Thursday, March 31, 2011

Patch me through

According to all the prophets and prognosticators, the news source of the future will be online forms such as Patch, which is an AOL product.  Newspapers, six o'clock newscasts on tv, Newsweek magazine...all of these are seen as fading vestiges of another era.  I hope this is not so, and I see newspapers trying to make the change to remain important to their readers - important enough to keep them subscribing.  And papers are putting their product online too.

I can't say it often enough - it's ALL good when it comes to reading the news or hearing the news or seeing the news. I love my local Patch and it gives me news and announcements that I wasn't seeing elsewhere.  From the news about a big fire to the news about a bake sale, it's there,  and I love it.  And it helps us all learn the local news. We need more people who know what's going on, trust me.

One of the interesting facets of Patch, if you'll click on the word, is that the articles are often followed up with reader fora, so that everyone gets to weigh in on it.  And while I stand tall for a free press and everything else, well, tell you what.  Read the article about the local police officer and police union president (full disclosure: I know the man and respect him and consider him a friend) who is being investigated by his own agency.  The facts are that there was some sort of confrontation when Sgt. Cole Weston came home and saw a man handing money to a man in a parked car.  His training and experience told him to check the situation, so he did, and then the guy with the money ran off, and the driver of the car - which turned out to be one of those sedan service vehicles that function as taxis - claims that the policeman slugged him and/or pointed his gun at him...and already, we're into "he said/he said/he said" territory here.  All we know for sure, all that all three men are consistent upon, is that there was a confrontation that got a little heated.  You can read it all on the Patch account of the fracas.

But what concerns me a little bit is the reader forum that follows.  Man oh man, people who weren't even awake that night at midnight, let alone within 20 miles of this street, all write that they know what happened.  Some know for sure that the officer handled it all wrong, and others are just as certain, as they sit in their sunroom on a sunny Sunday several days later, that he was right.  Some people are saying, you could look up the victims on the Maryland Judiciary Case Search and see that they have been defendants in the past.  One thing I do know for sure is that it is very easy to make a claim that a police officer mistreated you, because the police department is sure as heck going to check it out.  It's the only way that they can maintain their integrity as part of the community.  The police have to take all such claims at face value and go from there.  My first question would be, if the officer identified himself and asked what you were up to, why would you not just answer the question, if you have nothing to hide?  I have long made it a blanket policy that anyone can come up to me and ask what I am up to, and get an honest answer.  I certainly have nothing to hide.

But my point - here it comes - is this. Yes, I believe in the free and open exchange as typified here in the Patch.  But there are some people who will see this and then say, "Well it said in the Patch that _______ (insert conclusion) so there you go!" This has been a problem since the early days of the Rush Limbaugh show, when he would sit there sucking a stogie and say, "Mmnump, mnunmp, mnunmp, you KNOW that Vince Carter had to be rubbed out because Clinton found out about him and Hillary! Right, Mr Snerdley?"  And then, Jim Bob from Waxahatchie would call and offer a "megadittoes," and you had people believing in a myth, a fabrication, a prevarication.

And what does all this prove? It proves nothing. I want to hear that Sgt. Weston was in the right, and I think it will mean a lot to him that people hear the whole story and THEN find in his favor. I know it would be more meaningful to me to have people on my side because the facts tell them to, rather than just sticking up for me because of friendship.  Meanwhile, we don't know what happened that night, although many people are writing as if they do.  Only three people do, and they will tell their story to the proper authorities.  Before anyone decides anything, let's let them hear everything.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Philadelphia Story

The man's name was Bob Marcucci and he did things that people don't do these days.  He died recently in Los Angeles, but his story begins in his native Philadelphia, where he was working as a waiter in an Italian restaurant in 1957.  That's when he borrowed $10,000 from his father and started a record label known as Chancellor Records (there's a Chancellor Street in Philly.)

Those being the nascent days of rock 'n' roll, three years later, the small label grossed $2 million. The first big seller for Marcucci was a kid who showed some musical talent.  Born Francis Thomas Avallone, he was a teen trumpeter and he thought he could also sing a little, but would prefer to keep tooting the horn. Marcucci said, "Give me a year and I'll make you a star."  The first two records they released on the young man failed to hit the Top 40, or the Top 4,000 for that matter.  But then, Marcucci wrote a little ditty called "De De Dinah."  The young man with a horn put the trumpet down, stepped up the mic and sang the song while holding his nose to create a distinctive vocal sound, and went on the road, now known as Frankie Avalon.  He's still known that way and he is still out on the oldies revue circuit, still singing "De De Dinah" and other hits.  Regular viewers of cable tv know him as Teen Angel, singing "Beauty School Dropout" in the movie "Grease."
"He was my mentor, he was my creator, and he really put all of his time and efforts into creating a star," Avalon told the Los Angeles Times. "He had so much zest for life. And with his enthusiasm for show business and the people that he believed in, he just wouldn't stop."

Well, a guy with some musical talent is one thing to make into a star, but here's the real kicker.  Frankie's sister went to school with a 15-year-old kid named Fabiano Forte.  As the legend goes, Marcucci was in the South Philly neighborhood where the Avallones lived when he saw an ambulance in front of a house and an upset looking kid on the porch.  The kid was Fabiano Forte, who was pondering the family's fate.  His father, the breadwinner for the family, was a Philly cop, and in those days, a cop who went sick was a cop who went without a paycheck, so naturally, Fabiano was worried.

Marcucci asked the lad if he could sing or if he were interested in being a singer.  Answer to both: "No."
But you don't get to be a millionaire show biz mogul by taking any amount of "nos" for answers.  He kept at it, and of course pointed out that the Forte family fortunes could be vastly improved by the proceeds from a couple of hit records.  Bob gave the singer a new name ("Fabian") and a new wardrobe. He beat the drum, hanging posters that read “Who Is Fabian?,” “What Is a Fabian?” and “Fabian Is Coming!” This was sort of the Facebook of the 50's - hiring kids to go around tacking posters on street corners and telephone poles. In June 1958, Fabian showed up on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” tv show, sporting a sweater, tight pants and white bucks.

