Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Feel This

I am a big fan of euphemisms, and also of saying things in another less offensive or more agreeable way. It's like saying, "I have to go powder my nose" instead of the more mature, "I have to go to Tinkletown now." Or used cars being referred to as "pre-owned" or small cooking areas being "step-saver kitchens" or drunk people being "three sheets to the wind." Or "tipsy."

But two expressions in particular keep popping up and I think it's time we talked about them. But first, this classic from my childhood:

Grandmother: "There are two words I wish you wouldn't use. One is 'swell' and the other is 'lousy'.

Grandson: "OK, what are they?"

I never claimed that my childhood was funny. Oh but it was. Anyhoo, I love it when people say "she slept with him." Or "Don't say anything, Madge, but I think that Frank and Edna are sleeping together."

Frank and Edna can sleep together all they want and do nothing wrong, except for Frank's snoring. Really! What's the problem of sleeping with someone if sleeping is all that takes place? Frankly, Edna, I could use more sleep myself, so shove over a little, would you?

People only say this because they are not all grown up and everything like you and I are. We mature individuals are able to look at the sexuality of two individuals making the free choice to come together in the conjugal sense and speak of it in proper terms. We say, "They're doing the hanky-panky" or "the horizontal hop." We are all proper like that.

The other term that amuses me seems to exist mainly on television dramas. "I have feelings for him," "she has feelings for her ex," "I still have feelings for Chenise." Who talks like that in real life? No one I know says that. Do you know anyone who says they "have feelings" for someone? No. We say,"I dig" so-and-so, "I'm into Warren" or "I can't stand that sonofa..." but we don't drag feelings into it. And the term is sort of indefinite. I might very well have "feelings" for someone, but they might not be so positive. I have feelings for Timothy McVeigh, but his tarnished memory will not be the better for hearing about them! It's better to be more precise, and say "I love that woman" or "I don't care for your Aunt Mildred."

Just don't hurt anyone's feelings when you do!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

He Got Carded

Well, here it is, almost April, so it's time to plan for the summer vacation once again. In Maryland, we gravitate to the beach. I have talked to people who grew up in the middle of the nation, 1500 miles from an ocean, and when you hear their tales of cramped, buggy, accommodations at Flyfish Lake, you almost want to throw a fundraiser and help them trek eastward to one of our ocean resorts. I mean, where do you go for vacation if you live in Indianapolis, for crying out loud? Fostoria, Ohio?

I was working with this guy once and reading a baseball card with the likeness of onetime Oriole pitcher Grant
Jackson. The back of the card bore the fascinating information that Jackson hailed from Fostoria, Ohio. The guy I worked with claimed that he had been to Fostoria at one time and that the "world's deepest hole" was located there. I filed this information away for over thirty years until this morning, when I went to verify it for this blog entry about vacations.

Because that would be something I would really love to see, the world's deepest hole.

But Google, Bing, WebCrawler, and have no mention of Fostoria having the world's deepest hole. There is some sort of big deal for train buffs, but no giant crevasse.

Peggy, it looks like another trip to the beach this summer. Can't wait. Fostoria will have to. Because someone lied to me about the world's deepest hole. And I fell for it, or in it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lawn Boy

I've been cutting the lawn for a long time now. (You'd think I'd be finished!)

But what I mean is, when I was a kid, I was out there cutting away on my parents' yard, and as a homeowner I have been the guy out there with the "paramour" (as we say in Balamerese) once or twice a week, April through November, all the time.

Our first lawn, I took care of that like a doting daddy. I fertilized, planted trees and shrubs, weeded like a maniac, and devoted hour after hour for many years to having the lawn manicured and looking sharp.

Funny thing happened when we moved. I felt like my first love had left me, and in 11 years at the current Lazy 'C' Ranch here, I have never gotten into lawn care at all, feeling like this is an arranged marriage between two unwilling partners. And the yard shows it; there are weeds, dandelions, the occasional bare patch, and who cares?

Meanwhile, the guy who bought the old house from the people who bought it from us turns out to be a guy from my high school class - and someone else I know bought his old house, this being Baltimore and all. I drive by there from time to time and see my forsythia, my hollies, my red oaks towering majestically. I should have planted a willow so that someone would weep with me.

But this year, with my back problems and the possibility of either surgery or more giant needles, I have decided to turn over the grass-cutting chores to someone else. So we are hiring the guy who does our neighbor's yard. I guess he can just keep right on cutting and make one big job of it all.

Maybe someday I will get back into it, so for now I am not throwing away the collection of cut-off sweatpants, ratty t-shirts and grass-stained socks of which my lawn care wardrobe was comprised.

I don't think I will miss cutting the lawn. I'll let you know in November.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

( )

Someone told me once that I live my life as if I worry that someone in Indiana might not know how I feel about everything. OK, so I'm self-expressive. I have never understood the reluctance of many people to say what's on their mind, e.g. "I really hate veal, but they were all ordering veal and I didn't want to make a thing of it so I just went along with the crowd.."

Or, conversely, "I never got the chance to tell Stanley that I enjoyed his sense of humor, and now that he's been bifurcated in that sawmill mishap, I guess I'll never have the chance to."

You don't like veal, don't get veal. You like Stanley's quips and bons-mots, tell him. That big sawmill blade is a-whirrin' for all of us, somewhere.

Which leads me to this: Woody Allen described mime as the only spectator event that an acquaintance of his could enjoy, outside of a fire.

I'm doubly so. Even if there were a fire and the firefighters showed up in harlequin
mime getups and pretended to pull hose lines, hit a hydrant and pour water on the inferno, I would not get the point of mime. Why on earth would one spend time learning to fake spreading out a picnic blanket, or being trapped in a glass cube, or going down steps, when it's just as easy to spread out a real picnic blanket, not be caught in a glass cube, and walk down real stairs if necessary?

Mime fans lining up to straighten me out on a few things, say hello to the others in line ahead of you: NASCAR spectators, Palin supporters, people who think proper grammar and spelling are unnecessary outmoded concepts and gun advocates. Please take a number.
Current waiting time is more than 15 minutes.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Don't Give Your Daughter a Stripper Name

According to this report on NPR, the 4'11" woman formerly known as Colleen LaRose - which sounded like a fake name to begin with - started calling herself Jihad Jane out of some need for a thrill, a need to feel as if she belonged somewhere. Stuck in a leafy Philadelphia suburb, where she could just as easily have spent her time eating cheesesteaks and hot pretzels and rooting for the Phillie Phanatic (the one on the left) , she instead chose to become another sort of fanatic.

The story goes on to say that the Muslim extremists who run these terror organizations used to attract members out of a sense of religious loyalty, but when recruitment lagged, as it will tend to do when the main promise is that you get to be a teenaged martyr, they turned to selling the excitement and thrillride of running around bombing things and causing mayhem, all in the name of a cause.

Ms LaRose was formerly a resident of Texas, where she was arrested on DWI charges. Hmmmmm. Sounds familiar.

But, for real, she just seems like a loose nut who went a little buggy, having to stay home and care for her boyfriend's ailing father, so she went and got on the internet. Unsatisfied with the offerings of Craigslist, Amazon and Hulu, she found her way onto terrorist websites and enlisted in their cause, even going so far as to become involved in a plot to murder a Swedish cartoonist who once drew a picture of the prophet Muhammad that enraged the Islamic community, or at least those who weren't already mad because Marmaduke
isn't in the comic section any more.

It doesn't really seem that Jihad Jane was mad at this cartoonist, or that she had any particular ax to grind. She was looking for something to do, something with a little excitement. Perhaps this Muslim extremism was the first thing she stumbled upon while websurfing. Philadelphia is the city where Ben Franklin started the first volunteer fire company in America! She might just as easily gotten involved as a volunteer firefighter or EMT, or a Meals On Wheels volunteer, or a reading aide at an elementary school, or driving people physically unable to do so to work or church or the Bag 'N' Save, or a local recreation leader. That last one comes with a lanyard
and whistle...pretty sweet!

