Friday, January 31, 2014

Lessons Learned

I was one dumb kid, I wanna tell you that right now.  The stuff I believed!  The things I didn't know!  in such fields as astronomy and algebra, the dreaded A&A of my unknowing.  But in all that, there was one thing that I thought was right when I was a young man, and that turned out to be all wrong, wrong, wrong.  

And there was one thing I came to learn that I have never forgotten, and I have always offered it to young people who, through some sort of horrible error, turn to me for advice.

First point - like the picture above reminds us, I remember being an adolescent and seeing people in their late 20s, early 40s, middle 60s and thinking, "Man! This (guy) (woman) (proprietor of an Asian carryout) (irate police officer giving chase on foot) really has it all figured out!"  And I figured that all people above the voting age (21 then) were full-fledged grownups who acted responsibly, knew the difference between right and wrong, knew there were limits to all this fooling around, and knew where the lines were drawn.

That was a foolish generalization I made, which is something that all teenagers do. (There's another foolish generalization!)  The fact is, while the overwhelming majority of people old enough to marry and vote are mature, fully-realized and well-functioning adults, there are plenty who are not, who are crooks, vagrants, ne'er-do-wells, boozehounds, cheats, tramps and thieves.  

Not that I have to associate with them, and neither do you, but just remember, they are out there!

On the other hand, there came a moment in my mid-to-late 30s when I came to realize that people who were ding-dong dipsticks and doofuses at age 16 tended to be that way at 26, 46 and 106.   As Isaac Newton, who later invented quite a tasty cookie, once said,  "Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed."  Which means, if you're in the recliner, you tend to stay there unless some force (thirst) compels you to get up.  And without the thirst to do better, people who have found it easy to be fools just stay in that condition.

Fortunately, there aren't many people like that.  And thank you for being none of them.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

He thought, she thought

I'm a gregarious fellow, so I guess you might say I had my share of friends and acquaintances at work before my glorious retirement, and not that many people turned on their heels and ran the other way at the sight of me lumbering down the hall.  I still consider my work family to be like a family, except that they have more birthdays.

One person who was always a special friend was someone with whom I kept in fairly close phone-and-text touch after I left.  She had gone to work someplace else by then, and we made vague plans to meet up for lunch someday. 
Meanwhile, we texted and chattered until last fall.  I called right after Labor Day, and she said she'd have to call me back; something was up and she couldn't talk. And then a couple of days later, same deal, and a couple of days after that, yet again she said she'd have to call me when she got a minute, and then that minute never arrived.

I tried to noodle it out, thought about anything I might have said to offend her and things of that nature, and came up with nothing.  (For once.) I figured I'd hear something when the time was good for her, so I went back to my hectic busy schedule of watching morning news shows, writing this blog (there's five minutes a day shot to hell right there!) and calling rightwing talk shows, hollering, "Baba Booey!  Baba Booey!" and hanging up, along with my other varied, worthwhile pursuits.  

Then, last Friday, I had to look up a number on the cell phone.  I got past the "D" section, which is populated heavily with Doctors of many disciplines, dedicated medical professionals who work on things from my feet to my choppers to my eyes (Dr Melissa Connolly!  Call me for her number if you don't see perfectly!) and, of course, my surgically-repaired back and knee.  When I got a couple letters further, I came upon my friend in the phone listings,  and you know what, I said right there and then,  I was going to call to find out what happened to us being friends and all.

It turned out she lost her job in September.  And she was embarrassed, and did not want to tell anyone. 

And because I thought she was too busy or whatever to let me know, all these months have gone by and she is still down about it all. 

Pick up the phone and make that call!
I can totally understand what happened on her job.  She is such an excellent worker - and dedicated - that she would sometimes call from her office at 8 PM, having been in the office since dawn broke. But something went haywire on the new position, and her new boss arbitrarily cut her adrift on the icy sea of unemployment.

It's not too late; I can stay in touch now and offer support, encouragement,  and my patented mix of inappropriate jokes and unsuitable comments, but I'll always regret losing four months' time and all those chances to have helped.   Why wait when there's a chance a friend is in need? Next time, I won't wait around.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

My Salad Days had no salads in them

My mom was, in her day, a great cook.  Holidays at our house were always filled with splendid eats.  

My dad was not up to that level in the kitchen; he could fix himself a bowl of cereal, maybe toast some white bread.  BUT he had a recipe for a deep-dish olive pie that he poured almost every day, so there's that.

This all comes to mind because my sister gave me a copy of Better Homes and Gardens magazine from December, 1956.  The food ads and recipes in there are good reasons to help understand why everyone walked around feeling awful during the 1950s.  The food was disgusting. Don't take it from me!  Google "Disgusting 1950s food" and see a veritable cornucopia of jellied, sauced, overcooked improbable mixes of terrible chow.

Last week, one of those things was going around on Facebook showing oldtime foods, and I mentioned that we were often served a meal of hot tuna in a casserole with peas mixed in and crumbled potato chips on top.  My buddy Ralph down in North Carolina pointed out, in response to my bellyaching about putting that gruel in my belly, that we ALL ate like that back then.

Listen to some of the recipes in that magazine:  Calico Bean Bake! Lemon Mayonnaise! Tomato Aspic! Nesselrode Pie! (we used to have this all the time until I took my little hatchet and cut down the nesselrode tree.)  Fluffy Mustard Sauce!  Snowball Loaf!  Peppermint-Marshmallow Sauce! Upside-Down Date Pudding Brown Sugar Sauce! Hot Turkey-Salad Souffle! Cookie Tart!

No, wait.  Cookie Tart was the name of a girl I kept company with one summer.  It was her mom who was to teach me all I would ever learn of the world of Fluffo, the butter-colored shortening that was so integral to the recipes for both Devil's Food Cake and hellishly greasy fried chicken (fried for 45 minutes in 4 inches of boiling fat.)

Those peas aren't just STACKED there, you know.
They're held in place by unflavored gelatin, made from
the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals
 such as domesticated cattle, chicken, pigs, and fish. 
It's crazy to blame the times for what we ate.  I do know that all our dads were just a few years removed from eating truly horrible foot on battlefields, in rusty hulking ships and in the ball turrets of bombers, so I guess Noel Eggnog Pie seemed so much better.

