Saturday, January 31, 2009

...and a prayer

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) -- At 5 a.m. on a freezing January morning, more than 15,000 Philadelphians crammed into a sports arena on Friday to witness the city's annual festival of gluttony and lust.

It's the Wing Bowl, a competitive-eating extravaganza in which 27 men try to eat the largest number of chicken wings in 30 minutes.

They are assisted by legions of bikini-clad young women called "Wingettes", and encouraged by a baying crowd which stayed up most of the night to take part in the spectacle.

Jonathon Squibb, a 23-year-old computer technician from Berlin, New Jersey, won the event and a $30,000 Mini Cooper after eating 203 wings without getting sick.

Squibb, who was unknown in competitive eating circles, beat better-known participants including the favorite, "Damaging Doug" Canavin of Philadelphia.

Our nation faces economic ruin, crippling unemployment, emotional instability, a huge winter storm barreling up the Eastern seaboard, two stupid foreign wars, the hatred of foreigners everywhere (including here) and a ticking tock of infrastructure and ecological timebombs across the land.

Time for Wing Bowl! Let's hear it for 27-year-old Jonathon Squibb,
a computer technician from New Jersey, who managed to get 203 wings down his neck in a contest staged by WIP radio in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.

My move toward more sensible eating had a memorable genesis. A wonderful friend, Kristin, then a WIC nutritionist and now a labor-and-delivery nurse, was in the lunchroom at work one day when I burst in with my usual exuberance, brandishing my Hungry Man® Dinner, with a yellow logo on its box screaming "Over ONE POUND of FOOD!"

With the same patience and love that she must display when telling her two-year-old daughter why sticking the tines of a fork into a wall outlet would not be a good idea, Kristin pointed out to me that no human needs one pound of food. Looking over the frozen dinner's outer packaging with the same attention to detail that a Kennedy scholar would employ with newly-found Zapruder footage, Kristin told me that the sodium content of this "meal" rivalled the daily output of a Siberian salt mine, and that the caloric content would be enough to feed the Green Bay Packers en masse.

This is why it often takes me four hours to go to the grocery store. Sometimes I am jackpotting, chatting with neighbors and deli clerks alike, and sometimes it's because I am standing in an aisle, reading package labels.

There might have been a day when I could have given this Squibb fellow a run for his money in this contest, even though I would have been handicapped: I prefer left wings only. Pass the Hot Sauce!

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Guiding Light

A friend blogged today that her prayers were answered - that a specialist was willing to see one of her patients with an ongoing situation. The specialist will waive her standard fee. My friend posits that this points to the existence of a caring God who wants good things for His children. I agree. I also believe that all prayers are heard and answered, and sometimes we just don't hear the answer in all the din.

I am genuinely sorry for those whose dark and sad circumstances keep them out of the light of love, but it's always good when one who is in the light can take a moment, look up, and enjoy the beams.

I rarely have an entry this short, this philosophical, or this pious in tone. Just keepin' it real; I promised the blog would always be about what's on my mind. Thanks for caring.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A nod is as good as a wink, to a blind horse.

from somewhere over the Internets:

CHICAGO (AFP) - A drum major who waved at President Barack Obama was brought to tears Tuesday over his six-month suspension from an Ohio marching band.

"Six months is pretty harsh, I think," firefighter John Coleman told Newsnet 5.

But the Cleveland Firefighter's Memorial Pipes & Drums band leader said even a glance is out of bounds for marching bands in a parade marking the inauguration of a president.

"We had gone over and over time and again with everyone in the band that this was a military parade. Protocol and proper decorum had to be followed at all times," band leader Mike Engle told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"Unfortunately, John chose to ignore that."

Other bands complained about Coleman's gesture, and the burly fire inspector -- who has been in the band for 17 years -- was told of his suspension on the bus home from Washington.

"He has to abide by the rules," Engle said. "It had to be done."

Coleman defended his actions and said he would do it again, despite the consequences.

"I just happened to glance over and made eye contact with the president and just gave a nod acknowledging him and just a slight wave," Coleman said.

Well, there's good news! I had been hearing the rumblings, and surely you had too, that the Cleveland Firefighter's Memorial Pipes & Drums Band had been deviating, if ever so slightly, from the military regimens and highly-formatted performance style that really mark the crackerjack Pipe and Drum bands in our society. I mean, the day that people who parade around playing bagpipe music stop taking themselves so damned seriously is a day I never want to experience.

So, thank heaven that the august leader of this musical aggregation chose to suspend the scorned perpetrator of this heinous act. I mean, really! To think that the mellifluous tones of the bagpipes, that sweet music of the ages, invented by a bored goatherd with one goatskin and one reed pipe, should be sullied by a nod to the man just elected president of the United States in an overwhelming affirmation! It's a wonder they didn't take Coleman out behind a meadow in the mist and bastinado him 'til the cows came home.

Probably, they were planning to do so, but the cows will not come home if they hear bagpipe music within a mile or two. You know cows aren't interested in bagpipe music; did you ever see a cow at a Fourth of July parade?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike, RIP

Hang it all, the good among us keep loosing earthly bonds. Latest notable to depart is the great writer John Updike, who died of lung cancer yesterday, aged 76. The one little mercy is that he will no longer have to hear, as we did tonight on NBC Nightly News, sentences such as, "Although they were born nine weeks premature, doctors say the octuplets are breathing on their own." I don't believe that the circumstances of the doctors' births, no matter how great the coincidence of prematurity, should figure into the reporting of the health of these eight tiny tots.

