Thursday, October 8, 2015

Still doing book reports!

My childhood ended a long time ago, chronologically.  But since I still live close to where it all took place, I can drive up Providence Road and see the firehouse where I spent so much time, the little store that's now closed and is part of an assisted living home, the houses with the giant front yards where we played ball, and the holiday fun.  Ours was the little town where Santa Claus rode around on top of the fire engine on Christmas Eve (he still does!), where we raked autumn leaves into smoky piles, where we put baseball cards in the spokes of our bikes to make a sort of engine sound, where the ladies made caramel apples and popcorn balls for the kids on Halloween, and where the same bunch of us started in first grade and stuck together for twelve years of schoolin'.

I feel like I have the best of both worlds because I have those memories AND I have this computer, which connects me with a lot of the wonderful people, places and things of the good old days. Here is something really cool: One of the girls I grew up with became a standup comic and playwright and novelist, and the tales she weaves have threads of real life and real people from my golden childhood.

Her name is Rootie Simms, and I just read and enjoyed her latest: "The Last Great Halloween" (Wilder Things Publishing, available on Amazon.)  This is her third book, following 2012's "Wilder in the Everglades (Volume 1)" and last year's "My Childhood Christmas: Christmas 1959, When Only the Strongest Kids Survived!"  Rootie's alter ego in these books is the lead character, Trudy McFarlan, and this book finds Trudy planning her Halloween party, and her costume, at that poignant moment we all had when we found ourselves with one shoe in childhood and one in the adult world.  She wants to dress up for Halloween and have a great party, and she wants to date a guy from the neighborhood, too.  And check out page 21 in the book.  I was invited to the party! What a proud moment!

Rootie's Christmas book turned over a lot of the same kind of memories...the stores at Towson Plaza, our classes at Hampton Elementary School, and the sweet fun of being a kid at that sweet time of life when Camelot was in the White House and hope was still in our hearts, hearts that had yet to experience how bumpy the world was to turn out to be. While I'm reading these books, it's like childhood never ended, and I smile at some memory on every page.

Rootie's dad, Leo, drove the fire engine for our volunteer fire company now and again, and if I even thought for a moment as I hung on the back step on the way to a fire that these wonderful moments would come back to me in books written by a schoolfriend who was the daughter of the man driving, I never would have believed it.  

I can believe anything now, including the power of the past to make the present happier and the future brighter.  Please give Rootie's books a chance, whether you grew up with us or not. I promise you will find your own memories on these pages!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

You Bet!

It doesn't seem enough anymore for a football fan to go to the stadium, buy a ticket, a hot dog and a beer, or sit home in front of the TV, and watch a game for the enjoyment of it all.

No no! Now we have to make it more interesting, and nothing interests Americans more than being told they can make a million dollars while sitting on their hindquarters.

So that's why we have FanDuel and DraftKings and an unregulated, multi-billion dollar daily fantasy sports industry.  "Fantasy" is so much a nicer term than "betting," wouldn't you say?  And that makes it sound like your dreams alone about Xavier O'Hoolahan running for more yards this Sunday than Jim Bob McBurly can win you that cool million. No, you have to take some of the money you work all week for and wager it with these sports betting sites, and now, just four weeks into the NFL season, along comes a major scandal.

DraftKings admits that confidential data was leaked by an employee. And, how do you like this? That employee took this private information and won himself $350,000 with it at FanDuel.
What he took was information that “showed the prevalence of particular players across all submitted lineups” for the MillonaireMaker game that DraftKings runs. That's not public information, and since you and your buddy and everyone else who participates in this junk are members of the public, that would mean that you are being cheated by someone else having an edge over you.

It comes down to this:  if you know which players everyone else was putting on their fantasy teams, you could pick players that offer a higher payoff.  That is not fair.

DraftKings and FanDuel say they are aware of what's going on, but deny “misuse” of insider data, while promising to “review our internal controls.”

Because this is regarded as a game of skill and expertise (the ability to choose between this player and that and predict who will do better week to week) there is no government regulation, but there is something called the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, which claims to keep everything on the up and up with a voluntary “code of conduct."

