For 40 years I had the good fortune of being paid to write books and newspaper and magazine articles on a wide range of subjects. In doing so, I had the even better fortune of meeting and interviewing some very interesting people. Three of the most memorable are the outspoken Jesse Ventura when he was governor of Minnesota; Victor Belenko, the Russian defector who flew a MiG-29 to Japan in 1976; and Ron Popeil, whose infomercials have entertained and opened the wallets of millions of late-night TV watchers. Famous or not, every one of my interview subjects has taught me something new, for which I'm grateful.
Altogether, I've written and published more than 40 books and thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, several screenplays, a number of video- and audioscripts, and a small truckload of advertising and public relations material.
My writing has garnered two awards, and a number of my articles concerning international trade and internet commerce have been translated and published both separately and in anthologies in several countries and are included in a number of scholarly bibliographies around the world.
Among the newspapers and magazines that have published my work are Victorian Homes, New Shelter, Golden State, Video Store, Entertainment Merchandising, KETC Magazine, North County Pages, Carlsbad [Calif.] Journal,San Diego Union-Tribune, Orange County [Calif.] Register, Bicycle Dealer Showcase, The Servicing Dealer, Common Sense, CUNA Executive Journal, Aqua, Pet Product News, Reeves Journal, InfoText, ResponseTV, Fire Engineering, Fire Chief, Western Fire Journal, American Fire Journal, California Claims Journal, Web Merchant, Wisconsin Trails, World Trade, Incentive Marketing, Wisconsin Home Gallery, Souvenir, All About Beer, and others.
I've written most of my books as a ghost. Books under my own name include Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Things You Never Knew You Wanted to Know Anything About, Carlsbad: A New Unabashed History (2014), Carlsbad: An Unabashed History of the Village by the Sea (1987), Carlsbad: An Illustrated History (1994), The Colorful Coast: An Illustrated History of Newport Beach (1998), How to Annoy a Groundhog, Effective Publicity and Promotion for the Video Retailer, Beyond Advertising: Do-It-Yourself Publicity and Promotion, The Ultimate Retail Promotion Calendar: 1,077 Special Events Any Business Can Use for Creative Promotions, a 16-volume business-starter series for Bill Bailey Communications and Entrepreneur magazine, and Streaming Media for Content Owners.
You Never Knew You Wanted to Know Anything About
The History of Toilet Paper
Toilet paper's history from its origins in China to the present (the Japanese used sharp sticks [ouch!]), with some interesting No. 2 diversions such as the famous writer who told his son to use pages from the classics for wiping and a history of the outhouse.
From Monastery to Mall: The True History of the Pretzel
Did Viennese pretzel bakers really save Europe from conquest by the Ottoman Empire? How did the hard pretzel come about? We examine the whole matter, explode some myths, and tell you the truth!
The History of Bathing in America: The Naked Truth and Bare Facts
Featuring H. L. Mencken's fictional history of the American bathtub, which, among other lies, averred that doctors thought bathing was unhealthy and that laws were passed against the practice. Also: the oldest bathtub in the world, which president had the first bathtub in the White House, and other bathing trivia.
Queen Victoria's Official Royal Ratcatcher and First Breeder of Pet Rats
A flamboyant self-promoter, Jack Black caught rats with his bare hands, sang birds down from the trees, and gave pet rats to Queen Victoria and Beatrix Potter. Marijuana Through the Ages
We examine marijuana's history as recreational and medicinal drug, as well as how and why it became illegal in the United States.
The Real Dogs of War
Man's best friend has been, and probably always will be, at the soldier's side, helping to win battles and wars.
History of the Birthday Cake
Who came up with this idea? When? Why? And what is it with the candles? And the birthday cards? In this chapter we lay blame where it belongs.
Paranoia Made Public: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles
These strange linoleum tiles with cryptic messages appear in roadways all around the world. Who is doing it, and why?
Excerpts from this book are at this link: http://booklocker.com/books/6961.html.
At one time Holland's famous flowers were grown from bulbs imported from Carlsbad, California. And that's not all. Far from being a sleepy seaside town, Carlsbad has a hidden history including:
And a lot more interesting stuff you won't believe.
But it's all TRUE!
Available from Booklocker or from Barnes & Noble.
If the Feds visited the North Pole, would Mr. Claus measure up to their regulations and political correctness?
