Friday, August 31, 2012

You never sausage a fair

Yesterday, I made my annual trip to the Timonium State Fair, and it was as great as ever to strut around the midway and exhibits.  The great thing about a fair is that there is something for almost everyone...the kids like the rides, almost everyone likes the food, crafters and domestic engineers like the jams and jellies and needlepoint, and there are booths and kiosks selling everything from aluminum siding to political philosophy.  And, for crying out loud, there's a chance to sit there in a tent and play bingo.  Everyone's happy at a fair.  Give a kid some Coca-Cola, some cotton candy, candy apples and deep-fried Twinkies, along with some sausage sandwiches for ballast, and you have a happy, bouncy kid.

By the way...manufacturers of Roma Sausage...your chow is far better than your spelling.

I like to walk around and see it all, but year after year, I get the biggest kick out of wandering down to the livestock barns, where farm kids bring the sheep, hogs, goats and what-all else they have raised and groomed all year and enter them in exhibitions.  The kids even bunk right there, and you see their cots and their laptops and their cans of Red Bull and bags of Doritos right there two feet from the living quarters of their four-legged friends.  This, to me, is America at its finest: farm kids working and being proud of their work, and farm animals doing their thing in the late August sun.

When I was there, I felt like I was a million miles away from a land where people throw peanuts at a human being and claim that this is how they feed animals down there.   I wish the people who did things like that really were a million miles away.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Beyond the blue horizon (waits a beautiful day)

I was stunned one Saturday morning not long ago when I picked up the Sunpaper and there was the obituary of a very good friend of mine.  Roberta came to work for the county about twenty years ago, and we wound up working on a lot of projects together.  We made a good team because she was all policy by the rules and she followed directions to a T, and I brought to the table my knowledge of many people in many different departments and my knowledge of many jokes concerning visits to barrooms and medical offices.

So I knew she retired and moved to Virginia, where she lived in some sort of spiritual community. Before she moved, I helped her do a few things around the house to get it ready for sale.  As a woman alone, she appreciated the fact that I owned a ladder and some tools and knew several different ways to mask an unsightly crack in the basement masonry. We stayed in touch while she was down in VA, and then about a year ago, we fell out of touch, and my messages went unanswered and her facebook page remained unvisited (by her).

What had happened was that she had come down with cancer, and apparently felt the way to close the curtain was to do so in quiet contemplation.  She did not contact me at all, or leave word for others to do so (but someone directed me to the death listings that Saturday morning.)  I'd never say it wasn't her right to close the door on an old friendship as the light faded within, but I surely wish she had seen fit to do otherwise.

Otherwise, a good friend of a great friend recently lost her husband to cancer.  Amazingly, it took 22 days from diagnosis to the final chapter.  22 days.  She hardly had time to turn around once he came down with that damned disease and it was time to plan for what they call the final arrangements.

And together, they did a tremendous thing.  They held a living wake.  All their friends were invited, and some 100 people came to their house to say goodbye to him.  Five people at a time went into his bedroom, and with three days left on earth, he had a chance to greet them all, reminisce a bit, and bid a fond farewell.  When the day was over, he felt as if he had just run a marathon, but imagine the memories he took with him to his reward, and imagine how much better his friends feel for having had the chance to be part of that goodbye.

While we're on thanatological topics, it brings to mind the phone call I got from the cemetery where my Dad is.  I mean, this was like two weeks after his death and I was still a little ruffled by it all, and a guy is on my phone, cooing in my ear about how he wonders if I have "made any plans for my final destination."  I got steamed and told him that his place would be the last place anyone would ever see me.

Hey. Wait a minute.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Just my style

I am not one bit stylish.  Heck, since I retired in March, I think I have only worn long pants three times, and two of those occasions involved visits to funeral homes, where shorts just don't make it.  I am seriously planning to give all but five of my ties to Goodwill, and I see no further wardrobe expansion in the future beyond my daily uniform of cargo pants and polo shirt.  If only I could find ankle length red socks, I'd be in tall clover.

Popped collars on multiple polo shirts, unbuttoned dress shirt buttons, t shirts with a suit, scarves with a suit and no tie or ties unfurled on an open neck (who do you think you are, Boz Scaggs or something?) and straw fedoras with Sting-EE-Brim brims are all fine for people who appear on, or watch, "Big Brother."  I am no more ready to wear that stuff than I am ready to head to Tampa for this week's festivities.

So I pay but faint attention to ads for men's clothes. And this George Zimmer, the face and voice (and former CEO) of Men's Wearhouse, always says that I'm going to like the way I look  - and he guarantees it.  Which is good, because now George is talking about selling you a new style of men's suit: shorter, with shorter arms, and a generally skimpy look all over.  I won't be buying any of them, which pretty much means that I'll like the way I look.

I guarantee it!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Don't let an anchor drag you down

I don't want to turn today's ramblings into a big get-down-on-the-media hoohah.  And having spent most of last evening being lectured on the absolute impossibility of any gun control measure ever doing anything about the stunning amount of gun crimes and assaults in this country, I just don't want to open that can of worms again right now.

But for those of you outside the greater Baltimore area, we had a horrible thing happen on the first day of school here.  Perry Hall High School, right near us, was the scene of a shooting incident in which, as the story goes, a young man was being hassled in the cafeteria and he snuck outside to where he had secreted a disassembled rifle, then snuck back inside and shot another student.  A very brave guidance counselor then pinned the ALLEGED shooter against a vending machine and got him down until the school resource officer ran over and effected the arrest.  The victim was flown to Shock Trauma in critical condition.

As you might expect, all hell broke loose around the high school.  Students were dismissed, but not all of them.  The public was told to meet their kids at the Perry Hall Square Shopping Center, and a couple of thousand kids started trooping up the street to the home of Dollar Tree and Asian Fusion, where it took about three minutes for the parking lot to fill with anxious parents.  Eventually, the meeting place was changed to the middle school across the street, leading to hundreds of kids darting across the street playing dodge-'em with hundreds of cars and trucks. But eventually everyone met up with their rides.

Over in TV Land, this was one of those events where you get to see the news teams scramble, and that's not often pretty. The helicopters were up, showing cops swarming the school grounds and kids hauling @$$.  And that's when something really bugged me. A certain news anchor, who has been on the air here for a long, long time, said something so thoroughly wrong that it made me yelp.  And I'll not call his name here, because for all I know, some uninformed producer was whispering this false information in his ear, although I kind of doubt that.

The overhead scene from the news helicopter showed quite a few ambulances around the school, and this news guy said, "We have found over the years that the volunteer fire companies tend to show up at these sorts of events, to back up the regular fire department."

Dude.  Where to begin?  There is but one Baltimore County Fire Department, and it comprises both career and volunteer units, both fire and EMS.  Both types of companies are dispatched in order of closeness to events without regard to career or volunteer status. In a major event like this, involving thousands of people, it's only smart to have plenty of ambulances standing by.  People tend to be injured running out of buildings, people suffer cardiac distress, and other perfectly valid reasons exist as well.

