Friday, October 31, 2014

10 thoughts, and Happy Hallowe'en!

I got one of those challenges in which I was challenged to list 10 thoughts.  I don't question these things.

1. I wonder how hard it is for some people to pass up such challenges.

2. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who look forward to attending high school reunions, and those who would sooner have a colonoscopy without proper anesthesia than attend one.  Look for me in group "A" - our class of 1969, Towson High School, will reunite on Saturday, November 15.  I can't wait.

3. I'm a little wary of things that purport to be "healthier" for us and really might not be...such as turkey bacon and turkey sausage, which make up for the utter tastelessness of turkey by dumping a ton of salt into the mix.  Margarine and "I Can't Believe You Want Me To Put This On My Muffin" type of spreads are a chemical nightmare. I'll ride the pork and real butter train, please. Everything in moderation!

4. Peggy and I were stunned to go to the early voting last Saturday and waltz in and out with absolutely no delay.  I don't know what kind of turnout to expect on Election Day itself, but I do know that people who make a big thing of patriotism and rah-rah Americana and then don't even bother to vote - no matter how much they think that no one is worth their vote - are just giving their votes to others.  Just vote!  Write in another candidate's name if you must, but don't just skip it.

5.  We didn't really "waltz" in and out.  I don't dance well at all, except for those moments when my wet feet hit the tiled bathroom floor and I skid into the wall like a member of Holiday On Ice or Dance Fever.  I do enjoy watching others who can, dance.  I just lack the talent.  Some people are born to dance and some are born to watch.

6.  Speaking of groups of people - I once heard that all of us fit into one of four groups: those who know, and don't know they know...those who know, and know they know...those who don't know, and know they don't know...and those who don't know and don't know they don't know.  That last group is the most dangerous, so they say.

7. I know what I know and I know what I don't know.  Which is why you will not see me dance, attempt to perform a nephrectomy (surgical removal of a kidney) or attempt any repair better left to a trained electrician, plumber, or surgeon.

8.  Three of the founding dinosaurs of rock 'n' roll - Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard - remain with us to this day, but this of course cannot be permanent. We who love our rock and/or roll owe them so much, yet we don't take time to honor them while they're still living. Once they're gone, the tributes will flow and Brian Williams will look sad reading the story and people will say, "Oh! I've been into him for years!" but now is the time to say, thank you, Mr Berry, Mr Lewis, and Mr Penniman for giving us a way to avoid hearing dreck music by giving us this and this and this.    You'll notice in the Chuck Berry video that he does a step he called the Duck Walk.  There is nothing new under the sun.

9.  Amanda Bynes was a talented young actress.  We enjoyed her on TV and in the remake of "Hairspray."  Once again, it seems that she is battling mental illness and is back in a hospital for treatment. You can be rich, attractive, talented or famous.  It doesn't matter. So many among us have the fight to deal with.

10. I would really like for someone to explain to me how there is joy or fun or satisfaction in playing these Candy Crush games and other games of the sort.  I don't see as many people playing them as before, but when they do, it always seems to involve frustration and stress.  Don't we get enough of that without asking for more?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What the hell??

"CBS Sunday Morning" had a look at Heaven and Hell this past Sunday morning, a look at how we perceive Heaven and Hell.  I was interested to see old paintings showing Old Beelzebub himself hanging around the gates of Hell, with some fallen angel who is shown as having the key to Hell.

Am I all alone in wondering why there would be a key to Hell?  I mean, isn't it like a Denny's or a Kwik-E-Mart - always open? Who's coming to the door of Hell, anyway? Siding salesmen?  Door-to-door home improvement people who "just finished a job for one of your neighbors"?

This being Halloween week, I thought we could put the pumpkin pie aside for a minute to find out just why we all go to farm stands to purchase pumpkins, then take them home, cut lurid mouth and eye shapes in them and put a candle inside to celebrate All Hallow's Eve.

The Devil can take many forms
Well, this practice didn't just start when Dick Cheney was a boy. People have been carving jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for hundreds of years. It all started with an old Irish myth about a guy they called “Stingy Jack,” who went out drinking with the Devil. Being stingy, Jack didn't want to pay, so he talked the Devil into turning himself into a coin (remember, he can take many forms). Remaining cheap, Jack decided to keep the coin in his pocket, next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack continued to torment the hell out of the Devil for years, until Jack died, after carving a cross into a tree where he had the Devil cornered.

The legend has it that God would didn't want an unsavory type like Jack in Heaven. But the Devil, tired of being played for a fool by Jack, would not allow Jack into Hell, so he sent Jack away with just a burning coal to light his way in the dark night. There being no farm stands in Hell (but plenty of turnips),  Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with this homemade lamp ever since. The Irish called this ghostly figure “Jack of the Lantern,” which became “Jack O’Lantern.”

And here in America, since we were going to make so many pumpkin pies, Jack's descendants had a ready source of hollowed-out gourds to illuminate.

Next, we'll take a look at how it is that Carson Daly is famous. Hint: there might be a connection!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Might as well Jump!

Not too far from us, on a road that I often use as a shortcut to physical therapy, used to live a family named the Simpsons. Their name was right on the mailbox! I have no idea if they still live there, but I can understand why they now have a plain mailbox with no name on it, since the local ne'er-do-wells and rakehells, in the flush of Bartmania, must have stolen the first three they saw by the driveway.

I know the feeling of having a famous name, although, the longer it's been since World War II ended, the fewer comments I get about being named for a famous general.  Even though I wasn't.

