Thursday, October 30, 2014

What the hell??

"CBS Sunday Morning" had a look at Heaven and Hell this past Sunday morning, a look at how we perceive Heaven and Hell.  I was interested to see old paintings showing Old Beelzebub himself hanging around the gates of Hell, with some fallen angel who is shown as having the key to Hell.

Am I all alone in wondering why there would be a key to Hell?  I mean, isn't it like a Denny's or a Kwik-E-Mart - always open? Who's coming to the door of Hell, anyway? Siding salesmen?  Door-to-door home improvement people who "just finished a job for one of your neighbors"?

This being Halloween week, I thought we could put the pumpkin pie aside for a minute to find out just why we all go to farm stands to purchase pumpkins, then take them home, cut lurid mouth and eye shapes in them and put a candle inside to celebrate All Hallow's Eve.

The Devil can take many forms
Well, this practice didn't just start when Dick Cheney was a boy. People have been carving jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for hundreds of years. It all started with an old Irish myth about a guy they called “Stingy Jack,” who went out drinking with the Devil. Being stingy, Jack didn't want to pay, so he talked the Devil into turning himself into a coin (remember, he can take many forms). Remaining cheap, Jack decided to keep the coin in his pocket, next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack continued to torment the hell out of the Devil for years, until Jack died, after carving a cross into a tree where he had the Devil cornered.

The legend has it that God would didn't want an unsavory type like Jack in Heaven. But the Devil, tired of being played for a fool by Jack, would not allow Jack into Hell, so he sent Jack away with just a burning coal to light his way in the dark night. There being no farm stands in Hell (but plenty of turnips),  Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with this homemade lamp ever since. The Irish called this ghostly figure “Jack of the Lantern,” which became “Jack O’Lantern.”

And here in America, since we were going to make so many pumpkin pies, Jack's descendants had a ready source of hollowed-out gourds to illuminate.

Next, we'll take a look at how it is that Carson Daly is famous. Hint: there might be a connection!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Might as well Jump!

Not too far from us, on a road that I often use as a shortcut to physical therapy, used to live a family named the Simpsons. Their name was right on the mailbox! I have no idea if they still live there, but I can understand why they now have a plain mailbox with no name on it, since the local ne'er-do-wells and rakehells, in the flush of Bartmania, must have stolen the first three they saw by the driveway.

I know the feeling of having a famous name, although, the longer it's been since World War II ended, the fewer comments I get about being named for a famous general.  Even though I wasn't.

Jumpin' Gene
The other day, I posted a song on Facebook from YouTube that was a Halloween hit in 1964. The song was "Haunted House," and it was the only top 40 hit for a man from Mississippi named Morris Eugene Simmons, who went by the name Jumpin' Gene Simmons.  JGS didn't write the song, but his is the best-known version of the story of a man who moves into a house with all sorts of creepy people from outer space drinking hot grease and boiling coffee and rattling their chains. He recorded the song six years after the original version was cut by Johnny Fuller.  (Tim McGraw fans, and you know there must be some out there, will recall McGraw's rather racist 1994 hit "Indian Outlaw." Jumpin' Gene wrote that one.)

Gene...about your hair....
History does not record how the original Gene Simmons felt when an Israeli immigrant, born Chaim Witz, took the name "Gene Simmons" for use in his activities as a rock star and leader of the execrable KISS, and source of idiotic statements about the world in general, but I'm pretty sure that Jumpin' Gene took his name off his mailbox before he passed away in 2006.

I know I would have!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"When you're pointing one finger at me, three more are pointing back at you"

Did you ever notice that the very people who are always harping on what others wrong have an awful lot going on in their lives?  

This Rabbi Barry Freundel, of Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown, D.C, is the latest in a long line of folks who were caught with their panting down.  D.C. police are working an investigation about a camera, or several cameras, placed in the mikvah.  A mikvah is used by Orthodox Jewish women, who do not touch their husbands while menstruating.  They must immerse in a mikvah before resuming sexual relations, according to doctrine.   DC police say they found video recording equipment in the mikvah, and the police at Towson University over here in Baltimore, where Rabbi Freundel is a tenured associate professor, also report that a search of his office at the college turned up the box for a tiny keychain camera, along with flash drives and enough memory cards to holding more than 200,000 images and 25,000 hours of video...and a picture of nude women and handwritten lists of names.

I don't know what if he's guilty.  I don't know anything about mikvahs or Orthodox Judaism.  But my eyebrows get raised when I hear anyone say, as Rabbi Grendel said last month: “The lack of sexual morality that pervades this society is all over the place...and it creates terrible problems. Pornography and its accessibility is wrecking marriages. It’s two keystrokes away. You get on the computer, you hit the button twice and you’re there. I have not counseled a couple in any level of relationship in the last five years where pornography hasn’t been an issue.” 

