Sunday, August 31, 2008

Really something when the joint is jumping!

I frequently get questions about what I'm talking about. In my dotage, I tend to go on about my early days and the cultural landmarks that dotted my horizon like nuts on a sundae. And the songs! And the stories about the songs! How about the one that I reference in the sand quote above, the beloved "Bristol Stomp" by the Dovells? To explain the song, I will have to use some expressions that have fallen from the current lexicon, such as "dance craze," "fire house record hop" and "The Dovells."

First of all, is there a dance craze now, a specific step ("little dances that look so neat," as The Showmen sang in "It Will Stand")? I know that people who go dancing all do a variety of hip hop or something. It all looks a little bit aggressive to me, as if the dancers really don't care for each other. Don't ask me. I never could dance, but I enjoy seeing people who could, which is why I was a regular viewer of the Buddy Deane Show on Channel 13 on those days when I didn't have detention after school. That's the show upon which John Waters based a movie that became a Broadway show which became another movie, all called "Hairspray." And for those seeking the essence of Baltimore, well, that's how we roll here. Anyone who can get three meals out of the same pot of stew is doing things the BallTEEmore way!
Buddy Deane

But all the cool kids on Buddy Deane knew all - or started all - the latest dances. The Madison, The Roach, The Mashed Potato, The Stroll...we viewers learned from the cool kids of Baltimore. We did not watch Dick Clark's American Bandstand out of Philadelphia, because we had our own show. In the spirit of ecumenism, Buddy did have some Philly-based guests on his show, in the fashion of an archbishop providing overnight shelter to a traveling pilgrim. But Buddy, like Dick Clark, was available for record hops...another vestige of that long-ago era. The deal was, someone rented a social hall or a volunteer fire hall, hired a radio deejay looking for part-time work, and then the deejay showed up with tons of records, a couple of turntables and amplifiers, and then they opened the door to kids who wanted to demonstrate their ability to dance what they had seen danced on TV all week.

It was at one such event at the Goodwill Hose Company
hall in Bristol, Pennsylvania, that a group known as the Dovells, led by Len Barry (ne Leonard Borisoff - I love researching real names!) heard a record with a cool guitar intro that had been recorded by some local kids. It was called "Every Day of the Week." The Dovells got the idea to take that guitar riff and write a song about the cool kids dancing at a volunteer fire house in Bristol Pennsylvania. The dance they were doing was The Stomp. It only seemed natural to call the new song "The Bristol Stomp." A few minutes with a couple of professional songwriters, Kal Mann and Dave Appell, and the song was ready to record, and hit as high as #2 on the charts in November, 1961. People dashed to Kresge's to pay 79 cents for a 45-rpm copy of the song, so they could hear Barry's wobbly vocals and the insistent, even hypnotic, backbeat of the song.

Now you can hear it too, and even see it, and you don't have to put on your tshirt and drive to Kresge's, as if there were a Kresge's to drive to. All you have to do is click right here, and make believe you're at a fire house:

No one makes dance craze records any more; at least, I hear none that are devoid of calls to shoot or stab people or call them nasty names. There are no fire house record hops, or none that I've heard of for years and years. Len Barry had a couple of solo hits, "1-2-3" and "Like A Baby," but has not remained a huge part of the entertainment business we know today, what with Justin Timberlake being so popular and all.

And I sit here wondering why.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Seen at the Fair

Clearly, the best night to go to the Maryland State Fair is on a drizzly Friday. With the crowd down to only a few dedicated fair-goers, happy-to-be-there Farm Kids, and Goth Kids who will go anywhere to show you their pants with 147 chains on them, we stolled about at will, saw our favorite things (sheep and swine) and Great Gosh-a-mighty, look who's selling food at the fair!

We thought it was the flamboyant rock pioneer and Geico spokesperson

Mr Little Richard Penniman, but it turned out that it wasn't. I was told this in no uncertain terms by the woman behind the counter, who told me they didn't sell Tutti-Frutti Cheeseburgers, and also asked me to stop calling her "Lucille." A wop-bob-a-loo-bop, a womp bam boo!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Your Second Amendment in Action

Dontavious Mays is the name of a little guy from Northeast Baltimore city. Last Saturday, he was wounded by a bullet while he was playing outside at around 5 pm. Does anyone think that it should be unsafe for a six-year-old to play outside in his own neighborhood at dinnertime on a warm summer Saturday?

