Monday, June 30, 2014

Farewell, Mom

I hated the way my mother's life ended.

A proud and dignified woman for most of her 88 years, she was plagued with illness leading to the horror of dementia in her final years.  She went from being a wife and productive worker to retiree to widow to resident of a senior high-rise and then, at last, resident of the nursing care section in that marvelous building. The staff and a special splendid friend cared for her, we did our best to make her comfortable, and doctors and physical therapists did what they could, but let's face it.  When you're up against the aging process, the best you can hope for is to hold it to a tie or distract it long enough to add a little more fun to the day.  Forget about winning that fight.  You're not going to.  Mom even recognized this, and told me, the last time I saw her - two days before she lapsed - that she was going into her "final days."

I've often pointed out that I am a Milton Berle sort of guy from a John Milton sort of family, but I believe that my mother put up with my raffishness because deep inside, the stately among us want to be the guy who asks the x ray technician for "a dozen 8 x 10s if they turn out ok," just as those of us who regularly reel off off-color quips wish we could sit down and work out a real estate deal, repair a reel-style lawn mower, reel in a 105-lb marlin, or really dance the Virginia Reel well.  Really!

But I saw both of my parents (Dad passed in '97) cede just a little of their staid solemnity as the pages on their calendars started flipping more quickly.  And I, the lifelong cutup and bon vivant, have actually done mature-type things such as preparing a will (you're probably not in it) and formalizing my plan for my later years (you're definitely in it!)  So we grow and adjust.

Two more things about Mom, although there are thousands yet to be said:  I am a good sleeper, and generally, when I wake up for some reason, I go right back to sleep (which always annoys my passengers).  But, on the morning that Mom left, I awoke at 0337 and it was as if I had slept until noon.  I simply sat in bed and waited for the call I knew was coming, and when my sister called at 0355 to say that Mom had passed ten minutes before, I knew that's how she chose to say goodbye for the last time.

And this: I should not start mentioning the names of the many wonderful people who where there with us and for us, because I would surely leave someone out.  But I have to say that the Rev. Margery Schammel, Assistant Pastor at Towson United Methodist Church, delivered a homegoing service that filled hearts with gladness where sadness had been dwelling for almost a week. She took the time to learn about Mom so she could speak about Mom, and Mom's children, family, extended family and many friends are grateful for Rev. Schammel's deft handling of a sad service.

I remember reading Sam Levenson's book "Everything But Money," in which the humorist mentioned that years after his mother's death, if he found himself out late at night, he still expected her to touch him on the shoulder and say, "Go home!  Nothing good happens after midnight!"

But there hasn't been an after-midnight yet that didn't turn into a whole new day. I expect to hear from Mom for the rest of my days.

To ALL of you who were there with us, who sent emails, or messages, or called, or sent flowers, or sent that incredible pan of Sloppy Joes so that Sloppy Mark and Elegant Peggy could have a nice dinner, or sent hugs virtual or real, THANK YOU from my heart and Peggy's and all of ours. I love life and I love you.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Rerun: Where the title came from

IN the earliest days of writing this blog (2007), I decided to explain where I got the idea to call it "Castles Made of Sand." I should have included a link to listen to the theme song.  Here 'tis!

I suppose I ought to explain where the title of the blog comes from. 'Castles Made of Sand' has nothing to do with beach activities, but, rather, the old maxim that the wise person builds his house upon a rock - the rock being love, friendship, family, faith and devotion...all those old-fashioned notions that were considered things to be desired, back before everyone became so avid about material possessions and earthly power. I think we sang a song in Sunday School about building one's house upon a rock. And then Jimi Hendrix wrote the song whose title I humbly borrowed for my blog; certainly this is one of his more introspective songs:

Down the street you can hear her scream "you're a disgrace"
As she slams the door in his drunken face,
And now he stands outside and all the neighbors start to gossip and drool.
He cries "Oh girl, you must be mad,What happened to the sweet love you and me had?"
Against the door he leans and starts a scene,And his tears fall and burn the garden green.

And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually.

A little Indian brave who before he was ten, played war games in the woods with his Indian friends,
and he built a dream that when he grew up, he would be a fearless warrior Indian Chief.
Many moons passed and more the dream grew strong,
until tomorrow he would sing his first war song,
And fight his first battle, but something went wrong,
Surprise attack killed him in his sleep that night.

And so castles made of sand melts in the sea eventually.

There was a young girl, whose heart was a-frown,
Because she was crippled for life, and couldn't speak a sound
And she wished and prayed she would stop living, so she decided to die.
She drew her wheel chair to the edge of the shore, and to her legs she smiled "You won't hurt me no more."
But then a sight she'd never seen made her jump and say
"Look, a golden winged ship is passing my way"
And it really didn't have to just kept on going.

And so castles made of sand slips into the sea,

The web address "truly regal manners" comes from Thoreau's Walden: "I called on the king, but he made me wait in his hall, and conducted like a man incapacitated for hospitality. There was a man in my neighborhood who lived in a hollow tree. His manners were truly regal. I should have done better had I called on him."

My manners may never be truly regal, and I might not build all my dream houses on the firmest rock, but welcome to my blog. Please come back often!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, June 28, 2014

While we're still doing is the very first Saturday Picture Show, from November 17, 2012.  I used to use just four pictures every Saturday, until faithful reader and gentle friend John Gross asked me to use six, and who am I to say no to that request?

