Monday, August 31, 2015

You're damn Skippy!

Cheapskate that I am, I am always looking to save a dollar so I can double my vast fortune.  And we love peanut butter around here, so I make sure to buy the BA jars of Skippy (there might as well be no other brand).

The cheapskate part comes in when the peanut butter is gone.  I don't throw the plastic jar away, no sirree.  I rinse it out, and clean it in the dishwasher (making sure to use the "air dry" setting, not "heat dry," which melts the plastic into an amorphous blob resembling the Orioles' vanishing playoff hopes.) 

And then I reuse the empty jars for storing grits, flax seeds, sesame stix, peanuts, Wasabi peas, pretzels, nuts, bolts, pencils, glue sticks, touch up paints poured out of a gallon can, and 1,001 other things.  I am careful to label each jar if there's a chance of confusing Kitty Treats with Uncle Sam Cereal, just to avoid gagging either myself or the cats.

I use plastic because I have no clay jars.  (That would make a great DJ fake name, though:  "Just about 5 o'clock on your way home with The Beatles on WXXX!  This is Clay Jars with ya...") They had clay jars way back in the day, though.  Let's go back to the days of the Kingdom of Judea, some 3,000 years ago, when Judean date palm trees were abundant in that part of the world, cooling the desert with shade and yielding that sweet fruit called dates.

The tree is mentioned in the Bible several times.  The Hebrew name for the tree is "Tamar," and that is what King David named his daughter.

But when the Romans invaded Judea in 70 AD, there were vast forests of palms, and then just as now, people, in their inexplicable urge to pave over earth's bounty, destroyed the palms.  They were extinct.

Or WERE they...?

In the early 1960s, explorers who really dug Herod the Great were rooting around under his palace in modern Israel, and these archeologists found a clay jar with an expiration date of 2,000 years ago, which was far too long ago to take the contents - a pile of seeds - back to the ancient supermarket.  So the seeds sat around in someone's desk drawer at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, until ten years ago, when a botanist named Elaine Solowey planted one of them, expecting nothing all the while.

"I assumed the food in the seed would be no good after all that time. How could it be?" - Elaine Solowey 

Not seedy anymore
The old seed sprouted, all right, and it flowered in 2011. And now it seems to be flourishing.   

So, they might cross it with another tree and see what fruit it bears, or they just might let nature takes its course.  

But if it goes to seed, I will be more than glad to send over some empty Skippys so that your grandchildren's grandchildren's great-great-great grandchildren can find those seeds centuries from now!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Rerun: I still have my name tag somewhere

Everyone drove Mustangs to the A & P
In the spring of my senior year, just before my graduation from the exclusive Towson High School (admission by zip code only!) I went to work for The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, also known as the "A & P," and that's pronounced "Ann P" around these parts.  I had hoped to start out as District Manager or Vice-President of Sales, Grocery Division, but it seemed that the only openings they had were for "clerk," so I took that, figuring on biding my time for the inevitable promotions that never came.

Rat Fink t-shirt decal
Some interesting facts about that job: we had to wear a white shirt and tie and pants that could be any color but could not be jeans of any fabric.  We got around the shirt thing by wearing t-shirts underneath with various slogans and depictions of cartoon characters.

My starting salary was a whopping $2.15 per hour, not bad when my classmates worked at Gino's or McDonald's for fifty cents.  In fact, top pay on the clerk scale was $3, and there were full time guys there, working 40 hours, grossing $120/wk, and raising families and buying houses, cars and cheap beer on that pay. We wore red aprons and name tags. The store sold all the national brands, of course, but we had our own - in fact, the tea bags were called "Our Own" tea bags - brands, such as Jane Parker baked goods and Ann Page canned foods.  I used to wonder about the people who worked in the packaging end.  Working the early shift, I would be stocking the bread aisle and found it endlessly humorous that Jane Parker's Old-Fashioned Home-Style Bread carried the description "A hearty, firm-type loaf."  And one of my best buddies on the crew, Charlie (known as "Cholly" in BalMoreEse) had a younger brother whose detestation of cole slaw was so thickly ingrained in his diet that he carried the sobriquet "Slaws-A-Balls."

Please don't try to understand that nickname unless you are 18 and male.  That's the only way it's funny.

Tool of the trade
We would set this to 2/69¢!
I didn't usually work a cash register, so it was not to be my fate to have experiences like John Updike wrote about in his short story "A&P," but I would never have acted like the guy in that story anyway.  We had our share of pretty girls parading through the store in various states of deshabille and decolletage, and there was lots of ogling going on in the time-honored manner of adolescent males.  I spent a lot of time unloading freight trucks and placing items on the shelves for sale, so I always had one of those box-cutter knives and a Garvey price kerchunker ready for business.