And I'm not going to get into a gun control debate or discussion. If you feel that the Second Amendment extends the rights of militia membership to local drug dealers, I'm just gonna ask how well-regulated that militia is, and all I'd get would be fatuous answers about how the Second Amendment protects us all from jackbooted stormtroopers showing up late at night, searching our houses and seizing the precious firearms that we all need in case of insurrection, or if the guy who breaks in to rip off the combo DVD player/microwave/fax machine should forget to pack his weapon and Harry Homeowner comes downstairs to play Dirty Harry Homeowner, only he's wearing those slippers with no heels, and some rather seedy pajamas, so the burglar laughs at him and so on and so forth. Not going there.

What really sticks with me about this story is that, when the reporter on FOX45 covered it, he mentioned quite dispassionately that young Dontavious was shot while "two men were exchanging gunfire nearby." Just like that, as if it were a fact of daily life. People exchange ideas, phone numbers, email addresses, baseball cards, insurance information after a traffic accident, and the dumb heelless slippers that everyone, including career criminals, laughs at when you wear them. Most guys exchange them for those slippers that sort of look like camp moccasins. It just should not be accepted in the course of human events that two random men should exchange gunfire at 5 PM on a sunny summer Saturday while a six-year old is playing outside.

Anyone else feeling it?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A cool webtoy

Let's say you always dreamed of being immortalized in cartoon form, but things didn't work out. Don't you worry; it's not too late. Here's a link to a website which will turn this

into this!

Of course, this is a highly complicated scientific doodad we're tying into here. Sometimes the differences are very, very subtle, adjusted by master cartoonists working in undisclosed locations. It's stunning to see this photo of a largely discredited political figurehead

turned into this amusing lampoon cartoon with some deft touches:

Only, I'm not really laughing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A sentence never spoken

Does this sound a lot like that wordplay contest they have in the Sunday Washington POST every week - to compose a sentence that has never been said by anyone, anytime, anywhere? George Carlin said , as an example, "Hand me that piano."

Here's my sentence-never-before-spoken:

"I've been thinking about Buddy Hackett all day."

I guarantee you, you have never said that! But I have been thinking about the late comedian Buddy Hackett (born Leonard Hacker) who personified the rotund clown so ubiquitous in the nightclubs and burlesque theaters of a long-ago era in show biz. But Buddy could do a lot of things - a little soft shoe, a little dance, tell a joke, do pantomime, appear on talk shows, play parts in movies, and more. I mentioned him yesterday for his work in The Music Man ( )doing the ''Shipoopi" and man, he was good at what he did. There was another performer who worked in much the same style, a man born Bernard Katzin, who achieved fame under the nom de show biz Stubby Kaye. What a great name! You can't say the name "Stubby Kaye" without smiling...must be the "k" sound.
Stubby Kaye (1918-1997)

Buddy Hackett (1924-2003)

Stubby Kaye died the day my father died in 1997. Buddy Hackett died on my birthday in 2003. Michael Phelps shares my birthday, my height and my high school, and there the similarities end, because I am about as great a swimmer as Buddy Hackett at this point. Don't tell me there's no conspiracy about him passing on my birthday! The signs are all over. But I don't get mad about it, because Buddy Hackett left behind a bit of philosophy that resonates within me every time I get the urge to get mad and stay there: "While you're holding grudges, they're out dancing." Out of the mind of a Borscht Belt comic came this nugget of wisdom. So valuable, so meaningful, so true! We've all done this - get into a brouhaha, and then get right into a snit, and sit around brooding for a week ("that lousy #$(*(#...why, I oughta....") and meanwhile the other person is out at the Dizzy Ballroom, tripping over the fantastic lights, not even thinking about us, not even a little bit. Leonard, Buddy - you were right.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wells Fargo Wagon!

