Friday, February 28, 2014

Hi, Guy!

More than most people, who spend time thinking about how to accomplish great things, earn a pile of loot and, in some nutty cases,  make it legal to discriminate against other people on the basis of whom they love, I like to learn things, and I find the learning trail almost as interesting as what I learn.

Here's an example.  I've long been a fan of Robert Benchley (1889 - 1945), the American humorist, drama critic, writer, actor and bon vivant.  Even back in high school, when I was supposed to be learning about Pythagoras, I smuggled in books of Benchley's essays, the end result being that I couldn't figure out the area of a triangle with more precision than to say, "It was right here a minute ago."

A recent happy find on Amazon for me was a book called "Robert Benchley's Wayward Press," a collection of his press review columns from The New Yorker magazine back in the day.  Benchley reviewed the local media (which consisted of 10 daily papers in New York and the radio stations, before tv, cable tv, the internet and what-have-you) for the magazine under the name "Guy Fawkes."

He also called himself "Guido" Fawkes
Guy Fawkes is one of those names that you've heard of, but I wasn't sure about who he was or what he did, so I reached into my pocket and pulled out the whole internet and found that he was a guy who was the leader of a group of guys who planned to blow up King James I and the Parliament in 1605 in an attempt to return England to Catholic rule.  James objected to this, as you might imagine, and old Guy was caught on November 5, 1605, with 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellars under the Palace of Westminster, the meeting place for Parliament. He signed a confession and was executed the following January.  Now, every year on the  5th of November, England has fireworks displays and bonfires to remember the "Gunpowder Plot" and the King's escape from a fate worse than, or equal to, death.

This just burns a Guy up
AND - part of the fun of the bonfires is that they will dress an effigy in raggedy clothing and burn it.  The effigy is made of old raggy clothing, stuffed with newspaper, with a Guy Fawkes mask, and is known as a "guy," which became a word in English English meaning an oddly-attired man.

When the word "guy" came to American English, it lost the connection to the oddly-dressed and just came to mean any ...guy...that you might meet. 

All of this in no way explains the popularity of, or presence in our culture, of oddly-coiffed chef Guy Fieri.  Some things just can't be explained.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I guess he knows now!

I was just a 14-year old baseball fan when the Orioles made a trade that changed the face of the franchise forever.  Prior to the 1966 season, they traded pitcher Milt Pappas (a fascinating man, born Miltiades Stergios Papastergios in Detroit, where he attended Cooley High - the one from the movie. Pappas  opened a restaurant in Baltimore that burned down a month afterward, his wife later disappeared and was found dead in her car five years later, and he pitched a no-hitter for the Cubs that was one pitch away from being a perfect game) and several other lesser lights to the Cincinnatti Reds for outfielder Frank Robinson, whom the Reds described as "an old 30."

I was 14!  So of course I figured 30 was old.  Now, of course, I realize that 63 is old, and it goes up every year.

Frank turned out to be just what the Orioles needed in 1966.  He won the Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average, homers and runs batted in. The team sailed through the season and went into the World Series as underdogs to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the O's won that in four straight. It was a great season for all, and Frank showed himself to be a veteran leader, which is what every winning club wants. 

You'll remember that he ended his playing career as player-manager with the Indians, the first black manager in baseball, and to this day is Executive Vice President of Baseball Development for Major League Baseball. Along the way he managed Cleveland (1975–1977); the San Francisco Giants (1981–1984); the Orioles (1988–1991); and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (2002-2006).

My point in writing this biography on F Robby, as we called him in B'more, is to let those of you who don't know from baseball that he is one of the legendary figures in the game.  Accordingly, it must have been quite a surprise to Oriole manager Buck Showalter when Frank was good enough to address the O's in spring training the other day and Buck gave a rookie outfielder, Josh Hart, the chance to meet Frank...and Hart didn't recognize Frank.  

Buck, then and there, became one of the coolest men in history by telling Hart to go research just who Frank Robinson is and write a paper about him!  The Oriole manager assigned homework to a kid who probably has never done much homework! 

Oh, if only ...!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Playin' People vs the Plain People

Just across the state line into Pennsylvania, one finds oneself in "Amish Country," a peaceful land where the Amish dwell and wish that people would leave them the heck alone.  

Descendants of German and Swiss-German heritage, they try their best to blend with the people with whom they share Lancaster County PA and other enclaves around the country, e.g. New York state and Ohio.  They don't use electricity or operate machinery, but they do pay taxes like everyone else and are entitled to use the roads like everyone else.

When you're up in their part of the woods, as Mr Al Roker would say, you see how they cooperate.  No, they are not driving the kids to school in a humongous SUV.  Their kids walk to school or ride non-mechanical gliding scooters, so they get their day started without watching Sponge Bob or anything.  But when they are on the roads, they do their best to have their horse and buggy off to the right so cars may pass on the left.

Sad to say, every now and then, someone is in a big hurry to get somewhere because they are very important and the world revolves around them, so there are crashes between car and buggy rigs.  It happened just the other day; people were injured and the horse had to be put down.  

Tell me you wouldn't love to ride in this.
There were the usual comments from people unwilling to let the Amish live as they see fit.  "They need to get outta my way!" was the theme of the comments, although most people who followed up said that they were sorry for the loss of the horse and how regrettable it is that people often act like the south end of a northbound horse. 