Sometimes in the evenings, taking the trash out, or having a smoke break, we would see two cars pull up and park, and then a woman would get into a car driven by a man, and they would drive away, casting furtive looks as they left.  Of course, as major-league suburban sophisticates, we knew something was up.  We just didn't know what, to tell you the truth.  And in the apartments behind the store - now torn down and replaced with apartments - I don't know why either - there lived a woman who was quite uninhibited in her manner of dressing, which is to say that she paraded around naked and stood in the bathroom window, providing endless amusement for the easily amused.  We don't know where she got her groceries, because she did not come into our store.  We did know that she got her clothes at the same place The Emperor did!

So that part of my career lasted through my college days and then I took a cut in pay to go into radio, but I am writing today because the A&P chain is done in Baltimore as of today.  All the stores are closed; some will reopen as Shoppers' Food Warehouses, and some as Shop-Rites, and some will remain empty, corpses of a company that shot itself in the foot time and again changing its name from A&P to WEO ("Where Economy Originates" - snappy, huh?) and then SuperFresh, where they tried to be all things to all people.  Gourmet foods? Sure! Cheapie no-name brands?  Aisle 5, I think! Sit awhile and have some pizza and a soda?  Steam that shrimp for you?  Power tools, aisle 16!

Back in the day, we addressed customers as 'Sir' and 'Ma'am' and we thanked them for shopping with us and the acceptable answer to any question about where an item was shelved was never, "Gee, I don't know!"   But I heard that a lot lately in SuperFresh, and while I am sad to see them go, I can tell you this about Baltimore:  we like to eat food,  and you have to be pretty lousy at running a food store to drive people away like this chain did.

Shame, too.  They did have tasty cheese rolls.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, August 29, 2015

Here's a great New Yorker cover that shows why I prefer using a camera to a paintbrush.  "Take a picture; it lasts longer!"
This is the burned-out ruins of the former Chapterhouse pub in Ithaca, NY.  They had a fire in April.  They used to serve popcorn with your beer (you know why!) and some of the kernels they had stored have sprouted since the fire.  I hope they reopen the bar and serve popcorn from some ears that grow right here!
Everyone is wondering where the huge sunflower fields will be this fall.  I'm keeping both eyes and both ears open; I'll let you know. Last autumn, everyone went out to Jarrettsville Pike to see that big field, but a wise farmer rotates his crops.
 Speaking of autumn, it won't be long now until we see this....
 And then, it won't be long until we hear this!
This is why Baltimore MD is the best place to live in all the world. Here are the amazing crabcakes from the splendid Friendly Farm Restaurant.  You'd have to taste them to believe them.
This is part of my home town, Towson, MD.  The big building is now the Senior Center; it used to be the elementary school and before that, the high school. The building to the right with the pyramid roof was the old high school before this one; it's now the county Office of Human Resources.  The newest high school, the one I attended so frequently (!) is down the road a bit, but every bit as dear to my heart.
Here are two of the great legends of Alabama football - the great coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant, and the great quarterback Joe Willie Namath.

Friday, August 28, 2015

People to care about

While so many people sit around reading about, and watching tv shows dedicated to promoting the wonderfulness of someone named Kylie Jenner, who just turned 18 and has accomplished so very much, another woman turned 18 this summer and has done something worthwhile. 

You remember the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 for trying to become educated.  Since then, she's been working on expanding educational opportunities and was also the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize. She celebrated #18 this summer by opening a secondary school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, near the border with Syria.

Follow her!
Yousafzai was on a school bus in northern Pakistan with her classmates when she was attacked three years ago. She's been living in England with her family ever since.  

She has set up a nonprofit organization called The Malala Fund to help support the school, which will educated over 200 girls between the ages of 14 and 18. 

"I am honored to mark my 18th birthday with the brave and inspiring girls of Syria. I am here on behalf of the 28 million children who are kept from the classroom because of armed conflict. Their courage and dedication to continue their schooling in difficult conditions inspires people around the world and it is our duty to stand by them. On this day, I have a message for the leaders of this country, this region and the world — you are failing the Syrian people, especially Syria's children. This is a heartbreaking tragedy — the world's worst refugee crisis in decades." - - Malala Yousafzai
Not her.
This summer, in a speech in Norway, Malala said, "My life of being a child will come to an end. I think there's no limit of age ... to speak of children's rights," she said. "My father has been doing it as a teacher and I will continue to do it as a woman. As an adult, you can be the voice of children."