Jumpin' Gene
The other day, I posted a song on Facebook from YouTube that was a Halloween hit in 1964. The song was "Haunted House," and it was the only top 40 hit for a man from Mississippi named Morris Eugene Simmons, who went by the name Jumpin' Gene Simmons.  JGS didn't write the song, but his is the best-known version of the story of a man who moves into a house with all sorts of creepy people from outer space drinking hot grease and boiling coffee and rattling their chains. He recorded the song six years after the original version was cut by Johnny Fuller.  (Tim McGraw fans, and you know there must be some out there, will recall McGraw's rather racist 1994 hit "Indian Outlaw." Jumpin' Gene wrote that one.)

Gene...about your hair....
History does not record how the original Gene Simmons felt when an Israeli immigrant, born Chaim Witz, took the name "Gene Simmons" for use in his activities as a rock star and leader of the execrable KISS, and source of idiotic statements about the world in general, but I'm pretty sure that Jumpin' Gene took his name off his mailbox before he passed away in 2006.

I know I would have!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"When you're pointing one finger at me, three more are pointing back at you"

Did you ever notice that the very people who are always harping on what others wrong have an awful lot going on in their lives?  

This Rabbi Barry Freundel, of Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown, D.C, is the latest in a long line of folks who were caught with their panting down.  D.C. police are working an investigation about a camera, or several cameras, placed in the mikvah.  A mikvah is used by Orthodox Jewish women, who do not touch their husbands while menstruating.  They must immerse in a mikvah before resuming sexual relations, according to doctrine.   DC police say they found video recording equipment in the mikvah, and the police at Towson University over here in Baltimore, where Rabbi Freundel is a tenured associate professor, also report that a search of his office at the college turned up the box for a tiny keychain camera, along with flash drives and enough memory cards to holding more than 200,000 images and 25,000 hours of video...and a picture of nude women and handwritten lists of names.

I don't know what if he's guilty.  I don't know anything about mikvahs or Orthodox Judaism.  But my eyebrows get raised when I hear anyone say, as Rabbi Grendel said last month: “The lack of sexual morality that pervades this society is all over the place...and it creates terrible problems. Pornography and its accessibility is wrecking marriages. It’s two keystrokes away. You get on the computer, you hit the button twice and you’re there. I have not counseled a couple in any level of relationship in the last five years where pornography hasn’t been an issue.” 

I just got on the computer, hit "the button" twice, and wound up with some sort of picture that set forth the proposition that excess belly fat can be wiped out with "this weird trick that has doctors enraged!"

The Swaggart confession
While I was hitting buttons, I looked up "Jimmy Swaggart quotes" and found that the pentecostal preacher and cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis is fond of gay-bashing ("I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry") and of himself ("If I do not return to the pulpit this weekend, millions of people will go to hell") but not at all fond of other people knowing anything ("Sex education classes in our public schools are promoting incest").  But Rev. Swaggart is most famous for saying "I have sinned against You, my Lord, and I would ask that your precious blood would wash and cleanse every stain until it is in the seas of God's forgiveness" after that incident in New Orleans where he was caught in a motel room with a prostitute.  I can't remember what sort of self-serving homily he spouted three years later, when he was caught in a limousine with another hooker in Indio, CA.  Swaggart has a lot to say about how unholy everyone else is.  You know who "everyone else" is...people who are home with their families while the preacher cruises for streetwalkers.

Time after time, less famous but not less hypocritical people we all know rant and rave about others cheating, running around, doing the devil's work, and time after time, they're the ones getting busy with a little piece of chicken on the side.  A more moderate person with nothing on his or her conscience doesn't worry about what others are up to when they get down.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Minute by minute

The Baltimore, Maryland area has a few roads that start out in the inner city way downtown and take travelers on a long ride to way out in the country.  Harford Rd, Belair Rd, York Rd - all are known by their final northern destinations, Harford County, Bel Air or York, Pennsylvania.

Falls Rd, MD Rte 25
And then there's Falls Rd, which begins in northern Baltimore County, almost to the Pennsylvania line, and winds up downtown, where it parallels the Jones Falls waterway and the Jones Falls Expressway, known by the two nicknames "The JFX" and "the worst damn highway ever built."  Every day, motorists clog that road to get downtown, and then, from 4 til 6 in the afternoon, they all head home to the suburbs together bumper-to-bumper.

But Falls Road, Maryland Route 25, is what we're talking about today.  On the city end, there is Hampden, home to the coolest urbanites in town, and Mount Washington and a community called Cross Keys, where the visiting baseball clubs used to stay at the Cross Keys Inn when the Orioles played at old Memorial Stadium. Toward the end of the 1985 season, pugnacious Yankee manager Billy Martin was at the hotel bar there and decided to pick a fistfight with one of his pitchers, Ed Whitson, who had 4 inches of height and 40 pounds of weight on the scrawny Martin.  Martin suffered a broken arm, cuts, bruises, and another in a series of firings by lunatic Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.

Farther up the road,  you'll come across little towns such as Brooklandville and Butler, where there is some of the most beautiful fall foliage you'll ever see on display right now.  So there is beauty, and history, and happiness, and sadness along that road.

A few years after high school, a woman who was a year behind our class was driving down Falls Rd, coming home from work as I recall, and she was hit by a stray bullet fired from a gun that some kids were playing with in a vacant lot.  She was pregnant, and she and her baby were both lost.

Tuesday's accident scene
And not far from there, on this week's rainy Tuesday morning, a woman was driving to work at Johns Hopkins Hospital when a tree along the roadway fell suddenly, crushing her fatally within her car.

