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.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Another cheesy use for classical music

Italian composer Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792 – 1868) wrote 39 operas, as well as many other songs, but we know him best for "The William Tell Overture," which was used for years as the theme song to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" "The Lone Ranger" on radio and television.  William Tell was a 14th-century Swiss hero immortalized today for splitting an apple off the head of his son Walter, as ordered by an overlord who was steamed at Tell for not bowing before the hat of the overlord, which was hung in the town square for all to revere.

I'm not making this up!

The overlord was going to kill Tell, but forced him into the arrow-apple bit, and Tell secretly took two arrows out of his quiver before launching one at old Walter, the idea being that if he got Walter in the Adam's apple, rather than the Red Delicious atop his head, Tell would use the other arrow on Gessler, the politically-appointed head cheese who was causing all this trouble.

Gonna need hot sauce, please
Speaking of cheese...The William Tell Overture was the last opera that Rossini wrote, although he lived almost 40 more years.  He was a noted gourmand over in Italy and spent a lot of those years devising recipes and dishes that we still order today. Working with his close friend, Dante "Veal" Parmigiana, Rossini came up with Tournedos Rossini, described as "filet mignon pan-fried in butter, served on a crouton, topped with a hot slice of fresh pan-fried foie gras, garnished with slices of black truffle and finished with a Madeira demi-glace sauce."

That's not quite as catchy as "two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame-seed bun," but it's close.  And Tournedos Rossini doesn't even have cheese!

The reason this song is on my mind is that baseball season is over here in Baltimore, and with it goes the radio commercial for a certain car dealer, which we all heard a thousand times per game, it seemed.  The jingle for the car dealer (let's call him "Rog Dodge") took the Lone Ranger melody and chirped, "Save a buck, save a buck, save a buck buck buck on a Rog Dodge Jeep, car, van or truck!"

That is not at all what either Gioachino Antonio Rossini or Buck Showalter, for that matter, had in mind, I'm sure.  It's just another way of misusing great classical music for modern commercial gain.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tick Tock

Just as hand surgeons dread weekends (bagel-slicing accidents) and orthopedists get ready to get really busy after the first day of icy sidewalks, we all should be ready for added shin injuries these days, because it's not quite time to go back to Eastern Standard Time, but it's dark by 7 PM and still dark til 7 in the yawning, so people are bumping into ottomans (ottomen?) and open cabinet drawers in the gloaming all over town.

I love fall, and I think it's the best time for enjoying "the gloaming" - the poetic way of saying twilight, or dusk.  Nights in October and November gloam like no others.  I guess that's a word...

But here at the Lazy 'C' Ranch, I have lamps on timers in several rooms to light the rooms so as to avoid bumping into furniture or other people in the house.  They come on at whatever time I set them for, but they are not smart enough to change their own time settings, so there is a short period in which it's dark outside, and dark in the living room, family room or dining room, and it's so still and nice and quiet that the only sound you'll hear is my "Owwww!" when my lower leg smashes into some stupid chair.  Who put that chair here, for crying out loud?  Oh, that's right.  I did.

I don't care, because fall is my favorite season and when we turn the clocks back, we even get an hour of snoozing.  Even with that extra rest, I still have trouble figuring out what time it gets dark. Running around the house changing all the clocks and timers is fun, but first I have to go to the digital weather station in the kitchen to set my watch, because you can't call the phone company to get the right time anymore.  Oh, but they will tell you when it's time to pay your bill.  They might even call you on the phone!

It's starting to seem like I should just sit around with my CDs and iPod and try to stay out of life's way.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

While there's still time

I've seen enough people pass away in my day, especially people from my family, that I have come to realize the old expression is true:  

No one, on their deathbed, has ever said, "Gee!  I wish I had spent more time at work!  I could have done more Quarterly Reports, most Cost/Benefits analyses, and done deeper research and development on the fragellated hydrostan that we were trying to market!"

Nope.  Here's the word from an Australian nurse, Bonnie Ware, who has counselled the dying in their last days.  As a palliative nurse, she reveals the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is "I wish I hadn't worked so hard."

There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps.

Ms Ware recorded dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, and that blog turned into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Ware feels that people finally (an appropriate use of that term) gain clarity at the end, seeing the larger picture, and she thinks we might learn from their wisdom. "When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently," she says, "common themes surfaced again and again."

