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First Supper

In 1949, Frank McNamara went to a New York restaurant, Major’s Cabin Grill, to entertain a group of dinner guests

He had changed suits before he went and when the bill was presented, he realized his wallet was in his other suit. Fortunately, he knew the owner and his IOU was accepted.

That night he had an idea: why not charge it? He and a partner, his attorney,  started the first credit card, the Diners Club.

In February, 1950, McNamara and his partner returned to Major’s Cabin Grill and paid for dinner with his Diners Club card. This seminal event is known in the credit card business as “The First Supper.”

Initially, the Diners Club card had 200 subscribers, mostly friends and acquaint-ances, and was accepted in 14 New York restaurants. By the end of the year, 20,000 people carried the card.

Today, it is accepted by 13 million estab-lishments in 200 countries.

Sorry, I don’t take Diners Club cards. But you can buy me supper.

Passing the Buck

The word “buck” for dollar comes from buckskin, deer hide, that the colonials used to trade with the Indians.

Conrad Weiser, a German immigrant to England and then to America spent a year as a youth with the Mohawk Indians and learned their language. He became an interpreter and negotiator for the Penn-sylvania colony and later one of the founders of Reading and Berks County, Pennsylvania.

He recounts addressing Indians in his journal in 1748:

“Whiskey shall be sold to You for 5 Bucks in your Town, & if a Trader offers to sell Whiskey to You and will not let you have it at that Price, you may take it from him & drink it for nothing.”


“Here is one of the Traders who you know to be a very sober & honest Man; he has been robbed of the value of 300 Bucks, & you all know by whom; let, therefore, Satisfaction be made to the Trader.”

It’s Greek to Me

A lot of stuff is, especially whatever’s going on in Greece.

The expression “It’s Greek to me” traces back to Shakespeare’s 1599 play Julius Caesar, in which one of  Caesar’s assassins remarks to another that he was left out of the loop when Cicero, a Roman Senator who was also assassinated, spoke Greek describing Caesar having a seizure.

So what’s Greek in other languages? The Swedes stick with Greek, for the Finns it’s Hebrew, in Yiddish, Aramaic,  Cambodian to the Vietnamese, French or Arabic to the Turks, fish-egg language in Iceland, and Chinese in just about every other language, including Greek.

So what’s inscrutable to the inscrutable Chinese? In Mandarin it’s God’s writing and in Cantonese chicken intestines.

Caesar should have paid attention to the chicken intestines. He was told to “beware the Ides of March” by  Spurinna, a haruspex — one who foretold the future by reading animal guts.

The Cat Who Came to Dinner

In 1898, Woolf Joel, nephew of South African diamond magnate Barney Barnato gave a dinner for 14 at the Savoy Hotel in London. One guest canceled, leaving an unlucky 13 at the table

A guest predicted that the first one to leave would die. Woolf scoffed at this superstition and left first. A few weeks later, on March 14, 1898, he was shot dead in his office in Kimberley by a blackmailer.

Thereafter, the Savoy volunteered a staff member to sit in on parties of 13, but it was awkward having a stranger and in 1927 noted British architect Basil Ionides sculpted Kaspar, a 3 foot high wooden black cat to be the 14th guest.

Kaspar is given his own place setting, a napkin is wrapped around his neck, and is served each course.

Winston Churchill liked Kaspar so much he insisted that he join him no matter the number of guests. Kaspar  was catnapped during the war in an RAF prank. He was returned, slight damage repaired, after intercession by an Air Commodore whose dinner guests, officers of an air squadron, unknown to him, had done the catnapping.

and Indians have been eating it for centuries without ill effect.

But a Napa, California attorney sued some big names in the food business, including Martha Stewart, in 2003 over selling silver dragees citing the EPA that silver is toxic in amounts greater than a few tenths of a milligram per day.

The lawsuit was settled with the agreement not to sell silver dragees in California. Silver dragees are now sold everywhere else “for decoration only”. You can buy  a 3.3 ounce jar on Amazon for $14.99.

But if you get your vark or dragees direct from India, “only Lord Shiva knows exactly what they mix in their silver” according to an Indian web site.

Silver Plate

Indian cooking uses pure silver leaf as edible decoration. Typical are dragees, little silver-coated sugar beads used to decorate pastries, and varc or warq, silver leaf used to cover a variety of sweets.

Silver generally has low toxicity, but if you eat too much of it you’ll get argyria — your skin will turn amazingly blue-gray and you’ll look like a Smurf. The silver accumulates and lodges in the skin and reacts with exposure to sunlight and darkens, just like in photography. (Google “argyria” in images. It’s just amazing.)

The amounts in Indian sweets are min-uscule, as the metal leaf is only a few hundred-thousandths of a millimeter thick

Zen and the Art of Canine Maintenance

Concentration! Urination! Defecation!

It’s the concentration part that’s hard. Do it already, dog! Grrrr.

Gold Bug

Edgar Allan Poe submitted a short story to the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper for a writing contest. He won the grand prize and The Gold-Bug was published in three installments in 1843.

The story is set on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina. The plot involves a man bitten by a gold-colored bug which leads him to Captain Kidd’s buried treasure after decrypting a message written in cipher.

In 1896, William McKinley was elected president campaigning on the gold standard. His opponent was William Jennings Bryan, who favored bimetallism, free coinage of silver along with gold. At the Democratic Convention, Bryan gave his famous “Cross of Gold” speech.

McKinley supporters started calling themselves “gold bugs”, sporting brass lapel pins in the shape of a bug. This one has pictures of McKinley (left) and his vice president Garret Hobart. Bet you didn’t know we had a vice president named Garret Hobart.

You can see Garret Hobart in person. He was from Paterson and after he died in 1899, a bronze statue of him was erected in front of city hall.