Monthly Archives: January 2011

Movies: One must-see and one don’t bother

The "Feed the Fish" movie poster, courtesy of

Katie Aselton and Ross Partridge are taking a Polar Plunge. Photo courtesy of "Feed the Fish."

Barry Corbin plays the part of a Door County outdoorsman. Photo courtesy of "Feed the Fish."

Door County, Wis., is a beautiful place, even in the winter. Photo courtesy of "Feed the Fish."

Katie Aselton at her waitress job in the movie. Photo courtesy of "Feed the Fish."

Tony Shalhoub, left, is the film's sheriff. Photo courtesy of "Feed the Fish."

I normally don’t do movie reviews in this column, but I’m making an exception this time. I’ve got one flick to tell you about that I think deserves a thumbs up, and another to which I’m awarding a thumbs down.

I really enjoyed “Feed the Fish,” an independent film which, sadly, was in town only two weeks at the Nova 6 Theater in Moline.

If you want to see it, you’ll probably have to rent it or buy it. The movie’s website,, lists where it’s available.

Written and directed by Michael Matzdorf, “Feed the Fish” is a romantic comedy about the adventures of a burned out city-slicker writer of children’s books whose relationship is in a shambles. He leaves California for the winter wilderness of Door County, Wis., in search of inspiration and to join his body in a Polar Bear Plunge in Lake Michigan. And he finds more than he bargained for.

The motion picture stars Ross Partridge as the writer, Tony Shalhoub as the crusty county sheriff, Barry Corbin as a rugged outdoorsman and Katie Aselton as a waitress and the love interest.

Shalhoub and Corbin should be familiar to you.

Shalhoub played Italian cabdriver Antonio Scarpacci in the sitcom “Wings.” He also was the Emmy-winning actor who played obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk in “Monk.”

Corbin starred as Maurice J. Minnifield, the patriotic former astronaut who owned a radio station and newspaper in TV’s “Northern Exposure.”

“Feed the Fish” has a definite Midwestern flavor to it. Shalhoub was raised in Green Bay, Wis. And the movie’s writer-director, Matzdorf, who is Shalhoub’s real-life nephew and was the editor of “Monk,” left Hollywood in 2009 to return to his family’s Door County farm to direct the movie.

The film, which producers are self-releasing in theaters, has won two best feature awards at film festivals. It wasn’t initially rated but is comparable to PG13 films.

If you’ve thought about seeing “Gulliver’s Travels” with Jack Black, on the other hand, I’d advise you to save your money. For my wife Sherry and me, it was a disappointment.

As we walked out of the theater, I apologized to her for suggesting we see it.

“That was the only comedy I ever remember seeing,” she noted wryly, “where I didn’t laugh once.”

“I did smile at one place in it,” I recalled.

“Well, at least the popcorn was good,” she added.


This is a true story: I was in a doctor’s exam room recently waiting for the doctor to come in. His nurse, who is about my age and does not wear glasses, was with me, looking at my chart.

She exclaimed, “You’re 61 years old? You look like you’re in your 40s!”

Of course, I was flattered.

I smiled and jokingly replied, “Thank you, but I think you need glasses.”

She then paused and said, “Now that you mention it, I am scheduled to have cataract surgery in a couple of weeks.”


There’s still time. But so far this winter, I haven’t taken my annual tumble on the ice.

Last year I fell on top of an empty plastic garbage can I was carrying from the curb to the back yard, and it broke my fall.

I survived without injury, but the garbage can didn’t. It was brittle because of the cold weather and shattered into several pieces.

I can’t count on a garbage can to save me this year. My community went to automated refuse pickup, and we now have one of those huge garbage totes on wheels.

Copyright 2011 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece was submitted as an “Everyday People” column at The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on January 30, 2011 in Uncategorized


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My season as a stock car pit crewman

Gary Baker, left, and Phil Roberts with the car before it was repainted. Dennis Schmidt photo.

The 312 engine. The beer cans kept dirt and moisture out of the headers. Phil Roberts photo.

