Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bananarama Republic

Someday, a long long time from now, when we who tread earth and water get to meet our ancestors in the clouds, I have no doubt that the cooler among those of us who Went Before will smile at us and say how lucky we were to have lived in the age of Bananarama.

Fun Girls Three!
Yes, Bananarama, the English pop group from the 1980s.  Original members were Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey and Keren Woodward. Fahey quit the band in 1988, which was a shame, as she was the first person I ever heard of named Siobhan.  It's a pretty name, but I had to ask the Irish woman I worked with at the time about how to say it (you say "ShaVAHN")! For three years, the threesome was rounded out by Siobhan-substitute Jacquie O'Sullivan, but since 1991, it's just been Sara and Keren making the music.

To be regarded as deep and intellectual,
always pose ostentatiously with a
book of poetry.
And what music!  80's synthesiser pop is not normally my choice, but the secret to this group, who made up their name from a portmanteau tribute to The Banana Splits tv show and a Roxy Music song "Pyjamarama," was that, unlike any other band alive during the 1980s, they did not take themselves seriously at all! Can you even imagine how great it would be if Bono from U2 and Duran Duran and Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Rush and Kansas would have lightened it up for two goshdarn seconds, long enough to record songs like "Robert DeNiro's Waiting" or "I Heard A Rumour"?

Pure pop for now people, as fellow Englishperson Nick Lowe said.

"Shav, Sare and Kere" was the nickname for their nickname, and they just did not worry about pretense or any kind of tense. Notice, they didn't even try to sing three-part harmony, or dance like ballerinas.  They clomped through their singing and dancing and seemed to be having the time of their lives.  They even sang backup harmonies for Fun Boy Three's version of "Ain't What You Do" just because they did that sort of thing for fun, boy.

And it's still going on! They toured the US in 2012 and are currently on tour across Europe.  No, they didn't change the world with their music, but they made it a little more fun to be alive, and can Bono say that?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sad days in the city

I was around in 1968 when, as all the journalists said, Baltimore "exploded" in rioting following the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.   It took years and years to rebuild the city - most of it, that is.  There are entire blighted blocks down there that have never been fixed up.

Notice I say, "down there."  People across the nation don't always understand that Baltimore City, where the rioting has been taking place, is a totally separate jurisdiction from Baltimore County, where I live.  It's a whole 'nother world down there, as we say.

Once again, rioting is taking place in the city.  It started last Saturday night, when a peaceful protest march attended by thousands mourning the death in police custody of a young man named Freddie Gray turned to violence and destruction when a small segment of those thousands saw the chance to rob, pillage and set fires down by the Orioles ballpark.

Then on Monday, following Mr Gray's funeral, high school students went to a city mall/transportation hub for a "purge," apparently inspired by a movie called "The Purge" which I am glad to know nothing of.  Lots of people see movies like this and come out of the experience ready to confuse them with real life.  Leaders of this after-school special told the news that the plan was to have a peaceful march in protest of Mr Gray's death, but within minutes of school letting out, they were throwing rocks and bricks at the police who had assembled in response to their plans.

And then all hell broke loose, and there was looting all over town, and fires, and arrests, and injured police, several of them seriously hurt.

I see on my newsfeed a lot of articles detailing allegations of abuse by the city police over the years.

I see on my newsfeed a lot of posts by police and their supporters detailing allegations of shootings, mayhem, and crime committed by city residents over the years.

I see on my newsfeed a lot of dithering over fine points, such as whether it's proper to call people throwing burning trash cans at police officers "thugs", or whether an overreaction to an overreaction is an overreaction.

I see on the horizon a need for everyone to behave.  Is that asking too much?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It's Porn down rain!

Like you, when I first heard of Carly Fiorina, I thought they were talking about Ted Fio Rito, popular 1930's bandleader who gave us "Fly Away To Ioway" and dozens of other big smashes.

But, as so often happens, I was wrong.  Carly Fiorina is a woman who used to run the Hewlett-Packard company, the people who made the printer that sits right here atop my desk and works about every third time I hit the "print" key. 

During her six years at the helm of H-P, she tripled her own salary, laid off 30,000 people (one of whom should have made my printer work a little better, but...) and presided over a 50% plunge in the tech giant's stock value. 

Her employees loved her to such an extent that they greeted her with a solid round of "Boo" and other expletives at an annual meeting.

Naturally, to reward her for these great accomplishments, the powers that be H-P gave her a $42 million severance check to get her to go home.

And I know a lot of people who would go away for a lot less - and go a lot farther.  But Ms Fiorina is still around, whereas most of us would be living on a South Sea island with our 42 million semolians buying us mango desserts and rummy coffee.

And she wants to be our next president.

Clearly gifted with the ability to reach out to the working class, she reported to Chris "Son Of Mike" Wallace on the Wolf News that American workers sit and watch pornography all day at work.

