Thursday, July 20, 2017

Book 'em

I am an avid reader. Magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, papal bulls, cereal boxes, stuff on the internet. I love reading. I even downloaded a couple of books onto my phone so that if I'm ever trapped in some stygian place of boredom, I can read some of the collected works of Ring Lardner while I whine wait.

I've been collecting books since childhood. I would have had to build a new wing onto the house if I had kept them all, so I winnow the library by repurposing used books at the Book Thing or the Goodwill or the late, deeply missed Smith College Club of Baltimore Book Sale. 

The first place I check in Dollar Tree is the book section! Believe me, they have sold off some remaindered books there that I have enjoyed for a buck. And Goodwill and yard sales are always good places to get more, too.

I tend to feel a bit...uneasy...if I am in a home or office with no books. Of course, I am already uneasy in most homes and offices to begin with.

Food and the City by Ina YalofAnd there is, of course, the wonderful Baltimore County Public Library, home of thousands of free-for-the-loaning volumes. When I tell friends in other countries of the magnificent building where one can read or get on a public computer or take part in a reading club or borrow music or movies for free, they are flabbergasted, and often gobsmacked on top of it all.

But lately I was witness to a serious crime involving the library. One might even put it in the felony classification. I have a call in to the State's Attorney's Office about it.  Here's what happened:  I signed out a copy of "Food And The City," in which writer Ina Yalof does Studs Terkel-style interviews with people in New York involved in distributing, purchasing, preparing, cooking and serving food - from those tony places where they gouge $32 out of you for a hamburger to those pizza places run by guys named Tony where $32 will get you the world on two pies. I love books about this sort of thing, especially when they remind me that kitchen personnel work 12-14 hour shifts on their feet in cramped, unbearably hot conditions and rarely even get to see their families (if any). That reminds why of why I am glad I didn't go into that line of work.

But when I started to read the book, I found that one of the previous library patrons who had read it had dogeared pages as he or she went along, marking their places because they are too bloody lazy to get up and find a bookmark or a used envelope or just the postcard from the dentist, John Wilkes Tooth, with a reminder that it's been a few years now, and time for the old onceover. 

This person dogeared the pages of a book that did not belong to them. Dogeared pages.

Now, if it's your book, feel free to gnaw off the corners if you want or write notes and remarks in the margins or highlight it with neon pink or do whatever else you wish to do.  It's your book.  

A library book belongs to everyone, and dogeared corners mean that corner might just drop off, and then you've got anarchy! 

Here's a line of work I might get into. If the county library wishes to hire me to track down these brutal book abusers, I hereby volunteer to find out who they are and where they live, and serve them with legal papers printed on crisp, unbent paper.  

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Easy on the ears

On the Sirius XM satellite channel, they call their e-z listening background music station "Escape."  They also have the "Spa" channel, which has that music that sounds like what's playing when you're at the beach and you need change for the meter and you dart into one of those little stores that have incense burning and gongs lightly gonging and wind socks swirling and that hypno-electro music playing and they won't make change anyway so you buy a candle.  And whoever works there is wearing a gauze shirt.

There is something like it on the Music Choice channel on the cable, and I'm sure Spotify and all those other music services have the same sort of channel.

They are designed to be in the background while you hang around the house or take a bath while burning that candle you bought last summer or eat dinner or type a blog entry.  Foreground music - such as my beloved old skool country or my equally beloved AC/DC or Weezer - takes some active listening to enjoy it. I mean, can you imagine passively gazing outside through the window to see the afternoon cloud formations while "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" blasts out of your speakers?  Or serving little individual chicken pot pies to the family while hearing "Little" Jimmy Dickens sing "She Never Likes Nothing For Long" or "Take An Old Cold Tater And Wait"? 

I have two thoughts about these string-laden, easy-flowing beautiful music channels, where the highs aren't high and the lows aren't low. First of all, I think of the people who began studying violins or piccolo in 4th grade, lugging the instrument home every night to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" 137 times until they really get it knocked, and then they move on to "Claire DeLune" and so forth.  And then, after countless hours of lessons and band classes and rehearsals and concerts and time spent at home sawing away on the fiddle, they become professional musicians and wind up doing the light 'n' easy version of "Morning Has Broken" in some second-rate recording studio with egg crates on the wall for sound baffles and printed notices reminding all musicians to clean up after themselves.