And I have no idea where he got this idea, but fire engines, ambulances and what-all else do not just listen to the fire radio and decide to ride on over to see what's going on.  For a unit to respond to an incident without being dispatched is about as serious a breach of protocol as there could be.

So, my suggestion for all news anchors who find themselves having to extemporize and not rely on a teleprompter would be to know what they're talking about...or not talk.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dear old golden-rule days

Well, today is the day that means summer is over for millions of schoolkids, and their parents, and for anyone trying to drive to work between 7 and 9 in the yawning.

That leaves me out.

But back-to-school it is for almost everyone, and I always seem to get that same old nostalgic feeling.  Sometimes, before I can stop myself, I go to a store and come out with a new looseleaf binder, plenty of three-hole punched paper, some new pens and pencil, a protractor in case I need to protract anything and a compass so I can jab myself in the palm with the pointed end and stay awake during seemingly-interminable lectures about plant life in a biodome, George Washington's winter in Valley Forge, word problems involving two trains leaving Chicago at different times, and the need to wear white socks and a clean uniform in phys ed.

See, the problem is, if you doze off in one class and wake up in another, you get your facts transposed and soon find yourself wondering why Geo. W (the good one) would be boarding a westbound train wearing white socks, shorts, and a reversible t-shirt with "TOWSON Boys' Physical Education" neatly emblazoned on the chest, while carrying a glass hemisphere with lichens growing inside.

And I'll here renew my annual query about why every single student needs to be driven somewhere...either to school itself or to the bus stop.  Have we, as a nation, lost the hearty hardy spirit that allowed yours truly to walk to the morning bus - a journey of well over a block - and then walk almost all the way home after detention  school?  To see a child pile out of an SUV and desultorily saunter to another oversized vehicle for the final leg of his or her journey to Academia is to see heartbreak with two legs wearing Crocs.

Mom?  Dad?  Nannies, caretakers and au pairs?  Please just open the front door and send little Marmaduke or Fontanella off to school on their own, if they are in middle school or above.   They'll thank you for it later.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday rerun: Booth sides now

Besides Garrison Keillor, the other personal favorite who wore red socks was the late writer/interviewer/radio host/actor/raconteur Studs Terkel. He did the coolest thing: he interviewed people - from kid to old timer, rich to poor, smart to dumb - on the radio and then edited the interviews into book form, usually all on one topic, such as World War II or the racial issues in our country, so the reader could learn a lot from a lot of people.

I guess his best-known book is "Working," and I find myself picking that volume up from time to time, reading again certain favorite parts. Reading the book, in which people just talk about their jobs, reminds us that there are good part and bad parts about every job, and that you might not want to spend too much time envying the other guy, whose job looks to be situated on a much greener lawn than yours does. There are drawbacks to every job, with the possible exception of being Little Richard.

I was thinking about this on the way to work because I had to stop for gas
, and I always feel a nice thought toward those who sit in booths all day long taking gas money, making change, selling loose cigars for blunts, surrounded by auto de-stink-alizers that either look like pine trees or skunks (the selling point there being irony), condoms, cigarettes and Slim Jims. One place where I like to gas up is over by the Parkville fire house and police station. It's convenient because it's on the right side of the road for me heading to work, the prices are reasonable, and there is a car wash, although my truck prefers Mother Nature's rainy days to the hi-pressure Suds-O-Matic.

The young woman who sits in the booth at this station is unfailingly polite and pleasant, and frankly, I don't know what the worst part of her job would be. Is it the men who attempt to make time with her by hollering through the little voicebox in her bulletproof Plexiglass window? How many times, really, do you think she has to deal with someone commenting on the weather ("Hot one today, huh?") or the price of gasoline ("It's highway robbery - get it???") or how pretty they find her ("Looking gooooooooood today!") while the rest of us shuffle about in line behind them, eyes rolling, wondering why they just don't get it that they aren't going to get anywhere.

Or maybe the worst part is that at this time of the year, right around sunrise, the sun beams directly into her eyes, forcing her to wear sunglasses while she doles out change and fends off 1/2-ass Harry and his frustrated flirtation. I mean, really; you could perform an appendectomy in that booth at ten til seven this month, and still have plenty of light left over. It's that bright.

They don't offer squeegees there any more to clean off the windows; I guess they were tired of having them ripped off, right there in the shadow of the police precinct. Middle-aged guys riding mopeds and scooters - always a sign that they no longer have a license to drive a vehicle that requires one - stop in, people on their way to work who need ten gallons of hi-test and a pack of Kools run in, and I'm there a couple of times a week too, just because I like to see people in action.

Here's to you, nice gas-station lady, and I hope you have all nice days. I bet you have some stories to tell!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday rerun: Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without

At first glance, one might think this is a picture of some sort of horrible carnage, but it's not. It's actually vegetablage, to coin a neologism, and it's a sign of misplaced priorities, to me.

Here's the story as I found it on one of the internets:

La Tomatina is a food fight festival held on the last Wednesday of August each year in the town of Buñol in the Valencia region of Spain. Tens of thousands of participants come from all over the world to fight in a brutal battle where more than one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets.
Approximately 20,000-50,000 tourists come to the tomato fight, multiplying by several times Buñol's normal population of slightly over 9,000. In preparation for the dirty mess that will ensue, shopkeepers use huge plastic covers on their storefronts in order to protect them.
Now, I have nothing at all against the Buñolians throwing tomatoes around if that's what they want to do. However, I used to work in a building with a homeless shelter located therein, and I know that the earnest people who try to supply food for people experiencing homelessness go to all sorts of measures to try to locate nutritious food for the people. You have to figure that "tens of thousands of metric tons" of tomatoes would make at least enough spaghetti sauce for hundreds of thousands of spaghetti dinners. I'm just sayin'.
And ketchup! My grandmother made her own ketchup, or catsup if you will, as well as root beer, mayonnaise, pickle relish and canned beets, and one of the last things she ever told me as she drew me closer to her deathbed was, "Mark...remember..they don't use the best tomatoes for ketchup...I'm just sayin'.."
I have to wonder, quite frankly, what the devil it is with Spain, with people willing to travel great distances to get involved in activities of dubious value, for which one needs goggles. What the hell is it over there? 
Remember those dialogues from Spanish class, all about "¡Hola, Juan! ¿Como esta usted?" Well, what's up with Juan next? Is the new next line "¿Quiere ser pisoteado por un toro o quieres tener tomates lanzado en usted?" ("Do you want to be trampled by a bull or do you want to have tomatoes thrown at you?")
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. Along with the aroma of enteric fermentation of ruminant cattle, and a tangy, rich, tomatoey-goodness wafting by.

Friday, August 24, 2012

REALLY Staying Alive

Quick! Name a famous American author who was also a noted photographer!


F. Stop Fitzgerald!

That homemade joke has made me chuckle and guffaw for years now, and it only comes to mind now because F. Scott Fitzgerald was also famous for saying "There are no second acts in American lives."

But there are!

Jim Joyce is a Major League umpire.  Prior to 2010, he was chiefly famous for his elaborate facial hair.  He was known as a pretty good ump.

