Friday, January 20, 2017

Up The Skaggerak

We talked about Friday the 13th superstitions the other day (Friday the 13th, I think it was), and from what I could tell, no one near me freaked out over anything, and we all lived happily ever after.

But maybe that was because I was not in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, where, on Friday the 13th, a 13-year old airplane (aeroplane, as the orange man says it) designated as Finnair Flight 666 took off for the ninety-minute flight to HEL.  HELsinki, Finland, to be exact.

And I couldn't tell you why people who are in Copenhagen ("Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen," as we sang it at dear old Hampton Elementary, from the Danny Kaye movie about Hans Christian Andersen) would want to go to Helsinki, but they piled onto the plane, and against all odds...

It landed safely.  Early, as matter of fact.  

Well, there goes that superstition.  

Now, let's try to figure out why second-graders in my day sang songs with words like:
 
Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen 
Friendly old girl of a town 
'Neath her tavern light 
On this merry night 
Let us clink and drink one down 
To wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen 
Salty old queen of the sea 
Once I sailed away 
But I'm home today 
Singing Copenhagen, wonderful, wonderful 
Copenhagen for me 
I sailed up the Skagerrak 
And sailed down the Kattegat 
Through the harbor and up to the quay 
And there she stands waiting for me 
With a welcome so warm and so gay 
Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen 
Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen 
Friendly old girl of a town 
'Neath her tavern light 
On this merry night 
Let us clink and drink one down 
To wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen 
Salty old queen of the sea 
Once I sailed away 
But I'm home today 
Singing Copenhagen, wonderful, wonderful 
Copenhagen for me 
And of course, the next year we were singing about Mammy's little baby liking shortnin' bread in minstrel accents.  Elementary school music classes got me like ??? 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Knot my problem

I'm just old school enough to think that a man should wear a tie to certain events, such as working in an office where one deals with the public, religious ceremonies, and funerals (including his own).

Comcast SportsNet MidAtlantic has now relaxed their dress code for male sportscasters, allowing guys to appear in open-collared shirts under jackets. They call it "comfortable casual." 

"We’re not looking to create Wayne’s World in a basement here, I want to be clear about that," Joe Ferreira, CSN's VP of content strategy, told the Washington Post. "We are very proud of our look and feel and our brand. But we are really thinking that the more ‘real’ and casual and comfortable our talent is — both on-camera and with our fans, both live at an arena and in the studio — the better they’re going to be. I like that style better and that voice better."

I'll agree that wearing a suit and tie to call the play-by-play of a baseball game on a steaming August evening is a bit goofy, but I still prefer people in a television studio to take the time to put on a tie.

Image result for gooberSame with medical professionals and anyone else in the workplace where credibility and professionalism matter. Frankly, if I need brain surgery (go ahead and say it!) I don't want to meet some doctor dressed like Goober Pyle.

Image result for no tie look hollywoodI know, times change and standards wane, but there are constants.  Sure, if you're a suave Hollywood actor, you can pull off the no-tie look that Mr Cooper (left) is Hanging With, but even though it makes me as dated as last week's Saturday Evening Post, I expect a tie with a suit.

Neckie sales are down, I'll give you that.  They peaked in 1995 in the US ($1.8 billion) and bottomed out in 2008 ($677 million) as men realized they didn't need to dress up too much to sit in the unemployment office. Andy Serwer, who is the managing editor of Fortune magazine, says that sales are improving again but adds, "In any event, it’s hard to see the tie biz ever again hitting the levels of two decades ago."

Etiquette guru Peter Post sums it all up nicely: "The tie’s value is that the formality it represents demonstrates respect for the occasion and those present."

And he adds that if you wear one and the occasion seems to make it unnecessary, you can always remove the old cravat...but if you show up open-necked and everyone else is wearing a four-in-hand, you can't just pull one out of thin air.

I gave several dozen ties to Goodwill when I retired, meaning that men all over Baltimore are wearing my rep stripes with pride, and I did save a few for important occasions, including my own.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Search For Tammarow

If you've known me for more than five minutes, you know how much importance I place on matters of spelling, grammar, pronunciation, and correct use of language overall.

Therefore, I can't take too much umbrage with the colloquy that recently took place between two people associated with the Frederick County (Maryland) school system.

There was dicey weather on January 5, and, accordingly, a student who was probably wearing his pajamas inside out* tweeted to the school board, "close school tammarow PLEASE."

A school employee, Katie Nash, whose job it was to monitor the school system's social media business saw this, and responded, "But then how would you learn how to spell ‘tomorrow?"

Done and done, right?  Kid with spelling problem tweets, woman replies with a little wit and a solid point, and life goes on.  Over a thousand people retweeted that tweet, over a thousand "like"d it, and the hashtag #katiefromfcps started trending! 

And then, Ms Nash was told to stop tweeting on her work account.
Nash


And the kids started another hashtag: #freekatie.

And the spelling-challenged kid himself wrote that the original reply didn't bother him. He didn't take it personally.

And then, late in the day last Friday, Ms Nash was called into her boss's office, handed a letter of termination, and shown the door. I'm sure they had a beefy security guard standing cross-armed as she retrieved her personal belongings.

People are petitioning for her to get her job back, but I'm sure she will find better work than to work for these neck-bowed illiberals. Young Quincy, or whatever his name was, needed an admonition, he got one, and Ms Nash was canned for no good reason. 

But she says she wants the students of Frederick County to move on. "It’s important to me that they see it is how you react to a situation that really defines who you are. I am really trying to get to each one of them and say maybe it’s not fair, but life will go on, and I have a lot of opportunity ahead of me because I got a great education."

She'll be fine. Let's hope the students will be as well.

