Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Sands of Time Stick to my Feet

At the Police Academy graduation the other night, Peggy and I were wryly bemused to see that one of the women in the class had the same name, homophonically, as a fairly-well-known '80's male rock star. I won't embarrass her by naming the singer, but when I asked Dan if his classmate had been the object of jibes over her "famous" name, he looked at me and said " Who else has that name?" It would be the same if, twenty-five years from now, someone popped up with the name Kris Daughtry.

As someone who bears the name of a famous person (whose name is no longer quite so well-known) I am aware of how it feels, believe me. And I can tell you, the people who ask if I am related to the World War II general are always at least my age or older. Now, you can tell me why people assume that I have the same characteristics as that flinty old general.

While we're talking about the Army, here's another sign that we have yet to figure out a way to get that sand to stay in the upper part of the hourglass. There's a young man who waits for his school bus right along my daily path to work. I have always thought that he looked like the Man Show Boy, who was a character on The Man Show, the jejune, sophomoric, childish, hilarious show on cable hosted by the incomparable Adam Corolla and the comic genius Jimmy Kimmel. So, seeing this kid waiting for the bus in the time-honored fashion of kids since the first school bus pulled up someplace always made me happy, to think of the sophisticated comic bits that Adam and Jimmy came up with for the precocious tyke. To this day, humorists regard sketches such as "Boy Scout," "Buy Me Beer," "Man Show Boy Sells Cookies," "Man Show Boy Picks Up Girls," "Man Show Boy At The Beach," " Fake ID," and "Watch My Son" as the ne plus ultra of American wit.

The MSB on my way to work has grown, gotten eyeglasses, and even now can be seen socializing with the girl from across the street who waits with him and one other boy along the road. In previous years, he would stand clutching both his books and his jaw, but now he seems downright garrulous, laughing and jackpotting.

But, he sometimes wears a full-out camo fatigue uniform, from the cap to the boots, and that must mean he is in some junior ROTC program at his school. I don't want to turn this post into a whole examination of our need for a stronger defense system, and throw in a couple verses of "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" and bemoan all of our lost childhoods. I'd just rather see The Man Show Boy try to date beach beauties than storm some beach in some far-off land, that's all.

And today I am going to close with something on another topic. It seems that Britney Spears's younger sister is pregnant, news which seems to have the entire world in a spin cycle. To me, it seems emblematic of what happens when you take unpolished individuals from a cultural backwater and give them riches beyond measure, and it's really none of my business if this kid wants to mess around and propagate at will. As of now, her family can afford to keep the baby in Osh-Kosh B'Gosh and Pampers for many years, so it's nothing to me, except for the sad reflection on our cultural mirror when a woman, asked about it by some reporter who should have been out asking questions about something that mattered, said "I don't blame Jamie Lynn; I blame Nickelodeon." That's right, put blame on the cable network that shows the half-hour sitcom starring JLS. The entire sad thing is clearly the fault of a television network.

Next fall, that woman's vote for president will count just as much as yours. Jamie Lynn Spears still won't be old enough to vote, but hold on...that sad day is coming, too.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Random Thoughts while waiting for the ice storm...