And then Armando Gallarga, then of the Tigers, was pitching what is certain to be the best game of his up-and-down career one night.  Joyce was the first-base umpire.  26 batters up and 26 batters down went the Cleveland Indians that June night in MoTown, and Gallaraga was one out away from that rarest of baseball events: a perfect game. (This season there have been two, bringing the total in all the history of big league baseball to 23.) 

The 27th Indian batter, Jason Donald, hit a grounder to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who tossed to Gallaraga, covering first for the putout.  As the picture will show you, Donald was out, no doubt about it.  Everyone at the ballpark, excepting one person, saw that and began celebrating Gallaraga's achievement, only to have that celebration die aborning when Joyce, for reasons known only to himself, signalled the batter was safe.

Of course, if you know nothing of baseball, it might occur to you that the other three umpires might have called Joyce aside and told him that Gallaraga almost had time to light up a cigar in the time between when he caught that ball at first and Donald's arrival on the base.  But they don't do things that way in baseball.

Anyway, everyone was all upset.  Gallaraga handled the situation with remarkable equanimity and forgave the weeping Joyce time after time.  Joyce apologized time after time and made his way into Bartlett's Familiar Quotations by intoning, "Nobody's perfect."  But his contrition was apparent and genuine.

Two years later now. Gallaraga, a Venezuelan by birth, has been released by the Tigers, the Orioles, and, most embarrassingly, by the inept Houston Astros the day before yesterday, and is now looking for work. 

Jim Joyce
And Jim Joyce, child of ignominy, two days before the Astros tied a can to Gallaraga,  was in Phoenix, walking to the umpires' dressing room before working the plate at a Diamondbacks-Marlins game.  He saw a woman who works for the D-backs shaking and collapsing in cardiac distress.  He ran to her and administered CPR, even remembering to time his chest compressions to the tune of "Staying Alive," as recommended by the American Heart Association and Barry Gibb, until he was relieved by a paramedic.

She is alive now and Jim Joyce deserves credit.  I'm glad that now, he sees himself on the news or in the paper and it's for a good thing.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Whole Lotta Shaking Goin' On

Happy first birthday today to the 2011 Virginia earthquake!  One year ago today at 1:51 PM, the earth shook, rattled and rolled for what seemed to be an eternity, but it was less than a minute.  Californians among us stuck their dainty noses in the air and pointed out that they have them worse than this almost every week. Still, a lot of damage was done...this was a 5.8 magnitude earthquake after all, and it did between $200 million and $300 million in damages to buildings as far away as Georgia and Brooklyn, New York.  No one was killed, and the only injuries reported were minor, although in Suitland, Maryland, eight jars of preserved fish specimens fell from shelves at a Smithsonian Institution storage facility, which surely resulted in a bad stank.

The epicenter of the quake was Louisa County, Virginia, in the Piedmont Mountain range.  I have a friend who was born down there, in Wedlock, Va.  Well, actually, he was born just out of Wedlock, but still. 

The geological blame for the shifting earth's crust goes to the Chopawamsic Fault, a thrust fault.  And we've all committed them from time to time.

In Washington DC, several buildings - the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral among them - suffered severe structural damage. Here in Baltimore, the building most badly compromised was St Patrick's Church in Fells Point.

Either a seismograph or an EKG
I was at my mom's nursing home and none of the superannuated got too shook up about it, you'll pardon the expression.  But I watched with some amusement how the employees of a semi-large office tower across the street filed out as a safety precaution, and then,  on that sunny, warm day, they stood as close as possible to the building they had just fled for fear that it might tumble down.  I guess they figured, yeah, it might crumble on us, but hey, ain't it nice in the shade?

If nothing else, the Eastern half of the United States showed once again that when something like this happens, phone networks are jammed in seconds.  Everyone had to call everyone else to let them know that an earthquake had just occurred.  And they called, as soon as their hands stopped shaking.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others"

You know what?  I thought we were doing better than this!  Wrong again.

NTSB photo
Yesterday morning, two young ladies about to enter their sophomore years in college, high school friends, were taking pictures from the railroad bridge in Ellicott City, MD.  The train people said they didn't even see them on the track, that just as the train approached the bridge something went wrong and an emergency brake activated, causing the train to jam up.  Fifteen cars on a coal train bound for Baltimore from West Virginia derailed, and the two women were killed.

And shortly thereafter, a very nice person identifying him-or-herself as "Chris Ar" tweeted that "these two idiots were killed trespassing on RR property" and that he or she "actually care(s) more about the engineer on the train, who has to deal with guilt due to the stupidity of these girls."

Say, that was real nice of him or her, wasn't it now?  Before the girls' bodies were recovered from underneath the tons of coal that killed them, this person took time out from tweeting about favorite topics among conservatives, always using filthy, nasty language.  Not that conservatives are the only ones to use intemperate words, but it's not right for anyone.

And then, in the world of sports, someone named Skip Bayless is an NFL commentator for ESPN.  That name "Skip Bayless" just screams out "ESPN NFL commentator" somehow, doesn't it?  But unlike most NFL commentators, who limit their remarks to what people do with their arms and legs, the Skipper decided to weigh in on the annual Washington Redskins quarterback controversy, which dates back to the days of Norm Snead vs Sonny Jurgensen and is an annual feature in the DC sports microcosm.  Instead of having a good team down there, they are glad to have a good argument on the merits of Theismann vs Kilmer.

So this year the Redskins drafted Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in the first round and, in the fourth round, they picked one Kirk Cousins, who is only a household name in his own house.  But the other night, in a meaningless exhibition game, Griffin III failed to make everyone forget Johnny Unitas, so naturally the good people of DC have started grinding on Griffin.

I guess I should mention that on this team with a name so horribly offensive to native Americans, Griffin happens to be an African-American and Cousins is European-American.  You need to know those facts ONLY for one reason.  This Bayless piped up yesterday morning with this statement:
'It's human nature if you're white to root for the white guy'

I guess we can be glad that not too many people take big portions of their worldview from Skip Bayless.  Comments like that take social progress in this nation back to the Jim Crow era, and we need not be there again.  

Of course, he backpedaled faster than a used-car dealer rolling back an odometer, saying that such an attitude is WRONG but he just had to point out that there are people who WOULD think like that.  

Skip Bayless, who sees the need to bring the color of people's skin into a discussion of who should play for the Redskins, say hello to Chris Ar, who can't wait for people to be buried before dumping hatred all over them.

Folks, we're moving backward.   We'll do better tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Your call is impotent to us

Yesterday, the computer doohickey attached to the pfisteris that makes pictures and words come up on the screen went down, or "went down," in technical parlance.  WiFi became NoFi! Or maybe WiNo!   And I couldn't see email or any videos in which wide-eyed kids and skateboarding dogs and cats amuse an entire nation, so I called the good folks at Comcast, or "Xfinity," in technical parlance. 

It's always a good idea for a large company to go by two names.  Is it still Comcast, or is it Xfinity, or what, huh?  It's so confusing that one friend of mine, who uses them for phone, cable and internet service, says he has "Verizon Fios," which sounds like a great Greek dessert.  But I assume my friend's check gets to the right place every month, or I wouldn't be getting emails from him.