I enjoy surfing the web, obviously, and many times while getting my feet wet doing so, I see pictures floating out in cyberspace.  So I dried these off and thought I'd share them...
 This one makes me laugh and also makes me wonder about that old expression about having "feet of clay."  I don't know what that means and I can't seem to get a sensible explanation.
 I know Peggy would like to live in this sort of isolation, but I need to know where I could park my SUV.  It would be nice to tell certain people, "Next time you're in the neighborhood, drop in!"
 Cat pictures are all the rage, but I share the question that others have raised...what if cats have their own Facebook, full of pictures of US???

I have no idea why I have never gotten a tattoo, but if I ever do, it will look a lot like this.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Be Back Soon

The entire Castles Made of Sand team is taking a few days off to prepare for Mom's funeral and take care of the business associated therewith.  I can't even say enough about how much everyone's love and comforting thoughts have buoyed me and all the family these past few days, but I thank you and I love you for it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday rerun: Think about what you'd be!

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

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday Rerun: Diner's Card

I really find the suffix "ie" irritating, as in "Oh you know her, she's a newsie at Channel 75" or "All the foodies were at the new restaurant, seeing what Chef Boyardee is doing with his new balsamic reduction of hazelnut salad..."

Newsie.  Foodie.  It's all too cutie, consarn it.

But I love to read the restaurant reviews in the newspaper. Here in Baltimore, the chances are good that if you write a food column in the newspaper, your review of that hot new bistro will be read by someone who is using your paper as a tabletopper while they smash steamed crabs, or as a fishwrap for the trout they caught down at Herb's shore place the other day.

They opened a new restaurant in a shopping center in the city that is so close to the county that I once saw a young county police chase a young city thief from the county into the city.  I think the kid figured once he was over the line that the chase was over.  At least, I'm sure that's what he hold the judge. Anyhow, there was a shoe store in the shopping center, and now they are trying to make a restaurant happen there.  The previous two iterations, "Taste" and "Crush," both opened to great fanfare and closed with none.  So now, restaurateurs have opened "Shoo-Fly" in that spot, and you can read the review here. Please note that the people involved with this restaurant wish to be known for running a "farm-to-table" restaurant.  As if there could be food, be it served in the finest joint in town or in the greasiest spoon in town, that did NOT come from a farm and is NOT served on a table of some sort. This is the sort of wordplay that led carmakers to use the words "road car" to describe their products, seemingly to separate them from "ocean cars" or "space cars."

Unless someone else is paying, don't look for me at Shoo-Fly, just as I was a stranger to the maîtres d' at Taste and Crush. Nutty idea here, but it just might work: If you want diner food, go to a diner. If you are tired of "disco fries, a bowl full of fries, with cheese curd and a fried egg on top," (left)  come with me to the Double T and I'll show you a menu that's as thick as the Oxford English Dictionary without mentioning cheese curds, or bourbon slushes, for crying out loud.

Notice that diners tend to stay open for decades and these farmie to tablie places close down within six months.  Hmmm.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, June 21, 2014

 This is the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. There really is a lot to see in this country, so cancel that planned vacation in Iraq and see what we have here!
 This is what you would get if you hired a plumber to install a water spout.
 This is Sunset Island in Lake Superior in Canada.  Pretty, but a bit tough to walk out there....
 The love for this movie continues unabated worldwide, although I never was a fan. I remember these guard outfits as being sort of unisex.  And the Lion outfit must have been a bear to wear all day.
 My buddy Dennis Schroeder worked at WDMV 540 AM in Pocomoke City MD, where some coworker went a bit wild with the Dymo Label Maker and labelled everything in the studio. Whenever I see something completely labelled, I think of the rock they used as a paperweight.  Its label said "rock."
For those unfamiliar with Baltimore cuisine, say hi to the Lake Trout sandwich.  It's a piece of fish deep-fried in cornmeal or crushed crackers on white bread or a Kaiser roll with hot sauce - but this fish never saw a lake, unless it went on vacation, and it is not a trout. It’s whiting or silver hake. It's delicious, too.

Friday, June 20, 2014

I Can Haz Cheezburger Too (as long as I take my green coffee pill)

I can't be the only person who finds Dr Oz to be another creepy member of Oprah's legion of medical professionals (Dr Phil, Dr Oz and Dr Pepper) who really seem like people you don't want to be sitting next to at a banquet.  Dr Phil, leader of the Jubilation T. Cornpone School of Homespun Psychology ("What part of 'you cain't cheat on your husban' don't you understaaaaaaaaan'?") is bad enough, messing with people's minds.  He knows good and well that emotional issues take a lot more than one hour, minus time for commercials and Eyewitness News promos and teases, to heal.

Likewise, Dr Mehmet Oz, who likes to refer to himself as a respected surgeon and man of serious medicine, knows very well that weight loss is accomplished chiefly by a) eating less and b) exercising more.  But that requires sacrifice and self-denial, so let's just tell them to eat these magic beans and soon they'll have the body of Angelina Jolie or Tim Duncan!