...I'm sitting here listening online to the late, great Jean Shepherd, whose late-night radio show kept me and millions of others up late! The show I'm hearing is from November 23, 1971, and he discusses a trip to the Grand Ole Opry, where country music lovers can still hear the amazing singer Jean Shepard (no relation). At this time of the year, people like to watch the movie A Christmas Story, based on Shep's stories about the holidays and that coveted Red Ryder b-b rifle, but the body of his work, spoken and written, goes far beyond that mo'on pitcha. Check it out on podcast: ...Just yesterday, Peggy and I asked a dear friend if her son and his lovely girlfriend had made any wedding plans. As of 2 PM, the answer was no, but we got a heartwarming late-night bulletin via magical email - and congratulations to Chris and Molly -they are engaged! As a man who has been happily married for 34 years, all I can say is, marriage is the BEST thing to ever happen to me, and I wish nothing but love and joy for those two happy kids!.. Today's weather forecast is calling for what "they" call a "mixed bag." Snow, sleet, freezing rain, rain, and marshmallows are all supposed to be, well, raining down on us tonight and tomorrow. Back in March, we had a surprise snowstorm around St. Patrick's Day, to the sorrow of bar and tavern owners all over town, and within a couple of weeks after shoveling snow and ice, I was right back out there moving the lawn. Here it is December, and today I spent time blowing, mulching and bagging the last of the autumn leaves so they won't be encased in ice tonight like one of those prehistoric bugs in amber...What a surprise dep't: How about those gasoline prices going way up high just before Thanksgiving? And then coming down? And don't you want to bet they'll go up again in time for Christmas? Seems to me the oil companies were disappointed this summer when the forecasts for several major hurricanes failed to come true - disappointed because oil companies love natural disasters such as Katrina, because disasters enable them to raise the price of oil to hitherto-unprecedented levels. I get the feeling that this summer, they said, "Oh the hell with it; let's just raise the prices because we can...and because the president is a bible-thumping oil baron (I stole that one from Zippy the Pinhead, and it remains my favorite sobriquet for the Current Occupant), who's going to stop us?" I hear people complaining all the time about the high price of gasoline, yet not a word from "W"...Add two more items to the list of foods I like that most others shun...egg nog and fruitcake. I guess most people will sip some egg nog to be sociable at the holidays - it is the most popular nog of them all - but fruitcake has more cheap jokes being hurled at it than the cast of "Dancing With The Stars'' and I wonder why. This rich, moist hunk of heaven with nuts and fake fruit is one of the reasons I wish December started in September and lasted until August. If you receive a fruit cake for Christmas and do not wish to consume it, just let me know and I'll come 'round and pick it up and give it a good home...Christmas shopping is fun and I love the whole spirit of the malls and the Avenues and the specialty shops. All except for the big electronics stores like Best Buy, because going in there constitutes an assault on the senses. But I'm going to give a shout-out to the WalMart in Towson, because two different clerks in two different areas of that store went well out of their way to help me find just the right items last Saturday night. I know it's tough, working retail, and I know the hours are horrible and the pay is not great and the patience it takes to deal with some of the customers suffering from rectal-cranial inversion while shopping is incalculable. Beyond saying thanks to the young lady who helped me get ready to celebrate the holiest day of our faith by finding a video that features mayhem and disorder of the type usually seen only on a city bus, I find that most stores, if you go to their website, have a comments section where one can express their gratitude. If you have something good to say about a person, why in the world would you keep it to yourself?...Congratulations to Officer Doran, who used to work with me and recently transferred to the county Police Dept. He just graduated from the Academy on Thursday evening, and starts his patrol career on Monday - working the same precinct as his sister, who also left my workgroup to become a police, and has had a sterling career for four years there. I don't think I would have made a good police officer, lacking patience as I do. But having worked at 911 for a long time, I have a lot of friends who are police, and it's often a thankless job. David Spade says, when you watch "COPS" on FOX TV, notice how many shirtless people gripping cans of beer in the living rooms of their poorly-appointed homes are not surprised to see a police officer in their living rooms. People ought to behave, simply stated. But they don't: hence the need for police. If you don't speed when you drive, if you don't make it a habit to rob convenience stores or shoplift from large electronic stores - no matter how troublesome their throbbing aural and visual assault - the chances are, you won't come in much contact with the police...What's your favorite Christmas song? I vote for Bing Crosby's "Do You Hear What I Hear?," but whoever wrote that Christmas Shoes song should have to listen to it over and over and over and over.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Meet The Beatles!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peggy did her usual masterful job of decorating the house and home yesterday, as she always does on the day after Thanksgiving Day. Then, after our traditional dinner of leftovers (even better the next day, if you ask me) we went to a book store called Daedalus to get a little chilly air and to stretch the old walking sticks. Daedalus, in Greek mythology, was the fellow who made sets of wax wings for himself and for his son Icarus, and he even warned Icarus not to soar too high, lest the sun melt his wings. Young Icarus did not heed the advice, and as he plummeted seaward, he became an object lesson in the importance of not trying to do too much with members of one's own family.

Daedalus ( is a wonderful store - they have all sorts of discounted books, CDs, DVDs and what-all else. It also happens to be located in a sure memory-jogger of a location: the old Hochschild-Kohn department store in Govans. It's across the street from the Senator movie theater ( which is the last of the old-school theaters around here, with a gigantic screen, marble lobby and hi-class movies to show you.

I was, as always, paying attention elsewhere when the word "repurposing" was coined to mean "doing something new with something old." So let me display my appreciation for today's cool lexicon and say, "The old department store has been repurposed into a book store." Nah, I hate that sort of talk. Calvin from the comics said it best: "Verbing weirds nouns."

But it is nice to go there. We bought some Christmas gifts, and found some bargains, one of which we popped into the DVD player when we got home. (It was a DVD! None of the books would fit!) It's a DVD that contains the full Ed Sullivan shows from the four times that The Beatles appeared: three from February 1964, and the last, from September 1965.

If you can define "Topo Gigio," you are hereby excused from reading the next paragraph. But if you aren't familiar with the Italian mouse puppet who delighted Ed's viewers with his winsome wit ("Edd-eee, kiss-a me good-a night!"), let me pause to allow younger readers to imagine an era where there were three television networks, no cable, and very little in the way of other things on tv beyond what CBS, ABC and NBC chose to beam to the antenna on your roof. On Sunday evenings, families would gather to watch Ed, a man whose wooden countenance and halting delivery gave rise to the careers of a thousand impersonators and morticians. He was a show-biz columnist for the New York Daily News who wound up hosting a network variety show, the motto of which was "Start big, keep it clean, and have something for the kids." Ed would introduce a weekly array of jugglers, singers of music from pop to opera, impersonators, comics, plate spinners, skit players, dancers, and practitioners of every form of show business. In between acts, Ed would call out the names of boxers, football stars, spelling bee champions and men who made wax wings for their children (ok, just kidding) and these people would acknowledge their moment in the sun by awkwardly rising from their seat (in what is now the theater where David Letterman does his thing when the writers aren't on strike) and nodding to the throng. Oh, and the commercials! Like last night, during one of the Beatles shows... we saw Dan Fraser, the man who later soared to fame as Kojak's boss, in a spot for Anacin. In the commercial, he can't sleep because he has a headache, body aches, nervous tension, and depression. After popping a couple of Anacin, he's tying his tie and combing his combover with a B-A grin, and we are told that Anacin is the sure cure for headache, body aches, nervous tension and depression. This miracle drug of our forefathers contained aspirin and caffeine. Nothing like a cup of coffee to beat those old insomnia blues!