Don't Help! I've Fallen But I Can Get Up
If the Consumer Product Safety Commission had its way, we'd be a Nation of Wimps.
On the Road, Okie Style
A quick survival guide for out-of-staters who might have the misfortune of driving through Oklahoma.
Future Shock? Only If It Talks
One man's reaction to "artificially intelligent" machines that carry on conversations with him.
How to Annoy a Groundhog
Groundhog Day from the groundhog's point of view.
I'll Get Rid of the Repressed Rage As Soon As I Find It
Wherein the author (an "in denial" kinda guy) sacrifices his pillow on the altar of pop psychology.
The Smoker Is Dead! Long Live the Smoker!
Whose ox is the government going to gore when they've achieved their goal of a "smokeless" society?
Watt Sine? I Dint See No Sine!
Are we really an illiterate Nation at Risk, or are the survey subjects just pretending?
Here is the first essay:
"I'm afraid we're going to have to shut your little operation down, Claus," said the Man from the Government. Gone was the honorific "Mister" he'd used when first admitted to the North Pole workshop. And his tone of voice indicated he wasn't "afraid" at all. He was happy and gloating, as most people are who say they're "afraid" to do something to someone else.
Santa was confused. "Why? What's wrong!"
"What's wrong? Everything!" The Man from the Government waved a sheaf of papers in Santa's face. "I've got it all down here. First, 99% of the toys you've got here are all wrong. Not a single one of them is politically correct or educational or 'green.'"
"But the toys I have are the ones the children want! Here, read their letters."
"You're out of touch, Claus, Toy rifles teach kids that violence is okay. Dolls given to girls teach sexist values. And," the Man from the Government dangled a pink plastic pipe, "just what is this?" "It's a bubble pipe. You put it in soapy water and blow bubbles."
"Is that so! You know what I think, Claus? I think it's really a sneaky way to teach our children that smoking is good. And if they line it with aluminum foil, they could use it to smoke drugs. Come to think of it, we'll get the DEA in on this. They might like to confiscate this spread of yours. Make a good northern outpost."
"But I don't have anything to do with drugs!"
"No matter. I'm from the government, and if I accuse you of it, I've convicted you of it. And, speaking of other agencies, the EPA will want to see that shed full of coal out back. It's probably high-sulfur. That would be a nice big fine!"
"That coal is for the stockings of bad little boys and girls."
The Man from the Government was shocked. "Bad...little.... There is no such thing as bad little boys or girls, Claus. Only boys and girls with low self-esteem. You give them a lump of coal, and you'll ruin their self-image! Yep; we're going to confiscate that coal. Who knows what damage you've already done to their tender little egos?"
He flipped through the sheaf of paper. "And here! What's with all the vertically disadvantaged people you've got working here?"
"You mean the elves?"
"I mean vertically disadvantaged. It's good of you to hire a minority, but it's wrong to hire only one kind of minority. That makes them a majority. The EEOC is going to have a picnic with you. More big fines!" The Man from the Government was becoming happier and happier. He was actually smiling, but not with mirth.
Santa protested, "The elves have worked for me for years! Centuries! Besides, no one else has ever asked to work for me. It's not easy living year 'round at the North Pole, you know."
"That doesn't make any difference, Claus. You should have asked other minorities to apply for work. Now we're going to make you pay a bunch of wages to people who never worked for you because you never gave them the chance."
He contemplated Santa for a moment. "I'm going to have to take away that fur suit you're wearing, too. That red dye is undoubtedly a not-too-clever attempt at camouflaging the fur of an endangered species."
"It's the only suit I have!"
"That's your hard luck. But if I can get these charges to stick--and I don't doubt that I can--the Government will supply you with a nice suit of clothing at Leavenworth."
"This doesn't make sense," moaned Santa as he slowly disrobed. "None of this makes any sense at all!"
"It does to us," said the Man from the Government. "And that's the only thing that counts."
This book is available in all e-book formats (Kindle, Nook, etc.) from Smashwords for $1.99.
Some Magazine Articles
Award-Winning Marketing Strategies, CUNA Journal
Trading in Luxury: US Consumers Like It Different, World Trade
It's December 15: Do You Really Know Where Your Cargo Is?, World Trade
Evolution of the Whirlpool Bath, Reeves Journal
Links to more articles are on this page.