Disaffected people, wandering lonely as clouds, suddenly finding appeal in banding together with like-minded individuals to push for a cause they only started to believe in when someone told them that they should, and against principles and laws that they might not understand or know much about...not my cup of tea.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lot's wife's favorite song: "Turn Around, Look At Me"

Those who are on the road must have a code that you can live by, said David Crosby, a man who obviously has lived his life by following codes, laws, rules and regulations at all times. For us early-morning commuters who are on the road before 7, there are several principles at work on the way to work. F'rinstance:

- - It's ok to be singing along aloud really loudly with the windows up. Particularly at stop lights, the sight of a would-be Wayne Newton or fake Fiona in the next car over is ok, but the sound might not be, so windows up, Idol runners-up!

- - Turn signals, please. We really need to know your immediate plans if you are just ahead of us, and since most of us don't have ESP, your blinking taillight that signals your intention at the coming intersection is really a plus.

- - Also, it is nice to have some intention when you get to the light. Yes, the radio antics of the Morning Lunatic Asylum Bunch on K96.3 are compelling. As Bart Simpson said, their cruelty and profanity amuse us all. And schlurping on that foamy latte, well, just ask any Freudian why so many enjoy that caffeinated thrill. Many spent the 38 seconds at a red light adjusting their makeup, breaking out the mascara wand, straightening their ties, adding new apps to their i-Phone, rehearsing their sales pitch for the big meeting with Linoleum Inc later on, and some even use the time to do their transcendental meditation or throw the I Ching. But, when the light turns green, it's time to put those pursuits aside for a little bit and motorvate!

- - When you live on a main road, not a cul-de-sac, court, Trail or Way, you have to expect a lot of traffic to be going by your house in the morning. However, in due consideration of the problems you already have just living on a street that is no stranger to car chases, car crashes and car noises, we, the early morning drivers, hereby grant that it's ok for you to come out on the lawn wearing whatever costume you choose to sleep in to get the paper. We bestow the status of invisibility upon you, so go ahead, bend over and pick up the SUN. (If someone wishes to submit that last half of that sentence to the SUN as a suggested advertising slogan, feel free. I also have one for the Orioles as they once again try to start all over again: "We believe in new big innings.") But for real, if you're out there in your slippers that look like two orders of cotton candy, a lacy peignoir and a headscarf, well, just go ahead, mister. Pick up your paper. We ain't looking!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

And you are?

Since about 65% (statistic courtesy of the Republican Budget Office) of the phone calls I get seem to be from people calling on cell phones in gale-force winds, I wind up asking 65% of the people who call me, "Who is this, please?" because hardly anyone ever starts off a conversation with, "Hi, this is Oscar" or, "Hello, Mark, it's Mr Lodge, Veronica's father."
Everyone seems to think their voice is instantly recognizable, and if I might humbly ask that we go back to identifying ourselves to those with whom we are not in frequent phone contact, I'd be happy to do so. Thanks.

Similarly, say you worked with someone in 1978, or met a couple on vacation in the Gilligan Islands some years ago. Do you love it when they walk up to you, all hale and hearty, slapping you on the back and stating that it's GOOD to see you? It's like:

"How you doin', Marky boy? How you hittin' 'em, son? Lookin' gooooooooood! (done in Freddie Prinze, Sr., accent.)"

and the best comeback I can muster is

"Hey, buddy BOY! Whaddya hear; whaddya say? How is...........? "

"Oh, Mildred?! She's fine! We were just saying, we got to call Mark and Peggy and get together with those two nuts!"

And it's at that moment that I get this "Wonder Years" voice in my head saying that this guy remembers our home address, phone number, cell number, old work number, new work number and rental bowling shoe size.

If only he could remember to say, "Hey, Mark! I'm Jim Shortz, good to see you again..." we'd be off and running.

Otherwise, I'm the only one running, and I can't run fast enough.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rough Idol

I'm a big fan of American Idol - have been for years - but am I alone in thinking that something is missing this year, something that makes the whole show seem sort of, lackluster? I don't know.

The nattering back and forth between Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest used to be amusing, until you read that Cowell makes about $149,000 per second to sit there and glower in the English manner. And Seacrest seems to have 47 jobs, so is his heart still in this one?

Kara DioGuardi, they say you have written a lot of songs, but I don't think I know any of them, and I wonder how objective you are, when you get all googly-eyed over that guy from Texas.

Randy Jackson, to his credit, has not mentioned once lately that he "used to play in Journey," and that's good, because he was not in the famous version of that band. Outside of calling everyone dawg and saying that what they did is dope, I don't get much from his critique either!

Which leaves me voting those four people off and thanking Ellen DeGeneres for being there. She is a real pro at entertaining people, and moreover, she really seems to be enjoying her time with these young people, some of whom can really sing, and some of whom will be back home any day now.

Any chance of calling Alexis Grace back to make things more interesting?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Comity Channel

Watching the Health Care Reform debate the other night, I couldn't help but be stirred by the references made to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy ("Theodore," as he was called by our local FOX affiliate). Sen. Kennedy devoted his life to the fight for justice and reform, and more's the shame that his valiant fight against cancer was lost before he was able to see this day arrive.

His works live on.

But I had to do a double take as tanned, athletic House Minority Leader John Boehner spoke on the floor of the house and said that this vote would end "comity" in the halls of Congress. One had to listen to C-SPAN radio or watch C-SPAN to understand that no atmosphere of mutual respect or civility exists in those halls. Time after time, the acting speaker would pound one out on his gavel and say, "The House will come to order!"

Or not.

He didn't mean to say that anything would ever end comedy in Congress, even though he sort of put a soft "t'' in ''comity.'' I love to hear congresspersons proclaim that they yield 45 seconds of their allotted time to "the distinguished gentleman from Wyoming." I love it when Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D, D.C) gets up to speak, as I holler "Nawwwtin!" in tribute to the real Ed Norton.

Some people reach for things on the very top shelves of this grocery store we call life just to show how tall they are. Some run from place to place to show how fast they are. And of course, some of our fellow citizens just can't restrain themselves from shouting out nasty things, to show how foolish they are.

From the Associated Press:

House Minority Leader John Boehner, speaking on Meet the Press, said the anti-gay and racial epithets directed at Democratic members of Congress Saturday were "reprehensible."

Hundreds of protesters rallied at the Capitol on Saturday, chanting "kill the bill." Some protesters confronted members as they walked between their offices and the Capitol.

The Associated Press gave this account from Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind.

Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., told a reporter that as he left the Cannon House Office Building with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a leader of the civil rights era, some among the crowd chanted "the N-word, the N-word, 15 times." Both Carson and Lewis are black, and Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones also said that it occurred.

"It was like going into the time machine with John Lewis," said Carson, a large former police officer who said he wasn't frightened but worried about the 70-year-old Lewis, who is twice his age. "He said it reminded him of another time."

The Washington Post said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., was the target of anti-gay slurs.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who followed Boehner on Meet the Press, called the protesters who made anti-gay and racial comments "a handful of people who just got stupid."

"As leader Boehner said that's reprehensible," Steele said. "We do not support that."

And neither do I, and I agree with Messrs. Steele and Boehner on this. But I have to quibble...I don't think these are people who "just" got stupid. I think they got that way a long, long time ago, is what I think.

Monday, March 22, 2010

By the rules

I guess it's getting to be that time of year when people are running around looking for prom dates. It's a big deal, held every year, the junior prom, the senior prom, sometimes the junior-senior prom. There's always a theme, such as "Fantasy," "Evening in Paris, " or, down in a little town in Mississippi, "Ill Will Toward Persons of a Differing Sexual Orientation" might do the trick, although you wonder how to festoon the balloons in the gymnasium for that one.

You see, for a lot of the same reasons that people used to keep people of different races out of public events, we now see people of different sexual paths being shunned and shunted off, and I, for the life of me, cannot understand it. Down in Itawamba County, Mississippi, birthplace of Country Music legend Virginia Wynette Pugh, better known as Tammy Wynette, the chicken-fried locals who run the county school board have decided to cancel the spring prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School, rather than allow a lesbian senior to a) wear a tuxedo to the dance and b) bring a female date. You can see the entire lawsuit here, if you wish. Notice that the teachers who wrote the memo delineating the rules for the prom (it was meant to be fun, therefore, there MUST be rules and they WILL be followed) come sooooo very close to spelling hors d' oeuvres right. I mean, just one 's' away! And also I liked how the memo came out on February 5 and said that the tickets must be all paid for by February 5! Talk about pressure. So these teachers don't believe in a) spell check b) proofreading or c) letting other people live their lives as they see fit.