I remind young people, middle-aged people and my fellow old-timers that it's always the right time to do something good for others.  One way to start is to be more concerned with the activities of others doing good than with bosomy media personalities whose sole gift to the world seems to be continuing to breathe.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Of all the airports in all the towns in all the world...

How many times has this happened to you?

You're at the Beijing Airport and you get stopped by security for trying to bring a bottle of imported cognac onto the plane in your carry-on.  Airport security, ever mindful of the threat that French brandy carries with it, tell you you can't bring it on the plane.

Do you...
a) let them throw it out?
b) walk off into the mist with Captain Renault, sibilantly whispering, " Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship"?
c) guzzle it all right then and there?

That's what happened to a traveler identified only as Miss Zhao recently, as she attempted to board her transfer flight.  She slammed it all back, which did remove the cognac from the
bottle, but created the new problem of what the cognac did to her.

She "went right wild," as the old expression goes.  She was movin' to the groovin', yelling all out of her head and going flippo. Eventually, she passed out, landing on the floor in the manner of billions of other inebriates have done over the centuries.

And the Chinese authorities decided that the floor was the best place for her, as she would have been a security risk to herself and others had she boarded the plane.
I'd rather have a can of beer,
s'il vous plaît 

They took her to an infirmary in the airport where a doctor checked her out, and later that evening, her family came to get her and bring her home. 
I hope it was really good cognac!

By the way, here at the BWI Airport outside Baltimore, so far this year, security has collected 7 handguns that 7 people thought would be a good idea to take on the plane with them.  

But not one bottle of cognac, so at least we have that going for us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Carry on!

When I was a skinny guy years ago, they came out with cargo pants, the invention of which must rank up there with mp3 players and digital cameras as the greatest things ever.  No longer did I need to have my 4 pants pockets stuffed til Toledo with all I carry around (wallet, pocket knives, change in a little leather carrier, bandana, off-brand Purell, cell phone, pocket calendar and so forth is the current census)!  Now, there are six pockets to a pair of cargo pants or shorts, so I'm set unless it's a dress-up occasion, when a suit comes out of mothballs, but at least with that, there are jacket pockets to load up.

I'm one of those hyper-prepared fellows, so I have to have everything with me all the time.  And in my long-ago school days, anyone, male or female, who carried their stuff - books, notebooks, lunch, gym gear, extra socks - would have been hooted back to the playground, or beyond.

But now they are the thing, all the kids seem to have them, and I admit to a certain jealousy, because they surely make lugging all your kit and kaboodle around much easier.

It's the one with "Stairway to Heaven"
The question still comes up...all summer long I saw guys walking the roads near here with backpacks on.  So, is this a thing now?  I know these dudes had their video game controllers with 87 games and their iPads and laptops and Sunny D drinks and chips with them.

School is back in session now, and I guess I'll see that studious girl who lives up at the top of our court coming home from the bus stop.  The poor young lady carries so much in her backpack, she looks like the guy on the Led Zeppelin 4 album, climbing that stairway...

It's not too late for me to get in on the backpack fun, doggone it!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

This and that about thoughts

It was great that three Americans visiting France were able to overpower a gunman on a train.  They, along with a Briton, received France's country's highest honor yesterday.

Spencer Stone, 23, Alek Skarlatos, 22, and Anthony Sadler, 23, three friends on a European vacation, and British businessman Chris Norman, 62, were awarded the Legion d'Honneur by French President François Hollande at the Elysée Palace.

Thorne in my side
Another great aspect of this for me, as a lifetime lover of words and languages, was that news reporters trotted out the word "thwart" as in, "American heroes thwart terrorist...details on NewsCenter 87 next!" Thwart, meaning to stop someone or prevent something, dates back to the 13th Century.

It strikes me that a lot of cool words begin with "th." Thrice comes to mind.  We all say, "I tried to call you twice last night" but who ever says "I called you thrice, so you must not have been home"?

Thud. Thong. Thump. Thirst. Thorax. Throes. Thrives. Thirsty. Thermos. Thieves. Thrombus.  Thronged.