I just got on the computer, hit "the button" twice, and wound up with some sort of picture that set forth the proposition that excess belly fat can be wiped out with "this weird trick that has doctors enraged!"

The Swaggart confession
While I was hitting buttons, I looked up "Jimmy Swaggart quotes" and found that the pentecostal preacher and cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis is fond of gay-bashing ("I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry") and of himself ("If I do not return to the pulpit this weekend, millions of people will go to hell") but not at all fond of other people knowing anything ("Sex education classes in our public schools are promoting incest").  But Rev. Swaggart is most famous for saying "I have sinned against You, my Lord, and I would ask that your precious blood would wash and cleanse every stain until it is in the seas of God's forgiveness" after that incident in New Orleans where he was caught in a motel room with a prostitute.  I can't remember what sort of self-serving homily he spouted three years later, when he was caught in a limousine with another hooker in Indio, CA.  Swaggart has a lot to say about how unholy everyone else is.  You know who "everyone else" is...people who are home with their families while the preacher cruises for streetwalkers.

Time after time, less famous but not less hypocritical people we all know rant and rave about others cheating, running around, doing the devil's work, and time after time, they're the ones getting busy with a little piece of chicken on the side.  A more moderate person with nothing on his or her conscience doesn't worry about what others are up to when they get down.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Minute by minute

The Baltimore, Maryland area has a few roads that start out in the inner city way downtown and take travelers on a long ride to way out in the country.  Harford Rd, Belair Rd, York Rd - all are known by their final northern destinations, Harford County, Bel Air or York, Pennsylvania.

Falls Rd, MD Rte 25
And then there's Falls Rd, which begins in northern Baltimore County, almost to the Pennsylvania line, and winds up downtown, where it parallels the Jones Falls waterway and the Jones Falls Expressway, known by the two nicknames "The JFX" and "the worst damn highway ever built."  Every day, motorists clog that road to get downtown, and then, from 4 til 6 in the afternoon, they all head home to the suburbs together bumper-to-bumper.

But Falls Road, Maryland Route 25, is what we're talking about today.  On the city end, there is Hampden, home to the coolest urbanites in town, and Mount Washington and a community called Cross Keys, where the visiting baseball clubs used to stay at the Cross Keys Inn when the Orioles played at old Memorial Stadium. Toward the end of the 1985 season, pugnacious Yankee manager Billy Martin was at the hotel bar there and decided to pick a fistfight with one of his pitchers, Ed Whitson, who had 4 inches of height and 40 pounds of weight on the scrawny Martin.  Martin suffered a broken arm, cuts, bruises, and another in a series of firings by lunatic Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.

Farther up the road,  you'll come across little towns such as Brooklandville and Butler, where there is some of the most beautiful fall foliage you'll ever see on display right now.  So there is beauty, and history, and happiness, and sadness along that road.

A few years after high school, a woman who was a year behind our class was driving down Falls Rd, coming home from work as I recall, and she was hit by a stray bullet fired from a gun that some kids were playing with in a vacant lot.  She was pregnant, and she and her baby were both lost.

Tuesday's accident scene
And not far from there, on this week's rainy Tuesday morning, a woman was driving to work at Johns Hopkins Hospital when a tree along the roadway fell suddenly, crushing her fatally within her car.

Two people on a road that runs from packed city to rustic country, minding their own businesses, taken away too soon.  Had they been held up for a few seconds along the road, they would both still likely be among us.  That's something to think about, the next time we're fuming about the slowpoke ahead of us, or the red light that won't change, or whatever holds us up.

t just might be holding us up higher than we know at the time.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday rerun: Taking the time to look around

There is a difference between living in a house and cleaning that house.  This basic fact of life has been made quite clear to me over the past few weeks.  Now that I am retired (applause) and Peggy is still working 4 days a week until next fall, I thought I could take over the housecleaning and laundry type stuff.

The first thing I realized was that I should have been doing more of this all along.

The second thing I realized is that it's much easier to vacuum the steps if one starts at the top and works one's way down.

The third thing happens every time.  When I go around with the duster or the can of paste wax, instead of just walking past objets d'art, decorations, knick knacks, gewgaws and memorabilia, I actually have to pick them up and do something with them...dust them, wipe them down or wax them.    And this gives me the pleasant experience of recalling where we got the thing being dusted, wiped or waxed.  Take our bedroom furniture.  There's the bed and bureaus we got from Hochschild-Kohn right before we got married in 1973, and there's the hand-painted box that my Dad made when I was a kid, and there is this and that that we've gotten from antique stores and antique relatives. (!)

All of this brings back memories.  My collection of Oriole and Ravens memorabilia allows me to remember meeting ballplayers, going to games and events, and that's a canoe ride down Memory Creek every time.  Dusting the bookshelves, I remember reading certain books and think of knowledge I got from this volume or that.