Every now and again I read what someone writes about how their life is crazy, how rushed they are, how their tablet, smart phone or computer is on the fritz, and I think of the times Peggy and I have been in Lancaster, enjoying the slow pace, the wonderful food, the kindness and decency of people who want to be left alone while still wishing you the best of everything, and I wonder just which society is the more advanced.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Men talk it over

Outside our motel room in Amish Country, PA (the town of Bird-in-Hand, to be precise) last week gathered some men.  We were checking out and preparing for the ride home, and they had done so too.  From what I could figure, there were three couples from upstate New York, and the men were standing in three quarters of a circle, kind of rocking back and forth on their heels as men will do, rattling their pocket change and talking about...highways.

"Yeah, we got on 87, took that on down to 84, picked up 81 right outside Scranton and that dumped us right into 78, and..."

Men of all ages are fascinated by roads and where roads will take them, and it gets to where we ascribe certain characteristics to highways ("smooth," "bumpy outside of Schuylerstown") and to drivers from other states ("Yeah I was making good time; then I got stuck behind a Sunday driver from Delaware..."). We recognize the best times to travel ("got to hit the Beltway before 7 or you might as well just stay put"), how good the local crews are at salting and plowing ("213 was clean as a whistle, but then once we got on the county road, they hadn't even TOUCHED it") and, of course, where the gendarmerie are on the prowl ("Sonny was sailing down 50, right outside Sudlersville, and that state boy was sittin' right by that diner we used to stop at.  Got him for 75 in a 55").

Other topics men are likely to cover as they stand around rattling their quarters and dimes would include gas mileage in their cars (always inflated), how much they paid for their house (also inflated) and how much they paid for their cars (always deflated.)  The Orioles' chances at another World Series victory, the best places for steamed crabs, and how judges in traffic court "give everyone else in the world a break but throw the book at me" are also talked almost to death every single time.  Just ask Sonny.

There was that old country song "Forever and Ever, Amen" by that old country singer Randy Travis, in which he talks about " long as old men sit and talk about the weather, as long as old women sit and talk about old men..."  I guess that's what women talk about in a cluster.  If I were among them, it wouldn't be an all-woman group, and so the collective intelligence level would go down.

Monday, February 24, 2014

All right, Hamilton!

So!  How about that President Alexander Hamilton!  What a guy he was during his term!  He settled the war with Mexico by giving them half of Texas, he authorized explorations that led to our annexing North Dakota so we could have a matching set of Dakotas, and it was he who planted the large apple groves in the back yard at 1600 Pennsylvania Av - formerly owned by the Boone Family - that gave America its national drink, the revered Boone's Farm Apple Wine.

Or not.

Well anyhow, do you Groupon?  Because Groupon, which I take to be an online coupon that you don't clip and lose in your wallet, but rather carry around on your phone to wave at the cashier at the hookah bar, had a Presidents' Day promotion that honored the man on the ten-dollar bill by giving users ten dollars off 40 bucks spent at a local business.

"The $10 bill, as everyone knows, features President Alexander Hamilton -- undeniably one of our greatest presidents and most widely recognized for establishing the country's financial system," Chicago-based Groupon says on its webpage.

Apparently those people at Groupon, who did correctly identify Hamilton as one of the founding fathers and the first Secretary of the Treasury, are a group of smart Alex.
Hamilton was noted for saying
"Burr, it's cold out here!"

The dude was never president.

The Chicago Tribune asked Groupon about it and got this back from a Grouponer:  "Groupon is always very serious about helping our customers save money, and saving $10 is no laughing matter."

Later, the company averred that the mistake was an intentional stunt.

Would you like to bet ten bucks on it?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Rerun: I wanted an Ümlaut, but whaddya gonna do?

If you don't have an IKEA near you, I'd consider moving. Of all the great Swedish furniture stores that we have in the greater Baltimore area (JC Torkelson and Montgomery Gottfrid spring to mind), IKEA is the greatest. They have a scratch-and-dent room where a handy man, or I, can buy wood shelves that fell out of a bookshelf for 50 cents and make our own bookshelves, or not. They have all sorts of furniture and home items. They even have Swedish food for sale - grog! salmon! loganberry juice! And a restaurant with Swedish meatballs and cold salmon plates. It's the sort of a place that's suitable for a family field trip, and I think that just being there makes one feel, I dunno, sort of Ikea-ish.
IF YOU GO, you'll notice the brand names on everything from sofas to light bulbs are not you're used to seeing down at Value Village. Hearty, stocky Swedish names! Vivika! Komplement! Furuskug! Ofelia! Fortunately, if you have any questions, you can ask Courtney, Lauren or Justin, who all work there along with Jessica, Nicole and Matthew.

But I found this site on which you simply enter your own first name and the amazing computer machine, right over what your president calls "the internets," will bestow upon you your own Ikea brand name. That's mine, right above: Markinda walloping, hearty meatloaf of a table. Hope you like yours!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, February 22, 2014

There was a football player named Otis Sistrunk whose bald head was steaming during a cold night game when he took off his helmet.  Alex Karras, part of the Monday Night Football crew, said that Otis's alma mater was "The University of Mars."  Just for Otis, here is a picture of sunset on Mars.
 Visitors to the Leaning Tower of Pisa always take pictures outside the place, often with hilarious results as they pose in such a way as to appear to be propping the tower up.  But I've not seen a picture of this before.  These are the marble steps in the tower, showing the wear of thousands of Gucci loafers over the centuries.
 This "photobomb" looks a little bit set up, wouldn't you say?  I mean, who takes a photo of their wife and baby in a liquor store?  Unless you see an out-of-work actor hanging around and say, Nic, I have an idea for a picture in which you could star!
 All winter long, people around here longed for summer weather. Here's a reminder of what summer brings us, along with humidity, mosquitoes, stinkbugs and reruns. On the other hand, baseball.
I wonder what he did when he saw the "WET FLOOR" sign.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Rice gets steamed

It's kind of sad, sometimes, how things can turn around in a year.  Last February,  Ray Rice was the star running back for the Baltimore Ravens.  He and his team had just won the Super Bowl, and he had had another great year on the field, his fifth in the league at a position where most guys are lucky to limp away in one piece after no more than four.