Listen, I can see all sorts of sides to most care reform, gun control, abortion, foreign military intervention. I will usually come down on the liberal side of these debates but I can see, at least, the reasoning and logical structure of the conservative arguments on the other sides. Agree, no, never, but appreciate the logic, yes. But after all these years, I am still waiting for someone to hip me on how it affects the spinning of the earth on its axis if a couple of guys are in love, or a couple of women. To put it more bluntly, how is it any of my consarned business what the gender makeup is of the people down the street or around the corner or 2,000 miles away? Are they not every bit as entitled to their lives together as are Peggy and I?

That's the young woman involved in this brouhaha. Her name is Constance McMillen. I don't see any horns on her, no evil eye or anything, so what's it to any other Itawamban if she brings a female or a male to the prom?

When we were kids, we had several codes of conduct which governed our lives:

I. finders keepers, losers weepers
II. what's it to you?
III. tough beans
IV. mind your own beeswax

I hereby rule that sections II and IV are applicable here. If it was good enough for the tough, rag-tag crowd at the Hampton Elementary School, where we were so tough, we wore tweed pants without underwear, the certain precedents contained herein are deemed to be in force and legally binding, it is ordered.

And another thing.

Kids say the darndest things. I'd say we should listen to them more and listen less to the Itawamba County Adult He-Men School Board Club and Hunting Society. Kids accept each other for what they are. Fools except each other for what they are.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

TV Makes Me Think

With the same intensity that historians use when reviewing the Zapruder footage, I watch Family Guy reruns, always looking for clues to the sweet mystery of this crazy mixed-up salad we call "life."

The episode called "Da Boom," from their early years, took my thoughts to two levels. This one was first shown on the day after Christmas, 1999, and it features the world being destroyed on Y2K and how the Griffin family seeks to restore civilization, which would be sort of like asking that jerk who's married to Sandra Bullock to lead a convocation on the topic of marital fidelity.

After Peter, Lois, Stewie, Chris, Meg and Brian wander through the post-apocalyptic nightmare following the events of January 1, 2000, the show ends with Victoria Principal and Patrick Duffy, in live-action, recreating their famous "It was all a dream, a horrible, horrible dream" scene from "Dallas."

Questions for discussion:

1. Who remembers all the Y2K hysteria/panic/dread/commotion?

2. Who remembers "Dallas"?

3. Who shot J.R.?

4. Was there really a show on which Bing Crosby's daughter shot Mary Martin's son?

5. Who were Bing Crosby and Mary Martin?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Earl of Sandwich

Saturday rerun time!

I've had 'em for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner, and it says here that there is nothing like a BLT.

It really does add quality to your life and a spring to your step. Friends, take this simple test, won't you? Can you name a time in your life that you might have been a bit down or depressed or just feeling run down at the heels, and a BLT wouldn't have helped?

A truly American culinary experience, the humble BLT is so quick to make. Just use some decent bread - save the Wonder bread for Junior's PB & J - and toast it just ever so. A couple of sheets of Romaine, thick juicy tomato slices, bacon, and provolone cheese if you wish, although then you're really having a BLTC, and who wants to mess up a winning formula?

You can even use what I call cheapie bacon- should have called it lazy bacon - that precooked stuff is good enough for me, especially when viewed against the mess of coooking and cleaning up after the real thing is fried.

Vegans and vegetarians can use avocado slices, so they say, or fakey bacon made of soy protein and who knows what-all else?

Your nutritionist wants you to have a BLT right now! It's like a salad, so there's your vegetable group representin', on toast, for a carbalicious treat, with a little sumpin-sumpin' from the pork group.

This is historical fact: no war, real or otherwise, was ever declared in an afternoon by someone who had a BLT for lunch. Have one now, so as not to be declared an impediment to world peace, please.

Friday, March 19, 2010

All on a sunny Wednesday

We live in northeast Baltimore County, which has nothing to do jurisdictionally with Baltimore City. In fact, I go to Baltimore City about as often as I attend NRA meetings, and always with the same amount of dread. More and more, we find ourselves in Harford County, a few miles up the road. It would remind you a lot of the way Baltimore County used to be, back in the day.

The main town in Harford County is Bel Air. The two main roads to get up there from our "neck of the woods" are Harford Road and Bel Air Road. (It's often amusing to newcomers, the way we say to "take 'Blair' Rd to Bel Air," but that's Balamerese for ya, hon).
This geography will come in handy in a bit, should you choose to keep reading. As an enticement, I shall soon mention underwear. As a caveat, I should add that it's my underwear.

The other day, I went for the spinal injections that might just help my back situation. Peggy went with me both as helpful companion and driver-back-home, as the doctor had promised that I would be too hazy to do so. I picked up Peggy from work, we drove to the beautiful new hospital in Bel Air, and we waited in the waiting room.

Also in the waiting room was a guy who was either in such severe pain that he should have reported immediately to the ER, or else he deserves to be an actor and play the part of a patient on the ER tv show, if there still were one. He was a strapping meatloaf of a guy whose walk and facial features showed no pain or impediment, but Lord, did he moan and groan and grumble. He told the receptionist, "I'm not a religious guy, but I've been praying to God for some relief for the past two weeks." His driver was his father, who was paying neither him nor his keening any mind at all. I really thought the guy might throw himself on the floor and start thrashing like who knows what. Peggy decided to talk to the guy and asked him if he had tried those mentholated pain patches which have brought so much relief to so many, primarily the manufactures of mentholated pain patches. I mean, they do some good, but you're only supposed to wear one at a time. I have occasionally violated this rule and worn 1/2 of one on my knee and the other 1/2 on my back, but the guy said to Peggy,"Oh, I've worn as many as 14 of them at one time."

Oh well now, I mean really.

Leaving him and his sighing sobs, I went and had a procedure done that involves sticking needles into my spine. I saw the needles out of the corner of my eye and I wish I hadn't. All I know is, they were so long, the doctor had to be in the next room to push the plunger in. And I got a good laugh by telling the tech, as I lay prone on the operating table, that I was glad I wore my best boxer shorts instead of my leopard-skin thong. She thought that was funny, as she swabbed my dorsal region with antiseptic.

Thanks, I'm here all week, try the veal, and don't forget to tip your waiter: they do work hard for you.

I had noticed a screw sticking out of Peggy's left front tire when we got to the hospital, and since we were right up there near the fabulous Jones Junction Toyota where we bought the car and the tires, we headed down there to have the tire fixed. Just like one of those good news-bad news jokes, they told us that the screw was too close to the sidewall for the tire to be patched.
So they were going to replace the tire for free, since it was covered under road hazard warranty. But they didn't have to, because it was only a tiny bit of the screw that was stuck in the tire and it did not cause a hole. I once committed the grave error of pulling a nail out of a tire to see how long it was. "Hiss!" said the tire, deflating rapidly. "Day-um!" said Mark, doing the same.

Let me stop for a moment to tell you about Jones Junction and why I hope they stay in business way past the day that the only thing I'm riding in is a hearse. I will not buy a vehicle anyplace else. When you deal there, they are honest and forthright with the purchase, the trade-in, all that. When you need service, they will come and pick up your car or lend you a loaner on Saturday. If you choose to wait around, they have popcorn, drinks hot and cold, hot dogs - all free. Saturday, they wheel out a giant grill and do burgers and dogs and it's all free. Women (and I guess men) can have a free manicure while waiting. You might even see the general manager of the whole shebang, Steve Smeltzer, walking around, and you can ask him a question if you need to. I tell you, it's an old-fashioned dealership with modern ways, but they are my dealership for life and always will be. And they sell just about every type of car or truck out there - all the good ones, in any case.

And they wash the car after service - free - even when there's no charge!