“The little girls at the hop went wild,” Clark told The Washington Post. “They started screaming and yelling for this guy who didn’t do a thing but stand there. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Before buying his way out of his contract several years later, Fabian had hit records with “I’m a Man,” “Tiger,” “Turn Me Loose” and “Hound Dog Man.”

As is the way with teen idols, his popularity waned, and he wound up making a couple of movies before hopping on the oldies revue bus with Frankie Avalon.

And Bob Marcucci's Midas touch went away too. The last Top 10 hit for the Chancellor label was Claudine Clark’s “Party Lights,” in 1962, and by 1965 the label was out of business.

He moved to Los Angeles, as do so many, and he found work on the edges of show business.

And now, at long last, I can quit sitting around on our front porch wearing my plaintive, despondent face.  Bob Marcucci has passed on, and I guess I'll never be discovered.  Which is good, because I'm a terrible singer.

But there was a time when that didn't matter!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Like OMG!

So, we've been talking lately about football and Alabama and bugs and bats and medical procedures, so I thought I'd lighten it up today and talk about something light 'n' breezy.


Now, I'm a big fan, big believer and it's great if you are too or however you want to play it.  I'm not one of those who acts as if I knew all the answers to the divine mysteries of life on earth and in the heaven that awaits many of us. (Including me, please!  I'm hoping to get in on a pass, since Peggy will surely be ushered right on in without delay.)  

But here are three things that I think about when I think about God, which is often, I hasten to point out:

  1. I am majorly grateful for him giving us this world and all its glories, chief among which is love.  And for sending Peggy to me.
  2. I believe that He could not care much less about who wins a regular-season major league baseball game, let alone exhibition games from the Grapefruit League.  I believe that what he did was bestow upon several thousand American males in each generation the athletic ability, coordination and grace (photo) to play this great game at its upper competitive levels, and then we can all sit back and see what these guys do with that gift.  In other words, I do not let my brow remain unfurrowed when some journeyman relief pitcher tosses a fat one to a slugger who lines a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, thereby blowing a two-run lead, and then says, "It was God's will." I just can't think that God likes one team more than another, or wills the Phillies to shut out the Braves, although I can see why he wouldn't like the Red Sox very much...
  3. I firmly believe that God Himself is in charge of the weather, and He sends rain when He thinks we need rain.  Television news anchors are forever trying to be so cute, "blaming" the weather man for a rainy weekend, and if you think about it, this is ascribing some very heavy power to a guy who can't grow his own hair, let alone cause a frontal boundary to form over West Virginia.
So those are some of my thoughts about God, and I look forward to hearing yours.  Unless you are a relief pitcher who just tossed a weak pitch to a strong hitter.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sailor Walks Into a Bar with a Pirate on his Shoulder....

Well, it's spring, and time for the cruise ships to be sailing away and coming back with a ship-pot full of people sick from some mystery illness. Everyone has a great time sailing the high seas aboard the SS Edward Teach, don't they?

Blackbeard's Flag seems corny today
It appeals to my mordant sense of humor to name a ship after Teach, who is better known today for his nickname, "Blackbeard the Pirate."  Long before Keith Richards was born, Blackbeard knew of the advantages that came with cultivating a fearsome appearance.   Another pirate had this to say about his look: "...such a figure that imagination cannot form an idea of a fury from hell to look more frightful."  He wore his hair long and wove colorful ribbons into the braids of his beard.  This sort of appearance today is called "Being An Oakland Raiders Fan."  He had a thick black beard. Remember, this was before there was before the days of Just For Men or Clairol Natural Instincts for Men, but then again, most accounts of his life say that it ended at the age of 38, the age that most American men of this era are just beginning to spread out a little, shall we say.
When I read about the dude, I was fascinated with the names of the other people who figured in his short yet colorful life.  His pirate apprenticeship was served under a pirate named Benjamin Hornigold.  Teach and Hornigold met a pirate named Stede Bonnet, who invented the hat that even today is worn by pirate girlfriends and bunnies at Eastertime. Or not.  But Mr Bonnet was an incompetent pirate!  I know! We don't often think of pirates as being incompetent, but he had deficiencies in sailing a ship and ordering a crew around, and those two skills have to be at the top of any pirate's list of talents to master.  So Blackbeard took over the Bonnet crew and sailed with his merry men around the Southern Atlantic and then wound up off the coast of South Carolina, where they blocked access to the port of Charleston (then called Charles Town). 

Timbers being shivered
His career plundering the high seas was short but, as you might imagine, colorful.  The colonial governor of Virginia, one Alexander Spotswood, sent a fleet of rickety ships, commanded by Lt. Robert "Bob" Maynard, after Blackbeard.  There was a short period of unpleasantness between the two men, which ended with Blackbeard's head being removed from his body against his wishes and being displayed on the bowsprit of Maynard's vessel.  

This is why, to this day, to ask a boat's intended course of travel, we ask, "Where are you headed?"

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Rerun: Admit It!

We all fell for it - we all thought there was something to hypnosis. I mean, it was advertised in all the best comic books, and we all thought we could waggle a pocket watch in front of Miss Rennie in room 4 at Hampton School and then snap our fingers and make her cluck like a chicken. Notice that the ad informs us that this deals in modern hypnosis. None of that ancient stuff. After all, we had timidity to conquer.

And these gas masks! We all had 'em, gotten from Sunny's Surplus, and so we all walked around looking all bug-faced. These ads must have been from the 50's, because that was the last time that two guys had to form a limited liability corporation, pooling half a buck each to send away for war surplus gas masks.

Elementary school kids. Gas. You know where this always wound up going.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday rerun: Let's Twist the Do!

'Tis said there are statistics and there are statistics...but here's one for you. Owing to some sort of math that we may never understand, Billboard Magazine has declared "The Twist" by Chubby Checker as the most popular single in the 50 years of their Hot 100 chart.