David Letterman used to say that any word with the "k" sound was funnier than any other word that mean the same thing. I am all for using th- words as thoroughly as I can. And of course, you can find plenty more of them in any Thesaurus.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The hand that rocks the cradle also predicts the weather

I don't care who you are, what you drive, what you have for breakfast, whether you get enough exercise or whether a trip to the BuySumMor for more Ho-Hos leaves you drained and gasping. Whether you're rich as hell or poor as a churchmouse, unless your name is Dolly The Sheep, you had a mother.  You know, a woman who carried you around for nine months of gestation.

In my case, as I am fond of saying, my mother never had morning sickness until after I was born.

But seriously, folks, all of us sitting here doing whatever we're doing were born of women who deserve at least a little thanks for the ride.  It's not easy carrying another person for 3/4 of a year, although I do know a guy who has been carrying his brother-in-law since 1977.

So, since we all took Biology and Family Living classes, why is anyone shocked to see that a pregnant woman looks pregnant? And that a woman about to give birth to twins looks like she has two little babies in her womb until the time is right for them to come out and join us?  And, in case no one has noticed the calendar has flipped over a lot since the 1950s, women don't wear those maternity gowns like Lucy Ricardo did, the tent tops that tried to curtain off the area of interest.

Katie Fehlinger is the meteorologist at Channel 3 in Philadelphia - the City of Brotherly Love, and she has had about a bellyful of snarky remarkys about the fact that she is in the family way.

Viewers have been kindly sending insults her way, now that we live in this era of telling anyone on earth how we feel about them without even needing a stamp.  She gets Facebook feedback and emails saying such sweet things as "you look like a sausage in casing."

How precious!

Someone else stopped watching reality shows long enough to sit down and type out "Sticking your pregnant abdomen out like that is disgusting" to Katie, and she has had enough of this, and spoke her mind.

"All of a sudden, it was a like a flip switched for me," she told the Philadelphia Daily News. "I just felt the need to get it off my chest. I just had to say something."

Ms Fehlinger, pregnant with her first two children, got on Facebook and address the haters directly:

"Frankly, I don't care how 'terrible' or 'inappropriate' anyone thinks I look," Fehlinger wrote. "I will gladly gain 50 pounds & suffer sleepless, uncomfortable nights if it means upping my chances to deliver 2 healthy baby girls.
"Now it's about more than aesthetics. I want these babies to have the best start possible. And that hopefully means my belly that 'looks like it's about to explode!' will continue to grow the next few weeks," she added.
In her remarks, she noted that it's not just Neanderthal men making the hurtful comments, and also said that since she will get 12 weeks of maternity leave, she wants to spend every minute she can with the kids AFTER they're born!

Is that so wrong?  I don't think so.  And reading her page, I haven't seen any of the smart Alexes and Alexas piping up with their "Go away and hide" advice for Katie, who wrote, "I say let's raise a Shirley Temple to swollen feet, stretch marks, nausea, all the extra pounds and the dark circles! They're badges of motherhood. And for those of you who think that's 'disgusting,' remember a woman went through the very same thing to bring YOU into the world."

When it comes to babies, people can be positively infantile.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday rerun: Chirpy Chirpy Cheap Cheap

It's funny how every time some tv or movie director wants to give us the ambiance of a quiet evening out under the stars, they always dub in the sound of crickets.  I don't know about the crickets who inhabit your neighborhood, but here around the Lazy 'C' Ranch, we don't hear them outside until mid-July, the earliest.  And even then, they stay pretty quiet until after dinner, unlike the chattering birds who start howling every day just before 5 in the yawning.

And tell me, how many nights have you lain awake, wondering why people like me fret about the correct past participle of "lie" just how doggone hot it is outside?  So, you get up; it's 3:22 AM, since you were going to get up soon anyhow, and you get about two feet across the bedroom floor when you find that thumbtack you dropped the other day.  Bare feet are the best thumbtack-finders you'll ever need. Hopping like a person with a thumbtack sticking out of their foot, you get down to the kitchen, to check the thermometer.  But by this time, you don't really even care that much what the temperature is outside.

Friends, there is an easier way. Just count the chirp of a cricket for 14 seconds - and you've got your watch right on your wrist! - and then add 40! So, if you count 30 clicks in those 14 seconds, the temperature outside is 70°! What could be easier?  That's for Fahrenheit.  The formula for telling the current Celsius temp is somewhat more confusing, which could not be more appropriate.