Also advertised in the magazine:  Tums® for the Tummy, page 191, and Phillips' Milk of Magnesia, page 177.

I should say so.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Can we have kippers for breakfast?

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.  

And then...

I'm sure you've heard the album "Breakfast in America," by Supertramp, from 1979.  The English progressive-art rock-pop band made an album that was one you just had to have, because it had great tunes like "The Logical Song" and "Breakfast in America" and "Goodbye Stranger" and "Take The Long Way Home."

It sold a bazillion records for A&M Records, it's the biggest selling English language in the history of France, and it won two Grammy Awards in 1980.

And yet, you haven't played your copy lately.  Probably the last time anyone dragged the worn old vinyl record out of its jacket was in the early 90's, when Jan and Fred came over that night to talk about Fred's new job with that outfit out of Cleveland. Of course, who could have foreseen how that was going to turn out?  And Fred says to this day that he is just as happy teaching Driver Education down at U-Driv-Urself as he would be at, say, Apple or Samsung.  Who needs the pressure?

That was really the last time you thought about that ancient record, with the picture of the diner waitress  "Libby," holding a tall glass of orange juice, in place of the Statue of Liberty in an illustrated New York City.  It all seemed like a tribute to the great tradition of Breakfasts in America, and then someone named David Icke, a former English soccer player who now sponsors wacky conspiracy theories, put out his claim that the album serves to prove that way back in the latter part of 1978, while the band was recording the album in Los Angeles, people were already planning the 9/11/01 attacks on America, and this album jacket proves it.

A member of the Icke Forum, "Eve", wisely points out:

"Album came out in 1979," it reads.

"9/11 reference.
"9/11 was served with breakfast...not to mention the everyday fight for freedom: "Breakfast In America."
'Eve' appears to be convinced and continues:
"Orange juice = fireball," she adds.
"You are looking out of the window of a plane, she is showing the target."
'Eve' even posts a reversed view of the cover which 'appears' to show the 'U' and 'P' of Supertramp flipped around to look like the figures '9' and '11'.

 This is not unprecedented.  The formation of a "splinter" group of people who were "board" with the standard brand of reactionary politics was presaged by this record album, from the 1950s.  It shows the first meeting of what we now call the Tea Party.  It turns out, it all started in Boston, where a silver-haired man entertained a bevy of beauties and so enchanted them that they all went out that very night to eliminate taxes ("we can do fine without 'em!"), reduce government ("we can have the police driving the snow plows to reduce the work force and get two jobs done at oncet") and promote individual responsibility for taking part in a strengthened local government ("Just not on Monday nights; that's my poker night") just as soon as they finished their tea and cookies.

Old records hold the key to the future, but it can't really be locked up.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sticks and stones may break my bones

"(Name of political leader) is a idiot."

I'm not going to say whom this was about; I saw it on Facebook the other day, and my response has nothing to do with the political ideology of the "idiot" or of the person who so ungrammatically called him one.

A friend of mine was attending a college on North Charles Street in Baltimore - we'll call it "Loyola" - years ago and saw an interesting bit of graffiti on a lavatory wall.  "ROTC is dumb," read the slogan.  Now, I never took ROTC, I was not interested in being an officer in the Reserve Army, but if I had been so enrolled and found it unlikeable, I hope I might have been able to express myself better than to say "it's dumb".

Unrelated graphic content
showing scoring methods in
Rock-Paper-Scissors game
I don't know, I just guess I expect more fact than that. Everyone is entitled to like or dislike people, places, and concepts, but can we elevate the level of our discourse a little above "Oh you're a big old poophead and I hate you to smithereens!"?

The old quote attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan - "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts" - rings true.  Please feel free to say how you feel about things, but do it with facts!  It can really prove your point!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Rerun: Act Naturally

Worldly and sophisticated, I am certainly no stranger to the Seven Lively Arts (music, literature, drama, painting, dance, conversation and Fleming) but I remain as a child, in awe of the masters of each.  If I could write or perform music, write great books or plays, act in a movie or play, tap dance like Danny Effing Kaye, conduct colloquies with the likes of world leaders and those who should be, and remember to give my answer in the form of a question, I'd be one well-rounded citizen.  

And yet, given enough time, I could learn to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the harmonica, write some short story that might hold someone's interest for three minutes (Opening line: "Spring comes late to Carney."), smear some paint around in the impressionist manner, or talk with Obama or Castro.  But acting? No. Forget it. Couldn't do it.

We tend to forget that there is such a thing as acting; at least, I forget it.  We see stars such as, oh let's say, John Travolta.  We first saw him as Vinnie Barbarino on "Welcome Back, Kotter" and every role since has been sort of variation on that theme.  We had Greaser Vinnie in "Grease," Disco Vinnie in "Saturday Night Fever" and so on down the line, right up to Goon Vinnie in "Get Shorty" and Firefighter Vinnie in "Ladder 49."  And listen, people still want to see him in movies, so it's all good.

Old timers like Phil Silvers - cocky, strutting, wiseacre burlesque comics - were in movie after movie, always pretty much the same guy, too...a cocky, strutting wiseacre buddy with Victor Mature, or a cocky, strutting wiseacre Army sergeant. 

Lindsay, Lindsay, Lindsay!
On the other hand, I had always heard that Meryl Streep was a great actress, able to assume different personae in different movies.  Of course, you could have been handing out $100 bills to the audiences of "Sophie's Choice" or "Kramer vs Kramer" and I would still be without a $100 bill.  True, Peggy was able to inveigle me into seeing "The Bridges of Madison County," although I spent the entire movie hoping that Clint would suddenly turn into Dirty Harry and just go really Mad-ison, but no.  

Then, I went to see Garrison Keillor's movie "A Prairie Home Companion," and there she was, a New Jersey girl playing the part of a country singer from Minnesota! And then,  we watched "The Devil Wears Prada," and she was acting like a completely different human being!   I said, "Peggy, this shrewish harridan is nothing like Yolanda Johnson from Mr Keillor's movie!"

And Peggy, with the tenderness that we use to explain to children that Superman is just a made-up character, told me that she was able to appear to be different people by acting!