Two people on a road that runs from packed city to rustic country, minding their own businesses, taken away too soon.  Had they been held up for a few seconds along the road, they would both still likely be among us.  That's something to think about, the next time we're fuming about the slowpoke ahead of us, or the red light that won't change, or whatever holds us up.

t just might be holding us up higher than we know at the time.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday rerun: Taking the time to look around

There is a difference between living in a house and cleaning that house.  This basic fact of life has been made quite clear to me over the past few weeks.  Now that I am retired (applause) and Peggy is still working 4 days a week until next fall, I thought I could take over the housecleaning and laundry type stuff.

The first thing I realized was that I should have been doing more of this all along.

The second thing I realized is that it's much easier to vacuum the steps if one starts at the top and works one's way down.

The third thing happens every time.  When I go around with the duster or the can of paste wax, instead of just walking past objets d'art, decorations, knick knacks, gewgaws and memorabilia, I actually have to pick them up and do something with them...dust them, wipe them down or wax them.    And this gives me the pleasant experience of recalling where we got the thing being dusted, wiped or waxed.  Take our bedroom furniture.  There's the bed and bureaus we got from Hochschild-Kohn right before we got married in 1973, and there's the hand-painted box that my Dad made when I was a kid, and there is this and that that we've gotten from antique stores and antique relatives. (!)

All of this brings back memories.  My collection of Oriole and Ravens memorabilia allows me to remember meeting ballplayers, going to games and events, and that's a canoe ride down Memory Creek every time.  Dusting the bookshelves, I remember reading certain books and think of knowledge I got from this volume or that.

I think it's interesting that, just the other day while vacuuming, I needed to rearrange the wires underneath the computer table at which I sit to pound out these scattered thoughts.  I needed to see what was going on with the wire that connects the PC to the printer and the other dingus.  Sure, I have any number of LED flashlights in every room except the guest room (when we have overnight guests, I don't want them horsing around with flashlights all night long.  It would only make them late for their blueberry pancakes in the morning) but I chose to grab my Dad's World War II Navy flashlight.  Every time I use it, I wonder how he felt, using this very flashlight aboard the USS Delta while men from other navies were doing the same thing on their ships.  That very flashlight has been mine since Dad passed away, but it's only been since I retired that I've had to time to ponder the very real significance of articles around the house.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, October 25, 2014

The old MixMaster and waffle iron are ready to serve up a wonderful Saturday breakfast for you here.
This would seem to be a 1950s photo of a 1950s woman who gave birth to a 1950s baby and is being helped in filing the infant away.
You have just crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge and have landed safely in New Jersey, land of bridge traffic studies and the most amazing food you'll ever see.
 Just a reminder that winter is coming.  Snow shovels ready?
We don't have this deal down here at our Ocean beaches, but in most of the beach resorts along the Jersey shore, there is a fee for sitting on the beach or romping in the raging surf.  It's not a huge fee, but the money collected goes to beach maintenance.  The tag will not prevent you from getting chafed when sand gets in your drawers, by the way.
The larger picture shows actor Frank Sivero, who of course rocketed to international fame and acclaim by playing Frank Carbone in the Goodfellas movie.  It's hard to remember a time when his name was not headlining every movie marquee in town, isn't it?  Such a famous star.  Well, sir, Frank now claims that the persona of "Louie," who along with "Legs" serves as henchman to "Fat Tony," leader of the Springfield Mafia on The Simpsons, was a carbone copy of his groundbreaking goombah role in a Joe Pesci movie.  For $250,000,000, he will feel better about things.
Barnstorming Black Baseball stars really had to go far to draw a crowd by the time television came along to keep people at home rather than at the ballpark.  So they added comics to the game. Whatever it took to get the turnstiles clicking!
If you don't have the hacienda all duded up for Halloween by now, here's a simple solution featuring some old cat-eye marbles and dental X-rays.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wrestling with the truth

I saw the name of Jesse Ventura in the news the other day. Ventura, a large man known as James George Janos when he was born in 1951, is known for being large and also for being a politician, actor, author, US Navy SEAL, and a professional wrassler known as Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

He was in the news because he won a defamation suit against another former SEAL who had claimed that Ventura, who opposed our intervention into the Mideast conflicts,  once stated that the United States "deserved to lose a few guys" there and that the SEAL, Chris Kyle, punched Ventura out in response in a barroom brawl.

Well, you know how these "he said/he said" things go.  It took years to wend its way through the courts, and by the time the trial concluded this summer, Kyle had been shot to death in an unrelated incident.  The court awarded Ventura a sizeable judgement against the profits earned by a book Kyle wrote that related the punchout tale, seemingly because it was felt that Kyle came up with the story to make his story more interesting.

And that's not even the most interesting thing about Ventura, about whom controversy swirls like carrots in a blender (there are those who claim he never really was a SEAL.)  Think back to 1998, when the biggest threat facing our nation was Monica Lewinsky hooking up with President Clinton.  There was a governor's race that fall in Minnesota, and, having served as mayor of Brooklyn Park, MN (population 75,000), for a four-year term, "The Body" offered himself as a Reform Party candidate.  What happened stunned everyone in Minnesota.  So many voted for old Jesse as a statement against politics as usual that he won! Ventura got 773,713 votes, against the Republican Norm Coleman's 717,350.  Hubert H. Humphrey III, of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, came in third with 587,528.

A man named "Fancy" Ray McCloney,  running as the "People's Champion," came in with a respectable 919 votes.