Buddy Holly & The Crickets
This is all explained scientifically somewhere, buthere's a link to the Old Farmer's Almanac - so popular with all of us old farmers - that will let you listen to crickets chirping.   We don't know why crickets chirp more frequently as the temperature rises, but don't worry.  Crickets don't know why we can't rub our legs together and make a noise, unless we're wearing corduroy pants.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, August 22, 2015

So, in case you were wondering, yes, bumblebees have to tinkle just like anyone else.  In an emergency, they just let it fly, as this one is doing, but normally they prefer to go to a BP station.
The other night after the Mets and the Orioles played, Cuban émigré Yoenis Céspedes of the Mets (formerly of the A's, Red Sox and Tigers) showed that he knows the best seafood in the world is right here in Baltimore, and sometimes it's even better in those little neighborhood crab joints with chips hanging on the wall. He looks very happy to be photographed, am I wrong?  
Is there anything sadder than Dodg-'Em cars at an abandoned amusement park?
They don't usually perch and allow their photos to be taken, but this is what a hummingbird looks like really close up.
Authentic American School Lunch from the 1990s.  And do you see anything GREEN on that tray?  
One of my father's many talents was lettering, and this is a sign he made at the behest of his supervisors at Baltimore Gas and Electric in 1936. Apparently, people were fooling around on the ladders and sliding poles where he worked, which was then a power plant and is now The Power Plant. I don't imagine people in the 1930s flying down the sliding poles or using the ladders inappropriately, yet here is the proof that scalawags existed even then.
Some dude whose girlfriend is named Gabrielle took the time to fold pages from a book and spell her name.  The "why" I understand; the "how" puzzles me.
The good people at Nabisco, in the mid-60s, encouraged people to decorate their crackers with caviar, cheese and finely-cut vegetables.  All that is fine.  Racist caricatures were stupid then and still are, though.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Aren't you?..."

A couple of us got to talking the other day about celebrity encounters - those twinkly moments in life you have when, for example, you look over to your left at a guy pushing his tray through a buffet line in Atlantic City and realize it's Rodney Dangerfield.  That happened to my father a long time ago, and I guess when you have been aboard a ship in Tokyo Bay watching General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz on a another ship sign the armistice ending World War II, seeing Rodney was not all that remarkable to my dad.  At least, he didn't drop his tray or anything.

I looked up in the Borders bookstore in Towson one day to find myself browsing along with John Waters, and I stood transfixed outside TGIFriday's in Towson watching Cal Ripken, Jr, eat dinner with his wife and children.  Had I been inside, I could have told him how thrilled I was to see his father Cal Sr. Christmas shopping at White Marsh Mall that one time.  I couldn't muster the nerve to ask the venerable baseball coach to give me the "BUNT" signal, standing there by the perfume counter in Macy's.  And another time, at a book signing, Cal Jr went against the instructions of the woman running the show and offered to sign my "2131" baseball, which is now on permanent display here in my Museum of Baltimore Culture, near a brick from Memorial Stadium.

Peggy and I ran into John Lowenstein outside the ballpark once. Lowenstein was a pretty good ballplayer who wound up doing commentary on the televised ballgames.  I stuck out my paw to shake his and thank him for the years of entertainment he had provided, both on the field and in the TV booth, and he turned it around as if he were honored to meet us.  He asked us both our names and asked about how long we had been fans, what did we like best about the current team, and so forth.  It was clear that he was used to talking nicely with strangers, and I appreciated his down-to-earth attitude.

He's Ed Harris.
And my nephew was moving out of an apartment in New York City years ago, and was trying to shove a large mattress into a small pickup truck.  Along came a stranger who lent a hand, and as he walked off, Drew said, "Don't I know you from somewhere?" And Ed Harris said, "Hi.  I'm Ed Harris."

This all comes to mind because I stumbled across one of those internet doohickeys that listed "10 Celebrities Who Are Really Mean To Their Fans."  I'm not going to share the names of those who made the list, because, how do I know that the guy who seems like such a jovial comic actor on television is really a demanding egomaniac in real life, or the woman with a cooking show who whips up soufflés like an angel throws the whisk at her crew two minutes later like a devil?  These reports of awful celebrity behavior might all be made up by people who are jealous of not being celebrities themselves.  Or they might be snapshots of people who are just having a bad day.

The great irony of being famous, I guess, is that people work and work to get to be that way and even hire publicity agents whose sole purpose is to get them in the hot glare of fame and celebrity, and then, once they get in that glare, they demand to be left alone. I never became a famous actor because a) I'm not very good to look at  b) I have no talent for acting  and more than anything c) I couldn't stand it if I couldn't strut into the supermarket or library or Dollar Tree without attracting a crowd of gawkers and onlookers, all clamoring for a chance to bask in that hot glare for a second.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Who's Yer Daddy?

