Friday, August 1, 2014

Manual Labor

I think I have figured out why there are so many trees growing in your town and mine.  That big old beech tree, the pine down the street, and the weeping Willow Smith in the park...all are signs that we are not cutting down trees like we used to do. 

Because we sure aren't using the trees to make paper to print owners' manuals for new devices!

It was time to upgrade our phones the other day and we are tickled to death with our new Galaxy S5, not to be confused with the curiously misspelled Ford Galaxie popular among Mayberry's law enforcement community.  And it was time to get a new iPod for me.  

Neither of these fine devices came with more than a rudimentary pamphlet that mainly said to turn them on and use them and don't let the battery get all run down, although our friend at the Verizon store did a great job helping us to set up the phones.

The iPod wouldn't sync to the music on my iTunes so I got a cup of iTea and picked up my non-iPhone to call the good people at Apple, where I was greeted with, "Hello, Mark!  I see you recently purchased an iPod Nano...Is this the device you are calling about today?" This is was impressive, and I'll bet you if you were to call KFC, they wouldn't answer with your name or know that  you recently purchased a 12-piece bucket.

And the nice lady served me a nice bowl of Apple sauce and plenty of information. We got the tiny music box 1/2 filled with tunes that you aren't lucky to hear elsewhere, and she reminded me that help is always available on line these days.

I guess printed instruction manuals are passé now, which is good for the trees and the recycling stations. I don't think many people ever read them, anyway. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Plaque buildup

Only one percent of the men who ever wound up playing major league baseball also wound up in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York,  a town which was not, as is commonly believed, named for author James Fenimore Cooper, but, rather, his father, Judge William Cooper, who founded the sleepy town in 1786.

Only one percent of the people who see recent inductee Greg Maddux's plaque at the HOF will object to the grammar violations contained thereupon, so that's how that goes.  People often tell me that grammar is an ever-evolving thing, fungible and protean.  Well, they don't put it that way, exactly.  What I hear is, "Everybody talks this way, so shove it!"

As fans of excellent woodwork enjoy seeing perfectly-dovetailed joints in a cabinet, as lovers of fine cooking oooh and aaah for the perfect soufflé, as admirers of beauty relish the very sight of a sunrise over a field of lavender, so do I adulate a well-turned phrase, a perfectly-constructed paragraph, a book that I will re-read just for the experience of wading in the words the author chose.  I'm not saying this is for everyone.  If you're happy with John Grisham or James Redfield, fine!

But look at the Maddux plaque.  "Preparation, command and study of batters made him part-scientist, part-artist, winning..."  A part-scientist would be someone involved in the scientific study of parts! A part-artist would be someone making art of parts!   This overuse of hyphens is like the signs on certain auto shops lettered "ALL-TYPES-REPAIR'S   MECHANIC-ON-DUTY" or the one around the corner from us: "FIREWOOD-FOR SALE."  A dash is supposed to be used to set off parenthetical sentence elements, not as a spacer between words. 

And also, as Mr Olbermann said, the look on Mr Maddux's face on the plaque is like the look he'd have if someone walked up and said his car was on fire outside.  

The Hall of Fame will have to do better by the time Adam Jones is inducted!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A sweet little vignette from a summer afternoon...

There's a family up the street from us here on the court; we hardly know them at all.  It makes me sad to realize that's how things are in America 2014, because when I was a kid, everybody up and down the street knew everyone else down and up the street.  It was great then, but it's not that way anymore, and why even talk about it?  We're fortunate to have good neighbors on either side of us, and no one is throwing hams at our house like the people who live next to Oz E. Osbourne have to put up with.

One thing that hasn't changed, never has and never will...boys and girls, they will get together. This family has a daughter; I guess she is maybe 13 or 14. She walks past our house during the school year, going to or coming from school, and the poor thing carries so many books, and I guess a laptop, a printer and a French horn in her backpack that she resembles nothing quite as much as the cover to Led Zeppelin IV.  

She usually has the dour expression of someone sentenced to middle school, for which I really can't blame her, but I always try to say something encouraging or at least pleasant when I see her mosey by.  Talking to people who may or may not wish to talk back is an old family habit.