And then, this past season, Ray had the worst season of his career, running for 600-some yards and scoring only four touchdowns as the Ravens failed to make the playoffs for the first time since he's been around.  But off the field, he gained respect from millions for his advocacy of anti-bullying campaigns.  He was on Twitter and Facebook a lot, speaking out on the topic in general and offering viewpoints on specific cases.  There was one in which a young lady from Howard County committed suicide after being the victim of a putdown campaign from some dipsticks in her school.  Rice took the lead on the response to that and led a Saturday seminar of high school leaders to promote healing and better behavior.  In short, it was a year when a football hero became thought of more for his anti-bullying efforts than for what he did on the football field.

And then, the other night in Atlantic City, just before 3 AM on Saturday, Ray and his fiancée were arrested, each for striking the other in some sort of physical mêlée outside a casino.  Both were released from custody and face misdemeanor charges in New Jersey, and neither of them have spoken publicly. We don't know all the facts and should not come to any conclusions, but I have to point out again that nothing good happens after midnight when you're out. Believe that.  

He makes more money on every autumn Sunday than you and I do, unless we're lucky in Lotto or at the casino he was visiting. It's taken Ray six years in Baltimore to build his reputation as a great player and a generous neighbor and part of the community.   In just a few minutes on the boardwalk in a chilly seaside resort, he managed to undo a lot of that good will.  It's not too late to get it back, but how nice it would have been not to lose it in the first place. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hegel was right when he said, "We learn from history that man can never learn anything from history" - Geo. Bernard Shaw

“And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  Mark 16:17-18 

So, I read about this pastor down in Kentucky, Pastor Jamie Coots, who took this passage from the Bible and handled poisonous snakes as part of his "method of worship," as the National Geographic channel said in their letter about him, written after Rev. Coots died this past Saturday.  From being bitten by a snake.
Rev Coots had a show on NatGeo called "Snake Salvation," and on the show he regularly wrestled with reptiles to prove a point, the point being that he would not die from being bitten by a snake.  So much for that...
Rev Coots and acolytes
This "method of worship" became popular in the rural South in the 1940s, leading Tennessee to ban it in 1947, but that didn't deter Rev. Coots, who also got in trouble last year (a year of probation) in that state for bringing in some wriggly killers.
He and his followers are 100% totally entitled to their belief that God will protect them from death by snakebite.  After all, Rev. Coots was bitten eight times in the past, and always lived through it.  It was that ninth time that got him.
I'm no expert on the Bible or anything else, but I've never seen it pointed out in the Bible where God tells people to take foolhardy risks in His name. 
Rev Coots's work will be carried on by his son, whose name is Little Cody Coots.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Canadian Bakin'

Having been an equal participant in the firm of Clark and Clark since 1973, and since even before then, a stockholder in the firm of Live and Let Live,  I have to speak out when I hear people like this Ted Cruz fellow, who formerly appeared on TV's "Hee Haw" as the man on the far, far right in this quartet.  

Cruz, a Canadian by birth, is all in a twist because, in America,  people love each other and wish to live together.  I can only assume that somewhere in the Lone Star State dwells a Mrs Cruz, whose life consists of listening to Ted and wishing he were as much fun as the one in the movie.  Instead, he's running up a big laundry bill, mopping the torrent of tears from his teary face with his burlap handkerchiefs . 

I seriously wonder about how it's any of my business who spends their time with whom, so in order to hear how this works, I tuned in one of those rightwing radio stations last Saturday night.  The host mentioned that someone in Kansas is trying to pass Bill 2453, which would segregate people by sexuality, allowing government officials like police officers to deny citizens help and care based on their sexual inclination.

So a same-sex couple is denied service at a hamburger stand...or gas station...or cardiac rescue site.  This is what the Bible teaches?  No.

The host, who is also an attorney, opposed the bill on constitutional and moral grounds, correctly likening it to those sad days in our past when people of non-majority races were denied service at hamburger stands...gas stations...and cardiac rescue sites.  

And you think, well, this is some goof out there.  No one would ever stand up for that sort of nonsense.  So he opened the phone to take calls on the topic, and the bile of society rose within the gullet of America to claim that they didn't "want to be in no diner and have to sit there and watch two men kissin' and all."  And that to be in the same diner, zip code, county or state when two people whose shirts button up on the same side cast admiring glances at each other condemns us all to perdition.  And that, as one learned gentleman queried, "How'm I s'posed to teach my son about what's right and wrong without all them (gay slurs) parading around like they have the right to be queer?"

The discussion became quite contentious, and it made me so sad to see there are still people among us with so much pure hatred in their hearts.  What happened to the dawning of the age of Aquarius, when peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars?