I wasn't getting emails from anyone, the reason I called Comcast.  By means of answering 27 questions, I got to the lightning round, where I got to sit and listen to Muzak for seven minutes.  It was almost a relief when the problem-solver picked up my call, uttered a sigh heard round the world, and promptly disconnected me.  Within seconds, I was being entertained by that "If you'd like to make a call..." lady, who sounds for all the world like a grade school librarian hollering at the kids for picking up books and not shelving them properly, or at all.

Second call, waiting time was much faster, and as a free bonus, I got to talk to someone and also help him learn a new language: English.  I had to repeat and define something in just about every sentence, but I considered it my "hands across the sea" gesture.  Reading from his script, he told me not to worry, and that he was sure we could get me back on line.  Then he said something that sounded like tech talk when he told me what he was going to do and suddenly, we were like Abbott and Costello:

Him: Fine, sir, at this time I am going to flapper the noddistrand, so please look at your obfuscator and tell me what you see.

Me: What does that mean?

Him: What does that mean, "what does that mean?"

Me: I don't understand what you are going to do.

Him: (Silence)

Me: (two minutes later)  Are you still there?

Him: Yes, do you see the lights going off?

Me:  On the modem, you mean?  Yes they're off, and now here they come, one at a time...

Him:  How can that be happening?

Me:  I dunno, but here comes my email!

Him:  What does that mean, "here comes my email"?

Me: It means my email inbox is filling up with important emails.  I must go at once and reply to the widow of a Nigerian prince.

And then, just like when you go to look at a video, I got a commercial.  The guy asked me  - and I am not making this up - if I planned to put an addition on my house.  I thought at first he wanted to move in and be my tech team, but he said he was asking in case I wanted to add more cable outlets or anything.

Some people just live to torment me. 

Monday, August 20, 2012


From the Associated Press:

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — One of the top young Scrabble players in the country has been kicked out of the game’s national championship tournament in Florida after he was caught hiding blank letter tiles, organizers said Tuesday.

John D. Williams, Jr., executive director of the National Scrabble Association, said that a male player was ejected from the 350-player event in Round 24 of the 28-round event.

The cheating was spotted by a player at a nearby table, who noticed the ejected player conceal a pair of blank tiles by dropping them on the floor. Blank tiles can be used as wild card letters. When confronted by the tournament director, he admitted to it, organizers said.

Williams, who has served as executive director for 25 years and co-authored a book on the popular Hasbro board game in 1993, said this was the first incident of cheating at a national tournament. However, he said it’s been known to occur at smaller, regional events.

“It does happen no matter what. People will try to do this,” he said. “It’s the first time it’s happened in a venue this big though. It’s unfortunate. The Scrabble world is abuzz. The Internet is abuzz.”

Williams would not identify the player by name or age because he’s a minor. 

So, this bozo decides he's going to cheat at Scrabble.  You know, that is a sure sign of a society in decline, when even teenaged wonks try to get ahead in a board game by cheating, and do so in a feckless manner.

You get the feeling that the young unnamed man here was some sort of genius right out of the crib: probably read a lot, knew a lot of words, and shouldn't that have been enough?  No.  You also get the feeling (at least, you do if you are I) that his parents encouraged him to go into the high-pressure world of competitive scrabble, where the top prize of $10,000 looms like a huge carrot in front of frenzied contestants.  And maybe, his mom and dad told him that it's ok to get an edge in life.  After all, son, it's ok to cheat on your taxes, so long as you don't get caught.  And if mom "forgets" to pay for the 100-lb sack of Dog-B-Fed down at the Food Clown, well, so Rover eats for free.  What could be wrong?

I might be all wet here; it could be that the parents of this misguided youth guided him as well as any parents ever, and he got off track all on his own.  Maybe.  But I do know that somewhere he got the idea that cheating is right. And that is so wrong. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday rerun: They Let George Do It

One person I wish I could have met during his lifetime (1927 - 2003) was George Plimpton.  For one thing, he didn't talk like anyone else I ever met.  Click on the link to see him do an Intellivision spot and listen to him, please!  That voice was Upper Northeast US Cultured, topped with Old Money Nasal and European Traveler.

Who was he? you may ask.  Well, George Ames Plimpton came from well-to-do parents, and just from the name alone you can tell that,  but they were of the always-been-well-off class, which doesn't always mean they are as rich as they might act.  He was of that group that didn't mind if their shirt collars were a little frayed or their Topsiders >>>were a tad bit run down at the heels.  He always appeared comfortable to me, is all I know.

So, come on, who was he, you keep asking.  Well, after college and Army service, he wound up in Paris in the early 1950's.  At that time, writers and artists from all over wound up in Paris once again, following the end of a World War.  George founded a literary magazine called the Paris Review in 1953 and spent the rest of his life involved with the magazine, whose circulation was maybe 1/10 of 1% of Reader's Digest or TV Guide, but it did contain works of fiction, poetry and art, as well as interviews with intellectual giants of the age, so there was merit in his work there.  Just not a lot of money.

For money, he wrote and participated in lots of events.  He came up with a whole new field of journalism, becoming a "professional amateur."  He performed in many venues and then wrote books and essays on experiences such as:
  • playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions in an NFL exhibition game
  • pitching to the National League All-Stars in their warmup game
  • playing in a pro golf match
  • playing the triangle in a symphony orchestra
  • walking the high wire in a circus
  • doing standup comedy
  • playing tennis against Pancho Gonzales, a top pro of the era
And he became famous that way, so much so that he received the ultimate accolade of being the punch line in several New Yorker cartoons. 

He was also, on a sad note, a footnote in history, by being one of the men who wrested away the gun that Sirhan B. Sirhan had just used to assassinate Robert Kennedy.  Of all the interesting experiences that George had, that was one of which he would not speak or write for many years. 

If people speak of him today at all, it's because of Sidd Finch.  This was a character he created for the April 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated, a guy who came out of nowhere but somewhere, had learned the yogic mastery of mind and body, enabling him to throw a baseball 160 mph.  George hired a guy to be photographed as Sidd and wrote the story up in such a convincing fashion that many people were fooled by it, until they took another look at the date of the magazine.

George had an amazing life and he was that rare patrician gentleman who was able to mix with people from all walks of life and then, once back in his office in New York, write about it so we all could share.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday Rerun: NASA's gone funky

Stop me if you've heard this story before.  It's true, and it says a lot about predictions.

Gaylord Perry was a major league baseball pitcher from 1962 - 1983.  When I say "major league," I mean it, because he pitched for just about every team in the major leagues.

His strong points as a pitcher were two: throwing spitballs, and making batters believe he was throwing spitters.  You know that putting a foreign substance on the ball - saliva, Vaseline, WD40, mayonnaise, tofu - is totally against the rules of baseball.  Wetting the ball makes the pitcher able to throw an elusive dipping pitch.  Making the batter think that an elusive pitch is coming his way is effective too - and drier!

Gaylord Perry
Gaylord won 314 games in the big leagues and was voted #97 in the Sporting News list of the 100 greatest baseball players.  This was not for his batting prowess.  In fact, his manager for the San Francisco Giants, Alvin Dark, said in 1964 that the US would put a man on the moon before Gaylord Perry hit a home run.