If you read the article, it turns out that the Einsteins at Billboard had to "weight" the charts differently from the long-ago days when the most popular records were actually the most popular records. Who knows how they figure it today, but how many times have you ever heard the answer to, "What is your favorite song of all time?" come back as "Why, it's 'The Twist', by Chubby Checker! Was there any doubt?" Asked for a comment, Chubby (born Ernest Evans but renamed in honor of Fats Domino; one can only surmise that "Porky Parcheesi" was already taken in the adipose tissue- child's game name contest) had this to say: "I'm glad they've finally recognized it." Not a lot of elaboration from a man who clearly has all kinds of time on his hands, you say? Well, wait! There's more! El Chubaramo compared "The Twist" to the creation of the telephone as a groundbreaking moment. Pause to let that sink in. How does that come, Mr. Checker, that recording "The Twist" is as important as getting the first phone call from Alexander Graham Bell? Well, it's because, he said, it was the first time people were dancing "apart to the beat."

"Anyplace on the planet, when someone has a song that has a beat, they're on the floor dancing apart to the beat, and before Chubby Checker, it wasn't here, and I think that has a lot to do with me being on the charts," he said. Attention! Celebrity-referring-to-self-in-the-third-person alert!!

I know you might think I have a sense of folly, and I might open up a can of silly in the name of satire, only to have it close on Saturday night. But this is all true. Poppa Chubby inserts himself high atop the pantheon of rock's immortal performers, because, you see, before he came along, no one ever danced apart. I guess all those people who claimed to be doing the Charleston, the Big Apple and the Madison never really existed!

One last blast of Chubby's ego: "My music is less played than any performer that has been a No. 1 chart man on the planet," said Checker, who also had hits with "Pony Time," "The Fly" and "Let's Twist Again," which earned him a Grammy. "I don't get the respect that Rod Stewart gets, or the Rolling Stones, or Frankie Valli. ... But I have to deal with it."

Ah, Chubster, so do we all. As the noted novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." It's a past in which Chubby Checker was more important than the Rolling Stones, and General Tso was a great military leader in China who operated a chicken carryout on the side. And Art Deco was an interior designer, and Frankie Valli got respect? Who knew?
thanks to Yahoo! Entertainment for the original story!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Don't Call Me, Deacon Blues

It happened again the other morning at the bagel shop, and I guess I should get used to it.  It's not that I am unaccustomed to people remarking on my appearance.  At 6'5" and just an ounce or two over 250 lbs (pause for laughter) and with my predilection for outrageous behavior, I have seen plenty of people giving me the two-eye squint.

But when I wear a certain jacket and/or hat, it's as if I am a member of a secret society.  I have always heard that Rosicrucians or Hibernians or members of the Internat'l Order of Odd Fellows wear tiny lapel pins that, when spotted by fellow members of the group, get them preferred seating at an Ed Ames concert or an extra porkchop or something.  

My clannish garb is a crimson Alabama jacket or cap. Wearing either or both always yields the same results: someone will look me up and down (which takes a while, granted) and then nod and say, "Roll TIDE!"  (Fist pump optional.)  You see, they call Alabama The Crimson Tide, as Steely Dan knew so well.  They got the name from a football game in 1907 which was played on a messy field of red muddy dirt, a game in which an underdog Alabama team fought to a tie against the heavily-favored eleven from Auburn, which, as I understand it, is a college that people attend half-heartedly after being denied admission to the University of Alabama.

Where did all this come from, that I, a man who can count his trips to Dixie on the fingers of a catcher's mitt, became such a devotee of a school I've never been to in a state I have driven through but twice?  A state which holds the crypt of Hank Williams, but when I stopped for gas and waffles there in 2004 on the way to Drew and Laura's wedding and asked Goober for directions to the graveyard, he said, "You don't wanna go there."  Yes, I did, but he just repeated that I did not want to go there.  Still a mystery.  It was a chilly morning, and when we left the Cracker Barrel and piled into the minivan, Mom could hardly stop chuckling about the guy in the restaurant who was talking about the "Damn fool out there wearing green shorts on a cold day like this."  

I'll end the mystery right here and tell you, I was wearing green shorts that day.  Surprise surprise!

So, I don't know. Somehow, perhaps because of the influence of seeing so many Tide football games on the TV, or perhaps from seeing the swashbuckling quarterbacks Joe Namath and Ken Stabler, both proud 'Bama boys, or just because I love the sound of the words "Alabama Crimson Tide" the way Keith Jackson used to croon them on ABC, I became a fan, and I'm not alone.  Thanks to all of you who have given me the high sign and hollered "Roll Tide" at gas stations, grocery stores and wedding ceremonies.  And remember this:  the NFL may be on strike, and they may or may not play this year, but the Tide will roll, as sure as grits are groceries.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A B C D E F G H I got a gal in Kankakee...

My sophisticated humor remains a mystery to most children and many grownups, but I enjoy cracking myself up, so it's OK.  Just the other day, I said the word "stinkbug" in front of my five-year-old great nephew, who thereupon fell into gales of laughter.  Two reasons for that:  a) any word with the letter "k" in it is funnier than any word without it*, and 2) it uses the word "stink," which is automatically funny to five-year-olds and up.

So, the stinkbugs are making a big comeback this year, just when we all thought their popularity would be limited to the year 2010, like Lady GaGa.  Science has put aside their quests to cure the common cold and turn baser metals into gold in order to squash the stinkbug problem.  

And as soon as you squash one, that's when you find out why they call 'em stink bugs to begin with!

Two means of eradication are being considered.  There is some sort of non-stinging Asian wasp, in the genus Trissolcus, that can be trained to track down stinkbug eggs, lay a single egg of their own in each of the eggs, and then move on in search of more.  Like in the movie "Alien," the baby stinkbug is then eaten from within its own sac by a parasite.  Sigourney Weaver is definitely on board for when they make a movie about this.

Plot #2 is that the brown marmorated stink bug is a favorite snack of bats, which can eat 1,000 of them in an hour, thereby eclipsing my personal record for Hint Of Lime Doritos.  So all you have to do is get a bat house in your back yard, and let them do their thing.  A simple plan for building your own is shown below.  