Man oh man, do I ever get off the topic.

You must remember this: the 50's actually ended on November 22, 1963, that dark day in Dallas when John F. Kennedy was taken from us. Trust me if you weren't here yet: the nation was plunged into a torpor for several months. Our innocence gone, we contemplated a future without the Camelot that the Kennedys had shared with us for a thousand days, and then came four moptops from Liverpool, England, who took a blend of American rock'n'roll (they took their name in tribute to Buddy Holly and the Crickets, bear in mind) and their innate English cheeky wit (Paul, introducing a song on the second Sullivan show appearance, says, "This one was first recorded by our favorite American group: Sophie Tucker* ") and created a whole new artform. To this day, the standard mix of lead guitar/rhythm guitar/bass guitar and drums is ubiquitous, yet before George, John, Paul and Ringo led the way, we normally saw our singers work solo, backed by largely uncredited musicians. The Beatles were an anodyne for an ailing America in many ways.

Journalist Bob Greene (not the BG who is credited as the diet and fitness guru to Oprah*, a job description similar to being Icarus's flight plan coordinator) kept a journal in 1964, and later fleshed that diary out into an autobiographical book entitled Be True To Your School. Young Greene got the chance, shortly after The Beatles appeared on the Sullivan show, to interview Peter, Paul and Mary. Peter, Paul and Mary were a folk group who made hit records about magic dragons, Stewball the race horse, and lemon trees (it really WAS Camelot, see?) and their career prospects, in the wake of the Beatles coming to America, were dropping faster than Daedalus's number-one son that spring. Still, to high-school reporter Greene's question about The Beatles, Peter Yarrow, while probably considering a career teaching guitar to other high-school kids who wanted to be Beatles, replies "The Beatles are like ice cream and balloons and summertime and Pepsi-Cola. They're new and they're fresh and they're fun, and you have to love them."

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And we love them, yes it is, it's true.

* a corpulent cornball cabaret performer.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Country Country

In my young and tender 20's, I was a country DJ on WISZ AM-FM ("Baltimore Country!"). I guess it was the natural contrariness in me that led me down this path. It certainly wasn't that I didn't love rock 'n' roll, and then there's my legendary fondness for the Vegas style of cornball entertainment as exemplified by Sammy Davis, Jr., Wayne Newton, and Bing Crosby. But I went to Towson High in the late 1960's, and I guarantee you that out of my entire baby-boomed senior class of 700+, I was the only one who had not only met Ernest Tubb but had gotten a close-up look at his diamond ring, which spelled out "E T" in glittering jewels.
(True fact: when I heard that there was a Spielberg movie coming out entitled "ET" I got all worked up, wondering who would play the Texas Troubadour, and do justice to the man who gave us "Walking The Floor Over You,""You Don't Have To Be a Baby to Cry," the original version of "Blue Christmas," and "Waltz Across Texas," among thousands of other records in a career that ranged from 1939 - 1984. When the movie came out, and it turned out to be about a little space invader, I felt somehow cheated.) I met ET at the Baltimore Civic Center and interviewed him for my high school newspaper, a story that never ran. Apparently the front page was torn out at the last minute to run an expose on irregularities in the salt-peter-intensive cafeteria menu or something. But, Tubb is also remembered for a couple of things he said, besides those things he sang. His advice to young entertainers was "Always dress a little better than your audience; they came to see something special. Just don't ever let yourself think you're better than they are." Could someone please offer that wisdom to today's entertainers?

And Ernest was fond of saying that people were always coming up to him in bars while his songs were spinning on the jukebox and saying "I can sing that song better than you!" He would shrug, "95 % of the time, they're right!"

You will note that I tend to digress when the talk turns to Tubb.

My point for today is that back in the 70's there was a country station out west whose slogan was "This is KLAC Country, and that's Country Country!" Country music in those days was the choice of very few music lovers, and we kind of enjoyed our parochial interest. "Parochial," as in 'limited in range or scope'. We did not need to wear special uniforms or anything. However, over the years, music tastes have changed, and if you'll turn your radio on and slide past the AM banter and the FM smooooooooooooooooth jazz you will find the country station in your town at or near the top of the ratings. You might say this is because country music makers successfully changed their range or scope, and now they are making the pop music of the day.

I was always planning to take a trip to Nashville to see the great stars of the Grand Ole Opry, and every time I turn around, another of my favorites is taking that Big Old Tour Bus in the Sky. Just within the past several weeks, we lost Porter Wagoner, the thin man from Missouri who gave us "I've Enjoyed as Much of This As I Can Stand," "The Green, Green Grass of Home," and "The Carroll County Accident," among many, many others.

And then Hank Thompson died. I saw his show with his great band The Brazos Valley Boys at the great old Painters Mill Music Fair, and what a tremendous run he had, with hits like "Rub-A-Dub Dub," "Whoa Sailor," "(My Tears Have Washed 'I Love You' From) the Blackboard of My Heart," "Too In Love," and the anthem of beer guzzlers everywhere, "A Six-Pack To Go." Hank had twin fiddles to go with his pedal steel, Hank was the first country star to record a live album, and Hank was almost certainly the only country star to have attended Princeton University.