In 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon one warm Sunday afternoon.  An hour after Apollo 11 got to the moon and found a parking spot, Gaylord Perry hit the first of his six career home runs. While Neil and Buzz flipped packages of Tang to see who would hop out first, Perry ran around the bases on earth while the astronauts were on the moon.

And I read about it in the SUN!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Homer Homer

Many people have gone to baseball games for all their lives in hopes of seeing a winning ballclub.

That wish is coming true this season for lots of people who weren't around prior to 1997, the last time the Orioles finished above .500

Many people go to games in hopes of catching a home run ball.  Or a foul ball.  Or a ground-rule double that hops off their field into their big tub o' beer.

But imagine catching the first major league home run ball hit by Oriole rookie Manny Machado, widely regarded as the future superstar of the club.

Adam Corder of Millersville MD did just that, last Friday night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  Machado deposited a fifth-inning Luke Hochevar pitch into Section 78, Row 14, right into the waiting mitts of 14-year-old Adam, making him the envy of souvenir hunters everywhere.

And then...

In the 6th inning, Machado connected for his second MLB homerun.  This time, the ball was caught in the same section by the same young Mr Corder.

Machado swings (SUN photo)
That has to be some sort of lightning-strikes-twice record.  Years ago Bob Feller, pitching for the Indians, threw a pitch that a batter hit foul into the stands...on Ladies' Day...and hit Feller's mother on the bean.  But that only happened once, I'm happy to say.

Adam Corder (SUN photo)
Adam traded the most valuable of the balls - the first one - to Machado for four signed balls and a bat.  He kept the second ball.

What a night!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Proverbs 5:18-19 – “... and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth."

And then we turn for news to Hammond, Indiana, where one of those megapastors with a megachurch (not to mention a wife) has lost his job because he was fooling around with a 16-year-old female.

Boys and girls will get together, I'll grant you that, but this fellow, Pastor Jack Schaap, is 54, making him 38 years older than the girl he was making out with in the picture that someone sexted to his cell phone while the deacon had Jack's phone in his hand.

This is more complicated than Victor Newman's womanizing, huh?

The interesting thing here, to me, is that the church, the First Baptist, with a seating capacity for 7,500 upright members, fired happy Jack for the sin of adultery.  They did not seem to mind the fact that his co-sinner was 16, but they did point out that he committed "a sin that has caused him to forfeit his right to be our pastor."

Oh, and his father-in-law was the founder of the church.

But wait!  There's more!  While they were sorting out the initial mess, another teenaged girl came along and said that she was messin' with the minister too.

Pastor Jack Schaap is now learning how to deal. His wife is mad at him for two-timing, and so is his girlfriend.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It should never happen

I saw this online the other day, and it made me think that it's time for school to start again, and to think that a certain amount of kids will have to endure bullying again.

I have Facebook friends who have been real life friends since we were in first grade together (there was no kindergarten or pre-k in our frontier upbringing.)  They would be able to verify that my size, my verbal dexterity and my all-around cocky attitude made me a non-target for bullies.  In fact, I can't recall anyone pushing me around, but I surely do wish that people today who see this stuff going on would do something about it.  We seem to be largely desensitized in this country; death and violence are served up on the news and in movies, tv shows and video games as if to be mistaken for entertainment. But today's mass killer might have been that kid who shoved other kids around on the playground twenty years ago.

Please help both of those kids.  Report it and follow through.  Make sure something is done, please.

And for those of you who have friends and a pack of kids to hang with: it wouldn't hurt to add a new person or two to your club.  I always found that new kids sometimes knew things that might come in handy at school.  Some of these things were even educational!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A reptile dysfunction

Consider the term, "alligator trainer."  Here's a story from ABC News about a guy who works for a traveling carnival attraction called "Kachunga and the Alligator Show." 

There must be a market for this; people just about break their necks reaching for their wallets to plunk down money to see this show. 

(And all I ever hear about is how the economy is so horrible that people "can't hardly make do no more." Sic.)

So, watch the video.  You get to see a bored-looking kid craning his neck around to see what else is going on at this carnival and then you hear the master of ceremonies ask the crowd if they, indeed, wish to see Dan stick his arm in the animal's mouth.  And the first time, Dan's cat-like reflexes don't fail him.  The second time, now, that was a bite.

I am hardly a PETA member, for such is my love of meat, fowl, seafood, and my leather jacket.  But common sense would tell us that alligators don't really enjoy having a human hand crammed into their toothy maws, and are likely to chew the hand that feeds them if they're feeling a bit cranky that day.

On the ABC video page, you'll also see a story from Las Vegas, where people have had the inconvenience of having first two, and then one, chimpanzee run through their neighborhood.   Again, people?  You want a pet, go to the Animal Shelter and pick yourself a dog or cat or one of each, for added family fun.  Chimpanzees, possessing seven times the strength of humans, make poor companions, and the only place an alligator belongs, outside of a swamp, is on your shirt.

Monday, August 13, 2012

One or the other

I know this makes me a maverick, a loner, a man of old fashion.  But, it's fashion that I'm thinking of here.

What is this current trend of men wearing full dress suits and leaving the tie at home on the rack? It seems incomplete somehow, like a lettuce and tomato sandwich with no bacon.

No man likes wearing ties,  and doing so is part of a penance that we all pay for some long-ago sin.  A tie cuts off air to the vital neckular area, leading to the heartbreak of neckular rash.  But still, for occasions such as weddings, homegoings, homecomings and supermarket openings, it's the thing to wrap around a man's neck.  We wear ties as adults for the same reason we did as kids:  "You just do!"

 As much as I loved Goober <<<, what if leading politicians started dressing like him?
Once we get this settled, then we can talk about not wearing a suit at all, in favor of a nice pair of cotton slacks, a polo shirt and proper foundation garmentry.  Or jeans, but just not with a suit jacket. That's sort of like syrup on a pizza.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday rerun: Wherefore art though, art?

Was it not the great legal scholar Oliver Wendell Douglas who sagely advised that your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins?  I think so.  

What's the first rule we learn when we commence attending school, or dating?  Keep your hands to yourself!

Learning to respect the rights of others seems a quaint, old-fashioned notion in these hurly-burly times, when people are dashing around faster than Mrs Gingrich at a buy -one-get one FREE hairspray sale.

Now, I'm all for artistic expression!  Heaven knows, I'm the first to salute anyone who hangs a velvet Elvis or wide-eyed kid painting in their family room.  Under my sobriquet "Phil S. Styne," I donate such art to the needy families of Newport, Rhode Island, Malibu, California, and Palm Beach, Florida. 

But help me to understand why people are defending kids who go around with their spray paint and their b.a. Sharpies and leave their graffiti on cars, houses, buildings and slow-moving pedestrians.  

Here's what I'm talking about, specifically.  According to the Perry Hall PATCH, one of our local Vincent vandal Goghs was caught at 0250 hours the other morning spray-painting the building at Pete's Cycle shop on Belair Rd.  We assume that this redecoration was not done under the auspices, supervision or permission of the proprietors of Pete's, but the post-pubescent Picasso, while under interrogation down at the station house, gave it up, naming two other places that had come under his decorative touch.  

