Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Influence of Ray Orrock

Writers are often asked who inspired them to write. Many respond with modern names such as Harper Lee or J.D. Salinger. Sometimes more historic authors are mentioned; Jane Austin, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens. I’d like to say one of these historic legends is responsible for my desire to write, but it would not be the truth. My answer to the question would be Hayward, California’s Daily Review newspaper columnist, Ray Orrock. Ray Orrock died last year, but he will live on in the memories of thousands of Bay Area readers. Mr. Orrock once said, "Reading is quite possibly the most fun you can have with your clothes on." How could that not inspire me?

A couple times a year he would do a column, in which he wrote fictitious "letters from readers" to himself, asking questions for which he just happened to have the answer. He would always include a comment in his pretend letters about his column. It was outrageous. It was ridiculous. It was inspired. As a tribute to him, I will devote this blog to emulating his question/answer columns. This is for you, Ray Orrock.

Dear Melanie Sherman

I really love your blog. It makes me laugh. Please keep on writing.

When I was a kid and something broke, my father used to “gerry-rig” it back together using duct tape or wire or rubber bands. Do you know where that term came from?

Your devoted reader,

Antonio Gomez Gutierrez

Dear Mr. Gutierrez

Thank you so much for your compliment. As it happens, I can tell you the term “gerry-rig” is actually from the nautical term “jury rig”. When a mast was carried away in a storm, or blown away in battle, the crew would jury rig a temporary mast or yards using whatever means possible until they could get into a harbor or port where more permanent repairs could be made.


Melanie Sherman

Dear Melanie Sherman,

I’ve been reading your blog for several months and I can really identify with all the problems you encounter. It makes me feel good to know there are others out there as inept as me.

Who was it that said, “I have not yet begun to fight?” Was it Thomas Paine, Benedict Arnold or Nathan Hale?”


Wahab Bhagyamma

Dear Mr. Bhagyamma

I’m happy I am able to make you feel right at home with your incompetence.

It grieves me to say this, but none of those gentlemen were responsible for this famous historical quotation. It was Captain John Paul Jones who, in 1779, uttered that retort when Captain Richard Pearson of the 50 gun HMS Serapis (it was actually a 44 gun ship but it carried an extra six 6-pounders at the time of the battle) asked if Jones was giving up. It seems the battle wasn’t going well for Captain Jones. His equipment was old, his ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard, was an old, converted merchant vessel, and the cannons were blowing up in the crew’s faces. One crewman cried out, asking for mercy from the mighty British ship. Unfortunately Captain Pearson heard the cry before John Paul Jones could silence the man. Pearson asked if Captain Jones was asking for quarter. Infuriated one of his crew would cry out in such a manner, Jones called out he had no intention of striking his colors. “I have not yet begun to fight,” he insisted. True to his word, he eventually captured the Serapis, affecting the first United States victory over a British ship of war during the American Revolution.

Thanks for your question,

Melanie Sherman

Dear Melody Shoreman

I haven’t ever read your blog. I think it is a waste of time reading blogs. But, I wondered if you knew anything about making jelly.

Thelma Pipsnorkle

Dear Ms. Pipsnorkle

No I do not.


Melanie Sherman

Dear Melanie Sherman

I love your blog so much. It is so witty and filled with interesting information. I have it on my blog roll and can’t wait to check to see if there is a new entry each day.

Why was a British Royal Navy seamen called a “Limey?”


Francesca di Giovanni

Dear Ms. di Giovanni,

Thank you very much for your interest in my blog. I appreciate it. The British discovered that giving seaman lime juice would prevent scurvy, a disease that could wipe out a good deal of the crew. It was a brilliant plan, saving the lives of countless sailors.

Thank you again for your question.

Melanie Sherman.

Yes, I can see now how fun writing the question/answer column must have been for Ray. I certainly enjoyed writing this one. Thanks for all the laughs you gave me, Mr. Orrock. I’m hoisting one for you.


  1. You are simply the best at finding new ways to spread the propaganda of all things nautical. Well done!

  2. I agree with him /\.

    You could ask your mother about jellymaking, though.

  3. Creative and wonderful! A fitting tribute....I suppose now that Mr Orrock has passed away that restraining order is no longer applicable?

  4. Jenku and Dale,

    I had to ask questions for which I had an answer. Well, except the jelly one. My mother tried to teach me to cook, bless her heart, and should not be held accountable for my failure to learn.

    If I were meant to cook, I wouldn't have been given this keyboard.


  5. Karen,

    The restraining order never went through because I moved to the Northwest. Actually, I did write him letters, similar to the "Comments" on a blog. Ray Orrock devoted a whole column to one of my letters, quoting it and stopping to add his own comments every paragraph or two. He mentioned something about me being somewhere between "slightly off-center and somewhere over the rainbow".

    Can you imagine getting such a compliment from a newspaper columnist? I was thrilled.


    Editor's note: Melanie Sherman is joking about there being any restraining order. There was no restraining order. In fact, Ray Orrock invited her to the newsroom to meet her.

  6. Actually, I remember that quite vividly. That was in your "Doctor" phase, wasn't it?

  7. Karen,

    Well, yes, I believe it was during the time I was either a brain surgeon or a dog psychiatrist.
    I could never remember which. Neither could Mr. Orrock. But, that is another story. :)

  8. Melanie,
    I was surfing the internet for new items regarding Ray Orrock, as today happens to be his birthday and he is especially in my thoughts today, and was delighted to stumble upon your site. Your questions and answers were fun (and informative).. a nice tribute to Ray. He would have loved it.
    Happy New Year Melanie, and Happy Birthday, Dad.


  9. Eileen,

    I am so very honored to have you stop by my blog. To be honest, I feel like we are related. When your father talked about you and your siblings and your mother in his columns, I felt as though I was part of your family. To this day, I pull over at the side of the road when I reach 100,000 miles in honor of your 77,777 miles from "The Long Voyage Home", and smile at my odometer. I cannot think of going to a baseball game without smiling at "Mark and the Togo Sandwich" where the huge barbecued beef sandwich dripped all over the surrounding fans. When Donna reached her 19th birthday, I was right there with her when I read "The 19-year-old Inside You" in which he said we remain nineteen inside but with more and more experience.

    Give my love to your, Marlene, and the rest of your family. Happy birthday to Ray Orrock. We miss you but you left such a fantastic legacy in your children.

  10. Dear Melanie,
    You know, in the past, if ever I found myself with a question regarding the origin of something, a lesser known rule of baseball, or some other obscure bit of knowledge, I would pick up the phone and ask my grandfather. I never did this hoping he would know the answer because he always did - I never had to hope! While Google was not at-the-ready in my high school days, I'm pretty sure my grandpa would have been (and would have remained) far more reliable. I am happy to know there is perhaps one more person in the world who might know some answers to some obscure questions. Thanks for posting such a touching tribute.

  11. Anika,

    How lucky you are to have had your very own Grandpa Google. And thank you for sharing him with me and with all the other readers who loved him. He is missed.

    And thank you so much for leaving a comment. It send a thrill through me, almost as if Ray is smiling at us both.


Comments are great fun. Really. I love them. Except from the bots that have found my blog. I'm enabling the word verification to block them. Sorry.