Comments & Curiosities: Of graduations and pregnant goldfish

It is time, once again. Time for the commencement address that no one has asked for and no one will ever hear, packed with topics that are weird, questionable and above all, meaningless.

As the school year draws to a close, thousands of young people are about to step through another of life's turnstiles — brimming with enthusiasm, bad skin and most important, a marginal education. I am so proud of them. And so, we begin.

Graduates, faculty, Dean Dedlydul and, least of all, parents. It all comes down to this … first you're born, life is hard, then you die. Is that so hard to remember? Of course not. We could go on about values and ethics and making this world a better place, but you're already bored silly and I have to go by Costco and Trader Joe's after this and one more place that I can't remember, which is pathetic. Does that ever happen to you? Probably not. It will though. But there are some things you should know…wait, was it Ralph's? No, that's not it.

Anyway, the air from a sneeze travels about 100 mph, a cough at 60 mph. So if you want them to arrive at the same time, you could cough earlier or hold off on your sneeze. Either one will work. Reminds me of the question about "two trains leave for Chicago at the same time. One is going this fast and the other is going that fast." I could never do those, but here is my question — why were they always going to Chicago? I don't get it. Are there no other cities?

Speaking of trains, as I write this, I'm sitting in Grand Central Terminal in New York waiting for the 9:15 to Scarsdale to pull out. Aside from being the all-time coolest train station in the world, most of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" is set in and around Grand Central. Did you know that? Not that you read "Atlas Shrugged," or anything else, but it's true.

If you chew gum while you're peeling an onion you won't cry.

The protagonist of Rand's epic novel is Dagny Taggart, a smart, hard-charging woman who runs the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad Co. along with her loser brother, John, who couldn't run a bath.

The Transcontinental Railroad was modeled after the New York Central Railway, the predecessor of the Metro North Railroad in whose train I'm sitting right now, clacking away on my little iPad.

The dot over the letter "i" is called a tittle.

The building that rises above Grand Central Terminal, now called the Helmsley Building, was the real-life headquarters of the New York Central, or in Rand's version, the Transcontinental Railroad where Taggart was the head of operations.

Forty thousand people a year die from snake bites worldwide.

The security desk in the Helmsley Building today was a newsstand in the 1950s and plays a pivotal role in the novel.

A pregnant goldfish is called a twit.

The Metro North platform where I'm sitting is the backdrop for a romantic encounter between Taggart and John Galt, the novel's male lead, which is steamy by today's standards, let alone in 1957 when "Atlas Shrugged" was published.

Two-thirds of the steam geysers in the world are in Yellowstone National Park.

If you're an Ayn Rand fan, or not, you can take a walking tour of Grand Central and the Helmsley Building that connects one setting after another to scenes in Rand's novel.

The first CD pressed in the United States was Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," which most people think is a rousing, red-white-and-blue patriotic anthem. It isn't. If you listen to the lyrics, it's a painful rant about a Vietnam vet who goes bad, does some time and can never find work.

"Angel" comes from the Greek word "angelos," which means "messenger." There was a pizzeria on Bronx Boulevard called Angelo's, which has nothing to do with Greek angelos, but I thought you should know.

The full name of Los Angeles is, "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula," thus the name, "L.A." And while we're on the letter "L", the ones in L.L. Bean stand for Leon Leonwood Bean, who started out making boots in his brother's basement. He did really well after that.

John Dillinger robbed banks but he also played professional baseball for a minor-league team in Martinsville, Ind. He played shortstop and his locker was the only one with a sawed-off shotgun in it. Not really. I made that up.

Houseflies hum in the key of F. I didn't even know they hummed.

I think that's it. Fast sneezes, pregnant goldfish and flies that hum in F. Oh, and if you run into Taggart in Grand Central, ask her why trains always go to Chicago. She'll know.

Thank you so much for your attention and good luck with life. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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