OK, let's stop right there.  You got a kid, 18, caught vandalizing the property of another person.  There's hardly a need for a trial, since he was caught in the act in the middle of the night.  So does he:

a) admit his act, say he was "just foolin' around and all," and await his chance to do useful Community Service hours, removing the handiwork of others?

b) clam up, tell the cops, "You ain't got nothing on me, see, copper?" and refuse to talk anymore "without my mouthpiece, see?"

c) claim that this is his "way of expressing (his) artistic side"?

You've taken quizzes like this before, so you know we stack the right answer on the bottom.  Yes, the youth said that.  His "tag" is "Toe" or "Toenail," so we know there is trouble afoot when he kneels and says, "Let us spray."

So, we know he needs some more education, which we can hope will be meted out to him by a wise and wonderful judge.

But as usual, that's not the worst part of the story.  

The article in the PATCH engendered a lively debate, and when you read down to the bottom of the page, you are treated to the views of fellow adults who say things such as,"No, he did not commit a "white collar crime", (which are usually worse by the way...) but somebody giving away their art for free."
I'm not even going to comment on the syntactic struggles of that sentence.  This is a woman, trying to tell us that spray-painted graffiti on SOMEONE ELSE'S PROPERTY should not be considered a crime, but a gift of art. And she goes on with a whole new theory: "...the pre-frontal cortex (risk assessment, decision making) is not developed until around 25yo. He can go to war, but not drink... so, not totally an adult in terms of the law."

Attention attorneys everywhere!  A brand-new defense has just been offered by a woman who goes on to say "maybe I've been involved in education too long."  In her view, no one under the age of 25 really knows how to assess risk or make a good decision, so we can't hold their actions against them.

To you 18-year-olds who work full or part time, go to school, have a car and a social life and no time for damaging the property of others at ten minutes til three in the morning, I am sorry, but this woman feels that your brain stems have not borne ripe fruit just yet, and so she discounts everything you say, do, touch or feel.  

She has no respect for your accomplishments, though they are many and varied, as she is too busy defending the misguided actions of a guy who is most assuredly representative of but a tiny fraction of your number.

And now you know the worst part of the story.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday rerun: You gotta know how to pony

Photo from the Aegis
I'm writing this on Saturday morning, so by the time you are seeing this (and thank you for doing so!) the ballgame between the Ravens and the Patriots will be in the history books.  I really think that for a lot of folks around here, the buildup to big Ravens games is almost as exciting as the game itself.  Everyone is wearing purple in some form, it seems, and jerseys of favorites replace dress shirts for me and dresses for women.  Gorgeous cheerleaders are all over town stirring support, and the Ravens band is playing stirring music.  I heard them on TV playing "Land of 1000 Dances."

Now, you might say, what song is that?  And then I might say, you might know that song as "Na Na Na Na NAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" because the phrase "Land of 1000 Dances" is not mentioned in the lyrics.  And there are but 16 dances mentioned, according to Wikipedia: the Pony, the Chicken, the Mashed Potato, the Alligator, the Watusi, the Twist, the Fly, the Jerk, the Tango, the Yo-Yo, the Sweet Pea, the Hand jive, the Slop, the Bop, the Fish, and the Popeye.

The dance formerly known as "The Italian Cruise Liner Captain" is now known as "The Jerk."

C & the H's
"Land of 1000 Dances" was first done in 1962 by Chris Kenner, who is also remembered for his other hits "I Like It Like That" and "Something You Got." Kenner wrote it, along with Antoine "Fats" Domino. But when Cannibal And The Headhunters recorded it in 1965, lead singer Frankie "Cannibal" Garcia forgot a couple of lines, substituting "Na na na na naaaaaaa" and vaulting into history in the process.  No one talks about the Chris Kenner version so much, but the Cannibal version and the Wilson "Wicked" Pickett version from '66 were staples at every teen center and swimming pool dance in the 60s.

So the Ravens Marching Band is doing that song and that's why the Ravens won the Battle of the Bands..and more...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Forever Endeavor

If you get a chance, saunter over to the YouTube and punch up this selection and see Randy Travis sing "I Told You So" with Carrie Underwood.  Something about the amazing Carrie - and I think she is just about as great a singer as ever graced this planet - blending her voice with Randy's country-hewn goodness just makes for a doggone good song.

Randy Travis (born Randy Bruce Traywick in Marshville, North Carolina, 1959) has seen the peaks and valleys of life.  If you watch the video to "Forever and Ever, Amen," which was his first big hit back in the 1980's, you see a much healthier Randy than you see in this mugshot, taken just the other day. In fact, it might be a good idea to start making some changes if you are hauled in nekkid as a jaybird, after crashing your car and taking a nap alongside the wreck.  When you get arrested in a place called Grayson County, Texas, that sounds a bit scary.

Travis's prognathous jaw always reminded me of another Randy - the puppet from Pee Wee's Playhouse.  But Randy the puppet was on a fun show, a piece of entertainment, who poured cereal in Pee Wee's bowl to comic effect.  Otis Campbell, the lovable town drunk of Mayberry, reflects a long-ago age in America.  Today we realize that people with alcohol abuse issues need help, not laughter. 

Travis had been arrested this past February, drunk in his car at a church parking lot somewhere else in Texas.  This latest run-in would indicate that he is running with a bad idea.  His friends and family should get him to help before his forever and ever comes way too early.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why I Can't Understand Capitalism

I sat through all the required economics courses and I have the basic understanding that Joe Blow and his wife Mildred invest their money in the stock market.  Their two thousand bucks, which they came into following the not unexpected passing of Joe's aging uncle Cyrus, goes directly from the palm of their stockbroker to the coffers at Amalgamated Meat and Cheese.  Then the honchos at AM & C buy more cows and cow products (the yellow kind) and sell them and everyone is happy.

That much, I get.  But yesterday I was enjoying my third shower of the day and was unable to turn off the radio as the business report came on.  As tepid water coursed over me, the newscaster said that sales at McDonald's were down 1.6 % in July, and this is recently unprecedented.  It's been a while since business at the Golden Arches dipped, so we were told.

Even that much, I get.  People have dozens of choices of where to find chow these days, and Burger King, Wendy's and Taco Bell are advertising like crazy to get your money into their tills.  So, when people start using all those buy-one-get-one-free coupons that come in the mail, business will go up at other places.

Here's what I don't get:  the woman on the radio talked to some stock analyst bigshot and reported that this dip in McDonald's business was being attributed to "lowered consumer confidence."

I can see holding back a little on buying a new car when things are dicey on the economic front.  Maybe the Plymouth will run a few more years and we can forget about the new car.  And certainly, when layoffs and belt-tightening are regular forms of exercise in your neighborhood, you don't want to go out on a limb and buy a whole new house or anything.

But if lowered consumer confidence is holding you back from investing in a Big Mac®, then I say "Oh, go ahead and live a little!"