Readers of The New Yorker saw a great article in the Feb 4 edition about Oz, how he himself darts from the hospital to the TV studio gobbling almonds and blueberries for lunch, while insinuating that "miracle weight loss pills" are all you need to get rid of that excess avoirdupois.

Back before the Pure Food and Drug Act, any snake-oil salesman could dupe the public with spurious medicines, but now we have government agencies to protect us from people like Oz, so Congress invited him to take off his custom-tailored scrubs, put on a suit, and come on down for a good listening-to about his role in pushing bogus remedies for real problems. 

"The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called 'miracles,'" said Senator Claire McCaskill, (D, MO), questioning the "false hope" his rhetoric gives viewers and asking about Oz's role, "intentional or not, in perpetuating these scams."

"I don't get why you need to say this stuff when you know it's not true. When you have this amazing megaphone, why would you cheapen your show?... With power comes a great deal of responsibility" is how she put it.

Like any other hustler, the doctor admitted to using "flowery language" to sell his ideas, but insisted that he has given the products he touts to his own family, adding, "My job, I feel, on the show is to be a cheerleader for the audience, and when they don't think they have hope, when they don't think they can make it happen, I want to look, and I do look everywhere, including in alternative healing traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive to them."

The Federal Trade Commission has sued the sellers of "Green Coffee Beans" for fooling people by using phony "news" sites and made-up health claims. Oz was pumping up the "benefits" of taking these magic weight-loss coffee beans on his show, and the next thing you know, coffee bean companies were selling their pills and linking them to the "miracle" promised by Dr Mehmet Oz.   

That's right!  A miracle fat-burning pill!
Believe me!  I'm a doctor!
Oz was shocked, shocked! to find that someone took his words about green coffee beans being good for weight loss and then sold green coffee beans by saying that Dr Oz said it would help them lose weight!  He denies any connection with these people, but he did promise to exercise "an abundance of caution in discussing promising research and products in the future."

See?  I knew he'd mention exercise eventually!

I suggest that someone rein this charlatan in as quickly as possible. Well-meaning people are swallowing too much of his nonsense, along with too many green coffee beans.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Making the grade

There was a Mashable thingie the other day which listed the 15 saddest truths about summer school.   Although humorous, the 15 items ("Everyone else is at the beach"..."Everyone else is at a picnic") hardly sum up the awfulness of summer school.

I was invited to attend SS following my sophomore year in high school.  I had pretty much given up on Algebra II by October of the previous year, but Algebra II did not give up on me.  I passed, but it was recommended that I go to hell summer school to become more familiar with quadratic equations, plotting things on a Cartesian graph, and figuring out what time the train has to leave Chicago, all skills that serve me well to this day, some 47 yrs. later.

Imagine being a teacher in a room filled with kids who scraped by, or even failed Algebra II, at the end of June, all of July and 1/2 way through August. Mrs Doris Saunders, a woman of with the patience of Job, drew this short straw and did her best to lead us lunkheads toward mathematical sufficiency.  Something she did must have worked; at the end of the course she handed me a yellow card with my final grade marked as an "A," marking the one and only time I got a grade like that in any course involving numbers.

In life, there is no summer school, but sometimes we get sent back to the minor leagues.  I found it interesting to note that light-hitting baseball catcher J.P. Arencibia, whom the Toronto Blue Jays had no interesting in having play for them in 2014 after he hit .194 in 2013, was signed by the Texas Rangers and was not hitting much better (.233) this year before being sent to play for the Round Rock Express of the AAA minor leagues.

The happy couple
This did not stop People Magazine from identifying him as "Texas Rangers catcher J.P. Arencibia" when they wrote about him last weekend.  He married Kimberly Perry of the "country" band The Band Perry on Thursday last, while the rest of his team was playing baseball in Albuquerque NM.  I guess it wouldn't have been so splashy to call him "minor league ballplayer J.P. Arencibia."  The magazine goes on to report that the newlyweds met in 2012 at a strawberry festival in Florida.

J.P, you've been sent to summer school, and it would be better for you to attend class every day.  Go get an A and get out of AAA!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Mighty Casey

We thought "narrowcasting" was going to be a great idea.

Radio and TV fell under the broad term "broadcasting" for their ability to use the airwaves to disseminate information far and wide to a large audience.  As the number of stations (and citizens) grew, stations began homing in on a smaller slice of the audience pie.  

You see that if you have satellite radio. There's a channel for the music of the 20's, one for the 30's, one for Latvian folk ballads, one for just Bob Dylan, one for every little niche under the sun. So everyone has their own interests and we don't interact as often anymore, which leads to provincial parochialism and, worse, not knowing much about other people.  

This all dawned on me the other day when we said goodbye to radio legend Casey Kasem.  In his heyday, everyone listened to Casey and his "American Top 40" countdown show as the master DJ counted down the 40 most popular records on that week's Billboard Top 40 chart.

Back when we listened to Casey on Saturday night as we were sweeping up the A&P, and Sunday morning as we wondered what happened Saturday night, those 40 records were all over the place as far as genre went.  Just look at this slice of the top records from June 12, 1971 ( a particularly great year for music!) and regard with awe a radio show that had songs from such disparate artists as the Rolling Stones, Honeycone, Daddy Dewdrop, Hudson and Landry ( a pair of LA DJs who made comedy records), Jerry Reed, and The Osmonds!

