Thursday, September 30, 2010

Department of Redundancy Department

With just over a month to go before the crucial mid-term elections, one vote is already in.

We are sick and tired of the radio and tv commercials that the candidates are putting on.  They're redundant, and repetitive,  they say the same things over and over, and what's more, they are redundant.  And we are sick and tired of hearing them, because they are are repetitious, and, one might say, duplicative.

They pretty much follow the same pattern: when you want to smear the opponent, get black - and - white photos of them trying lingually to remove a raspberry seed from a molar at a church picnic.  Bonus points if their eyes and mouth are seemingly set in a sneer.

Then, have your announcer with the voice of doom read: "Dick Senormous wants to double your taxes and cut your income in half.  Can't we do better than that?" Then have your announcer go with the lightly-sprightly approach and say "Gabriel Angel for Governor...because the other guy is coming to take your children away."

Then, have your Mr Candidate Angel call in on the phone to record this: "I'm Gabe Angel and I approve this message"  and tack that on the end of the spot.  That way, the public says, "Gabe Angel is so busy trying to prevent the utility companies from cutting power off to transplant patients that he couldn't even take time to go to the studio to record that message. What a wonderful man he is. We must vote for him as much as we can."

If you're not out to smear the other person in the race, but just want to make your person look like the second coming of Franklin Delano Reagan (as if!), you roll archival footage of immigrants at Ellis Island and kids being cared for in Appalachian hospitals and you have a wistful-voiced Mason Adams-kind of announcer say:

"Amanda Reckonwith  left her native land to come here and heal the sick and disenchanted.  She'll do the same for you...if you care enough to vote..."

And the other kind of ad is something we are just a wee bit tired of too.  Down in Anne Arundel County, MD (known around here as "Anne Darundel" County, and no one knows why) there is a huge fight going on about whether to have a slot machine parlor at a megamall that is, honestly, the size of a small city.  Opponents claim that honest clean-livin' reg'lar folk don't want the atria of their mall to be sullied by the presence of ambling gamblers and slutty slotters. Proponents claim that the county will reap $400 million dollars for teachers, cops and firefighters if the voters will just allow a slot machine parlor on the mall parking lot.  Their ads drone on ceaselessly.  I say, why not settle the matter by yanking the crank on a slot machine?  If it comes up three cherries, bring it on, bulldozers!  Three lemons, and the purity and sanctity of a mall with very few homicides of late will be maintained. 

Just the way Gabe Angel would like it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Spend my days making up burlap bags

Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book entitled "Nickel and Dimed," which is all about the current economy.  She showed how hard it is to get by on the minimum wage by going out there in the workplace and doing it! It wasn't always successful, but she wanted to see if she could at least pay for a place to live, transportation, and food, off a low-paying job such as serving food, cleaning hotel rooms, being a dietary aide and residential housekeeping.

I don't think I would like to replicate her efforts; being comfortably ensconced as I am in my happy life means I don't think I'd do well living out of a rented room in Podunk and earning 6 bucks at MegaMart.  But reading this book got me to thinking about three jobs I could do and three jobs I WISH I could do.

F'rinstance, I would love to be a sub shop guy.  There will be those who have been sub shop guys or gals who will say, "Oh nuh-uh you wouldn't!" but maybe for a short period it would be fun to make cold and hot subs and pizzas.  Unless people got really picky and started telling me just how much mayonnaise they wanted, or to hold the fried onions on the cheese steak.  I guess I'm saying I would like to have a sub shop to make subs for me and Peggy, but maybe that's impractical.

Waiter or server, yeah, I could try that.  I believe that someone tried to float the word "waitron" as a unisex word for all who schlep food out of a restaurant kitchen and over to a table, but it seems that most people are sticking with "server." I do love to talk to people who do this.  They all have several hundred stories about good and bad customers, and if they have a second, they are only too glad to share the stories.  You have to know when to ask, though.  

Cab driver is something else I could try, as long as we can rule out armed robberies, drunk passengers, passengers who hop out of the cab without paying and run like thieves, and drunks who would rob me and then run like thieves.  Not good.  But, take away the unpleasant aspects of any job, and it looks like a bowl of berries.  I just think that pushing a hack around would give me the chance to meet some interesting pedestrians and show them my extensive collection of shortcuts and ways to get around our county.  I don't think I'd take any fares into the city, at least its more crime-ridden areas.  But I could tell people why they should stay out here in the boonies, and we'd both be better off!

Any list of three jobs I could never land but think they would be fun to get would start with major league baseball first-base coach because this non-stressor mainly involves greeting members of my team who have successfully reached first base, reminding them not to leave for second until I say so, and picking up foul balls to toss to happy kids in the stands.  And to think, people get paid to do this!

Being president of the United States of America would be a gas too, if only for the apoplectic state it would induce in my many critics who claim I am too liberal for words.  Imagine their faces when I start my term with promotions such as "Turn-In-Your-Gun Tuesday" and "Vice-President For a Day"!

There is no doubt at all that the coolest and easiest job of the high-paying jobs is movie director and what fun that must be, huh!  You get to stand in a room full of glamorous people who have their lines all memorized, and the sound effects person is ready, and the camera people and everyone else, and then you go "Action!" and everyone acts and then later you show up at the premiere wearing a beret and a tuxedo jacket over blue overalls and talk about your "craft" and the difficulties of being an authentic "auteur."  Occasionally, a new or nervous actor will ask you what is their motivation in some scene.  You just tell them their motivation is to say all their words in a reasonably convincing manner and not fall over the ottoman in the living room scene.  And then you start thinking about what to have for dinner at some swanky H'wood bistro later.

Nice to dream, ain't it?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

And then a guy named Jack cut himself with his own pocket knife

Attention parents who are looking for a way to tell kids "You can't have a Segway; you'll kill yourself!":

Segway owner dies after falling off river cliff

Mon Sep 27, 12:02 PM EDT

A wealthy British businessman who owns the company that makes the two-wheeled Segway has been found dead in a river in northern England after apparently falling off a cliff on one of the vehicles, police said Monday.

The body of 62-year-old James Heselden and a Segway personal transporter were found in the River Wharfe and he was pronounced dead at the scene, West Yorkshire Police said.

Police said a witness had reported seeing a man fall Sunday over a 30-foot drop into the river near Boston Spa, 140 miles  north of London.

"The incident is not believed to be suspicious," police said, indicating that they do not believe anyone else was involved.
Police have not revealed further details about the incident. A dozen members of Heselden's family asked for privacy Monday after placing flowers at the heavily wooded accident site, which is popular with hikers and nature lovers.