His honor the former governor
Of course, his term as governor was marked with controversy spawned by ineptitude and his failure to understand that he was now the governor of a fairly large state and not a wrassler anymore.  He referred to the reporters who covered him as "media jackals," and appeared on David Letterman's show once. Letterman asked, "Which is the better city of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis or St. Paul?"  And Governor Ventura responded, "Minneapolis. Those streets in St. Paul must have been designed by drunken Irishmen."

So, you can understand why he only served one term and has been absent from ballots anywhere ever since.  His political career always reminded me of the "Barney Miller" episode in which Harris went out west and came back with one of those bolo ties as a joke gift for Barney...but Barney didn't know it was a joke, and started wearing the tie all around.

You only get one vote in each election, and it's not something to use as a joke.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Another cheesy use for classical music

Italian composer Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792 – 1868) wrote 39 operas, as well as many other songs, but we know him best for "The William Tell Overture," which was used for years as the theme song to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" "The Lone Ranger" on radio and television.  William Tell was a 14th-century Swiss hero immortalized today for splitting an apple off the head of his son Walter, as ordered by an overlord who was steamed at Tell for not bowing before the hat of the overlord, which was hung in the town square for all to revere.

I'm not making this up!

The overlord was going to kill Tell, but forced him into the arrow-apple bit, and Tell secretly took two arrows out of his quiver before launching one at old Walter, the idea being that if he got Walter in the Adam's apple, rather than the Red Delicious atop his head, Tell would use the other arrow on Gessler, the politically-appointed head cheese who was causing all this trouble.

Gonna need hot sauce, please
Speaking of cheese...The William Tell Overture was the last opera that Rossini wrote, although he lived almost 40 more years.  He was a noted gourmand over in Italy and spent a lot of those years devising recipes and dishes that we still order today. Working with his close friend, Dante "Veal" Parmigiana, Rossini came up with Tournedos Rossini, described as "filet mignon pan-fried in butter, served on a crouton, topped with a hot slice of fresh pan-fried foie gras, garnished with slices of black truffle and finished with a Madeira demi-glace sauce."

That's not quite as catchy as "two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame-seed bun," but it's close.  And Tournedos Rossini doesn't even have cheese!

The reason this song is on my mind is that baseball season is over here in Baltimore, and with it goes the radio commercial for a certain car dealer, which we all heard a thousand times per game, it seemed.  The jingle for the car dealer (let's call him "Rog Dodge") took the Lone Ranger melody and chirped, "Save a buck, save a buck, save a buck buck buck on a Rog Dodge Jeep, car, van or truck!"

That is not at all what either Gioachino Antonio Rossini or Buck Showalter, for that matter, had in mind, I'm sure.  It's just another way of misusing great classical music for modern commercial gain.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tick Tock

Just as hand surgeons dread weekends (bagel-slicing accidents) and orthopedists get ready to get really busy after the first day of icy sidewalks, we all should be ready for added shin injuries these days, because it's not quite time to go back to Eastern Standard Time, but it's dark by 7 PM and still dark til 7 in the yawning, so people are bumping into ottomans (ottomen?) and open cabinet drawers in the gloaming all over town.

I love fall, and I think it's the best time for enjoying "the gloaming" - the poetic way of saying twilight, or dusk.  Nights in October and November gloam like no others.  I guess that's a word...

But here at the Lazy 'C' Ranch, I have lamps on timers in several rooms to light the rooms so as to avoid bumping into furniture or other people in the house.  They come on at whatever time I set them for, but they are not smart enough to change their own time settings, so there is a short period in which it's dark outside, and dark in the living room, family room or dining room, and it's so still and nice and quiet that the only sound you'll hear is my "Owwww!" when my lower leg smashes into some stupid chair.  Who put that chair here, for crying out loud?  Oh, that's right.  I did.

I don't care, because fall is my favorite season and when we turn the clocks back, we even get an hour of snoozing.  Even with that extra rest, I still have trouble figuring out what time it gets dark. Running around the house changing all the clocks and timers is fun, but first I have to go to the digital weather station in the kitchen to set my watch, because you can't call the phone company to get the right time anymore.  Oh, but they will tell you when it's time to pay your bill.  They might even call you on the phone!

It's starting to seem like I should just sit around with my CDs and iPod and try to stay out of life's way.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

While there's still time

I've seen enough people pass away in my day, especially people from my family, that I have come to realize the old expression is true:  

No one, on their deathbed, has ever said, "Gee!  I wish I had spent more time at work!  I could have done more Quarterly Reports, most Cost/Benefits analyses, and done deeper research and development on the fragellated hydrostan that we were trying to market!"

Nope.  Here's the word from an Australian nurse, Bonnie Ware, who has counselled the dying in their last days.  As a palliative nurse, she reveals the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is "I wish I hadn't worked so hard."

There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps.

Ms Ware recorded dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, and that blog turned into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Ware feels that people finally (an appropriate use of that term) gain clarity at the end, seeing the larger picture, and she thinks we might learn from their wisdom. "When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently," she says, "common themes surfaced again and again."

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as Nurse Ware recorded them:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
"This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it."
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
"This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
"Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
"Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

Now, how old are you right now?  63?  60?  52?  34?  26? Here's the thing, and by the way, you look marvelous today!  You cannot count on 64, 61, 53, 35, or 27.  I'm sorry.  You never know.  Why so many wonderful people are called home so early, we don't know.  I do know that when the newspaper or tv news does a story about someone turning 100, they are never crabby or crotchety people. Ever notice that? Sometimes they attribute their superannuation to tossing back a juice glass full of scotch every morning and hooving on a pack of Luckys every day (very rare, you know) or they chalk it up to faith or friends or family or lots of molasses and bulgur wheat, but no one blowing out five times twenty candles ever said, "Oh boy! I'm so glad I worked/worried/fretted and fussed all day and all night for all these years!  It's really paying off now, boy howdy!"