I love all these records and I wish that there was a way to hear them all together again.  I mean, they're all on my iPod, but you needed Casey to bring them all together.  He had a way of bringing us together with the music.  Can we get someone to do that again?  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bob Woodward said, "He's the only one in Watergate who did his job perfectly." Meet Frank Wills

Today is a very important anniversary in American history.  Very few of us will ever forget waking up to the news the day after an inept group of burglars, masterminded by the mentally unbalanced G. Gordon Liddy, attempted to break into the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington DC.  

You know, they would have gotten away with it had it not been for Frank Wills, a security guard who noticed tape covering the latches on doors leading to the DNC offices, removed it, and then found tape re-attached an hour later as he made his rounds.  If not for his vigilance, the five clowns sent by the President of the United States of America, one Richard M. Nixon,  to install spying devices in phones and photocopy documents would not have been caught, there would have been no ensuing scandal as the facts came out linking Nixon and his criminal cohorts to the stupidest crime in history, and the crook who later insisted "I'm not a crook" would have been able to serve out his entire second term instead of being sent off in abject disgrace, which is what he was anyway. 

What made it so stupid was that Nixon ordered all this espionage because he feared that he could lose the 1972 election to whomever the Dems threw against him.  As if!  He was a lock, being so popular in his beloved "Middle America," where he sent Vice President Spiro Agnew out to deliver speeches in which he regularly insulted people of all sorts.  Nice couple of guys, and they had 99 problems, but that election wasn't one of them.

Frank Wills
It took diligent reporting by the team of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to uncover the many criminal secrets and coverups that sprang out of the well that Frank Wills (1948- 2000) uncapped this day, 42 years ago.  If not for him, and the Washington Post, history would be far different.  For want of a nail, the shoe was lost....

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday Musings

I have the following questions.

1.  Why do people on TV - actors, newscasters, singers,
What was so horrible about his old face?
people of difficult classification such as Bruce Jenner - submit to plastic surgery?  I'm thinking about a woman I see now and then on a certain network, a lovely woman, well-educated, well-spoken, very personable.  I saw her the other morning and it was clear that in the name of looking younger, or unwrinkled, or whatever, she had been under the knife, and the results were not flattering.  In fact, they were scary results. Now, I'm nothing to look at, and no one beat a path to my door asking me to be on TV, but I just can't figure the appeal of taking the risk of having someone rearrange your face into a ghoulish leer.  And TV folks: we home viewers don't mind if you have a wrinkle or a zit or some crow's feet around the eyes. We just get a little unnerved when it looks like, if you cry, the tears will run down your back.

2.  Why would someone leave a bottle of wine at a gravesite, presumably to be enjoyed by the deceased?  Why bring plush animal toys to the scene of disasters?  I was thinking about this, because we saw both of these things yesterday when we drove to the cemeteries to visit our dads. If you want to give someone you love a bottle of wine, the time to do that is right now! If you know a child who would enjoy a large velour sea serpent toy, why wait? Give it to him/her now!  You know the Chinese answer for the question of when is the best time to plant a tree...20 years ago.  Second best time, today. Tomorrow is not a good answer.

3.  How come so many people are sure Sure SURE about what's going to happen to all of us when our time at this giant pinball game we call Life comes to an end.  I mean, I am in line with the Judeo-Christian tradition of planning to go to heaven, where many, many people will be surprised to see me hanging outside the pearly gates, waiting for the chance to sell seat cushions to new arrivals. But so many people will promise you they know EXACTLY what is going to happen when we have crossed that bar, and will tell you of near-death experiences that have led luminaries appearing on cable TV to know there is a very bright light or a long escalator or a cloud with an angel harpist or a cosmic boom that will transport us just beyond the moon.  

4. If French people ask for toast, do they get French toast?  Same with English muffins, Canadian bacon, Spanish omelets, American cheese. 

5.  Why is the person who is such a consarned hurry to pull out on you from a side street also a person who dares not make his "driving machine" go more than 25 miles an hour?  And why are there people, vast legions of them, who keep cars locked up in garages and only come out to drive when it rains or snows?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday rerun: Wherefore Art Thou, Art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now you know the worst part of the story.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, June 14, 2014

 In early 1967, The Beatles gathered to have pictures taken for the "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album.  In the pre-photoshop, pre-computer generated image era, if you wanted to pose with a group of famous people, this is how you did it.  The flashy blonde in front of the palm tree is the English actress Diana Dors, who was once married to Richard Dawson.  I like this picture because it shows my two favorite Beatles being themselves.
 There's no ducking the fact that a picture like this will cure you of any mallard-y.
 There is a name for this entire school of art.  I'm doggoned if I can think of it, but it's interesting.  Another cool thing it to take a picture of whatever is right behind your monitor and then use that as your wallpaper.
 I looked behind my monitor in hopes of recreating this illusion, but there is a modem, two speakers, and a flash drive, all of which have been seen over and over.
 The caption that went with this picture said, "I moved to Montana for work and now this is my commute."  Hard to compete with that!
This is a golden monkey, made in Panama between the 9th and 15 centuries.  The monkey is holding his tail.  This is probably priced beyond the means of most Americans, but really, who would not treasure this elegant addition to their home decor?
There is evidence that Bill Murray simply lives in order to pose with every single living American.  Because he means so much to me, I will now share the explanation for his T-shirt for those few among us who have not memorized all the dialogue from "Caddyshack."
" A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking. So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one - big hitter, the Lama - long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga... gunga, gunga-lagunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness." So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."