Updike wrote novels, essays, short stories, poems, sick notes for his kids, grocery lists and, probably, a papal bull or two in his long career. He wrote well over 50 novels, which is more than some people read in a lifetime. But I have this poem, published in the December 6, 1999, New Yorker posted on bulletin boards all over - even on some that don't belong to me. I feel these words should be read, and savored, so without further bloviation on my part, here is John Updike's Jesus and Elvis:

Twenty years after the death, St. Paul
was sending the first of his epistles,
and bits of myth or faithful memory–
multitudes fed on scraps, the dead small girl
told "Talitha, cumi"–were self-assembling
as proto-Gospels. Twenty years since pills
and chiliburgers did another in,
they gather at Graceland, the simple believers,
the turnpike pilgrims from the sere Midwest,
mother and daughter bleached to look alike,
Marys and Lazaruses, you and me,
brains riddled with song, with hand-tinted visions
of a lovely young man, reckless and cool
as a lily. He lives. We live. He lives.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Homeland Insecurity

From the Baltimore Sun:

City schools chief Andrés Alonso is urging underclassmen at a struggling West Baltimore high school to transfer to other schools midyear - a highly unusual step in keeping with his pledge to hold all schools to high standards.
The system is legally prohibited from closing the 575-student school, Homeland Security Academy, in the middle of the academic year, but Alonso is strongly encouraging students to choose to leave and asking the school board to close it this summer. Students will be able to select from 21 other city high schools that have extra space and are deemed stable. "I feel this is not a school that is working for kids," Alonso said. "I don't feel any need to be patient when it comes to the future of children." Problems at Homeland Security run the gamut, from high staff turnover to low student performance. Amid low morale, seven of 28 teachers have been absent more than 10 days this school year. After a slew of fights and bathroom fires, several central office administrators were called in to restore order.

Now, please understand that I am not trying to crack wise about this. I think I speak for most of us when I say that of all the things we had to worry about in high school - getting dates, talking dates out of walking out of the restaurant RIGHT NOW! because of something said or thrown, losing ballgames, losing homework, losing resolve... all of these were ephemeral... a real big deal one day, forgotten the next. I believe I can confidently say that none of us have had the ignominious experience of having the head cheese of the school system tell us that our school is a rotten failure and we ought to get our diplomas out of there.

Think of immigrants in the early 20th century, arriving on these shores to make a better life for their children. You can bet against there being a lot of lavatory fights in those schools, back in the day when there was respect all around for education - from parents, teachers, students and the community as a whole.

Some years ago Peggy and I dropped a friend off at Baltimore-Washington Airport, and, it being early and I being foolish, we decided to scoot on over to DC to see some sights. Of course, we got lost in some blighted, burned out neighborhood that really looked like those pictures of the South Bronx in the late 70's...a wisp of smoke here, a scent of hopelessness and despair everywhere. I pulled up to a firehouse and asked the FF on the watch desk how to get to the Smithsonian. Sizing me up as an out-of-towner, he stood up, pointed to the street, and said, "First thing you gotta do, get out of this neighborhood, like right now!"

We're all in a bad neighborhood as long as any of us are. I cannot get over how sad it must make Dr. Alonso to have to tell pupils to bail out of a sinking school. The irony of the name of the school only sharpens the barb. Teachers aren't teaching, students aren't studying, and another piece of society clatters to the ground.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Another of my half-baked notions

I have always loved products that perform two functions at once. The person who decided to pair up a flash drive with a little Swiss Army knife was thinking right that day! And of course, the whole Swiss Army knife / Leatherman tool thing - a toolchest in the palm of one's hand, and trust me, there have been dozens of times I've been glad to be toting around my well-worn Leatherman Juice. No kidding, I have been in need of a screwdriver or pair of pliers in many situations, and I've always wondered how people handle these crises when all they have in their pocket is a wallet and some gift cards for Popeye's Chicken.

But here is an item you can make at home that serves two purposes quite well. Beer bread. Now you're talking! It tastes great, it's easy to make - and it not only puts bread on the table, it makes the entire house smell like a bake shop! I mean, you spend dozens of dollars at Yank E. Candle to try to make the house smell like you were baking all day - here you can bake for a very brief period, make the house smell like Heaven on a roll, and still get to eat the bread!

It couldn't be simpler, and you probably have everything you need right at home. Try it soon and tell me what you think! Fun to make, tasty to eat, easy on the sniffer. What's not to like?

Mark's Old-Fashioned Beer Bread

  • 1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle beer at room temperature - NOT LIGHT! use REAL beer, por favor!
  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar


  1. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar and flour. Add beer and continue to mix, first using a wooden spoon, then your hands. Batter will be sticky. Pour into a 9 x 5 inch greased loaf pan.
  2. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees ) for 50 for 60 minutes. The top will be crunchy, and the insides will be soft. Serve topped with butter or cheese spread.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My quool quilt

My nephew Drew married Laura, star of her well-known blog Two Peas in a Pod. The two peas are now sharing the pod with another baby, the fabulous Finley, whom you met in this space before. Anyhow, Laura's splendid Mom Kathy spends time while in the car with equally-splendid Dad Russell listening to Books on CD and quilting! She made quilts for the twins' birthdays this weekend and for me for Christmas she made this incredible Elvis quilt, which keeps me snug on weekend naps. I get up at 5 AM on workdays, so to stay consistent I also drag it on outta bed early on weekends too, although I take a nap after breakfast. Now my nap takes on sort of a Broadway - Hollywood theme - it's The King and I!

I love my quilt and I love my extended family. Having the nephews get married, each to fine women with truly great families, has brought us a tremendous joy. And a quilt.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Who Will Answer?

Very sad to see in the paper that former Associated Press sportswriter Gordon Beard has passed away. He did a great job covering the Orioles for many years, wrote a wonderful book (Birds On The Wing) about the 1966 championship season, and was always respected as the funniest man in the press box. Beard also was a lexicographer, who published volume after volume of compendia of Baltimore expressions.