Talk about family fun!  Tell the rest of the gang that you're all going to spend the next 16 weekends building wooden bat shelters, and then you'll invite bats to inhabit your back yard this summer.  Then tell me how they feel about that!

* Take this simple test.  Which word is funnier:  "kabob" or "stew"?  "Kalin" or "Palin"? "Kankakee" or "Kalamazoo"? That one has to go to "Kankakee" for the triple-letter score, but "Kalamazoo" still stands as a doggone funny town.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tell 'em a happy couple sent ya!

If you live within 150,000 miles of Baltimore and need a car, what you need is a Toyota, and how you get that Toyota is totally up to you.  Except that the only way to go is to get into whatever sad, tired, beat-up heap you are currently pushing around and drive to Jones Junction in Bel Air, MD - it's right there where Belair Rd and Harford Rd meet, by the new WaWa. And when you're there, ask for Steve Pagotto and tell him you need a Toyota.  You'll be driving home in style real soon!

This Jones place is like car paradise, I tell you. I'm not a car-crazy guy and I don't particularly enjoy car shopping, which is why I only do so every eleven years, or after someone puts the atomic whammy on the back of my old pick-'em-up and I need a new ride.
All day! All free!
So you go there, and it's not like the old-school car showroom, where the only entertainment is reading through the sales brochures about the all new Biscaynes, or running your hands over the carpet samples over by the water fountain.  Jones is a veritable wonderland, a panoply of fun and food. F'rinstance: you can get a manicure or a shoe shine. Peggy is going to take advantage of the manicure this weekend, and if I ever wore anything but Rockports -the favorite shoe of mallwalkers all across America - I would hop up into the shine chair.  They have hot dogs rolling around on one of those grillers all day every day, with a fixin's bar that even Roy Rogers would envy - and they are supposed to be getting a chili dispenser for the dogs! Saturdays at noon, they wheel out two giant charcoal grills, and they do cheeseburgers and hot dogs out there! All this chow is free!  You know that appeals to an old freeloader such as I.

Hot dog, burger and soda in hand, you set about the business of buying a car.  Unlike the average showroom, where they have 6 or 7 models sitting around and any car that you want has to be ordered from some dealer's lot in Pound, Kentucky, Jones has, at my estimate, 1,500,000 cars for sale right on their premises. (Figure subject to verification.)  For real, they have Chrysler, Hyundai, Subaru, Toyota, Scion, Nissan, Jeep, and Dodge cars, trucks and I don't know what-all else right there. 

But you want to stick with Toyota, a brand of machines known for always a) starting and b) stopping when you want them to, which is a claim that not a lot of other car lines can make. 

We had a great time down the ocean
After due consideration, which began right after someone's car smashed into mine a couple of weeks ago, I decided that my days of hauling around truckloads of mulch, topsoil and gorgeous beach-bound models are all over.  I mean, who am I, Kid Rock already? So we decided to go the SUV route this time, but with gas approaching the five-dollar mark, we figured we'd stay away from the behemoth land buffaloes like Range or Land Rovers and go with the good old RAV4, pictured here with the breathtaking mountain view from our backyard:
No, that's even our car, just a stock photo posed in front of scenic Mount Toyota.  But ours is just like it, and it's waiting for more fun and plenty of happy trails down the road with its happy new owner.

Up at Jones, Steve took care of everything in a flash, and there is really nothing those folks won't do for you.  And they have all sorts of aftercare stuff for free - Jones For Life, they call it.  I wouldn't go anywhere else to buy a car or have one maintained.  And I did get to have a few moments alone up in the back lot with my banged-up beauty, the 2000 Tacoma that drove me around for almost 80,000 miles of hassle-free driving.  As I removed my "Caution: I Brake for Elvis" sign and my "Bud and Sissy" fake license tags and my Stewie Griffin toy  and my tools, junk and memorabilia from the old truck, could anyone blame me for being nostalgic?

But, we move on, boats against the current. Right now, I'm Jonesing for another cheeseburger.  How long til Saturday, anyway?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Ins and Outs of Colonoscopies

With a family history of colon cancer, I have been obliged to get a colonoscopy every five years since the age of 50.  Today's the day. Hooray!

What it looks like
As anyone who has done this can tell you, yesterday was the day that really bit the big one.  A liquid diet just does not agree with me, but they want the highway to be wide open when the camera goes a-lookin' for traffic problems, as it were, so my normal breakfast bagel is tossed aside in favor of low-sodium chicken broth, beef bouillon steps in as pinch-hitter for lunch, and dinner is a veritable feast of more broth, some lemon jello and maybe a lemon ice.  I had black tea and lots of juices.

And don't you know, as I sat and watched TV in the afternoon, I found out there are over 27 shows on cable dedicated to the art of cake creation and dedication! What Hath Duff Goldman wrought, I hollered!  Flip away from that, and it's a Popeye's commercial - then a spot for Checkers - and then another cooking show.

What you THINK it looks like
Not complaining.  This is a vital part of my health. I can't help it if eating solid food is also a vital part of my plan.  Today, we will go to the hospital and I will have the "procedure" done, after which there will be a short period of discomfort.  Not for me! For Peggy, who will be in the waiting room as I come back to consciousness from the stupor of the anesthesia.  The uneasiness comes because I am liable to say most anything in this state.  And just like the guy with the fire ax who is stationed to run in and save Penn (from Penn and Teller) in that bit where he is chained upside down in a huge vat of water, Peggy sits on the edge of her seat, ready to spring into action if I begin telling a nurse the one about the nervous young lady on her first visit to a gynecologist. Then Peggy will drive me home by way of the diner.

And in 2016, we'll do it all over again!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make (but they sure help!)

From our "What The Hell??!" department, now open late every weeknight, there is an issue with which I find myself in agreement with Republicans.   Who knew?  