The battery-powered Segway, which is stabilized by gyroscopes, was invented by Dean Kamen, who founded the company in 1999. The unique transporter relies on electricity to recharge its batteries and travels at speeds up to 12.5 mph (20 kph), the company says on its website.

Heselden, who bought control of the New Hampshire-based Segway company in December, made his fortune through his firm Hesco Bastion Ltd., which developed a system to replace the sand bags used to protect troops.

The lack of information about the circumstances surrounding Heselden's death prompted questions about the Segway's safety record — which one U.S. businessman was quick to defend.

Mobile Entertainment, which has offered Segway tours along the Mississippi River for the past seven years, has had more than 40,000 customers — most of them new to Segway — ride the device without any serious injuries, owner Bill Neuenschwander told The Associated Press.

"Nobody's gone off a river, nobody," he said, speaking from Minneapolis, Minnesota. "I can tell you firsthand: I can't believe how safe this product is."

He said the Segway was also easy to use off the road — on gravel, grass, hills or other steep inclines.
"People get it right away," he said. "This product is perfectly safe when people respect its limitations."
  - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 
The device would seem to be safe for almost anyone to ride, with the exception of one maladroit former president.
Yes it is, old # 43 taking a spill

And outside Pittsburgh, on September 15, James Winner, the man who invented The Club, the anti-theft device for cars, died in a car crash when his car veered into the path of another vehicle. 

And in Baltimore on September 20, a woman was arrested and charged for fatally beating her aunt. With a Club anti-theft device.

Coincidences abound.  Ironies swirl about us all. The stories just seem to segue into each other.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Now yip yip yip yip yip yip

According to this article, and they would have no reason to lie, the many members of the satire-comedy-doo wop tribute band Sha Na Na are gathering to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Hofstra University, from whose nurturing bosom they sprang in the late 60's.  1969 - the VERY late 60's.

History tells us that Sha Na Na formed as a lark by some guys who enjoyed harmonizing and taking off on the street-corner sounds of the early rock 'n' roll days.  They dressed in outlandish costumes and parlayed an early appearance at Woodstock (where they must have been quite the sight to those who failed to heed the warnings about the brown acid) into doing a weekly TV show and appearing in the movie "Grease" as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers

All great stuff, and mighty enjoyable, but what a shocok to find that, 41 years later, some of them are still out there plowing the musical fields of America. 

But without Bowser.  Jon Bauman was the skinny guy with the amazing ability to open his mouth to such a cavernous extent that rumor ran rampant that he was the original model for PacMan. He was the lead singer and more or less the whole show.  And now, according to the article, he no longer appears with the band.

Sha na na na, sha na na na na,
Sha na na na, sha na na na na,
Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip
Mum mum mum mum mum mum
Get a job
I dunno.  It's like ordering a ham and cheese sandwich and not getting any ham. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What Do I Know?

If you've a) never seen a movie called "Ghost World," and you b) plan to see it and c) hate spoilers, you might as well mosey over here for something to read today.

Birch and Buscemi
OK?  Still with me?  All right. I've been hearing about "Ghost World" since it came out in 2001, and as I sit in my recliner de rehab, scanning the channel guide for anything to keep from falling into my old Young And Restless addiction, I found it on the MGM channel and DVR'ed it and watched it.

There is a famous event in our history, had to be fifteen years ago, in our old house, Peggy and my Dad and I were watching a movie called "Rambling Rose."  Laura Dern was in it.  I sat there for the entire length of the movie, and then the closing credits spun up on the screen and I found myself hollering, "What the hell HAPPENED? Nothing HAPPENED!"  

I guess something happened, all right, but Dern if I know what.  It's all cloaked in symbolism, you see.  So I watch this Ghost World, and of course I tell Peggy that Steve Buscemi was once a New York firefighter, which means that he was once a member of the best fire department in the world, before he became an actor.  And the movie was interesting, and Thora Birch, the young actress who shared top billing with Buscemi and Scarlett Johansson, was quite impressive as an alienated, confused teenager with issues to work on.  So she has to take an art class in order to be graduated from high school, and she has talent in that field, but as her final project, turns in a grotesquely offensive sign she got from an R Crumb sort of oddball she met through a nasty prank, and she gets a scholarship but loses it and flunks the course and she does the oddball but he loses his job and she gets on a bus and rides away. 

I ought to work for TV Guide, capsulizing plotlines, huh?

Thing is, I guess you were supposed to think that when she got on the bus, she was committing suicide, because an old guy used to sit at the bus stop and he got on the bus after saying he was moving away, so you have to figure she's gone now?   

I guess I'm too obtuse for symbolism.  I'm always being told that I miss things in literature because I only read the words and don't see the meanings behind them.  Same with the movies.  When my more intelligent friends and wife discuss things, I overhear nuggets such as,"When he reached for the bread knife, he was symbolically castrating himself" and, "That scene where the cousin dropped a framed photograph of his mother and the maid had to vacuum up the glass while "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" played on the old Victrola was a brilliant representation of the cousin's repressed Oedipal desires."   

And Mr Literal here just figured that the cousin wanted to get with the maid.  Please  - spell it out for me!

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I fear that, as a driving people, we have become lazy and complacent.  Power steering, power brakes, power windows, all that is nice, but what about these new cars that parallel-park themselves and this Mercedes that alerts you when you are falling asleep, drifting out of your lane or about to smash into the very large lumber truck 30 feet ahead of you? 

Who needs a Big Mac?
I see the commercials for these vehicles and I remember the old days when driving a car meant steering with one's left knee while shifting gears with the right hand, holding a Gino Giant in the left hand and nestling a Super Big Gulp in the crotchular area.  There was no need for an early warning doze-off system in those days, for the very idea of rinsing the twig and berries with 64 oz. of cola was enough to ensure rapt attention.

And how about the sauce they used to put on the Gino Giant?  We kids of Baltimore didn't see Dick Clark's American Bandstand after school; we had Buddy Deane on Channel 13.  And we held off the McDonald's invasion for years by patronizing Gino's, consuming Giants and KFChicken and fries and shakes by the ton at a place where you might even see the owner, the stalwart Colt defensive end Gino Marchetti mopping up the joint or flipping a burger.  It's that kind of town. 

This is why, even if we had HAD cell phones back then, we couldn't have answered them while driving, because our hands were already full while driving.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Set Yourself Apart

We've talked about this before, but it bears further discussion...this Don't Ask - Don't Tell silliness. I know that Mr Clinton started the policy because politics is the art of compromise, and I also know that it was 1948 when President Harry Truman integrated the armed forces.   And he came from Missouri, which at that time was not known as a bastion of liberal thought on civil rights.  So a lot of people would fight ending the discrimination against gay people in the armed services, and the Democrats brought the matter up in the Senate this week, and every single Republican - the party to which many of my friends owe their allegiance - voted against it.