You know how we love our "lemon moran" pie here, expecially in Dezember!

Anyway, the obituary included reference to a funny moment in Beard's high school days. This being Baltimore, one's high school is more indicative of status and culture than any other handy touchstone, so let it be said he went to Southern High. One day a physics teacher asked the class what happened when a body is immersed in water.

"The phone rings," quipped young Gordon.

I bring this up because there was that time in our lives when the phone rang and you didn't care if you were in a bath or in flagrante delicto - you were gonna answer that phone. It was like a constitutional obligation to pick it up and go, "hello?" I mean, really, you could be hauling a baby grand piano down to the basement because young Eloise was going to start "taking piano" from that thin, prim young lady around the corner, and if that phone rang, you'd tell your brother-in-law, who was sweating down on the keyboard end of things, to "hold what you got." You just had to answer the phone. No matter if it was the Purple Heart, calling to see if you had anything to leave out on the porch for Tuesday's pickup, or that thin, prim young lady, calling to see if Eloise had her pinafore starched yet, that phone HAD to be answered.

Then when answering machines and caller ID came along, you started to feel the icy hands of Phone Screening standing between you and that cutey patootie you had just spent an hour wrenching up enough guts to call. You just knew she was looking at the caller ID screen and saying,"Oh it's HIM!!! I'm just not gonna answer!" And there you were; another Saturday night at Hoops Alone Saloon, the sports bar for lonely sports.

Now that everyone has a cell phone, chances are they have the cell right in the shower with them, lest they miss some important call from, well, you! But still with the screening!

And you know another move bound to induce paranoia? When you call some office and ask to speak to Mr. Kaputnick, and his assistant or whoever says, instead of, "He's not here", a simple, "Who may I say is calling?" That means he or she runs off to Kaputnick and says,"It's Norm Peterson - did you want to speak with him?" and he says no and she comes back with "Mr. Kaputnick has stepped out; did you want to leave a message?" And you just KNOW that Kaputnick is sitting there surfing www.biguns. com or playing online euchre.

And it all would have been so easy if he had simply picked up the phone! He would have, if you had called him in 1957.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Next month, they're doing "Annie Get Your Gun!"

From the

SARASOTA - A day after being shot in the head during a dress rehearsal for a play at Manatee Players theater, the last thing 81-year-old Fred Kellerman says he wants is for his acting career to end.

As part of the Sarasota Senior Theater, Kellerman was preparing with one last rehearsal to take the stage Sunday as "Lenny" in a production of the John Steinbeck novel "Of Mice and Men."

At the end of the play, Kellerman's character takes a fatal gunshot to the head.

Just after 5 p.m., Kellerman got on his knees and his co-star, William Bordy, 78, pulled the trigger on a .32-caliber revolver. To everyone's shock the gun was anything but a prop, instead later found to be fully loaded.

Bradenton Police would find Kellerman backstage with blood covering the stage, according to reports.

"I heard a loud bang. I knew something was wrong. But I never passed out," Kellerman said.

Kellerman said doctors would later find the bullet tore into his skull, ricocheted off bone, then came back out and tore off a piece of his ear. Doctors sewed the piece of ear back on at Manatee Memorial Hospital.

"It took a chunk off my ear, but I was told it will grow together. I really feel no pain," he said. "I was really lucky."

Bradenton Police reports say Bordy, president of Sarasota Senior Theater and the play's director, got the gun from a group member, Natalie Gundrum.

The group had used the gun in the past as a prop, but Gundrum told police she did not check to see if the gun was loaded when she brought it for the show Sunday, according to police reports.

Bordy told police he didn't check the gun either, assuming it was not loaded. Bordy told police he should have checked the gun, but it had been empty when the group used it last for the same play.

"It was stupid, stupid. Something you should never do," Bordy said Tuesday. "I got careless."

"It was just supposed to be a click then the lights go down. But when I pulled the trigger, it went off and he fell to the floor," Bordy said.

After emergency workers took Kellerman to Manatee Memorial Hospital, Bordy and the rest of the group went on with the show, performing its variety show, including "Of Mice and Men," with another actor in Kellerman's place.

"It is the old saying 'the show must go on,' Of course, I collapsed as soon as it was over," Bordy said.

Kellerman said he is glad they went ahead with the show.

"There were 100 people there waiting. They sure should have done the show," he said.

Kellerman called his director and co-star Tuesday morning to tell him he was alright.

"He is just a jovial, wonderful man, I just thank God he is OK," said Bordy after a sleepless night. "He was bright and happy when he called. I am so relieved."

Kellerman said he has no animosity about what happened.

"I don't have any anger whatsoever. What happened was pretty stupid, but I am not the least bit upset," Kellerman said.

Next month Kellerman says he wants to perform in a musical he is rehearsing for now. He called his director to apologize for not making it to rehearsal Tuesday but plans on making practice Friday, Bordy said.

"I very much want to still be part of the group. I look at this as nothing more than an accident," he said.

Some days - many days, in fact - this blog just blogifies by itself. It's amazing to me that anyone would use a gun in an amateur stage production, and even more amazing that those handling the weapon of mess destruction would be so cavalier as to fail to check to see it were a real gun or not. And what is Ms Gundrum doing running around with a real gun? Is she, in fact, a member of a well-regulated militia? Because we all know THAT'S why people have the Right To Keep And Bear Arms! It's right there in that there Constitutional thing!