I think it's interesting that, just the other day while vacuuming, I needed to rearrange the wires underneath the computer table at which I sit to pound out these scattered thoughts.  I needed to see what was going on with the wire that connects the PC to the printer and the other dingus.  Sure, I have any number of LED flashlights in every room except the guest room (when we have overnight guests, I don't want them horsing around with flashlights all night long.  It would only make them late for their blueberry pancakes in the morning) but I chose to grab my Dad's World War II Navy flashlight.  Every time I use it, I wonder how he felt, using this very flashlight aboard the USS Delta while men from other navies were doing the same thing on their ships.  That very flashlight has been mine since Dad passed away, but it's only been since I retired that I've had to time to ponder the very real significance of articles around the house.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, October 25, 2014

The old MixMaster and waffle iron are ready to serve up a wonderful Saturday breakfast for you here.
This would seem to be a 1950s photo of a 1950s woman who gave birth to a 1950s baby and is being helped in filing the infant away.
You have just crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge and have landed safely in New Jersey, land of bridge traffic studies and the most amazing food you'll ever see.
 Just a reminder that winter is coming.  Snow shovels ready?
We don't have this deal down here at our Ocean beaches, but in most of the beach resorts along the Jersey shore, there is a fee for sitting on the beach or romping in the raging surf.  It's not a huge fee, but the money collected goes to beach maintenance.  The tag will not prevent you from getting chafed when sand gets in your drawers, by the way.
The larger picture shows actor Frank Sivero, who of course rocketed to international fame and acclaim by playing Frank Carbone in the Goodfellas movie.  It's hard to remember a time when his name was not headlining every movie marquee in town, isn't it?  Such a famous star.  Well, sir, Frank now claims that the persona of "Louie," who along with "Legs" serves as henchman to "Fat Tony," leader of the Springfield Mafia on The Simpsons, was a carbone copy of his groundbreaking goombah role in a Joe Pesci movie.  For $250,000,000, he will feel better about things.
Barnstorming Black Baseball stars really had to go far to draw a crowd by the time television came along to keep people at home rather than at the ballpark.  So they added comics to the game. Whatever it took to get the turnstiles clicking!
If you don't have the hacienda all duded up for Halloween by now, here's a simple solution featuring some old cat-eye marbles and dental X-rays.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wrestling with the truth

I saw the name of Jesse Ventura in the news the other day. Ventura, a large man known as James George Janos when he was born in 1951, is known for being large and also for being a politician, actor, author, US Navy SEAL, and a professional wrassler known as Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

He was in the news because he won a defamation suit against another former SEAL who had claimed that Ventura, who opposed our intervention into the Mideast conflicts,  once stated that the United States "deserved to lose a few guys" there and that the SEAL, Chris Kyle, punched Ventura out in response in a barroom brawl.

Well, you know how these "he said/he said" things go.  It took years to wend its way through the courts, and by the time the trial concluded this summer, Kyle had been shot to death in an unrelated incident.  The court awarded Ventura a sizeable judgement against the profits earned by a book Kyle wrote that related the punchout tale, seemingly because it was felt that Kyle came up with the story to make his story more interesting.

And that's not even the most interesting thing about Ventura, about whom controversy swirls like carrots in a blender (there are those who claim he never really was a SEAL.)  Think back to 1998, when the biggest threat facing our nation was Monica Lewinsky hooking up with President Clinton.  There was a governor's race that fall in Minnesota, and, having served as mayor of Brooklyn Park, MN (population 75,000), for a four-year term, "The Body" offered himself as a Reform Party candidate.  What happened stunned everyone in Minnesota.  So many voted for old Jesse as a statement against politics as usual that he won! Ventura got 773,713 votes, against the Republican Norm Coleman's 717,350.  Hubert H. Humphrey III, of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, came in third with 587,528.

A man named "Fancy" Ray McCloney,  running as the "People's Champion," came in with a respectable 919 votes.

His honor the former governor
Of course, his term as governor was marked with controversy spawned by ineptitude and his failure to understand that he was now the governor of a fairly large state and not a wrassler anymore.  He referred to the reporters who covered him as "media jackals," and appeared on David Letterman's show once. Letterman asked, "Which is the better city of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis or St. Paul?"  And Governor Ventura responded, "Minneapolis. Those streets in St. Paul must have been designed by drunken Irishmen."

So, you can understand why he only served one term and has been absent from ballots anywhere ever since.  His political career always reminded me of the "Barney Miller" episode in which Harris went out west and came back with one of those bolo ties as a joke gift for Barney...but Barney didn't know it was a joke, and started wearing the tie all around.

You only get one vote in each election, and it's not something to use as a joke.