There's always some common ground, things about which every sane person feels the same.  No one supports crime or disrespect, and yet out of our state capital, here comes a report that the people who run our prison system might be thinking of closing down a prison in order to save money.

In a rational era, you'd think that crooks would just say, "I will have to cut back on the amount of crimes I commit, what with there being fewer cells for my ilk. I'll never be able to find a room at the Ironbar Hilton," but that doesn't happen.  So, the one money-saving plan being discussed - and I hasten to point out that at this time, it's only at the stage of coffee talk among officials - would be to close one prison and release one prison's worth of crooks out into the free air that you and I are trying to breathe, in between armed holdups and residential burglaries.

This is the one place where my "liberal" credentials sag somewhat, I guess.  I'm a hard-liner on crime and punishment.  As I have often remarked to my buddy
Fyodor  "The Beaver" Dostoevsky, "Don't do the crimesky if you can't do the timesky."  I recall countless times when kids who grew up with me (pause for laughter) were assessed punishments that were never carried out.  "No TV all weekend!" their parents would holler on Friday afternoon when they came home with notes from the teacher about their classroom cutting-up.  And by 8:30 on Friday, they were watching "Rin Tin Tin" or singing along with Mitch.  And now what did that teach the kid?

We need to reinforce the message that we send to a miscreant, and that is half of the "Punishment" side of it.  Perhaps  being deprived of freedom, premium cable, good seafood and the right to do whatever, whenever, is enough to teach some bad actors to do right.  The other half, to be frank, is that society is rid of the people who accost, rob, rape, steal, murder, plunder and otherwise offend.  People often say,"You're just warehousing these people!" as if the criminals still deserved to be out among us.  It's a big-time Time Out for guys and women who, as children, should have been given little little time-outs when they did something wrong.

I talk to people on the other side of this, people who say that prisons are bad places! Of course they are!  They're full of bad people who need to stay there until their time is up.

We now resume our regular liberal schedule.  How wonderful is our splendid president, huh?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In the Sad Shallow Shadows

We have a friend who, shall we say, lives in the shadows.  And The SUN does not lighten those shadows, nor does NPR, Time Magazine, The New Yorker, or any other media source that the rest of us use for information and enlightenment.

Not even FOXNews, for crying out loud.
I happened to mention the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/potential nuclear meltdown to him, and received a look back that indicated no awareness.  Last year's gulf oil leak, the Haitian earthquake, H1N1, any election, the ascension of Buck Showalter to the Orioles' managerial office: all failed to make a blip on his radar.

I wish I could say that our friend has chosen a life unaware, but the fact is, it is just a side detriment to the other sad aspects of a sad life.  Enough said; I'm already skirting close to HIPAA territory here.

But while we're having alphabet soup, I do think a little about TMI.  Peggy would much rather not watch the local news; she thinks it is Too Much Information, with all the pain and suffering and hollering and threatening behavior and physical harm being done to others.

And that's just during the sports.  The actual news is even worse.

Would you be better off not knowing of the human misery of Japan?  Before you switch off the television, radio, and newspaper and magazine subscriptions, remember this: if you don't know about the suffering, you won't know about the human triumph and sacrifice and noble selflessness that make this world so great.

People quote this quotation a lot, because Ed Rooney said it in "Ferris Bueller..." - "Between grief and nothing, I'll take grief."  William Faulkner is the originator of the line; he said it this way: "Given a choice between grief and nothing, I'd choose grief."  

Either way, I'm with Ed and Bill here...and when I see nature toss a tsunami, it gives me pause to remember that the same natural world can give us gently lapping waves over a splendid summer evening at a beach.  We grieve in the former, rejoice in the latter. 

Seeing both helps me appreciate the better.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

From sole to crown

I have a friend of many years who just always seems to be the best-dressed and most at ease with himself. You would never see him get hot and sweaty, which is something to which we can all perspire.

He would never crack lousy puns like that, either, you may be sure.

But the other day I saw a picture of him down in New Orleans for the carnival goins'-on and I thought that the most apt descriptive phrase would be "clean-favored and imperially slim." Not that he is so skinny as to ecto-morph into David Bowie in his "Thin White Duke" era, but he's just always had that way of suaving it up. F'rinstance, he could easily wear a fedora and you'd say, "Hey, Richard, nice fedora!" and if I were to put on the selfsame model of hat, all you'd say would be, "Hey, what's wit the hat, already?"

So. "Clean-favored and imperially slim" is a phrase I ripped off from the song and poem "Richard Cory" by the old folk group Edwin, Arlington and Robinson. Nah. The poet was named Edwin Arlington Robinson, and his life was not a big bowl of pudding, I'll tell you that right now. His parents wanted a girl, although no one wants a girl named "Edwin." His brother Dean, a physician, died of an overdose, and then old Edwin tried to talk Dean's widow Emma into marrying him - twice - without success. I mean, really. He moved to New York and wrote his first book of poetry to try to impress his mother, who died just before the book came out.
So, little wonder that his poems were not of the feel-good Rod McKuen "Listen to the Warm" genre, but, rather, they presaged the gloomy works of many of today's top poets and balladeers, Trini Lopez among them.

Simon and Garfunkel re-worked his "Richard Cory" into a top-40 hit, which was surely something that Edwin never envisioned. He was credited with but one other hit record in the Rock 'n' Roll era: "Papa Oom Mow Mow" by the Rivingtons. * 

Here for your Saturday reading enjoyment are both versions. Please stay cheery!

* Not true, I made it up!


Richard   Cory  as written by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favoured and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good Morning!" and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine -- we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.

Simon And Garfunkel version

They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town,
With political connections to spread his wealth around.
Born into society, a banker's only child,
He had everything a man could want: power, grace, and style.

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I'm living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory.

The papers print his picture almost everywhere he goes:
Richard Cory at the opera, Richard Cory at a show.
And the rumor of his parties and the orgies on his yacht!
Oh, he surely must be happy with everything he's got.

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I'm living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory.

He freely gave to charity, he had the common touch,
And they were grateful for his patronage and thanked him very much,
So my mind was filled with wonder when the evening headlines read:
"Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head."