When my father was just a little kid, he was in downtown Baltimore with his dad, and some sort of parade through the streets carried an open car with the President of the United States, Warren Gamaliel Harding, who reached out and shook my dad's hand before hurrying back to the White House to bend his girlfriend over a barrel and show her the fifty states.

(It was in the movie!  Well, it is now!)

You'll usually find Harding's name in any list of the Ten Worst Presidents, although you'll have trouble seeing him at first, as he is hiding behind a Bush.  But enough of that.  The big news about Harding is that, after all these years, it has finally been proven by DNA testing that he fathered a child by a woman not his wife in 1919, before he was president but after he married a woman to whom he had sworn he was sterile, due to a childhood case of the mumps.

I tell you, this guy really covered all the angles.

Nan and
Elizabeth Ann
Nan Britton was a woman from Harding's home town in Ohio. She was never elected to any political office, but she did enjoy many an unsanctified congress with Harding in hotel rooms, lovenests, hideaways, and a White House pantry. She had developed a crush on old Warren and chased him until he caught her.  One of the surefire techniques he employed was writing her 50-page love letters while sitting at his desk on the floor of the US Senate.

All In The Family
But when the child, Elizabeth Ann, was 4, Harding suddenly cashed in all his chips, and Nan and her daughter, who had been taken care of financially by the president, suddenly were out in the cold, a relocation that forced Nan to write a scandalous book to raise money.

The book, entitled "Fifty Shades Of Grey" "The President's Daughter" caused quite a little scandal when it was published in 1927, the height of the Roaring Twenties.  People in the Harding family suffered pulled muscles and sprains as they broke their necks to deny the truth of the child's provenance, but there was no DNA testing in those days.  Although, one look at the wide face and hooded brow of young Elizabeth Ann, and you just know  you've seen that face before.  On the president.

It was the Harding family who recently put it out there for the testing company Ancestry DNA to answer the question once and for all, and tests were done on two Harding descendants and Nan's grandson.

Boom. Nan is vindicated. Although she died in 1991, the truth lives forever.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Just be ready

I used to be in the business of encouraging young broadcasters to reach their full potential in the radio/TV business.  Robin Quivers's autobiography told the story of how I helped her get her start (I had to take a Stern approach!), and there were lots of others.  I loved that job at the time.  

If I were still in that line of work, I would tell young people to follow the example of Lester Holt, of NBC News.  He recently came to town to promote his broadcast and toured the local NBC station, posing for pictures, cutting promos and so forth, and here is why I recommend using Lester as a touchstone to help guide a career.

He worked his tail off!

If you watch NBC, you've seen Lester over the years.  On Friday nights, you saw him do Dateline, which was probably taped in advance because he had to get up at oh-dark-30 to do the Saturday and Sunday Today Shows, and then he came back on both weekend nights to anchor the Nightly News and probably run out and adjust the cameras or whatever in between.

He had followed the traditional path of broadcasting success. While attending college, Holt got a job at a local country music radio station in California and did the regular DJ/Newsman-all-in-one thing, and then got into TV as a local reporter, then a local anchor, and finally got the network jobs at CBS and then NBC.

Now, Brian Williams - you've heard of him - was the Golden Boy at NBC, anchoring the Nightly News and jetting in for whatever catastrophe befell the world, to serve as anchor while wearing a fishing shirt and a layer of dust. Brian did that very well, but when it turned out that he was going on Letterman and other shows expanding his role in these past calamities, he was sent home for six months like a kid who got caught copying off someone else's paper in Algebra.

And Lester filled in and did a great job, because for all these years he wasn't sitting around NBC saying, "I'll never get the big nightly anchor job because Brian will be here forever."  Nope.  He worked and worked and when the chance came, he got the big job fair and square.

And thereby hangs a lesson for young people.  You never know when that chance, that crack of the door, will come. When your chance comes, the powers that be are not going to let you run out and get ready. Your job is to be ready for it to occur at any moment.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Within the space of 24 hours last weekend, I learned of the deaths of the fathers of two friends and the passing of a young friend.

After getting word of the first two passings, I was waiting for a third, because, superstitious as it may be to say it, it always does seem that deceases come in threes. 
Image result for 1,2,3Is there anything scientific behind this?  Of course not.  I read where Alan Dundes, a professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of Southern California at Berkeley, says, "All cultures have ritual numbers but they don't have the same ritual numbers." He said Americans have a propensity to see things in threes, whereas for Native Americans, it's four, and the Chinese, it's five.