Do you remember the days when people could be denied jobs or housing or love because of the color of their skin or their faith or their national origin? I sure do, and it was a real shame and disgrace.  So why is this not just as much a disgrace?  Those of you who are in the service or have been in the service - what's it to you whom the guy in the next workplace sleeps with?  How can it possibly matter?  If you're a straight guy and you're going to tell me you are afraid that the gays in your platoon would be so attracted to you that there would be rioting to see who got to you first, please knock it off.  Gay people already have enough problems - we all do - without having to worry about getting involved in a relationship where the other person doesn't want us within three yards.  It's the same the other way around, I'd wager.  How about - you join the Army/AirForce/Navy/Marines and you keep your sex life in an appropriate corner of your life?  Stop thinking with Soldier Jr and fill the role you swore you would.   If you were under attack and a guy came running over to help you, would you say, "No! Don't help me; you're gay!"  Of course you wouldn't.

And another thing - Ferris Bueller - the movie guy - everyone loved him, right?  Remember what Grace, Principal Rooney's assistant, said about Ferris?

Oh, he's very popular, Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude.

Did you notice that Ferris didn't have time to discriminate against anyone?  Maybe that's why everyone liked him so much!  So let's all Be Like Ferris and leave others alone to love as they see fit and serve the country as they see fit!

Thank you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

15 in 15

The rules:  Don't take too long to think about it.  Fifteen albums that you heard that will always stick with you.  List the first fifteen you can recall within 15 minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I'm interested in seeing what albums you choose.  To do this, go to your notes tab on your profile page, click "write a note," paste title and rules in...

OK! I got this from the wonderful Jennifer Pemberton.  Let's look at my Fab Fifteen:

  1. Hank Williams Lives Again - My Dad brought this one home in 1963; it had been released in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Hank's passing.  At that age (12) I didn't know Hank Williams from Hank Aaron, but this is the album I point to when someone says, "How did a Towson boy get into country music?"
  2. Very Best of Joe Tex - I prize versatility, and Memphis legend Joe Tex was able to do novelty hits ("Skinny Legs and All") and love ballads ("The Love You Save (May Be Your Own)") and even inspirationals ("Buying A Book").  So what if he also did "Ain't Gonna Bump No More With No Big Fat Woman"?
  3. Beach Boys Today - it came out in '65 and I about wore my copy out, playing it so much.
  4. Meet The Beatles - The Beatles were a band from England.
  5. The Ultimate Collection - Bing Crosby - Even if all he ever did was "Do You Hear What I Hear?" for the holidays, he'd still be on my list, but for pure singing, I always thought he was the best, edging out Billy Ray Cyrus in a close call.  
  6. Highway 61 Revisited - Bob Dylan - where the folk met the rock
  7. Cheap Trick at Budokan - I still can say that the sun sets on very few days that I haven't listened to "Surrender" from this by the time I hit the sack.
  8. Chuck Berry's Golden Decade - even though he spent a significant portion of this decade behind bars, he made some wonderful music before and after and he duckwalked it so well that Angus Young carries on the tradition.
  9. Elvis 30 #1 Hits - I promise you, this is true: the first time that someone suggested to me that a fellow employee would benefit from the EAP, I thought they were talking about Elvis Aron Presley, and not the Employee Assistance Program.  I still think the King would have done more good for that individual.  He taught the world that it was cool to be cool.
  10. The Ernest Tubb Story - I've told this story a million times, but this man was one of the founding fathers of country music, and yet, he treated a 16-year-old high school kid like some sort of king when I interviewed him, and I will revere him to my grave.
  11. We're Only In It For the Money - Mothers of Invention - Baltimore's own Frank Zappa combined social satire with music and just got a monument here in the Monumental City.
  12. The Essential Hank Snow - another legendary country guy - he was good enough on guitar to record instrumentals with Chet Atkins, and great enough as a singer to have hits in 5 decades.  Which is four more than Sugarland.
  13. Phil Spector - Back to Mono - 1958 - 1969 - I know that the only thing most people know about Phil is that he shot a woman to death and now languishes in a California jail, a life wasted.  But the music he made before, so great.
  14. Love Story 1966 - 1972 - LOVE - I consider that there might be 147 fans of this band on the face of the earth, and I've been one since these days.  The brilliance of Arthur Lee is indisputable, if only people would listen.  Won't you?
  15. Electric Warrior - T Rex - there must be something hypnotic in the subtle boogie beat here; I can't live without this CD.  "Life's a gas."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Here Comes Autumn

And why do we not have a lot of songs saluting Autumn?  There are over 15 million songs about how great Summer supposedly is, and yet I heard 15 million complaints this Summer about how hot it was (approximately 15 million degrees.)

It's over, as of 11-something PM tonight.  Then fall begins, with the pretty leaves and cooler air and nice breezes and a nip in the air that means it's time to put on a hoodie.  Halloween, Veterans' Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving...all Fall stuff. 

So come on, songwriters!  How about a hit song about how great it is to ride into the blazing orange and brown woods with a jacket on while listening to college football and hearing something crunch beneath your feet besides beer cans?

'Cause it's Autumn....autumn time is here....

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?

Every time you hear "Sweet Home Alabama," you have to think of this fellow!  And now, please send him off with a chorus of "Free Bird."  This is from the New York TIMES: 

Leonard Skinner, Namesake of Rock Band, Dies

Leonard Skinner, arguably the most influential high school gym teacher in American popular culture, whose enforcement of a draconian classroom policy against long hair inspired some of his students to name their Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, has died, The Florida Times-Union reported.
Mr. Skinner was 77 and living in a nursing home in Riverside, Fla. A cause of death was not immediately provided but his son, also named Leonard Skinner, told The Times-Union that his father had Alzheimer’s disease.
The elder Mr. Skinner, born Forby Leonard Skinner, was a gym teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville in the 1960s. His students included Ronnie Van Zant, a founder and lead vocalist of a band known variously as the Noble Five and My Backyard. Seeking a new name the group recalled Mr. Skinner, who was said to have sent Mr. Van Zant and his band mates to the principal’s office for wearing their hair too long in his class. In a mocking tribute, the fledgling band changed its name to Leonard Skinnerd and then, more memorably, to Lynyrd Skynyrd.

In a previous interview with The Times-Union, Mr. Skinner seemed not to be bothered by his association with Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose hits include “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Gimme Three Steps” and, of course, “Free Bird.”