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I'm living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory.

Friday, March 18, 2011

If life were like a sitcom

If our real lives were like the thirty-minute situation comedies we so enjoy on the television, then:
  • we would all be perfectly attractive people*
  • *except for our bumptious best friends, who would be slightly pudgy, ill-groomed and indolent
  • we would always be hanging around with our buddies and galpals
  • everything we said would be a witty bon mot or a well-timed quip
  • we'd quote Kerouac and Thackeray with poise but intentionally misattribute the original saying to Linus from Peanuts so as to play down our book-learnin'
  • no one would work nights, weekends, holidays or snow days
  • work would be just a place where we'd go to have mean bosses, inane coworkers, and giant offices: you know, places to make inappropriate comments and get away with it
  • even the youngest and least well-paid would live in huge apartments with large kitchens and plenty of room for mood-setting posters
  • parents and relatives would always be from some backwater hick town, but would show up and seem to embarrass us with their lack of sophistication, only to become beloved by our big-city buddies and forgiving of our short-sightedness after they solve a problem with their folksy wisdom
  • there would be haphazard hookups, meaningless couplings, and unsanctified congresses between any number of randy participants, but the only thing getting unzippered would be zippers.  No emotional attachments would follow from any of this*
  • * except every now and then, someone's feelings would be hurt, and after a suitable period of self-reflection, she would come to see that she hurt Brad just as Jack hurt her, and she would then vow to see her sexuality in a more adult light
  • no meal would be prepared or consumed at home with but two exceptions: "Fixing a Romantic Meal for a New Boyfriend or Girlfriend," which always involves salad and pasta and never Hamburger Helper, and the always-good-for-a-laugh "Having the Boss over for Dinner and Burning the Roast" scenario 
  • any and all problems would be solved in 23 minutes

Tomorrow, let's talk about who will play YOU in the sitcom of your life.  For myself, I'm down to Drew Carey on stilts or Randy Quaid on Prozac.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

They call it August because that's when we pray for a gust of wind

Andy Warhol was famous for about fifteen minutes, for predicting a similar fate for all of us.  

While you and I await our turns, let's turn to overnight sensation Ted Williams.  The irony there is that baseball's greatest hitter (or so he said!), The Splendid Splinter of the Boston Red Sox, was no overnight sensation.  He was one of the few men to play major league baseball in four decades.  In Ted's case, that would be the 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's.  And, unlike anyone else, Ted took time from hitting baseballs and cursing reporters to fly fighter jets in two wars in two of those decades.

But the overnight sensation Ted Williams was the erstwhile homeless Ohioan (Ohioite? Ohioer?) with the natural baritone pipes who made the most of his fifteen minutes in January, being on a video that went viral, being on all the ShowBiz shows before C. Sheen started acting up, being reunited with his mother, getting popped by LA police for fighting with his daughter, recording macaroni and cheese spots, and going to alcohol rehab, all, seemingly, in one day.

Now he has been booked to come to our fair city as the voice of Baltimore Fashion Week this August.  This august event will be held at a hall down on Thames St.  Not for us, the snooty British way to say "Temms." We say it like it's spelled, "THAYmes."  Same as we do with Auchentoroly Terrace.  

Baltimore is, of course, known as a fashion Mecca for those who like the way we look.  Designers from Rome, London and Paris (Georgia, Ontario and Tennessee) come to marvel at our shorts that look like the pants that MC Hammer used to wear, and our hoodies with indecipherable slogans and mottoes all over, usually in Olde English.  Today, they will pay special attention to how GREEN everything is!

We will, of course, continue to keep a close eye on Baltimore fashion as plans for Baltimore fashion week unfold like a tank top with a Rolling Stones lolling tongue logo.  Welcome, Ted Williams!  
Note to Ted: it's hotter than the hinges on Hades here in August.  Insist on air conditioning in your hotel and limo.  You'll thank me later.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Time to call the weather

Was your first reaction the same as mine, upon reading that Verizon will no longer have the time and weather lines on the phone as of June 1?

"They still do that?" 

Apparently, yes.  And the Baltimore-Washington area will be the last Verizon area to lose it. Since about 1492, Baltimoreans wondering whether they needed a jacket or an umbrella could call 410 936 1212 and get the answer, and those who wondered whether or not this would be a good time to go get one of them wristwatch things could contact 410 844 1212 and hear, "At the TONE, the time will be SEVEN...fifty SEVEN...and THIRTY seconds."

One wonders how many guys, having spent how many evenings in how many dimly-lit saloons, finally persuaded how many women to write their numbers down on soggy cocktail napkins, only to call the number the next day and hear, "Now the National WEATHER Service forecast for BALTIMORE, Annapolis and vicinity...mostly lonely for you tonight, fella..."

And I will admit to a certain neurotic need to knowing what time it is.  I know this is messed up, but I get riled and rankled when someone who is asked for the time responds, "It's about quarter after.." It is always some specific time, and that's why I liked the 410-844-1212 line in years gone by, so I could set my watch by it.  Now, with the atomic clock as part of my home weather station, I just check the LCD display atop the Frigidaire and I can set the Timex Ironman to the second.  

Admit it: when you were a kid, did you think you were calling a real live lady who had nothing else to do but tell you what time it was?  Me too!

For the weather, if you have cable, you're all set.  There's WeatherScan, there's The Weather Channel (one-time home of the meteorologist with the greatest "weather guy" name of all time - Flip Spiceland - and of course Chad Myers on CNN, who is apt to throw down his clipboard when things get rough.  You can even get one of those weather radios and hear the forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - here in our town, just tune to 162.4 mhz, right below the police calls.

And there's always the newspaper's weather forecast, which was probably only three days old when they printed it the other day.

