Making Whoopee and Little Black Books

I’m a distractible adult.

I wasn’t a distractible child, but things change.

I blame the Internet. Open it to check one thing, and I’m lost for hours.

It’s like a dictionary. You know how it is: you look up ablative and right below it you see ablative absolute, and before you can close the book, you see abhenry and abraham’s bosom, and before you know it you’re on zedonk and zyzzyvas. It’s the Ice Age equivalent of web surfing.

Today the dictionary and the web got together and here I am writing a post.

I opened my email (the first mistake ) and there was my daily post from with the word of the day. I usually skip those. Sometimes I already know the word; sometimes I just don’t want to get hooked. Today’s word is messan–interesting enough to check out but surely not interesting enough to lead to disaster.

It turns out that messan, a noun, is Scottisha lap dog; small pet dog. The accompanying photo implies it’s a cute lap dog.

That’s good: a new word for my personal lexicon.

But–next mistake–scrolling down the page, I found a link to “Superb Owl and Other Copyright Loopholes.” Click bait. And then “Words (and Phrases) That Will Show Your Age.” Couldn’t resist that. Click.

Words that show my age: fuddy-duddy; web surfing; Dear John letter; How’s tricks?; Davenport and Chesterfield; long-distance call; VCR and videotape; little black book; wet-blanket; making whoopee; Rolodex™; Pet Rock™; mood ring; “Just one more thing”; “The thrill of victory (and the agony of defeat)”; “Up your nose with a rubber hose”; Fotomat; Walkman; Pigpen, you got your ears on?; “Good night, John Boy.”

Instead of saying, “Hahaha, I’m not old enough to remember that,” I have to admit I knew all of them without looking them up, but I don’t use them all. When I was a child, I heard some from older people. Wet-blanket was in general usage (until I read the article, I thought it still was). My mother explained Dear John letter, and, having lived through World War II, said it was a pretty awful thing to send to a soldier overseas. She also explained little black book, which I probably first heard on television; I don’t think I knew anyone who had one.

How’s tricks? also came from television, but I never heard it elsewhere. I guess fuddy-duddy came from television, too, or maybe my mom said it once or twice, but just to be amusing. Most of the adults I knew were over forty and immune to television language.

Back then, most long-distance calls were made after 9:00 p.m., when the rates went down. They were usually from my grandmother in Dallas, and were pre-arranged by letter so we knew when to expect them. The line crackled, and speakers on both ends had to repeat a lot. An un-prearranged call after nine, long-distance or not, meant bad news, or, sometimes, a new baby.

In Fentress, there was an unspoken rule that no calls were made after nine except in exceptional circumstances. The only mention of the rule occurred when my high school English teacher asked if it was a rule or just a tradition her family observed.

Fentress residents made many long-distance calls; the only town that wasn’t long-distance was Prairie Lea, the same size as Fentress, two miles away.

I refused to initiate all such calls because I was too shy to talk to a live operator. At eleven, I had a baptism of fire. I’d gone with my piano teacher and her other students to a dog show in Austin, and when we returned to her house in Martindale, I had to call my mother, seven miles away, to come for me. I was embarrassed to tell Miss Louise that I avoided operators.

I called my mother because, except for calls from long-distance family, my father rarely used the telephone. He wore a hearing aid, the kind worn in a harness against the chest, and often had to ask people to repeat. He left a job because it required frequent long-distance calls, often from high-ranking military personnel relaying sensitive information. A misunderstanding could have resulted in an airplane going down. He was also embarrassed to ask them to say things a second time.

While we were visiting his aunt one evening, her four-year-old granddaughter crawled into his lap and asked about the button  in his ear and the attached wire. He gave the usual explanation–“It’s my telephone”–and let her feel case under his shirt. A few minutes later the aunt’s telephone rang and the child turned to him and said, “Is that yours?” She looked so pleased, and so hopeful, it was a shame to disappoint her.

But back to words and phrases.

“Making Whoopee” was the title of a song I heard sung by Julie London when I was ten. She sang it slowly, in that smoky voice that was hers alone, on an LP (another word I remember) my cousin had standing in a record rack. The cover had a green background and showed Julie in profile from just below the shoulders, red hair flowing down, her face turned toward the camera. She wore a skinny strapless dress positioned so low that it made my mother say, “My goodness.” I would have simply died to wear a dress like that.

Twelve years later, Julie was a regular on TV’s Emergency! wearing a nurse’s uniform complete with cap. After the LP cover, that was such a come-down for her, and for me, a memory tarnished. She deserved better.

I began this post for a specific purpose but so far haven’t fulfilled it, but I must leave the rest for another day. I recently vowed to write posts of no more than five hundred words, and this already tops nine hundred.