Friday, June 13, 2014

Sites for sore souls

It's true that social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and I don't know what-all else) can be a giant time waster, rumor- spreader and trouble-stirrer.  Any time you have an hour to spend, just toss out your views on abortion, the president's birthplace, the need for handguns in our society and/or religion, and then sit back and watch the words fly in front of you.  And soon, you will come to realize that you have been friends for a long time with people who think that "per say" is how we spell "per se," and you will shudder because your other friend says someone is coming over to paint the "shudders" on his house.

But there are good things to be found on social media.  By the grace of God, drugs and liquor are not a problem for me. Potatoes and pizza, yes, but not drugs and booze.

There are several sites for people who have kicked those sad addictions, or who want to.  I click on them now and then because I like seeing the affirmation that people can give each other.  They may be strangers, they may never have met, but when a person is in need and posts their difficulty on Facebook, and some other person talks to them, talks them out of using or doing something foolish, then I have to feel that Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates's work has not been in vain!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Musical Appreciation

In his later years,
Congreve was known as
"Billy Idol"
William Congreve (1670- 1729), an English playwright and poet who was also known as 'Will.I.Am Congreve," once sat around philosophising and pointed out that “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”

Well now.  Oak trees are rather tough to bend, and only volcanic fire can really soften rocks, and it's best not to discuss breasts in a nice family-style blog such as this.  I can tell you that more than half the time, people who misquote Congreve do so by saying "savage BEAST," because we can't think of breasts being savage.

Savage.  The word comes to us from Middle English via the Anglo-French word salvage, which came from the Latin word silvaticus, meaning "of the woods."  Another word that came from that root is "sylvan," meaning an area with a lot of woods, and from that we called the large state with a lot of trees founded by William Penn "Penn's Sylvania," or Pennsylvania.

Discuss:  Was Congreve telling us that the best breasts come from Pennsylvania?  How could he have known, given the clothing styles of the early 1700s, and the fact that he never traveled to colonial America?

Once again, I took the long way around to the topic of the day, which is that science now knows that there are people who just do not enjoy music, or don't start their toes a-tapping when that fiddler starts sawing away on "Orange Blossom Special" or "Alla Turca."  They sit there at a wedding conception, toying with their green beans almondine or twice-baked potato when the band breaks out with "Double Shot Of My Baby's Love" or the DJ spins "Baby Got Back."  Or you're watching MTV a quarter of a century ago when Billy Idol's video for "Cradle of Love" comes on and no one even looks up from the newspaper to watch Molly Shattuck's sister play the part of Devon.

Yes, she did.

If you don't enjoy music, you're missing out on a lot, and you have to listen to nutty reactionary talk radio instead of music, and this is why you come home from work all bound up.  Slip in a little Mötley Crüe into your CD player and see if you don't feel better!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"The first to apologize is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest."

Probably because I began getting things wrong at a very early age, I learned as a child that it's always easier to own up to a mistake, apologize, and move on.  For one reason, it's the right thing to do. For another, it ends most of the commotion, because others can't keep poundin' on ya when you're standing there saying, "I'm sorry, already!"

And the best reason of all: most people are so staggered when you apologize and take the foul, they sputter and stammer and yak and yammer while you walk on with the rest of your life.

So I was glad that a couple of people in the sports world either took it on themselves, or someone wise got to them, and made appropriate niceness after public missteps.
What started it all
It started last Friday when Manny Machado, whiz kid third baseman for the Orioles, got all worked up when opposing third baseman Josh Donaldson tagged him out with what Manny considered to be a little too much ooooooomph.  Manny lost his balance in more ways than one, going after Donaldson after getting back to his feet. That set the tone for the three games between the Baltimores and the Oaklands, with players on both teams being hit by pitches and rough slides and tags. In Sunday afternoon's game, Manny, accidentally or not, clomped the A's catcher on the helmeted head with the backswing of his bat.  By the time the game was almost over, with Oakland ahead by a ton of runs, the A's brought in a relief pitcher who first threw a pitch behind Manny ("just a bit off the plate") and then one that hit him.  Manny let go of his bat, intentionally or otherwise, and his temper  The situation devolved into one of those baseball fights in which 50 men, plus coaches and the guy who sells hot dogs in the box seats, push each other around in an eddying mob.  No punches are usually thrown in a baseball fight, but they do let the benchwarmers get out and get a little fresh air and sunshine, so no problem.

On Monday, before the game, Manny said, "I want to apologize to all my teammates, my coaching staff, the Orioles organization and Oakland, and the fans also, for the way I acted and overreacted on that. It was a frustrating weekend, and I just let my emotions get the best of me."

What more is there to say, after he says he's sorry?

And then, on Saturday, as California Chrome went for the Triple Crown of horse racing, he finished out of the money, leading his 1/2 owner, Steve Coburn, to do a Yosemite Sam impersonation and get all red faced and hoarse, hollering about his horse, and how the other horses who didn't run in the other races had an unfair advantage, and on and on until he also seemed to be the south end of a horse headed north.