Phil Silvers! Phil Silvers! Phil Silvers!
Well, cut off my legs and call me Shorty!  Here's to all those who can do this sort of thing!  I can't act like anyone other than myself, which some will be quick to point out is a tragic shortcoming.  Here's to Meryl Streep.  And Phil Silvers, too.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, January 25, 2014

 Well, they always said that the grass was greener on the other side of the unpaved dirt road out in the middle of nowhere, didn't they?  This must be somewhere in the middle of the country, where the land is flat.  I've heard that's how it is there, but I'm afraid to go; I might fall off the edge.
 For those who just can't wait for spring to get here, and your numbers are vast, here's a peek at some morning glories.
 I wonder if "writing sentences" is still an effective punishment.  It was when I was in school.  The entire class would be forced to waste paper and time, writing "I will not chew gum" or "I will learn to spend my library time wisely," which were promises rarely kept.  I remember our 5th grade teacher, Miss Robertson who became Mrs Lynch, having a more well-thought-out plan.  She made transgressors transcribe the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and as a result, I am to this day a huge admirer of the works of Ralph Waldo Kramden.
Speaking of what goes on all across America, here's a trend:  there is every kind of Depot in every kind of town:  Home Depot, Office Depot, Landscape Depot, Beer Depot, and on and on.  Just Brakes?  There's Just Tires, Just Guns, Just Dentures, and Just Cabinets, just in Baltimore's Yellow Pages.  When it gets hot, I'll be searching for Just Ice and probably never find it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Friday Review of Cinema

I have always loved this movie called "Career Opportunities" but loving it puts me in a very small group, which is not uncommon for me and movies, music and food.

It's an old movie now anyway; it came out in 1991 and features Frank Whaley, now seen in many places as a character actor, and Jennifer Connelly, who is still around, but I think more as a model than as an actor.  It was one of those John Hughes movies, and the deal is that Whaley plays a 21-year-old working at a Target store (back when you could shop in one of them without having your credit history on display all across Mexico) with plenty of what the Irish call "blarney."  Connelly is the beautiful daughter of the richest man in town.

One of them is the victim of cruel physical abuse.  One has a perfectly normal family life with all that a person could hope for.  One has no firm grip on reality; the other has a grip but sees nothing hopeful down the line.

You'll have to see the movie to see who has what going on but I think it's worth it, as a reminder that the lives of others, behind the curtain in front of which we all perform, are not always as wonderful as we think they are - nor as awful, for that matter.

Key to the story is that the Target store is locked up all night while Jim Dodge (Whaley) cleans the place.  It's also key to me because on the nights when I, in my early days as a clerk for the A&P, wound up working the overnight shift, filling shelves with Vienna sausage, Fig Newtons and ginger ale, the store was locked from the outside.  If one of us had gotten burned roasting a chicken that we happened to find in the meat department, they would have had to break the door to get us to help.  Those were the days in retail when everything had to have a price stamped on it, so all night long, while chickens roasted for our 4 AM meal, we heard the ka-CHUNK of the prices stampers marking up No Bugs M'Lady (a shelf liner paper treated with insecticide), Cut-Rite wax paper, and Rice-A-Roni (the San Francisco treat!)

There was plain yogurt only in those days.  No flavors. The people who bought it also purchased wheat germ and carrot juice.

Then we would dine and doze off, dreaming of new horizons and new career opportunities. I can still hear the hearty morning cry of the ass't manager coming through the door at 6:30 AM.  "Wake up, you stupid SOBs!" he would cry.

And we often did.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My favorite password is ALLENLUDDEN

I got an email from Yahoo! the other day.  At first I was so excited to hear from 1997.  That was a great year; everyone was running around crooning "Yahoooooooo!" and their website had everyone signing up for their own news pages and email.

But just like a friend who moves away and never calls or writes, I sort of lost touch with Yahoo! until they wrote to tell me that someone in Viet Nam was trying to log in to my email account.  In Viet Nam, this was.  Late on Tuesday, and here it was still early on Tuesday, so I cleverly deduced that something was amiss.

The email told me to go ahead and change my password for the sake of security, so I did that. I mean, the only email in that folder seems slightly dated, containing information that I might want to consider concerning the possible candidacy of one Mitt Romney for president, and several emails touting quinoa as the new wonder dry grain.  The first 27 times I typed in a new email, the Yahoo! brainiac told me that my suggestion was not strong enough to withstand this Viet Namese invasion, so I finally came up with one that will keep everyone out of my Yahoo email, including me.

But then later I saw an article that said that SplashData, a group that tracks such things, had a list of the most popular passwords of 2013, and here they are, along with the changes in each from the year before:

1.  123456 (Up 1)

2.  password (Down 1)

3.  12345678 (Unchanged)

4.  qwerty (Up 1)

5.  abc123 (Down 1)

6.  123456789 (New)

7.  111111 ( Up 2)

8.  1234567 (Up 5)

9.  iloveyou (Up 2)

10.  adobe123 (New)

11.  123123 (Up 5)

12.  admin (New)

13.  1234567890 (New)

14.  letmein (Down 7)

15.  photoshop (New)

16.  1234 (New)

17.  monkey (Down 11)

18.  shadow (Unchanged)

19.  sunshine (Down 5)

20.  12345 (New)

21.  password1 (up 4)

22.  princess (New)

23.  azerty (New)

24.  trustno1 (Down12)

25.  000000 (New)

Now.  I would think "123456789" would not be all that hard to crack.  How about a slight little change, such as "1235476890"?  And there is also information around that suggests that #22 - "princess" - is in use by a Mr. T. Brady from Boston, MA.

For anyone seeking a really fun password that also suggests a tasty and nutritious lunch, here is one I used to use but now pass along lovingly to you:  I_8_3_BLTs    Because, if you can eat three BLTs, you're having too much fun to waste time on the computer!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

DDIY - DON'T Do It Yourself

Let me tell you one thing that happens as the days dwindle down to a precious few. Relatively speaking, that is. Clearly I don't have as long a future in front of me as, say, Justin Bieber.  Although if he keeps throwing eggs at his neighbor's house, and his neighbors are anything like people I know who have been egged, I wouldn't place a bet on being around for my eulogy either.