Audio and Video
Tour the Universe (An audiotape script for for Zorix International's "Young Scientist Star Projector.")
Tour the Solar System (An audiotape script for Zorix International's "Young Scientist Star Projector.")
Having Fun with Halley's Comet
I was doing this one morning in 1985 when several pieces of information came together. I had read press reports about the impending arrival of Halleys' Comet. According to the scientists, it wouldn't give us much of a show in 1986 and, on top of that, comets were just big icy snowballs worthy of little notice. Then I got to thinking about the recent pushes for sponsoring the Los Angeles Olympics and the renovation of the Statue of Liberty. Everybody had their hands out! Gimme, gimme! And in the end, I thought, who really benefited? Not you, not me.
Further, I thought, someone should put those smirking, self-serving, pinstriped Official Sponsor jerks in their place and let them know that we among the great unwashed aren't falling for their tricks. I thought someone should create an Official Sponsor movement for something completely ridiculous to expose how ridiculous Official Sponsor pushes really are (the guy down at the gas station really doesn't care if you're the Official Whatever for something).
The next thing I knew, I had appointed myself to be that someone, and I put together a plan for sponsoring Halley's Comet, a poor cosmological orphan no longer respected by humans.
In my plan, anyone could sponsor the comet. Cost: $5.00. For their donation, they would get a package including a certificate, a bumper sticker, some comet seals (like Easter Seals) to stick on envelopes, and an informational brochure about the comet.
Click here for a collage image of the components.
I had 1,000 sponsor packages printed, and in November 1985 I sent the following press release, along with a sponsor's package, to a whole bunch of newspapers, magazines, and wire services.
Perturbed by reports that Halley's comet will be only dimly seen from much of the northern hemisphere, Carlsbad, California, writer Charles Wesley Orton has formed the Committee to Combat Comet Apathy (ComComComa).
"The problem is public apathy," Orton said. "Everyone knows that Halley's comet is supposed to be just a big, dirty snowball. They're not about to think its appearance portends either doom or good fortune. It's no wonder the comet isn't going to put on its best performance. We've hurt its feelings.
"We've got to do something to let Halley's comet know we still love and respect it; otherwise, it might go to another solar system where it feels appreciated and never come back!"
ComComComa is composed of Orton and his wife, Theresa Snoeyenbos. "There probably won't be any more members," Orton said, "unless the neighbor's Chihuahua settles for just three Milk-Bones per meeting." ComComComa's primary project is the distribution and sale of "Official Halley's Comet Sponsorships" to raise public awareness of the problem.
"It worked for the L.A. Olympics and the Statue of Liberty; why wouldn't it work for Halley's comet?" Orton asked.
ComComComa's Halley's comet sponsorship program is concentrating on individuals, rather than on corporations. Orton explained: "It seemed that if you were a company with thirty thousand dollars or so in loose change, you could be an Official Anything for the L.A. Olympics, but as an individual all you could do was buy a ticket. Halley's comet is for everyone. Anyone who sends five dollars to ComComComa can be an official Halley's comet sponsor."
For their $5, sponsors receive an Official Halley's Comet Sponsor kit, which includes a large bumper sticker, 100 Official Sponsor Comet Seals for correspondence, a certificate of sponsorship, and a pamphlet of comet trivia (which Pope excommunicated the comet?). When asked how the money will be used to insure a better showing by Halley's comet the next time around, Orton said, "I'm not sure that it will. Administrative costs could eat it all up."
But there is an official sponsor's event planned, Orton said: "At two a.m. the morning of April 12, when the comet will be closest to earth, all of the Official Sponsors will go outside with flashlights, point them at the comet, and in Morse code flash the message, 'We care!'"
The response was truly overwhelming. It seemed a lot of people were just as fed up as I was about all this Official Panhandling. I was interviewed and featured on the news program of a San Diego TV station, interviewed by phone by close to 100 radio stations around the world (including a Canadian radio station that billed itself as being the northernmost radio station in the world), and was featured in dozens of newspapers.
One of my favorite newspaper articles was by Harry Fotinos of the San Diego Union-Tribune. He really got into the tongue-in-cheek spirit of the thing. He came all the way to Carlsbad with a photographer and wrote the following great article headlined "Carlsbad Man Wants to 'Sponsor' Halley's Comet:"
In a moment of brilliance, maybe, an idea sent from the heavens struck a Carlsbad man.