But the other day, it was all different.  I raised the garage door just as she walked by with a male kid about her age.  In the time-honored fashion of 7th graders, they were giggling and goofing.  I was headed for the Bag 'N' Save, and as I drove down the hill, I saw them turn to make sure they were out of eyeshot of curious eyes located inside her house, and they gave each other the most chaste little peck and hug around the neck you ever saw. It was just the cutest thing you ever saw.  Older kids, you see them saying goodbye to each other at mall dropoff points and high school detention halls, and it looks like a four-armed amoeba eddying around, osculating and schqueezing and so on. But not these youngsters, not at 13.

And even though Hamas and Israel are bombing the hell out of each other and big old jet airliners are being blown out of the sky and the Russians can't get along with themselves and 21,000 children die around the world every day and the ecology is all shot and the bee population is being wiped out, two kids are going to flirt and hold hands and exchange a sweet little kiss on the sidewalk in front of the house down the street.  

The good parts, somehow, survive.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

By Any Other Name

I think it all started with Bruce Boxleitner.

Boxleitner, the actor, came along in the 1980s and if he wasn't the first, he was among the first of the people from "fair and frantic Hollywood" who did not change their name to something, like "Brice Box."

Even before that, performers were breaking their necks to run to the courthouse to change their names, which is why you never heard anyone talk about Arnold George Dorsey, the noted singer. He only became "noted" after he changed his name to Engelbert Humperdinck, ripping off the name of the German composer who tossed "Hänsel und Gretel" into the musical oven.  Humperdinck the singer became popular in the 60s, the decade in which it became fashionable to stop naming movies "Dark Obsession" and start calling them "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad."

Listen, I lived through all that and I never did get the point. Anyhow, time was when a guy named Arthur Kelm showed up to try his hand at movie acting, and some guy behind a desk puffing on a Cheroot said, through a veil of smoke, "All right, see?  We'll call you 'Tab Hunter'!"
Bernard Schwartz

Thus did Roy Fitzgerald become Rock Hudson, Bernard Schwartz became Tony Curtis, and Aaron Chwatt became Red Buttons, although I think there would have been a certain great value in going around being named Aaron Chwatt, Man of A Thousand Gags.

Women?  Same deal. Tula Ellice Finklea = Cyd Charisse. Shirley Schrift = Shelley Winters, and Lucille Fay LeSueur = Joan Crawford.

I think there needs to be a Name Commission to decide these names, because I think that "P.J. Clapp" is a far better name for the man we know and love as Johnny Knoxville.  The Knoxville name should have been saved and given to someone who desperately needed a fake moniker.

So hold on, Benedict Cumberbatch!  We'll think of something!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Would You Believe..?

As if there wasn't enough else to worry about in the mid-to-late 1960s, people liked to sit around inventing crazy stories, one of which was that Paul McCartney had been slain in a bloody car crash.  That story amused swingin' London for a week or two in 1967, buttressed by shreds of facts (McCartney's car was in a wreck, but it was being driven by someone who worked for him, and he did wipe out on his moped, chipping a tooth and scarring his otherwise stiff upper lip.  He grew a mustache to hide the scar) and people's natural love of pure bullhockey.

And then came 1969, when a fool named Tim Harper (who had like totally, heard all about Paul being dead from a friend who knew a guy who knew the coroner...) wrote a "news story" which appeared in the Times-Delphic, the student newspaper of the Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Next thing you know, a DJ who should have known better, one Russ Gibb, on WKNR-FM, took a call from a listener who said that Paul was dead, and if Gibb would simply play "Revolution 9" backwards, everyone could hear the Beatles chant “turn me on, dead man.” And then, someone wrote an article in another college newspaper about this great plot to cover up the death of Paul McCartney, and Russ Gibb, seeking an easier way to turn a quick couple of dollars than doing one more teen dance, produced a radio documentary, laying out all the made-up facts.   For weeks, an anxious nation - yea, the world - awaited confirmation that the man who later wrote "Silly Love Songs" was alive to sing them.  Clues were discussed - he was the only one walking barefoot on the Abbey Road album! - the license tag was 28IF, meaning he would have been 28 IF he had lived! - Lennon mutters "I buried Paul" because who would mumble the words "Cranberry sauce" on a record?!

As was often the case, nothing was clear until LIFE magazine came out in November, with proof that Paul was alive and well and living among many sheep on a farm in Scotland.  In the magazine, McCartney told fans that “Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” paraphrasing Mark Twain. “However, if I was dead, I’m sure I’d be the last to know.”