My paint job dressed up the car a bit. Phil Roberts photo.

Battle scars soon undo body work and paint schemes on race cars. Phil Roberts photo.

Left to right are Dennis Schmidt, Phil Roberts and Red Fisher on June 18, 1967, in East Moline. From the Phil Roberts collection.

Red Fisher wins a race on June 25, 1967, in East Moline. Skip Chick was the flagman. From the Phil Roberts collection.

I’ve done a lot of mechanical work on cars, but I wouldn’t call myself a mechanic. Most of the work was done when I was a young man who couldn’t afford the most dependable cars and, when they broke down, couldn’t afford to pay someone else to repair them.

So I acquired a few basic tools and some auto repair manuals and, when something broke, I asked questions of people who knew more than I did about the workings of cars. Then I plunged into the repairs.

I’ve replaced a cylinder head that was warped because I unknowingly had let the engine overheat on a 1959 Simca I had paid $50 for.

And I replaced a blown manual transmission on that same car. That was an interesting project. When I pulled the old one loose, it fell on my chest as I lay on my back under it working alone in my parents’ garage.

I had to bench press the old tranny up, then forward, putting back on the car to keep from suffocating.

But stories of those repairs and some of the interesting breakdowns I’ve had — like the time my 1955 Chevrolet quit in the busy Brady and Kimberly intersection at rush hour while I was about to experience diarhea — will have to wait for another time.

This article is about my experience for just one season as a pit crewman on stock cars.

I hooked up with Dennis Schmidt in late 1966 or early 1967. Dennis was a little younger than me but a good mechanic. He owned a 1955 Ford two-door stock car that competed in the Novice Division.
I helped him prepare the car for the 1967 season. We worked in Dennis’s grandmother’s large garage on West Locust Street, just east of Zenith Avenue in Davenport.

We raced the car Friday nights in Davenport and Sunday nights in East Moline. I was young enough that my dad had to sign a waiver so I could enter the pits.

I missed many of the Friday races because of the high school football games I was involved in or, in the off season, my job at a supermarket, Stark’s Super Valu, which was across the street from the track.

There was another crewman named Gary Baker. He was Dennis’s age, and years later I heard he’d been killed in a car crash.

Our driver was Lester “Red” Fisher of Davenport, a carpenter who was probably in his late 20s or early 30s at the time.

The car was gold but had lousy lettering on it, so I repainted it the same color, probably by brush, then did the lettering and trim freehand in red and white. I also painted Red’s helmet gold. By today’s standards, it was an antique.

A note I found with a photo of the race car tells me it had a 312-cubic inch V-8 engine that was bored out .060 to about 325 cubic inches. It had an AFB four-barrel carburetor, Jahns pistons, a Crane cam and a 332 manifold.

It wouldn’t fire as we readied it for the 1967 season. Dennis was behind the wheel pressing the ignition button one day, trying to get it to start, when I noticed fuel coming from the fuel line near the carb.

“Just wrap a shop rag around the fuel line and hold it there,” said Dennis.

I did, not noticing that the rag was getting saturated with fuel as he continued to crank away on the stubborn engine.

At some point a spark from a spark plug ignited the gasoline fumes; the soaked rag, which I was holding; and my hand, which was wet with gasoline.

I released the rag and in shock raised my flaming hand into the air.
Seeing this through the windshield Dennis’s eyes became the size of saucers and his mouth fell open.

Gathering my thoughts, I quickly put the burning hand on my chest and smothered the flames with my other hand. I suffered only a little redness and mild discomfort.

Before Dennis tried to start the engine again, he tightened a lose fitting on the fuel line where it attached to the carb to stop that pesky leak.

We had one major problem for a while at the track that Dennis traced back to Red.

It was common to race a car in second gear on a quarter-mile track. We had a strap for Red to put on the shift lever when he got it into second so the tranny wouldn’t vibrate out of gear.

But Red often apparently forgot to use it. Then when the tranny would jump into neutral, he’d forget to use the clutch when shoving it back into second, shearing the teeth off the gear.

We replaced three transmissions before Red finally got it right.