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hoosier worst state senator

Any list of states in which I am tickled not to live would have to include Indiana, where they have a town called Terrible Hot.  It's a place where they can't even decide whether to use Daylight Savings Time or not.

But dagnab it if the wise solons in the Indiana Legislature didn't pass a bill and get it signed by Governor Mitch Daniels that allows citizens out there to shoot police officers if they feel endangered by a cop.

You read it right - a new state law allows residents to use deadly force in response to the “unlawful intrusion” by a “public servant” to protect themselves and others, or their property.

This all comes to light in a summer of unprecedented gun violence in America, and not long ago, a dufus in Florida shot to death a door to door salesman who came around selling steaks and seafood.  He took advantage of the Florida "stand your ground" law to kill this man, lest the salesman wing him with some frozen sirloins or salmon filets.

But getting back to the Hoosier state, and I promise that I never will, State Senator R. Michael Young (surprise! He's a Republican!) pushed this bill, with some help on the heavy pushin' from the good folks over at the National Rifle Association.  That's the group that pushes for all guns and ammunition to be legal at all times, no matter that they had to move their headquarters out of DC because staffers kept getting held up at gunpoint.  This Young man said that his law would allow homeowners to defend themselves during a violent, unjustified attack.

Sergeant Joseph Hubbard of the Jeffersonville PD says, “If I pull over a car and I walk up to it and the guy shoots me, he’s going to say, ‘Well, he was trying to illegally enter my property.’”  Hubbard, president of Jeffersonville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 100, adds, “Somebody is going get away with killing a cop because of this law.”

There are people in this country who sit around believing that the police are coming to take them away and put them in some sort of concentration camp.  So this will give them all the ammo they need, you should pardon the expression, to fire like madmen, you should pardon the expression, should a police officer come within 100 yds. of them.

We should pardon Sen. Young and his NRA friends, too, I suppose, because they're not out there about to get shot at.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Iron Man comes through again

I am completely impressed with Cal Ripken, Jr, in every way.  In fact, if you step into the den in which I type away at this pc, there are gigantic posters and other memorabilia about the Iron Man's Oriole career all over the place. 

I only need to tell this part of the story to the non-baseball-nuts among us, but Cal comes from a baseball family; his dad, Cal, Sr, was a longtime coach in the Orioles' glory days and taught two of his three sons how to play the game the right way. The third son, Fred, chose not to follow Cal Jr and Billy onto the diamond, and that was his choice.  A cool family they are, and even though the recent abduction of the widowed mom, "Miss Vi," shook the area, she is safe now and I have no doubt that the kidnapper will be rounded up presently.

I want to stress that Cal is still every bit the gentleman, now that his playing days have ended and he has become a businessman.  I have been lucky enough to be around him three times over the years, and he has always treated everyone in the crowd like they were important to him - and not in the phony way, either.

I have to share this:  The other night, a lady I used to work with took her mom to the Bonefish Grill in Bel Air to celebrate her mom's 88th birthday.  I'll let my friend finish the story:

We were sitting 2 tables away from Cal Ripken and 3 of his business associates. He came over after dinner and wished Mom a Happy Birthday and let me take a photo of the 2 of them. He really is a nice man to allow us to butt into his dinner! Thanks, Cal!

And, look at this photo of a happy lady on her 88th, and a man with business and his own family on his mind, who still took time to come over and wish the lady a happy birthday!  Can you imagine how happy she is? I'm thrilled for her, and for all of us who get to see this fine man live his life with us in such an exemplary fashion.

 On behalf of all of us fans, thank you, Cal!

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Needles and the Damage Done

The death of De'Andre McCullough made the news all around the world:

He died in the Baltimore suburb of Woodlawn, out on the west side of town, of an apparent drug overdose.  De'Andre was the focus of the book "The Corner," about the drug-infested section of West Baltimore where he was born into squalor and began dealing drugs at an early age, eventually succumbing to drug use, and eventually succumbing to that.  You can't say that society is to blame for his wasted life and early death at 35; other people born to even worse circumstances make successes of their lives, if only by becoming productive citizens and members of the community.  But let's say that some people a little further up the road got a head start on the road of life, a boost that De'Andre did not get.

Up the road outside Philadelphia, the Eagles' Andy Reid raised his family in the sort of luxury that an NFL head coach's salary will provide.  And yet, four days after De'Andre McCullough bought it, Coach Reid awoke yesterday to news that his eldest son Garrett, 29, was dead in his dorm room at the Eagles' training camp in Lehigh, PA.

The cause of Garrett's death is, as yet, undetermined.  He had had big trouble with narcotics over the years.  He and his younger brother Britt  were arrested and put in jail in 2007 after their arrest on drug charges. Garrett went up twice on drug convictions, and had been to court-ordered rehab, but both Garrett and Britt had "by all accounts turned their lives around" according to the online article at CSN  Garrett was working with the team as an assistant when he passed.

It seems that when you get into that hard stuff, you are headed down a one-way path on which it's hard to turn the speeding car around.  De'Andre McCullough, born dirt poor but grown street-tough, hadn't the strength to reverse his course.  Garrett Reid's father will earn 5.5 million dollars this year to coach other men to play football, but all that money and public acclaim were not enough to keep his son out of the graveyard.

Court records say that  Garrett Reid told a judge in July 2007, "I liked being a drug dealer. (But) I don't want to die doing drugs. I don't want to be that kid who was the son of the head coach of the Eagles, who was spoiled and on drugs and OD'd and just faded into oblivion."
I don't want him to fade into oblivion.  I want everyone to remember his story and do what we all can to make sure no one else repeats it.  Same for De'Andre McCullough. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday rerun: I still have my nametag somewhere

Everyone drove Mustangs to the A & P
In the spring of my senior year, just before my graduation from the exclusive Towson High School (admission by zip code only!) I went to work for The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, also known as the "A & P," and that's pronounced "Ann P" around these parts.  I had hoped to start out as District Manager or Vice-President of Sales, Grocery Division, but it seemed that the only openings they had were for "clerk," so I took that, figuring on biding my time for the inevitable promotions that never came.

Rat Fink t-shirt decal
Some interesting facts about that job: we had to wear a white shirt and tie and pants that could be any color but could not be jeans of any fabric.  We got around the shirt thing by wearing t-shirts underneath with various slogans and depictions of cartoon characters.

My starting salary was a whopping $2.15 per hour, not bad when my classmates worked at Gino's or McDonald's for fifty cents.  In fact, top pay on the clerk scale was $3, and there were full time guys there, working 40 hours, grossing $120/wk, and raising families and buying houses, cars and cheap beer on that pay. We wore red aprons and name tags. The store sold all the national brands, of course, but we had our own - in fact, the tea bags were called "Our Own" tea bags - brands, such as Jane Parker baked goods and Ann Page canned foods.  I used to wonder about the people who worked in the packaging end.  Working the early shift, I would be stocking the bread aisle and found it endlessly humorous that Jane Parker's Old-Fashioned Home-Style Bread carried the description "A hearty, firm-type loaf."  And one of my best buddies on the crew, Charlie (known as "Cholly" in BalMoreEse) had a younger brother whose detestation of cole slaw was so thickly ingrained in his diet that he carried the sobriquet "Slaws-A-Balls."