So, I'm sure that Verizon has a clicker counting how many people call their time and weather lines every day, and it's safe to assume that the clicker isn't getting the workout that it used to get!  But how cool would it be to ask the phone company to have 410 936 1212  or 410 844 1212 as your home number?  Imagine the new friends you could make!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Let 'em talk

 People like to sit in college classrooms, places where coffee is slurped, and other places where the talk is mostly theoretical, and come up with situations to be discussed ad infinitum.  Or, add a bisciotti for just $2.50 more.  

Such as, "If God can do anything, can He make a rock that is so heavy that He can't lift it?"

or, "Is it possible to create an acid that can eat through anything - even the container you'd put it in?"

or, the ultimate, "How come no one has ever come up with a suitable vehicle for the comedic talents of Norm MacDonald?"

So it's no surprise that all across America, the debate rages about the Westboro Baptist Church.  They certainly are making friends everywhere, aren't they, with their insistence on displaying the most disgusting messages in the most wholly inappropriate places?  

Here is a link to the entire Supreme Court decision that ruled in favor of the church.  It was not a close vote, 8-1, with only Justice Samuel "Snooki" Alito being willing to overturn the Constitution.  See, here is the thing in a nutshell - and it's never been more appropriate to use the word "nut" - if you stop these people, as abhorrent, abominable, appalling, awful, disgusting, distasteful, dreadful, evil, foul, fulsome, gross, hideous, horrendous, horrible, horrid, loathsome, nasty, nauseating, nauseous, noisome, noxious, obnoxious, obscene, odious, rancid, repellent, repugnant, repulsive, revolting, scandalous, shocking, sickening, and ugly of spirit as they are, then where does it end?  This country was based on freedom of speech for all.  It took a couple of centuries, one civil war and lots of legislation to extend that benefit beyond the ruling class, gender, age, and race, but we did it, and we can't go back now.

Here is information from the Baltimore SUN about what our great congressman, Dutch Ruppersberger, has proposed as a compromise that would retain the rights of free speech for these galoots, while drawing a line that retains a certain amount of dignity for the rest of us:

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger on Tuesday provided more details of his bill to limit protests at military funerals. The Baltimore County Democrat is introducing the “Safe Haven for Heroes Act” in response to the Supreme Court ruling last week upholding the right of the Westboro Baptist “Church” to protest America’s supposed tolerance of homosexuality at memorial services for fallen troops.

The legislation would prohibit protests for the 5 hours preceding a military funeral and the 5 hours after. Protests before or after those limits could be held no closer than 2,500 feet from the funeral facility.
“I believe the Constitution allows for reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of protest activities,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “This bill enables groups like Westboro to exercise their right to free speech without disrupting the funerals themselves or forcing funeral participants to encounter the protesters.”
The Supreme Court case stemmed from the group’s crude demonstration outside the Westminster funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in 2006.
The small group, which consists largely of members of a single family, has created an outsized profile in the media with picket signs that read “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers” and a website that has featured stick figures engaged in anal sex and an animation showing torture/murder victim Matthew Shepard in Hell. It has been identified by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

That seems fair enough to me, although there seems to be no limit as to how far these people will go to make others cry bitter tears.  

But, what if everyone in the community opposed having a certain type of house of worship in the neighborhood?  Can we say, "We don't like your faith, so we decided you have no right to practice it"?   All you'd need is a few intolerant yahoos, and there you go.

What if almost everyone didn't like certain magazines?  Could we all decide, Hey, no more "Hustler," "Atlantic Monthly," or "Jack and Jill" for you?

Any society can support the works of Da Vinci, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Tom Wolfe, Thomas Wolfe, and most of Andy Warhol.  It's the mark of our society that the Larry Flynts and the Phelpses of Westboro KS can spew their words into the same air as you and I.  Don't like 'em, loathe them if you will, but shut them down?  

Why, when Karma awaits with more than we can ever dole out on earth?

Monday, March 14, 2011

You Are There! 1618

Let's step back in history a little.  Whoa, watch your step, lest you find yourself defenestrated!

Defenestrate sounds a lot more horrible than it is - the very texture of the word on the ears sounds like something is being forcibly removed from one's body.  Its roots are Latin - "de" as in down, or away and "fenestra," meaning window.  To be defenestrated is to be tossed out of a window.  Come to think of it, that's not such a pleasant thing either.
There was a story about a man who invented some sort of shatter-proof glass, and in order to get investors to put money into his deal, he installed some of the glass in his office window in New York, and with a room full of potential investors gazing first in awe and then in horror, he flung himself against the window and plummeted to his death.  

Turned out, the glass did not break, but whoever installed the window didn't do enough to secure it to the frame and sill.


Well, back in 1618, the Defenestration of Prague took place in that Czechoslovakian city.  It seemed only fitting to have it there. The tower at Hradčany (Prague Castle), the site of the Defenestration of Prague.
[Credit: DigitalExtropy]The picture at left is of Prague Castle, where the ruling Hapsburgs were dealing with a Bohemian uprising.  Roman Catholic officials had begun closing Protestant chapels in the towns of Broumov and Hrob, which the Bohemians felt was a violation of the religious liberty that they had been guaranteed in a Letter of Majesty signed by Emperor Rudolf II in 1609. I mean, a deal's a deal, right?   So, on May 23, 1618, while humming a certain Bohemian rhapsody, they called a trial to safeguard their rights.  Two imperial regents, William Slavata and Jaroslav Martinic, were found guilty, along with their secretary, a man named Fabricius.  The angry Bohemians threw the three men out of the window of Prague Castle, but they weren't seriously hurt, unless you call landing in a pile of manure serious.  That's what saved them, but this incident, the Defenestration of Prague, led to more Bohemian uprisings, and then came the Thirty Year's War, which ran from 1618 - 1648.

From this, people learned not to name their wars after periods of duration, because evidence exists that by 1623, everyone was sick and tired of the Thirty Years' War, but what could they do?  They had 25 years left to go!

All of the above is true, stuff I read years ago, and I always suspected that Fabricius, after climbing out of the big pile of what saved him, submitted his dry-cleaning bills to Slavata and Martinic, although history cannot find the receipts for it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Video for a Sunday morning

Anthropomorphism is easily defined as the humanization of non-human things.  Such as when we teach a dog to ride a scooter: or click here.