You can add "the last to know" to the people in our town who choose to believe and spread ridiculous myths, the two most often-repeated of which are that a politician and newscaster got busy and had a baby, and that a ballplayer beat up an actor in a jealous rage.  You ask for evidence, and all you get is "I knew a guy who talked to a guy whose uncle was like totally there!" People who believe and retell these stories always quote a high-ranking police officer as the source of their veracity.

Sergeant Pepper.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Rerun...from January 2011...Peanut Butter and Traffic Jam

Wow, is all we could say.  On Wednesday, the Baltimore area had a once-in-a-lifetime weather and traffic mess, which will give us something to chatter about in malls, office lunchrooms, hair "saloons" and small claims courts for years to come.

The day dawned with a couple of inches of snow dappling our landscape, and if you haven't had your landscape dappled lately, let me tell you, you're missing out.  The weather people had been saying that it would start to rain overnight and rain like all get-out during the day, so it snowed instead and then the sky turned rather pouty and rainy.  Then the weather people said it would start to snow just about the time everyone left to go home from work, but we took a wait-and-see attitude  toward that.  I get off at 3:30, and when I headed home it was raining sort of hard.  I stopped for gas on the way, and the wind kept blowing my hood off my hooded chore jacket, and then by the time I got back to the Lazy 'C' Ranch here, it was sleeting.

Peggy and I enjoyed a nice dinner and, unable to take our usual 20-minute after dinner walk on the court we live on, we took walks around the house we live in.  I was going up and down stairs for exercise, walking through the house, and had the odd experience of running into Peggy as she left the dining room.  "Hi there, " I said, with an amiable nod.  No, we're not insane.  Really.

So, with nothing on TV, I was idly thumbing through Facebook and started seeing messages from people who were stuck in huge traffic jams on the beltway and other highways.  I mean, it was like 8 o'clock, 9 o'clock, quarter to ten, and they had left their work at 4, 4:30, 5!  Seven hours became the commute home for many people, and no, they were not cheered to think that on another night - most ANY other night - they could have shuffled off to Buffalo in that much time!

What happened was the perfect storm, the one with no Geo. Clooney.  The snow got fierce just as the traffic did, and how are you gonna get a snow plow through to plow the snow off streets already clogged with SUVs? Reports of people waiting two hours on a Beltway exit ramp surfaced.  Our favorite traffic reporter Candace Dold reported that it took her 7 1/2 hours to get to work - a normal 30-minute ride.  Highways were shut down, cars were abandoned, people slept in hotel lobbies.  And one person decided to go the wrong way on a major highway.

And then later, the streets were clear!  Zipadeedoodah!

This seems like a good time to remind one and all living in areas prone to snow of several things. First, sneak out of work early when a big snow is headed your way! (Not applicable to public safety personnel, news reporters, and grocery store cashiers!) Second, in the winter time, keep the car full of gas as much as you can - lots of people ran out of gas on the beltway. And it's a good idea to keep some granola bars, peanut butter doodads and bottles of water in the car just in case.

And also - an empty water bottle.  You'll see why!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, July 26, 2014

Here's an interesting picture from when Dick Cheney was much younger...we call it "Just Two Guys Who Went Hunting By Bicycle"
A lifetime of advice on one simple license tag.  You never know how far it is to the next WaWa.
So many people show those "Keep Calm and Carry On" signs from World War II as the English demonstrated how to keep a stiff upper lip.  But there is always a "but" to these things.  2.45 million copies of the signs - this one, "Keep Calm and Carry On" and "Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might" that England printed were never distributed!  After they were made, the British government decided that the mottoes were patronising and divisive, so they sat in storage until being pulped for other paper uses.  A few copies survived, someone posted one in an antique shop, and millions of copies were made, setting off the craze for memories of things as they never really were.
 I love the name of the "Drug City" drugstore in Dundalk, MD, but this one from Hollywood, CA, from 1965, shows a similar cool name.
A fellow named Bill Holsten took this shot of a Chestnut-mandibled Toucan and you have to say this bird looks happy in his domain!         (
Three cheers for the opera parking lot in Estonia, where they have a sense of humor about the gate blade.  But I also take cheer from knowing that Estonians can enjoy a double-meat footlong BMT before enjoying "The Barber of Seville."