It must be sad, but it's a living.

Image result for danny okeefeHere's the other thing: not sad, but actually something that makes me smile, is that every now and then you hear the instrumental version of a song that, if someone showed up and sang the lyrics, it would not be called quite easy listening at all.  Like just tonight, as I sat here tapping away, here comes a violin-y, mellow fellow version of Danny O'Keefe's 1972 hit "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues," which was as lugubrious a Top 40 dirge as we ever heard. It really makes one want to jump off a roof.

And "Every Step You Take" is not about a guy who is so devoted that he will always be right there for a woman. It's about a sick stalker!

And the 1,001 Strings' version of "One Toke Over The Line" just has to be heard to be believed, and even then, you don't.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"Can you fly this plane, and land it?"

They do this sort of thing in Jackass movies and we roar with appreciation for such a deft comedic touch.

Well, I do.  Here is a scene from the Jackass oeuvre that is meant to show the awesome power of a jet engine stream. 

If the people visiting St Maarten Airport in that little teeny island had paid more attention to noted thespian Johnny Knoxville and his merry band of pranksters, they would know better than hang around where the jets take off and land... 

Image result for st maarten airport

You see this sign? You would think that the word DANGER is big and red enough for people to take note, and say, "Maybe, let's avoid this area, lest we suffer extreme bodily harm and/or death."

You would think so, but then you would also think that people wouldn't attempt to type out a text message as they drive an automobile at or above the posted speed limit, so that's that.

But now, another  tourist has been killed down there at "the most dangerous airport in the world"  - the Princess Juliana Airport in the Caribbean. A Caribbean Airlines Boeing 737 was taking off, as planes will do. And a 57-year-old woman from New Zealand was hanging around by the fence at the end of the runway, when the force of the engine knocked her down, which resulted in a fatal head injury.

Here's the situation. You have a little airport on a little island with a public beach and a mountain serving as borders, and pilots have to skim over the mountaintop just to land and take off with planes full of happy vacationers.  

And people  - some of them airplane "fans" known as "avgeeks" cluster around the fence, getting selfies ("Planies"?) with jets scooting over top of them by about three feet or something. 

This perfectly illustrates what happens when there is no regulation, no government stepping in to protect people from their own folly. Here in the real world, the authorities would not allow people to hang around in that area, but in St Maarten, the tourists come and bring that green, and most of them get to go home.

Except for this unlucky New Zealander.

Listen, I'm sure it would be a real thrill to jump between two skyscraper roofs, or ride atop an elevator in a 35-story building, or run through the streets of a Spanish town hoping to avoid being gored by the bulls who are also running with you.

But people who want to live long enough to collect Social Security don't take risks like that, and I hope you don't, either.

If you want to see people who know how to outrun risks, come on over and I'll show you every Jackass movie ever made.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Young blood

Image result for chips ahoy
I love to go to the Red Cross every 56 days and drop off a pint of A+ blood.  It doesn't cost a thing, and they give you cookies and pretzels and all the water (juice if you like it) you can guzzle, so what's not to like? And you know me, I like goofing around with the phlebotomists.  

There is a very very short list of people with whom I would not enjoy goofing around. That Russian guy with all the chins...Tom Brady...Martin Shkreli and Bill O'Reilly. That's about all of them.

And I tend to talk a lot, a habit which makes more sense if there are other people around to a) hear it and b) respond in kind. 

Therefore, it was off-putting the last time I went. A young mom had left her son in the waiting area where I was waiting my turn. She made sure he had his iPad, and he was enjoying looking at Weird Al videos and playing games on it. I thought he was about 7, which is the perfect age for me to talk to, as people of that age might not have heard all the jokes I have been forcing people to hear since Eisenhower was in the White House, many of which have to do with Eisenhower in the White House.

And as his mother left to donate, she turned to him and said, "Remember! Don't talk to strangers!"