Often lampooned and regarded as strictly lowbrow, classic country is so out of style now that there's not even a radio station that will play Ernest, Porter or Hank. I suppose you could get one of those new-fangled satellite radio things and listen to them on channel 257, right between Latvian folk ballads and Chilean sea shanties.

Or, you could ride with me in my pick-'em-up truck. I have enough home-burned CD's to last us all the way to Nashville and back. Gas money, please!

Friday, October 19, 2007

10 Foods You Might Love and I Sure Don't

My buddy Lisa told me I ought to turn the last blog around and list ten food items that most people love and I don't care for. Mind you, in a world where so many people are hungry, I feel quite cavalier telling you about which foods will cause a sudden upturn in my nose, but I have made it a habit to do as Lisa asks. I've never gone wrong following her advice!
  1. Pears - boy howdy does my darlin' Peggy love a pear. Yellow Bartlett, Red Bartlett, Green Anjou, Red Anjou, Bosc, Seckle: The pear growers of our nation name her to their Woman of the Year list year after year for her avid consumption of their fruit, which is oddly shaped, overly sweet, and gritty where the texture ought to be lush.
  2. Sweetened cereals - Calvin in the comics used to love Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs in the morning, but who needs the rush? I know that most cereals have some sugar in them (so that we won't mistake Corn Flakes for Fritos, I suppose) but a little is enough. Take a walk down Kellogg Av in your local Try-'n'-Save, and you might get a buzz just from thinking about starting your day with a heaping big bowl of Dora the Explorer!
  3. Anything with fake cherry flavor: because it winds up tasting like cough syrup.
  4. Bologna and other tube lunch meats: now here is where I could save a bundle o' bucks if I wasn't so doggone picky. Lumped into the bologna tube genre are olive loaf, Bar-B-Cue loaf, Thuringer (summer sausage) and Old Fashioned Loaf, which is not going to make anyone yearn for the old fashioned days. I know that bologna is just a giant ungrilled hot dog, but I prefer a sandwich made with something whose parents had wings or hooves, not an extrusion tube.
  5. Liver. In my youth I often spent time reading Reader's Digest, a great place from which to steal jokes, take vocabulary quizzes and read articles such as "I Am Joe's Liver (/Spleen / Duodenum / Left Testicle.)" In excruciating detail, these articles told about life from the viewpoint of a liver or spleen, whatever. I'm sure I remember reading that The function of the liver is to get rid of toxins from the blood. Crazy me, not wanting to dine on some cow's leftover toxins. (Please don't bother telling me harrowing facts about the diet of the blue crab.) I can say one good thing about liver, though. A friend of mine was teaching underprivileged kids in a Head Start program and they were balking at eating their federal lunches, because the kids were told they were having "Liver and onions today!" So the teacher told them they changed the selection to "Steak and onions" and the kids ate every morsel. See, it's that sort of brilliance re-naming and re-positioning that had Americans seeing GWB as presidential, and his war as justified and needed. Except, this switcheroo was good for kids.
  6. Asparagus. Oh the hue and cry every spring when this perennial favorite shows up next to the ham on Easter dinner plates! Frenzied asparagus fans pack the produce sections of every store, vying for the chance to plunk down some hard-earned Jacksons for their favorite second-cousin-of broccoli. Like halvah merchants in old Morocco, the greengrocers lay out each stringy stalk lovingly and prepare to haggle over the price, which apparently is no object to the true believers. This stuff will always remind me of something down by the neighbor's fence that needs a good weed-whacking.
  7. "Red" "Delicious" Apples: These maroon baseballs should find a new home in the bullpens of American ballparks as practice spheres. I love apples of the Granny Smith or Winesap taste and texture. The best apples, to me, are snappy and crisp, like a fall day, or a belt of hooch. Even the worms leave the Red Delicious alone for a few moments with Granny.
  8. "Circus Peanuts" and "Fruit Slices": these things are to candy as liver is to meat, as cubism is to real art, as the Geico Cavemen are to sophisticated humor. Circus Peanuts are some sort of hardened marshmallow confection, formed in some giant candy press in Hell, and then dyed a pinkish color by some demented pixies. Fruit Slices, which you may rest assured have never been close enough to fruit to know the difference, are some sort of gooey colored sugar gumdrops. Those same demonic pixies, having finished making Circus Peanuts, then work an overtime shift and take their hammers to the gumdrops, forging them into the shapes of fruit slices. Then, freshman art students in need of quick holiday cash are hired to paint on fake fruit stripes and markings. This is all true.
  9. Avocados and the greenish paste, guacamole, that is produced therefrom. It's tasteless and revolting in color and consistency, but, Homeowner Alert: It makes a handy Spackle for those pea-green walls that suddenly need repair from when you tried to hang up Big Mouth Billy Bass or a velvet painting of a leering clown, only to leave gaping holes because, well, like Britney Spears, you missed the stud.
  10. Canned Fruit in HEAVY SYRUP: I have actually seen people walk past the fresh peaches on display in August in order to go down Aisle 5 and grab a can of Del Monte's finest Freestones in the big green can. Soaking in heavy syrup for a year or two certainly does little to enhance the taste of a peach, but here's another reason to avoid this stuff: I have it on good authority that The Man is sneaking cod liver oil, salt peter and spring tonic into the heavy syrup. And how about that Fruit Cocktail in H.S? What about that half a cherry that always winds up hiding in the seed pocket of half of one of the peaches? You want to trust your dessert to people who actually hire someone to stand there and cut cherries in half, rather than just giving you a doggone whole cherry? Fresh or canned? You make the call.