As a major fan of the TV cartoon Family Guy (and, some have said, an uncanny double for Stewie) I watch the episodes of that show with the same attention that an art lover might use while strutting through the Louvre. There's an episode in which dad Peter dances and sings the "Shipoopi" song from The Music Man while performing as a member of the New England Patriots.

Peggy, always the realist, points out that probably only a small percentage of the Family Guy audience has ever watched The Music Man and seen the original "Shipoopi," done by Buddy Hackett. It's a great movie; it tells the story of a con man whose game is bilking hick town residents out of money under the guise of organizing and training a boys' band. The angle is, he sells the instruments and uniforms, and then splits - usually. Go rent it and see how it plays out, or stop by: I have it on VHS and DVD, and the soundtracks (Broadway and movie) on LP and CD.

The story takes place in 1912 Iowa, and in one scene, the whole town of River City gets all worked up because the Wells Fargo wagon is rolling into town. That was sort of like the UPS or FedEX of its time, although there is some doubt as to whether or not the drivers wore shorts. But it's on my mind because I have a friend who is so sophisticated; she got a package from UPS the other day and did not bother opening it for some time. It turned out to be macaroons, instead of a textbook or something, but imagine being so cool that you get a package delivered and you just say, "I'll have to get around to opening that later on." I admire that coolness. Myself, I get all churned up when the US Mail truck shambles up our court. Who knows what might be in today's mail? A note from a long-lost friend? An invitation to a party, a wedding, a gathering of like-minded souls? This week's New Yorker? This week's Pennysaver, or Coupon Clipper, or Val-Pak (doesn't that sound like an antibiotic you have to take for 9 days straight?)

The mayor of River City calls people who live there the "Citizenians" of River City. Maybe they are so excited about the same thing that makes my heart leap when a package shows up:
lyrics to "Wells Fargo Wagon" by Meredith Willson:

First Voice
I got a box of maple sugar on my birthday.

Second Voice:
In March I got a gray mackinaw.

Third Voice:
And once I got some grapefruit from Tampa.

Fourth Voice:
Montgom'ry Ward sent me a bathtub and a cross-cut saw.
O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin' now
Is it a prepaid surprise or C.O.D.

Fifth Voice:

It could be curtains!

Sixth Voice
Or dishes!

Seventh Voice:

Or a double boiler!

Eighth Voice
Or it could be


Yes, it could be
Yes, you're right it surely could be

Eighth Voice:

Somethin' special


Somethin' very, very special now

Eighth Voice
Just for me!

O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin' down the street.
Oh, don't let him pass my door!
O-ho the Wells Fargo
Wagon is a-comin' down the street
I wish I knew what he was comin' for.

Ninth Voice:

I got some salmon from Seattle last September.

Tenth Voice:

And I expect a new rockin' chair.

Eleventh Voice:

I hope I get my raisins from Fresno.


The D.A.R. have sent a cannon for the courthouse square!
So, I'm not cool. If that UPS truck pulls up out front, I'm gonna dash out there like Cindy McCain at a hair dye giveaway and see what Doug or Deacon have brought me! I hope it's somethin' special!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mark's thoughts (with a nod to Hank Kingsley)

I was three years old here. Notice the grim determination, the rapt attention to duty, the mirthless countenance. Note that I am wearing a watch. I was three years of age, and yes, I knew how to tell time. I also knew how to cut chamfers and cross-hatch a 2 x 4. Punctuality has been a big thing for me for all these years.

...If you had the secret knowledge of how to make a fortune in real estate, would you a) open a school to teach others your secret knowledge and run incessant radio commercials inviting others to come and learn how they can make a fortune too by talking other people into selling them their houses cheap and then you just sell it for a huge profit or b) go make a fortune for yourself and keep your secret secret ?

That's what I thought you would do. As would I.

..."Back-to-school" in my long-ago day meant going to Kresge's or Murphy's to get some new pencils and pens and a blue binder, upon which to emblazon the image of Fred Flintstone in Magic Marker. I see the supply lists required for kids in elementary school these days, and I don't think that infantry soldiers who chased Rommel across Africa with my namesake had as many items on their supply lists.