Being the only stranger within 100 yards, I felt singled out. And he played with his electronic device and I amused myself with Instagram photos of friends in pools, friends on vacation, friends drinking coffee. If there were no pictures of mugs of coffee, there would be no Instagram.

By and by, it came my turn to get hooked up to the Dracula5000 blood removal device, and it happened that the kid's mom was on the next cot, and we chatted as we watched him play happily. She said he has social anxiety, which is another sad byproduct of the way we all live. 

She also said, and this makes sense, that she has to remind him every day of "stranger danger," which is one of the worst shames of our modern time.  

You just don't know what people are up to, and it doesn't help that people who should be housed firmly away from the rest of us often are not.  

And it's not just evil people that she needs to worry about; she told me her son is allergic to peanuts and milk and several other things as well. So she has to fret about what food he comes in contact with, and this has resulted in him being a picky eater.

He wants to be a drummer, and loves to go to Chinese restaurants so he can make drumsticks out of chopsticks.

I want to tip my cap to all the mothers and fathers out there who give an effort into raising their kids. It's clear this young man will have hurdles to jump, with his allergies and anxieties, but with care and love, I think he will be all right.   

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday rerun: What people did before the Internet

As the school year winds to another inglorious halt, and teachers look forward to their summer jobs, do you have time for one more historical tidbit?  

Well, I'm going to share this one anyway, so that if there is an embarrassing lull in the conversation while waiting for the bail bondsman or person with the handcuff key to show up, we'll all have something interesting to discuss.  

First, there was a president named John Tyler.  Only people who have an interest in the arcane political figures of the 19th Century know this, but there was.  He's often mentioned in the upper pantheon of the lists of the worst presidents ever, as he was a strong advocate of states' rights over the federal government while at the same time being a fan of manifest destiny, without which we never would have been able to steal Texas from the Mexicans.  As a national philosophy of expansion because of the "superiority" of Americans over people who happened to have lived somewhere for thousands of years, manifest destiny was as racist as it was despicable, but if it had a Facebook page, Tyler would have "liked" it.  

He was elected vice president in 1840 with running mate William Henry Harrison, who came down with a cold three weeks after his inauguration.  The cold turned to pneumonia, just like your mother told you it would, and also septicemia and jaundice, and Harrison's term ended 32 days after it began, ushering in the Tyler Administration, which ended in four years. He had devoted all his energy to grabbing up Texas.  Oh, and he became a bigtime Confederate when the Civil War came along. Tyler chose not to run for re-election in 1844, a wise choice that should have been repeated in 1984 and 2004.

Now, you ask what does a decision, made by the man who is also widely regarded as the president who looks the most like Cris Collinsworth, have to do with 1984, 2004 or even 2014?  I will now tell you why I'm even writing about the man who was president of the US in the 1840s. 


His grandchildren are still alive. His grandchildren! Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of President Tyler’s 15 kids, was born in 1853, when Old Tyler was 63! At age 71, he fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928, when he was a spry 75. Both of these men are still stomping around in Virginia, even though their grandfather died at 73 in 1862...152 years ago!

Tomorrow, let's take a look at why TV shows from the 1840s were not funny at all.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Saturday Picture Show, July 15, 2017

We open today with a painting, a painting done by a 15-year-old, a painting done by a 15-year-old named Pablo Picasso. What's that they say about doing our best work at 15? He sure did, for my money.
You know, most guys who want to be #18 just go out and get the jersey.  Big Peyton Manning fan here.
More artwork? All righty. Here is the fresco in the Galleria Riccardiana, painted between 1683 and 1685 by Luca Giordano, who was often heard to say he could have finished much faster had rollers been invented by then.
I remember Miss Keller, our 7th grade math teacher at dear old Towsontown Jnr. High.  She had a sign by the clock in her classroom that said, "Experience is the hardest teacher. She gives the test, and then the lesson." I never did well in math, but I remember the slogan.
The highlight of this year's All-Star Game was when former Oriole Nelson Cruz handed his phone to the catcher and had him catch a twofie of Nellie and umpire "Country" Joe West. 
I know, it's a lovely sight to see a balloon ascension, and they make lovely decorations and all that, but when you let them go, they tend to boggle nature all up, so please just don't.
In Chile, there were forest fires that wiped out a lot of the trees and brush. This is an aerial view of what remained. BUT the ever-resourceful Chileans have an idea. They have devised saddlebags to be worn by dogs, and they fill the bags with seeds and send the dogs out to cavort in the deforested area, dropping seeds as they go.
This otherwise unremarkable wooden box is on display in a museum in Boston because it is more properly known as the Robinson Half Chest, one of only two remaining tea cases tossed into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party (the only good Tea Party we ever had!)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Musical Depreciation

