Low Man on Totem Pole


Results aren’t in yet, but it appears that Gravlax Hoonersby, Jr. has been unanimously voted Low Man on the Totem Pole.

I am not astounded by the ostensible recipient; I always knew Hoonersby had it in him. What amazes me is that the Totem Pole Society of Greater Lankenau created the award in the first place.

lowmantotempoleYou know how it is with awards. They are usually given out at some public gathering or ceremony, with the photographer from the Daily Yokel Gazette in attendance. A middle-aged man in a well-cut suit (or an elderly lady in a very ill-cut but expensive suit) is seen handing a trophy or plaque or large cardboard citation to someone, and that’s the lead photo on tomorrow’s newspaper.

Sometimes it’s a cop who’s getting the award, sometimes it’s one of the Boy Sprouts. Once, when I was covering the financial beat for the Winnetka Star-Mucilage, I saw a lady in full Scottish regalia receiving a scroll.

It was quite impressive. She had a tartan sash, and kilt, and plaid overseas cap. The works. A sporran too, I think, not that she needed one.

My guess was she was dressed that way because she had to go to a fancy-dress party right afterwards. She probably worked the award into her act, said she was playing the headmistress at awards day at a Scottish boarding school.

scottish-costume-awardI wonder how well that went over in Winnetka. There are lots of Scots in the North Shore area, but they’re not really your boarding-school types. Schoolteachers and electricians mainly, the kind of folks who think they’re lucky if their kid gets into New Trier West.

And as for that big certificate she received, I’ll bet she gave it away to some guy dressed as Syngman Rhee, and now this Rhee fellow, who is actually a CPA named Angus McGlamorhoochie, has the award for being Top Scottish Lady or whatever the thing says.

I missed the Midwestern love of plaques and trophies when the syndicate hired me and sent me east to Philadelphia. In the City of Brotherly Love they are very stingy with their awards. In fact, the only award I ever saw anybody ever get (apart from the annual newspapermen’s shindig, where everyone gets a prize) was for soft pretzels.

Pretzels in the Quaker City are quite unlike anything you’ve had anywhere else. Imagine some kneaded bread dough that’s been rolled into a figure-eight the length of a baby’s arm,  broiled a few minutes on both sides, misted with water and sprinkled with rock salt.

Actually that’s pretty difficult to imagine.

Pretzel_boys-1But what you end up with are  these soft, damp, salted ropes of dough, sold out of brown paper bags on every street corner in Center City. Everyone buys them. Not just one—they used to be a nickel, now they’re usually a dime—but three or four at a time! They come conjoined, like egg cartons. The salesman just breaks off a rack of four or five and you hand him your fifty-cent piece.

Speaking of Ben Franklin, they didn’t have soft pretzels in his day. In those days Philadelphia was famous for things like pepper-pot soup. And I think oatmeal. That’s why there’s an old Quaker on the Quaker Oats box!

Bet you didn’t know that!

Next week: All About Philadelphia and Soft Pretzels!

Author: Hallen Smith

Hallen Smith is a much beloved humorist, financial writer, and newspaper columnist. He specializes in such trivialities as Christmas newsletters and Philadelphia soft pretzels.