Next week: "13,258 Foods that you and I both love!"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ten foods I love and you might not

I can list ten foods that I love/like/consume with gusto that most other people don't care for:

  1. grits
  2. hominy
  3. rhubarb
  4. turnips
  5. parsnips
  6. kale
  7. anchovies
  8. cream of rice
  9. raw ground beef
  10. Taylor's Pork Roll

Now, I'll admit, at first glance, the list seems padded. Grits and hominy are close relatives; in fact, grits are made from dried hominy. But they're both good, and not very good for you, either! Hominy is best described as "hot wet soggy popcorn" by non-admirers, and "nature's breakfast treat" by us avid homineers. Grits are more like ''hot wet sand," according to those who prefer Cap'n Crunch with their Matt Lauer.

Rhubarb, I believe, is related to celery, but then again, onions are related to lilies, so there you go for relatives. You take a mess of rhubarb and cook it up, put it on some ice cream or in a pie or just plain in a dish, and you got somethin' good, fella or gal.

Again, I guess I'm cheating to list both turnips and parsnips. They are different vegetables and they really can't help it if both of their names end with "nips." (Do you think that's where Nipsey Russell got his nickname?) They're both great in stew or in dishes like what we here at the Lazy 'C' Ranch call "Lisa's Beef" - a crock-pot favorite named for the good friend who gave us the recipe. It says here, you put a Weejun in the crock-pot for long enough with the right juices, and it will come out delicious.

Kale is a green, leafy vegetable like spinach, but tastier, to my mind. Whomp it up with some ham, sprinkle some vinegar over it, and pass the biscuits!

Anchovies make pizza something special. I know they're about as popular as Larry Craig at a Family Forum conference, but who wouldn't like that certain combination of fishy oiliness and salt? Oh.

Cream of Rice is a nice bland hot cereal, suitable for people who were just born or for people born 56 years ago or more.

Raw ground beef is reputedly the hideout for every cootie, microbe and germ...and yet, you take a hunk of it, put it between two sheets of rye bread, pepper and (optional) salt it up, and put a draft beer in your other hand. Presto - instant Baltimore bull roast! And don't worry about all those botulism and salmonella scares: the poor vegans eating lettuce and raw spinach have a lot more to worry about than we carnivores!

Taylor's Pork Roll is the official tubular processed meat product of the glorious state of New Jersey. I bow to no man in my love for all things Jersey, and for Pork Roll. If you go to NJ, seeing Pork Roll on every diner menu is no more rare than seeing 22" rims on Perring Parkway. Throw your TPR on the grill or in the pan, nestle it on toast, an English muffin or rye bread with cheddar cheese and maybe a slice of tomato, and get ready to smile awhile. It's that good.

Runner-up items include pork rinds, but more and more people seem to like them.

Tomorrow - off to the doctor for the 5,000 blink checkup of my surgically-repaired right eye. I had a cataract removed in May. I was the one-in-a million patient who awoke from anesthesia to see the surgeon's fingers as he slid a new lens into my eye. He later told me "That wasn't supposed to happen." That is not something you like to hear from a surgeon.

Another memory - the day after the surgery, I had to go to Walgreens to get a prescription filled - there was some sort of mixup, but I had to have this bottle of eyedrops so as not to get an infection. I was extremely light-sensitive and it was a sunny day, so I drove to Walgreens with a baseball cap, the giant Elvis-style sunglasses that they give you to go home with after eye surgery, and a patch over the eye. The pharmacist told me it would take about twenty minutes, so I amused myself by sitting in the sample electric massage chair they have in the prescription waiting area. I guess I was quite a sight, all Elvis-glassed, eye-patched and buzzing along in tune with the chair. It couldn't have been more than three minutes before the clerk was calling my name. I just know they didn't want me to hang around, scaring the people coming in for their Milk of Magnesia, Ace bandages and cherry chocolate chunk ice cream.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Great Man comes to town

Today Garrison Keillor brings his popular "Prairie Home Companion" radio show to Baltimore. They'll be doing the show from the refurbished Hippodrome Theater downtown, along with special guests Carole King and Jearlyn Steele, the Minneapolis gospel singer who is a frequent guest on Mr. Keillor's show. It will be an excellent show, without a doubt. Details:

My Dad was always fond of Mr. Keillor (my awe-filled respect for him is such that calling him by his first name would be an ineffable breach, as opposed to how easy it would to call the "current occupant" at 1600 Pennsylvania Av. "George"- or "Boy George"- or worse - in any setting). Dad marvelled at the fact that GK was able to find work at The New Yorker right out of college and Minnesota, which would be analogous to becoming a big league pitcher right after 11th grade. Dad listened to the show for many years, and often recommended it to me, but in those days my tastes in radio ran more to the Casey Kasem style of Top 40 countdown shows. It wasn't long after Dad died that I stumbled across "PHC" one Saturday evening, and found it a remarkable way of communing with Dad. And, since I view Heaven as a place with the ultimate cable and radio selections available, I figure it's something Dad and I can listen to at the same time. That's quite pleasing to me.