The quote was:  “How many Inspector General reports do we need to read that say, you know, you can watch porn all day long and get paid exactly the same way as somebody who’s trying to do their job?”
I've been retired for three years now, and I guess I didn't hear about work changing this much.  Apparently, the lights are dimmed in every office from 9 til 5, suggestive throbbing saxophone music is played over the loudspeakers, and everyone's PC comes to life with the greatest porn of the 70s, 80's, 90's and today!

Bosses are now required to dress in crushed velvet tuxedos with outrageously large bowties, all in garish neon colors.

You can try sending your Fiscal Year breakdown report to the printer, but what comes out is an autographed picture of the cast of "Twin Cheeks."

I'll leave it to your imagination what happens when the front desk calls for a pizza, a plumber or a parcel delivery.

The annual holiday party now takes place down on the highway at the Motel Hourly, with all in attendance being asked to dress appropriately for the theme, dressing like characters from the movie "Pulp Friction."

Don't laugh!  Last year, it was "The Beaverly Hillbillies"!

From what Ms Fiorina believes, the modern office is such a sybaritic pleasure dome that no one even wants to leave their cubicle for lunch.

But maybe that's because they heard about what's in the mashed potatoes.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Does he have a prayer?

Well, once again, the calendar let us down, and we missed National Pretzel Day.

How wonderful. As a nation, we pause to salute crooked dough.

Write it down for next year - April 26 is the day to pause and chomp on the tasty snack that was said to have been invented in 610 AD by an Italian monk who wanted to give a little treat to children who had learned to say their prayers. He twists the dough to look like two praying hands across the chest and bakes it.  The Italian word "pretiola" means little reward, you see, and that's how the snack got its name. 

Next week, let's find out where they got the name "hummus"!

So, an Italian invented pretzels, but it was only when the French people got involved that someone figured out we need to add mustard.

But if you live in or around Philadelphia PA, where they love their pretzels soft and doughy, they have had many players on their football team who were a little too soft and doughy as well, and therefore, the Eagles have never won the Super Bowl.  But now they have a secret weapon.

For reasons best known to the people who came up with this idea, the Eagles signed Tim Tebow to play for them this year.  Tebow was a very good college player (he won the Heisman Trophy) but he washed out with Denver, the Jets, and New England in the NFL, and has not played for the last two seasons, years he spent waiting for his phone to ring from a team in need of his services. He is best known for his habit of "Tebowing," which is dropping to one knee to pray in a publicly ostentatious manner.

Philly signed him, I don't know why, but a clever pretzel maker in the City of Brotherly Love has come up with a Tebow Pretzel...salty dough in the shape of a man making heavenly entreaty. 

A half-baked idea?
You might recall that Philadelphia fans threw snowballs at Santa Claus when old St. Nick appeared at an Eagles game years ago. Tebow should be concerned, because chances are those fans are better than he at throwing things, and these pretzels might make easy missiles. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday rerun: "Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Rocky: "I can't see nothin, you gotta open my eye.
 Cut me, Mick."
 Mick: "I don't wanna do it."
 Rocky: "Go ahead, cut me."
Being so busy training for upcoming marathons (they are about to rerun the entire Murphy Brown series on Encore, and there's always the Rocky marathons on TCM) that I neglected to write about this on April 14,  I hope today is not too late to learn about something that was probably on one of those "Rest Of The Story" deals that Paul Harvey used to do.

April 14, 1865 looked like a pretty good day for President Abraham Lincoln.  Although he had no way of knowing that we'd still be arguing about it in 2014, the Civil War had ended with Robert E. Lee surrendering at Appomattox, VA.  All of the soldiers were sent home, with prisoners freed and sent home as well. The nation was set for Reconstruction, and all prospects pleased Lincoln, except that his wife wanted him to go see a play.  "It's only one night," he probably thought as he went about his presidential business, signing this and proposing that.

One of the bills he signed that day, the last day of his life, created the “Secret Service Division of the Department of the Treasury.”   That's what we call the Secret Service today, men and women who accompany the president on his travels, protecting him, and also getting drunk and having intoxicated arguments with prostitutes around the world.  Lincoln could not have predicted this that day. He signed into law the bill that created the agency that today protects the president, we hope, and went off to see "Our American Cousin," devoid of protection.  Because?

Because the reason for the creation of the Secret Service in those pre-FBI days was to stop the flow of counterfeit currency.  They figure that one-third of all American money in circulation in those days was fake.  With diligent effort and hard work, today we're down to just one-quarter of our folding money being bogus. People wishing to make counterfeit nickels might as well go ahead, since it takes so many of them to buy anything anyway.

But rooting out the scourge of fakeout dollars was the prime focus of the Service for decades, until presidents James Garfield (1881) and William McKinley (1901) were assassinated.  Presidential security became their goal after McKinley was shot by a man inevitably referred to as "crazed anarchist Leon Czolgosz." (Garfield - the president, not the cartoon feline - was shot by the man inevitably referred to as "disappointed office-seeker Charles J. Guiteau.") Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley's uneasy successor, was the first president given Secret Service protection, and also the namesake of the Teddy Bear.