Please don't try to understand that nickname unless you are 18 and male.  That's the only way it's funny.

Tool of the trade
We would set this to 2/69¢!
I didn't usually work a cash register, so it was not to be my fate to have experiences like John Updike wrote about in his short story "A&P," but I would never have acted like the guy in that story anyway.  We had our share of pretty girls parading through the store in various states of deshabille and decolletage, and there was lots of ogling going on in the time-honored manner of adolescent males.  I spent a lot of time unloading freight trucks and placing items on the shelves for sale, so I always had one of those box-cutter knives and a Garvey price kerchunker ready for business.

Sometimes in the evenings, taking the trash out, or having a smoke break, we would see two cars pull up and park, and then a woman would get into a car driven by a man, and they would drive away, casting furtive looks as they left.  Of course, as major-league suburban sophisticates, we knew something was up.  We just didn't know what, to tell you the truth.  And in the apartments behind the store - now torn down and replaced with apartments - I don't know why either - there lived a woman who was quite uninhibited in her manner of dressing, which is to say that she paraded around naked and stood in the bathroom window, providing endless amusement for the easily amused.  We don't know where she got her groceries, because she did not come into our store.  We did know that she got her clothes at the same place The Emperor did!

So that part of my career lasted through my college days and then I took a cut in pay to go into radio, but I am writing today because the A&P chain is done in Baltimore as of today.  All the stores are closed; some will reopen as Shoppers' Food Warehouses, and some as Shop-Rites, and some will remain empty, corpses of a company that shot itself in the foot time and again changing its name from A&P to WEO ("Where Economy Originates" - snappy, huh?) and then SuperFresh, where they tried to be all things to all people.  Gourmet foods? Sure! Cheapie no-name brands?  Aisle 5, I think! Sit awhile and have some pizza and a soda?  Steam that shrimp for you?  Power tools, aisle 16!

Back in the day, we addressed customers as 'Sir' and 'Ma'am' and we thanked them for shopping with us and the acceptable answer to any question about where an item was shelved was never, "Gee, I don't know!"   But I heard that a lot lately in SuperFresh, and while I am sad to see them go, I can tell you this about Baltimore:  we like to eat food,  and you have to be pretty lousy at running a food store to drive people away like this chain did.

Shame, too.  They did have tasty cheese rolls.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Saturday rerun: "And so, in closing..."

Quick quiz for you:  You're asked to get up and say a few words at a meeting.  One of your tasks will involve introducing to the crowd some people you have never met.  Do you...

a) get a list of the names of the people you'll be introducing so you can practice saying them and/or ask the person, "How do you pronounce your last name, please, Mr Mxyzptlk?"

b) wait until you're in front of a hundred people and go, "And now, I'd like you to meet our new assistant regional field manager, Mr. Phil Mis ...Mix ...Mixaplatik ...however you say it..."

If you're like the person I saw at a meeting the other evening, you did 'b' and that ain't so good.  I don't think that any of you would be that way, though. You see, there is nothing sweeter to a person than the sound of his or her own name (unless their name is "Newt" or "Gingrich") and it only takes a second to check with them - someone - ANYone - and find out how to say it!

This person also committed the other cardinal foul in the Gettin' Up 'n' Speakin' game...printing out your "spontaneous, off the cuff remarks."  Out here in the audience, we can tell you did that, because we are looking at the top of your head while you "talk" to us.  

This is always the worst when someone writes themselves a joke into their script.  Then they read, "It seems there were two men who went into a bar..."  No, it didn't happen; it only seemed that way. 

There is no need to print out what you're going to say.  Listen, I know it's not easy for a lot of people to get up in front of a group and speak.  It only takes practice, and you can't get that practice by sitting in the audience toying with your green beans almondine and twice-baked potato, so the thing to do is, volunteer, say you'll do it, practice a couple of times at home in front of the bathroom mirror and then do it with as much grace as you can muster.  Keep your clothes on while doing so, in case you decide to follow the old advice about picturing all the members of the audience nekkid as jaybirds while you're talking to them.  But you don't want to be in your birthday suit in the bathroom picturing all that, so put on some shorts and a t-shirt already, please. 

Know what you're going to say and be confident when you get up there, and you'll do fine.  We'll be out here in the audience, enjoying your remarks and picturing you buck nekkid.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Real Turner Classic

Believe it or not, in 1945, 90 million people  - 60% of the population - attended a movie at least once per week in America.

We went to see "Ted" a couple of weeks ago because I support Seth McFarlane's right to say anything he wants to.  He's like that Chicken Man, only with something worthwhile to share.  But before that, I can't tell you the last time Peggy was at a picture show, and I have only been to the movies to see Jackass films.  You cannot apprehend the beauty, the subtle nuance of 3-D flying poop at home on your TV, you understand. 

Why don't we go more often?  Answers most often given include "why should I pay those bastards 12 bucks to sit there while people eat chicken tenders, their lips smacking like giraffes consuming combretum leaves from atop a tree?" and "I can see this bomb in three weeks on pay per view for a lot less," And of course, staying home means not having to share the theater with the likes of Kyle Tanner (above).

Getting back to the days when almost all of America was headed for the Bijou to see Lana Turner or Clark Gable, I am a huge fan of Turner Classic Movies, conveniently located at channel 890 on Comcast.  The other day, while watching the merry mixups of Ms Turner, Robert Young and Walter Brennan in a little movie called "Slightly Dangerous," I tried to picture myself in the movies on a Saturday night in 1943 when the movie came out.  Let's say I was then the same age as I am now, making me about 50 years too old for the draft.  So I'm at the Towson Theater with my bag of popcorn and a soda and having a heckuva time watching Lana pretend to be a missing heiress but giving it all up for love for Robert Young, before Father Knows Best.  And Walter Brennan - 14 years before he starred in The Real McCoys - was the rich guy who suddenly wound up getting to pretend that Lana was his daughter.  And then after the movie, I might get in the roadster and go for a coddie somewhere.

No 24-screen multiplexes, no 3D, no chicken tenders. One theater, one screen, take it or leave it. 
I'd take it!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Next topic, please

Now that everyone in the country spent Wednesday eating chicken sandwiches, or not eating chicken sandwiches, or arguing about whether your free speech rights give you the right to say bad things about a whole group of people...I have an idea.

Could we all try to get behind a movement to ignore ignorance?  By which I mean that wacky church group from the midwest that shows up at the funerals of fallen soldiers, police, firefighters and says that God wants them dead because of America's sinfulness.

I'm not going to mention their name, but you know who they are, with their signs and their hateful speech.  Yes, as a free speech advocate I have to support anyone's right to speak their minds.  But there are some minds that just really have spoken all they need to.

It's like George Carlin's idea about gun control: don't try to limit the amount of guns that people can have.  Just limit the amount of bullets they can have, and they can throw their guns at each other all day.  Let this church group show up with their placards and their mean thoughts.  If the TV news and the press and the bloggers would stop talking about them, perhaps they'd start hitting each other over the head with their signs like Moe and no one would even notice.