I know I'm beating the same old dead horsehockey here, but I'm still stumped. I guess that's my right.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It suits me

Beatles forever!
Peggy says I dwell a) on the same things too much and b) in the past.  I'll plead guilty to both charges, but still, I have a point to make about the way performers dress nowadays.

Seeing that awe-inspiring Beatles show on TV last week got me to thinking about this topic.  Messrs. Starr and McCartney reported for work on the day of the taping dressed up nicely.  This reminded me of the early Beatles, known for wearing matching suits and looking sharp.

Hank Williams's
stage suit
ET, phone home!
I know I often quote the words of the great Ernest Tubb as if he were a candidate for sainthood, but he was a dedicated entertainer of the old school in country music, and he always said that since people would get a babysitter and buy tickets to a show and drive to the venue to see their favorite Grand Ole Opry stars perform, it was important for the performers to dress up a little.  "Always dress a little better than your audience, just don't act like you're better than them," was how he put it.

From the wardrobe of
Porter Wagoner
And in the golden days of country music, you could see your favorite singers dressed to the nines.  Now, you pay a king's ransom to see Keith Urban, and he comes onstage dressed like he just finished cleaning out the basement and was on his way out to powerwash the deck.
Thanks for dressing up and all.

And there are, without doubt, people sitting in the audience dressed up more than he is!  

End of rant.  For now.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Well, not really, but my iPod is filling up and I want to spend some time clearing out songs I don't want to hear anymore ("Isn't It Time," The Babys) and songs that are in there twice under different names ("S.Y.S.L.J.F.M."  a/k/a/ "The Letter Song" , Joe Tex)  and songs that I have no idea how they got in there ("The Clouds" by The Spacemen, or is it "The Spacemen" by The Clouds?)

But it's like when I find a really great Goodwill store or Salivation Army outlet - I go in there with a plan, and an hour later, I'm browsing like a loon and nothing is done.  Peggy can tell you countless tales of my plans to clean out the garage (not now, when it doubles as a walk-in coolerator for beer and bottles of water) and two hours later,  she finds me rolling an old lacrosse ball that I found off the roof into an old first baseman's mitt that I also found.
A damn fool with his
selfie bobblehead

I love my iPod.  If you could have told me 40 years ago that: a) I could possess a magic box the size of a pack of Chiclets that contained all of my favorite songs to listen to on tiny earbuds  and b) 3-D printer technology would allow any damn fool mortal to create a selfie bobblehead, I would jumped all over the music machine.  I pop it on the melon and take my walk around the neighborhood, vacuum the house, rake the leaves, do whatever without anyone having to hear what I'm listening to.

And that's for the best, because a lot of the songs on there - and as of this typing, there are 1743 songs, which the bottom of the screen assures me would take 3.7 days to listen to - are songs no one else wants to hear. Trust me.

Like I have that kind of free time! Oh wait, I do.  But still, time to weed it out. But don't get mad if it takes me a while.  I bring up the iTunes page and start at the "A"s ("Above and Beyond," two versions of a Wynn Stewart song, by both Wynn himself and by Buck Owens also) and I decide to keep them both.  Not a tough call.  But lookie here!  Right after "Ain't Wasting Time No More" (Allman Brothers) here's "Alabam" by Cowboy Copas, and then "Alabama Jubilee" AND "Alabama Wild Man" by Jerry Reed.  

How many other performers have two songs in here that name the same state in each? I guess I'd better spend the next hour checking into that little matter.

I'll never finish this.  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Rerun: C'mon, Get Therapy!

Wisecracking redhead Dante Daniel "Danny" Bonaduce will turn 50 years of age this August, and you really have to say he has packed a lot of living into what will then total 18,250 days on this earth.
He first came to public attention playing wisecracking redhead Danny "Danny" Partridge on the Partridge Family tv show, which ripped off The Cowsills in the manner of The Monkees ripping off The Beatles. That show went off the air in 1974, and even though Danny was very good at playing a wisecracking redhead kid brother, he found but limited demand for his acting services thereafter. Within three years he was doing The Love Boat and making quickie auto theft movies with Farrah Fawcett and the late Sonny Bono (R, CA).
Danny had a childhood which could best be described as awful; his father, who wrote sitcoms such as The Andy Griffith Show and One Day at a Time, is said to have beaten him regularly. This tendency to use fists where wits might serve better was to surface again and again in Danny's life.
But think about it. What would you do? What would you do? Here, one minute you're famous for being on a tv show, pretending to sing along with Susan Dey and getting to hear Shirley Jones and David Cassidy sing for real, and the next minute no one wants you to fake anything. Fame is a harsh mistress. Danny soon found himself a mister without a mattress, homeless on the streets of LA, a drug abuser seriously in need of mental rehabilitation. Cassidy, whose post-teen idol career has not been the second act that there aren't any of anyway even hired him as a supporting act in his Las Vegas show for a while, but that failed to cause a stampede of eager ticket buyers.
What's sad about America sometimes is how we so worship fame that we are even somewhat in awe of those who once had it. Bonaduce came to find out that he could always turn a quick $500 by appearing at KMart stores at the holidays, billed as a Partridge in a pear tree. 500 bucks is 500 bucks, and it led to even greater media exposure as a radio sidekick, and then as the host of his own radio shows in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and now Philadelphia. For one season he had a syndicated talk show titled "Oprah" I mean titled "Danny" in which he tried day after day to show just how pugnacious he was willing to become for money. One sad highlight of that show was his promised reunion of the Partridge Family cast, except that Susan Dey called in with her memories and David Cassidy was too busy recording an album that no one was going to buy. Sort of like saying we were gonna have spaghetti and meatballs except I cut out carbs and meat, so here's some sauce.
Danny, never shy with an opinion that might not be too popular, has taken a sharp rightward turn away from the peace and love of the Partridge 70's, lambasting Jane Fonda and Rosie O'Donnell for expressing political viewpoints unlike his own. But this sort of stuff keeps him in the public eye. In his job as a wacky morning radio host up in the City of Brotherly Love, he regularly incites petty feuds with such as Jose Canseco, former baseball player best remembered for having a fly ball bounce off his skull and over the fence for a homerun, and also for bouncing off Madonna. Recently, Danny boxed Canseco to a draw, the point of the match still being in question.
Yes, we Americans love our stars and still want to keep them in the firmament (maybe to keep a wary eye on them.) As Dante Bonaduce nears a half-century of this life, he can surely look back on the recent show The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest.. in which he ripped off one of his own eyebrows.
Whatever's best for him, as long as he keeps it classy.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, February 15, 2014