Save your breath if you're going to tell me how many people are injured or killed annually in stapler mishaps or bagel-slicing accidents. Paul Harvey used to go on the radio with stories about some dude killing his mother by stabbing her 167 times with an icepick, and then he'd cluck fatuously, "We're gonna have to ban 2!" Staplers are made for joining pieces of paper together, most often on lengthy loan agreements that enable people to buy Chevrolets upon which to display their attachment to Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

Bagels are a tasty breakfast, particularly when used as a setting for cream cheese and lox. Icepicks are for chunking up huge ice blocks, or, for those born since outdoor plumbing came into being, they're what you use when you can't find your awl or tack starter.

Guns are sold for the sole purpose of putting a hole in places where, previously, no hole existed. Old Bundy is a very lucky man, and of course, so is his co-star Kellerman. Lots of people weren't so lucky. Why do we keep cheating the hangman? Stop playing with guns!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Got a Charge out of this

David L. Mackie of Fondue, Oklahoma, is our kind of guy. Pictured above is his recently-isssued VISA card through Capital One ("what's in YOUR wallet?") The photo is not of David L. Mackie, of course. Eagle-eyed readers will recognize the likeness of drunken actor Nick Nolte from his 2004 mug shot.

Capital One, showing the rapt attention to detail that has helped plunge our nation and the world to the very precipice of economic catastrophe, has decided that they have more people in the bank than tasks to complete, so they now allow their charge card holders to submit their own doggone photo. Mackie sent along the booking shot from one of the many nights when alcohol and poor personal hygiene combined to enshroud the Nolte countenance with a certain manic quality. And the bank accepted it and proudly printed it on the card! And then someone ratted it out and the bank had to offer Mackie 50 semolians to give the card up, lest Mr Nolte and/or his career become embarrassed. Like he shouldn't be turning red over wearing that shirt out on the street.

Your humble correspondent, back in the days when Peggy and I lived at the lavish Glenmont Apartments in Towson, noticed that the security guards at the pool there gave but the most desultory glance at the pool ID cards issued to tenants. I pasted a picture of Mr. Pee Wee Herman
over mine, re-laminated it, and used it successfully the rest of that summer.

No one ever looked at it; no one said a word. Peggy was the only person who laughed at it. Still, it's the thought that counts. Well played, Mr. Mackie!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rules for Reading Out Loud

I came across this list of rules for reading out loud, written by one Worthy Putnam, in The Science & Art of Elocution and Oratory, (1874.) I share it here for those who might be called upon to read something - be it that "greatest of these is love" Biblical passage at a wedding, the location of portable amenities at the elementary school picnic, or the narration for a family slide show ("I'd have to say, our favorite part of the trip to Europe was meeting the little Greek boy who said, 'Someday I go America and be cowboy!' ")

The rules:

1. Give good articulation.
2. Correct pronunciation.
3. Mind the Sense.
4. Read like Talking.
5. Be in Earnest.

So - no mumbling, learn how to say the words you're going to read, sense out where in the sentences to emphasize certain words so it flows, make it conversational, and be for real.

I am willing to bet that Mr. Obama incorporated every one of these tenets in his inaugural address. I hope I was right.

Thank you, Worthy Putnam. Don't you love it when parents hang on their kids a moniker that the kid really has to live up to?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Today being the long-awaited 1-20-09 (End of an Error), I respectfully share with you the words of Mr. Keith Olbermann, from "Countdown" on MSNBC. Last Friday he re-capped the entire Bush presidency with these "Eight Years in Eight Minutes." See it here. My only thoughts are of how much better things will be - have to be - because we will have now a president who is from the people, cares about the people, and wants the people of our country to prosper, rather than setting up phony wars in foreign countries so that his friends can prosper from the sale of war materiel.

Good bye, George. We'll always think of you this way, when we do think of you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Figure this one out!

During the Ravens game (yes, they lost to the irksome Steelers and will have to settle for watching the Super Bowl at home this year) there was an ad for some IBM computer doohickey that has the ability to perform 150,000 computations per second for every man, woman and child on this earth, plus Little Richard.

Two questions arise immediately, as questions will.

One - who needs that many computations done per second? Take your time with these things! There are 86,400 seconds per day (a computation that took me well over a second, and I was using the calculator on the desktop) and that would come to 12,960,000,000 computations, at that crazy rate. Plus tax. Who, I say, who needs that much math-in-a-hurry?

B - if you look at my desk calendar from, I think it was last October, you will see a computation actually performed by me in the space clearly marked for "Next Month's Planning". I wasted valuable November planning space to add 49 and 12 and come up with 61. Later when I saw this, I figured I should have been able to perform this simple arithmetic in my head, and then I thought of all the calculator and calendar people whose very livelihood depends on my ciphering!

12,960,000,000 computations per day. What for? Somebody hip me, dude!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Big doin's in Baltimore today!

Today in Baltimore, President-elect Obama came into town on a railroad car and drew a very large crowd of well-wishers downtown at War Memorial Plaza. Police crowd estimators estimated that the crowd numbered 30,000, which by coincidence was also the amount of police on duty. They just buddied up, one cop to one spectator, and everyone got along fine.

Baltimore's mayor, Sheila Dixon, currently under indictment for theft and various other charges, was not on the dais with the other dignitaries, but was seen at the edge of the crowd.

Herhonor used to be a school teacher, and I wonder if she is as perturbed as I by the constant refrain from locals with TV cameras pointed at their uvulae that this is a "historical" day. It is a historic day. "Historical" means of, relating to, or having the character of history. The Caine Mutiny is a historical novel, being based on events in history. War and Peace is a historic novel.

Or, to get more to the point, if an anthropologist came to town and, while digging up an old privy, found Lincoln's cell phone, that digging would be historical. The cell phone that Lincoln carried that fateful night at Ford's Theatre would be historic.