Long-distance calls distracted me.


baptism of firenoun; the first time a soldier faces battle; any severe ordeal that tests one’s endurance.

From Wikipedia, the origin of the phrase:

“The phrase baptism by fire or baptism of fire is a phrase originating from the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11.

“Matthew 3:11 “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptizeyou with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” King James Version 1611

“The phrase also occurs in Luke 3:16 and it might be taken as a reference to the fiery trial of faith which endures suffering and purifies the faithful who look upon God’s glory and are transformed, not consumed (Mark 10:38, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 4:12). See also Dante’s Purgatory 27:10-15.”

Note: Nothing about telephones.


trunk call – noun; (mainly Brit); a long-distance telephone call


ablative absolute – noun, Latin Grammar.  a construction not dependent upon any other part of the sentence, consisting of a noun and a participle, noun and adjective, or two nouns, in which both members are the ablative case, as Latin viā factā “the road having been made.”

Happy Valentine’s Day from Me, and “To My Valentine” from Ogden Nash

More than a catbird hates a cat,
Or a criminal hates a clue,
Or the Axis hates the United States,
That’s how much I love you.

By Peter Massas [CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
I love you more than a duck can swim,
And more than a grapefruit squirts,
I love you more than a gin rummy is a bore,
And more than a toothache hurts.

As a shipwrecked sailor hates the sea,
Or a juggler hates a shove,
As a hostess detests unexpected guests,
That’s how much you I love.

I love you more than a wasp can sting,
And more than the subway jerks,
I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,
And more than a hangnail irks.

I swear to you by the stars above,
And below, if such there be,
As the High Court loathes perjurious oathes,
That’s how you’re loved by me.

~ Ogden Nash



Audio of “To My Valentine” at

Ogden Nash wrote over 500 humorous poems, says Wikipedia. One of his daughters said he wrote so much about daughters that when she was a teenager, she suffered perpetual embarrassment. I read an article in which she said that. I can’t document the article, but I did read it.

Isabel Allende: January 7th


I start all my books on January eighth. Can you imagine January seventh? It’s hell.

~ Isabel Allende


Isabel Allende by Mutari. [Public Domain] via Wikipedia Commons
“Paula is a soul-baring memoir that, like a novel of suspense, one reads without drawing a breath. The point of departure for these moving pages is tragic personal experience. In December 1991, Isabel Allende’s daughter Paula became gravely ill and shortly thereafter fell into a coma. During months in the hospital, the author began to write the story of her family for her unconscious daughter. In the telling, bizarre ancestors appear before our eyes; we hear both delightful and bitter childhood memories, amazing anecdotes of youthful years, the most intimate secrets passed along in whispers. Chile, Allende’s native land, comes alive as well, with the turbulent history of the military coup of 1973, the ensuing dictatorship, and her family’s years of exile.”

“Note from Isabel: I have received more letters from readers in response to Paula than for any other book.”






Allende quotation from Why We Write. Meredith Maran, ed.

Remiss but Not Missing

I have been remiss.

I haven’t posted here lately, probably because I’ve been posting more on Writing Wranglers and Warriors. I hope you have, or will, check out the blog. It’s currently second home to Cherley Grogg, Mike Staton, Neva Bodin, Abbie Johnson Taylor, S. J. Brown,  Cindy Carroll, Cole Smith, Debra Easterling, and Keri De Deo. Next week, Stevie Turner will guest post.

We write about everything from the U. S. space program, to tap dancing, to writing and editing, to wildlife photography, to obsession with elf ears–and more.

Changing directions now, I’ll mention few blogs I read:

Travels with Kaye
Kaye George is the author of four mystery series: Imogene Duckworthy, People of the Wind, Fat Cat (as Janet Cantrell), and Cressa Caraway Musical. I mention Immy Duckworthy first because it’s my favorite, drop-dead funny and unlike any other mystery series ever written (I’m sure of that). Last summer Kaye published a short story anthology she edited, Day of the Dark: Stories of Eclipse.  She has stories in many publications, including Austin Mystery Writers’ Murder on Wheels and Lone Star Lawless and was instrumental in getting four writers published for the first time. I shouldn’t mention this, but I will: Kaye is also Grand Pooh-Bah Emerita of Austin Mystery Writers. She was facilitator of AMW before she escaped for greener pastures, but the eyes of Texas were upon her. We gave her a title so she could not get away.


Contemplation and Elation and All Else

“Who am I?” the blogger writes. “I’m still discovering just who I am, I suppose.” She shares books and photographs. Her posts are brief, eye-catching, and–eclectic. I never know what she’ll post next, but I’m always glad I found out.