“They were good, talented, hard-working boys,” Mr. Skinner said. “They worked hard, lived hard and boozed hard.”
His son told The Times-Union: “I think he kind of ate it up. He didn’t like it at first, he had mixed emotions later, but I think he kind of liked it eventually.”

Mr Skinner (I don't know why I call him that; he wasn't MY teacher!) also owned bars and a real estate company that parlayed his famous name into a second helping of moolah.  And he outlived a lot of the guys in the band. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

High Tension

There must be a lot of stress involved with working at CNN.  I remember a few years back, the weatherman who was being asked some relevant hurricane questions by Carol Costello, sniped and snipped and snapped and threw down his clipboard in a snitty rant. 


Now this from the other day, in which cranky anchor John Roberts gets all bossy with co-anchor Kiran Chetry.  Watch it, please; I'll wait.

Notice how he sneers so condescendingly, "Would you mind not doing that while I'm talking?" and then slams it home with a gratuitous "Thank you, I appreciate that."

He did not appreciate that, by the way.

I used to watch these two in the morning but I couldn't stand his orotund gravitas any longer.  He tends to come on as if everything he says is such a bfd and we'd better pay attention, dammit! 

No bellowing!
When I learned broadcasting back before the days of pomposity, we learned a valuable lesson from Vince Bagli, the Dean of Baltimore sportscasters.  Vince taught us to speak on the air the same way we would speak when ordering ham and eggs at the corner cafe. No bellowing, no preening, no stirring of base emotions with baseless claims and demagoguery. 

I guess things have changed.  But Mr Roberts, do you think you could summon up enough professionalism to do what you're being overpaid to do and not be distracted?  Do you think that Walter Cronkite, during Challenger explosions and assassinations and Bush inaugurations and other disasters didn't have distractions in front of him, beside him and behind him?

Oh, sorry.  I'm all distracted.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Think about what you'd be!

If I were a month I'd be November
If I were a day I'd be Saturday
If I were a time of day I'd be evening
If I were a font I'd be Gill Sans MT
If I were a sea animal I'd be a starfish
If I were a direction I'd be Northeast
If I were a piece of furniture I'd be a bookshelf
If I were a liquid I'd be Iced tea
If I were a gemstone I'd be an onyx
If I were a tree I'd be an willow
If I were a tool I'd be sandpaper
If I were a flower I'd be a black-eyed susan
If I were an element of weather I'd be a rainy day
If I were a musical instrument I'd be a drum
If I were a color I'd be orange
If I were an emotion I'd be laughter
If I were a fruit I'd be a lemon
If I were a sound I'd be the sound of happy laugh
If I were an element I'd be mercury
If I were a car I'd be a Camry
If I were a food I'd be roast beef
If I were a place I'd be my bed
If I were a material I'd be cotton
If I were a taste I'd be bread
If I were a scent I'd be gingerbread
If I were a body part I'd be a backbone
If I were a song I'd be "Don't She Look Good"
If I were a bird I'd be an oriole
If I were a gift I'd be heartfelt
If I were a city I'd be Cape May
If I were a door I'd be open for friends
If I were a pair of shoes I'd be Rockports
If I were a poem I'd be "America" by Allen Ginsberg

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Things to do in the middle of the night in a hospital room when you can't sleep

I was glad I brought the iPod to the hospital with me, and the Droid too, because at least that way I had something to do when the lights were dimmed,  most everyone had gone home, and the drip bottle that swayed ominously overhead contained a cocktail of pain killers and suppressants so strong that Keith Richards uses it in his coffee in place of Skinny 'n' Sweet®. 

Surgery went well.  Peggy and I only waited about fourteen seconds before I was called by number (11073) to report to pre-op, where I was unceremoniously told to get nekkid and don a gown which was to be my sole raiment for the next day or so. A hospital volunteer handed me the gown and a bag to hold my clothes and shoes.  I felt like Jake Blues in reverse.  And before I could even slip into the elegant often-used gown, a nurse was trying to barge into the little room.  Sinai Hospital in Baltimore MD does not waste time.  I like that in a hospital. 

But, once I was properly clad, they brought Peggy back to wait with me, and along came the man hereafter known as the Greatest Neurosurgeon In The World - Dr Neal Naff, my doctor: and he should be yours too, if you have a spine/nerve problem.   Dr Naff is that rarest of professionals who is at once thoroughly skilled in his field and among the best at doing what he does - AND - talking to people in regular human terms.  How many times have you been in a doctor's office, only to have him or her waxing on about your ill-regulated hypothalamus or your deviated septum, and you're zoning, looking at the skeleton model on the credenza or the diplomas arrayed on the wall?

Dr Naff would sit with us, circling the oogie parts of my lumbar assembly on a MRI film with a red grease pencil, and then he showed me what was wrong and what he was going to do about it. 

And doggone if he didn't DO it!  Huzzah!

But I can't really tell you much about all that.  I recall an anesthesiologist wearing a Ravens scrub hat coming into the little room, and he expressed every confidence that he would be able to send my senses deep into the next county by the time the scalpels came out.  And he did! Literally, the last thing I recall was being wheeled down the hall in the gurney, and seeing the faces of the people scurrying to get out of the way, and being admonished to keep my hands inside the gurney, and saying "bye" to Peggy, and that was it, until I awoke hours later in the recovery room.

Dr Naff
And then came the part I already told you about, in which my late father helped get me a room for the night, and then all night in that room, as Peggy dozed on and off on a sofa, I, hooked up to IVs and leg-squeezers, listened to my iPod, texted those few souls whom I thought might up and about at 3 AM, and gave great thanks for health care and doctors such as the great Neal J. Naff, MD, and the rest of the staff at Sinai. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

...but TRUE!

Hello, friends.  I haven't been here for a few days and it's nice to be back.  And for those of you who like things short and sweet and to the point ( as opposed to my usual verbosity) you will like the amount of energy I have to expend on anything, now that surgery is over.  It's very odd.  The whole operation only took a couple of hours, and now I feel like I am just completely zapped of energy.  Poco a poco, as they say in sunny Spain -  little by little.

But before I go heat up some soup I want to share this story.  I know I have told you 1,000 times about the interesting connection I have with my long-departed father.  You would never have imagined that I sprang forth from his gene pool.  To say that I was a Tony Danza sort of guy from a Laurence Olivier sort of family would sum things up nicely.  Dad was dignified, a pure gentleman, and gifted with all sorts of talents.  And if you know me, well.  He always hoped that I would become a skilled craftsman or artisan or respected member of society, but he began to suspect something was amiss when, at age 8, I confided to him that I felt that being a TV game show host was the most noble calling known to mankind.