I once read of the week-long preparations for the radio show, how exhausting it is for Mr. Keillor to write the entire thing (he modestly credits "Sarah Bellum" as the writer sometimes) and perform in most of it. The person describing the show said there is no one who can pinch-hit for GK, because there is not another person alive who possesses the same set of skills. Mr. Keillor writes the show, he is the emcee, he performs in virtually all of the skits, he sings solo and in harmony with others on all types of songs, and he delivers an extemporaneous monologue called "The News from Lake Wobegon" that is, for me, the weekly high point of the show. It would be one thing to perform this enchanting, entrancing piece from a script, but all he does is have a few ideas to talk about, bits of life in his mythical home town, and off he goes.

Film producer Robert Altman's last movie was a cinema version of the radio show, and it was a great movie, starring GK, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline, Virginia Madsen, Tommy Lee Jones and Lindsay Lohan. I recommend it highly, if you can stand to see a movie without Angelina Jolie or international terrorists.

Baltimore welcomes you, Mr. Keillor. Tickets for the show were sold out long before most of us even heard he was coming to town. The Sunpaper says he will be reading from his new novel Pontoon and signing books at the downtown Enoch Pratt Library tomorrow night at 6, but I'll be content to hear the radio show tonight. My dislike of downtown-post-Ravens crazy drunk traffic will mean missing that event as well, but since Lake Wobegon is all in the mind anyway, I can just as easily be there by being here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sports Talk

I love sports; I always have. I love to watch baseball and football, especially. Baseball is the more cerebral game, and observers get to manage along with the brilliant minds of big league managers. Whenever someone complains that baseball is too slow, I can point to the fact that a lot of brains are spinning all at once. It takes brains to figure out how to win in the only game where the scoring is done away from the ball. The more one knows about baseball, the greater the enjoyment. Guessing along whether to change pitchers, send in a pinch hitter, try a hit-and-run or run-and-hit...all great fun. And because they play 162 games a year (and the better teams get to play even more...) there is no need for ballyhoo, cheerleaders and pep rallies. As Earl Weaver used to say when he managed the Orioles, "No use getting all worked up. We do this every night."

Football is fun too; less for the mind, since there are two main options when you have the ball (run or throw) and primarily one when you don't (tackle the guy who does). But who can deny the thrill of a hard-fought football game? Think of a college game on a crisp fall afternoon - say it's Alabama versus LSU...way down South...the freshman sensation, the old salty coach, the fifth-year linebacker looking to move up in the NFL draft, the beefy state trooper whose function is to run off the field with the coach afterward, ostensibly to protect him from overzealous or overwrought fans, and also to ward off NCAA investigators and NFL coaching offers.

So, I love sports and will gladly discuss the highs and lows that come along with enjoying them and rooting for particular teams. But I have a hard time figuring out one aspect of it.

Sports talk radio.

This is a fairly popular radio format, mainly on AM, because there are doggone few AM stations playing music any longer. And so, you tune in to hear the scores, the schedule, who's hurt, who got cut from a team, and the other news. And then they open the phone lines.

Some guy calls and says the quarterback should have thrown that pass better. Another guy says he could kick better than the field goal kicker. Bubba calls to report that so-and-so is way past his prime and should retire. An expert on everything points out that good pitching and good defense wins every time. If a baseball team has recently signed a slugger, they should have gone for a pitcher.

Peyton Manning did a very funny commercial a couple of years ago in which he acted like a fan toward people doing their jobs: delivering his paper, working at the grocery store, selling him coffee. It was funny because it made a good point. I know when I leave work, I don't want to turn on a talk show on the way home and hear someone say I was mistaken when I failed to have a door replaced in one of the buildings, or I take too strong a stance against the smokers who congregate outside the building and create a foul miasma for others to walk through in order to enter the building.

What's funny is that Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts and other star athletes do what they do because they can! I've even heard of baseball players who are not even particularly into the game and its history and heritage. It's just something they have the innate ability to do well, and it's their great fortune that their certain skills are skills that people will pay big bucks to watch in person, and that beer companies, automakers, and the folks who produce erectile dysfunction remedies will pay even bigger bucks to sponsor on television.

In a fair world, police officers, firefighters, teachers, auto repair people, administrative assistants, air conditioning technicians, and facilities managers for large county government departments would all earn astronomical salaries. But the world, for all its wonder, is not always fair.

And the capper of it all to me is hearing the occasional guy (it's virtually always a guy; women seem to have better things to do) call and tell the sports talk host, "I know the coach is listening, and he better think about playing Schlabotnick in place of O'Hoolahan on Sunday, or else!"

Or, of course, the always-good-for-a-wince, "I could hit/pitch/defend/run back kicks/shoot free throws better than THAT!"

It's now passe to say "Get a life." People like that have lives. They're just not the lives I would want to lead. For whatever salary.

I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Cup o' fries

This is a "cup" of boardwalk fries.

(photo courtesy

Washington Post)

That makes two favors from the Post: Watergate and this photo. Thanks!