Just about to lose it
He even turned and shushed his wife in public, which violates rule 1 through 1 million of how to stay married.

He acted a fool, and he stayed that way Sunday when interviewed again, but on Monday, talking to Robin Roberts on Good Morning, America, he was singing Manny's tune: “First of all, I need to apologize to the winners. They ran a beautiful race. Their horse won the race. They deserve that. I did not mean to take anything away from them. I want to apologize to everyone associated with Tonalist.”

Coburn explained that he got "carried away" when his horse lost at Belmont.

“I wanted so much for this horse to win the Triple Crown, for the people of America, and I was very emotional, very emotional.”

“(Tonalist) won the race fair and square. He deserved to win,” Coburn said. “I need to apologize to the world and America, our fans, who have written us, given us so much support, I apologize, I sincerely apologize,” he concluded.

Manny Machado is a fan favorite here in Baltimore, just 21, and who among us did not pop off with somethin' stoopid at that age? So we're glad he manned up (Mannyed up?) and we're moving on.

Steve Coburn is 61, but in his defense, none of us knew him from a set of racing silks six weeks ago.  The time he's spent in the national spotlight was pretty intense this spring, and since it was his first time with all those cameras and reporters all up in his grill, you can't blame him for spitting the bit once.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ignoble use for a noble flag

In an act of unspeakable evil, a man and a woman ambushed two Las Vegas police  - Officer Alyn Beck, 41, and Officer Igor Soldo, 31,  who were just eating their lunch at a CiCi's pizza place.  The murderers were a couple whom neighbors described as "militant;" they had threatened previously to kill police. As they fired, they yelled, "This is a revolution." They then covered the fallen officers' bodies with a yellow banner with a coiled snake above the words, "Don't Tread on Me," before going to a nearby WalMart, where they killed a woman in the name of their foul revolution.  Then, carrying out what seems to be a murder-suicide pact, the woman shot the man and then herself.

Just what good was supposed to come from this revolution will never be known, because there was none.  But maybe, now that the "Don't Tread on Me" flag has been used in such a venomous way, people will think twice before waving it around thoughtlessly in America.

You see, the flag itself was known as the Gadsden Flag in our colonial era and represented our fight against Britain.  Using it as a symbol in a domestic argument confuses our fellow Americans with international enemies.

Franklin's cartoon
The 13 original colonies were here in the East, of course, where poisonous snakes abound. In 1751, tired of England sending their criminals to America as a punishment,  Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Pennsylvania Gazette that we ought to deport our poisonous snakes to England in retaliation. Three years later, as the French and Indian War was being fought, he made a political cartoon - the first ever in an American newspaper - showing a snake that had been cut into 13 pieces, with the slogan "Join, or Die" to indicate that the colonies needed to co-operate for mutual defense in the war.  There was a belief in those days that a snake cut into pieces would find itself whole again if the pieces were placed next to each other by sunset.

Really.  They thought that.

The first 7 ships of the US Navy, put together in time to fight in the Revolutionary War, carried the "Liberty Tree" flag, the one with a pine tree and the slogan "Appeal To Heaven," but Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden, in charge of outfitting the vessels, had a flag made up showing a rattler with 13 rattles and the motto "Don't Tread on Me" to fly on the mainmast as the distinctive personal standard of the flagship of the commander-in-chief of the Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins. 

A later version of the flag, with the the snake uncoiled (and possibly ready to strike) became the flag of the Navy in colonial days, and since 1977, this flag has flown from the bow of the US Navy ship that has been in service for the longest continuous time. Currently, that's the USS Enterprise (CVN 65).

How a flag with noble origins dating back to our fight for freedom from the country from which we broke away has been bastardized into being the symbol of people who shoot down police officers is something I can't explain, though.

Monday, June 9, 2014

What people did before the Internet

As the school year winds to another inglorious halt, and teachers look forward to their summer jobs, do you have time for one more historical tidbit?  

Well, I'm going to share this one anyway, so that if there is an embarrassing lull in the conversation while waiting for the bail bondsman or person with the handcuff key to show up, we'll all have something interesting to discuss.  

First, there was a president named John Tyler.  Only people who have an interest in the arcane political figures of the 19th Century know this, but there was.  He's often mentioned in the upper pantheon of the lists of the worst presidents ever, as he was a strong advocate of states' rights over the federal government while at the same time being a fan of manifest destiny, without which we never would have been able to steal Texas from the Mexicans.  As a national philosophy of expansion because of the "superiority" of Americans over people who happened to have lived somewhere for thousands of years, manifest destiny was as racist as it was despicable, but if it had a Facebook page, Tyler would have "liked" it.  

He was elected vice president in 1840 with running mate William Henry Harrison, who came down with a cold three weeks after his inauguration.  The cold turned to pneumonia, just like your mother told you it would, and also septicemia and jaundice, and Harrison's term ended 32 days after it began, ushering in the Tyler Administration, which ended in four years. He had devoted all his energy to grabbing up Texas.  Oh, and he became a bigtime Confederate when the Civil War came along. Tyler chose not to run for re-election in 1844, a wise choice that should have been repeated in 1984 and 2004.