Here's the one thing I have found as I was dragged into entered my sixties:  Sometimes, it's better just to let other people do things.  It saves your time. For instance, why spend time getting your knickers in a twist over political issues, sports events or weather forecasts calling for snow?  A quick walk down Facebook Street will introduce you to thousands - millions! - of people who are all worked up over those very things, leaving you time to worry about how much quinoa is enough, and whether Kathie Lee Gifford is getting a little, well, strange, and how does one pronounce quinoa, anyway?

Case in point:  You like pickles?  Same here!  Make mine dill, please, and put 'em in a salad or on a burger or alongside some patootie salad with fried chicken.  Good stuff!

Now, here is a web page that shows you how to make your own dill pickles.  All you have to do is run to the store and buy some "pickling" cucumbers (as if there are "non-pickling" cucumbers) and then run down the spice aisle for sea salt and dill weed, down the glass aisle for vinegar and then back to Produce because you forgot you need fresh garlic.

Then you go home and find an old quart Mason jar, like the one that spaghetti sauce - or even pickles - came in.  You wash it out nice and clean, and add the ingredients and WAIT FIVE DAYS for your pickles to finish marinating.

There are 7200 minutes in 5 days.  How long does it take you to run to the Food Clown and buy a jar of Food Clown® Brand Kosher Pickles?

Moreover, by the time you purchase cukes, garlic, salt, dill weed and vinegar, and add in the value of your own time (just for argument's sake, let's figure on your hourly salary being that of the brain surgeon or corporate attorney you might have become) and those homemade pickles of yours will wind up costing you roughly $14.37 per spear.

I hope they're tasty!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Just a Trace of Mystery

Because first names for country singers such as Faron, Ernest, Hank and Hank, Jr., were already taken, we have among us a country singer named Trace.  Trace Adkins.

Trace, who used to be a pipe-fitter on an offshore drilling rig before becoming a Grand Ole Opry music star twenty-some years ago, has topped the charts with toe-tappers such as "Ladies Love Country Boys" and "You're Gonna Miss This", "Brown Chicken Brown Cow" and the immortal "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk."  He admits to an ongoing battle with alcoholism, and I wish him the best with that.

But his latest fall off the wagon came about under odd circumstances, and since I love odd circumstances more than anything, here's the story.

Adkins was booked on some cruise ship for a voyage called "Country Cruisin'," in which land-locked music fans can spend a week on the high seas with some country singers.

One of the fans is a man named Michael Larsen, who, since 2007, has made a hobby, and a full-time living for all I know, by parading around pretending to be Trace Adkins.

Really.  This is what the guy does.  They say he even signs autographs.  And at the drop of a cowboy hat, will get and sing that catchy "Badonkadonk" number.

It reminds me of that sitcom "Still Standing" where the nutty sister-in-law started dating a guy who was in a Foghat tribute band, and Bill, the lead guy in the show, asked the musician if his main competition was other Foghat tribute bands.

"No," the man said, "it's Foghat."

Arrow indicates real Adkins
So Adkins is on the ship and, according to TMZ, he sees the guy pretending to be Adkins at the karaoke bar on the big boat.  A fight ensues, and the next thing you know, when the boat hit land in Jamaica, the real Adkins jumped ship and headed to rehab.

And the fake guy, with the competition way down, stayed aboard and may yet be afloat on a sea of badonkadonk.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Where's The Love? It's in McSherrystown, PA, for one place

It's hard to believe that, come this Labor Day weekend, Hurricane Katrina, the most costly and deadly Atlantic storm in history, will be 9 years in the past.  Katrina hit in late August of 2005, causing $125 million in damages, and causing misery that lingers to this day in the Gulf region.

As Americans have always done, we rallied to help our friends and neighbors in Lousiana and Mississippi, sending whatever resources we had to share.

Some sent people and equipment, as my hometown Baltimore County Fire Department did, to assist in the rescues and recovery.  Many sent money and donated canned food. Breweries sent canned water.

And up in McSherrystown, PA, the kids attending Delone Catholic High School raised cash to send down South by an age-old system of fund raising.

Here's the story as reported by CBS in September, 2005.  The deal was, they played the amazingly catchy "Mmm Bop" by the rock trio we revere, Hanson.  They played it over the loudspeaker before school and after school and during lunch and between classes.

There were 650 students in the school at the time and they raised over $3500 by blasting Taylor, Isaac and Zac all day back in the day.

Hanson matched their donation and gave each kid in school a copy of their then-current CD "Underneath."

All these years later, imagine how much money could be raised by threatening to play Celine Dion.  I know I'd pay a pretty penny.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday rerun: The stores! The chores!

It's happened again and this time it wasn't my fault!

"It" is my bizarre predilection for having some famous, semi-famous or infamous person come to my mind for no particular reason, and then find out two days later they died.

This time, it's Frank Cady.  If you're saying, "Whose Frank Cady?" we need to discuss a little grammar issue. If you're saying, "Who's Frank Cady?" we need to talk about Green Acres and Ozzie and Harriet.

Cady as Sam
Frank Cady was a character actor, playing neighborly kinds of characters on shows such as Ozzie and Harriet ("Doc Williams") and of course he was "Sam Drucker," the genial owner of the general store in Hooterville where  Oliver Wendell Douglas and his wife Lisa shopped on Green Acres.

Well, over the weekend I was reading a book about the history of The Andy Griffith Show. I am sort of serious about my classic sitcoms.  Among the many nuggets of information I gleaned was this one:  Hal Smith, who played the loveable town drunk Otis Campbell back in the days when drunks were thought to be loveable, was not the first to play that part!  No sir. Do you want to guess who played Otis in the Griffith pilot episode?

If you said Frank Cady, doggone if you aren't right.  And I read this on Saturday, and on Monday I opened up the World Wide Web to find that Frank had died on Friday in California at age 96.

Eddie Albert, who played Oliver, lived to be 99.

Mary Grace Canfield, who played Ralph Monroe and said "Howdy Doody!" when she greeted people in her role as a fix-it-lady, will be 88 in September.