Yesterday, Peggy and I went up to Harford Mall. She went for clothing; I went for a walk. But we met up at dinnertime. I arrived a couple of minutes early at the appointed place, and saw a couple of lovely young women ankling in, all dressed up much better than the average shopper.They ran into a friend and I heard them say they were "early for dinner." Then off they ankled, and somewhere in the celestial distance I distinctly heard Maurice Chevalier crooning "Thank Hea-vohn foh leeeeetle guhls...zey grow up in ze mos' delahtful way!" Peggy came along, happy to have found some tops for autumn home and office wear, and we went to Five Guys Burgers and Fries and had - you got it - burgers and fries for dinner. For those of you who don't have a Five Guys near you, I can only recommend that you a) call the company and beg them to bring a restaurant somewhere near you or b) pack up your family and move to where they are. All the burgers are made up fresh ground beef, and they make each one up to your individual specifications, and the fries are like boardwalk fries (if you're not in Maryland, this refers to a type of French Fries perfected at a place called Thrasher's down at the end of the boardwalk in Ocean City, MD. At that magical location, every night from Memorial Day through Labor Day for as long as any can recall, dozens of young men stood watch over huge vats of bubbling peanut oil, dunking steel baskets of julienned skin-left-on russet potatoes until the fries turn a lovely orangish-golden hue. Once deep-fried, the spuds are treated to shower of salt and scooped into paper cups. The preferred condiment is malt vinegar.)

Burger-ed and fried-up, we stepped out into the steamy August-like night, and there stood a plethora of high school kids, fresh from dinner at the Bonefish Grill. I cleverly deduced that it was a bit early for the senior prom, but Peggy said that it must have been time for the homecoming dance. The young people were striking in that way they have of reminding us of the old maxim that girls are, on average, two years ahead of boys at that age. I see this phenomenon all the time at prom season. The girls will emerge from limousines a half a block long, all sleek and lovely and grown up. Bathed in dewy beauty, they watch with bemusement as their dates tumble out of the car. The young ladies will be adorned in what seem to be Paris originals, and they totter along confidently on high heels. The young men all have a policy of neither owning nor wearing suits or sports jackets, and their freshly-purchased dress shirts and (probably clip-on) ties remind me, unfairly, of guys I see in court, following their attorney's advice to "show up in a shirt and tie!" They rock back and forth, punching each other in the shoulder, and chortling. The young women remain still, and elegant.

I always tell Peggy that the elegant young ladies in these tableaux remind me of Audrey Hepburn, and the young gentlemen, of Smokey Stover. Peggy kindly reminds me that no one knows who the hell I am talking about when I use those names, and suggests that I tell you the girls look like local versions of Charlize Theron and the boys, Bart Simpson-going-to-church.

I love people-watching!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Selfishness Knows No Boundaries (Leaves Do)

We live on a small street, with about ten houses. Most of us have been here since the development was built in 1999. On either side of us, we have very nice, friendly neighbors. Across the street, we used to. And then about a year and half ago a new family moved in.

As the prior occupants (Oh how we miss 'em!) moved to Texas, they left me with a key to the house and the garage door remotes, and asked me to watch out for some things. That's what neighbors do. I'm from one of those close communities where everyone knew everyone, and everyone's Mom could holler at you just like your own. Anyway, when these new folks showed up, I went over with the key and the remotes and offered to be of any assistance. The man took the key from me as if I was coming back to return stolen property to him. He seemed uninterested in my offering of neighborly friendship.

From what we can tell, the family consists of a man, a wife, and a son of about 10. The reason I say 'from what we can tell' is that there are always other people running in and out of the house. I don't care, really; if someone doesn't want to be friendly, I'm not going to chase them down and try to change their mind. It's like Yogi Berra said: "If people don't want to come to the ball park, how are you gonna stop them?"

But does it surprise you to learn that these people, about once a month or so, have a big party for their many SUV-driving friends - parties that, as often as not, take place on school nights, and wind up around midnight with kids running around the yard hollering, car remotes chirping, horns honking, and hearty cries of 'good night' ringing in the otherwise-quiet darkness? It's as if they are saying they don't care who else might be trying to sleep at midnight. Their friends are leaving, and they all have to say goodnight and honk their horns and so on.

Just now, I heard some noise outside. I looked to find the man of the house with his power blower outside. Now, the rest of us, when leaf time comes around every autumn, rake 'em up, mulch 'em up or otherwise gather 'em into bags. The County even comes around to pick up those bags once a week. Mr Blows-A-Leaf was out there blowing all his leaves onto the yards of his neighbors on either side and the street out front. His yard is now as leaf-free as the 18th green at Augusta. His neighbors now need help to see their grass, as it is covered with his leaves.

If you're reading this, it's probably because you are a friend or kin of mine, and I am happy to know you because you are NOT the kind of person who does these things. Something must have happened to me as a child to make me absolutely abhor selfishness, or unfair treatment, or people being left out of things. This country needs a lot of cooperation to keep it running, and somehow the very gesture of blowing our unwanted stuff onto someone else's property strikes me as so defiant of good-naturedness. It's the local version of George Bush's foreign "policy.*" It makes me sad, so here's the cure. I am going to spend the next hour or so enumerating all the kind, thoughtful gestures I see every day. It won't take long to outweigh Mr. You-Rake-My-Leaves.

*Sorry, didn't mean to go all "nucular" on ya!