All high school history students may feel free to print the above and turn it in as evidence of how hard they studied over spring break.  All the facts are true,  just made more amusing with the addition of whimsy, which is in short supply these days.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, April 25, 2015

We know why the geese fly in a Vee pattern. Each of them flying just above the bird in front cuts down on wind resistance. The birds take turns being front goose, dropping back in the pack when they get tired. By so doing, they can travel a long way in a day - further than a family in a Family Truckster, but then again, geese don't have to stop at a WaWa for the kids to tinkle.
Great places for a picnic, #472.
Someone, please tell Mitch Ryder the Detroit Wheels are here, a little rusty but ready to hit the road!
If I begin to collect great paintings depicting everyday life in ye Olden Days, I might start with "The Reading Lesson" by Ekvall Knut. I bet that Dad, here, is reading "I The Jury" by Mickey Spillane.
This is one of the albums I have on vinyl, cassette, CD, and my iPod.  It's the best of the after-the-folk-craze Dylan.  Interesting: Triumph motorcycles used to have a big office and warehouse right up the road in Timonium, MD, next to another dearly missed business, the Timonium Drive-In Theater.
We Americans do love our bizarre oversized fruit, don't we? 
They say this is the best way to make a homemade universal knife block - fill an upright wooden box with bamboo skewers.
We don't know how successful the Ravens will be in 2015, but it sure looks like a colorful season!

Friday, April 24, 2015

How does the historical truth Affleck me?

News item (from the Hollywood Reporter):

Ben Affleck has responded to the controversy surrounding his episode of PBS' Finding Your Roots.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, the actor-director wrote that he was sorry for asking the Henry Louis Gates Jr.-hosted show to censor his slave-owning ancestor from his installment, which aired Oct. 14, 2014.

"I didn't want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves," Affleck wrote. "I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth."

How this affects me:

Now that our parents have both passed, my sister and I often go through old documents, pictures and ephemera left behind. Neither of us knows much about the family tree, and she is interested in finding out who sawed off some of the branches of it and I am not.

We never met our paternal grandparents, both of whom died while Dad was off fighting WWII. Our mom's parents, though, lived to ripe old ages, and from my grandfather I got the love of reading, incredibly corny jokes and practical gags, and collecting junk from sources such as buying used stuff at Goodwill or finding used stuff in dumpsters.

He did not live long enough to enjoy The Simpsons, but I know he would have loved Bart's motto, "Poorly guarded construction sites can be gold mines."

From my grandmother, I got the love of cooking, watching TV in the daytime, and a certain detached way of looking at the world. Her motto, recited every time someone did something preposterously stupid, was "And they shot Lincoln!"

But what I know of their parents would fit into that little watch pocket in a pair of jeans. And beyond that - nothing.  And that suits me fine, because, even though genealogy web sites abound, I don't really want to know what would tell me about my long-gone kinfolk.

And it's not that I suspect anything nefarious would turn up by turning over some pages in yellowed crumbling ledger books.  My father's father was born in Macon, GA, but I never heard of any sprawling plantations in the family name, and certainly no Aunt Scarlett or Uncle Rhett.  

I'd hope not to be related to a slave owner, or a bank robber, or a despoiler of young women, or a South American military strongman.  I agree with Affleck that we deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors.  But pretending that stuff good or bad didn't happen is to deny the truth, and no good comes from that.

Rooting for the family tree
Why, just the other day, to prove that point, I got a letter from an attorney representing a man said to be my great-uncle's second cousin Randolph Clark-Barr.  Apparently this old relative was so deluded as to believe he was a moth, and went to a dentist to seek help.

The dentist said, "You should be going to a psychiatrist.  I'm a dentist. What are you doing here?"

And Randolph said, "Your light was on." 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The best teachers also learn from their students

I remember a story about a man named Adam Braun, who met a destitute child in India and asked the boy what he wanted more than anything in the world.

His answer: A pencil.

A pencil. I have pencils all over the house, a thousand pencils and pens, most of them bearing the names of insurance brokers or bail bondsmen.  Yes, I am a hoarder of this sort of thing.  A bucket of free pencils at the State Fair will find me reaching in every time for a #2.

No, I didn't package up some of my extras and send them to India, but I did make a donation of another sort.  How can we not, when we see other human beings whose lot it was not to be born here in the lap of human luxury amidst an abundance of every single thing a human could want?

I thought of that situation when I saw this, about Kyle Schwartz, a third-grade teacher from Colorado who came up with a lesson plan called "I Wish My Teacher Knew."

The vast majority of the kids at Doull Elementary get free and reduced lunches.  This is not the prosperity that most of us have known, and it was a brave move to ask a deprived child to share his or her deepest secret, because there's a real chance of opening the bitterness locker in doing so.