For people willing to part with $5, he would sponsor a once-in-a-lifetime event, the passage of Halley's comet.
Charles Wesley Orton, 34, isn't the "Master of the Universe." He doesn't have great powers to control the flight of a comet.
Instead, he is a mere mortal counting on other mortals being tired of sponsorship programs, such as the Los Angeles Olympic Games and the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. He hopes people are ready to have a little fun.
Unlike most sponsorship programs, Orton's gives everyone the chance to proclaim their support for something, even if it is something he or they have no control over.
"It seemed that if you were a company with $30,000 or so in loose change, you could be an official anything for the L.A. Olympics, but all you could do as an individual was to buy a ticket." Orton said. "Anyone can be an official Halley's comet sponsor by just sending me $5."
For the $5 contribution, sponsors receive an "Official Halley's Comet Sponsor Kit. " The kit contains a large bumper sticker, 100 comet seals and a pamphlet of comet trivia and observation tips.
The bumper sticker and the comet stickers, which are the size of a postage stamp, have a drawing of a winking, grinning comet and declare the owner a sponsor.
There is also the "Let All The Cosmos Know" certificate, suitable for framing and declaring the sponsors' compassion for celestial orphans and the sponsors' "cosmic sense of humor."
For those people who are interested in how their money will benefit the comet, don't worry about your money leaving this world. Orton plans to put it to good use, possibly toward a new car.
Orton said he isn't sure what he will use the money for but he did say, "Administrative costs could eat it all up."
Orton said his project may not have any impact on the path of the comet this time around, but if the comet sees a lot of bumper stickers, the next pass might be more spectacular.
Unfortunately, in 2061 when the comet is due back, most of the sponsors probably won't be around to notice.
Coverage by national magazines included Omni and Sky & Telescope, which latter ran the following in the December 1985 issue:
Our front-running nominee for the 1985-86 Halley Hokum Award is Charles Wesley Orton of Carlsbad, California. He sent hundreds of newspapers and TV stations a press release announcing, "Plan to Save Halley's Comet Revealed." He warns that if the comet doesn't get a proper reception, it might take offense and not come back in 2061. But never fear. "Anyone who sends me $5 can be an official Halley's comet sponsor." How will the money be used to bring Halley back? ''I'm not sure that it will," Orton candidly admits. "Administrative costs could eat it all up."
Orton tells us he began his enterprise as "a spoof on all the 'official sponsor' programs that are dropping out of the trees" but says donations are coming in nonetheless.
The Committee to Combat Comet Apathy was off to a great start. And then we received a letter that gave us an extra boost:
January 15, 1986
Dear Mr. Orton:
Enclosed is a check for $6.00 for which I hope you can enroll my mother as a Halley's Comet Sponsor. She is 89 years old and saw the Comet in 1910. She's very excited about the whole thing and if her health permits we expect to have her visit us in late March and early April at which time we will try to arrange opportunities for her to view the Comet . I have added an extra dollar which I hope will cover the postage.
Good luck with your Comet endeavor!
Mrs. Thomas S. Potts
My wife Theresa saw the possibilities for further press coverage. "Let's make Ruth the Official Historian of the Committee to Combat Comet Apathy," she suggested. And so we did. We made a special Official Historian certificate and presented it to Ruth when she came into town from New Jersey.
I present Ruth Zang with her Official Historian certificate. Her daughter and son-in-law look on.
In the end, we didn't truck off to the bank anywhere near the bucks the Los Angeles and Liberty people did, but I'll bet we had a lot more fun.
And ain't that what counts in life?
After leaving that position to become the managing editor of a magazine in Orange County, I let the genealogy thing drop for a while.
When I decided to semi-retire from writing for other people a couple of years ago, I got into it again. Now we have Ancestry.com and other almost-instantaneous sources for family research. What a difference! You still have to use a lot of judgment and perspicacity, but it doesn't take anywhere near the time it used to. As of today my family history includes 1,004 individuals and 13 generations. I've done similar research for several people, and they've been overjoyed with the results.
You might want me to do some genealogical research for you. If so, just drop me an e-mail and we can discuss what I'm able to do for you.