"I can see right through you!"
We have the unique chance to learn from Ms Ware's patients, who, like Jacob Marley, are trying to send us a message. Are you too busy to hear it?

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Sad Anniversary and a Sadder Update

String and Estelle
We talked about this about a year ago; November of 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the murder of Grand Ole Opry favorite David "Stringbean" Akeman and his wife Estelle.  John Brown and his cousin were convicted of the murders; his cousin died in prison while John Brown continued to serve his 198-year sentence.

It was a surprise this past week that the Tennessee Parole Board ignored the entreaties of country stars such as Bill Anderson and Jan Howard and granted parole to Brown, 40 years into his sentence.

This is a program from the Opry show, the last one ever for Stringbean, who went home and was killed afterward.  The notations are from backup musician Lester Wilburn, showing his salary from the Friday and Saturday shows.

One of the things that allow me to oppose the death penalty is my belief that life in prison would be much worse than a quick death, although what the afterlife holds for killers might be interesting, at that.  But, anyway, what do I know, I'm just a guy who doesn't kill people.

Here's the story from this week in Nashville and here is what we wrote a year ago about the murders.

A Sad Anniversary

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the murders of David "Stringbean" Akeman and his wife Estelle, and I remember it very clearly.  It was one of those moments when two cultures came into violent collision, and, like when a warm front meets a cold front, bad things happened in Nashville that day in 1973.

Stringbean was a featured player on the Grand Ole Opry...a star, but not among the big stars such as Ernest Tubb or Hank Snow, back in the days when country music still sounded like country music.  His shtick was wearing a goofy getup made from an old pair of "Little" Jimmy Dickens's jeans and an elongated shirt, making comic use of his lanky frame.  And he played a banjo in the old style, strumming it in the fashion of those who invented the only purely American instrument. Here's an old clip that shows what he did so well.

He made a nice living on the Opry and playing concerts, and he and his wife lived outside Nashville on a farm where, as a sideline, he grew ginseng to sell to the Chinese.  He did not drive, but bought a new Cadillac every year so Estelle could drive him to concerts and the radio show and his appearances on TV's "Hee Haw," which brought him to living rooms across the world. Stringbean was as country as country could be.  He hung hams to smoke in a cave on his farm, but would not touch beef or any dairy product.  According to a fascinating article in the Nashville Tennessean newspaper,  String used apple cider vinegar as after shave and rubbing alcohol as deodorant.  This was 40 years ago, and yet, in the ways that matter, he lived as others did 400 years ago.

One other thing about String - like many who lived through the Depression, he did not trust banks.  The Opry and his concert bookers paid him in cash, and Estelle sewed a pocket inside his bib overalls where he hid his hundreds.  She carried money in her bra.

I guess a guy who grew up on a dirt farm and then made a good living playing a "banjer" had reason to be proud, and Stringbean was known to flash his wad of bills around Nashville, a fact that came to the attention of  23-year-old cousins Marvin and John Brown, who, that Saturday night, went to the Akeman home and listened to the Opry on String's radio to hear his last performance at 10:18 PM.  The songs were “Going To The Grand Ole Opry (To Make Myself A Name)” and “Hot Corn, Cold Corn.”

Then, with $3,182 in his overalls, and $2,150 in her bra, the Akemans went home to their fate. The Brown cousins waited in the house, String tried to fight them off, but he and Estelle were killed by their own shotgun - a gift from fellow Opry star Grandpa Jones, who went to pick them up for a planned hunting trip the next morning and found their bodies.

The Browns, predictably, blamed each other for the murders. One of them died in prison and the other is still locked up.

Two simple, country, plain people, who lived their lives as they wished and bothered no one, were killed by two young men who planned to steal their money rather than working for their own.

It's a story as old as time itself and as new as tomorrow.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Rerun: Eenie Meenie Emo

Because I like to keep in touch with all aspects of our national culture, I became aware of the "emo" movement in music and said, what is this, now?  It would appear that to listen to this sort of music, defined by Wikipedia as "a style of rock music influenced by punk rock and featuring introspective and emotionally fraught lyrics," one needs to develop an elaborate hairdid featuring all the shades of the emo rainbow (pitch black, dark black, jet black, shiny black, purple, pink and blond) and really trowel on the mascara and eyeliner in the same shades, except blond.   And then, from what I can observe seeing youths sauntering around the mall or handing me food at Panera, it's key to maintain a stony silence, as if building a wall of no sound to keep the world at bay.

So, listen.  I can relate to the angst, the sturm and drang, of the Emo youth. I was for years an honorary member of the Bratwurst pack. It's tough, finding yourself at the crossroads of boy and man, girl and woman, and you find yourself in high school, a microcosm of life at large if ever there was one, and it can be sad. I filled my high school years with trips to the principal's office and off-campus jaunts to historical sites such as the Gayety Burlesk and the Glass Slipper Show Bar, and of course my after-school activities in the Detention Club filled many an afternoon with healthful exercise of placing chairs atop desks and washing blackboards.  But beside the worry about grades and part time jobs and parental disapproval of piercings and opprobrium from friends, high school is that time for many of the first real stirrings of love, and love's bastard cousin from Milwaukee, heartache.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting thrown over during a five-minute break between classes.  I saw this happen to people!  You're sitting in Algebra, and for all you know you have a steady sigoth* and then the bell rings in more ways than one. Class ends, and she sidles up to you on the way to US History, and banishes you to Dumpville USA, and then you sit down in Miss O'Hoolahan's class and she asks you for six reasons that led up to the Spanish-American War.  And you answer, "X=5.25" because your heart and mind are still in Algebra**. And as the class hoots and hollers with scorn, that's when you really start thinking about wearing six more chains on your black jeans.  And you go home and listen to your Emo bands, such as Weezer (named after the bandleader's bout with childhood asthma) and Death Cab For Cutie (named after a song done by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band that came out when I was suffering through a bout of algebra myself).  