Thursday, October 4, 2007


Thursday afternoon in Towson, MD. I took the afternoon off to go the hospital where Mom has been for two weeks. She will be released in a week, and the rehab staff and the physical therapist wanted to talk to me and my sister Robin about what Mom will need once she's home. Robin is excellent at keeping track of doctors and medications and the who-needs-to-do what of Momcare. It's going to take a combination of family members and outside helpers to care for Mom until she's over this broken back that has had her down since July.

Anyway, I get to the intersection of Towsontown Bl and York Rd. York Rd is the main drag through Towson, our county seat. You can take York Rd all the way into Baltimore City, but wise motorists go the other way and take it all the way to York PA.

As it happens, some of the motorists I saw were not particularly wise. There was some sort of road work going on south of where I was trying to cross over York Rd, and some people seemed intent on setting a record for most cars locked in a gridlock. There were five cars sitting in the intersection - the very intersection that my eastbound friends and I all wished to cross. Our light turned green, but we could not proceed because of the five gridlocked cars.

Now, anyone who has been driving for more than a week or two has probably been in one of these situations, either as the gridlocker or as the gridlockee. I enjoyed sitting there, knowing that even for as long as the light was green for us, we weren't going to move. In the past, I might have opened my window and hollered invectives at the inconsiderate mopes who were blocking us. Not any more! I sat and thought about how many times I had gone through that intersection: some good memories, some not so sweet. I used to take that way home from shifts at 911, and it was so good to be going home.

And I enjoyed watching the reactions of the people in the cars that blocked the road. Two of them were occupied by business-type guys, men with ties and things on their minds. I figured they were looking ahead down the road with that "if I stare straight ahead, I won't have to see anyone looking daggers at me" look. One car, I can't tell you who was driving; they had the windows so dark. One car had two couples- some people in their 70's, it seemed to me - and they were just having a fit at the very idea of causing people to be angry with them. You could see the man in the back seat - wearing one of those Guayabera dress shirts that also could be a jacket in a pinch, that he must have ordered from an ad in PARADE magazine one slow Sunday - waggling his finger, jawing at the driver, telling him to zig over here and zag over there and just get out the way! But the driver paid him no mind.

Another driver paying no mind was a young man whose very being defined "cool." First tipoff: he had his seat back in such a reclining position that he really appeared to be in a La-Z-Boy recliner. I mean really, he was perfectly positioned for a nap, or a colonoscopy. Second, he was flapping his gums on his cell phone. Third, he positioned his eyelids to such a low point over his peepers that the road ahead could only have been an itty-bitty little slit. Perhaps that's why he kept on sliding through the intersection even as it became obvious that the highly polished rear end of his car would stick way out in the road. He did not care. His countenance told us that we should all feel fortunate to be on the same road as he.

Somewhere down the road, all of us will have the chance to be trapped in an embarrassing situation - one more or less of our own making. We can only hope to get through it with grace and humor, and without being seen wearing one of those Guayabera shirts. That would just make it awful.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Where the title came from

I suppose I ought to explain where the title of the blog comes from. 'Castles Made of Sand' has nothing to do with beach activities, but, rather, the old maxim that the wise person builds his house upon a rock - the rock being love, friendship, family, faith and devotion...all those old-fashioned notions that were considered things to be desired, back before everyone became so avid about material possessions and earthly power. I think we sang a song in Sunday School about building one's house upon a rock. And then Jimi Hendrix wrote the song whose title I humbly borrowed for my blog; certainly this is one of his more introspective songs:

Down the street you can hear her scream "you're a disgrace"
As she slams the door in his drunken face,
And now he stands outside and all the neighbors start to gossip and drool.
He cries "Oh girl, you must be mad,What happened to the sweet love you and me had?"
Against the door he leans and starts a scene,And his tears fall and burn the garden green.

And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually.

A little Indian brave who before he was ten, played war games in the woods with his Indian friends,
and he built a dream that when he grew up, he would be a fearless warrior Indian Chief.
Many moons passed and more the dream grew strong,
until tomorrow he would sing his first war song,
And fight his first battle, but something went wrong,
Surprise attack killed him in his sleep that night.

And so castles made of sand melts in the sea eventually.

There was a young girl, whose heart was a-frown,
Because she was crippled for life, and couldn't speak a sound
And she wished and prayed she would stop living, so she decided to die.
She drew her wheel chair to the edge of the shore, and to her legs she smiled "You won't hurt me no more."
But then a sight she'd never seen made her jump and say
"Look, a golden winged ship is passing my way"
And it really didn't have to just kept on going.

And so castles made of sand slips into the sea,

The web address "truly regal manners" comes from Thoreau's Walden: "I called on the king, but he made me wait in his hall, and conducted like a man incapacitated for hospitality. There was a man in my neighborhood who lived in a hollow tree. His manners were truly regal. I should have done better had I called on him."

My manners may never be truly regal, and I might not build all my dream houses on the firmest rock, but welcome to my blog. Please come back often!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Just Like Starting

October 1, 2007

Here begins my journey into blogging! I have wanted to get into this for quite some time, and now that both of my beloved nieces - Laura and Jamie - have started their blogs, I think it's about time I got to it. But I am going to close this off right now to see how to go about publishing it.

More soon - this is going to be fun!