joy as he high-fived caddie Steve Williams while both sported smiles so fixed they resembled those of rigor mortis. It was a warm, wonderful moment of celebration paying testament to a shot that lunged for DiMarco’s throat. Indeed, Tiger had nailed another supernova of a golf shot for immortality. And he had done so with spectacular verve. With him, performance is punctuation. Now with his fourth green jacket, Tiger doesn’t have to bother to dip his toes in before walking on water.