But wait!  There's more!  I understand that music hath charms to sooth a savage breast, which was a line written by Wm. Congreve in 1697.  In 1698, music teachers stopped quoting it to high-school students for the same reason that English teachers never say "There is no frigate like a book" out loud. Music is helpful when you're down and out, got the blues, feelin' lonesome.  Sad songs by people wearing studded clothing seem to help.

Such as Little Jimmy Dickens!  That's the stage name of Grand Ole Opry legend James Cecil Dickens, who, at 4'11" towers over no man, and yet, he towers over them all when it comes to singing from the heart.  I urge you to listen to him sing "Twice The Fool" or "The Whole World Seems Different" and make this simple comparison: if these songs, recorded in the turbulent 1960's, don't help you to understand that we've all had heartache at one time, so no one is all alone in that valley, then please go back and listen again.  Little Jimmy is that good.

*significant other
 ** something you will never, ever, use again in your life.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, October 18, 2014

I found this on a Facebook page called "The Queen's English."  Of course, the Queen's English!  What else could she be, Chilean?
This was on that same page.  It's a "novelization," from 1911, of the play "Peter Pan," which came seven years earlier.  I don't like the made-up word "novelization," though.  If the novel came out first, I don't think they would called "Peter Pan" a "playization," but I'm just philosophizing.  I read that the name "Wendy," short for "Gwendolyn," was very rarely used until this childrens' story came out, and now look at all the wonderful Wendys and Wendis we know.
This picture from Palestine ought to serve as a reminder of how sad it is that there are wars and bombs, and also as an ad for Audi automobiles, which just keep going like that car Steve Martin and John Candy drove in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles."
Cats of all sizes and breeds are fearless and have a great sense of balance, as demonstrated by this cougar in a tree.
Until the last leaf falls from the last tree, I'll keep sharing autumn pictures!  The prettiest time of the year!
Sure, it's no problem to store your alkali atop your acid, but if that shelf collapses, your acid's gonna be in trouble, I'll tell you that right now.
We look down the path of life.  Sometimes, it's clearly marked and laid out for us, but sometimes we wonder about veering off into the uncharted area.  Go ahead if you want, but be careful!
Again, there simply cannot be enough pictures of rusted 1936 Ford pickups out in snowy woods to suit us! A little work on the engine, some wax, and you've got a nice ride here!

Friday, October 17, 2014

We're all here because we're not all there

You know that old gag "You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps!"?  Well, here comes one Kevin Dutton, author of “The Wisdom Of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success,” and he put together a list of the ten most common jobs to be held by psychopaths.

It's all so easy to go around saying, "Oh, (he) (she) (Dick Cheney)(that guy down the street who sits on the porch hollering at passing kids)  is a psychopath."   But we should be sure to define the term before we enjoy reading the list.

Whatever dictionary it is that Google consults says that a psychopath is "a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behavior."

So, the similarity between a psychopath and a wooded path leading to a gingerbread castle is that you don't want to cross either one. Good advice there from Hansel and Gretel.

(By the way, who was it who decided that stories about little kids being tossed into ovens or babies falling out of trees when the bough breaks were good for little kids and babies to hear?)

Back to Mr Dutton's list: in which jobs are we likely to be working with a psychopath or two? He's careful to point out that not everyone in these fields is a madman, but he wants you to know that these are the likely places for a lunatic to draw a paycheck. And if you'll visit his website, he provides a handy test right there online so you can determine if you are, in fact, a psychotic.  Many of you will be aghast at learning that my score was low - 5 out of a possible 33!

Here are the jobs in which Dutton figures you will likely be working with psychopaths:

TV/radio personality
Police Officer
Civil Servant

And here are the jobs to have if you don't care to work among the loonies, raving or otherwise:

Care aide
Charity worker

Now here's where it gets a little sticky.  I've had two jobs on the first list and one on the second.  So what does that tell you?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bring me the files on Sonny Bono!

I wondered what the purpose of the FBI is, so, with J Edgar Hoover being unavailable to ask, I Googled "Why do we have a Federal Bureau of Investigation?"

Here's what I was told...

The mission of the FBI is to protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners.
And then, when you go to the FBI website, you find this link to the online FBI files  - at least, the ones that they want you to see. (A photo of J Edgar in a slinky kimono is not online.)  They call this "the reading room," and that's supposed to make you feel as if you're in a nice leather easy chair with nice soft lighting overhead, sipping a cup of Mocha Java and idly glancing through the documents that document our documented fight against international terrorist threats, and those who would dare to break the criminal laws of the United States, and so forth, on and on.

You won't see much about the government's efforts to curb narcotics addiction in these files.  The FBI was too busy running surveillance on Dr Martin Luther King to fret about drug kingpins importing tons of heroin destined for the street of urban America. And here is another way they spent their time.

In 1964, responding to hand-wringing complaints from some mom or dad in New York's suburbs, the full attention of the USFBI was turned to finding out whether the lyrics to the rock standard "Louie Louie" were obscene.