Red won at least one race in 1967. It was a consolation event on June 25 at Quad City Raceway in East Moline. It was only our fifth night out and only the third race we’d finished all season.

Perhaps Dennis cut back on his racing toward the end of the ‘67 season — I don’t recall — but for some reason I ended up pitting for two friends, Kenny Arthur and Dave Wheeler, as the season wrapped up. They raced Plymouths in the Novice Division.

I didn’t do any pitting in 1968 or beyond. I was in college, dating the girl I’d marry a year later and working as a deejay at KWNT. But I wouldn’t trade the experience I had in 1967 for anything.

Copyright 2011 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.


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Posted by on January 17, 2011 in Uncategorized


Focusing on some special cameras and photos

A 1963 shot from the Great Smokey Mountains. Phil Roberts photo.

Another 1963 photograph, this one taken in St. Augustine, Fla. Phil Roberts photo.

I’ve been interested in photography since I was 11 or 12 years old. In junior high, I read every book I could find about photography, and I took lots of notes.

Then I assembled my own basic instruction manual on taking photos, developing film and making prints.

Soon I had set up my own primitive darkroom in the laundry room of my parents’ basement.

I bought the photo-processing chemicals and some of the needed equipment with money I had earned.

My photo enlarger came from a family member.

My late uncle, Ross Devine, of Bettendorf, had been into photography in a big way before his death, and I borrowed his enlarger from my Aunt Thelma.

It was a behemoth — a J.G. Saltzman Inc. enlarger with a heavy transformer that powered a square, tubular light bulb filled with mercury.

Uncle Ross had worked as a press operator at the Morning Democrat and Daily Times, predecessors to the Quad-City Times. Perhaps that’s where he bought the enlarger. It’s not something you’d want to ship a great distance.

I was 14 in 1963 when I convinced my dad that his old camera, which used 110 film as I recall, was not suitable for our first-ever, big family vacation, a trip to Florida planned for that summer.

So we went to Sears, my parents’ store of choice for about everything except food that they bought. And my dad purchased a Sears Tower 35mm camera in a brown leather case.

It was small in comparison with today’s 35’s. The settings were all manual, and it was a twin lens reflex camera as opposed to the better single lens reflex cameras.

But it took good pictures when the settings were right, and I became the family’s official photographer for that vacation and beyond. To help get the settings right, I eventually bought a light meter. I bought it for, I think, $8 at a pawn shop.

Our early photographs from that Tower, including many of the photos from the 1963 vacation, were shot on black and white film.
Why? I suspect color wasn’t yet that common, and perhaps my parents, who had always shot in black and white, saw no reason to make the switch.

Or perhaps mom and dad, Dorothy and Ray Roberts, who were raised in the Depression era and had a conservative lifestyle, considered the cost of color film and its processing too pricey.
My father’s widowed mother, my grandmother, Grace Roberts of Hannibal, Mo., joined my parents, my brother Bruce and me on that trip to Florida.

A couple of photos, shown above, from that 1963 vacation bring back memories that to this day put a smile on my face.

The first one was taken in the Great Smokey Mountains.

As we drove, we saw some motorists parked along the road and figured out they were stopped because they wanted to watch a bear that was walking in the ditch.

We pulled over, too, and I asked my dad if I could snap a picture. He said yes.

Dad meant for me to take the shot from inside the car. But that’s not what I had in mind. I quickly got out of the car and started toward the bear to get a close-up shot.

But my excited parents quickly called me back, possibly saving me some loss of blood, and I ended up taking my photograph from the safety of our 1957 Chevrolet. It still turned out well.

The other photo was taken in St. Augustine, Florida.

My folks let me out at my request in a tourist area so I could get a shot of a driver with his horse and buggy waiting for customers. That’s something we didn’t have back home in Iowa.

Traffic was heavy at the time, so dad said he’d circle the block and come back for me.

He did come back, but it took quite a while. He either got caught in a traffic jam or lost — I don’t remember which.

And I was a bit worried by the time he returned.