* In Maryland, students hoping for snow to cancel school the next day customarily turn their pjs inside out to bring them luck. This works as often as it does for baseball fans who turn their caps inside out to get their team to rally in the late innings.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

It's Only A Game

You have to think like a businessperson if you want to stay in business.

F'rinstance, let's say you're the Hasbro Corporation, owners of the Monopoly game.

"You're the Hasbro Corporation, owners of the Monopoly game."


The Classics
Now let's say you realize that the average family got their copy of the game for Christmas in maybe 1962 along with some Tinkertoys and a GI Joe, and the Monopoly set has been gathering dust on the shelves down in the rumpus room ever since.

It represents a unique situation in business: how to get people to buy more of something of which one is more than enough.  It's like becoming a blacksmith. The first thing you're going to buy is a good anvil, and they tend to last forever. You never hear of people saying they need to replace their claw hammer or their ladder or their tire iron.

But, again, pretend you're Hasbro and you want to sell Monopoly games. There's no way you can persuade people to throw their old ones out, so you have to come up with a way to make Monopoly fans just HAVE to get the new set.

First, create interest in it, by making new tokens.  Just four years ago, Hasbro replaced the iron token with a cat.


The candidates
So now, they're holding a vote among all Americans to determine which are the top 8 figurines. There are all sorts of representations of the America in which we find ourselves today...hashtag symbols, a bathtub, a dinosaur...64 all in all among which to choose.

If you care enough to vote, go to votemonopoly.com and let your voice be heard.  

Then run right out later this year and get a new Monopoly game! And fresh Parcheesi, Chutes And Ladders, and Uno while you're at it.

I understand that Clue will be replacing Col. Mustard with SeƱor Salsa.





Monday, January 16, 2017

The beat goes on (and he played it!)

Don't you love it when two things you are thinking about just happen to meld into one topic?  It must be how it felt for the person who made a bowl of macaroni and day and said, hey, how about if we add some cheese to this, huh?

OK - the two topics blended into one are Hal Blaine and the Ringling Brothers Circus.

And you might not know the first, Hal Blaine, but you have pounded your steering wheel along with him a thousand times. 

And many of us are pounding their fists in dismay over the impending folding of the Ringling Brothers tent, a piece of Americana about to subsumed by entertainments such as pro wrasslin', monster truck shows, and Disney On Ice.

Hal Blaine was born Harold Simon Belsky almost 88 years ago in Massachusetts. His family moved to Hartford, Connecticut when he was 7, and by the time he was 14 he was playing drums with a marching band in town.


Blaine playing drums for a Phil Spector record
In 1963, Hal was working in Los Angeles as a session drummer for Phil Spector, who hired him to keep the beat on "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes. Go ahead and click on that link! Those opening drumbeats are probably the most famous in all of rock history. Hal went on the be a founding member of the instrumental group called the Wrecking Crew, and he and his fellow musicians actually made the music you thought was being made by The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Carpenters, The Partridge Family and thousands of others.  His drums were on 40 number # one hits, 150 top ten hits and a total of more than 35,000 recorded tracks.

He accepted his behind-the-scenes status, happily making $35 for playing drums on a Beach Boys record that Dennis Wilson made $3500 a night for playing in concerts, as he said.  The simple fact is that until more accomplished "star" musicians came along, The Wrecking Crew made great music for us.

So what does he have to do with Ringling Bros?  Well, on July 6, 1944, at 15, young Hal went to see the circus when it came to Hartford. There are several versions of how he came to be there that afternoon. One story has it that he was one of the locals hired to do some chores in return for a ticket to the show.  At any rate, he was there when a fire broke out in the Big Top, and the fire spread rapidly across the canvas tent, because it had been treated with paraffin and gasoline to make it watertight. 

When the fire began in the back of the tent, the bandleader saw the smoke and flame and immediately cued his band to play "The Stars And Stripes Forever," which was always the signal to alert circus personnel of an emergency in the tent.  

Around 7,000 were under the big top trying to get out of that hell. 167 died, over 700 were injured.  


Htfdcircusfire.jpg
Hell on earth
Young Hal Belsky escaped and was able to help others get out. He volunteered to ride with burn victims in makeshift ambulances, as people were taken to hospitals for treatment.  It was that day, riding back and forth with those poor people, that he decided that life was meant to be lived to its fullest, and he vowed to make his music his life.

And why was he able to escape the inferno? Because he chose a seat right behind the band, not the best view of the show, but the best way to see the circus drummer at work. And the band was playing right near an exit.  That saved Hal's life and led him to make music that still comes out of our radios and iPods and everywhere else.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunday Rerun: 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 say...you 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.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Saturday Picture Show, January 14, 2017

The morning sunrise view from the 35th floor of a building in Manhattan.  Every morning brings its own promises.
This is a mother and her daughter who were rescued from a lifeboat from the Titanic. The remarkable thing is how much they look like a woman with her daughter in 2017! The mom looks like Don Johnson's daughter, and billions of girls wear their hair like the daughter does even today.
This was a bigger rock until the waves wore it down...over a period of many thousands of years. In certain ways, it looks like ET!
Now there's a place I would like to visit! This is a hut in Norway! Yay for winter, and Norwegian wood!
The people at the Dexter Pizza Cutter company have a great sense of humor when it comes to assigning parts #s to their products.
With colds going around, the good people at Ricola have sold me a million lemon-mint cough drops.
Breakfast time!
This was the movie version of the autobiography of baseball's Jimmy Piersall, who suffered a mental collapse while playing for the Red Sox. He said it was because his father pushed pushed pushed him to become a big leaguer. He did become a beleaguered big leaguer.