...One item I look forward to receiving in the email every day is the word of the day from Merriam-Webster (sign up at The etymology of words we employ daily is endlessly fascinating. Take today's word: dilapidated. We use it all the time, and we also use the word lapidary all the time as well, any time we speak of someone who cuts or polishes precious stones. And that's pretty much all the time, right? Anyhow, it turns out that the two words share a common root in the Latin word "lapis" (stone) , and that the original meaning of dilapidated was "pelted with stones." Endlessly fascinating.

...If you could go back to the age of 18 and lay out a plan for your life, could it possibly be as much fun as your real life turned out to be?

...I miss the days when everyone got all worked up about the new car models coming out in September. Now all cars look basically alike, are either black or silver or red, and have no distinct personalities.

...I don't see why they can't make new episodes of The King of Queens. Or SWAT. Or, at least, some new Andy Griffith Shows.

...Toothpaste makes an excellent emergency spackle for when you remove that picture of Uncle Albert posing with Admiral Halsey during WWII from the dining room wall and there's that hole where the hanger used to be. Not only that, but new Crest with GL-47 has proven to be an effective dentifrice, and part of a conscientious program of oral hygiene.

...When I was in 4th grade I thought a dentifrice was the person in the dentist's office who cleaned your teeth.

...I have to go now; I feel all dilapidated.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Say it!

A sad time...I've had a couple of deaths among friends and former coworkers in the past couple of weeks. I have one piece of advice to pass along for those who care to hear it, and that is, if you have something nice to say about someone, say it now!

I found out too late a few years ago that once a person is gone, they are gone, and with them has gone my last chance to say something to them face-to-face. So - if you have always thought someone was funny, enjoyable company, reliable in a tight spot, or good to be around when things were sad, tell them now! What the hell are you waiting for?

If you like how someone looks in their new sweater, why not let them know? If you appreciate how someone came through for you a couple of years ago when things looked bleak, they will likely be glad to hear about it. It might even encourage them to be there for someone else somewhere down the road.

I remember an essay by Bob Greene (the sometimes-corny former Chicago columnist, not Oprah's diet guru) in which he talked about a Japanese woman who had come here to go to college and, in a phys ed class, had trouble mastering the intricacies of setting a volleyball, until a kind person on her team touched her lightly on the shoulder and said,"You can do this." From that moment on, the student felt confident and capable. And that student? Well, sorry, I'm not Paul Harvey; I have no idea whatever happened to her, but I'll bet she went on to do things with a sense of capability. All because someone took a minute to say a kind word.

Sometimes, people who were just paid a compliment will look at you and say, "Do you really mean that?" Speaking for myself, I am not able to say things I don't mean. I cannot act, cannot take on any persona other than my own, so I make it a point to mean what I say and say what I mean.

And if you go on the theory that no matter what, there is always something good to say about everyone, well, that George Bush certainly keeps his hair looking well-groomed at all times.

There. I did it!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Going Daily?

You might have noticed that, of late, publication for this blog has been, well, erratic at best. I could trot out all the usual reasons: the rising cost of newsprint and ink and gasoline for the delivery trucks that get this to your front door every morning (but that would be a fib!) or just plain laziness. Now, that would be the truth. You ain't met the man as lazy as I in the summer. The heat and humidity just sap me of all energy except for that required to do my job, and bake blueberry muffins (my secret recipe: Jiffy Baking Mix and fresh blueberries. Follow instructions on box and add twice as many blueberries as they say to.)

So as to instill within myself a bit of discipline, I am going to impose a requirement that this blog be published daily from now on! Or I'll know the reason why! And sometimes I will go off on one my patented rants about politicians, oil companies or the producers of certain television shows, movies and other forms of entertainment. And sometimes, I might just share a favorite poem or funny picture.

Take this one: well, now you don't have to, because I already took it...but just look at it for a second, ok?

I took this photo in the unisex necessary room of the great Beans Coffee Shop in Woodstown, NJ. Can't tell how old this ad for witch hazel might be, but it sure did seem to someone that witch hazel could just about cure everything! It cured boils, carbuncles, even felons! Dag, this stuff even lowered the crime rate, not to mention cutting way back on itching eruptions.

Tomorrow's topic will be much more pastoral in nature. Meanwhile, let's reach for the witch hazel.