On the way home in a freshly-washed Camry, we were coming down the aforementioned Harford Rd when we came upon a volunteer firefighter directing traffic to turn left; there was a wreck just about literally on the county line. We took Reckord Rd over to Belair Rd and were proceeding south as I told Peggy to stay on Belair, avoiding the turn onto New Cut Rd., until we could turn right onto Mt Vista, where it would be easier to hit Harford Rd. "You'd play hell turning left onto Harford off New Cut," I pointed out, and somewhere up above a rumbly voice chuckled.

Approximately 1.3 seconds later, we came upon County police directing traffic at an accident on Belair Rd. The only option was for every single vehicle to hang a U-turn and go back to ..New Cut Rd, where we found ourselves in a traffic jam that immediately put me in mind of the crowd approaching Woodstock in 1969. A short 40 minutes later, a guy appeared out of nowhere, and just before it was our turn to try and play hell with that left turn, this self-appointed traffic cop bravely stood out on Harford Rd and stopped cars both ways. Peggy scooted on toward home, but first we had to stop and drop off my prescription at Walgreens. They prescribed real heavy-duty narcotics for my pain, with a muscle relaxer and even a golden drop of Retsyn in it! You know this is the real stuff - the medicine bottle has a picture of Keith Richards on it. But my Walgreens didn't have it in stock. So, what did the young lady working the drive-thru window say?

a) "Sorry, sir, we don't have that in stock. Let me check and see when it will be available here, or call another store to see where you can have this prescription filled."

b) "We don't have this."
Me -"Where could I go to get it, or when will you have it?"
"I don't know where you can go; we won't have another delivery until a week from tomorrow"
Me again - "But I need this medicine; what can I do?"
" I don't know."

So after this interesting colloquy, I asked if a pharmacist could step to the window, and he did, and he called and found the drug available for me at the Walgreens in Rosedale. He had no way of knowing that the three main roads in Rosedale - Philadelphia Rd, Pulaski Highway, and I-95 would all be the scenes of accidents the very next day, when I went to get the pills, but did you hear that rumbly laugh from above?

Don't tell me that God doesn't have the greatest sense of humor! He certainly should - he invented it and saw to it that Milton Berle was born.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


A very wise guy once said that "Brevity is the sole of birds' shoes," and he ought to know. Being wise and all, I mean.

But you may have noticed that the wordier a speech or essay becomes, the less effective it might be, if only because so many listeners or readers are lost in the backwash of words. Words. So many words. And words are all I have, to take your heart away, said Barry Gibb.

See what I mean?

But seriously, one can say a lot in just a few words. Three words are often enough! Think of how many times you could say so much by saying three words:
  • Bacon, lettuce, tomato
  • Come here, please
  • yesterday, today, tomorrow
  • Little Deuce Coupe
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • You are hired!
  • Life is Good
  • Love Forever Changes
  • Elvis Aron Presley
  • Your American Idols!
  • Here's your lunch!
  • don't shoot me!
  • Two glasses, Joe!
  • peanut butter jelly
  • Orioles win again
  • I don't know
  • hold the door!
  • and so on
  • and so forth
  • okay stop now
I've thought so many times of how just a few words of encouragement can mean so much. Knowing that I was going to have a needle inserted into a place where needles usually need not be, a friend texted me yesterday: "Good luck today!" Gee whiz, that means a lot. Just a few words.

Like when Peggy says "I love you." Those three words mean the most. Love you too.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Can you fly this plane, and land it?

One by one, we're losing the great ones, and any list of my favorite actors would have Peter Graves way up there. Not for Mission: Impossible, not for being the guy who ran the Broken Wheel Ranch on Fury, (if I ever get a ranch it will called the "Lazy C") and not for any of the dozens of other movies, tv shows, and reverse-mortgage commercials in which he starred.

Here he is on the far right (never a good place to be, but he made it work) as Captain Clarence Oveur, in Airplane!, the 1980 movie that made the world a safe place for Leslie Neilsen (2nd from right) as well. Rounding out the cockpit here are Julie Hagerty and Lorna Patterson. A great movie, and it all depended on the marquee value of guys like Neilsen, Graves and Robert Stack and their willingness to make a little fun of their leading-male images. Airplane! was the movie that introduced the whole Abrahams-Zucker-Zucker style of humor to the world, and from it sprang Police Squad! the tv show and three movies, all of which send me to the floor in crippling paroxysms of uncontrollable laughter. The story has it that Leslie Neilsen was offered the part of Dr. Rumack in Airplane! but turned it down, preferring to remain in the drama field, and then was home watching himself play the lead in some made-for-TV picture in which he was trying to be the love interest of some woman 30 years his junior, and it dawned on him that maybe screwball comedy was the way to go. And once he joined up, Peter Graves did too, and their careers did better than ever.

And with lines like these:

Rumack: Captain, how soon can you land?

Captain Oveur: I can't tell.

Rumack: You can tell me. I'm a doctor.

Captain Oveur: No. I mean I'm just not sure.

Rumack: Well, can't you take a guess?

Captain Oveur: Well, not for another two hours.

Rumack: You can't take a guess for another two hours?

an entire nation felt better about themselves. The story concerned everyone getting sick (" I haven't felt this awful since we saw that Ronald Reagan film") from airplane food (Rumack: What was it we had for dinner tonight? Elaine Dickinson: Well, we had a choice of steak or fish. Rumack: Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna) and how they made it back to earth. But why am I talking about Airplane! ? You saw it by now, if you were going to.

Most people knew that Peter Graves, born Peter Aurness in 1926, was the younger brother of James Arness. Even their grandfather changed his name, from the original Norwegian "Aursnes," when he immigrated to the USA. I don't believe the brothers got along that well, from what I read. I don't think they acted together in any comedies or anything, although Karl Rove and his brother Dick Cheney were in several Michael Moore movies, garnering rave reviews.

Peter was to turn 84 this week. He went to brunch with his family on Sunday in Los Angeles and died of a heart attack when he returned home.

He takes with him a lot of memories and he left with a gift of laughter. Surely, none of us could ask for more. And don't call me Shirley.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Those lucky Mexicans peso much for phone service

Without even knowing it, when you woke up this morning, you had something in common with Bill Gates. I mean, besides the abiding affection for all things Microsoft. Bill Gates is no longer the richest person in the world, and, unless your name is Carlos Slim, Mexican telecommunications giant, neither are you. So, who is this Carlos Slim, Mexican telecommunications giant, and how do we get to know him a little better? Well, he was born in 1940, making him eleven years older than I. (Guess I better get busy gettin' rich!) And, according to Wikipedia, he's a Mexican engineer, businessman and philanthropist largely focused on the telecommunications industry. He is currently the wealthiest person in the world with a net worth of around US$53.5 billion through his holdings. He was able to raise money for a telecommunications company by purchasing standby letters of credit which enabled him to obtain guaranteed loans which provided the capital.

I have to point out that Carlos Slim is a cool, cool name. It sounds like a great name for a cigarillo, or a long lean beer stein, or just any number of cool, cool items. Remember in Spanish class, when everyone was given a Spanish name so they could really feel Spanish while repeating dialogues in a Baltimore accent? And there were people whose names didn't readily translate, as did Mark ("Marcos"), Robert ("Roberto") and Mary ("Maria"). If your first name was Wilberforce, I am truly sorry, but you had to choose from the unclaimed names left over, and you could now choose to bill yourself as "Carlos Slim."

I also need to point out that I shall likely remain a stranger to the list of richest people in the world, as I have no idea at all what is meant by the expression "
purchasing standby letters of credit which enabled him to obtain guaranteed loans which provided the capital" and I promise you, I never will. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to guess, I suppose it has something to do with talking people into letting you borrow money that they promise to pay even if you don't make good on your deal. Or it could mean something else altogether. I'd like to have two standby letters of credit, please! Thank you! That should be enough to get me started. Now how do you open these things?????

I mean, think of it. This cat is richer than Bill Gates, richer than Warren Buffett, richer than Jimmy Buffett, richer than a group of fewer than 53 people who only have a billion dollars to their names.

As Arthur said, "I wish I had a nickel for every nickel I have, and I do."