But in his way he still looks out for me.  Here's a perfect example.   After my surgery on Monday, I spent about six hours in the recovery room, the first three because I was still looped from the happy juice, and then because there were no rooms available in the wing that spinal surgery patients use.  The staff told me that it appeared that I would have to stay overnight in the recovery area, which is certainly better than staying at a bus stop, but it would have meant that Peggy couldn't have stayed with me, as the plan was has I been on the regular floor.  And yes, far down on the list, but still on the list, was that there are no TVs in the recovery area, which would have meant not seeing the Ravens beat the Jets.  But I didn't relish the thought of not having Peggy there with me.  I never do like being without her.

So I closed my eyes in a narcotized haze and said, "Dad, can you pull something together here and get me a room on the third floor so I won't have to stay here?"  And it was within fifteen minutes that a nurse danced into my little cubbyhole and said,"Good news, Mr Clark!  You're moving to room 3025!"

My father's telephone number at home for the last 42 years of his life was 410 - xxx - 3025.  Don't try to tell me he wasn't letting me know he came through again.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

And a haircut, two bits





Burma Shave

Altho insured
Remember, kiddo
They don't pay you
They pay your widow

If you see this doggerel and say,"what is this?" that means you never saw a Burma-Shave sign, because if you ever saw them, you never forgot 'em! Before we zipped along the eight-lane superslabs, we took the regular roads to get to places, and a lot of times that meant tootling along some farm country road, where the Burma-Shave company posted sets of signs spaced along the road so drivers and passengers could read and enjoy the signs and their poetry, which usually was about road safety, mixing in a little plug for their brushless shaving cream along the way.

I don't know what the deal was for the farmer or whoever owned the land where the signs were placed. Maybe they gave him a case of Burma-Shave.

Well, I'm not getting any celebrity endorsement money for this, but I have to tell you, if you have something that needs a good shavin', break your neck to run out and get a Gillette Fusion razor. I remember reading about this new shaving technology in The New Yorker when the good folks at Gillette were working night and day to bring us this razor, and as someone who has been dragging a foam-covered piece of steel across my face for some time now, I have to admit, I did not put a lot of faith in the account. In fact, I didn't buy the razor; I got it for free in the mail and saved it while I used up some of the other razors I have. But friends, I don't know if it's the five blades or the pivoting head or just what, but this razor fairly glides across the stubble and leaves the face feeling smoother than a...than a freshly-shaven face. Not going to say "than a baby's behind" because that only invites unpleasant comparisons.

So, again, I don't know what kind of compensation deal was worked out in the past, but I'm stating that in return for a case of these razors, the Gillette people can put these signs on my front yard (pending zoning approval, of course):






Wednesday, September 15, 2010

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

I am in the hospital as you read this...I hope.  In fact, you might say, correctly, "Hopefully, I am in the hospital," because that's how I am in the hospital...hopeful.  So just in case I am too out of it to write a new entry, here's a cheap rerun from this September, 2008:

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

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

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

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

...One item I look forward to receiving in the email every day is the word of the day from Merriam-Webster (sign up at The etymology of words we employ daily is endlessly fascinating. Take today's word: dilapidated. We use it all the time, and we also use the word lapidary all the time as well, any time we speak of someone who cuts or polishes precious stones. And that's pretty much all the time, right? Anyhow, it turns out that the two words share a common root in the Latin word "lapis" (stone) , and that the original meaning of dilapidated was "pelted with stones." Endlessly fascinating.
...If you could go back to the age of 18 and lay out a plan for your life, could it possibly be as much fun as your real life turned out to be?
...I miss the days when everyone got all worked up about the new car models coming out in September. Now all cars look basically alike, are either black or silver or red, and have no distinct personalities.

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

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

...When I was in 4th grade I thought a dentifrice was the person in the dentist's office who cleaned your teeth.
...I have to go now; I feel all dilapidated.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Office Lunch

I am in the hospital as you read this...I hope.  In fact, you might say, correctly, "Hopefully, I am in the hospital," because that's how I am in the hospital...hopeful.  So just in case I am too out of it to write a new entry, here's a cheap rerun from this past May...

If you work in an office, and there are more people than just you working in that office, chances are you have some sort of lunchroom, with a shared refrigerator and microwave. Sometimes, you might see a toaster oven in the mix.

It's not a problem where I work, from all that I hear, but there are plenty of offices where people steal food from the lunchroom. Just Google (don't Bing, unless you want to hear Mr Crosby groan a number for you) "office lunchroom stolen food" and you will see 49,500 entries on the topic. Theft prevention tips always range from putting a coating of really hot pepper sauce on the food and leaving it in an inviting position in the Kelvinator. For this, you would want to use a Scotch bonnet pepper sauce. I have a bottle at home of something called "Smokin' Tonsils" hot sauce, and I am here to tell you, one drop on a porkchop will make your eyes water and your mouth sizzle and the top of your head commence to twitchin'. I love it! But that's one way to go. There are other adulterants that can be added to food for fun effect, and then other people suggest microcameras and booby traps to catch the thief.

And then there is the problem, not of people taking stuff out of the 'frig, but of people putting stuff in there and leaving it there until the milk turns to cheese and a peach starts to look like a mongoose. A very hairy mongoose, at that.

And then there is always the guy who takes all the ice out of the ice tray, and then puts the empty ice tray back in the freezer. So along comes someone who needs to ice down his Fresca, and there's no ice.

You may be certain that the people who do this sort of stuff at work are the people who will try to make a right turn from the center lane on their way home from work, and try to butt up ahead of you at the deli counter at the Shop 'n' Bag, and blow smoke in your face as you walk past the designated smoking area.

You want to get angry, but I go with pity - they have to live with themselves, and that can't be fun!

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Success is never final" - WInston Churchill

"I can hear money being counted!"
Labor Day in Baltimore, and people were all involved with two people at opposite ends of the entertainment business life cycle - Justin Bieber and Jerry Lewis.

Young Bieber "performed" at the State Fair the other night.  I understand that a lot of his singing was actually lip-synching to recorded songs he may or may not have recorded.  It matters not! He's the current teen fave heart throb big deal and you could have easily sold out six fairgrounds worth of tickets, instead of the one he did, for which all the ducats were scarfed up in 18 minutes. The Fairgrounds location is right across the street from Peggy's office, which I'm sure was vibrating harmonically on Sunday evening from the gleeful screams of the 12,500 in attendance.  Justin is this year's David Cassidy or Shaun Cassidy or Bobby Sherman or Leif Garrett, and there's nothing wrong with that.  He's not about to change the face of music for all time, as were the Beatles or Elvis, but he means a lot to these young girls, and why not?  He sings his songs, does his dance, they go nuts, and their adolescent bonds are formed with the other 12,498 girls, plus someone's big brother who was three nights late for Bret Michaels, but stayed around anyway.