Now, you ask what does a decision, made by the man who is also widely regarded as the president who looks the most like Cris Collinsworth, have to do with 1984, 2004 or even 2014?  I will now tell you why I'm even writing about the man who was president of the US in the 1840s

His grandchildren are still alive. His grandchildren! Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of President Tyler’s 15 kids, was born in 1853, when Old Tyler was 63! At age 71. he fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928, when he was a spry 75.  Both of these men are still stomping around in Virginia, even though their grandfather died at 73 in 1862...152 years ago!

Tomorrow, let's take a look at why TV shows from the 1840s were not funny at all.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday Rerun: Meat me on the front porch

Maybe I'm a big old cynic, or maybe I'm the wisest man in the world.  There can be no middle ground in the situation I'm about to share with you...

Yesterday, I was in the kitchen, waiting for the Dr Phil show to be over so I could turn the television on, and there was a jaunty knock at the door.  I answered it to find a young man on the porch, advising me that he was a route salesperson for a certain meat company, and that he had finished his route for the day and found he had steak and chicken left over.  If I would "pick up" the steak, he proposed to throw the chicken in free for nothin'.

"Picking up" the steak, in this case, means "buying" a crate of frozen steak that was in the back of a van conveniently idling down by the end of the driveway.

"The steak" in this case, for all I know, was recently on a carcass being ridden down the homestretch at Pimlico.

I told the guy no thanks, and to my utter amazement, he did not go away gracefully, instead waxing rhapsodic about how great it would be to fire up the grill and toss a couple of his carnivore's delights on there, or toss a Caesar salad and grill up some poultry and there I'd go!

Betcha it didn't look like this!
I told him I was not in the habit of buying frozen meat from people I've never heard of.  Now, if you were to have someone driving through the neighborhood selling cases of beer out of the back of a van, then we might have something to talk about!

When I got a minute, I went online and googled "door to door meat salesperson" and opened up a veritable onslaught of complaints from across the nation, all from people who answered the siren call of cheap meat and were very shortly very sorry, as they tried to saw their way through a porterhouse of dubious provenance.

So, I'm glad I didn't buy the steaks, because I'm chicken.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, June 7, 2014

 Say hello to scenic Lake Sylvenstein, the cream of Bavarian dams!
 I can't get over the looks on the faces of these ivory 12th Century chessmen.  It's like they can't believe the moves some people make!
Of course, we globetrotting world travelers recognize this as Oppstrynsvatnet lake, near Stryn in western Norway. If you travel to Norway, there's a fjord in your future!
 I miss the days when listening to the radio was an esthetic pleasure as much as an aural joy.  Sure, technology has improved, but listening to radio online is not much to look at, not like these table radios were!
 You still see these now and again, advertising signs painted directly onto brick walls in the city.  Two chewing gums, a soda and an attorney want your attention here.
We associate sick days with Bob Barker, or Mike Douglas before him, and of course medicine and Campbell's soup.  Being home sick on a Thursday was never a good idea, because you'd get tomato soup and a grilled cheese sammy and then go back to school on Friday and have the same doggone thing!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Are You Being Served?

Because I was offered, and accepted, a high position with the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (hereinafter known as "The A&P") while I was still in high school (the position was known as 'clerk,' and was just nine or ten rungs down the ladder from CEO, as I understood it) I have come to expect good, pleasant and friendly, cooperative customer service in retail establishments.

Of course, I also have come to expect that passing strangers will wax my car and Dick Cheney will stop taking his friends hunting, so what do I know?  

At the A&P, we were not allowed to shrug our shoulders and say, "I dunno" when asked when a certain product would be back in stock, and a desultory pointed finger in a nebulous direction, accompanied by "Over there somewhere," was not considered a satisfactory answer to "Can you tell me where the orange marmalade is?"  Our manager - and I have Facebook friends who worked there with me to bear this out - was Mr Hinchliffe, and he tolerated no foolishness when it came to how we interacted with customers.  Sure, he knew that certain of us would fill our palms with whipped cream and lurk atop the walk-in cooler in the stockroom, ready to drop a Redi-Wip bomb on some unsuspecting coworker.  And he probably knew that there was a reason why we always found Oreos and Mr Chips cookies open or damaged on the shelves, forcing us to eat them lest food be wasted.  Never did we find those Lorna Doone or Strawberry Wafer cookies damaged.  How about that!   As long as he didn't have customers walking out of his store to shop across the street at Food Fair, he was cool.  And he knew the way to keep 'em coming back was to be nice to them, to be polite.

It's usually not that way in stores.  I think Peggy would sooner walk around looking for something than to bother asking where anything is, and I find it's not often that someone takes the time to be kind and courteous in a retail setting, especially the big stores like groceries and anything with the word "Mart" in its name.  

They used to make beer in this building.  Now the
building is full of condos full of people who
drink martinis and cosmos.
However! Certain indications indicate that the trend is changing. For example - we went to the new Harris Teeter grocery store down in Canton the other day.  Canton is the part of Baltimore where for years, new Americans got their start working hard in canneries, breweries and broom factories.  Now it's where young professionals plunk down $335,000 for a row house on which those immigrants worked like the dickens to pay the $3,350 mortgage a hundred years ago.  The entire American economy, once based on making things, is now based on selling things to each other, from insanely overpriced cups of coffee to apartments in a building that used to be a brewery, and I wonder if it still has that delightful beer-y aroma.  