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as Nurse Ware recorded them:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
"This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it."
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
"This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
"Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
"Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

Now, how old are you right now?  63?  60?  52?  34?  26? Here's the thing, and by the way, you look marvelous today!  You cannot count on 64, 61, 53, 35, or 27.  I'm sorry.  You never know.  Why so many wonderful people are called home so early, we don't know.  I do know that when the newspaper or tv news does a story about someone turning 100, they are never crabby or crotchety people. Ever notice that? Sometimes they attribute their superannuation to tossing back a juice glass full of scotch every morning and hooving on a pack of Luckys every day (very rare, you know) or they chalk it up to faith or friends or family or lots of molasses and bulgur wheat, but no one blowing out five times twenty candles ever said, "Oh boy! I'm so glad I worked/worried/fretted and fussed all day and all night for all these years!  It's really paying off now, boy howdy!"

"I can see right through you!"
We have the unique chance to learn from Ms Ware's patients, who, like Jacob Marley, are trying to send us a message. Are you too busy to hear it?

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Sad Anniversary and a Sadder Update

String and Estelle
We talked about this about a year ago; November of 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the murder of Grand Ole Opry favorite David "Stringbean" Akeman and his wife Estelle.  John Brown and his cousin were convicted of the murders; his cousin died in prison while John Brown continued to serve his 198-year sentence.

It was a surprise this past week that the Tennessee Parole Board ignored the entreaties of country stars such as Bill Anderson and Jan Howard and granted parole to Brown, 40 years into his sentence.

This is a program from the Opry show, the last one ever for Stringbean, who went home and was killed afterward.  The notations are from backup musician Lester Wilburn, showing his salary from the Friday and Saturday shows.

One of the things that allow me to oppose the death penalty is my belief that life in prison would be much worse than a quick death, although what the afterlife holds for killers might be interesting, at that.  But, anyway, what do I know, I'm just a guy who doesn't kill people.

Here's the story from this week in Nashville and here is what we wrote a year ago about the murders.

A Sad Anniversary

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the murders of David "Stringbean" Akeman and his wife Estelle, and I remember it very clearly.  It was one of those moments when two cultures came into violent collision, and, like when a warm front meets a cold front, bad things happened in Nashville that day in 1973.

Stringbean was a featured player on the Grand Ole Opry...a star, but not among the big stars such as Ernest Tubb or Hank Snow, back in the days when country music still sounded like country music.  His shtick was wearing a goofy getup made from an old pair of "Little" Jimmy Dickens's jeans and an elongated shirt, making comic use of his lanky frame.  And he played a banjo in the old style, strumming it in the fashion of those who invented the only purely American instrument. Here's an old clip that shows what he did so well.

He made a nice living on the Opry and playing concerts, and he and his wife lived outside Nashville on a farm where, as a sideline, he grew ginseng to sell to the Chinese.  He did not drive, but bought a new Cadillac every year so Estelle could drive him to concerts and the radio show and his appearances on TV's "Hee Haw," which brought him to living rooms across the world. Stringbean was as country as country could be.  He hung hams to smoke in a cave on his farm, but would not touch beef or any dairy product.  According to a fascinating article in the Nashville Tennessean newspaper,  String used apple cider vinegar as after shave and rubbing alcohol as deodorant.  This was 40 years ago, and yet, in the ways that matter, he lived as others did 400 years ago.

One other thing about String - like many who lived through the Depression, he did not trust banks.  The Opry and his concert bookers paid him in cash, and Estelle sewed a pocket inside his bib overalls where he hid his hundreds.  She carried money in her bra.

I guess a guy who grew up on a dirt farm and then made a good living playing a "banjer" had reason to be proud, and Stringbean was known to flash his wad of bills around Nashville, a fact that came to the attention of  23-year-old cousins Marvin and John Brown, who, that Saturday night, went to the Akeman home and listened to the Opry on String's radio to hear his last performance at 10:18 PM.  The songs were “Going To The Grand Ole Opry (To Make Myself A Name)” and “Hot Corn, Cold Corn.”

Then, with $3,182 in his overalls, and $2,150 in her bra, the Akemans went home to their fate. The Brown cousins waited in the house, String tried to fight them off, but he and Estelle were killed by their own shotgun - a gift from fellow Opry star Grandpa Jones, who went to pick them up for a planned hunting trip the next morning and found their bodies.

The Browns, predictably, blamed each other for the murders. One of them died in prison and the other is still locked up.

Two simple, country, plain people, who lived their lives as they wished and bothered no one, were killed by two young men who planned to steal their money rather than working for their own.