"As a new teacher, I struggled to understand the reality of my students' lives and how to best support them. I just felt like there was something I didn't know about my students," Ms Schwartz says.

And the sadness piled up on her desk.

"I wish my teacher knew I don't have pencils at home to do my homework."

How many teachers have hollered at how many students for not doing how much homework, little knowing that the kid spent the previous evening cowering behind a sofa because dad was drunk and he and mom were in a three-hour fistfight?

How many kids can't do their homework, and thereby set the stage for a successful life, due to lack of basic study supplies...a desk, computer access, a lamp, a damn pencil?

There is a happy side.  Ms Schwartz reported that a child who said she had no friends and no one to play with and read that out loud found that a group of kids sought her out on the playground later.

Kyle Schwartz

By sharing our needs and feelings, we can reach out, and sometimes, have them met.

I think we can all take this a step further and just ask our friends, our coworkers, our family members if there is anything they want to share.

We might be surprised at how simple it is to help!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What's your beef?

Friends, it's all in the metabolism.  I never tire of telling people how, every day in high school as soon as detention was over, I would head up York Rd to the great Smetana's Deli, where I would enjoy a cold cut sub, chips and a Coke.  Eastern European delicatessen owners have always been fonts of knowledge and humor, and Joe and Gus, the genial Czech brothers who would hand out fake World Series tickets along with your sandwich, always had a joke or two for me to steal and repeat forever.

Then I'd hike up the road to Read's Drugstore, where I'd have an ice cream sundae and another soda.

Then I'd cut through Towson Plaza and hitchhike home to dinner with the family, and by the time I had finished what homework I was going to do, I'd be back in the kitchen, snacking on chips and pretzels and Hawaiian Punch.

I weighed 140 lbs at this time. I had to run around in the shower to get wet.  I couldn't drink through a straw, for fear of falling in. My pajamas only had one stripe. I was skinny.

Those days are over, obviously. It's all in the metabolism; as one gets older, the old calorie-burner slows down and leaves corpulence behind.

Which brings me to Molly Schuyler, all 120 lbs of her, a Nebraska native who lives in California now and went to Texas over the weekend for dinner, which consisted of  three steaks, three baked potatoes, three shrimp cocktails, three salads and three rolls, consumed at a restaurant called the Big Texan Steak House in Amarillo.

Snack time for Molly
The deal there is, if you can shove that much down your neck in an hour, it's free. Otherwise, you pay $72, tip not included.

Ms Schuyler is 35 now, and in 20 years, she will be 55, and I'm sure she won't be able to chow down like that. So she should enjoy it while she can!

PS: She started in on a fourth steak, but stopped.  Not because she was full, but because she was tired of eating steak.

There ya go.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Playing the symbols

This admission won't come as a surprise to anyone, but I have to admit, I am rather dense in certain areas.

Birdbrained, boneheaded, chuckleheaded, dense, dim, and slow... all of these apply to me in certain fields.  Interpreting modern dance, appreciating modern art, and enjoying a mime show are all areas in which I am markedly deficient.  Anyone who has ever seen me shaking my head as I walk away from such events realizes that.

But what people might not know is that I am the one and only person in the United States - a country with a current population of 320,000,000 some-odd people (some much more odd than others, but anyway) - who does not get symbolism in books, movies and TV shows, even when it's so heavy-handed as to drown out the plot.

People read "A Christmas Carol" by Chuck Dickens and marvel at the old Victorian's ability to symbolize the evil that took place at the firm of Scrooge & Marley by understanding that the chain Marley "forged in life" was made of "cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel."  I read that and came away figuring that whoever took Marley to his fate just grabbed the heaviest steel stuff sitting around the office, and then I am happy for Bob Cratchit that they didn't take away the coal scuttle.

Or let's say we're watching a movie, and for the 427th time, I have to watch "The Wizard Of Oz" and when it's over, the cinema buffs go on about how Dorothy’s walk down the Yellow Bricks stands for her spiritual quest, Toto the dog represents the "incredible unanimal mankind" side that Cummings described, and the haggy Wicked Witch of the West is the symbol for the repressed dark thoughts of the subconscious, and I just sit there saying I can count 17 people who could play Miss Gulch today.
When you see this hamburger chain logo, you are
supposed to get the subliminal message that her
collar says "MOM."  I don't.

And of course, amateur psychologists had a field day with Bill Clinton's cigar, trains going into tunnels in Fellini movies, and even the silver and black of the Oakland Raiders uniforms inspire their players and fans to adopt pirate personae during games.

I don't look too deeply into things, but I get a boot out of people who do.

A boot. You know what THAT stands for, don't you?

Oh no.........

Monday, April 20, 2015

O, say can you see, McHenry?