This happened a few years ago, but it still seems like it could happen today. Paula Dawning, the school superintendent of Benton Harbor, Michigan, would not allow the McCord Middle School marching band to play their version of rock classic "Louie Louie" at a Blossomtime Festival parade because, well, "Louie Louie."

Image result"Louie Louie" is a song, originally written as a calypso tune in the 1950s by one Richard Berry, but when a group from Portland, Oregon, The Kingsmen, recorded it in 1963, it became a big to-do for this main reason. It was cheaply, and poorly, recorded. 

I mean super cheap, in a boxy room with one microphone hanging from the ceiling, which is why it sounds like singer Jack Ely was in Milwaukee phoning in his vocals. It would appear that only one take was made; 56 seconds into it, drummer Lynn Easton drops a drumstick (you can hear him shout a curse) and the whole thing just sounds shoddy on a technical level. On a musical level, at 2:02, Easton slams out a drum fill that has nothing to do with the beat or the melody whatsoever. And let's say that the guitarists and keyboard players were not exactly headed for glory either.

Again, because the record sounded so crappy, it was easy for the rumor to take root that the lyrics were really, really filthy. I remember guys in junior high passing around pieces of three-ring binder paper with the "real" lyrics scribbled on them, lyrics that took the song from one expressing the wistful wait for a love to come from another shore to this one and made it sound like something out of "Caligula."

We had nothing better to do, in that era after the Cuban Missile Crisis and before the Kennedy Assassination.

People love to think they're "in the know," getting the "real lowdown" from a guy who knew a guy whose sister dated the cousin of the bass guitar player from Frankie And The Frenchmen, who were such a hit last summer at Hampton Teen Center, until the drummer got grounded and Frankie's dad said he was tired of driving the band all over Towson every Friday night.  

Of course, this would never happen today, since the wise hands of true statesmen and stateswomen guide our ship of state, but the Federal Government of the United States of America, in the entities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Postal Inspection Service, and the Federal Communications Commission spent two years and plenty of tax dollars looking into the matter of whether Sis and Junior were being ruined by these lascivious lyrics.  You can see the fruits of their labors here in the official, heavily redacted, files.  

Back to the Michigan misunderstanding, Superintendent Chalmers Dawning, as all good leaders will, blamed her staff for allowing the kids to even practice the song in the first place. "It was not that I knew at the beginning and said nothing," she said. "I normally count on the staff to make reliable decisions. I found out because a parent called, concerned about the song being played."

Ah. A PARENT called!  The bane of educators everywhere! A parent called and said this song is smutty and trashy, and without any further investigation, the marching band was forced to yield. 

Do you recall what was revealed, the day someone finally told you the real words?  

Louie, Louie, oh no, I said we gotta go
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah I said
Louie, Louie, oh baby, I said we gotta go
A fine little girl, she waits for me
Me catch a ship across the sea
Me sail that ship all alone
Me never think how I'll make it home
Louie, Louie, no, no, no, no, no, I said we gotta go
Oh no, I said
Louie, Louie, oh baby, I said we gotta go
Three nights and days I sail the sea
I think of girl constantly
On that ship, I dream she there
I smell the rose in her hair
Louie, Louie, oh no, I said we gotta go
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah I said
Louie, Louie, oh baby, I said we gotta go
Okay, let's give it to 'em, right now!
Me see
Me see Jamaican moon above
It won't be long me see me love
Me take her in my arms and then
I tell her I'll never leave again
Louie, Louie, oh no, I said we gotta go
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah I said
Louie, Louie, oh baby, I said we gotta go
I said we gotta go now
Let's get on outta here
Let's go!