So can a dog teach a person to roll over and fetch?  Something to think about!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stunning tsunami

It's early Friday evening as I write this, and we still don't have all the details about the losses of life and property in the Pacific from the earthquake and resultant tsunami that hit there early Friday, our time.  Back here in the East, we deal with rain and lots of it some days, snow in varying degrees, wind, heat, humidity, thunder and lightning, but "earthquake" and "fault lines" and "Richter scale" are not terms in our everyday lexicon.

But we connect.  We have a dear friend Jonie, who lives in Los Angeles, and whose late Mother has family in Japan.  A woman from work, who hails from the Philippines, left Baltimore to go see family there just yesterday morning.  Another woman from work has a daughter who married a fellow who's in the service, and they are stationed in Hawaii.  And of course, our dear friend Solange, who with Peruvian roots was raised here in Baltimore and now lives and works in Hawaii.  She once sent us a picture postcard that showed the view she sees on her way to work in the morning - a glorious sunrise over a tropical beach with the blue Pacific surf.  I often think of that postcard on MY way to work, as I try to dodge the Dumpster trucks, school buses, aging Toyotas filled with high school kids hopped up on Sunny D and Pop Tarts, and the pretzel delivery StepVans that make my ride so enjoyable, if not scenic. 

It's a big wide world, and yet everybody's got to be somewhere.  We think of those friends and the millions of others affected by this one rumble from nature.  And back here, we have friends with ill family members, and we want to do all we can to support them.  I used to see this during my 911 days: one calltaker would be dealing with helping a new father help his wife deliver their new baby, while another calltaker played solitaire.  The world is full of microcosms, and maybe that's so we can understand the big picture by breaking it down into millions of little ones.

Friday, March 11, 2011

May I have your attention, please?

In the later years of elementary school, we had a kid in our class named "Teddy."  Teddy would do absolutely anything to get attention, and in the time-honored fashion of elementary schoolers, we would suggest things for him to do.  Take the lid off a Dixie Cup of ice cream and rub vanilla ice cream all over your pants?  Sure!  Draw pictures of enormous monster lizards eating the teacher with fire and sparks coming out of the mouth (the lizard's mouth, that is!)?  No problem!  Light entire matchbooks on fire in the boys' room?  Every day!

Why are they here?
But I had forgotten about Teddy until recently, when Peggy and I, through the magic of DVR'ing, became regular viewers of "The Talk," the afternoon gabfest on CBS starring Julie Chen, Holly Robinson Peete, Sara Gilbert, Leah Remini and the irrepressible Sharon Osbourne.  Now, Sharon's career in show biz is based on someone else's - her husband, the stolid, phlegmatic rock 'n' roll star Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy's music has never struck a chord with me, so it would take a lot for his former manager Sharon to be a favorite, but here is how she is just like Teddy: She will do anything to turn the attention to herself.  In any situation, it all comes back to her.  I mean, they could have Stephen Hawking on their set talking about his ideas about  gravitational singularities in the framework of general relativity, and his theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation,and Sharon would sit there, you could just see her burning to get that camera right on her and her alone, and suddenly she would holler, "Ozzy and I did it twice last night on the dining room table as the children watched in 'orror!"  and everyone would giggle and say, "Oh, that Sharon!" 

But that's not even what I was thinking about today. On the show the other day, they had John Stamos talking about a charity he is involved with that helps women who are considering abandoning their babies by rescuing the children.  Clearly, this is a good cause.  But, I am not kidding you - the man sat there and said this OUT LOUD:

"You know, you won't believe this, but I was an ugly baby!"

And the women on the stage and in the audience gasped in horror, as if he had announced plans to go join some cult or something.  Imagine!  John Stamos, ugly!  Even John Stamos had to chortle at the impossibility of it all!  Hah hah hah!  What a nutty thing to say.  And then, because so much of this show revolves around motherhood, they had to show Stamos's mother sitting in the crowd.  Hosannas rang from the assemblage as they thanked her for the gift of John, and she haltingly admitted that John might not always have been as adorable as when he rose to prominence as "Blackie" in "General Hospital."

Then out came Scott Wolf, who used to be popular on "Party of Five," which was written by people who wanted you to think there could be men who would dump Jennifer Love Hewitt.  Scott sat basking in the adoration of cast and audience,  displayed his flashing teeth (so white, they looked like neon lights)  and actually sat there and said this OUT LOUD:    
"Is this the most HANDSOME show you've ever done?"

So, not judging here, but I offer this advice to anyone planning a trip to Los Angeles or any other show business mecca:
Do not try to get between John Stamos and his mirror.  Same with Scott Wolf.  Guys... please!  You're actors! Do you think you could just act modest for a while?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My review of another ten-year-old movie

Thora Birch as Enid
I don't know enough about movies to even call them "films" or "the cinema."  All I know is what I like, and I like a movie called "Ghost World."  Here is a link to the trailer.

Birch and Steve Buscemi
Yes that is Scarlett on the left!
It came out in 2001 and it turns out to have been based upon a graphic novel or comic book of some sort. The plot revolves around a couple of misfit high-school graduates, Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, and how they try to find their way in a world in which they don't belong.  Of course, there is some sort of law in Hollywood that if you are making a movie about oddballs who don't fit in anywhere, you have to have Steve Buscemi play the part of one of the oddballs.  And I like Steve Buscemi!  He was a New York firefighter before he became an actor, and you don't get to be one of those unless you can become one of the best firefighters in the world, so he's got that going for him.  He's good, and so are the two young women.  The movie shows up for free all the time on the MGM-HD channel, and it carries my personal recommendation -two hearty thumbs up!  Fine springtime fun!

The movie took in a whopping $8.7 million dollars in its theatrical release, which is roughly the amount spent on Jujubes at one of those Johnny Depp pirate movies, but how nice it is that financial success is not how we judge how much we like things!  If you ever felt like a chicken box dinner in a pheasant-under-glass world, this might be for you!