When I needed a camera, I borrowed my parents’ Tower camera until about 1965, when I was 16 and had a job in a grocery store. Then, with money I had earned, I bought a used Yashica-A that had been listed for sale in the classified ads.

The Yashica-A, manufactured from 1958 to 1969, was, like the Tower, a twin lens reflex camera with all manual settings. It used 120 film and had a gray leather case.

It was a good camera. I joined the Davenport West High School yearbook staff in 1966, my junior year, and used the Yashica for all the photos I was assigned to take.

I’ve been around for more than six decades, and there have been many cameras in my life since the Tower and Yashica. But those were the ones I used to learn the principles of photography, and they’ll always be special.

Copyright 2011 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on January 11, 2011 in Uncategorized


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A texter I’m not

Text messaging, also known as “texting,” is the exchange of brief written messages between cell phones.

Two of my sons, Clint and Dane, taught me about texting a few years ago. But I don’t particularly like receiving or sending texts. If someone has something to tell me, I wish they’d just call me or e-mail me. And I prefer calling or e-mailing others if I have something to say to them.

The main reason for my antique attitude is my antique cell phone and the antique pay plan it’s on, all of which I’m happy with.

My cell phone is so old it doesn’t take pictures, have games I can play or connect to the Internet. It also doesn’t get e-mail, and the keypad is too small for fat fingers to conveniently type outgoing text messages.

But that’s quite all right with me; I acquired my cell phone to — believe it or not — make and receive phone calls. Period. And it does that just fine.
Under my cell phone’s pay plan, text messages are not free. It costs me money to both send and receive them. One month, when I received a lot of texts, all of them unsolicited, I had an extra $12 charge on my bill.

If the folks who sent the texts that month had called or e-mailed me instead, there would have been no additional charge. I could have used that $12 to buy something worthwhile, like a bag of popcorn and a Coke at the movies.

There’s another reason I am not keen on texting. To save time, texters use lots of abbreviations instead of writing out entire phrases. And, non-texter that I am, I’ve been slow to catch on to the meanings of the acronyms.

An example: A man I know once ended his message to me with the abbreviation LOL. I put on my thinking cap and figured out that stood for Lots of Love, which I thought was a bit strange because he and I weren’t that close.

Turns out that LOL, while it can stand for Lots of Love, generally is short for Laughing Out Loud.

Since then, I’ve learned (but not by choice) some other popular chat acronyms. Here are a few of them:
BRB: Be Right Back
BTW: By The Way
BFF: Best Friends Forever
IMHO: In My Humble Opinion
LMAO: Laughing My A– Off
OMG: Oh My God
ROTFLMAO: Rolling On The Floor Laughing My A– Off
TMI: Too Much Information

If you’re on the elderly side and, unlike me, want to text someone, you may wish to use some of the following acronyms a friend sent me:
ATD: At The Doctor’s
BFF: Best Friend Farted
BTW: Bring The Wheelchair
BYOT: Bring Your Own Teeth
CBM: Covered By Medicare
CUATSC: See You At The Senior Center
DWI: Driving While Incontinent
FWBB: Friend With Beta Blockers
FWIW: Forgot Where I Was
FYI: Found Your Insulin
GGPBL: Gotta Go, Pacemaker Battery Low
GHA: Got Heartburn Again
HGBM: Had Good Bowel Movement
IMHO: Is My Hearing-Aid On?
LMDO: Laughing My Dentures Out
LOL: Living On Lipitor
LWO: Lawrence Welk’s On
OMMR: On My Massage Recliner
OMSG: Oh My! Sorry, Gas.
ROFLACGU: Rolling On The Floor Laughing And Can’t Get Up
SGGP: Sorry, Gotta Go Poop
TTYL: Talk To You Louder
WAITT: Who Am I Talking To?
WTFA: Wet The Furniture Again
WTP: Where’s The Prunes?
WWNO: Walker Wheels Need Oil

As always, thanks for reading. As for me, GGTAN. (Gotta Go Take A Nap)

Copyright 2011 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece submitted as a column to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in Uncategorized


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