There once was a showman named Phineas T. Barnum, who knew how to turn a dollar in more than a hundred ways.  Although he is often credited with saying "There's a sucker born every minute" he really did not say that.  What he did say was "Every crowd has a silver lining," and he knew how to separate people from their silver.  He ran a sideshow called "Barnum's American Museum," a popular attraction where people would pay to see little person Tom Thumb and other interesting things.  But he had a problem! People would pay to come in, and they'd hang around, keeping others from paying to come in.

So Barnum put up a sign on the exit door reading "This Way To The Egress" and all day long, people who believed the egress was like a platypus or some other exotic species, went through that door and found themselves on the outside looking in.

You can bet that Barnum is proud of those sports gambling people.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Name Gain

It's true that I was born and christened with a perfect name for the career that I first worked in.  Radio DJs who were born with names like Brian Anthony Hummelfinger had to call themselves Brian Anthony, but I just worked as myself, which made it easier for family and bill collectors to follow me from station to station.

However, I often wonder what it would be like to be named something different.  Leon. I'd love to be named Leon.  Leon is always a guy you can count on ("Leon said he'd be around later with the truck to help you move") and Angus suggests a certain Scottish stockiness ("Angus said he'd be around later to help bring the cattle back to the barn") and Ernest just sounds so...earnest.

Of course, this was not a well-known name at the time I was born, but Elvis is a great name for baby boys.  Just sayin'...

Enzo to the rescue!
There's a blog called SheKnows that featured a list of great ideas for names of baby boys.  How about Thorn?  Enzo - that was the name of the baker in The Godfather who stood fast with Michael at a time of danger, his only weapon his bare right hand in a pocket.  Brooks - well, this is Baltimore, hon - the world capital for kids named after Brooks Robinson.  They suggest Nixon as a boy name...I met a little boy named Nixon.  At the age of 3, he already needed a shave, he kept hunching his shoulders and raising his arms, and he seemed, I don't know, shifty.  They mention Lincoln as a first name, which is cool, and Porter, which is of course the name of the great country singer Porter Wagoner, so the kid with that name also gets to wear a really cool suit.
Mr Porter Wagoner

The inartfully named Shitastrophy blog makes these points for new parents looking for a name for a male baby.  They recommend against professional names (Baker, Sheriff, Carpenter...although I would love to meet a kid named Tirechanger or Pizzabringer) and money names like Cash, Kash and Million. It's a bad start for a kid to be thinking of moolah at an early age.

Their research of census documents (hey!  how about naming the kid Census?) shows that some parents are going with names from nature, like Cove, Boulder, Granite, Moon, Moss, Sun, and Woods. Take this advice, please: do not name a child Moon.  You'll be glad later.

Car names?  Audi? Lexus?  Rolls-Royce? Why not Impala or Rav4?

It might be good to remember that the lead singer of The Showmen and The Chairmen of the Board was the late General Johnson, but still, I wouldn't be in a rush to name a little guy Captain or Commodore or some other military title.

And I don't know if a little guy named Waldo can stand to have people looking for him all day.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Save Me

One of my fondest memories of dropping by a social studies class one day in high school (it must have been raining or something) was how the teacher foretold a future in which computers were going to simplify everything, fix everything, take the place of bulky papers and books, and find true love for everyone seeking same.

"Imagine," Mrs Frantz said, "all of the information in your books on a computer!  You won't have to carry any books home with you to do your homework!" 

Not even my pointing out that I was already not in the habit of toting books around with me  could deter her.  On and on she crooned, a soothsayer saying soothing things about a Brave New World where paper would go the way of buggy whips and rumble seats. Everything was going to be on computers, books would disappear, that was it, accept it.

Fast forward to the work environments we know now, where almost everyone has a monitor staring back at them, and a computer terminal, and everything that's done and said is said and done on that terminal...and then it gets printed out and stored in the boxes that the paper comes in, stacked in dusty closets and the former offices of people who swore they'd never learn to use a computer.

You have to print important information out because computers crash, and hard drives stop driving, and thumb drives give you the finger from time to time.  

So Mrs Frantz's prediction of a paperless world never came to fruition (as did her presaging my future as a convicted felon) and that lesson has been learned by almost everyone.  No one trusts just their computer, laptop or mobile device as the sole carrier of any important data.

That's why it was cause for great head-shaking last week when Garth Brooks, country singer of one song I like ("I've Got Friends In Low Places"), and dozens more that I don't, announced that for the last six months, he's been storing ideas and lines and snippets for new songs on his cell phone.  