It appears that Green Acres really IS the place for me, since I want to live a long long time as well! Rest well, genial storekeeper!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, January 18, 2014

 Stubbornness is not a becoming quality for any of us, but there's a way out of it.  Try seeing things in a different way for once.  That's what I keep telling myself to do!
 I can't tell if this was done on purpose, as some sort of front yard gardening/sculpture project or what, but the trees certainly grew together in an interesting fashion, didn't they?  It reminds me of the guy I knew who had to resign from his job as a tree surgeon because he kept falling out of his patients.
 So, you want to be famous, huh?  Here is an example of one of the drawbacks...poor Adam Sandler can't even stroll down to the Hollywood WaWa and get a coffee and a malted milk without having his picture taken.  It makes me sad to think that there are people whose job it is to hang around where people who are famous might go, and snap their picture.
This makes me sad, and mad, and disappointed.  This is a print ad for used models of a certain brand of car, which will remain nameless because I don't care to give them a free mention. The ad is aimed at men in my age group and older, and it's supposed to make them think, subliminally, that they would have a chance with a pretty girl like this if they just buy a car. The intimation that the girl and the car have both been in other hands before is sexist and rather stupid, but that's how they sell appealing to the id, rather than common sense, which flies out the window for some guys every time they see a pretty woman.  Listen, men: this woman does not want you. Buy a Toyota or something like it,  and pay your wife a little attention, for the sweet love of...your wife!

Friday, January 17, 2014

War: What is it good for?

World War I lived up to its name, sad to say.  There was fighting in a lot of places, not all of them famous.  When we think of WWI, the image is of soldiers fighting in France and coming back to sing "Mademoiselle from Armentieres" and "It's A Long Way to Tipperary" and similar songs.

In 1915, before America even got involved "over there," Italy decided to declare war on Austria, then ruled by the Hapsburg Empire, in order to seize land in the Alps for themselves. Invading Italian troops, known as alpinis, were surprised to find the Austrian soldiers - the  Kaiserschützen - were more than up to the task of fighting in the icy, snowy mountain peaks.  They devised all sorts of logistical devices to get their men and their supplies in place along the disputed territory and they defended their land quite avidly.

750,000 Italian soldiers died in this horror known as "The White War" (it took place in the snow), not all of them at the hands of the enemy there, north of Trieste and in the snows of the Dolomite mountain range.  We use the word "decimate" to mean mass destruction, but the actual literal meaning is "to reduce by a tenth."  The Italian General, Luigi Cadorna, did as his predecessors in the Roman Empire had done.  When troops deserted or otherwise rebelled, he had 10 out of every 100 of them executed.   

Remains of two
Austrian soldiers.
Here in America we naturally focus on our own participation, and tragic losses, in the first World War.  But in Peio, Italy, glaciers that covered over the fallen soldiers of that conflict are only now eroding, leaving behind the frozen-for-all-time bodies of the lost fighters from both sides.   In this fascinating article online,  you can read about how the dead men are honored, decades after their lives were lost because other men decided to fight over some land.

We haven't come very far since then.  

But while you're surfing around, you might also enjoy reading this article about "Otzi the Iceman," a 5300-year-old mummified man found near the same part of the world in 1991. From examining Otzi's body and personal effects, scientists can tell you what he did all day and even what he ate.  

Now I have to worry about being suddenly mummified myself and some scientist in the year 7314 finding my remote, my Leatherman tools and my wallet with the buy-11-bagels-get-12th-free punchcard in it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Milner's Tale

There is a certain corner of hell reserved for people such as George Milner.

Milner is an attorney, currently defending a man named Josh Brent down in Dallas, Texas, which is still a state in the US, in spite of their governor's threat to secede.

Brent used to play defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. Driving his Mercedes one night, he smashed the car up and his teammate and friend, Jerry Brown, was killed.

There seems little doubt that Brent should not have been driving that December 2012 night, given that a) his on-scene blood test, according to police, showed Brent's blood alcohol content to be more than twice the legal limit, b) there's a dash cam video that shows Brent failing a field sobriety test at the scene and c) the prosecutor has receipts to prove that on the night of the crash, Brent purchased cocktails with several shots of liquor in them and three bottles of Champagne at a night club.

So.  He boozes it up at a bar, gets into his car, gets into a fiery fatal crash and fails sobriety tests.

Guilty, you say?

Not so fast, says Attorney Milner, who oozed up from beneath some rock to claim in court the other day that Brent was simply ''guilty of being stupid behind the wheel of a car,'' not driving drunk.  You see, ''Josh Brent is as big as a house,'' Milner said. ''He's got a heart - better yet a mind - of a person much younger than he really is.''

Milner tipped the scales at a robust 320 lbs. when he played for the Cowboys, so Milner's defense of him is based on the novel theory that big big BIG guys can drink more than the average person without becoming intoxicated.

''This is not a difficult case, ladies and gentlemen,'' prosecutor Heath Harris said. ''There will be no disputing the fact that he was drinking that night.''

Testifying for the state, Officer Kevin Palms said that Brent's eyes were watery, to go along with an odor of alcohol and trouble speaking coherently. That police video shows Brent stumbling along in his field sobriety test as he tries to walk in a straight line.  He also took more steps than the officer asked.

But his attorney said that "nobody could have passed a field sobriety test after such a fiery wreck."

"Especially if they were drunk on their ass, as my client was," he did not say.

''Nobody's going to be able to do the tricks on the side of the road'' after a crash like that, he did say.

Tricks.  Such as walking and talking.  Real circus stunts there.
The crash scene.  

Attorney Milner
You're probably wondering why it was so hard for him to pass the roadside test if he was so sober. Well, sir, Milner stated that this athlete's size made it hard for him to balance (although there is probably game footage available showing Brent remaining upright as men his size and larger push him away from their quarterback), the powder from his car's air bags made his eyes watery, and the accident "had a lingering impact on him."

If convicted of intoxication manslaughter or manslaughter, Brent could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

His pettifogger attorney argues for probation.

And you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Burn Notice

Last week, the nation (except for Florida, Alaska and Hawaii) was in the grips of the worst polar vortex we had ever had since we first heard the term "polar vortex" the week before last.