Anyhow, the people at Harris Teeter were everywhere, greeting us as we ankled in, as they heated our banana bread treat at Starbucks, at the checkout area, and all around.  Even the off-duty city cop working security was like a cheery greeter.  

And I went to Home Depot for some topsoil and grass seed the other day, and everywhere I went, cheerful clerks asked if I was finding everything ok, and did I need help hauling my stuff to the car, and hoping I was having a good day.

And finally, most surprisingly, I hit a Subway last night, because no one felt like cooking after a delightful afternoon of snoozing reading at the library.  The young lady - the Sandwich Artist - asked what kind of roll I wanted, got the toasting done, made the subs with care and skill, got the toppings right the first time and still took time for a moment or two of pleasant banter with a very surprised older gentleman.  

I am too a gentleman!

But I saved the receipts from the HD and the S Way and I am going to drop emails to the home offices about how great their customer service is.  It's the least I can do and, as Rocky Balboa would say, it don't cost nothin', you know what I'm sayin'
to you here?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"And, remember, commencement is not a conclusion, but a big inning!"

For the 45th consecutive year, no one asked me to speak at the commencement exercises at any high school, college, university, barber college or even a school of fish.

Which is fine; I would have had to have the pinstripes pressed and wear a tie, and it's getting way too hot for that.  But here are some thoughts that I would have passed along to the Class of 2014, had I been asked.

I would have opened with my notion of turning our lives upside down.  Let's figure out how long the average person gets to be retired before moving into a one-person bungalow with silver handles, and then say, OK, you just finished high school, college, whatever.  You get your retirement NOW, while you still feel like running around the world and sailing kayaks and dancing in the moonlight and dating three or four people at once and participating in IronMan competitions.  Please report to Work at age 30 and then you'll work 'til that great Hallelujah Day.

Sound good?

And I would also tell this year's graduates this simple advice, which is to pretty much forget everything you've heard about how the world is eagerly awaiting your arrival.  One of the most puzzling things about seeing young people right out of school come to work was always their expectation that they not have to do anything they deemed "beneath" them.  Their mommies had always made sure that the roads they were to travel were plowed and leveled evenly, and then they come to work with a bunch of older adults who were trying to get a job done and had little time or concern about young Brattleboro's wishes to arrive late, leave early, and have plenty of time for personal self-expression during the shift.  People are alway surprised to hear that lots of successful people started their careers sorting mail, hauling out the trash, frying a burger.  Much later in your lives, you will realize that getting to do those mundane chores is great preparation for someday owning the company where people are sorting mail, hauling out trash, frying burgers and the like.  You will understand that with what they call "experience."  We can't give that to you; you can only get it for yourselves, and we want you to get the best of it.

There is nothing much weirder than getting a phone call from the parent of a 23-year-old saying their "child" will be late for work because they were out a little late last night, but I got that call once. And the employee was completely floored when told that I needed to hear from them, not their parents, unless they also wanted their paycheck made out to their mom.

I'm afraid that young people today don't get many good examples as they set out to join the workforce.  They watch television and see fools like Donald Trump amassing fortunes, they are encouraged to believe that tawdry fiction is great literature, and they hear people bragging about cheating on their taxes, employers, spouses, and I don't know what-all else.

My advice to the graduates is to find a job that will lead to the career they seek, to remember that there is no disgrace in any honest work, and to give a good day's work for their day's pay. And remember, you can learn a lot from the people you'll spend your days with.  Assess them carefully, sort out the sneaky cheats from the industrious achievers, and follow the lead of the latter.

You can become anything you want to be.  Please want to be good.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

So help me, Hanna

Everything used to be so consarned sexist, it wasn't even funny. No one even thought it odd that all the hurricanes back in the day carried female names only.

AS IF men never destroyed anything.  

So here comes a story saying that researchers at the University of Illinois figured out why more people tend to die in hurricanes named after women, now that we alternate male/female monikers right down the line.  They say that people don't take storms as seriously when the hurricane has a girl's name.

Yes, fellow citizens of yours and mine, right here in these United States, hear that Hurricane Gladys is on the way, and don't figure it to be much of a bother.  Hurricane Elmer, now that would be good reason to run to Home Depot and stock up on plywood.

The story goes on to point out that the figures might be a tad skewed, since ALL of yesteryear's hurricanes had feminine names. Still, you have to wonder if people could really be so haphazard as to figure that a storm named Stormy wouldn't be as bad as one named Kenny. 

Now that hurricane season is here, I will have my annual time of wondering why people who live in places like Florida would not already have a supply of plywood, plastic sheeting, bottled water and batteries handy at all times.  But then again, every time it snows up here, you can't even get on the Home Depot parking lot for all the people who up until that minute did not own a snow shovel.

Hannah Storm
For your planning purposes (and child-naming purposes), here is the chart for hurricane names for this year.  I'm still not on it, although 'Marco' will come close.  That's a storm like me, but with a Spanish accent.  And my sister's grandchildren call her Nana, so keep an eye on that one!  And I assume that if Tropical Storm Hanna develops, it will be covered on ESPN, with Hannah Storm as lead reporter.

2014 Atlantic Storm Names


Before anyone asks, no, there are no dates established for these storms.  They will arrive as nature intends.  Keep an eye on your local meteorologist.  You know what I mean.