Congratulations, Carlos. You're looking marvelous today, sir.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Shel of a Man

I was tickled to death the other night, watching "Modern Family", and seeing that my man Manny had named his pet turtle "Shel Turtlestein," an homage to the late great Shel Silverstein. You might not know Silverstein by name, and he was probably not the first with the shaved melon/bearded chin look that makes so many guys appear to have their heads on upside down, but you know his work.

Born in Chicago in 1932, he found dozens of interesting things to do for just 67 years. He was in the Army, which is where his flair for cartooning first was evidenced, and then he became a cartoonist for Playboy Magazine. He would travel to distant lands and interesting places and illustrate what he saw for the magazine, which is of course where I first saw him. In my teens, I was quite the fan of Playboy, for its hard-hitting interviews, Jean Shepherd comic essays, and cartoons as well. I skipped right past the nekkid pictures of wholesome corn-fed girls-next-door to get to the Silverstein stuff about people far away.

Do you remember that Brian Savage cartoon with the guy, bound and gagged, lying prone while a jackbooted dominatrix jumps on him with 9" heels, a truncheon and cat o'nine-tails in hand, and he's saying, "So this is love!" ?

There's your proof that I didn't have time to look at the nudie pictures. I was too busy with the funny stuff.

Silverstein began putting funny poems in Playboy, and from there, it was just a short leap to stardom as a country music songwriter. Really, what are most country songs, if not just a comic poem and three chords of music? Here are some of the things he wrote, and here's the part, dear reader, where you can say, "Oh! I know that guy! I love that song by Dr Hook! Or Johnny Cash! Or Doyle Holly, Bobby Bare or Loretta Lynn! Ready for the list?

A Boy Named Sue! The Cover of The Rolling Stone! One's On The Way! Sylvia's Mother! Queen of the Silver Dollar! Roland The Roadie and Gertrude The Groupie! The Jogger!

Besides cartooning and country-song writing, Sheldon Silverstein, who often referred to himself as "Uncle Shelby", wrote a couple of books that, if you were a child of any age in the 1970s, I guarantee were around your house: Where The Sidewalk Ends and A Light In The Attic. I think there might have been laws and ordinances on the books requiring both of those books to be in every kid's room, right next to Goodnight Moon.

Now, just for something to enjoy, here are the words to a song that I think represents Shel at his Nashville best. Bobby Bare sang it, in that note-sliding way he had, back in 1976. It's called "The Winner."

The hulk of a man with a beer in his hand looked like a drunk old fool,
And I knew that if I hit him right, I could knock him off that stool.
But everybody said, "Watch out -- that's Tiger Man McCool.
He's had a whole lot of fights, and he always come out the winner.
Yeah, he's a winner."

But I'd had myself about five too many, and I walked up tall and proud,
I faced his back and I faced the fact that he'd never stooped or bowed.
I said, "Tiger Man, you're a pussycat," and a hush fell on the crowd,
I said, "Let's you and me go outside and see who's the winner"

Well, he gripped the bar with one big hairy hand and he braced against the wall,
He slowly looked up from his beer -- my God, that man was tall.
He said, "Boy, I see you're a scrapper, so just before you fall,
I'm gonna tell you just a little what a means to be a winner."

He said, "You see these bright white smilin' teeth, you know they ain't my own.
Mine rolled away like Chiclets down a street in San Antone.
But I left that person cursin', nursin' seven broken bones.
And he only broke three of mine, and that make me a winner."

He said, "Behind this grin, I got a steel pin that holds my jaw in place.
A trophy of my most successful motorcycle race.
And every mornin' when I wake and touch this scar across my face,
It reminds me of all I got by bein' a winner.

Now my broken back was the dyin' act of handsome Harry Clay
That sticky Cincinnati night I stole his wife away.
But that woman, she gets uglier and meaner every day.
But I got her, boy, and that's what makes me a winner.

You gotta speak loud when you challenge me, son, 'cause it's hard for me to hear
With this twisted neck and these migraine pains and this big old cauliflower ear.
'N' if it weren't for this glass eye of mine, I'd shed a happy tear
To think of all you'll get by bein' a winner.

I got arthuritic elbows, boy, I got dislocated knees,
From pickin' fights with thunderstorms and chargin' into trees.
And my nose been broke so often I might lose it if I sneeze.
And, son, you say you still wanna be a winner?

Now, you remind me a lot of my younger days with your knuckles clenchin' white.
But, boy, I'm gonna sit right here and sip this beer all night.
And if there's somethin' you gotta prove by winnin' some silly fight,
Well, OK, I quit, I lose, son, you're the winner."

So I stumbled from that barroom not so tall and not so proud,
And behind me I could hear the hoots of laughter from the crowd.
But my eyes still see and my nose still works and my teeth are still in my mouth.
And y'know...I guess that makes me...the winner!

Words to live by!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Vick's Rub

In the opening of "Law and Order," you hear about the two integral parts of, well, law and order... the police, who chase down the bad guys, and the prosecutors, who take them to court. This is a system we have had in place since the early days of the American Experience.

So we all need to get on board and say that the courts do their thing and we need to do ours. I'm speaking of Michael Vick here. The controversy that still dogs him at every it fair?

He was caught by the cops and tried by the DA or whatever they call them in old Virginia. He went to jail for almost 2 years. 21 months! He paid heavy fines, and one can only imagine the true expense of the loss of his commercial potential. He is not now, nor will he ever be, someone who will be paid for endorsement deals and commercial spokepersoning, to coin a phrase. His great days of gridiron glory are long gone and he sits in the backup quarterback role for the Eagles.

Now. What he did was heinous and mean and inhumane. No one questions that. But the man did his time, paid his fine, and has expressed his remorse. He is doing community service time with the Humane Society.

Vick was in B'more the other night, as his team's nominee for the Ed Block Courage Award. This is a prize given in honor of the late trainer of the late Baltimore Colts, a man who did all sorts of great things for challenged children. A player from each NFL team is chosen for overcoming adversity, voted upon by their teammates. Vick did not win, but he was voted as the Eagles' representative by the Eagles, and he came to Baltimore for the gala awards dinner, facing as many as 100 irate protesters on the grounds of the banquet hall.

They have their right to protest, and the police were there, and things stayed orderly. But I like this quote from a lady who attended the event (from The SUN):

"He has paid his debt and it's time to put this behind us," said Libby Westendorf, 72, of Linthicum.

A professed animal lover, she said she owns two poodles "that I treat better than my kids." But Westendorf said she's still willing to put Vick's transgressions to rest.

"You can't hold onto bad things forever or you'll never get anywhere in life," she said.

I say we listen to Libby more.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"What's your name? What's your name? What's your name? I asked you three times!"

I don't stand on formality all that much. At 6'5", I don't really need to. But I am always on the fence about being called anything but "Mark." Anytime anyone calls me "Mister" I always look around to see if my father had come back from the great beyond and is standing behind me (probably shaking his head at my latest antic.) We don't frequent the sort of restaurants where the maitre-d' is apt to refer to us as "Sir" and "Madam." He or she usually just says, "Two?" while grabbing a couple of menus, and that's fine. We ain't made for the Ritz, I'll tell you that right now.

On the other hand, I find it odd that telephone salespeople always like to call me by my first name. I know why they do it; it gives them the feeling of familiarity, making me feel like I've been friends forever with this guy or gal who wishes to sell me long-distance service, aluminum siding, or a congressional candidate. Puckish to the end, I like to let them think there's a chance in East Hades that I am buyin' what they're sellin', until the very end, when I ask if it's OK to pay in livestock or Boston lettuce, as I have "rejected the artificial currency of Greenspan and Bernanke, and replaced it with my own forms of barter and swap." That usually wraps things up quickly.

To those few telemarketers brave enough to break federal law by calling while I'm trying to cook dinner, I like to ask where they are, and then, no matter what city houses the huge room full of other people on telephone headsets where they are working, I say, "I knew a guy from there once! His name was Fernando! Do you know him? Lovely chap, simply divine. His people came from money, as I recall. His father was a Brownington from Brattleboro, or maybe the other way around, I don't know. His father's father had been one of the leading nepotists in their county, and often ran for,and from, Congress. I'm fairly certain he was Capricorn, too, as I believe you to be..."