 "Clean up on Aisle 6!"  I love how that lady is looking like," I didn't do it!"  We're going to need a lot of sawdust for this oil slick.
 One of my favorite gags has always been to call someone's office when I knew they were not in, so I could leave the message "Arrived in Venice.  Streets flooded.  Please advise."  Can't do it this week; the streets are frozen and that's not as funny.
 Can you beat the look on this little seal's face?  He's looking like someone just told him "No dessert tonight!"
 It sure has been a tough winter here in Baltimore; just the other day we had two feet of snow in some areas around here, and the polar bears had to be fed by the Army, which had set up camp near the zoo. No, just kidding.  This picture was taken in 1950, but as you see, polar bears still dress the same as they did then.
A lady was opening an oyster and found within a rare gold pearl.  Pearls are produced when a piece of sand gets in the ligament between the two sides of the creature.  The oyster is smart enough to cover the sand with nacre, which lines the inside of its shell, to protect itself from the irritating presence of the grain of sand.  And we think animals are dumb.  Have any of us created a substance with which to cover Donald Trump?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Run right out and buy this DVD for one reason!

I am delighted to see that the Walt Dizzy Co. has released "The Jungle Book," their 1967 animation version of the Rudyard Kipling stories in which animals act like humans, only better, to serve to teach lessons to kids.

Not that I have seen the movie ever, or plan to, but I am thrilled because this will give the young people in my life their first chance to experience the talent of Phil Harris.  And by Phil Harris, I mean the entertainer born Wonga Phillip Harris in Indiana in 1904, not the fisherman who shared his name.  (Phil's first name "Wonga" was a tribute his vaudeville-performer parents paid to a native American by that name whom they knew and liked.)

Phil voiced the part of Baloo the Bear in the Jungle Book and was tickled to have children come up to him and recognize his distinctive Southern hepcat vocalizing.  Here is his song "Bare Necessities"  - notice how cool, and how much it sounds like his dozens of hit records from decades earlier, songs like "Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette," "Up A Lazy River," "Stars Fell on Alabama," "Row, Row, Row," "Is It True What They Say About Dixie," and his biggest hit, "That's What I Like About the South."  Phil also played in "The Aristocats" as the cat Thomas O'Malley and starred again as Little John in the animated movie "Robin Hood."

Alice and Phil

Starting as the 12-year old drummer in a circus band, Phil became a bandleader, a comedy performer, a featured performer and bandleader on the Jack Benny radio show and his own show with his wife Alice Faye, an actress and singer in her own right.  The Harris character was a vain, overbearing, error-prone guy who always had to be rescued from his nutty plans and plots by the lovely Alice, while in real life, Phil was known to be modest and self-effacing.  Isn't that always the way?  

Tell you what - why not take some time to check him out on You Tube in his various incarnations on radio, records, tv and movies.  Phil passed in 1995, but we can still enjoy his talent. 

And if your kids love chanting nutty songs, let them listen to "The Thing" - his novelty hit from 1950 - and they'll be "Dum de Dum"-ing all over the house for days!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Go out and make it a good day for someone, including yourself

It was with a certain irony that some of the people I used to work with (and I) used to sing an old song called "It's A Good Day."  It was written by singer Peggy Lee and a fellow named Dave Barbour way back in 1947.

"It's A Good Day"

Oh it's a good day, for singing this song
and it's a good day, for moving along
Yes it's a good day, how could anything go wrong?
It's a good day from morning till night
Yes it's a good day for shining your shoes
and it's a good day, for losing the blues
everything to gain and nothing to lose
cause it's a good day from morning till night (you're right!)
I said to the sun, good morning sun
Rise and shine today
You know you got to get going if you're gonna make a showin
And you know you've got the right of way
Cause it's a good day for paying your bills
And it's a good day for killing your ills
So take a deep breath, throw away all your pills
Cause it's a good day from morning till night
Just this very day I said to the sun: "Good morning sun"
Rise and shine (why don't you rise and shine)
You know you got to get going if you're gonna make a showin
And you know you've got the right of way
Cause it's a good day, for paying your bills
And it's a good day, for killing your ills
So take a deep breath (ahhh) throw away all your pills
Cause it's a good day from morning till night
yes it's a good day from morning till night
cause it's a good day from morning till night!