Even when she's not posing next to Pete Rose, ESPN reporter Britt McHenry is, by any account, an attractive person. Posing next to Charlie Hustle just makes anyone look magnificent. But that's not the issue.

By now, you've likely heard the story about what happened to McHenry a couple of weeks ago.  She went to the Hunan restaurant in Arlington VA and left her car in the restaurant lot after dinner while she hit a couple of other local hot spots. Coming back to retrieve her car, she was not the first person out on the town to find her car had been towed away for being parked on a lot with strict parking rules and a deal with a local tow company.  The restaurant provides parking for patrons while they dine, but they don't provide parking for afterhours carousers.

I just decided to form a band called The Afterhours Carousers.

Anyhow, she goes east to the tow lot to pick up her ride and things go south in a hurry.  We see her on video tape speaking harshly to the cashier, who warns her that video is capturing every second of her captiousness. She then yammers on, slamming the woman's appearance, job, weight and right to be on this earth. ESPN, the sportscaster's employer, suspends her for a week after the tape becomes an internet sensation.

Now, of course the video is edited, and we don't see too much of what the other woman says to her.  And that doesn't matter, because two wrongs would still not make a right, and knowing that she is a person in the public eye, Ms McHenry would be wise to lend me an ear and keep her nose clean by keeping her public mouth shut.

We all know many people whose good looks or other innate qualities (musical talent, athletic ability, born rich) make them very attractive, and so often, these people can get along in life just by smiling and looking great or playing a saxophone or throwing a baseball or writing a check.  But it's often the case that there is an ugly side to pretty people, which Ms McH will demonstrate for you if you can stand to watch this tape of her in action.

But, you know what?  I happen to know some highly attractive people, people who would NEVER stoop so low as to abuse another person in this high-handed manner.

And that's just another reason to love my friends all the more.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Rerun: Advice from a man who lived to be 114

Walter Breuning, the world's oldest man, has died. He was 114 years old. Breuning died Thursday of natural causes in Montana.

114!  That means when he was 57, he was only 1/2 way through his time on earth! 

So, we can learn from a guy with that much experience.  Wanna live to be 114?  Here are the oldest man's secrets to a long life:

• Embrace change, even when the change slaps you in the face. ("Every change is good.")

• Eat two meals a day ("That's all you need.")

• Work as long as you can ("That money's going to come in handy.")

• Help others ("The more you do for others, the better shape you're in.")

•Accept death. "We're going to die. Some people are scared of dying. Never be afraid to die. Because you're born to die."

I don't care for the second one, if you don't mind, but other than that, we salute you, Walter.  Ave Atque Vale! Hail and Farewell!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, April 18, 2015

If you're keeping up with my Christmas list, I have now removed "drone" from the wish list and wish to add "gyrocopter."  I mean, because being 6' 5" doesn't quite get me high enough to see everything.  And it would be so handy for those quick trips to Washington, D.C.
I would like to decorate my entire hallway with old concert posters like this one for the greatest performer in country music history...even better than Lady Antipasto or whatever.
Speaking of country music, this reminded me of the line in the song "You're From Texas": "You've got a smile like an acre of sunflowers, and your eyes are bluebonnet blue..." It also reminds me, I would like a nice steak.
This could be the Lincoln Memorial, photographed in maybe 1953, or a recreation of it in Havana, photographed last week.  The old American cars still on the road in Cuba fascinate me, and I'm sure with trade being opened with "our neighbors just 90 miles off the coast of Florida", they will soon be able to purchase Chevrolets and Fords.  How nice for the Cubans.
That's the title of the picture - "Tea Time on the Yamal Peninsula." I love tea.  It really is the perfect afternoon pick-me-the-hell-up-before I fall asleep drink, and I was about the same age as these kids when I found that out!
And then, they found a way to take pictures of New York at two different times around the clock.  I think you'll agree, it's as different as night and day.
This young man in Burma gets light to read by when the sun is at the right angle.
Here's the thing to say when you return from your trip to England and your friends ask if you saw the Whitecliffs of Dover.  You go, "See them?  We had dinner with them on Wednesday!"

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hunter? I don't even know her!

Want to spend the rest of the month in a back-and-forth debate about hunting?  Just post this link to the article about a wild game hunter by the name of Rebecca Francis, who found it necessary to go to Africa to kill...a giraffe.

Ms Francis is from Utah and has eight - count 'em, 8! - children and still finds time to traipse around the world slaying wildlife:
“I prefer bowhunting, and the animals I have taken with a bow include: a 10 1/2 ft. brown bear, black bear, shiras moose, alaskan moose, dall sheep, stone sheep, desert bighorn ram, rocky mountain bighorn ram, mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, mountain goat, antelope, arapawa ram, kudu, zebra, black wildebeest, giraffe, springbuck, blesbuck, lynx, badger, and squirrel. I have also taken many of the same species and more with a rifle.”

I would assume that any spider or housefly that ventures into her home does not stand much of a chance.