What? when? oh.

In the Lincoln story, please substitute "jack knife" for cell phone, but daggone if I can see how he was able to send and receive texts over a knife.

Also in the big town tonight, our landmark Senator Theatre
gave a shoutout to the Ravens on their famous marquee:

Go RAVENS indeed! Beat Pittsburgh, and then we won't have to hear any more about those sandwiches up there that just look so good to those of us in carb deprivation.

Enjoy the game!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

ripped right out of my Facebook - 25 things about me

1 - I have voted in every election since 1972 and I have never once pulled a lever, connected a line or marked an X in a square for a Republican. And I promise you, I never will.

2. - When I was a kid I wanted to be a radio dj and so I was one.

3. - I consider that I have had two lives, and the "real" one began the day I met Peggy.

4. - I love to read The New Yorker cover to cover every week.

5. - I hate the selfish way some people drive, especially running red lights and entering the Beltway without so much as slowing down to await their turn.

6. - I believe that a pit beef sandwich is always a great lunch.

7. - I dislike any fabric that isn't 100% cotton, or wool for outerwear. Polyester is like wrapping up in Saran Wrap.

8. - I love grocery shopping and always have. It goes without saying that I love groceries. One of the reasons I wanted my license in high school was to be able to do the weekly shopping for the family at the A & P.

9. - I do not mind attending funerals and visiting the bereaved in funeral parlors. It means a lot and takes, what, fifteen minutes out of your day.

10. - Even if no one on this earth read my blog, I would still write it every day, because it feels good to express myself on a regular basis.

11. - It still thrills me to know that with a computer and internet access, one can read almost anything, learn about almost everything, peruse history, art, science and the very tenets of our culture, and still send to friends pictures of naked fornicators in vats of molasses.

12. - It also thrills me to know that with a scanner and printer, any home has the equivalent of a Xerox machine, and so there's no more need to run to the drugstore with a quarter to get a copy of Aunt Edna's peanut brittle recipe ( made with molasses.)

13. - I love old honky-tonky country music and the best of Modern Country - from Roy Acuff to Kid Rock, from Loretta Lynn to Taylor Swift. I also am a huge fan of the late 60's band LOVE.

14. - I still think Britney Spears is cute as a bug but I don't like her music at all.

15. - I have Seasonal Affective Disorder in reverse - I love cold weather a billion times more than warm, and sunny spring days leave me wishing for sleet.

16. - I am nowhere near as obsessive/compulsive as I once was but tardiness and poor grammar still cheese me off.

17. - I love driving my pick-'em-up truck.

18. - There is nothing quite so endearing as a smile from a small child. They are so guileless and honest; you know they mean it when they give you a grin.

19. - I sent a photo message on Wednesday at 6 PM and it showed up in a friend's cell inbox on Friday at 6 AM. Someone please tell me where this message spent 36 hours, apparently discorporated and naught but a pile of space pixels.

20. - I wear red sox every day in tribute to two great Americans: Garrison Keillor and Studs Terkel.

21. - Keith Olbermann is one of the most admirable people in America.

22. - How does it come that kids today can't ride in a car without a multimedia sound and sight sensation to stimulate them?

23. - Do teenagers still go mooning? Does anyone even know what mooning is any more?

24. - The young ladies who serve the chow where my mother lives are among the most patient saints on this earth.

25. - I love seeing what's up with friends on Facebook.

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's For You

In case anyone is wondering, I changed the font color this week from this to this because Baltimore is painting the town purple in support of the Ravens!

It's been a long time since I worked at 911, and I worked there for a long, long time. So long, in fact, that when I began, the number to call was CMXI!

But seriously, folks. 911 is an odd place to work, if only because the hours tend to be slightly irregular. Nights, weekends, holidays, snow days, ballgame days, relatives' birthdays - 911 is always open and staffed (which might have been a surprise to the occasional caller who'd call just before midnight, and when the operator answered, they would say "Oh! You're still open!")

The way it worked when I was there, every couple of weeks, your "weekend" changed. Meaning, you'd be off Sunday and Monday for a while, and then Saturday and Sunday, and then Friday and Saturday, and on down the line. The worst thing of all was when your "days" were Wednesday and Thursday, because then your Monday was everyone else's Friday, and what's worse than hearing all that TGIF commotion all around you when, inside, you're moaning OMGIM?

But...being off during the day, and going to work early in the morning so as to be home in the afternoon, pays off in one way known only to those who live by odd hours: participation in the grand game known as "Surprise 'Em!"

You know how you get home at dinner time and go through the phone messages: the entreaties from charities, the reminders from doctors, dentists and massage parlors about your upcoming appointments, and notifications from Barnes and Noble that the book ("My Top 10 Sure-Fire Diet Tips" by O. Winfrey) you ordered has arrived? The people from whom you've received messages all called, hoping like crazy that you weren't home! They have a standard script that they follow, and they rattle it off with great ease. They call, get your machine
, wait for the beep, and they're off to the races.

Until. Someone. Answers.

Then it's "Oh! HELL-oooooo! Didn't think anyone was home!!! (flustered, flustered, what did I want to tell him? Oh yeah...) This is the law firm of Brown and Serve, calling to remind you, you have an appointment to have your will revised this 11 am at Friday...oh I mean this Friday at 11 am...ok then; we'll see you then!" (hang up hang up! before he asks any questions!)

It's often been pointed out that it doesn't take much to amuse me. The preceding was offered as a case in point.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Say hello to Finley!

My great niece is here - younger sister to the adorable twins Preslee and Mason! Shake hands with Finley Clark Beynon, as sweet a little slice of honey cake as ever there was! That's my mom, who just became a great-grandmom for the fifth time. It never gets old, falling in love with babies. And here we see Peggy, greatest of all great aunts and wives: I tell you, from here on in in this family, we're gonna have cake every year on January 14th! Say alllllllllll right!!!!!