Perry Como had a hit with the song in 1955, and of course there's the version by Peggy Lee.  And there's this one by The Ferko String Band out of Philadelphia, one of the top acts in Philly's annual Mummers Parade. 

The song is a powerful antidote to the endless dirge of songs about how tough things are and how no one cares and life is sad.  To my way of thinking, even when your best girl or guy gives you the air or the dishwasher breaks down or you don't get the promotion you deserve because the boss is propping up his wife's second cousin, it's best to stop and count five of your favorite blessings.  And music is everyone's blessing, if you'll just take a second to enjoy it.  Go ahead.  The right guy or gal will come along, you can switch to paper plates for a couple of days, and the boss's kin will soon be exposed as a faker, as soon as they forget to attach a cover sheet to their TPS report.

Stay happy!  Let me know if I can help you in that.  But you can find it within, too.  Please quit wasting time and enjoy your life.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Read it and Don't Weep

Peggy reads books with great thoughts and spiritual meanings and worthwhile messages for all.  My choice of reading material is much less high-tone, but if you want to know anything about the life of Barry Livingston, the man who played Ernie Douglas on "My Three Sons," then I'm your guy, since I read his autobiography "The Importance of Being Ernie."

But here's the point:  Peggy can read what she wants and I can read what I wish to read.  I just got that shipload of books from Amazon and I look forward to lots of entertaining reading.

Meanwhile, down in rustic Boone, NC, someone's mother is attempting to tell an entire class full of kids just what they can read.  At question is a book entitled "The House of the Spirits" by Isabel Allende.  I can't tell you what the book is about.  I think Peggy might have read it, with no noticeable damage to her soul.  As the online article puts it,  "House of the Spirits," published in 1982, is described on the author's website as "both a symbolic family saga and the story of an unnamed Latin American country's turbulent history ... The Trueba family's passions, struggles and secrets span three generations and a century of violent change, culminating in a crisis that brings the proud and tyrannical patriarch and his beloved granddaughter to opposite sides of the barricades."

Sounds interesting and educational enough.  But here comes the challenge from outraged mom Charity Lesesne, who is probably all fed up with her kids having to experience real life, so she called the book "graphic" and "immoral" and said the challenging themes and ideas the book presents are lost within the novel's graphic descriptions of rape, prostitution, violence, abuse, abortion and death, as she told the online Watauga

This engendered quite a debate down there on Tobacco Road.  One Ashley Adams from Appalachian State University said, "If you trust her judgement then I am assuming that you have not read any of the books contents. I do not think any parent with any sense of moral right and wrong would be in favor of this book."

But then again, you wouldn't trust Ms Adams's ability to spell "judgment" correctly or use the possessive form "book's" where indicated.  And notice that she points out that if you want your child to read this book, she doesn't think you have any sense of moral right or wrong.  So there.

Like the overuse of the term "slippery slope," banning books takes us on a...greased incline.  Here's a nutty idea:  let the teacher decide what to teach, and parents can show the children where the moral shortcomings of the book's characters lie.  Suppressing books and dissenting points of view can't be good for anyone

As Lenny Bruce said, "l would rather my kid watches a stag movie than a clean movie, like King of Kings. Why? Because King of Kings is full of killing, and l don't want my kid to kill Christ when He comes back."

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Not Too Smart

My favorite character in "Modern Family" is Jay Pritchett, the dad played by Ed O'Neill.  Now and then, when things are going crazy in the family, he is prone to stand far from the madding crowd and holler, "What the hell is happening?"

I have to holler that now and then, or at least, I want to.  I can't be hollering around the house, what with other people taking naps and all.

Down in Lubbock, Texas, the town nice enough to send Buddy Holly out to a world that needed him and his music, there is Texas Tech University.  They have a basketball team, and a man who supports them to the extent of calling himself a "superfan."  This man's name is Jeff Orr, and he lives in El Paso, TX, a short 343 miles from Lubbock.  “I don’t hunt, fish, golf or any other normal guy activities. I just sort of follow the team around,” he said in 2010.

Marcus Smart apologizes
But he shows up for game after game, which is his right, after all.  Man wants to drive 5 hours to see younger men play a game, no problem.

Here's the problem with superfans:  they don't act like normal fans, and that's not to say they are good for anything.  This Orr was caught a couple of years ago making an obscene gesture at a player for Texas A&M, and the other night during a game between Oklahoma State and TTU, an OSU player, Marcus Smart, wound up flying into the seats just beyond the basket following a hard play under the basket.

So Orr calls Smart a "piece of crap."  We know that much for sure; still in dispute is whether or not he tossed in that familiar racial slur.  Some seated in the immediate vicinity say yes, some say no.  Smart, to his discredit, shoved the blowhard and is about to sit out the next three games for that infraction.  No matter what was said, he should not be pushing fans at all.  He is 19 years of age and has, from what I'm told, a future playing in the NBA, where he will come in contact with more superfans, sad to say.

We've all known these people, mainly men, who feel that their mere presence or actions at a sporting event can tilt the machine in their favor and help their team win.  They dress up in outlandish costumes and holler.  It's one of those things where you go to the ball game and some clown two rows behind you starts hollering at the other team, and the first 27 times, it's fairly funny and by the 4th inning or halfway through the second quarter you start to hope that he will suddenly be stricken with a sore throat, or remorse, or both.  