This is a real picture of
the real J. Edgar Hoover
This is what Hoover and his pals were doing while you thought they were fighting real crime.  So, while you got clocked and mugged for your wallet so that a junkie could score enough to settle his jones, at least you knew, while you sat in the ER waiting for stitches, that you wouldn't hear any dirty lyrics in a song on the radio...a song that was as innocuous as a nursery rhyme.  Read the lyrics as they were reported to the FBI (page 14 of the documents) by a student at Sarasota Junior High School, hear the record here, and read the real lyrics here.

Take some time to read some of the other files.  From Biggie Smalls to Eleanor Roosevelt, whoever you are, the FBI has a file on you, you terrorist, you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Honestly, it's the best policy

When you're 19, the first thing on your mind is what you're doing that evening, and the last thing on your mind is what you're going to do when you're 59...69...109.
This is not Mr Happe,
but he did sing "Happy."
Mr Happe looked younger
than this at 95.

But having lived through the Depression, and not really being sure it was over, my parents were prudent people, perpetually planning for provident possibilities (in case they didn't have a pot to 'p' in.) So it was that after six or seven months of urging me to do so, I finally relented and met with Mr Hermann Happe of the New York Life Insurance company.  Again, I'm 19 here, and not really thinking very far beyond the next six pack or large 16" pie with anchovies and extra cheese, but Mr Happe promised that he would come over at 7 pm and make it short so I could join my ne'er-do-well companions for our usual debauchery.

Mr Happe lived to be a very old happy man, so what he said to me was important, and I have remembered it since.  Life insurance gets more expensive every day you're still standing, so get it while you're young! I bought a policy that night that would pay a hefty pile to my survivor(s) and ran off to blow my paycheck on the finer things in life, probably a quart of beer and a crab fluff.

As the years went by, Peggy became not only my best friend and the woman I love, but also, less romantic but still worthy of mentioning, the beneficiary of the jumbo insurance payout.  The rates went down when I quit smoking, and thirty years ago, I met with a NYL agent who switched the policy to something that I could cash in if I wanted, or roll over into something else.  But that was 30 years ago, and who thinks 30 years ahead?  (If I did that now, I'd be thinking of gossamer wings and what type of harp I want to play.) 

30 years went by and recently I was contacted by a man named Danny Miller, who is Mr Happe's successor at NYL. He and his coworker, the equally remarkable Terry LeGar, came over and showed me how to set up an account to take care of me in case I wind up lin a long-term care situation and also provide enough for Peggy to have diamonds and pearls all over the place once I shuffle off to Buffalo, or wherever the next stop is.  Danny and Terry are in the business of helping people plan for retirement and those seemingly inevitable next steps that lead up to moving into a one-person bungalow with six handles and six pallbearers. I feel better knowing that Peggy will be all right, and that some lucky caretaker will draw the enviable task of helping old Mr Clark put on his slippers and pad down to the dining hall. 

I'm certain that's what Mr Happe had in mind for me all those years ago! If you're planning your own golden future, you could do a whole lot worse than to talk to Danny or Terry.   They didn't ask me for this plug, but the way I figure, if they take care of my friends like they take care of me, we'll all wind up in the "cool" old folks home someday and we'll talk about the good old days.  Keith Richards will be there too, long after we're gone.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"I'm not a comedian. I'm Lenny Bruce."

I don't know why, but sometimes I get to thinking about Lenny Bruce, the comedian/philosopher of the 50's and 60's.  As children back then, any time we asked an adult, "Who is Lenny Bruce?" the answer was always, "He's a dirty comedian, he tells dirty jokes, now sit down and watch 'Leave It To Beaver'!"

Lenny, born Leonard Alfred Schneider (1925 - 1966) was many things, but calling him a dirty comedian would be like calling Babe Ruth a right fielder.  He served in the Navy in World War II and then scrabbled around New York City, becoming a nightclub comic ("I won't say ours was a tough school, but we had our own coroner") with the mother-in-law jokes and Edward G. Robinson impersonations that were the standard of the time.  In Baltimore, he performed at the long-gone Club Charles and met a stripper named Honey Harlow, who became his wife and mother of his only child, Kitty.

But as the Eisenhower era ended, people woke up from the long postwar sleep and began taking a long look around at things such as racial discrimination, wars undertaken for the sake of war, sexual repression, and hypocrisy.  And, friends, if you went out hunting for those topics in those days, you had more targets than you had arrows, believe me.  Lenny saw his niche and went for it - humor with a point!

So Lenny prospered among the hip and was condemned by the staid and sobersided.  He was, by the time of the early 60's, a radically relevant social satirist, and he used the real language and spoke the real truth, which made some people really uncomfortable.

"The 'what should be' never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no 'what should be,' there is only what is."
So he used the vernacular of people everywhere to talk about the things that people everywhere talked about!  Big deal, in those days, and now, when mainstream comedians such as Mindy Kaling turn an alternative bedroom practice into a half-hour sitcom, you wonder if they know that Lenny paved the road for them away from the "I'm not saying he's old, but his Social Security number is 14" routines of Bob Hope types.  Over and over, he reminded us that four-letter words were only words...

I've watched with amusement as one of his remarks came true a thousand times for friends of mine: "One generation works and saves to buy their kids rubber boots, and the next generation digs running barefoot in the rain."  George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and every other "hip" comic owed huge debts to Lenny, and so does anyone else, no matter what they did for a living, who woke up one day and realized that the horrors of the day were greed, repression, and hypocrisy, not four-letter words and sexual references.  Sad to say, people couldn't see past the four-letter words their ears heard.