  I don't see a need to pick on Bieber, as some do.  So his music is lightweight and he wears his hair in an eccentric fashion?  He's in show business.  His job is to give the customer what they want and let that old money roll in.  The only difference between him and Bobby Sherman is that Sherman was big in the early 70s and failed to roll that popularity into something else, as did Donny Osmond and the Cassidy boys, so now he was, at last report, working as a paramedic in Los Angeles.   Today, these guys make big money on not just concert tickets and CD sales, but they ca$h in on licensing deals that puts their mugs on everything from t-shirts to sippy cups.  They'd put their mug on coffee mugs too, if their fans drank coffee.  Mr Bieber will not arrive at middle age and find himself lifting patients onto a gurney or patching up gunshot victims.  By the time the first report cards come out this fall for people his age, his report card will say that he has earned enough money to live on forever.  Not bad at his age.

"Live on forever" might be the goal of another showbiz notable: the one, and apparently only, Jerry Lewis.  Now, I have to abandon all pretense of impartiality when it comes to discussing this man's work. Yes, he is most certainly an egomaniac.  He once said, "People hate me because I am a multifaceted, talented, wealthy, internationally famous genius.”  No shrinking violet, he.  But he also said this, and be sure to read the whole thing..."I am probably the most selfish man you will ever meet in your life. No one gets the satisfaction or the joy that I get out of seeing kids realize there is hope.”

At 84, Jerry is no longer as physically active as he was.  He said at the outset of the show that he'd be spending a lot of time perched atop a stool, and he didn't do much dancing or cavorting.  But, google the man, and see what he has done, and youtube the man and see some of his comedic masterpieces. Sure, he's in love with himself.  No one could do the things he has done without falling in love with him - or - herself.  A modest entertainer has only a modest career, sad to say.   And some wholly immodest people (George Hamilton's name comes to mind) aren't exactly legendary in their field because they lacked more than a modest amount of talent.

How are you going to hate on a man who has done what he has done for his "Kids"?   To see him schlumping around, clowning and begging to get donations for the MDA Telethon, is to see passion in action.  Try getting some mumbly, introspective, ponderous pontificator  to ask for money, and see if you get almost 60 million semolians for the benefit of people with neuro-muscular diseases.  I think not.  There is a place for the humble and the shy and there is doggone well a place in our world for the Jerry Lewises among us, although he may be the only one. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Twofer Children

This is a song I would like to share with you. It was written and performed by Tom T. Hall

in 1972; you can hear it here and read the words below.  I don't agree at all with the part about women thinking only about themselves. And I don't believe I have ever tasted watermelon wine, although I certainly would have, had the good people at Boone's Farm produced it 40 years ago.  And come to think of it, my friends are not the kind of friends who vanish when I need friends. And I've never owned a dog, old or otherwise.

I guess he might as well have called the song "Children," but Joe South

Born Joseph Alfred Souter

already wrote that.


Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine

"How old do you think I am," he said?
I said, well, I didn't know.
He said, "I turned 65 about 11 months ago."

I was sittin' in Miami, pouring blended whiskey down
When this old gray, black gentleman was cleaning up the lounge.
There wasn't anyone around, except this old man and me.
The guy who ran the bar was watching "Ironsides" on TV.

Uninvited, he sat down and opened up his mind
On old dogs and children and watermelon wine.
"Ever had a drink of watermelon wine," he asked.
He told me all about it, though I didn't answer back.
"Ain't but three things in this world that's worth a solitary dime,
But old dogs and children and watermelon wine."
He said, "Women think about themselves, when men-folk ain't around.
And friends are hard to find when they discover that you're down."
He said, "I tried it all when I was young and in my natural prime,
Now it's old dogs and children and watermelon wine.
Old dogs care about you even when you make mistakes.
God bless little children while they're still too young to hate."
When he moved away I found my pen and copied down that line
About old dogs and children and watermelon wine.

I had to catch a plane up to Atlanta that next day.
As I left for my room I saw him picking up my change.
That night I dreamed in peaceful sleep of shady summertime,
Of old dogs and children and watermelon wine.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

You Never Know. Nor Do I.

One thing you'll find as you experience more and more of life is how it is, what George Carlin said years ago: 

"No two ways about it, there are two sides to every story"

Take the other day.  I was leaving Towson, the county seat, and had parked in the big park-'em-up on the 7th floor.  I was not paying attention to a whole lot of other things beside my own job, and down by the police station, a guy was standing on the corner remonstrating loudly because a police car was parked alongside a fire hydrant.  His point was that if he did that right in his own neighborhood, he'd get a ticket, and who does this cop think he is, and why I oughta....

Was a time I might have agreed without looking into it a little bit.  I know that this is the sort of thing that people love to see, and I will say that yes, it does set a bad example...EXCEPT...

what if the cop had just had to run into the precinct house because someone else was under assault and needed help?

what if he or she had just brought in some crook who was resisting and needed backup to subdue him (or her)? 

what if the cop was having chest pains or some other hypercritical symptom?

What if, what if, what if.  Things are not always what they seem.  I know enough police to know that there might have been very good reason for parking by the plug...and enough to know that there might not have been.

And I know enough firefighters to know that if the police station or any other building on that block was on fire and they rolled up on, they would find a way to hook their hard sleeve and get water out of that hydrant.
Flowing nicely...

You might see a friend of yours driving away from a motel parking lot with a female, and never know that it's his niece, Bernice, from San Cerise.  She's in town for the amateur poet competition, specializing in stoic repetition.

You might see someone purchasing milk, butter, eggs and flour and assume they are making a cake, but you really shouldn't assume that you'll be invited over for some.

And you might feel certain that someone named Patrick O'Francis Hoolahan might be of Irish descent, but you never know.  Things are not always what they seem!

Which is not to say that Mr Enraged did not have a point about the car being parked illegally. But Mr Been Around For a While wants to tell him that sometimes, we need to look beyond the curtain to see what happened to set the scenario.  It's not always what it seems to be.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Song I Can't Sing Again

"Her Name Was JoAnn," and so I would sing that old Michael Nesmith tune to her in my patented atonal manner.  "And she lived in a meadow by a farm...," the lyrics continued. 

But although our JoAnn lived in a wheelchair, that chair did not define her any more than costume wings make one a bluebird.  