Here are the proud papa and marvelous mama, Drew and Laura:(it is impossible to get a bad picture of these guys!)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mark's Thoughts - blog entry #200

My favorite foreign accent - Scottish. I love the burrrrrrrrrr when they speak. We once waited in line to meet singer Sheena Easton at a gym near here so I could hear her speak and watch her sign her name on a photo...What's with Parade Magazine always referring to people as, for example, the singer Josh Groban or the actor Brad Pitt? Are they the only people plying their trades any longer? You mean there is only one singer left singing?..While I'm asking, what's with Parade Magazine in general?..Is there a happier clothing circumstance than having to go down to the cellar to find the leather punch to put a new hole in your belt because the belt is now too doggone big!?!...What says "Modern America" better than leaving a Sticky Note on the dash of your hybrid automobile reminding you to pick up some pre-cooked bacon at the Pay-No-More?...Broiled ground chicken patty sandwiches rule! No more beefburgers for me as long as they make chipotle sauce to add zest...How come it took so long for the makers of pickup trucks to add locking toolboxes and fold-away steps to their beds? Brilliant idea, Detroit (Or Tokyo?)...We have entered into the 20th anniversary year of The Simpsons, whose debut on FOX in December of 1989 marked a new way to laugh for two decades now,and counting...Have we raised an entire generation of teenagers who are so well-insulated that, even on the coldest days, all they need is a hoody? Gone are the days of kids waiting for the school bus wearing huge puffy down jackets that made them resemble pineapples or hand grenades, 12-foot scarves, and stocking caps with pom-poms on top. Global warming or fashion sense? You make the call!..I wonder what the breakdown is, the percentage of how many of us watch - and how many don't - when we're being needlestuck for a blood sample. I don't mind that, and I have had spinal taps and cortisone injections with a needle so long that the doctor had to stand in the next room to hit the plunger, but you come near me with a dental needle and I freak...I have to go floss time!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gonna be the death of me yet

A friend told us that her grandmother had passed away, and we attempted to say things that would make her feel better, but she was too much in shock about the death and its ramifications on the family to hear words of consolation right now.

Understandable. Death is not easy to handle, especially when you're just reaching the age of majority and you haven't much experience with it just yet. And in this case, there seem to be other repercussions to resound within her family - who will take in the uncle who used to live with the grandmother, and so forth.

In much the way that the same time a young couple is planning a wedding is a very hard time for them also to begin life together as a married couple, having to go through a family funeral is a very tough thing for people to do while they are in mourning for their loved one. That's why it's nice for friends and neighbors to show up with a tub o'chicken or a baked ham or a cake or casserole at these times.

And, please,visit at the funeral home! Some people are really freaked out at the thought of entering one, but as someone who remembers the stream of friends and kin and loved ones coming by to offer a hug or handshake when my father died, I can tell you, it means a lot...if for no other reason than to reassure the bereaved that life goes on and they will not go through it alone.

When I was thirteen, I was expected to die from some sort of mystery illness - something in the encephalitis/meningitis area had me down for the count. In those days, there didn't seem to be so much concentration on the emotional needs of the patient, so a doctor came in and rather matter-of-factly informed me and my parents that I might not make it through that night. A priest came in and prepared to give me the last rites, but I told him that I wasn't Catholic. I guess he had dealt with that a few times, because he had a ready answer:

"Son, it can't hurt."

SO as you can plainly see, I lived through that night and the many thousand between then and now. Along the way I developed a sense that I was sort of playing on free bonus time, so I have tried to find as much happiness as I could for myself and for those around me. There will come a day when it's too late to tell someone you love them, and I'd just as soon have them know that I did, in case they leave unexpectedly.

Read this woman's brave story (page 25) and see what I mean. We all have a rendezvous with death at some disputed barricade, to quote an old poem, and it's just better to make life pleasant until we reach that point - and for our friends to help our survivors cope.

I promise to write about something a little more cheery tomorrow. This blog reflects what's on my mind, which is usually a place of mirth. Enjoy your day!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Separated at birth?

Zach "Scut Farkas" Ward

Harry "Prince Harry" Harry long as we're doing Fun Foto Monday, maybe a picture of a polar bear in a tree will make it snow here in tropical Baltimore!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

As I write this, I am looking forward to the premiere tonight on NBC (ding-DING-dong) of “Howie Did It,” starring Howie Mandel and his pranks.

Howie started out as a carpet salesman in Canada, and everyone told him he was so doggone funny, so he became a comedian and always seemed to bubble just beneath the peak of success in that field. I understand that show business is a puzzling little world in which one can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and still not be considered successful.

Robin Williams is considered successful, but to me, he is about as funny as last week’s grocery list. Nothing is worse than forced humor, and forcing is all Robin is about. All of his fake voices sound vaguely the same, and his observations seem wry but really aren’t. But he acts in movies, dolling himself up to play Mrs. Doubtfire or a teacher or a goofy doctor, and he always seems like the guy you work with who just can’t stop making with the banter at lunch, when all you want to do is chomp down on your Ramen noodles and maybe watch a little bit of Victor Newman’s latest. (These people are still trotting out Conehead jokes from 30 years ago!) But I am way down in the minority on this RW thing. Most people find him as funny as I find Albert Brooks, and most people don’t like Albert Brooks so much.