Ricky Gervais, that saucy British comedian, took to Twitter to call her out:

And the debate was on.  As a confirmed meat eater and leather jacket owner, I cannot take a moral high ground here.  Cows, pigs and chickens are diet staples here at the Lazy 'C' Ranch, and very few of them have been known to report to the butcher and commit suicide, so someone is bumping them off.

But a giraffe?  The only kind of longneck I want to see on my dinner table contains 12 oz of ice cold beer.

Gervais's tweet generated lots of heat, and it quickly progressed, or more properly, regressed into a back-and-forth that included threats from animal lovers to do bodily harm to Ms Francis, who pointed out in her own defense that this was an older giraffe who had been shunned from his pack and would soon have perished naturally anyway, so, “I chose to honor his life by providing others with his uses and I do not regret it for one second,” she insisted. “Once he was down there were people waiting to take his meat. They also took his tail to make jewelry, his bones to make other things, and did not waste a single part of him,” Francis continued. “I am grateful to be a part of something so good.”

I think Ms Francis is overdoing it a bit, but I also think that those of who so energetically defend the rights of animals while tossing a 16-oz T-bone on the grill might have to look a little more inwardly also.

A giraffe.  Really?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

They really are the vital link

The other night, I had occasion to call 911.  It was just that a car alarm on a sedan down the street kept honking, and that might have meant that the pesty junior delinquents around here had been up to their nonsense again, trying car doors to find one unlocked.

The calltaker handled the call, probably one of almost 100 she would receive in her 8-hour shift, just perfectly, and she entered the information into a computer, and by the time I sat back down to search the internet for some more home remedies for hay fever (best answer: wait for July to arrive) I heard the police car cruising up our street, having been dispatched by another person at 911.  All well handled, and the officer found out whose car it was, had them check the vehicle and turn off the alarm, and it was back to normal beeswax.

Yes, I used to work there, so I'm a little proud of the place, but 911 Centers - and there's one in each of Maryland's 23 counties, plus the city of Baltimore - don't get enough love to suit me.  This is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week (April 13 - 19) and if you know a 911 operator, or police or fire/EMS radio dispatcher, this would be a good week to thank them for doing a great job under tough circumstances.  Indeed, any week would be a good day for doing that.

To begin with, the job is 24-7-365, and that means working snow days, birthdays, weekends, nights, holidays, Uncle Norm's crabfeast day...every day and night.  That's all part of the deal going in, and understood.  The job requires a lot of skills and the ability to stay calm, no matter what.  Calltakers live by the knowledge that no one ever calls 911 because things are going great in their lives. There's a fire in the kitchen, an accident out front, an intruder breaking a window..

Just keep an eye on 3 screens at once
The person who answers the 911 line has probably heard it all, although it's still possible to make them shake their head as they type information into the computer that sends the call details to the radio dispatchers for either police, or fire/EMS, or both. Those are the voices you hear on the scanner, people who are typing, talking and thinking about the needs of up to a dozen field units at once....all of whom might need something at once.

The job pays fairly well, not Range Rover money, but decent bucks for the demands it places on people.  Simply put, their job is to connect the people in a county with 826,000 people living, working and playing within 600 square miles with emergency services as needed, while keeping track of, and providing needed information for, about 2,000 police officers and the equipment housed in 58 fire stations.

While missing Uncle Norm's crabfeast.

Thank a 911 telecommunicator today, please!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It Gets Better; It Always Has

Major League Baseball teams have fantasy camps in the wintertime, where people who lacked the talent to be big-leaguers can pay a pretty penny to pretend that they didn't.  And that's fine.  Some 73-year-old insurance exec wants to pay money to get a uniform and take a few swings with others in the Senior Grapefruit League, no one gets hurt.

But in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a 73-year-old insurance bigshot can donate police cars and police guns and police equipment to the police department, and take some training, and boom!  He's a police officer ("Advanced Reserve Deputy") with no business running around armed and dangerous, and yet it happened, and now a man is dead because this pretend police doesn't know his pistol from his Taser.

And in Baltimore, a young mother left her child in a parked car at the gambling casino for several hours while she was inside gambling to make money.

And in Philadelphia, a mother to a quadriplegic person with cerebral palsy who lives in a wheelchair dumped her son in a woods with a blanket and a Bible so that she could travel down here to Maryland to enjoy some quality time alone with her boyfriend.

And there is war and pestilence and famine and weeping and wailing and too much gnashing of too many teeth, but pick up any newspaper or magazine from long ago, and you will see there has always been plenty of all of these things.

We tend to look at the children of today and shake our heads at how pampered and misbehaved they are, forgetting that plenty of hinky stuff went on in "our day."  That's always been true.

We see crime as being out of control, drug use as rampant, cynicism as a replacement for faith, and evil everywhere.  But reading history helps us put today's enormities in context.