Quick note: I not only don't know from nothin' about astrology, I also don't know from cosmetology, microbiology or reflexology. And all I know about astronomy is that I often went mooning as a younger man.

For tomorrow: please think this over. In American restaurant dining, we have a tradition known as "paying someone else's employee," or tipping. It's actually more fair, when you think about it. Let's say you go out for dinner.

"You go out for dinner."

Now let's say the bill comes. If the service was friendly, professional, speedy and considerate - the waitperson offered drink refills, checked back to see if everything was ok, offered to Simoniz the VistaCruiser while you had dessert - then you are inclined to tip that person more generously than if the service had been desultory, slow, and the soup was cold. That better waiter makes more money and soon opens a chain of diners for him-or-herself, working 17 hours a day slinging hash browns, while the sloppy inattentive waiter is forced to live off the multi-million dollar trust fund left to him by his Uncle Fernando from Brattleboro.

And that, class, is why capitalism is so full of success stories.

Friday, March 12, 2010

I get a BANG out of History class!

From the Associated Press, via Salon:

Superintendent accidentally fires gun during class

Montana school official says he "can't explain" why gun was loaded

The superintendent of a rural Montana school district says he was showing students his black powder muzzleloader when he accidentally fired the weapon into a classroom wall during a history lesson.

Dwain Haggard, who used to be a Civil War re-enactor, was showing the gun to five students in Reed Point High School's American history class Friday when it fired.

No one was injured, and Haggard says he can't explain how the weapon was loaded.

He says he usually fires a cap during the demonstration, but this time there was a loud bang and the room filled with smoke.

The ball shot through the "o" in the word "North" on a wall map.

Haggard says none of the students' parents was upset with him. He described the incident as "bitter irony" because he has tried to increase safety in the school district west of Billings.


Speaking of smoky things, you really get a lot to like with this story, just like the old Marlboro jingle. First of all, let's hear it for Dwain Haggard, former Civil War re-enactor and current superintendent of a rural school district in Montana. I'll bet that in your American History class, the teacher was never so cool as to bring in a black powder muzzleloader and SHOOT IT AT YOU!

Before you grab your keyboard and commence to writing back to me, let me say that I fully understand that this is Baltimore, gun-ridden though it be, and that is Montana, rural, Big Sky country. Surely Dwain is aware that Montana wasn't a state until 1889, nor was it even a territory until 1864. It did serve as a hideout for lots of Confederate deserters and drifters during the war, and still does.

Even here in Maryland, where the blood of Union and Confederate soldiers was spilled in the Civil War, there are people who enjoy dressing up in authentic garb and pretending to be Johnny Reb or Amos Burnside or whomever else. I don't know why.

I do know that when young Mr Haggard was born, his parents, desiring to name him as they did, had a choice between the two standard forms of his name: Dwayne, and Duane. So, they went with Dwain. All I know about that is, for all of his life he has had to tell people, "No, it's D - W - A - I - N...with no E. Uh huh, that's right. D W A I N." Of course, he could always fire off a memo to those who spell it wrong.

I also like the sentence that says he can't explain how the weapon was loaded. This is the sort of utterance we hear from people who have had their judgment impaired by drink, drugs or some combination thereof just before hoisting a firearm and blasting a big ole' hole in sumthin'. Would you like to think that your high school students are in better hands in the classroom than to be fired upon by a man who can't remember to check and make sure that his muzzleloader is not loaded?

The irony of the muzzle ball piercing the "o" in "North" on the classroom map was, no doubt, lost on Dwain, as it accurately reflects the amount of intelligence he brought to the classroom that day. And then he tells us that he has tried to increase safety in his school district! Imagine if he were not so safety conscious. He might even wear a tie to work!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Holy Moses!

I promise you, I am not out to stir trouble, get people all peeved, vexed, or miffed, or start a letter-writing campaign. The Post Office is so far in debt, they are all going to take Saturdays off to figure out what to do, and no one is even writing letters to holler about it.

But, the other day, the missus and I went to lovely Havre de Grace, up in the northeast corner of Maryland, where the mighty Susquehanna River meets the mighty Chesapeake Bay. The town has put in a wonderful
promenade, where one can strut to one's heart's content, enjoying the breezes, the sunshine, the other people, the chance to stretch the old winter legs out a little.

At the entrances to the walkway are signs with fairly large letters reading "No Dogs."

If you're thinking along with me, dear reader, you know where I'm going next. It's the doggone (!) sense of entitlement, reading its head and licking its chops once again. It's the owners of dogs who think, "Well, they don't mean Ajax when they say 'no dogs'! Everyone loves to see old Ajax come along!"

It's the owners of dogs who just don't care what the rules are; they are bound and determined to parade along with their pooch, no matter what.

For real, I know a guy who says, "If my dog's not welcome somewhere, then I'm not welcome there!" Dude! You're not a dog!

It's the owners of dogs like the woman with a pitbull on Sunday, who tried to make it appear that her Spuds McKenzie was a service animal, by outfitting him with some sort of saddle arrangement that made him look like some sort of very angry mule, forced to carry her water bottle, cellphone, iPod and I don't know what-all else in the green rucksack she made him wear. She clearly needed no service animal; she was in full control of all her senses, except common.

My problem with this, for those who wonder why I care, is twofold. Year after year, people bring their dogs to the Towson Festival,
which began in 1968 as an art exhibit around the courthouse and has grown over the years to be a way-too-crowded gathering of people, many of whom like to bring old Ajax out for a day in the sun, even though the organizers ask nicely that they don't. A few years ago, a little girl eating a pit beef sandwich was mauled by a dog at this festival. So I say, if you want to take your dog out someplace, head for the open country, not a place where other people are gathered and might not like your hound howling and growling. Please.

And for another thing, how about thinking about what a great country this would be if everyone would just follow the doggone rules! It says no dogs, go put Ajax back in the Biscayne for a while til you're through, and then take him someplace where he would rather be anyway. Perhaps I'm just a stickler, but rules aren't really made to be broken. Society as a whole would be all the better if people were to heed the rules.

Especially the ten
on the stones.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What's My Line?

With retirement not exactly staring me in the face just yet, but kind of noticing me edge nearer every day, I from time to time mull over post-retirement job options. Just thinking about what I would like to do with my time once those sweet monthly checks start rolling in...

I don't think that I could do nothing. I can't not do anything. Even though the greatest icons of my youth (Ozzie Nelson, Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction, and Fred Mertz) were basically guys who hung around the house all day hitching up their pants, I still figure that unless I become the sad victim of diminished capacity, I would want to have something on the daily schedule beyond watching Regis and Kelly and taking a four-hour nap.

Here's where my thinking has me so far.

a) Waiter. I love food and love to serve food. I do understand that many restaurant patrons love to heckle their waitperson, complaining about how the food is, as if that person had anything to do with the taste of it, its preparation, its warmth, or the saltiness of the borscht. I don't foresee a long career in this field; restaurants traditionally frown upon their waiters dumping a plate of pancakes down the front of some goof's shirt while hollering, "See? They aren't as cold as you thought, are they?"

b) A public educator for Lea & Perrins. I could go around the country teaching people how to pronounce the word "Worcestershire" in a saucy manner. ("WUR-ster-sher")

c) I think I could stand being a cab driver, but only in safe neighborhoods and I'd only transport passengers who were sober, non-stinky, fairly well-read, current on the news, and good tippers. In fact, there might be a quiz: "e.e. cummings ,or T.S. Eliot: whom do you prefer, and why?" "Sorry - next cab, please!"

d) I have offered to become a greeter, WalMart -style, in the lobby of our Credit Union. I would have to refrain from my natural inclination to refer to all incoming depositors as "Big Money Man!" and be a little discreet, but this line of work intrigues me.

e) If anyone hears of an opening, I would love to be a member of the retinue of hangers-on with which pop stars, movie actors, and Steelers quarterbacks surround themselves. Just like in that "Entourage" show, I could enter nightclubs, sub shops, and Circuit Courtrooms ahead of Ben and make sure that the coast was clear for his usual merriment.

f) Keeping up with the legal theme, do you think my lack of a law degree would be an impediment to finding work as a judge? Schooled by years of exposure to Judges Judy, Mathis and Wapner, I could dispense justice along with pithy remarks just like they do, except without any legal bearing whatsoever. But maybe it's time to have a guy like me be the one that teenagers with the crazy loud rock and roll and the hopped-up cars and the hopped-up companions need to face. "Youth sentenced to Manilow on iPod" is a headline that we need to see in the Baltimore SUN.

g) What I really want to do is direct. My dreams of becoming a jockey at thoroughbred tracks long since vanished, but the second-easiest thing in the world to do, after sitting on a horse's back and holding on tight, is to be in a movie or TV studio and tell the actors that it's time to act. "You! You tell a joke here, Mr Sheen. Be all sexist and full of barely-suppressed rage, just like in your real life. And the rest of you, laugh when he's finished saying his line, ok? Action!"