Howie Mandel used to do things such as performing in the round at one of those theaters with a revolving stage, and then, when someone left their seat to go to the bathroom, he’d have everyone in the arena get up and switch seats, so when the person came back, well, you get the rest. Or he’d cover up his head with a surgical glove! (Editor’s note: The man writing this also thinks that anything that Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera and their “Jackass” gang ever did is gut-bustingly hilarious.) For those who fancy hi-school hi-jinx, Howie once impersonated a member of the local school board where he was attending high school and hired a construction company to build an addition onto the school. That’s epic. (He was expelled by the really humorless members of the real school board.) And he was the creator and played several starring parts in the great cartoon “Bobby’s World.”

And Howie did some groundbreaking work in the area of introducing feminine hygiene products into the world of family comedy.

But, funny as he is, I guess he was tired of treading water when NBC offered him the slot as quizmaster on that dumb show where you guess which briefcase has a big pile of moolah. No skill, no knowledge, no brains, no judgment, no experience beyond daisy-petal picking is required. Howie gets a call from some game official off-stage and dickers with the contestant, whose family and friends shout encouragement while they furrow their brow and decide which briefcase holds their fortune (or lack thereof.) I just know that Howie, with his genius comedic mind, has a million clever comebacks and gags to share, but he is constrained by his employers to play it straight.

It’s like having Martha Stewart or Emeril Lagasse come over and offer to cook something, and all you ask them for is oatmeal. How odd that all Howie’s genius went comparatively unrewarded, while he is making money and garnering great fame hosting this TV giveaway show.

I think we know Howie did it. Can’t wait to see him do it!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Things that it is time to do!

  • Take down the McCain/Palin signs from yards, barns and fences where they remain, two months since the election and scant days before the inauguration of the new president. Ever notice that you see more campaign signs for those who lost after the election than for those who won? With no hanging chads to pull victory out of the grasp of defeat, the vanquished can only look back to the halcyon days of ’00, and look how well that worked out for us all!
  • Stop using “Amy Winehouse” as the punchline, Jay, Dave, Craig and Conan, for every joke where the payoff requires the comic to fill in the blank “currently dissolute celebrity.” All that “I’m not saying she’s a substance abuser, but blah blah blah” just is not so funny any more, plus Ms Winehouse is fast joining the Zsa Zsa league of people who are famous for being famous. Can you name one of her songs?
  • Decide! right now! about whether or not to watch American Idol – the season premiere is next week, and once again, I’m in for a penny, in for a pound, or whatever it is that the English say. From the ridiculous also-sangs at the beginning, to the cheesy drama of the Hollywood week vote-offs, to the coronation of the winner, I’m down with it all the way.
  • Reconnect. My mom used to have a couple of sayings that she used all the time. One of them was, “Mark, put those records away, and go learn to do something useful!” and the other was “Make new friends, and keep the old: one is silver and the other, gold." Well, I am happily finding a lot of silver-and-gold-haired oldtime friends on Facebook and online and it’s always so great to spark up conversation about good times old and new.
  • Find out why the current vogue is to have an Australian-sounding accent in radio and TV commercials. Sure, that Geico gecko is as cute as all-get-out, but lately I hear spots while I’m in the shower (which is better than seeing spots while I’m driving) and the guy is droning on like Switchblade McGee or whatever that Aussie guy’s name was who made two movies and went back down under. This accent-man is talkin’ abou’ a Cybuh-knaife, which will enable modern medicine to make great strides in their war against distended duodena…but why not just a regular neutral accent? (I just remembered: it was Crocodile Dundee. For two movies.)
  • For that matter, let’s find out why so many people who own their own businesses – or are the CEO or COO or COO-COO of someone else’s – insist on doing their own commercials. Sure, I used to be a professional DJ/announcer, and made some side money recording commercials and industrial safety films (“So…let’s review what we’ve learned so far. Ingots are hot – no bare hands!”) but it’s no skin off my teeth if amateurs cut the ads. But they aren’t so good at it, for the most part, any more than I would be good as the Chief Jet Engine Inspector for some firm. So, announcers announce, and business leaders lead businesses, and let’s leave it that way, please.
  • Take a Whopper Virgin to lunch at McDonald’s. Keeps ‘em guessing!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mr Science Guy

Science is our friend. Remember hearing that in school? Sure, the math teacher could always claim that you'd need to work with fractions at some point in your life, and a barely-rudimentary knowledge of history and geography has helped some people do well in their chosen fields, but the poor guy wearing the shabby lab coat had to work extra hard to convince a bunch of 7th-graders that there was any value in figuring out how much water a vessel would displace, or the wonders of photosynthesis. I do recall enjoying the lab sessions where we got to work it out with the bunsen burner.

But here's a guy who took science and made something we can all appreciate. Next time you're pouring a cold beer down your neck, how about a little shout out for Dr Raul Cano!

Some years ago, Cano figured out a way to extract DNA from an ancient Lebanese weevil entombed in amber, just like in Jurassic Park. This was the first evidence that really old DNA could be preserved and used, which must have excited lawyers who salivated over the chance at digging up old paternity suits from people long since departed.

He was just warming up, getting ready to do something really useful as the director of the Environmental Biotechnology Institute at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

He found a yeast strain that is between 25 million and 45 million years old and makes beer with it! His company - a sideline that doesn't yet seem to threaten Anheuser-Busch in sales - is known as Fossil Fuels Brewing Co. A native Cuban, Cano recalls happy Havana days sipping his dad's cerveza and gets to relive those days by making his own microbrew.

That yeast is even older than some of the hot dog rolls at the ballpark. I offer them this free advertising slogan: "Let's stop off for an old one!"

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

'Stressed' spelled backwards is 'desserts'

Just as the din from our holiday revelry ceases, our nation bows its collective head and weeps bitter tears for a tragedy so ineffable, so..well, so tragic, that we mortals can but bow and weep.

has gained weight.