You remember how cold it was, and how many people warmed themselves at the hearth of America's Fireplace  - the TV set - where meteorologists were all over the place, running outside with kettles full of boiling water in their begloved hands?  And then WHEEEEE!!! they tossed the boiling water (212°) into the air (-45° in Embarrass, MN) and WOW WOW WOW!  down came little ice pellets, tinkling earthward, sounding like Mother Nature's windchimes.

And then, at least 50 times across the nation, the next sound you heard was someone hollering OW! OW! OW! because they got burned when the wind blew the boiling water right back on them.

The Los Angeles Times took the time to comb through Twitter and Facebook and I don't know what-all else to come up with the 50 examples of people burning themselves by tossing boiling water at the sky, and the sky showing them who was in charge after all.  Here are some of the quotes they culled:

"Blayne and I just did the boiling water thing and I accidentally threw all the BOILING water against the wind and burnt myself."
"So I did the thing where you make snow and not all the boiling water froze and now my head is burned."
"I did that boiling water thing except I threw it weird so it came back and burnt my hand."
"So I did that boiling water snow thing but the wind whipped it back at me and my hands are STILL burning lol I can't hold anything."
"so my mom threw boiling water outside and she threw it on herself and burnt herself."
"Tried throwing boiling water in the air. Burnt my hand."

One of the TV guys  who told people to drop everything and start boiling water was Jason DeRusha of WCCO TV in Minneapolis.  "Threw a pot of boiling water in the air. Kids thought it was awesome," he tweeted to his followers on Sunday. "Do it, people."

People did it, all right.  A wiser news anchor might have told people not to throw boiling water into the face of a 15-20 mph wind.  When the newspaper asked DeRusha what he had to say after the injury toll began to mount, he clammed up, saying that he needed permission from his corporate masters before speaking to the media, of which he is a part.

The most dangerous thing I ever did on a snow day was watching Mike Douglas.  Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Echoing through the years

I would like to urge everyone who may someday have a baby girl who needs a name to consider the name "Echo."

I don't know why, but I love that name.  Except for Echo, the name of the character played by Eliza Dushku in "Dollhouse," a TV show, the only other person named Echo that I can name was Echo McGuire, now Echo Griffith, who was Buddy Holly's girlfriend in high school and shortly thereafter.

Buddy Holly, born Charles Hardin Holley, was a legendary original early rock 'n' roller without whom we not have such great songs such as  "That'll Be The Day", "Everyday", "Oh, Boy!", "Peggy Sue", "I'm Gonna Love You Too", "Maybe Baby", "Rave On!" and "True Love Ways" among others.  He started dating Echo in high school, but she went on to college and met someone else, apparently feeling that marriage to a rock and roller was in conflict with her religious beliefs.

Some credence is given to the fact that Buddy, on the rebound, married a woman he met at his music publisher's office in New York City shortly thereafter, a woman he'd known but a short while (although I am hardly in a position to oppose short engagements!)

"Peggy Sue" was a woman named Peggy Sue Gerron, who was never Buddy's girl. They went to Lubbock (TX) High School together, but she dated (and later married, and divorced) Buddy's drummer, Jerry Allison.  Buddy had written a song called "Cindy Lou" (that was the name of his niece, his sister's daughter Cindy Lou Kaiter) but Allison was trying to impress Peggy Sue Gerron, so he talked Buddy into changing the name of the song to "Peggy Sue."  And Peggy Sue Gerron, never one to shy away from publicity, went to California, post-divorce, and became a dental technician and the first female licensed plumber in the Golden State.
Buddy and Echo

Using the name Peggy Sue as the code for the girl who was still in his heart, Buddy wrote "Peggy Sue Got Married" after his own wedding.  He recorded the tune in his apartment in New York, and this is the overdubbed and overproduced version that was later released.  The story is that he still held a torch for Echo, who had married and was a student teacher in February, 1959, when she got word of Buddy's death in a plane crash in Iowa.

To this day, Buddy's widow Maria Elena fights with Peggy Sue Gerron over their story, suits and accusations fly back and forth, and meanwhile Echo Griffith and her husband Ron have been married for over 55 years.

The word "echo" comes from the Greek word  ēchē , meaning reflected sound.  You can be sure that Mrs Griffith has some fascinating days upon which to reflect.

And I still love that name!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Wedgie Jackson

It's just like your mom always told you! It IS all fun and games until someone takes it too far, and then someone dies from an atomic wedgie.

I am not sure what an atomic wedgie is, as far as how it differs from a plain old, garden-variety wedgie.  And getting wedgied in the garden can be embarrassing if the neighbors are out in their back yard playing badminton.

I used to live near a church, and all they played was goodminton.

Be that as it may, I'm taking it that an atomic wedgie is a nuclear powered frontal attack in which the unwitting victim, or wedgie-ee, has his underwears yanked up toward the ceiling by the wedgier, who is usually a guy with a strong resemblance to Chris Christie.

But, it turned serious in Pottawatomie County, OK recently, when 33-year-old Brad Davis, of McLoud, found himself in the Ironbar Hilton, charged on a murder complaint in the death of Denver Lee St. Clair, 58. The late Mr. St. Clair was married to Tressia St. Clair.  Tressia is Brad Davis's mother.

So this guy ALLEGEDLY killed his stepfather, according to NewsOK.  Here's their narrative:

McLoud police and Pottawatomie County deputies were called about 10:10 p.m. Dec. 21 to 4 Shadow Lake. Davis said he and St. Clair fought, and he thought St. Clair was dead, according to a probable cause affidavit.

When authorities questioned Davis, he said St. Clair asked him to come over for drinks. The men began arguing and Davis told officers that St. Clair “came at him,” and they began exchanging blows.

Davis told investigators that he hit St. Clair's head, causing him to lose consciousness.

Then, Davis said, he grabbed his stepfather's underwear and gave him an “atomic wedgie” by pulling the underwear over his stepfather's head.

“I'd never seen this before, but when we first looked at our victim seeing the waistband of his underwear was around his neck,” Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth said.

The cause of death has been determined to be from blunt force trauma to the head and asphyxiation. The death has been ruled a homicide, said Amy Elliott, Oklahoma state medical examiner's spokeswoman.

While he was at St. Clair's home, Davis sent a friend a text message saying he was planning to harm Denver, according to the affidavit.