Piece of cake, this retirement stuff.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ain't Wasting Time No More

...sustain'd and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
from Thanatopsis by William Cullen "Bear" Bryant

Last Monday morning, our town was shocked when a guy who owned and operated a Hess gas station on Joppa Rd was shot and killed during an apparent holdup. You usually don't see armed holdups take place during rush hour traffic, which tends to impede the getaway vehicle. Still, the town was abuzz all week with wonderment about who could have done this horrible deed.

On Sunday's early evening news, one of the stations was talking to a family friend who went on and on about how devoted the man's wife had been, and what a wonderful family they all were, and he knew one of their kids very well, and what a "disgusting" deed it was on the part of the police to arrest the man's wife just before his funeral service was held on Saturday evening.

Except that, probably at the same time the family friend was orating on the news, the wife was back at Police Headquarters signing a confession to the whole deal. It turns out, from initial reports, that she got her family in on the rub-out, and one family member brought a gun to the operation, and one knew of a couple of gunslingers who would do the job for 9 thousand dollars.

While all this was going on, I got the news that a guy who grew up right across the street from me, just three years younger than I, had only recently been diagnosed with testicular cancer, and had died while in an induced coma as doctors raced to save his life.

Death. The more you think about it, the more you realize that it plays no favorites. Here is a gas station owner whose wife, for whatever reason, chooses to end his life, and with it, effectively, her own, and several other people as well who will end up doing big time for this. Then my childhood buddy, who was hard-working and industrious, comes down with this damned disease and he's gone too. Last Monday morning, both of these people were here, and here they are no longer.

I'm going to appreciate everything today. I don't know how many tomorrows I have. People say I hand out compliments like Bush handed fat war-machine contracts to Halliburton*, and I say, if you don't take the time to do these things while you have the time, you're gonna wish you had, when you don't.

* My buddy Jeff would be so disappointed if I wrote an entire note without a slam at #43.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Botany Replacement

The Old Farmer's Almanac Calendar said, the other day, that this is a good time to "gather branches for use as stakes for peas, beans, and other climbers."

This, of course, was to me a signal to watch "Seems Like Old Times" on Encore. This 1980 movie starring Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase and Charles Grodin, is full of great lines, and one of the best has a flustered (is there any other kind?) Grodin saying to Goldie, who keeps trying to raise corn in their back yard, "We could have gone to Europe for what it took to grow six ears of corn last summer!"

The soil out there where we live in Painan Acres is pretty bad. Old-timers will tell you that our neighborhood used to be a gravel pit, which would indicate that no abundance of flora sprang forth back in the day. In fact, they're still talking about the time a guy across the way was digging a hole to plant a tree, and his shovel hit something white, and he dug and dug and dug and found an entire full-size refrigerator, buried about a foot below ground. (It didn't work, and there was no antique food in there.) So there's no use for us to plant a little garden, what with so many great produce stands right nearby.

Another great advantage of not growing stuff in one's own happy garden is that, come July and August, the non-gardener is not dealing with the issue of how to hand out all the tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, corn, rutabagas and what-all else that spills out of the cornucopia. People in some towns find themselves having lock their car doors at night; if they don't, they will find a couple of the neighbor's Big Boy Tomatoes on the front seat in the morning. Or, worse, summer squash.

Peggy and I have saved enough money to go to Europe several times by just buying our corn at Harold's Produce on Joppa Rd, or from Councilman Bartenfelder's farm stand on Ridge Rd. And yet, we have never been to Europe, so where's the money, huh?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I love these quizzes

Have you ever been hit in the face and there was a mark left behind?
No. Who am I , Tommy Boy?

Are you chewing on any non-food object right now?
I never chew the inedible!

When pizza is ordered, how many slices do you usually eat?
I'm good for three, maybe four.

Is there any ashtray near you?
I haven't needed an ashtray for almost 22 years, so no.

Does cold spaghetti sound delicious?
NO! And no one I know would eat cold bisketti. So why then do so many people go crazy for noodle salad? I don't get that.

Do you stutter much?
The former DJ in me would not approve, but I'll admit to an occasional stutter, stammer, hedge or hesitation.

Do you have a basement in your house?
Yes and the crazy thing is, it's the warmest spot in the house in winter and the coolest in summer. I keep saying we ought to move the bed down there!

What about an attic?
I stuck my head up there's a barren place of rafters and insulation.

When's the last time you said a word that made you sound intelligent?
I don't believe this has ever happened.

Do you prefer hoodies or cardigans?
I'm all over the hoody, all winter. As with all of my outerwear, I only require that they be one of the various colors of mud.

Do you hang out with people who are homosexual?
Yes, and with heterosexuals, bisexuals and asexuals. Since I'm not going to have sex with anyone but Peggy, what other people choose to do could not concern me less. And it is a shame that so many people are still so hung up about this stuff.

If so, have you lost other friends because of that?
If someone were to say they cannot be my friend any longer because I have some other friend who is GLBT, that person is not worth befriending.

Have you ever been to a protest?
Hi, I'm Mark, and I'm from the 60's. Next?

Have you ever been involved in a riot?
Can't tell you how many times people have said to me, "You're a riot!" so I guess, yes.

Do you use shaving cream or soap when you shave?
Shaving cream from Dollar Tree...whatever they have. You're not going to worry about a face like mine with your fancy gels and lotions.

Is alcoholism popular in your family?
Interesting choice of word..."popular" as if people were voting for their favorite disease. But the answer is no.

Do you have cousins/aunts/uncles/siblings that you do not know?
The family is small, so I know all the extant members. Whether or not they claim me is another matter!

What was your last Christmas like?
Christmas is always my favorite time of the year. The fact that we had snow on the ground and chilly air made it all the sweeter. The fact that I had Peggy by my side with snow on the ground and chilly air made it the sweetest.

Has your stomach ever hurt so bad you had to go to the ER?
No, but when I was thirteen I had a series of mystery maladies and was supposed to die in the hospital. They sent in a priest for the last rites and I said, "Whoa, I'm not Catholic." So he sat down and we just talked for a while. Then I didn't die, but I will some day.

Have you ever ran from the cops?
OK, Mr Fussy has to point out that the person who wrote this quiz should be on the run from the grammar police. The answer is no, but I have been known to run with them!

Do you have sharp canine teeth?
not especially.

McDonald's: yummy or icky?
Friends, if we lived in world where nothing was harmful and all foods were as good for you as a big steamin' pile o' broccoli, I would consume Big Macs, Fish Filets and Egg McMuffins with great avidity. But we don't live in that world. More's the pity.

Do you like the taste of beer?
Is Sarah Palin ill-informed, ill-spoken and ill-qualified to hold any higher office than the city council in some goldrush hick town? Yahoo!

Are you interested in psychology?
Hmmm. I wonder what they meant by that.

Name three things you want to do before you die.
Retire happily, visit Graceland, and learn to whistle by putting two fingers up to my mouth.

Have you ever ran concessions?
Again with the past participle of "run", eh? Yes, I have sold sodas, beer, hot dogs, and I have made many concessions in my life as well. But not in the area of grammar.

Did you ever draw on your backpack when you were in school?
I drew on my cunning, my vast reserve of double-entendre jokes, funny names to use when signing an attendance roster ("Dick Hertz") and I often drew detention for claiming to be Dick Hertz.