In other news, Rod Blagojevich might be in trouble.

The national obsession with Oprah's weight puzzles me. I thought we were all working toward a newer consciousness where people were to be valued for their contributions and judged by their honor. She is doing her job and people seem to like her a whole lot, so who cares if she puts on a few extra lbs.?

Larry King, the sage to whom a troubled nation turns in troubled times, convened a panel tonight on his show. Comprising Oprah's spiritual adviser, physical trainer, and medical expert, the panel spoke of Oprah and her thyroid trouble and her vitamin D deficiency and her ceaseless quest to help us all Lead Our Best Lives. One of them piped up with his theory that Oprah is eating more because she is stressed. He knew what to do to help, just as he always has.

But you know what? Peggy made a point so plangent that I had to turn and run up here to the den to blog it up at once. My wonderful and astute wife pointed out that Elvis was also surrounded by a retinue of advisers, telling him how wonderful he was, do this, do that, take this "supplement," eat this, perform here, good bye E.
Peggy notes that Elvis and Oprah were/are both masters of performance, perfectly capable of giving an audience their best at all times, yet less than stellar at taking care of themselves, depending instead on a coterie of coaches who may or may not be on the up and up. This upset Peggy, who values Oprah highly.

So Oprah, AS IF you'd ever stumble down my dim avenue in Blogolopolis, please pull it together by yourself. You don't need advisers, you don't need gurus, you don't need anyone but yourself to say the words we all need to remember: eat less and exercise more. Don't be duped by the smooth talkers and charlatans. Elvis's birthday draws near. Heed well the advice he sends from beyond!

If I get any more philosophical and theological, Rick Warren will invite me to take his place at the Inauguration!

Tomorrow: more lousy jokes and petty rants!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Shame upon shame

You wanna know something that I think is really a doggone shame? It's how American tragedies grow barnacles, and then other sad things attach themselves thereunto.

John Travolta and his wife suffered an incalculable loss last week. Their 16-year-old son, Jett, died. We know that much for sure. We don't know, nor are we really entitled to know, just how it happened, all the details, all the who-did-whats and whens. Media reports are speculating on what sort of developmental disorder the young man may or may not have had, whether said disorder contributed to his demise, and whether appropriate measures were taken to try to save him.

I've spent enough time in hospital emergency rooms for myself ("Well, Doc, it was like this.") and with others ("Well, Doc, she said it was like this.") and I have never seen any citizens going from bed to bed in the ER, quizzing doctors and families about the care being given to people who are strangers to them. But we feel qualified to speak of - to question - the circumstances surrounding this untimely demise.

John Travolta is an entertainer; his work in that vein is enjoyed by millions. His wife is in the same line of work, to somewhat lesser acclaim. When the firefighting movie "Ladder 49" was being filmed in Baltimore ("shot", as we Hollywood insiders say), Travolta and his coterie set up shop here in eastern Baltimore County, and he made himself available for a lot of people for a lot of causes. He socialized with the locals, showed up at firehouse functions, and did some charity events - partly to promote the movie, but more because he just seems like a very nice man. His religion, his beliefs, the way he lives with his wife and children are so not any of our business that it's stunning to see what you'll see when you click here.

I stumbled across this online, and it would seem that Billy Ray Cyrus, father to Miley of teen pop fame, offered his condolences to the Travoltas and is being rewarded with a barrage of comments about his sincerity, intelligence, and right to speak on the matter.

One wants to assemble all the people who wrote these crackpot (for the most part) emails about Travolta, Cyrus, and their families, and recommend that they go read a book, experience a poem, view a sunset or a snowy pine tree, share a real feeling, fall deeply in love, send a thank-you note to someone who did them a favor...anything but continue to peck away at a keyboard like crows on carrion. Someone died. His parents are in mourning. That's all we know, and all we need to know.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Any Given Sunday

There's a lot about the National Football League to quibble over...from the intensely dissected peep-show referee reviews to the clothing police who roam the sidelines making sure that no player reveals even a hint of calf or no coach wears anything that doesn't sport the logo of the league's official clothing supplier (name rhymes with "Pea-cok.")

But doggone it, when the playoffs are here, the whole town gets all worked up. Even grownups extend Halloween into January and wear the replica jerseys of their favorites to work or wherever. It's important to accessorize, so sometimes just a little added adornment shows your loyalty. A dab of color and some judiciously-applied beadwork helps define one's image.

We're Baltimore Ravens fans here, if all the purple doesn't give it away already. We know how sad it is to have your fan heart ripped out by the roots in the middle of the night and how it feels to go without a team for 12 long years. It says a lot about Baltimore that the Colts Marching Band continued to play and practice for those 12 years. It also says a lot about Baltimore that people name their kids after football stars, so that now and again you will meet a man in his late 40s with a name like Alan Ameche Goldstein or Gino Marchetti O'Hoolahan, and I predict that soon we will add Ray Lewis Finnerty and Edwina Reed Packwood to our town citizenry.

Funny how one can draw comparisons to the musical "The Music Man," which demonstrated how an entire community can be unified and energized, even by an abstract concept such as a marching band that doesn't really exist. Even people who aren't noted for an interest in sports get into football at this time of the year. The Ravens won today and so they advance in the playoffs, with their next game to be played Saturday afternoon in Tennessee. You can bet (oops) that between now and then, thousands of purple T-shirts, camo pants and caps will be sold, thousands of cheers for the likes of Ed Reed
and Ray Lewis will be launched skyward, and lots of hearts will be made gladder. If your team isn't in the playoffs this year, I invite you to share our adrenalin lift. Next year will be your turn (not valid in Indianapolis, IN.)

It's fun!