He even presaged his own early demise: "There's nothing sadder than an aging hipster. I'm 33, and already, I can't relate to Fabian."

Hounded by the police who were called to nightclubs to arrest him for saying "dirty words," Lenny grew despondent and fell deeply into a morass of narcotics abuse, which claimed his life in August, 1966.   That was a year after he published his autobiography How To Talk Dirty and Influence People, and only a couple of years before people began to realize that hiding the truth doesn't do away with the truth, it just moves it around a little.  In the last line of the book, Lenny replies to those who ask him what inspired him, and he says, “I am influenced by every second of my waking hour. ”

Dick Schaap wrote a eulogy which concluded:

One last four-letter word for Lenny.
At 40.
That’s obscene.

But don't forget this...if not for Lenny, Mindy Kaling would be doing jokes about the roast burning or the dishwasher breaking, there would be no "Family Guy," and we might not think twice before damning someone for their race, creed, or origin.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hooray for Hollywood

If you (were tired of baseball and football and) went to the movies over the past weekend, you might have joined the queue at the Mall-O-Plex 3D 47 and taken in "Gone Girl," the thriller that Ben Affleck made before filming of "Gigli 2" begins in November.

I was beyond excited when I heard that they were making a movie about "Gone Girl," because if you click on the link, you might recall that as a song done by Tompall and the Glaser Brothers back in the day.  I thought it was a shame that Tompall Glaser himself didn't live long enough to see his song turned into a movie with not only Affleck, but a supporting cast that includes Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, and Carrie other words, box-office magic!

Yes, this is in my basement
The magic died shortly after I heard about the moon pitcha, because someone brought me up short and also set me straight. The movie turns out to be a thriller based on a novel that Gillian Flynn wrote in 2012.  I still think there could be a movie based on the Glaser Brothers, three guys from Nebraska (Tompall, Chuck and Jim Glaser) who came to Nashville and showed a lot of people the way to develop the music publishing and record production businesses and some wonderful three-part harmony.  Unlike most country stars, they had real business minds, and also unlike most country stars, they were not very friendly toward their fans, which meant they didn't have a lot of fans after all.

E. Tubb

And this was not the first time that Hollywood faked me out, with a misleading title making me think they were finally producing a great country music movie! Imagine how I felt when I heard about a film called "ET"!  I was sure it was about Ernest Tubb.  Look how wrong I can be!

E. Terrestrial

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Rerun: Thank you, Earl of Sandwich

The governor of Texas
(dignity not intact)
I think I need to do more traveling.  The genesis of this notion is not all the lovely pictures of distant beaches, waterfalls and downtown crowd scenes I see on Instagram, not Rosie O'Donnell movies set in the Great Northwest, and certainly not the chance to see Rick Perry in his natural habitat.

It's this article on, listing the best sandwiches of all 50 American states.  My oh my, there is good eating out there in America, home of those brave enough to try Alaska's Reindeer Sausage sandwich (it looks too much like Spam for me) and free enough to love Alabama's Pulled Chicken with White Sauce (Mayonnaise, cider vinegar and maybe a little horseradish.)

I just might try making that sauce myself, but there is no maybe in my mind on the topic of horseradish, which adds goodness to everything except corn flakes.

Half smoke, fully dressed
Other notable sammies from around the US include the pride of Kansas, a Z-Man sandwich (beef brisket, provolone cheese and two onion rings), the great Reuben sandwich (corned beef, Swiss, Thousand Island dressing and sauerkraut on rye) invented in Nebraska, and D.C.'s tasty Half Smokes.  That's a sausage that looks like a knockwurst but is more like a chubby hot dog.  They are all over the place in DC and Southern Maryland, and unknown up here, 45 miles away in Baltimore, home of the Lake Trout sandwich that represents our state.  As is everything around here, it's a confusion of elements, because the fish is the ocean-going Whiting, not a trout.
Z-Man gets an A from me

Most of the sandwiches cited sound great to me; there are several variations on lobster rolls and Italian cold cut subs (or grinders or torpedoes, as they are known elsewhere).  I think we'll skip Delaware's Bobbie - roasted turkey, stuffing, mayo and cranberry sauce.  It would just make me holler like Little Richard!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, October 11, 2014

This 50's flashback reminds us the days when comic books were printed and handed out to remind us of the constant fear we were supposed to feel.  At any moment, jackbooted storm troopers could take us all into custody and force us to eat Russian food and be dirty commies!  Most people figured out that the Russians would leave us alone if we'd stop telling our children that Russian women all looked like Nikita Khrushchev.
Autumn is by far my favorite time of year, and here is why!  Even raking this many leaves would be fun.
Dateline: Milltown, Wisconsin, where the local Fire Department and Dept of Natural Resources had to be called in to rescue a bear from a hollow tree.  They cut a "window" into the tree, the bear ran off into the woods and everyone went home happy. We can assume that Mama Bear was watching from a safe distance.  A kindness to animals is always repaid!
Certain people who have yet to develop their potential remind me of cabbage.  Cabbage is not so tasty raw, and even steamed or boiled, it's not that great, to me.  BUT  - give that head of cabbage a chance and it might turn into cole slaw or sauerkraut!  You never know!
There was an English band called "Hedgehoppers Anonymous" in the Beat era...their claim to fame was "It's Good News Week," one of those mid-60s song that were supposed to make you think about the state of the world.  I dreamed of forming a band called Hedgehogs Anonymous, and here was the lead vocalist.
Just because I miss this kind of phone hanging on the kitchen wall!