How often do you wake up completely exhausted?
Uh, never? What's the point of sleep if not to refresh and renew? I am that person who wakes up ready to roll.

What do you usually doodle?
Rough cartoons of Dick Cheney shooting someone in the face.

Name a memory in which you were surprised.
Most of them. Things always surprise me.

What scent is your favorite from Bath and Body Works?
You know, I don't know the answer to this, but I will suggest to the good people at B & BW, Yankee Candle and all the other companies who seek to re-scent the nation that they ought to consider aromas such as "Sweet Onion roasting with butter and Worcestershire Sauce", "Baked Potato" and "English Leather" to their spring lines.

Did you ever ride the school bus?
On days when there was nothing else better to do than attend school. Frankly, I don't know why they still have school buses running. Every single kid seems to be chauffeured to and from school daily.

What was the last thing you washed?
My face.

You can only eat soup or sandwiches for the rest of your life. Which do you choose?
Sandwiches. BLTs for three meals a day would suit me fine.

Would you be interested in studying insects?

Have you ever had a fight with your boss?
Having been a boss and having also been bossed, I have been in fights both ways. It's never fun.

What is inside of your favorite breakfast burrito?
Egg, bacon, cheddar cheese.

Have you ever seen a ghost?
I don't believe in them, so no.

Is there a tv in the room you're in now?
No but I wish there were!

Do you look at roadkill on purpose when you pass it?
No, because I have this crazy habit of looking at the road ahead while I drive. So if a mastodon carcass is right ahead of me, I will see that.

Cosmic brownies, yay or nay?
I don't know what cosmic brownies are. I like the fudgy brownies, not the cakey kind. If you want the cakey kind, why not just make a chocolate cake?

Do you rummage through the $5 movie bin at walmart every time?
Without fail. I have found a few gems in there, e.g. "The Big Hit" starring "Mark E. Mark" Wahlberg.

Ever tried a smore with strawberry syrup instead of chocolate?
Not a smore eater. I avoid marshmallow.

Do you have an account on youtube?
Yes so I can subscribe to these channels where people post old-skool country songs.

Any upcoming movies coming to theaters you are looking forward to?
Sorry to say, I have given up on movie theaters. It would take a huge exception to get us in one. To sit there among phones ringing, people chattering, chomping on ten-dollar chicken tenders...forget it. If it's any good we'll see it on ppv or get the DVD. One exception, of course, would be a new installment in the Jackass canon.

When you're out of hotdog buns, do you just use bread?
I'd prefer to have them in tortilla wraps in the first place.

Do you prefer steamed white rice or fried rice with the carrots and stuff?
Any rice is great. Ray Rice is fantastic.

Did you ever own a light bright?
All of my lights are bright, but this reminds me of Dorothy Parker's review of a play called "The House Beautiful"...she said " 'The House Beautiful' is the play awful."

Ever run a red light?
Only with lights and sirens going.

When you're at the theater, how much butter do you ask for on popcorn?
Son, that isn't butter!

Have you ever seen a ufo?

Do you or a family member have a bread machine?
We have one. We use it all the time, primarily to hold room under the kitchen cabinet for the yogurt machine that we plan to get.

Are you a facebook stalker?
No. I will look for old friends etc but I don't obsess.

Have you ever seen a psychiatrist?
Of course I have. They're everywhere, aren't they? They walk past us in the malls, drive by in their do you know what anyone does for a living?

Wouldn't it be cool to bend spoons with your mind?
Yeah, that's a skill the world needs. And what would we do with all these bent spoons?

If you were a superhero, what would be your superhero name?
Barack O. Bama.

Do you enjoy watching cops?
It was better in the old days when they would go into ratty domiciles and you'd see shirtless beer-holding people who were NOT surprised to see police in their house!

Do you jog?
Just my memory.

What movie is this line from? "stop that rhyming now, i mean it!":
That's from "Robert Louis Stevenson: The Musical"

Have you ever seen a stage musical?

Does your cell phone have a screen protector?
Yes. A little sheet of plastic.

Were you ever a girlscout or boyscout?
BSA Troop 742, aye aye.

Ever been to chicago?

What about london, england?
Yeah, what about London, England?

Or barcelona, spain?

Or even paris, france?
still no

Is there a celebrity you like to follow?
Garrison Keillor and Dick Cheney.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Question for a Saturday morning

You read the Associated Press story about this man who tried and failed to gun down guards at an entrance to the Pentagon, and you read that the guy was stark raving mad, and had been so for many years, and you have to wonder...

How come he had guns? Are we that much of a gun-loving nation that we overlook the fact that just maybe the law could stand a little tightening up?

Even if I would grant you that we have a right to strut around like Dodge City cowboys even though we are not militia members (and I never will grant you that, but let's play for a second) why do we allow a victim of mental illness to keep and bear arms?

I keep asking for people to explain this to me and I keep hearing about the second amendment and I don't think that a copy of the Constitution is going to protect anyone who finds him-or-herself the target of a guy like this.

The same people who told you lies about WMDs are also not so worried about weapons of individual destruction right here at home. But we all ought to be.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dum de Dum Dum

I went to high school during what most scholars regard as the Golden Age of Sarcasm. The standard response to someone committing a in-class blunder was, "Well, I GUESS you're not DUMB enough..." And many people who heard those stinging words were aroused by them, snapped out of their lethargies, and became governors of Texas and Hawaii, and then sought higher office, only to meet with ignominy and worldwide disdain.

It was relentless. If someone tripped in a hallway jampacked with baby boomers, three or four people at once would call out, "Walk much?" I mean, that was no way to talk to the principal, but whaddya gonna do? It was the Golden Age, and before Homer Simpson's "d'OH!" we had the all-purpose rejoinder, "Duh!"

Well, I have brought "Duh!" out and dusted him off, because he is sorely needed in these current times in which we live now.

ITEM: Some air-traffic controller at Kennedy Airport in New York City, one of our larger metropolitan areas, where they have as many as 1100 planes landing every day, thought it would be a great idea to have his children sit in with him and talk to the planes. So, on a recent weekend, he uhhhh brought da kids theah to da aihpoht uhhhhh and uh let dem tawk to da pilots in da planes thea, you know what I'm talkin about heah?

Earth to Air Traffic Control at Kennedy Airport: These are big planes up in the sky and big ones on the ground, some landing, some taking off. All of them are full of people who, one presumes, wish to continue living for the foreseeable future. We hope that all of the planes accomplish their takeoff-or-landing goals without running into a) the ground b) each other or c) the control tower. One excellent way to prevent these things from happening would, uh, be to uh have adults in the uh control tower, Roger that? For the sweet love of God, it was just a year ago that a plane took off from your airport and had to land in the middle of the river because its engines were ruined by wildfowl. I'm not so sure that little Ethan or baby Snooki would have had the experience and training to operate the radio channel properly during such an emergency, but, hey! It's as cute as all get-out to let the kids tawk ta da planes deah, right, Noo Yawk? For the sake of Captain Quagmire's passengers, let's keep things professional up there, shall we?

Big Duh.

But the Duhs don't stop in the big apple. Right down the street from here lies a major university - Towson U, formerly Towson State Teacher's College, formerly Towson State College, formerly Towson State University, and formerly the employer of an art professor who stood in front of his class a couple of weeks ago and declared that he was a (racial slur) in a corporate plantation. Someone complained and he got the can tied to him. Now he is in the papers, resorting to the time-honored "some of my best friends are ____" defense and also claiming that he is the victim of modern-day McCarthyism. Son, you are solely the victim of your own stupid mouth. Sure, you like to play the role of put-upon struggling artist for the sake of your students, who are probably standing there with their paintbrushes in hand, wondering why this guy is rambling on about his persecution at the hands of corporate interests. But you were hired to teach Art. In a way you did. You showed your students the art of making oneself unemployed and impenitent: always a formula for extended suffering. Maybe you could paint a picture of that.

Double Duh!

We used to have a sign in the firehouse: "To be seen, stand up. To be heard, speak up. To be appreciated, shut up."

No duh!