How many devices did you store the data on?
"Here's where the old guy gets into technology, which is bad," he explained to "Rolling Stone.

"All the new stuff which I've been working on for six months was on a phone that's been fried, and I can't get the phone to come back up. . . It's like losing your briefcase back in the Nineties!"

Well, Garth, next time, copy and paste and forward it to your email and your wife's email and print it out and store in your freezer in a ziploc bag.  But before you feel too bad about it, consider the case of my hero Mr Garrison Keillor.

In 1974, Mr Keillor, the soon-to-be retired host of radio's "Prairie Home Companion," got the idea to write about radio's Grand Ole Opry, a piece that The New Yorker ran. They paid him $6,000 for it, and he spent that money on a train trip to the West Coast with his wife and son. But on the way, he left his briefcase in the men's room at the Portland train station.  

In the briefcase was the one and only copy of his manuscript for a novel called "Lake Wobegon Memoir," which he thought would be his breakthrough masterpiece.  The briefcase was never returned and the typed pages of the book he dreamed up have been lost from that day to this. 

Always with the red socks
In the summer of 1974, Mr Keillor created the radio show which is still on the air every Saturday evening.  The highlight of the second hour of the show is a monologue, his extemporaneous weaving of the tales of everyday life in a fictional small town in Minnesota. He told the Los Angeles Times in 1985 that he started telling the stories on the radio in hopes that "my lost story would come down the beam and land in my head. Eleven years later, I am still waiting for it."

Type it. Send it. Print it.  Save it.  Bury it. Mail it to yourself.  Just don't make but one copy of anything you might want later.

Looking to whip up some buzz for last year's Man Against Machine album, Garth Brooks got social last November, launching his own Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts in the same week. Less than a year later, though, he's shaking his fist at modern technology. 

Garth Brooks Garth Brooks Talks Touring and Uncertain 'Machine' Future »
A fried cell phone may have just set back production on the icon's next album. Speaking with Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel before last weekend's pair of sold-out shows at the Bradley Center, Brooks admitted that he's been storing ideas for new songs on a personal cell phone that recently stopped working.

There's also a possible delay on a duets album with wife Trisha Yearwood, who tells the Sentinel that the Christmas collection they're working on won't likely be out in time for the 2015 holiday season.

Meanwhile, the married superstars continue to keep busy on the road, thanks to an ongoing, cross-country tour that's on track to become one of the highest-grossing concert treks of all time. The Garth Brooks World Tour With Trisha Yearwood has stayed within America's borders thus far, with a foreign leg possibly popping up next year. New U.S. cities are still being announced, with Brooks and Yearwood wrapping up their year with multi-show residencies in Cleveland, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and San Diego. 

Read more: 
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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sunday Rerun: 500 words, due tomorrow

So, what would you do if your boss came in one morning right after Labor Day and told you to write a composition about "How I Spent My Summer Vacation"?

I always wish that someone would do that for adults.  Facebook is fun for sharing vacation pictures, but it can be dangerous to announce to all of your online friends that you are leaving the house unoccupied for the next two weeks while you and the whole family, including Uncle Ambrose, head down I-95 to see South of the Border, including Pedro's Nutte House, with its oddly phallic decorations.  Especially if you mention that the key is under the mat or duct-taped to the third rock from the sunflower in your garden.

But when you get back, post up those pictures.  We love to see where you've been.  A lot of people like to go to places they have never been and explore on their summer weeks off.  They think nothing of loading up the Family Truckster with sleeping bags, a couple of extra pairs of jeans and a shirt or two, some rudimentary toilet supplies, canned food, bottled water, bottled gin, and heading out to Montana or New Mexico.

Others among us go to the same beach or lake with the same people, wearing the same Speedo, and staying in the same room with a 40-watt bulb and a sliver of soap in the bathroom, which you get to share with your own family and that of Cousin Ozzie, with his illbred offspring. 

That's why they call it a vacation - you vacate the office or your workspace for a while so you can come back refreshed and renewed, vowing more desperately than ever to find your ticket out of there.  That first day back, as you plow through the 1,395 emails that have clogged your inbox just as your recent dinners have clogged your carotid artery, you take a solemn oath that by next summer, you will have that dream job as drummer for Journey or personal hairstylist to Prince William.  And as you dream and plot, you click on a phishing email and the entire office network drops dead and you have to wait for the summer intern from InfoServices to come and declogulate your "machine," as he likes to call it.  This takes two hours, which would be much better spent roaming down the corridors of your building, demonstrating your tan and passing out macaroons and salt water taffy that you brought back.