Our JoAnn worked as a senior aide in the building I used to manage. The job came through a federal grant to pay seniors a small (really small!) wage to do tasks in workplaces.  Sometimes, the senior aides worked harder and did more than the workforce they were there to supplement, and sometimes the seniors learned new skills and honed talents such as using a PC or postage meter, or watching me stab myself in the palm of my left hand while trying to simultaneously a) open a package and b) talk to a guy named Bob.  I have a place where four stitches were used to prove that it's best to pay more attention to the blade cutter than to Bob.  

But that's how JoAnn came to us, through this program, and I always liked the program because we got to meet some pretty cool people and get some chores done, and they got to do something better than sit around watching Regis all morning.  Being in a wheelchair and being a person with cerebral palsy never took away the gift that JoAnn had to share with us.  She was unfailingly pleasant, cheerful, kind, generous, and would be willing to undertake any task.  As we got to know her, we found that her parents had told her that she was less of a person for her condition, and they told her it didn't even matter if she finished school or learned a trade.  They just seemed to dismiss her, and how wrong that was...

Because JoAnn was sent to this earth and to our workplace as an angel.  Now look, I'm not going all George Bailey on you here, but I do see religion as a positive force on our lives, and I think that God sends examples down here all the time, little parables to show us the way.  When you see some pompous horse's patootie get his come-uppance - and believe me, most uppances will come - maybe there are celestial forces behind it.  And when someone down on their luck hits it big...and when hard work pays off...and when people are shown that virtue is its own reward...maybe that's when the angels among us start ringing their bells.

Because you'd have to be the biggest oaf in the world to be working with a woman who would have given anything to have the motor-skill ability that most of us are blessed to have, and then complain about having a headache or an aching duodenum or something. 

Because anyone could see the gift that JoAnn brought us.  I told some of the folks, the twinkle in her eye when someone cracked a joke or sang a silly song was like the twinkling of a star in the clear night sky.  

Freed of the earthly bonds that kept her legs from running, but never her heart and mind and soul, JoAnn danced across the night sky last night, and went home. If you were lucky, and you knew her, you saw her twinkle. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hick Preacher All Fired Up

To use a word that the "Reverend" Terry Jones, pride of suburban Gainesville, FL, uses, it would be "tragical" if an American service person were to lose his or her life or limb because of a retaliatory attack from Muslims, provoked by Jones's idiotic plan to burn the Koran at the ironically named Dove World Outreach Center on Saturday.

He'll decide what you can read
And yet, over 8,000 people have "liked" his Facebook page.  At one time, Facebook gave one the chance to "like" certain bands or movies or TV shows or methods of self-gratification.  But no, someone had to say, "Let's see how many people will 'like" the idea of a good ol' fashioned book burnin', led by the goofy, mustachioed Jones. 

This is how we prove that we are better people than they are, you see.

Lost in all the hysteria is that Jones will stand behind the US Constitution and declare this to be part of his freedom of speech, while ignoring the part of the Constitution that might allow the construction of a mosque somewhere...

Just look at the glee on their faces
We've seen this before.  Nazis were burning books before they tore the place all to hell in Kristallnacht, in 1938, and to a far less serious extent, there was the mini-furor over a misinterpreted offhand remark made by John Lennon that led to Beatles albums being burned in 1966.  

And of course, you might wonder if this latest Jonestown mob would care if the ill feeling engendered by their ill feelings would come back to harm someone.

"Of course we care," Jones told ABC News. "It'd be tragical if because of this one person died. But at the same time, we do not feel responsible for that.
What we are doing is long overdue. We are revealing the violence of Islam that is much, much deeper than we'd like to admit."

And he told NBC that he has never read the Koran. He's just too idiotical. But he done got himself on the TV, ain't he?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Worry about this, instead

According to a story on NPR, parents worry about all the wrong things when it comes to protecting their children from possible causes of death.Quoting from the story:
"These worries that we have are so rare," says Christie Barnes, mother of four and author of The Paranoid Parents Guide. "It’s like packing a snow shovel in case it snows in Las Vegas."
  Ms Barnes surveyed a number of parents and found that these are the things that they worry about for their kids:
  1. Kidnapping
  2. School snipers
  3. Terrorists
  4. Dangerous strangers
  5. Drugs 

But here is the list of causes of childhood mortality:
  1. Car accidents
  2. Homicide (usually committed by a person who knows the child, not a stranger)
  3. Abuse
  4. Suicide
  5. Drowning
I don't want to make light of anything that others worry over.  We all have our own demons.  But milk-carton evidence aside, you really don't hear of many children being kidnapped, and the snipers, terrorists and dangerous strangers are pretty much held at bay by the defenses we have in place...the armed forces and the police.  As a non-parent, but someone who loves kids, I don't know the best way to direct them to a life free from drug dependency, except to show them pictures of Sid Vicious
Sid:He didn't get the joke
or Alan Wiggins.
So much talent, wasted.
Teach the kids to deplore wastes of talent, of life itself.

And parents can allay their fears of the things that really harm the children by driving safely, protecting them from abusers (and believing them when they say they are being abused) and getting them psychological help as needed.  Again, I'm no expert, but no one balks at taking the kid to the doctor when they have a sprained wrist or ankle.  There is help available for their sprained soul, if needed.

And number 5 - drowning - I just read this summer that the old saw about not going in the water for half an hour after eating is not valid.  Great!  We are all entitled to lots of half-hours in the pool, creek, bay or ocean.  Adult Swim!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Joe Mitchell's Secret

Stick with me on this one, please.  This story is quite a bit odd, and totally true.

The old man loved the seafood
There was a man by the name of Joseph Mitchell (1908 - 1996) who came from prosperous farm people in North Carolina, a state that in about ten months should be seeing a boom in baby boys named Earl, and little girls called Earlene. But that has nothing to do with Mitchell, who came to New York in the early 1930s and worked for a time as a newspaper reporter in those golden days of newspaper reporters.  He moved on to The New Yorker magazine, where he became a chronicler in long form of the city's offbeat characters.  When that old TV show said there were ten million stories in the Naked City, they surely knew what they were talking about.

Mitchell wrote about the denizens of the docks, the bars where longshoremen congregated, the seafood restaurants and the seafood.  He loved seafood so much that he called himself a seafoodetarian ("When I get through tearing a lobster apart, or one of those tender West Coast octopuses, I feel like I had a drink from the fountain of youth."). Such a way with words had Mitchell that he found plenty to write about in the history of bars, such as McSorley's Saloon, and people who hung around in bars, such as Joe Gould.