It's an ancient superstition that we still cling to in modern times. Groups of three make sense...morning, afternoon and evening...first name, middle name, last name...breakfast, lunch and dinner..."Easy as 1, 2, 3!"...tic tac toe...three in a row...third time's the charm.

Another folklorist (how does one get that job?), Claudia de Lys, says it all comes back to the sweet mystery of life...two people get together to create a third...and that we cluster three bad things together in our minds to help bring about the end of the cycle, subconsciously reasoning "That's three, and there won't be any more awhile." 

I think that has a lot to do with it, added to the fact that focusing on our tripartite grief takes our minds off pondering any of the three sad losses.   And maybe it's better that way.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Snoop Doggy Daze

As you see from this page of the Farmers' Almanac, which I procure
 every year for free from the Johnson Bros. Funeral Home,
 the dog days ended this year on August 11. 

The “dog days,” I always thought, were those summer days so doggone (I had to!) hot that even dogs would mope about in misery.  And then people would start talking about how dogs sweat through their nose or something.

But since everyone from meteorologists on TV to the guy in the booth at the Gas - It - Up uses the term all day and all August, I decided to look it up and find out what "dog days" means.  I found out that it all comes from the "dog star," Sirius, and its position in the heavens.

The ancient Greeks and Romans would see Sirius seem to rise to just above the sun every year in late July, and since there was no baseball in those days, they had little else to look at anyway.  So there they were, here on earth, while in the heavens, the dog star was up there above the sun and it was hot as all hell.  So a vote was taken and they decided to call the hot summertime "the dog days."  Interestingly, "Wawa Hoagiefest Days" came in second in the vote.

I also learned that the day will come when Sirius will climb over the sun and people down here will be buying rock salt and Christmas lights.  

“Our Earth is like a spinning top,” said Bradley Schaefer, professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University. “If you toss it onto a table, after it slows down … the pointing direction of the top will slowly go around in circles.” Like a top, “the Earth’s rotation is kind of wobbling around.”

“In 26,000 years, the dog days would completely move all around the sky,” said Schaefer. “Roughly 13,000 years from now, Sirius will be rising with the sun in mid-winter.”

So the dog days will occur right around the winter holidays in 13,000 years.  Keith Richards and Betty White will be glad to hear that, I'm sure.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday rerun: You Never Know

There's a little tableau that unfolds every morning in the parking garage at work. A car pulls up by the door that leads to the elevator that leads to where we work. A guy driver gets out, casually dressed, and comes around to the passenger side, where he opens the door for a lady who emerges, dressed for work. I think she is carrying her purse, a work tote, and maybe a lunch.

As the car idles, they talk, hug modestly, and exchange a little good-bye peck, and she walks on to the doorway as he heads out.

My take, and of course I'm only engaged in speculation here, as the syndicate attorneys like to claim, is that he is retired, she is still working and he enjoys taking her to work every day.

I suppose he comes back to get her in the afternoon, but I never see her except for the morning. For all I know, she has jogging gear in her tote, and runs home every night.

And I don't know how long they have been married. They are each a bit older than I, so there's a chance that they have been together for many decades.

Or, they could have each been widowed or divorced, and have only recently found each other, sinking new roots into a stony wasteland.

Or, they could have been lonely clouds for all these years and found love in the early autumn of their lives.

Or, it might not be any of my beeswax. That, we know for sure. But it's fun to wonder, and no matter where they have been for the years before this one, for now, they have love and tenderness, expressed in a tender morning scene as others park their cars and listen to the last few notes of Isaac Hayes's version of "By The Time I Get to Phoenix." (That would be I.)

You never know. I was talking to a friend who was a security guard at a hospital, and he told me there is a certain look that he saw on people who were walking out of the building, that look that told all who saw it that the bearers thereof had just received the worst possible news from a doctor, and were heading home to sweep up the pieces of the broken dish that their lives had just become.

And from the same building, he would see the happy smiles of people who had just found out that the procedure had worked or the cancer had gone into remission or that things were healing just as expected, and the worst that they had feared was not going to be.

And of course, the happy couples taking home a brand new member of the family. Nothing can beat the smile of new parents.

So, to the man and woman in the garage, I am the guy who scuttles past and looks the other way, so as to allow you all the privacy you need in the time you share.