I think I just figured out why corporate America doesn't ask anyone to write those compositions.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, October 3, 2015

This bird is a "brown boobie."  They are usually found far south of Baltimore, but lately, a pair of them have been seen hanging around our harbor.  Their name comes from the British sailors who found them easy to lure onto the deck, to be consumed for dinner.  I don't think they look all that appetizing, but whatever.
There is something to be said for finding a product that fits perfectly in a little slot.  In my car I have a little LED flashlight that nestles right into a hole in the dashboard.  It's a happy world.
We are expecting some leaves to fall this weekend, what with Hurricane Joaquin flying up the coast.  But don't leave your rake out on the porch or you'll be chasing it, along with the leaves.
Good news for this person, and how about this nice display of gratitude for those who helped him get to this point?
This is Malibu Creek State Park, and it's what's left of the old M*A*S*H television show set.  Speed checked by Radar.
You used to see these all over the place...the "speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil" guys.  It's still good advice.
CBS Sunday Morning had a story about Don Henley and the small town he came from in Texas, and he mentioned having seen this movie back in the day and having to walk home afterwards.  Note also who co-starred with Steve McQueen - Aneta Corseaut, soon to be our beloved Helen Crump on the Andy Griffith Show!
This week's free wallpaper!  Because it's the prettiest time of the year, for my money!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Where's my role?

Young Tierney
If I talk about the late actor Lawrence Tierney a lot, it's because his was an interesting story. He was not a great actor in terms of range, as they couldn't imagine him playing Peter Pan or a poetry-reading prep school teacher or a guy who comes to town selling marching band instruments and uniforms.  New York Times movie critic David Kehr wrote, "The hulking Tierney was not so much an actor as a frightening force of nature." 

No, Tierney (1919-2002) was a tough guy from Brooklyn, Noo Yawk, who gave up an athletic scholarship to college to work in construction.  A big, good looking dude, he modeled for the Sears catalog for a while before drifting into acting.  When people needed a large, menacing man, he was the go-to guy for movies with titles like "The Devil Thumbs a Ride" and "Born To Kill."

The pity is, he could have been more consistent in his acting career had he not spent so much time appearing in real-life courtroom dramas.  He was arrested countless times over the years on various charges, usually involving misbehavior while drunk (he did 90 days in jail for breaking a college student's jaw in a barroom fracas, he assaulted two cops outside a bar, he was knifed in a bar fight in 1973...) and he said this one time while attempting to get on the wagon: "I threw away about seven careers through drink."

It also would appear that, like fellow B-movie legend George Raft, he started taking his roles so seriously that he seemed to go through life acting as if every day was another movie. If you remember the original version of "Arthur" (the good one, with Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli), old Lawrence played the bit part of a cranky customer in the diner demanding his roll ("Where's my roll?")

"The Jacket"
Never was this talent for toughness more vividly demonstrated than when he appeared in the second season of "Seinfeld" as Alton Benes, Elaine's scary father. He did a great job as the flinty, hard-bitten novelist who scared the bejabbers out of Jerry and George in the episode called "The Jacket."  (It's the one where Jerry had just bought a nice new leather jacket but it gets ruined because it's snowing when he and George go to walk to a Pakistani restaurant five blocks away. Jerry wanted to turn the jacket inside out to protect the suede, but Mr Benes says that makes him look "like a damn fool" and that Jerry's "not going to walk down the street with me and my daughter dressed like that, that's for damn sure!")

As Alton Benes
Whether it was great acting or just Tierney being Tierney, it played well on a sitcom, and "Seinfeld" planned to make him a recurring character in future episodes, which would have made Lawrence a tidy salary and a nice legacy in show business, but that never happened because Tierney stole a butcher knife from the Seinfeld apartment set, and when Jerry Seinfeld asked him why he had the knife concealed in his jacket, Tierney raised the knife like Anthony Perkins in "Psycho," but said he did it as a joke. The cast was scared to death.

Nobody ever thinks it's funny to be threatened with a knife assault, so that was it for him on that series.  And his career history shows just five more bit parts in movies after that last big chance. Sometimes, it's easy to get carried away playing a character. 

And that goes for more than just actors.