Remember Hitler? Hirohito? Robespierre? Nero?  Caligula? Genghis Khan?  Attila The Hun? Idi Amin?  Pol Pot? Vlad The Impaler?

Mankind has survived all of them and plenty of others. With faith and good humor, our little boats form a mighty armada against the current of doom and sorrow.

And while we're referencing The Great Gatsby, remember: "Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . ."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

California Style

"If Britney Spears could survive 2007, you can get through this." - -                                     American motto of online encouragement

It's hard to believe there was a time when we had no Britney Spears, the pop princess from Louisiana, whose smile enchants us as her 55-hour marriage confuses us and her music puzzles us.

But, from all reports, Britney-biz is a lot better than mine and yours (most of you).  She's big in Las Vegas now, where you pay hundreds of dollars for a seat in a giant theater to watch her perform before you head to the gambling tables. So she's making a handsome dollar, and has enough income to buy a nice car.

Back here in Realtown, we're happy when we go the extra few dollars for a sliding moonroof, backup camera and built-in GPS, bringing the price of a new Isuzu to just a dollar less than grandpa spent for a whole house back in the day. But people in Britney's income neighborhood can shoot $150,000 for a new Mercedes G-Class and not even worry about the free car wash tickets.

By the way, "G-Class" to me will always mean "Geometry Class," and I would pay you $150,000 not to have to sit through that again.

But Britney, rich as she is, is still the girl next door, or at least down the block and around the corner, because over the weekend, she and her mom went down to the local soccer field in Calabasas, California to watch one of her sons play soccer...and parked their calabasses right on the hood of her expensive Mercedes Benz.

It's kind of like when Peggy and I used to ride out on a warm summer eve and sit on the tailgate of my old Toyota Tacoma pick-'em-up, swatting mosquitoes and sipping Egg Custard snowballs. I guess Britney and her mom, having spent all their money on this high-tone ride, had no money left over for snowballs. Or folding chairs.

Yes.  I'm sticking with that.

Monday, April 13, 2015

There are people without much money, and people without much sense

The problem of hunger in this country is a serious matter, and not to be joked about.  On the other hand, people like Gwyneth Paltrow should think twice before resorting to silly stunts like she is up to currently.

Hearing that food stamp recipients have to get by on $29 a week per person, the skinny actress (I guess that's what she puts for "occupation" on her 1040 form, although if you asked me for the name of a movie she's ever been in, all you'd get is a shrug, and another one if you asked if I had ever paid a nickel to see her "act") ran down to the BuySumMor and spent 29 of her 280 million dollars on brown rice, black beans, peas, eggs, tortillas, cilantro, limes and fresh vegetables.

I can just see people all across America, people who are trying so hard to feed their families on very skimpy resources, looking at this and saying,"Cilantro!  That's the answer! Cilantro for dinner, limes and black beans for lunch!"

It's really hard to imagine how people such as she function in everyday life. I remember a certain president, up for reelection, whose handlers took him to WalMart to buy tube socks, and he walked up to the cashier, did not know what the UPC price scanner was, and then, when the cashier wanted money for the socks, he had to admit that he did not carry money or a wallet, and had to mooch the money off a Secret Service agent, who had to take time off from his busy drunken driving and prostitute patronizing schedule to hand the leader of the free world (in 1991) a fiver.

Ms Paltrow - who came to attention a couple of years ago for breaking up with the husband and calling that "our decision to consciously uncouple" - does deserve credit for bringing to public attention the sad fact that a country that can spend trillions for bombs can't do any better than 29 bucks for a starving child, but then she trivializes the matter by proposing that cilantro is the answer for hunger.

And nutritionally speaking, her chow would give a person less than 1,000 calories a day, and food stamp recipients seldom have a lifestyle that involves sitting around a mansion chomping on brown rice.  Better to spend that money on things like peanut butter, oatmeal, potatoes, and frozen chicken breasts - much better sources of sustenance.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday rerun: My first, my lasts, my everythings (written in August 2010)

I can remember lots of firsts. First day of first grade, I remember seeing Ed Olson walking around the classroom on stilts made of tall juice cans.  We were six years old.  Twelve years later, Ed and I and several dozen others of our grade 1- thru- 12 bunch were graduated from high school and Ed was driving an Olds.

I remember my first day of working in a "real" job - at the A&P Food Store in my town.  I had always liked hanging around the supermarket anyway, so getting a job there was sort of natural.  I used to round up some buddies and say, "It's Saturday! Let's go down to the A&P watch 'em bag orders!"  When I got the job, I proudly donned the red apron and name tag, and went to work unloading endless truckloads of ginger ale, fig newtons and Vienna sausages. Another thing about that job I fondly recall: there I was in high school, making $2.15 an hour to start.  A pittance, today, I know.  But my friends who were slinging burgers at Gino's and McDonald's were being paid 50 cents an hour, and I was making over four times that much and I did not have to slave over a french fryer.  A coffee grinder, yeah, but no hot oil.  But the top scale for my exalted job class - "clerk" - was 3 dollars an hour.  And guys I worked with there, the full-timers, the guys who knew the Land O'Lakes butter package trick and were only too glad to teach an eager young acolyte such as I, were making 3 dollars an hour, times 40 = $120 before taxes! And they were buying houses and cars and raising children on that.  Just 41 years ago.