This is Jeff Orr.  Tell me you've never seen losers like
this hanging around, watching others play sports.
It's sad that some people feel that by being close to the action, they are part of the action.  I'll say this - no one in that crowd Saturday night paid their money to watch Jeff Orr holler at people.  They paid to watch people play basketball.  

You should also know that Orr is an air traffic controller, so you won't react with so much surprise the next time you hear a story about an air traffic controller falling asleep or screwing things up high over El Paso.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Meet The Measles

On February 9th, 1964, I was among the 4 billion, give or take, who watched The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and felt the earth shifting.  Bobby Vinton, Ricky Nelson, Andy Williams,  and yes, Elvis Presley were going to have to step aside for at least a while.  

I was 12, about to turn 13 that summer, and a world that had seemed so bleak just months before, with the assassination of John F Kennedy, was about to start seeming hopeful again.  It's been said a thousand ways better than I can, but The Beatles were just what we needed at that time.  It's difficult to explain to those not yet alive just how it felt when John, Ringo, George and Paul threw the switch to light up our lives again.  

Two weeks and a day later, I put a smile on, along with a button-down Oxford shirt, khakis, and Jack Purcells and prepared to leave for another day of 7th grade, only to be met by mother at the door.  She wanted to know what I had done to my face in the time between finishing my sausage and hominy breakfast and brushing many of the same teeth I still use to eat sausage and hominy.

There were red spots all over my face that had just popped up.  The golden ticket - the measles!  I ran to change back into pjs and begin getting sick. These things must be handled just ever so.  I probably had more hominy for lunch and maybe some rhubarb.  The measles were gone in a few days.

Then, two weeks later, I was glad for any hope, because on that Sunday, March 1, 1964, I woke up up unable to move my arms and legs.  I had spiked a fever the night before and woke up all sweaty and having spasms.  Not good.  An ambulance took me to Church Home and Hospital down on Broadway (no hospitals in Towson then) and things began looking dire as doctor after doctor came in and presented their diagnoses.  Polio, encephalitis and epilepsy were leading the pack for most of the day as I lay in bed, my only company being the transistor radio that I took along on the ambulance ride downtown. I heard a lot of Beatles songs that day.

My parents were conferring with doctors most of the day, and so, were not around when a kindly old priest came in with oils and other impedimenta.  He talked to me in a very soothing manner about how there is a brighter world awaiting the righteous and how sometimes God calls us home before we would want to leave what we're doing here and how heaven is said to be a land with no illness, no pain, no suffering and somehow in the middle of this, it dawned on me that he was telling that the odds on me being around to watch "The Andy Griffith Show" at 9 the next night were not all that great.

"So, I've come to administer to you the last rites..."

I have relived this a million times in my mind and I always see myself as much pluckier than I really was when I said, "Father, I'm...I'm not Catholic."

And he put aside his oils and sacramental gear before I even had a chance to say penance for breaking my sister's baton ten years before (a transgression that still is discussed at family gatherings.)  And he said, "Son, it can't hurt."

I know it sounds like something out of a Dead End Kids movie, but it happened. As many of you know, I lived, and find myself now fifty years older and still penitent.

As all of you know, The Beatles went on to have a long and prosperous career. 

The doctors never found out what was wrong with me.  That May 3rd, I wound up in Mercy Hospital with the same symptoms. My radio came along again and I listened to the Orioles lose to the Indians, 3-0. There was still still no determination of the problem after another week in the hospital. But ever since, people have wondered just what is it about me.

But all those early Beatles songs bring me back to places I remember...

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday Rerun: The big lake they call Gitchigoomie

If you know me, you would agree that not many people look, talk, walk, think, drive or choose things the way I do.

Which is fine!  It's variety that makes life so interesting.  Takes every kind of people to make the world go 'round.

The Carnival "Splendor" (sic)
I say all this for one reason. If someone who looks like me, talks like me, walks like me, thinks like me, etc etc, ankles up to you one day and says, "Peggy and I are going on a cruise to the Gilligan Islands!" I want you to call the police right away.  That person is an impostor, out to claim my vast six-figure fortune (if you count the numbers to the right of the decimal point in our bank statement) and parade around as me, for whatever horrible reason he might have.

Appealing as the prospect of floating around the seas off Mexico on a broken-down boat with no electricity or running water or air conditioning or TV, but plenty of stench, Spam and discontent among our fellow sail-ers might be, I just can't imagine it.

Those who enjoy cruises are welcome to my share of the high seas, and I'll just stay here, watching "Titanic" and listening to Gordon Lightfoot sing about his friend Ed.



Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, February 8, 2014

 I think this seems like some good words to follow, and if I owned a huge corporation I would make a copy of it was posted in all my branch offices.
 I don't often do this, but this is my own photograph edging its way into the Picture Show.  I was up early as always and the trees were getting glazed. Lovely part of nature, but when tree limbs and power lines come down because of the ice, winter loses a lot of its appeal all of a sudden.
 If I had a choice of one season to live all year long, I'd vote for autumn, and if pressed for a reason why, I'd say, look at this!
I don't know where this was taken; I don't know how often it happens that three locomotives pass through the same three tracks at the same one time. I'm just saying that it takes a lot of training.

Friday, February 7, 2014

All A Twitter

According to the article I read, Kevin Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, a pop rock band that never quite managed to find a place on my iPod, is sitting on a fortune of 18 million semolians, none of which he earned selling me CDs or concert tickets or anything else he had to peddle.