Abbie’s Corner of the World

Abbie Taylor Johnson was a registered music therapist and worked–and still volunteers–in facilities that serve senior citizens. In addition to writing about music, she posts about love and marriage, family life, holidays, vacations, her volunteer activities, and more. She also posts books reviews and recordings of her poetry. Her essays are personal, covering, she says, “my writing and other aspects of my life. It’s a life worth reading about. She also posts on Writing Wranglers and Warriors and has published several books, including the memoir My Ideal Partner and the novel We Shall Overcome.


I blog occasionally on Whiskertips, mine until cats (like the one trying to lie on the keyboard) took it over. I also post on Austin Mystery Writers, which has been quiet for a while as members worked on their books. Laura Oles recently published her first, DAUGHTERS OF BAD MENAlthough my skin has turned a lovely Shreck green, I’m not at all jealous.

My stories are published in MURDER ON WHEELS, LONE STAR LAWLESS, and DAY OF THE DARK, and on the e-zine Mysterical-E.

My friends know me as Kathy, but I now write under the name M. K. Waller. The CFO of Coca-Cola is also named Kathy Waller, and she keeps coming up first in Google searches. M. K. fares better, at least when I look for her.

Edward Lear: The Duck and the Kangaroo

Say It Again, Saxon!

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From Lone Star Lawless: “When Cheese Is Love”

I’m sharing an excerpt from my story “When Cheese Is Love,” which appears in Austin Mystery Writers’ second crime fiction anthology, LONE STAR LAWLESS. Click over to Writing Wranglers and Warriors to read the entire excerpt. (Click below on “View Original Post.”)

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

Posted by M. K. Waller


In November, Austin Mystery Writers, my critique group, published its second crime fiction anthology, LONE STAR LAWLESS. Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my story, “When Cheese Is Love.”

Lone Star Lawless (Wildside Press, 2017)

To set the scene: English teacher Tabitha Baynes has come to Fonda de Paz, the best Tex-Mex restaurant in Central Texas, at the invitation of Gonzalo, the owner, who moved up from Mexico last year. Tabitha has been giving him English lessons; she has also just finished a year-long medically supervised liquid-only diet, and as a result has skinnied down from XXL dresses to a Size One. She looks stunning, and she’s desperate to stay that way. She must be perfect, because Gonzalo is perfect, and tonight, they will dine together–alone. But first, she must do battle with an old enemy. We watch her cross the parking lot and…

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Potential or Perfection?

I spent some time today at Writing Wranglers and Warriors, on the topic of resolutions: patching cracks, looking for possibility, and Louisa May Alcott’s vice–the love of cats.

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

 Posted by Kathy Waller


‘What virtues do you wish more of?’ asks Mr.L. I answer:—

Louisa May Alcott

Patience, Love, Silence,
Obedience, Generosity, Perseverance,
Industry, Respect, Self-denial.

‘What vices less of?’

Idleness, Wilfulness, Vanity,
Impatience, Impudence, Pride,
Selfishnes, Activity, Love of cats.

Louisa May Alcott. Journal, October 1882


Have you drawn up your list of New Year’s Resolutions?

I haven’t.

It isn’t that I don’t want to lose weight, exercise, read more books, write more books, get a manicure every week, clean out the closets, clean out everything else, start taking voice lessons again, practice the piano, learn to speak Spanish, get to bed by 10:00 p.m. six nights a week, eat five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables every day, improve my posture, give up sugar, serve a tasty home-cooked meal every evening, learn to cook,  break that nasty little addiction to Candy…

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Wisdom and a Few Other Things I’ve Picked Up Along the Way

I’m at Writing Wranglers and Warriors today, sharing wisdom. Or something.

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

Yesterday a Facebook friend, the kind I’ve known all my life, posted about bits of wisdom she’s picked up over the years from ministers, school administrators, her parents, and others, such as to watch out for “clever devils,” not to buy cheap foreign goods that will “crack up” when you get them home, and “not to embarrass the family.” That started me thinking about bits of wisdom I’ve picked up over several decades, and I’m going to share some of them.


My mother didn’t say not to embarrass the family but I knew that’s what she meant from Day One, and I went ahead and embarrassed them anyway. She did say a lot of other things, though. I wrote a whole blog post about them and submitted it to Listen to Your Mother. I was called to audition but wasn’t chosen, which is a shame, because the audience…

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One Dollar and Eighty-Seven Cents

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing left to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

“Pocket watch” by Isabelle Grosjean ZA (Self-published work by ZA) is licensed under GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0,  or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the look-out for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, the letters of “Dillingham” looked blurred, as though they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. To-morrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling – something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim….

O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi


O. Henry Museum

The O. Henry Collection