But if you look, you will see the beginnings of a happy smile on my face. Or maybe you can just sense it.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, August 15, 2015

I saw this on a t-shirt, our local area code 410 with the Orioles 'O' logo pinch hitting for the 0.  Representing the four-one-oh!
What's sad is that so many people only know enough about other people to dislike them intensely just for being what they are.
Back-to-school time, and I'm certain there is an app for this now, so that little Marmaduke and Priscilla can play with a cootie catcher without the need to touch that oogie paper, but feel free to print this out and amaze the kids with your manual dexterity!
This past week, it was possible all over the world to say, "I'm going outside to take a shower!"  The Perseid meteor shower, that is, seen here over Romania.
So you think you can up with some pretty awful puns, do you? Well, toucan play at that game!
I love to drive by plowed fields and see that the farmer has left the trees alone to do their thing. Some things grow for a season, some for several lifetimes.
I'm going to take my life in my hands and go to the movie theater this Thanksgiving weekend to see this movie. "I Saw The Light" features English actor Tom Hiddleston as Alabama-born Hiram King "Hank" Williams, who pretty much invented the modern country music that Keith Urban and Fla/Ga Line and The Band Perry and others are currently mutilating.
This week's good old album cover is a record that I have on vinyl, cassette, CD (original and updated versions) and DVD.  In its early days, Cheap Trick featured their good-looking guys Robin Zander and Tom Petersson on the front cover and goofyboys Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos on the back.  This live album still sounds great today and always will, as long as people are singing along with "I Want You to Want Me" and "Surrender"!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Safety First

George Bernard Shaw said, "Youth is wasted on the young."  I can tell you about one youth who almost wasted the rest of his summer, if not his life, just yesterday afternoon.

I was on the way to an appointment and was driving in front of Parkville Middle School.  I saw a kid on a skateboard zipping across the parking lot and into the entrance way of the school off Avondale Rd, but I said two things to myself in that 1/10 of a second that life allows you to have these conversations:

a) this kid can't be stupid enough to roll right onto Avondale Road without checking to see if anything is coming

b) better hit the brakes!

 This kid is clearly that stupid.

If you sent out for a skater boy, this is what Amazon would send you.  Skinny as a 2x4, lacrosse hair hanging out of a backward baseball cap, headphones stuck in his ear, Ravens T-shirt, some sort of baggy shorts.

Suddenly he saw me!  And he jumped off the board and responded to my horn and my opprobrious look.  I lowered my window down and gave him The Look.  He said, "I'm sorry, mister; I wasn't paying attention."

I went for the best Lee Marvin or Jack Webb I could give him.  I said, "Son, pay attention out here.  This is life and death out here, with traffic all around."

I think he was totally shaken up as he yanked out the earphones and picked up his board.

I know I was.

And as I drove off, I got to thinking that we have created the greatest system of technology in human history.  This young man was carrying a smart phone on which he has downloaded, maybe, a thousand songs or so, and was listening to some of these digital bits as he careered across the parking lot.

Maybe Apple could include some free life lessons with every download.  "Don't ride your skateboard into oncoming traffic" would be pretty good advice.

This teenager learned it today. And he even called me "Mister"!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Lest ye Be Judged

Considering that only one person I know is in perfect physical condition (and you know who you are, don't you!?) I guess it's fair to say that most of us who slog along life's pathways are not doing that slogging in the best of shape.

So there is a female news anchor named Jennifer Livingston in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, who is, in the eyes of Mr Kenneth Krause, also known as The World's Most Perfect Human Being, a bit on the chubby side.  He emailed her a bitchogram in which he said she is not a suitable example for the young kids out there watching the news...all 17 of them.

Mr Perfect
So what if she is?  As we used to say on the playground, this is a conversation between A and B, so can you C your way out of it?  In more mature terms (to which I rarely resort) this is not an area in which Mr Krause needs to share his opinion.  If Ms Livingston went on TV and said that Rhode Island is the biggest state or announced that Tim Tebow was the Republican candidate for president, then yes, write to her and point out that she erred.  Her weight is not the business of Mr Krause.  If he doesn't like to watch her do the news (and in his nasty note to her, he says he doesn't watch her anyway) then he can go watch workout videos or something.

Ms Livingston
We saw Ms Livingston on the morning shows yesterday; she is a pleasant, well-spoken woman.  Mr Krause, in the picture we see of him posing with his mountain bike, displaying his many pads, his helmet, his tank top and his bicep tattoo, looks like a man who rides a bike more than anything else, if you catch my drift.

If you're wondering why he sat right down and wrote that nasty letter, well, so am I, except that I'm guessing that he is part of the group that feels qualified to pass judgement on others.  That's usually a bad idea, especially for someone less than perfect.

And that's all of us.