Not trying to make a laughing matter of this, but I mean really. Apparently there was trouble between the two men and look how it wound up.

The accused, Mr Davis.
You hear about stuff like this, and then you read that by the 9th day of January, a nine-day period that included a fairly large snowstorm and a couple of days of below-zero wind chill indices, in Baltimore, MD, sophisticated home to hipsters and bons vivants, there had been 10 murders already.

People who want other people dead are going to find ways to do so.  Our job as a society, at least one of our jobs, should be to help people learn to live together nicely.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday rerun: Sofa, so good

Once upon a time...

There was a song by Stonewall Jackson back in the day, entitled "If This House Could Talk."  Old Stonewall was really given that first name, and his family claims descendancy from the Civil War general.  Stonewall became one of the cornerstones of the hard-driving honky-tonk country sound of the late 50s and early 60s, and you hear his songs on country radio these days about as often as you'll hear Pavarotti, sad to say.

But listen to Stonewall sing about that old house if you will, and think about how it feels when all you lived for has come to mean nothing, and the house is for sale and no one wants the knick-knacks and framed pictures of wide-eyed kids and dogs playing poker.  And those sad old "Family Circus" and "Love Is..." cartoons, so lovingly clipped from the Comics page of the paper after Uncle Bob finished working the Jumble ("that scrambled word game").

I am a bit melancholy over a sofa.  Specifically, I am sad about the sofa that someone tossed away on Perring Parkway, just inside the city line (which means it might lie there forever) near the Northern Parkway off ramp.  It's sort of a nondescript burnt orange sofa, in the style known as Early Room Store. And whoever owned it last, and was finished with it, just dumped it there, quite unceremoniously.

Is there something like anthropomorphism, in which people assign human characteristics to animals ("My dog has a sense of humor") for objects such as furniture?  What I'm saying is, how do we know that this sofa doesn't have feelings, memories, opinions and thoughts?  Perhaps this couch can recall times when the kids were bouncing up and down on it, playing "Chutes and Ladders" and tossing a Nerf ball off the balding pate of Uncle Bob, who soon put an end to that.  Maybe the couch saw sad times too, like when everyone came home from Charlene's funeral and mourned, sitting around with crockpot chili and cole slaw, the gentile version of sitting shiva. 

Sis sat there on a Saturday, waiting for her date to arrive. All the babies posed there too, and everyone prayed that they'd thrive.  Salesmen, pastors, sellers of home repairs, the neighbors, the nappers, everyone wound up there.

The mother is always the first to notice the little shred marks on the legs of the divan, where the old tomcat that moved in some time ago would keep his claws honed.  And the center pillow had a stain on it from the time that Uncle Bob got so worked up doing that Jumble that he spilled his Pepsi when he figured out the answer to "What's green and sold millions of records?" was  E L V I S   P A R S L E Y. No use turning that pillow over, either; the other side was all threadbare from the days when Levi's had real brass grommets on the pockets.

First, the sofa went down into the basement, where the kids would hang around the water heater and the furnace, stashing numbers behind the loose brick and texting love notes to the new girl who transferred in from the Catholic school. It really took a beating down there for four years, so much so that when Alan moved into his off-campus apartment with that girl from the Catholic school, he almost didn't take it with him, but he did, and it spent four more undergraduate years in that basement apartment with the mildewy scent and the dripping toilet.  Alan and his bride have both been graduated now, and recently moved into a condo with two private parking spots and elevator service.  The new decor that he and Mary Teresa settled on is sort of a Southwest/Greek fusion theme, meaning that there are many lithographs of cactii, and a futon.  In the kitchen, the salt and pepper shakers are miniature habanero replicas, and there is a Navajo blanket for a tablecloth. 

You still see these...
So, even though it was of the right color, the sofa just did not fit into Alan and MT's plans, and Mom and Dad certainly didn't want it, and Uncle Bob has gone off to that big old family room up yonder.  Therefore, they called on their shiftless cousin Brattleboro, the one who has the pickup truck with "Forget, Hell!" license tags, and he was supposed to take the old couch to the dump, but what do you know?  He saw there was a big sale at Sears, and he jettisoned the settee right there by the off ramp.

And that's all I know about it, and anything else is pure conjecture.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, January 11, 2014

 Again, not much thinking went into developing this good thought.  Saving paper is worthwhile.  Wasting paper to save paper is not.
 My buddy Tex was in high school when he got into an argument with his father about laziness.  Tex claimed victory by being too lazy to defend himself against his father's claim that Tex was the laziest kid ever born.  Here's a guy who would rather sit on the box his new chair came in rather than take five minutes to get the chair out and usable.
 This is wallpaper for carnivores.  This is smoked brisket.  For the love of all that is good and holy, will you get me some rye bread and horseradish so I can make a sammy?
OR if you prefer, dig into this hearty carrot-date salad.  At Castles Made of Sand, you get it your way.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The big chill

I'll say this about that recent cold snap...

What is it with people?

I mean, really, yes, it was cold.  Life-threatening cold.  Which is why, when it gets that way, the wise person bundles up, stays indoors as much as possible, and even resorts to way-out wacky notions such as putting on a hat.

I can't tell you how many people I saw on the news, discussing their distress at having to walk three blocks in the cold, and they were not wearing hats or ear muffs or even much more than a parka, open at the neck.

Yes it was cold.  A hat would help to keep the melon warm, but no.

And the screaming when the schools were open instead of closed, because we all know the best way to prepare the young for adult living is to show them how to avoid it.

Meanwhile, back on the news, the reporters went out and covered the tried-and-true stories...seeing how the polar bear at the zoo is doing, throwing boiling water up in the air to see it freeze in mid-air, talking to utility workers, refuse collectors and firefighters on the job, asking them how they cope.

They cope by a) dressing properly and 2) not constantly talking about how cold it is.

And those of us who actually prefer cold weather sit and wonder why, all summer long, as soon as it gets warm out, people rush to turn on the AC so it gets really chilly in the car or house or office.

And then when Nature sends us free cold air, we look at it all wrong and turn on the heat!

We're never happy, most of us.  But I'm on record as saying I'll take a month of 7° above 0° outside over a day of 98.6° outside.  I can always put on another sweater.