It's a story as old as time itself and as new as tomorrow.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Rerun: Eenie Meenie Emo

Because I like to keep in touch with all aspects of our national culture, I became aware of the "emo" movement in music and said, what is this, now?  It would appear that to listen to this sort of music, defined by Wikipedia as "a style of rock music influenced by punk rock and featuring introspective and emotionally fraught lyrics," one needs to develop an elaborate hairdid featuring all the shades of the emo rainbow (pitch black, dark black, jet black, shiny black, purple, pink and blond) and really trowel on the mascara and eyeliner in the same shades, except blond.   And then, from what I can observe seeing youths sauntering around the mall or handing me food at Panera, it's key to maintain a stony silence, as if building a wall of no sound to keep the world at bay.

So, listen.  I can relate to the angst, the sturm and drang, of the Emo youth. I was for years an honorary member of the Bratwurst pack. It's tough, finding yourself at the crossroads of boy and man, girl and woman, and you find yourself in high school, a microcosm of life at large if ever there was one, and it can be sad. I filled my high school years with trips to the principal's office and off-campus jaunts to historical sites such as the Gayety Burlesk and the Glass Slipper Show Bar, and of course my after-school activities in the Detention Club filled many an afternoon with healthful exercise of placing chairs atop desks and washing blackboards.  But beside the worry about grades and part time jobs and parental disapproval of piercings and opprobrium from friends, high school is that time for many of the first real stirrings of love, and love's bastard cousin from Milwaukee, heartache.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting thrown over during a five-minute break between classes.  I saw this happen to people!  You're sitting in Algebra, and for all you know you have a steady sigoth* and then the bell rings in more ways than one. Class ends, and she sidles up to you on the way to US History, and banishes you to Dumpville USA, and then you sit down in Miss O'Hoolahan's class and she asks you for six reasons that led up to the Spanish-American War.  And you answer, "X=5.25" because your heart and mind are still in Algebra**. And as the class hoots and hollers with scorn, that's when you really start thinking about wearing six more chains on your black jeans.  And you go home and listen to your Emo bands, such as Weezer (named after the bandleader's bout with childhood asthma) and Death Cab For Cutie (named after a song done by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band that came out when I was suffering through a bout of algebra myself).  

But wait!  There's more!  I understand that music hath charms to sooth a savage breast, which was a line written by Wm. Congreve in 1697.  In 1698, music teachers stopped quoting it to high-school students for the same reason that English teachers never say "There is no frigate like a book" out loud. Music is helpful when you're down and out, got the blues, feelin' lonesome.  Sad songs by people wearing studded clothing seem to help.

Such as Little Jimmy Dickens!  That's the stage name of Grand Ole Opry legend James Cecil Dickens, who, at 4'11" towers over no man, and yet, he towers over them all when it comes to singing from the heart.  I urge you to listen to him sing "Twice The Fool" or "The Whole World Seems Different" and make this simple comparison: if these songs, recorded in the turbulent 1960's, don't help you to understand that we've all had heartache at one time, so no one is all alone in that valley, then please go back and listen again.  Little Jimmy is that good.

*significant other
 ** something you will never, ever, use again in your life.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, October 18, 2014

I found this on a Facebook page called "The Queen's English."  Of course, the Queen's English!  What else could she be, Chilean?
This was on that same page.  It's a "novelization," from 1911, of the play "Peter Pan," which came seven years earlier.  I don't like the made-up word "novelization," though.  If the novel came out first, I don't think they would called "Peter Pan" a "playization," but I'm just philosophizing.  I read that the name "Wendy," short for "Gwendolyn," was very rarely used until this childrens' story came out, and now look at all the wonderful Wendys and Wendis we know.
This picture from Palestine ought to serve as a reminder of how sad it is that there are wars and bombs, and also as an ad for Audi automobiles, which just keep going like that car Steve Martin and John Candy drove in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles."
Cats of all sizes and breeds are fearless and have a great sense of balance, as demonstrated by this cougar in a tree.
Until the last leaf falls from the last tree, I'll keep sharing autumn pictures!  The prettiest time of the year!
Sure, it's no problem to store your alkali atop your acid, but if that shelf collapses, your acid's gonna be in trouble, I'll tell you that right now.
We look down the path of life.  Sometimes, it's clearly marked and laid out for us, but sometimes we wonder about veering off into the uncharted area.  Go ahead if you want, but be careful!
Again, there simply cannot be enough pictures of rusted 1936 Ford pickups out in snowy woods to suit us! A little work on the engine, some wax, and you've got a nice ride here!