Joseph Ferdinand Gould (1889 - 1957) was a Boston-born, Harvard-educated man of, again, prosperous parents, but whereas Mitchell earned a nice living writing about the pre-beatnik bohemians and free spirits of the waterfront, Gould found it less profitable to be one of those spirits.  Having himself worked as a newspaper reporter for a time, Gould hit upon a great idea: to write the longest book ever written, and so he told everyone that he had begun to compile An Oral History Of Our Time.  Oh, what a book it was going to be. Gould claimed that he was interviewing scholars, journalists, eyewitnesses and people who knew something about anything and writing this epic tome.  For years it was all he could talk about, and he did so with such a sense of self-promotion that Mitchell began writing about Gould writing a book. (Later, someone wrote a movie script about Mitchell writing about Gould writing a book, and here I am writing about someone writing a movie script about Mitchell writing about Gould writing a book.  You see what happens when you let this stuff get started?

Gould was not Mitchell's only subject, but he did figure prominently in Mitchell's life, occasionally cadging dinner, a drink or a night's sleep on the office sofa.  He kept writing until 1964, when he published Joe Gould's Secret, and the secret was that there was no book.  All the "manuscripts" that Gould had left buried here and there were blank pages or old scrap paper.  Gould was dead by then, but something else died too: Mitchell's ability to write.

From 1964 until 1996, Mitchell continued to report to work at the New Yorker every single day, and never wrote another word.  Those who know about the magazine's bizarre business model in those days were not surprised to look up toward the end of the man's life and realize that hey, it's been years, he goes into that office every day and does who-knows-what, and then writes nothing.  Roger Angell, a great writer and editor at The New Yorker, wrote these words after Mitchell passed away in 1996: "Each morning, he stepped out of the elevator with a preoccupied air, nodded wordlessly if you were just coming down the hall, and closed himself in his office. He emerged at lunchtime, always wearing his natty brown fedora (in summer, a straw one) and a tan raincoat; an hour and a half later, he reversed the process, again closing the door. Not much typing was heard from within, and people who called on Joe reported that his desktop was empty of everything but paper and pencils. When the end of the day came, he went home. Sometimes, in the evening elevator, I heard him emit a small sigh, but he never complained, never explained."

Mitchell himself, toward the end of his days, allowed as how he thinks his preoccupation with the Gould "book," and his dismay at being hoodwinked over it, led him to the 32-year case of writer's block that he suffered.  Mitchell was an intelligent man, fond of New York history and architecture, and conversant on many topics. But these sad words to a newspaper reporter four years before he died say so much about a life confused: "You pick someone so close that, in fact, you are writing about yourself. Talking to Joe Gould all those years he became me in a way, if you see what I mean."

Robert Frost wrote this in "The Road Not Taken:"  

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both  And be one traveller, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth..."

I love Mitchell's writing - books of his pre-1964 essays are available - and he had a marvelous way with our language.  I wish he had written more, but perhaps he followed the path to which life led him.I think about all those lonesome days in the office, and I wonder how that must have felt, to be on such a lonesome path.

Monday, September 6, 2010

My Kind of Towns

I'm probably not like most people (understatement!) in that whenever I see one of those "How Am I Driving? - call 1-800-WHO-GIVES-A-S" stickers on the back of a truck, van or team of horses, I am tempted to call and give a favorable report.  Heaven knows, those calltakers get a million calls a year about some trucker who made an illegal lane change while texting without wearing a seatbelt.  I like to spot something nice that the driver did and tell the company about it. 

Alternately, I like to give a literal answer to the question, "How am I driving?" by calling the 800 number and saying, "OK he's driving southbound...about 45 miles an hour...wait...turning...he is now headed eastbound...that's how he's driving.." I like to feel that I give people something to tell the family about over dinner.

How cool would it be to drive this thing?
So the other day I'm headed home on Cromwell Bridge Road, and just past the intersection of Cowpens Avenue, Cromwell Bridge narrows into one lane.  Most people, being mature and considerate adults, merge seamlessly in a zipper effect - one car from the right and then one from the left, forming one lane.  Inevitably, of course, there is a horse's patootie who zooms past everyone on the right and forces his (!) way to the head of the line, so that he can then get stuck behind a slow-moving piece of farm apparatus.  A giant forage harvester, or my personal favorite, the hay baler (above) that looks for all the world like a B.A. Praying Mantis, is usually headed up toward the farms anyway, so what's the rush there, hotshot?

But, the person driving a white passenger van at the head of the line graciously pulled up to allow Mr Hotshot to make his move, and I thought such courtesy was commendable, and dialed the 800 number plastered on the van.  I love calling on the Droid because I can just hit 'voice dialer' and bark out a number in any accent I choose.  I believe I did that one as James Cagney, or perhaps Bob Hoskins.  A young man answered the 800 number and was pleased to hear he was getting a compliment-call instead of a complaint; he wanted to know what road I was driving on.

"Cromwell Bridge Road, Baltimore County, Maryland, northbound, just past Cowpens Avenue," I reported.  Complete, yet terse.

The guy was all, "whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat road?  Are you on a bridge?  Near cow pens? What is the name of the road you are on?"

Well.  It's Cromwell Bridge Road.  The railroad bridge used to run through here, but now that we all have cars, no more railroad, although you can still see the old bridge abutments here.  Cowpens Avenue is so named because at one time there were....come on now...cow pens there!  Baltimore County is full of interesting names for roads and towns.  Rolling Road got its name for being the place where farmers would roll barrels of tobacco downhill to the railroad station in the old days. Near there is Johnnycake Road, where there was a tavern where travelers weary from their journey could get fresh hotcakes.  York Rd in Towson is the slow way - once the only way - to get to York, PA, where they call the same slab of concrete "Baltimore Pike."  York Road also goes through Cockeysville, a name that out-of-towners invariably find amusing, until they come down there and find that you can't swing a bag of groceries in that area without hitting someone named Cockey.  On the east side, people chuckle over a waterway named Bread And Cheese Creek.

Baltimore County is also famous for not having Baltimore City in it.  The two are totally separate jurisdictions.  Where I work, if I step out front and heave a baseball southward, it will be in Baltimore City by the time it lands.  When you see ball games, fireworks demonstrations, Harborplace, great museums, and the National Aquarium, you're in Baltimore City.  When you see a mall and drive past the mall for a hundred yards and you're on someone's dairy farm, you're in Baltimore County.

Here's where we fit in.
Our town names sound glamorous and Southern - Texas! Jacksonville! Phoenix! or prestigious - Butler! or hard-to-explain - Sparks! Fork! or easy-to-explain - Maryland Line!  But never - even though we have a town by this name, zip code 21020 - Boring!