And a hat or two.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fame is fleeting

I started out writing this to make a point, and I'm not even sure what the point is.

The Bros in the day (Phil, left)
The facts are that Phil Everly is dead.  He and his brother Don formed the singing duo that took the high harmonies from traditional country, bluegrass and gospel and melded them with a rock and roll beat to give us eternal songs such as:
Bye Bye Love
Wake Up Little Susie
All I Have To Do is Dream
('Til) I Kissed You
Let it Be Me
Cathy's Clown
So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)
Walk Right Back

and others that are known far and wide across the generations. It's ironic that two men whose voices blended so well did not get along at all.  "We've only had one argument, but it's lasted 25 years," Phil used to say.  They did not speak at all from 1973 - 1983, reuniting to make an album with a song Paul McCartney wrote for them ("On The Wings of a Nightingale").

It's not a stretch to look and listen to the Everlys as creators of a style that will last forever in music.  Country-rock, and Beatle-style harmony can be traced directly back directly to Phil and Don, so their legacy is secure because they developed their talent and worked at their trade for a long time, even though each man shared the stage with a brother he couldn't stand.

Famous for seven months
On the other hand, Don's daughter Erin Everly gained fame in 1990 for marrying talented oddball Axl Rose, lead singer of Guns N' Roses, for a few months.  Really!  She filed for an annulment in January, 1991, and is now, 23 years later, auctioning off priceless artifacts such as love letters written by Axl to her, and the flannel shirt he wore in the "Welcome To The Jungle" video.

This shirt could be yours!
Guns N' Roses were a talented group, but they sounded like a thousand other bands, famous and non-famous, while no one else quite sounded like The Everly Brothers.  Phil is gone, Don remains, and Axl Rose, Erin Everly, and the rest are left to their own obscurity.  Someone will buy that stinky old flannel shirt, and that will be that.

Maybe that's the point after all.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A poem for the King, born this date in 1935

It's not my wont to recommend reading matter for other people. What I like to read is always going to be different from what you or the guy down the street like to read, and it just becomes very off-putting to have someone tell me to read the new John Grisham or something.  I don't know any new polite ways to say "no thanks," so I just make a vague promise to look into reading the seventh rewrite of his first bad novel.

But to share a poem is not to ask for a major investment of time, so I point you to a poem by John Updike that appeared in The New Yorker in 1999.

Here is the text of "Jesus and Elvis."

Twenty years after the death, St. Paul
was sending the first of his epistles,
and bits of myth or faithful memory–
multitudes fed on scraps, the dead small girl
told "Talitha, cumi"–were self-assembling
as proto-Gospels. Twenty years since pills
and chiliburgers did another in,
they gather at Graceland, the simple believers,

the turnpike pilgrims from the sere Midwest,
mother and daughter bleached to look alike,
Marys and Lazaruses, you and me,
brains riddled with song, with hand-tinted visions
of a lovely young man, reckless and cool
as a lily. He lives. We live. He lives.

I have an amazing lack of information about the major Biblical figures, owing to my Sunday School habit of paying more attention to the deeds of Paul Blair making a catch in the first inning than to St Paul teaching the Gospel to people in the first century, but reading about the apostle helps me understand the poem.

"Talitha, cumi" is from the book of Mark:   "Taking her by the hand he said to her, 'Talitha cumi,' which means, 'Little girl, I say to you, arise.'"  That was the story of the daughter of a doubter being healed from illness by Jesus. Proto-Gospels are the first, earliest, original versions of the Gospel, so Updike is talking about earliest days of Christian belief, how the stories of the little girl and the one passed along of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with five small loaves of barley bread and two fish formed the basis of a faith.

Suddenly, and cleverly, Updike changes time and tone from Biblical days to the late 1990s when the poem was written, mentioning pills and junk food as reasons for Elvis's passing. But just as congregations met to worship Jesus, people congregate at Elvis's home even today, driving there from the turnpikes of America.  "Marys and Lazaruses" refers to Mary of Bethany, a saint who was among the myrrh-bearing women who anointed Jesus and witnessed His resurrection, and her brother Lazarus, who was brought back from death by Jesus.

Yes, those of us who are fans of Elvis and believers in Christianity are blessed to have many songs riddling our minds - many of them religious, as Gospel was Elvis's first, and favorite, style of singing. E was reckless, and lovely in spirit and cool as a lily, a flower used decoratively at both weddings and funerals.

We celebrate Jesus, who rose from the dead to live eternally, and the spirit of Elvis, which celebrates eternally our eternal spirit of youth and vibrancy and joyful living.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Some you win, and some you tie

If you remember the old "Barney Miller" sitcom from the 70s and 80s, you might recall a scene in which Detective Harris, the well-dressed high-strung man, went out west on some sort of case, and he brought back a bolo tie to his Captain, Barney.

Barney loved it!  And started wearing it at once.  It was only later that Det. Wojciehowicz, under hypnosis to help recall details of a suspect, blurted out that "Harris brought this stupid tie back and gave it to Barney as a joke...but Barney didn't KNOW it was a joke so he was wearing it all over the place..."

Of course, he said all this in front of Barney, which is why you'll never get me under that spell.  I would tell tales out of school, also in school, before school and after school.  

When Merle Haggard looks at you askance...think it over
Bolo ties are the official neckwear of the state of Arizona, which is one of those states in which grown men stroll around dressed like Roy Rogers without the slightest trace of irony. And they are the favored neckwear of lesser-known political operatives, as well (picture). Of course, it was centuries ago that people decided that a man truly shows elegance when he wraps a yard of silk around his neck and knots it, or makes a bow as if he were a Christmas present, so what's the diff if he takes a long shoe string and doubles it to make a place to carry around some silver and turquoise jewelry?  

But, having so many other things on my mind (the complete list slips my mind at the moment) I have not given much thought to bolo ties for years, until this past Sunday when San Diego Charger quarterback slid one around his neck after the Chargers beat the hapless Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL wild card playoffs.

Rivers, out of Decatur, Alabama, by way of North Carolina State University, is said to favor bolo ties when celebrating victories in important games.

 With the Ravens out of the playoff picture, I will now root for Rivers and the Chargers, if only to see how many more bolo ties he can pull out of his wardrobe.