So, since $18,000,000 might not be enough to keep him in the sort of unusual clothing and hair product he favors, he has entered into a new commercial venture, commercializing his life by selling sponsorships of his tweets.

Young Jonas and his ex-hairdresser wife recently welcomed a baby they named Alena Rose into this crazy old world.  Millions of babies are born around the world every day, but very few of these births are accompanied by messages on Twitter reminding other young parents to wash the kids' swaddling clothes with a certain detergent that is paying this fellow and his wife cash money to intermingle their blessed event with a cheap payday.

He would want me to mention the name of the detergent here.

It got me to thinking.  Not that I am of a commercial-type mind, but what if my parents had decided to commemorate the important events in my young life with tie-ins to brands, services and products?  As the impressionists would say, I think it would go something like this...

My first letter home from a teacher (the one in which Mrs Reed alleged that I viewed every classroom as my personal stage) would be brought to you by BIC, the pen that writes first time, every time.

The first huge gooey pink bubble that I blew would be sponsored by Bazooka Joe and all the good people over at Dubble Bubble, whose tiny cartoon inserts provided me with jokes and gags that I use to this day ("I can always tell you the score of a ballgame before it begins - Nothing to nothing!")

Sponsorship of my first shaving experience would go to Band-Aid and English Leather.  Other sponsors lining up to cash in on my teen days would include the makers of Tackle!, an acne preparation that made its users smell like the vast chemical warehouses of Linden, NJ, and the producers of National Beer and Boone's Farm Apple Wine, which we counted as a fruit for our diet choices.

Plymouth, makers of the first car I owned, and the Hot-Shotz Corporation, makers of the jumper cables that I always carried so I could get the Plymouth started, would certainly leap at the chance to advertise on my tweets, had there been such a thing back in the days before the Jonas Bros. started doing whatever it is that they do.

One last tie-in - the various makers of Canadian bacon can slide in on this ad...the one that says I would have breakfast with Michael Buble for five days in a row before I would read another story about any Jonas brother.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Needles and the Damages Done

What are we to take away from the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman at age 46? A man of great talent, respected by the movie-going and play-attending public as perhaps the finest character actor of his generation, a man who could choose what roles he wished to play for the rest of his natural life, and a man whose life ended with a syringe in his arm with between 50 and 70 glassine bags of heroin scattered around in his Greenwich Village apartment.

I feel sorry for his friends and survivors, his three children, his former partner Ms O'Donnell, and for the fans who will be deprived of his performances in years to come.

It's sad to look back on the old '60 Minutes' interview and see him describe his avid interest in gobbling as many drugs as he could get his hands on, but that was in the days when he gotten straight, and the assumption was that he would remain free of heroin's grip, or death grip, I should say.  

More sadness comes from realizing that this will not serve to dissuade one person from embarking on a walk down this same road, if they have decided to do so.  Everyone thinks they will be the one to beat the odds.

I've been around long enough now to see marijuana described as a killer drug in my teens to its current state as a punch line on late night talk shows, as states and cities legalize recreational use of weed.  Here in Maryland, a law was passed in the General Assembly last year to allow the medical use of grass for pain relief.  While they're toking away in Denver, no hospital in Maryland has so far been willing to administer a plan for medical marijuana, and the governor is unwilling to support recreational use.

But the point is, drugs - including alcohol, don't fool yourself - remain a scourge of society, because, after all, their overuse/abuse leads to nothing but sadness and gloom.  Heroin and cocaine were once in use as pain medications, but you see how they are used now.  We banned alcohol in the 1920s, and you see where that wound up.

Hofmann was an educated, gifted person, reduced to stumbling around his neighborhood in an apparent stupor while the drugs fought it out against the demons within him.  Or maybe the drugs teamed up with the demons.  Now, for all his talent, fame and ability to transform himself into new characters and different personas, he is just another resident of the morgue, a life wasted, a future shot to hell.

And there's a lesson in that. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Good deeds

I can't imagine an America where people didn't act this way.

Last week down in Atlanta GA they had some weather of the sort that does not normally visit the Peach State.  They had snowy ice and icy snow that fell across the town right in the middle of the day.

They don't stockpile road salt down South like we do, in giant roadside igloos filled with sodium chloride.  Nor do they have a lot of plows or salt brine mixed with beet juice to pre-treat the highways the way we old Northern salts do.

So Atlanta had a traffic jam the size of, well, Atlanta, and for many thousands of people, it wasn't matter of being a few minutes late for dinner.  Some of the stranded motorists didn't get home until dinnertime the next night.

(I will once repeat the good advice to avoid leaving the house in wintertime without having at least a half tank of gas, a blanket, some nutrition, and some water and an extra empty bottle in the car.  You'll figure out what the empty bottle is for soon enough.)

But lookie at what this fellow did.  Matthew Miller heard that people were stuck in their cars without the vitals and he threw together some sammies and cereal and hot cocoa for people doing the sit and stew near his house.  Instead of wishing that someone would go out and help people, he went out and helped people.

We hear about heroes all the time, and I think that someone down in the 404 who knows Mr Miller should give him a fist bump from all of humanity.  We need more people like him all over the country.

Also from that storm, as the New York Times here describes, some students had to spend the night in their schools  - with the teachers there - which must have been a nightmarish night for all concerned.  Just the thought of myself as a grade school boy padding down the hall to the mens' room and running into Miss Van Breeman in the hall would have given me bashful bladder for fifty years.