LOL Butter!
I remember the first time I was on the radio, and how great it felt to achieve a childhood goal of a) playing records  b) talking about records and c) being paid for a) and b).  There I was, 20 years of age, and being paid at the rate of $75,000...for every thousand weeks of work.

I remember the first time I encountered cheese grits, and the first time I shaved with a razor, and the first time I drove a car, and also the first time I drove a car that anyone knew about (two separate events, mind you!) and the first real fire I fought as a young volunteer firefighter and the first cigarette I ever smoked (and the last one!) and the first time I ever saw my Peggy.  The greatest memory of all, that one.

But I have an operation coming up soon and I am glad that my doctor, the eminent neurosurgeon Neal Naff, M.D., has done this kind of thing before.  Can you imagine what it must be like when your surgeon tells you this is the first time he or she has ever done this kind of thing before?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, April 11, 2015

This is the tree they call The President. The giant sequoia stands 247 feet tall, measures 45,000 cubic feet in volume, and is an estimated 3,200 years old.
Say hi to Joel Burger and Ashley King from Springfield IL - they're getting married in July! And guess which fast-food chain is picking up the tab for the whole shindig! And you have to love his pretzel shirt.
I wouldn't bet against a mama lion when it comes to taking care of her kids!
Ever look at a trail across a big field and wonder who blazed it first, and when?  I do, too.
If you love popcorn like I do, try this - forget those packages of microwave popcorn
(look at all those nasty ingredients) and throw some kernels in a brown paper lunch
sack, like the one they put your six-pack in.  Fold over the top and nuke it.  That's it!
Then add salt, butter, cheese, whatever you fancy.  It tastes better, too!

I have a reproduction of this old radio from the 1930's and I love to listen to the oldtime radio shows on it.  Think of the days before TV when the entire family would gather around a wooden box and be thrilled to hear soap operas, comedy/variety shows and stuff like The Lone Ranger!  When radio was really radio...

I don't know how this was created, or even what's burning, but a heart afire is always good.
Sometimes, when life seems to be an endless vista of buildings and billboards and cars and malls and people pushing and shoving, it's good to remember there are places like this on earth.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Curses Again!

Yesterday we looked back fondly on the Curse Of The Bambino, which kept the Boston Red Sox from winning the World Series from 1919 - 2004...just because the Sox sold Babe Ruth to the stupid New York Yankees.

And I mentioned that my father was born in 1913, lived a long and happy 84 years, and in all the time the Chicago Cubs still haven't won the World Series since 1908. That's a long, long time.

Sianis's goat wets his whistle
They came close in 1945, but a curse was placed on them, one still known in The Windy City as The Curse Of The Billy Goat. Here's the deal: The owner of a bar in Chi, Billy Sianis, took his goat to a World Series ballgame with him that year.

I'll say that again, because it's a sentence you don't often read. The owner of a joint called the Billy Goat Tavern took a goat with him to a World Series game at Wrigley Field in 1945. He was invited to leave the park because other fans were complaining about the odor emanating from the goat. Sianis was enraged, as he and the goat made their way out of the ballpark, and said to all who could hear him over the goat's braying, "Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more."

And darned if they have! Sianis’s family maintains that he sent a telegram to team owner Philip K. Wrigley which read, “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again. You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat.”

Doublemint manufacturer Wrigley felt that this nonsense gummed up the works, and banned Sianis and friend from the cozy confines of his ballpark. Over the years, Cubs fans, members of the Sianis family, and droves of goats have attempted to do hex-busting procedures, but to no avail.

Bartman ruins everyone's evening

The Cubs did come close once again. In a playoff series between the Cubs and the Florida Marlins in 2003 at Wrigley Field, the Cubs were ahead late in game 6, and had a 3 games to 2 lead in the best of seven series. A Marlin hit a foul popup close to the stands, and Cub fan Steve Bartman reached for the ball, deflecting it away from the grasp of outfielder Mois├ęs Alou. This stopped Alou from making the second out of the inning, leaving the Cubs just four outs away from winning their first National League pennant since 1945. But, with the bad luck gates wide open, the Cubs gave up 8 runs in the inning, and lost the game, 8-3. And they lost the 7th and deciding game the next day, earning Bartman a spot in Fan Hell and round-the-clock security for a while.

So as this year's baseball season begins, Wrigley Field is under reconstruction, and the only cursing so far has been from fans who have had to wait 45 minutes to visit Tinkletown. It's always something.